Attempts at getting closer to the wild.


The interior of the exterior.

Last April I visited a friend of mine with her family in the countryside. On the first morning we were having breakfast in her large dining room when a blue tit flew in through the open veranda door. The bird seemed to panic, not knowing how it got in there or how to get out again. We stared amazed as it took two turns around the room before flying head first into a window, dropping to the floor right on the family cat who immediately seized its prey and punctured one of the birds’ major blood vessels.

My friend screamed and jumped out of her chair, too late to save the bird, scaring the cat enough to hide under the sofa but not enough to leave the room. “I cannot really blame the cat”, my hostess said later on. “She acted on instinct.” But I could sense that she still wanted to be angry at the pet and mourn the bird. “It was living in our garden.”

We went out to bury the blue tit. A little cardboard box and a shallow hole in the ground. The children stood still in silence. The box vanished, we covered it up with dirt and made a silent minute. My friend and I stood before the grave of the blue tit even after the funeral was over. From where we were standing we could see for miles.

The landscape is old farming country. People have lived here for thousands of years. What seems to me like untarnished woods is a façade. The spruces are young. The mounds with 300-year-old oak trees for the cows to cluster around are young. Under the trees are graves. Almost all of the mounds are graves. “They think that this island over there hides a sunken Viking ship. I don’t know if it will be dug up inch by inch, in the biting wind with brushes and hatchets. It’s a question of money of course but also the houses would have to be torn down. All that-” she waves her arm pointing over a huge amount of land. X-ray the landscape and you will find bones and pottery.

What we claimed from the sea is being reclaimed by history. A renegotiation. Nature as culture in opposition to older culture hiding beneath.

The talking animal


On the second morning we took a walk along the shoreline as I suddenly noticed a porpoise very close to shore, sticking its little head up among the rocks on the stony beach like the eye of a submarine, spying for friends, playing hide and seek. Our conversation stopped and my friend and I were suddenly alone together with this animal.  I walked slowly as close as I could. I wanted to sing with the porpoise, swim with it. Did I think I could become part of something bigger, some whole in which me and the porpoise and the whole scenery would unite? If I can communicate with nature I will never be alone again. If a connection is possible, a connection on a speechless level…

Why do people want to swim with dolphins, dance with wolves, talk to horses? Why does it seem like a supernatural understanding of universal truths the humans forgot?

Are we assuming all the animals can talk to each other except that humans have forgotten the secret handshake? Like the dolls and teddy bears coming alive at night in the child’s bedroom.

In The animal that therefore I am, Jacques Derrida wrote about his cat following him into the bathroom each morning, watching him naked, Derrida looking back into the cat’s eyes wondering what the animal thought of him. The subject-object position reversed. What does it mean to be seen? Is there something hidden in the gap between humans and animals? Or is it just the mystery of a gaze unfamiliar that has us bewildered?

I wanted to be part of the landscape, on level with the porpoise, part of the wilderness. I wanted to get closer to the wild.

Later on I tried to explain, put the experience of the meeting into words. I could not quite explain. “It is exotic if you come from the city I guess.”

What is this wildness? What is nature? Inside a question like “what is nature “ hides another question. What are humans in nature? Is nature the other, simply what we are not? My mind points me in the direction of gaps and boundaries rather than clear distinctions between an us and a them.

A small voice also whispers that there is no gap, except in our minds. But we must not underestimate the power of the mind.  

Exterminate all the brutes.

I once overheard a man from Sri Lanka tell stories of his youth. “One time at my mother’s place, there was a cobra in the kitchen. I went for it and killed it with a stick. I kept hitting it and it tried to attack me but I won. I was not afraid of anything in my youth.”

The killing of the cobra was an act of self defence but also somehow an adventure and a manly thing to do. We kill the beasts and boast about it. We do not let nature into our cities. A snake, a wolf or a bear that ventures into a residential area plays a risky game. But nature knows no borders. Break off a branch in a nature reserve and you commit an illegal act. The animals that live there are however part of the landscape. They do as they please.

Looking to bridge the gap between humans and animals is somehow a bit like alchemy. And not without complications. A talking animal might disagree with you. Would an animal that spoke English still be an animal? How would we know that the animal is not just imitating, like a parrot that wants a cookie but does not understand the meaning of its request other than in the pragmatic sense? Would we ask different things of such a creature?

In the gap between man and animal lurk the monster and the superhero. What we hate about the werewolf is not the beastliness but the humanity of the beast, being neither human nor animal, something that can draw us out and down from civilization into deep wildness.

Wildness is constant change, uncontrollable life and at the same time destruction; the image of death. Not death to all living things but death to humanity. A garden overgrown with weeds is an abandoned one. Walking upon ten apple trees in the middle of the deep woods we know that someone used to live here but no longer does. A house with furniture full of moss and cobwebs means decay. 

When I was a child, running around barefoot in my parents’ garden I sometimes would accidentally step on a slug. Disgusted I tried to get the slime off my foot. No consideration for the poor slug that would be pushed out of its own skin, pop like a zit. I have heard that people are disgusted by sticky and slimy things because they attach themselves to the body, become part of our skin, in a sense invade our bodies. Is it the same with monsters? A corruption of our sense of self?


Me Tarzan- you Freud?

Imagining myself to be an animal I had to forget the meaning of chair and table, or rather give them new functions. The chair is a shelf, the table is a watch point where food is sometimes presented. A place where I am not allowed, but love to get up on (do I suddenly have a master? Am I a pet or a wild animal? Let us settle for a domesticated animal, I am after all raised in the city.)

Being a domesticated animal I would have to lose the distinction between rose and apple. In my house I would take the flower bouquet and eat the petals off the stalks, leaving only thorns and the stinky water in the vase. I would have to deny to myself that I knew all of these things are wrong. Is this really being an animal? Is it not just being crazy? And animals can also become insane.

One late night in a tent, heavily sleeping a woman woke up by her husbands screaming. “A rat! A rat bit me on the nose.” There was blood on his face and as they emptied the tent they found a hairless rat with a wound across its back nervously hiding in a corner, demented and angry, attacking unprovoked.

Calling another human being an animal is to reduce that person to a creature lacking sense, self-control, ability to analyse the consequences of their actions. The (undomesticated) animal takes without asking, destroys without realising it and feels no regret.

As a teenager I wanted to be wild and went to Amsterdam to try drugs. Especially the magic mushrooms were interesting to me. I ate them and sat waiting for the hallucination to begin. When will the wild picture show start? I sat looking at a wall trying to get images out of the pattern in the wallpaper, kept waiting for the emergence of a wild mental landscape. I forgot to blink and my eyes eventually began to cry uncontrollably without emotion. Later on I tried heavy metal, meditation, shoplifting and hypnosis. I wanted to sense the wild, to get either an adrenalin rush or direct access to my sub consciousness. Nothing ever happened, or at least not in the way I was yearning for. An emotion would come over me from out of nowhere, a sudden euphoria followed by a sense of meaningless tiredness. I would be content, indifferent or just harmonious. Emotions that I was familiar with, but no otherness ever crept up from the vast darkness of my soul.

What is it to be wild? Is it acting like our conception of what animals do? Is it not rather to go further into exploring what being human could be? Stretching the boundaries, the norms of how to act among your peers. Is that not what being wild is truly about? A fantasy more than anything else. The wilderness is always outside, never in a familiar environment. One does not get accustomed.

I keep looking. Looking for danger. Looking for something that is untamed, that does not abide to my will or anyone else’s. Something that follows only to its own urges, forces. Oh how naïve! Even the something as wild as the rivers are tamed by the beavers’ dams. We are all connected.  

On the night before I left my friend’s house in the countryside I heard some weird noises in the middle of the night. I put on my jacket over my nightgown and went outside. Walked upon a pony that looked straight back at me. No love lost, it must have run wild. In my head I heard it snicker. It was you. Whatever that is.

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad