‘Wilding’ is the new buzz word, I notice, in countries where there’s very little ‘wild’ left. In England there are people promoting schemes to ‘re-wild’ the countryside: introduce wild boar for instance, and allow vegetation to grow without check. ‘Wild’ hasn’t been a very positive word before in our culture – suggesting out of control and irresponsible – but now it’s attached to anything that people feel is a little bit outside the norm of behaviour, and it’s always used in a proud, to my mind slightly self-satisfied and smug, way.
Take ‘wild swimming’ for instance. When I first saw it I’d no idea what it was. I learned it meant swimming anywhere other than a public swimming pool. So what we did as children then, splashing around the surf next to our dissolving sandcastles, was really ‘wild swimming’. If my parents had known I’m sure they wouldn’t have allowed us to do it.
I’ve been swimming in lakes for years, but now I find that what I’m doing is classic ‘wild swimming’. I’m not sure how I feel about that. It doesn’t feel ‘wild’ to me – not in that out of control and irresponsible way, nor in a proud-to-be different kind of way. It’s just relaxing, convenient, cheap, and there are no dive-bombing kids to spoil your fun.
‘Wild’ is maybe only positive in a context where there isn’t any. In Kiruna it is certainly nothing to be proud of. That’s why people keep a very neat lawn in the short summer months – it’s your only opportunity to show that wild doesn’t rule your garden (an opportunity we ignore, by the way).
This week Rolf and I and some friends went out on a ‘wildlife safari’. Well it would have been called that if we’d gone with a tour company. As it was just us, though, we were enjoying a drive out of town and keeping an eye out for animals. We saw plenty of elk (moose), and reindeer foraging in the snow for moss, and a bushy red fox running through the snow, and all from the comfort of our warm car.
In a more populated landscape this kind of outing wouldn’t be given the ‘wild’ tag – we should at least have been in a jeep, and then had to protect ourselves from the animals in some way, maybe even stalk them for a few hours, possibly with a gun. No, this really was just a short drive before tea.
It’s confusing. The closer you come to really wild things and places, the less it looks or feels like a ‘wild’ activity – or at least, like one that someone in a less wild place would recognise. That’s why the tourist organisations here all indulge in a bit of storytelling when they take people out on tours. The tour guide turns up looking like Bear Grylls and tells tall hunting and survival tales about the potential dangers of getting lost in the wilderness, and you’ve no idea at the time that following his lead you’re actually driving round in circles only a few kilometres from where you started.
I was out running the other day and realised, as I negotiated the snow underfoot, that what I was probably indulging in was a bit of ‘wild running’. A tour company might market like this:
… Come fly with us! Feel the arctic wind in your hair as you run nimbly over snowdrifts, leaping among the lairs of the snow leopard, driving ever onward to the distant mountain tops in minus degrees of sub-zero temperatures far north of the arctic circle! If you’re lucky you may see the northern lights silently dancing over your head as you speed through the landscape! Wild running! You’ll never want to run on pavements again!..