A male deer, with antlers riding high as mammalian cathedrals, walks through the cool shallow waters on the banks of the Buffalo River. The water laps at his hooves and ankles, stepping slowly over moss covered slate rock, alert to the ever present sounds, smells, movement. He is skinny, his hair falling out in patches along his smooth body, hair color matching the dried grasses, japanese knotweed stalks, the bark of the willow trees that grows twisted along the banks. He bends down to drink, consuming the precious and sacred waters in the cool afternoon air. Alongside the essential molecules of hydrogen and oxygen lay PCB’s, dioxin, BPA’s, antidepressants, antibiotics, and a rash of other chemical agents infused through the industry and municipalities which call this watershed home.
The sky is gray, and a hawk watches from the cottonwoods above.
The deer tugs on a waterlogged patch of grass he has spotted, dislodging the vegetation with his teeth and macerating it with molar and saliva. This animal is proud and resilient, a wild creature fulfilling its needs and continuing his species within confines that feel ever more dire and deranged.
I spotted this buck as I drove along the overpass which crosses the Buffalo River from an elevated highway system. As I beheld this magnificent creature, excitement welled upon in my chest, a feeling of rapture. Dog whining in the backseat, baby screaming, we were traveling from the city to go on one of our many “nature immersions” as we call them in our family.
The scene wept with depth. This beautiful creature, the bridge above him, graffiti and red orange rust contrasting to the dark gray and blue of the water, the yellow of the bare willow branches, billboards with law firm and alcohol advertisements, a patch of blue sky, the overwhelm of a young father aching for peace and simplicity, the Anthropocene and highway lane merging cortisol jolts, deep breaths and the reminder of Hawk and Raven.
The deer hangs in my mind before sleep, anchoring the complicated interplay, the messy and oftentimes brutal borderlands between the “wild” and our human landscapes, mostly inauthentic, extractive, corporatized false versions of true human settlement, inhabitation of place. And yet…
The polluted Sacred River, she is healing.
Her banks are crowded with wetland plants, filtering her waters and providing habitat for frog and fungi, microbial universes and bottle caps, used masks and parasites. Even the Japanese Knotweed and invasive reeds have a role to play in the restoration of this landscape, channeling biomass at the banks of river and wetland, providing food for someone and materials for others.
I oftentimes feel I am a beleaguered borderland of wildness and brilliant nature and the grinding of pavement, big box store extractive capitalist state. I feel the agonizing collision of biology and ecology, machine time and the maintenance of a lifestyle severed from most of the relationships which my existence is owed. Pollutants of fear and shame easily cloud the crystal pools of my awareness, anger and grief stagnated within the social damns of not wanting to be “too much”.
This place, this messy borderland, is an abundant and fertile edge, as all edges are. It is my duty to stay in this mess, to chart a path through the soft places of our pain and predicament, our plight and our purpose here, to allow the restoration of my human soul through the relinquishing of my stifling judgment and condemnation, to speak to the winding path of remembrance and the confusion that likely follows.
There is joy and praise found here in the urban wildlands and vibrant merging of cement ruins and foxhole, abandoned cars and anthills.
There shall be no more fleeing. For there is good work to be done.