For 37 out of 46 consecutive days I was naked in the wild.
I returned recently from an ecstatic expedition Down Under to the exotic lands (for us northerners) of Australia and New Zealand for an epic TreeGirl photo shoot and returned with photos of 30 new species. With the exception of a few days of exclusive traveling and visiting relatives, every day for 7 weeks I was either flying to a tree’s location or driving to a tree’s location, and then hiking to a tree’s location, to photograph myself naked with a tree. For the most part, I was adventuring solo, excluding a few days with a couple of generous, local arborists as my guides, and later, a spirited band of extremely gracious pro photographers during a spectacular workshop in New Zealand. It was the most consecutive days I’ve ever spent with focused, determined, disciplined, hard-working TreeGirl intention, deeply intertwined with camera and nature: it was an immersive, self-directed intensive of thrilling, and sometimes exhausting, earthiness.
Let me tell you what can happen to a person who engages intimately with the wild day after day, for hours upon hours, returning to civilization and human culture at night (to a hotel, home, campervan, or one unfortunate unprepared night in the back of my tiny rental car): it transforms you. You become completely comfortable in your body–anywhere, and quickly prefer being outside rather than in. And that’s not all. My nature expedition was not the same as a backpacking trip, a vision quest, or another form of isolation from other humans. Mine was an concentrated course in traveling back and forth between a kind of ecstatic contact with complex, untamed and unknown ecosystems crowded with life forms, that were new and different each day, to a predictable concrete world of walls with switches and thermostats, of hot showers and soft beds, of warm plates of mostly really good and well-earned dinners. Of course, every day I had to navigate city streets or airports and my very ambitious itinerary. I was virtually on the move at every moment if I wasn’t sleeping.
While my entire trip was planned out ahead, day-by-day, tree-by-tree, I had no concrete idea of what it would be like to travel to get to my destination, or who or what I’d encounter. I never knew if I would actually find the tree I was searching for. I spent hours hiking, listening to the stories playing out around me in the forest, usually, but not always, finding my treasure, and trying to be invisible to humans passing by on the trails. Once I entered the forest, I was not one of them anymore; I was the forest too (a visitor, a foreigner, yes, but a wild creature nonetheless). Once the introduction with a tree is made, the intention set, the camera is set up and then clothes come off, my awareness falls even deeper into wild consciousness. Sometimes photographing was so blissful for me that hours would go by, dusk would come, and I wouldn’t want to, but had to, stop. Even when I was driving, I felt more connected to the land outside my window wizing past me than the culture of the other occupied vehicles on the road.
Surprisingly for me, the animals I unexpectedly encountered along the way filled me with elation just as much as the trees I was searching for did: kookaburra, galah, pademelon, koala, python, goanna, echidna, wallaby mum and and joey, possum mum and baby, butterfly, blue lobster, green frog, platypus, spotted quoll, the Wombat King of the enchanted Waldheim forest, and the many, many more critters who I encountered and who were hidden, but watching me. All those exotic beings, seen and unseen, along with the light, the dark, the sounds, the smells, the movement, the moisture, the dryness, the mystery of the forests– was thick with life force energy.
In Australia only 6% of the rainforests are left; in New Zealand only an estimated 1 – 15% of the land is left covered in native vegetation.
How many dead animals did I see on the road? Too many wombats looking like run over teddy bears, endangered spotted quolls, and brushtail possums who are native in Australia but invasive in New Zealand. Dead is dead. The majority of Tasmanian devils, endangered from a contagious facial cancer caused by loggers who leave out poisoned food to absolve themselves from destroying habitat, are exiled in sanctuaries and zoos until the disease hopefully dies out. New Zealand has a definitive lack forests and trees, and the majority of them that are there, are California species! In my trained assessment, The Middle World of Hollywood Hobbits has been completely trashed by agriculture and sheep. Ack! Too much of the wild of these two countries has been destroyed in the name of human progress. And yet, when I found myself immersed within a remnant of the wildness that is left, it felt like going back in time to a rich planet wealthy with life force energy.