Wilderness can come in many forms. Wilderness is a place that is untamed by mankind, but it can be either barren or overgrown. We think of early American settlers as crossing the wilderness: cutting paths through forests, clearing bushes to build their homes, leveling the overgrown plants to plant their own cultivated crops. We also think of Moses and the Hebrew people being lost in the wilderness as they fled Egyptian slavery. Their wilderness was sand and rock and sun and drought. It needed to be tamed, not by cutting back the overgrown plants, but by coaxing plants to grow by digging wells and adding nutrients to the soil and providing shade. Both forms of wilderness needing to be tamed, and yet very different from each other.
This morning, my front yard looks like still another kind of wilderness. This wilderness is cold and white and barren and ice-covered. There is no warmth for plants to grow, the soil is buried under both fresh and packed-down snow and ice, the plants have not yet attempted to peek out their green shoots from the hard soil.
But even in the wilderness, there is life. I expected last night’s snowfall to have left a clean, even, unbroken coating over the lawn. But by the time the sun rose, there was already evidence of small explorers, travelers through the white wilderness. Long before dawn, our local rabbit had left a trail of little bunny prints poking around the yard.
He peeped under the bushes to find a bit of tender green, to test the soil for softness, to hunt for fresh growth to nibble on. Even in the wilderness, he knew there was sustenance, if only he could find it.
And even as I watched, other creatures followed the trail he had blazed: birds hopped around looking for seeds and bugs; squirrels chased each other, digging at the roots of the trees for last year’s acorns. They were not afraid of the apparent barrenness of the wilderness, for they know that it is not truly barren. It is simply waiting for the warmth of spring to release its treasures of blooms and bugs, of color and energy, of growth and beauty. The wilderness is waiting to be tamed, and to share its sustaining reward.