When you spend time in a wounded place, you may struggle with how the past you loved about the place has given way to a present you mourn. Often, though, the longer you remain, gazing and inviting the place to reveal itself to you, the more you find that life is relentlessly striving there. Birds sing, grass pushes through cracks, the moon rises over a smokestack. The place is no longer what it was, what you loved about it. But it lives. It’s turning into something new. Past, present, and future interlace.
The British writer Robert Macfarlane makes a similar discovery in his book, The Wild Places. Macfarlane set out to find wilderness in Britain and Ireland, lands assumed to have almost no “pristine” and “untouched” terrain left. He did find many wild places—and he also discovered that all of them are infused with human history. “I was becoming increasingly interested in this understanding of wildness not as something which was hived off from human life, but which existed unexpectedly around and within it: in cities, backyards, roadsides, hedges, field boundaries or spinnies.”
Native Americans make the same point about the “wilderness” of this continent, the lands and waters of which they have known and treated as sacred for many generations.
When you spend time in any place, whether it’s a remote canyon or an abandoned lot on a city street corner, you have the opportunity to fall into the mystery of its past, both known and unknown, explore your own complex feelings about its present—and reflect on the mystery of how all of it will change in ways you cannot possibly imagine.

Trebbe Johnson
Trebbe JohnsonFounder
Trebbe is the author of The World Is a Waiting Lover and 101 Ways to Make Guerrilla Beauty. Her new book, Radical Joy for Hard Times: Finding Meaning and Making Beauty, will be published in Fall 2018 by North Atlantic Books. Her articles about people’s emotional and spiritual relationship with nature have appeared in Orion, Sierra, Ecopsychology, The Ecologist, The Nation, Harper’s and other magazines. She lives with her husband, Andrew Gardner, in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, a region currently under exploitation by natural gas companies.

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Radical Joy Revealed is a weekly message of inspiration about finding and making beauty in wounded places.