Temptations taunt me, constantly.
Some are simple, and easy to indulge like my secret stash of dark chocolate with cherries and almond pieces.
Its crinkly gold wrapper sticks out of my composition book filled with half-written poems that I tuck in the bottom my backpack. Temptation readily available. Other temptations are confusingly exotic, and remain nameless, for now.
Yet there is one temptation that keeps returning.
An enticement that reminds me of sitting along the edge of seaside cliffs while watching ravens dip and dive in the sea salty breeze. Gliding at eye-level, the ravens’ flight is intoxicating, albeit impossible for us, yet we envy the way they drift in the drafts, a sensual dance while in flight.
My temptation teased me for part of the summer; a dance like the ebb-and-flow of ocean tides, pulling the sand out beneath my feet.
I call it a temptation because it is not practical to want something so simple, but potentially reckless.Yet isn’t that the whole point of temptation? Force us to step beyond our comfort zone, ask ourselves to sink into the sensual, and take part in the experiencing.
I kept toying with the idea, my temptation, flipping a penny: heads, tails, sides. Three choices, I thought, but not really because each choice was its own. Undecided, I made a wish, and skipped the penny across the waters of a carp pond at a local park. As the ripples settled, I looked around at the design of this constructed space that resembled nature or wilderness, but it was not quite wild enough for a girl like me who was drawn to places like the one described by poet Gary Snyder in his poem, Finding the Space in the Heart.
“ — the wideness, the
foolish loving spaces
full of heart.
Walking on walking,
under foot earth turns
Streams and mountains never stay the same.”
Six weeks ago in the intensity of a northern California summer, I sat in the afternoon shade of Ponderosa pines, listening to the winds blowing through them, as I contemplated my temptation while being at a crossroad in my journey. My path had brought me back to my childhood home area in the Sierras.
Temptation found me like Eve with her apple, but I was not in Eden, and the only nearby apple trees were really shrubs called Manzanitas, or “little apples.”
Manzanitas are slow-growing, steady, solid evergreen shrubs that twist in their growth, so their rich burgundy skin may peel, sometimes exposing their delicate peach underbelly.
Clusters grow back after logging or forest fires, which was the case on our family land of seventy acres along the base of the western edge of the Sierra Nevada’s. Our parents were divorced, so on the weekends and long holidays, my mom dropped the four of us off at my papa’s. He had claimed his half acre of homesteading in the heart of wilderness.
At a young age, we learned the authentic language of the acts of chopping wood and carrying water.
We learned that art of doing nothing in nature.
Or we spent time creating art out of nature, and sometimes art with nature in the form of forts.
At the age of 10, I learned that a branch on an alive Manzanita bounced back if an axe was taken to its limbs, and that axe ended up against my thigh, leaving a scar as a reminder to learn more about my subject: the way it bends before claiming it as my own art piece.
A few days later, my younger sister and I climbed the steep hillside to an area called the saddle where a meadow had been cleared before we were born, and Manzanitas had grown back thickly on the eastern side of hillside below the meadow. So tightly, that it was hard to see where one began and another ended; a loom threaded with burgundy branches twisting into jade, dotted with pinkish white pearls: wilderness waiting for us to explore, but not with an axe.
With our skinny long legs and arms, my sister and I climbed to the top of a Manzanita where bees buzzed around the pale pinkish white blossoms.
One of us, or both of us, realized that we could crawl across the top of the Manzanitas where they grew along the slope of the steep hillside. In the past, we had only crawled under their thick forest. Climbing over the loom of Manzanitas, I felt on top of the world, one made of honey blossoms and bendable with my body; a world discovered through being in the wilderness. I reclined on my loft of blossoms, gazing at the Blue Mountain in the distance.
Temptation at its best is as wild as our being aware of the possibility for an adventure when it stumbles into our path. And, this past summer appeared no different, yet it was because I was no longer a child, but one who had children: two boys with bodies that reflected their father’s Italian/English heritage mixed my lengthy limbs of so many blood lines.
This past summer, I envisioned ways for my sons to explore the wilderness while we house sat my sibling’s place, which was a few hillsides over from our family land. Our papa had passed away a few years ago, and the Ponderosa pines loom larger in the starry nights, so much wilderness, and temptation taunted me, especially at this particular crossroad in my journey.
Awaking in the wilderness on that summer day, I contemplated “checking out” of the bustle of the post-modern world, and gliding impulsively into homesteading in the “the wideness” of our family land.
Yes, I listened to my temptation that taunted me: I yearned to “check out”: go to the wilderness, and have my boys step beyond the digital glow, walk around the edge of screens, stare at the stars, and drop the “want” for mini-screens into rivers while picking up stones.
“You take the lamp [bulb] out of the projector…and you just screw that lamp [bulb] onto your regular old-fashioned fixture and look at it,” wrote Chogyam Trungpa in Training the Mind.
In this case, I wanted to turn off the bulbs of digital gadgets that pulled us in like moths to bare bulbs.
Yes, I was tempted to go to the family’s mountain side, create a straw-bale home in the wild spaces, so my sons could have daily access to the wilderness; let them experience the fear, and care that comes in homesteading beyond the digital glow.
Yet, on that summer day, I contemplated the practical aspects of my temptation; and by the time twilight glowed along the first star of the night, I decided not to give in to “checking out” to homesteading in the wilderness (well, at least for now, I told myself).
I knew that my body and soul could handle the work of homesteading, but what if my temptation proved unsatisfactory once the desire had been met? What if letting go of fulfilling this temptation to “check out” proved even more satisfying as far as lessons go?
And, what if not answering the call of my temptation actually kept a space for “wilderness” in my heart?
Perhaps, it is better to have a pristine place that I can call upon during future moments of uncertainty.
All-in-all, I hiked graciously away from my temptation with the wisdom that this desire to “check out” has guided me to seek out the wilderness within our urban spaces.
Now, I know the whole idea was not to “check out” by homesteading in the wilderness, but to “check in” regardless of my place; or, so to paraphrase Chogyam Trungpa, “look at the bulb in my lamp.”
As a girl, I had learned the art of doing “nothing” while being in the wilderness; not only enjoying those moments of reclining on a loft of Manzanita blossoms, but answering the call of adventure to discover such a loft.
As a grownup, I carried the belief that moments of truly “checking out” could only happen in the wilderness.
Now, as autumn rolls in with her gusts of wind, shaking leaves and acorns off the oaks growing along the city streets, I’ve realized that my temptation to check out of the rat race became a guide for me to embrace the acts of finding my “wilderness” within while living in an urban place: allow my self to step into the space of connecting with the place in which I walk, whether it involves skipping pennies across a carp pond in a city park or reclining on a blanket of clovers under a Zelkova tree in the arboretum.
Yes, temptations will always taunt me; yet now, I will know how to “check in” with one the next time something tantalizing rolls into my path.
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Ed: Bryonie Wise