From the archive: Wild In The City (Part 2)

I went walking througris in search of the wild. I stopped on Pont Neuf, and let the tide of commuters flow past me.  As I recited my mantra of the day ‘wild, wild, wild’, the strangest thing happened. A small brown mouse came out from under the bulwark of the bridge and sat by my feet, cleaning his whiskers. Where I live, in rural Southern France, a wild animal is gone if your tread snaps a twig, or even before that. But this was a town mouse, used to noise and bustle, fearless.

But there was another place I found wild in the city, and that was in one of the homeless people I saw on the streets. It was a head scarfed young woman, and she was turning circles in the street, shouting words I didn’t understand. A dog on a lead followed her movements, yelping excitedly.

You can spot the quality of wild by how we react to it. We are scared of it, because it isn’t kept in check by the straightjacket of the rational mind. It is instinctual, emotional, energised. That makes us nervous.

I knew the quality of wildness was present because I saw Parisians look at her as if she wasn’t there, or walk in wide circles to avoid her. I had difficulty not doing the same. I noticed I immediately judged her to be ‘mad’ or similar. Because if she was mad, then I was sane. She was doing life wrong, and I was doing it right.

And I asked myself: what aspects of myself am I not acknowledging when I locate all the emotional unpredictability, or all the madness in someone else?  How can I take back the parts of myself I’ve disowned, so that I can write from the broadest emotional spectrum? I want my writing can be mad and unpredictable when required, instead of always sane and predictable.

This article was first published on December 14th 2012

From the archive: Wild In The City (Part 1)

I live in rural Southern France, on a mountain. Yesterday I got on a train going to Paris, heading into a throng of 2 million people.

My work is based around the natural environment. It’s about exploring the ‘wilds’ out there, in order to understand how to bring that quality into our words, to find freedom in writing. I’m interested in those parts of ourselves- the spontaneous, intuitive, instinctual- that we’re afraid of. Our fear is such, that instead of acknowledging these aspects within ourselves, we project them outwards, saying they’re out there ‘in the wilds’ , in the ‘wild animals’.

On my mountain it’s clear where ‘wild’ resides. In the badger, the deer, the wild boar. But where those disowned aspects go when we live in, or visit a city? Where do we see ‘wild’? I’ve been feeling excited by the challenge of tracking it down.

So, this morning I went walking beside the Seine in central Paris, that mission on my mind.  I was swept along the pavement by a river of people. The noise of feet and cars swirled in my ears. I found places where the city had replicated the wild. There were garden shops with fountains shaped like elephants.

When it hadn’t replicated wild, the city had tried to tame it, contain it, to take a moment of its beauty and fix it in time. There were posters of big cats, and plants in pots. But best of all, on sale for 90 euros in Centre Pompidou, I found green grass, neat as a lawn, growing in a frame, a living picture.

This was all fascinating, but I wasn’t seeking castrated nature. No, what I wanted to find was the places where wild was living free in the city. Then I wanted to see how people responded to it. The search continued…

First Published November 30th 2012