A Wild Tonic for the Spirit
living in nature without human control or care : not tame
Like the disappearing wilderness itself, we’ve managed to hollow out the meaning of wild, the word. I offer as evidence: Wild Cherry Pepsi.
As a kid I drank this fruit-flavored cola whenever it was on offer, as long as my mother wasn’t there to stop me. It was my top choice partly because it was strictly off-limits (caffeine, sugar), and partly because it was “wild.” I had a vague notion that the word signified some extreme essence within the can (caffeine, sugar). And while my mom was never around to see me drink it, she was right in guessing it would bring out an extreme essence within her child.
One thing’s for sure: I did not understand that it was the cherries that were supposed to be wild. Who did? Perhaps I had never heard of a wild cherry outside the flavor offerings of soda and cough drops. It hardly matters, since there was not a molecule of actual cherry in any of it, wild or otherwise. And that’s the point. We’ve emptied this word of meaning. We’ve domesticated it.
Still, wild is one of my favorite expressions—no longer because it denotes some forbidden fruit (well, maybe a little bit), but out of reverence for the untamed spirit I suspect is buried in all of us. Herbalists have long said that a wild plant makes more potent medicine than a domesticated one. The explanation for its powerful essence is that in the wild, where no human waters or weeds away competitors, plants need a stronger life force and will to survive.
“We need the tonic of the wild,” writes Thoreau. Tonics invigorate, they refresh and tone body and mind. Wilderness—where life force is strong, where not a day is taken for granted—is a tonic for the spirit as well. Now, as the human species sets out to pave, farm, and extract every last resource; as rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide rise; as the economy falters, the rich getting richer while the rest struggle to survive, I wonder: Do we even really know what living is? Now more than ever, we need to learn from that which can’t be tamed, the life force that refuses to give up.