Be Wild and Free

 Living in New York is a lesson in impermanence.  For over a quarter of a century, I lived in Manhattan and all over Manhattan, in apartments ranging from a brownstone on the Upper West Side to a tenement in the East Village.  After my daughter was born, I moved to a grand apartment with soaring pressed tin ceilings in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, named for the beautiful gardens the once mostly Italian residents created.   I used to buy bread from a bakery around the corner that also served as a major set in Moonstruck, a hit movie about Italian-American life in New York starring Cher and Nicolas Cage (who played a baker).   Camerari’s bakery is gone now.   I left the neighborhood when my landlords, who happened to be named Gambino (and relatives of the once dominant New York crime family) sold the building to a Wall Street type.  The once Italian neighborhood had moved from a kind of aspiring bohemian artsy family scene and then suddenly it was expensive and chic.  Two Gambino men came to visit my little family and literally said: “We’re telling you as a friend.  It’s time to move.”   Conditions change.  Nothing stands still and nothing is personal, this was the teaching I received from the Gambino family.   

Now I travel down to the city from leafy northern Westchester on the Metro North train.  When time and weather permit, I walk the roughly two miles to the offices of Parabola magazine on West 20th Street.    Walking the city has the feeling of pilgrimage to me.   The life streaming by on the streets of New York is like the holy Ganges is to some Hindus.  I need to bathe in it, to leave the isolation of my life and let every human state pass by, joy, sorrow, love, hate, poverty, wealth, youth, age, beauty, ugliness, agitation and cool equanimity.   New York reminds me that everything in our lives is impermanent, and that no feeling is final. 

Keep walking west on 20th Street, and you come to the High Line, a beautiful aerial greenway that is built on a section of the old freight railroad spur called the West Side Line.   Each of the several times I’ve walked on it, I recall climbing up there once long ago, when it was just rickety old abandoned railroad tracks.  I remember looking out across the Hudson River, feeling a little like Charleton Heston in Planet of the Apes, an explorer in a city that fallen into ruin.   I felt like I was witnessing the end of the civilization.  Now I know that no feeling is final. 

Now I am more interested in being a pilgrim than an explorer.  I am not interested in going where no one has gone before.  I am interested in seeing what others have seen.   I’ve already described in a blog making a pilgrimage to the Danese gallery on West 24th Street, to see an exhibition of paintings called “Other as Animal.”  Describing her aim for the exhibition,  curator April Gornik evoked the British poet Ted Hughes who wrote that animals are our “emotional selves, our persevering selves” and that they are “gifted with the extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained….”  Mourning the loss of my beloved black Labrador retriever Shadow, I was deeply moved by the paintings and sculptures of animals which expressed the otherness and fleetingness of animal lives. 

In the midst of it, however, one image brought me to a full stop.  Standing on a pedestal of limestone was a “Goshawk” made of handblown, pigmented glass.  Somehow the artist Jane Rosen captured what is wild, fleeting, and unchanging all at the same time.  This work of art helped me see that there is something beyond impermanence, something quick yet still that the wild presence of the hawk expresses.  

“We need to see our childishness in relating to the life force, always wishing to have more.  The child wants to have, the adult wants to be,” writes Jeanne de Salzmann, in the book based on her notebooks, The Reality of Being:  The Fourth Way of Gurdjieff.   I left the gallery aspiring to be able to just be with life like a healthy animal, allowing the life force to move through me without grasping at images or busily discovering facts.  I wished I could see like a hawk…or like Jane Rosen.

16 thoughts on “Be Wild and Free

  1. I find the combination of your sharp insight and your humility to be truly uplifting, and I’m very grateful to have stumbled upon this blog a short time ago.
    Thank you for this beautiful post.

  2. Hi Tracy,

    There are certainly times when we need to embrace that wildness, the wild shadow of our souls.

    My wife, Joanne, and I just returned to Houston from a trip to Wisconsin this weekend, where we were with several of her siblings, who all live in the Chicago area. It was wonderful getting out of the city for a few days. It was wonderful seeing corn as tall as an elephants eye, and big old fashioned barns so nostalgic, that you wish you could live in one like a barn owl, or least play in the hayloft like you did as a child.

    We stayed in a B&B, that was also a working farm, complete with a garden full of green beans, squash, onions, tomatoes, etc., all the good things of the earth that we love to eat. We even found an Amish farm, where they sold baked goods that were ever so good. It took me back to my childhood, that coming home feeling again you mentioned a couple weeks ago, called nostalgia.

    It’s always good to get out of the routine of our lives and to get a fresh perspective, to see things anew, as if for the first time. Is there a name for that too, I wonder? Like the Greek word, metanoia, which means a change of mind or heart.

    I am amazed at how often we forget that we are breathing animals too, ones who share this earth with so many other creatures. It all brings new meaning to the concept of dependent arising and the true nature of reality. You really do have to wonder where it all begins and ends. How often do we forget that in order to live, something has to die?

    Do we even realize how a single thought can lead us into new directions and new realities? A new birth?

    I found myself more than once this weekend dreaming of living the simple life of the Amish, wondering is all. It was just a passing thought, but you have to wonder what kind of karmic seed that thought may have planted.

    Your piece above has made me nostalgic for NYC too, a Broadway play, or a nice dinner in Little Italy or Chinatown. Maybe even a subway ride from Midtown, Downtown, or Brooklyn all the way up to Harlem.

    I’d love to go see St. John the Divine Catherdral once again, and to pay homage there to American writers such as Walt Whitman, Washington Irving, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Gertrude Stein, Langston Hughes, and Henry David Thoreau in the Poets Corner. Plus – Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Bogan, Anne Bradstreet, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Robert Frost, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Edith Wharton, and William Carlos Williams, and so many others.

    Years and years ago I shared a poem there on the Poetry Wall, started by poet Muriel Rukeyser. There is no telling who may have read that poem, it was years before the internet became popular, let alone blogs like this one.

    As always, thanks for sharing.

    Ron Starbuck

    1. Hi Ron: I have been out of email touch for days. Thank so much for your comment. It offered much food for thought, as all your replies have. I apologize for not catching that very unkind and untrue comment. A bit of research revealed that it was written by someone using an assumed name. Please don’t let such an unhappy person discourage you from sharing here. This is a safe place.

  3. I would have thought that one would be safe from criticism here. hmmmmmmmmmm.
    “Life is not a having and a getting, but a being and becoming. May you have life in abundance”. Anonymous.

    The above has resonated with me ever since I received a birthday card with that quote about 20 years ago.
    I think that is what you are saying too, Tracy.
    Thanks for the reminder!

  4. Finding the timelessness in impermanence we are forced to look beyond and inside what stands in front of us. This takes practice. But it’s worthwhile.

  5. Thank you–I like thinking about the difference between pilgrim and explorer. A poet fried suggested your blog and I’m glad I found it. I’ll be linking to it off mine–Miriam’s Well–
    I’m trying to get more writers focused on place. If you have something you think I should re-blog–direct me to it!
    Miriam Sagan

  6. Ron,

    With respect to the negative comment addressed to you: although I was upset when I read it, I wasn’t going to say anything. When Tracy handled it, I thought it was over; but I have to tell you that not saying something directly to you hasn’t felt right. I enjoy reading your comments. I hope you will be back to share. Tracy has done a wonderful job of creating an oasis with this site, but sometimes negative people find a way to get in. Please accept my apology for not speaking up before this.

  7. Thanks Everyone! I just saw all the nice things you said.

    Sometimes, in the moment, it is best not to feed the beast, which is what I think you were doing. I could feel that, at the time, and my skin is thicker than many.

    Although, thank you for all the kind words and support.

    It does mean a lot, it is worth hearing. ;-)


  8. I am glad to read this now Tracy as I have been meditating on the story of king kong, the original version. There is the brutality of the modern world as it uproots itself from it’s origins and struggles to understand the feminine spirit, Sophia. Thank you.

    1. Coincidentally, I’ve been thinking about King Kong lately, about his heroic and tragic path. Thanks for writing, T

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