WRFF Report back

If you’re like me, someone who has spent a majority of their life living in a city, you’ll understand what I mean when I say that we often experience nature in bits and pieces; the nature we’re exposed to is offered up to us de-fanged, in painstakingly pruned portions, in very carefully maintained and manicured spaces where wildness, if it exists, is heavily monitored lest it grow out of control and threaten the power lines or the aesthetic sensibilities of our neighbors. We’re definitely missing out on something magical, something very necessary, yet most of us in the midst of our general malaise never figure out exactly what it is we’re missing out on, and we automatically accept the curtailment of wilderness as a necessary aspect of modernity. The Population Reference Bureau predicts that by 2050 at least 70 percent of humanity will be urban, with most of this urban growth occurring in “less developed” countries. This prediction should sober us all. How can a people almost completely cut off from wilderness muster the will power to stop the destruction and degradation of industrial civilization? If one is not intimately familiar with the power of nature, Her beauty, Her gifts, then the desire to preserve what’s being rapidly lost and consumed will at best be abstract and theoretical. If the neon lights of the city and the manufactured gadgets and machinery of industry become our gold standard by which all other things are measured then we have already lost. With all this in mind, I hope to explain why I feel that events like Wild Roots Feral Futures are so vitally important, especially for city dwellers. Words can’t really express the full depth and power of what I’ve just experienced, but I’ll give it a try.

I arrived in the picturesque San Juan mountains of southern Colorado with no expectations, yet in the back of my mind there was a premonition that some life changing experience was on the horizon. In fact, I was already in the midst of such an experience. My first trip to the west coast had already been full of awesomeness; the company of some amazing radicals, an intense sweat lodge in northern Oregon, a road trip on the holy!holy!holy! bus through California, camping in the foothills of Mount Shasta, hot springs under the stars (more stars than I’d ever seen before… damn you, light pollution!) underneath the sprawling sky of the Nevada desert, the excitement of meeting new friends and sharing such incredible experiences… So far, so good! When we pulled into Durango for a supply run I took a moment to reflect on everything that had happened so far and considered with an incredulous sense of joy my good luck at having been fortunate enough to experience such things. We drove up the mountains, a bus full of new friends and old friends; good music was blaring, the sun was shining, and here and there we talked about Wild Roots Feral Futures. It was finally about to happen, and it would be the culmination of an epic journey that had so far left all of us almost breathless.

We made our way up into the mountains, driving along lakes and up steep, uneven paths until we finally arrived at a spot that looked like the backdrop for a Colorado gift shop post card. After we unloaded the bus we hiked along a rocky, winding path underneath a dense canopy of tall trees. Deeper and deeper, farther and farther we went, and soon I could feel it. Here, finally, was wilderness. There was life all around with barely a trace of the artificial (only a somewhat camouflaged barbed wire fence marking the boundary of private land and the occasional Forest Service sign ruined the illusion); in the stillness I could sense the woods teeming with life. The forest creatures were mostly out of sight but surely there underneath the surface or in the shadows, either resting or subdued by the hot summer sun.

The hike to the WRFF site was challenging but not too overwhelming, and after several hours of slow going with our packs, gear, and musical instruments we finally arrived. We were in a sort of valley surrounded by tall hills and mountains with trees and meadows growing up and amongst the rocky peaks in seeming defiance of gravity. Close by there was the sound of water rushing swiftly over rocks intermingled with the occasional sweet trill of birdsong. Occasionally there would come a calming whoosh of the wind as it rustled the pine woods all around us. The air was clean, dry, fresh. The earth was fairly parched due to the drought afflicting the southwest. Later that day someone told us that a wildfire was raging just beyond the furthest mountain off in the distance…

WRFF doesn’t have a leader, or a leadership structure, so everyone who’s interested in keeping things running smoothly simply steps in to do what needs to be done. It’s entirely volunteer driven; people from the Durango area of course take on more than most others to get things going, but just about everyone who attends helps in one way or another. Just about everyone was friendly, but not in a weird way; it was the genuine camaraderie of being around like minded people that engendered an atmosphere of mutual goodwill. Someone pumping water though a filter by the stream took the time to explain to me how the meals were handled, where the latrine was dug, and how to find out more information about the workshops and skill shares.

The people, the people were of course amazing. It was a fairly diverse group from all over the country, mostly of European settler origin, but there were a fair number of POC folks there, including some Natives from Arizona. There were even people there from Australia and France who came to check out WRFF during their travels through the U.S. I thought I might be the only one from the east coast but there were travelers there from Vermont, Florida, and New York state. Some people there had taken on some really charming nature/plant/animal names, and I found this to be extremely interesting. I found myself wondering why they had chosen such names. Was it to preserve a sort of anonymity, or was it because they felt an affinity for these beings? Or both? There was Ember, Raccoon, Sage, Juniper, Nettle, Rowan, Bison, and more I unfortunately can’t remember. “How did you choose that name?” I asked one of them. “Well, I don’t know… It just comes to you,” they replied, gazing dreamily off into the distance.

It’s amazing what a group of committed people can do with very little infrastructure. It’s equally amazing to see how little we really need to not only survive, but thrive. The gadgets and gizmos and the glut of endless other consumer goods and services we’re told we can’t live without (either explicitly or implicitly) are of course very much unnecessary. During that week we all lived in relative material poverty and were quite happy overall. One of the main goals of the encampment was to leave behind the smallest human footprint possible, so there were very few structures built. Besides the fire pits, latrine structures, wooden logs for sitting, and a few other things hastily made out of necessity, everything there was hiked in and would be later hiked out. Meals were originally prepared over fire; then after Forest Rangers arrived and announced a fire ban we hiked in propane and portable cooking stoves. Many thanks to Food Not Bombs and the dedicated people of the cooking crew who made sure we had nutritious and delicious meals three times a day without fail! The logistics of living in the wilderness were at first sort of overwhelming for a novice like myself, but in practice it was not too difficult at all. Shitting in the woods is actually quite pleasant, and washing in a stream beats a shower any day. As Americans we’re used to gorging ourselves at meals, but when our food is nutritious and fresh our bodies are able to work much more efficiently with smaller portions.

Activities ranged the gamut of just laying in a hammock enjoying the shade to pretty intensive goat processing. With very little centralization and hierarchy, skill shares and workshops often popped up organically. Someone would mention something they’d like to learn, another person with that knowledge would find out, and then the next day during the morning circle ritual a time and place would be announced for everyone to come join in if they were interested. Tree climbing, basket weaving, direct action training, wild edible plant foraging, wildlife tracking, and musical instrument instruction were some of the many activities on offer during the week. For those who weren’t interested in workshops there were plenty of discussions; radical parenting, the green scare, invisible disabilities, and deep green resistance were among my favorites. Someone familiar with the night sky facilitated a star gazing…well, I can’t call it a workshop. I’m not quite sure what it was, but it was awesome laying in the middle of a field surrounded by mountains in our sleeping bags with the Milky Way and hundreds of bright, flickering stars overhead. As we lay there, someone with another one of those cool nature nicknames described the heavens with his soothing voice. Much of the day was simply free time. to explore the forest, socialize, be alone with your thoughts, read, or whatever you liked. I personally spent a good number of hours sitting on the soft moss by the stream alternately gazing at the mountains and reading ‘The Dispossessed’ as I soaked up the sun and the smell of the forest. I can’t remember the last time I’ve felt such peace, such tranquility.

Of course there were some rough patches. With so many types of people coming from such a diversity of backgrounds, and with so many tasks that needed to be done to keep the camp running smoothly, of course there were occasional misunderstandings and breakdowns in communication. When some people voiced problems they had with some aspects of the Solstice celebration and goat harvesting, it could have gotten ugly, but instead a larger conversation about cultural appropriation was opened up. I’m still too overcome with emotions to speak about that, but I hope someone else will because it was extremely powerful and eye-opening. I strongly believe that one thing that held us together was the tacit understanding that every single person there was wounded in one way or another by the dominant culture, by capitalism, racism, homophobia, sexism, or by any of the other seemingly endless barbs and arrows slung at us daily by this fucked up cultural maelstrom we’re all swirling around in. Knowing this, and being around people with similar if not exactly matching views helped us to be patient with one another. To my knowledge there were no real major fights or disagreements, and that’s quite incredible.

Apparently this year was the fourth Wild Roots Feral Futures encampment. I’m not sure how it compares to the others, and for me it doesn’t really matter because if I’m not in prison I’ll be sure to be there next year one way or another. The wilderness, the people, the animals, the sky, the spirits; they have become a part of me, and I look forward to the time when we will be reunited. One thing I’ve neglected to mention, the most important thing: the sense of love that permeated everything during WRFF. It was our collective love for nature, our love for each other, our love of the mystery that is life. In a culture that teaches us to hate, and even worse, to be apathetic, this love is the most important thing…

Beth Gibbons & Rustin Man – Mysteries

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