BY BILL PLOTKIN

Wandering in nature is perhaps the most essential soulcraft practice for contemporary Westerners who have wandered so far from nature. Earth speaks to us with a manner and might unlike anything in town. What nature has to say is the necessary complement to what we hear all day long from news, ads, and social chatter. To save our soul, we need nature’s news.

Wild wandering can serve as the hub from which all other soulcraft practices radiate — for example, the art of solitude, of self-reliance, of befriending the dark, or of shadow work. And obviously, natural landscapes are the best places to practice tracking, ecological observation, attending to signs and omens, and talking across the species boundaries. Our wanderings might provide the seeds for dreams, deep imagery work, self-designed ceremony, sacred-wound work, symbolic artwork, council processes, or soul poetry — any one of which will eventually lead us back into the hollow lands and hilly lands.

The Wanderer seeks the hidden, the mysterious, the wild. He knows that the changes in consciousness and identity that he goes through while searching are as important as finding what he seeks. He is not in a hurry. Wandering is a valuable as anything else he might do.

Where will he wander? The Wanderer might find himself in an enchanged hazel wood, by a stream, beneath the stars and Moon and Sun, among white moths and long, dappled grass or within sight and scent of apple blossoms. But in addition to wildlands, he will roam through diverse state of consciousness and have serendipitous communions with remarkable people. He will adopt meandering as his way of life.

The Wanderer explores the interweaving of psyche and nature, how a dream or a myth, for example, suggests a landscape or waterscape through which to wander, or a way to wander, or an image to seek in his ramblings.

The Wanderere might start out on a forest trail, but it won’t be long before he meanders off the beaten track. Because he is stalking a surprise, he attends to hunches, feelings, and images as much as he does to the landscape. He heeds the edges of sight and hearing. Sometimes he’ll be called to crawl into a low cave, to dance on the top of a knoll, to swim to the center of a lake, to roll in the tall spring grasses, or to fall asleep by a bubbling spring. Sometimes he will trade music with a songbird. Often he will sit with beings he meets — a flower, lizard, rock, pika, wind, or the Moon — and begin a conversation.

Sometimes he will wander into the wilds with the expectation of finding one thing, one thing in particular, material or not, that calls him most strongly. Other times he will go out without an intention to find anything at all.

Through his journeys, he cultivates wonder and surprise, rekindling the innocence that got buried in his adolescent rush to become somebody in particular. Now he seeks to beome nobody for a while, to disappear into the woods or canyon so that the person he really is might find him.

From “Wandering in Nature” in Bill Plotkin’s Nature and the Human Soul: Cultivating Wholeness and Community in a Fragmented world