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My heart, I thought, was broken. Shattered into a billion smithereens. I couldn’t rise out of the blanket-nest I had created on the floor. The wound inside of me, when I found out that the person I loved had a second life felt irreparable. Like a boundless chasm from which my most treasured organ had been ripped. On the third day of wallowing on the floor, I realized I was suffocating in my own sorrow and forced myself to load the bicycle into my old ford pickup and drive to the Katy trail, my favorite trail in the entire universe. I can’t remember how I mustered the strength to lift the bike into the truck or how I managed to ride 50 miles that day on an empty stomach, but I remember that ride as my salvation.

You see, nature fortifies our hearts.

And I don’t mean fortify in the way you might think. Our hearts aren’t “hardened” by nature, rather she invigorates and enlivens our hearts and through that process she makes us simultaneously (perhaps paradoxically) vulnerable and strong. Through her grace and example she reminds us that life is fluid, that security is an illusion, and that we must ultimately accept and embrace the changes that we face. Nature teaches us that there are natural cycles of deaths and births, sunsets and dawns, days and nights and that our hearts too must follow these cycles.


Conversely, Western civilization preaches that we should cling to beauty, to youth, to money, to power. We are brainwashed to believe that letting go is weak and that holding on is paramount. We are led to believe that we are separate from nature, that our lives do not parallel nature. That things do not have to change if we have the right things or the right look or the right position. No wonder there are so many lost and broken hearts wandering this land.

However, when we get to know the wild intimately, when we spend hours embraced in her goodness, when we transform our view of the world from exploitative to sacred, when we truly make that connection and forge a bond, it’s something that can’t be broken. In a sense, we become her. And we share her wild heart.

I parked my bike at a bench along the Missouri River. A pair of eagles dove for fish. The massive cottonwood, above me stood over the water like a sentinel. De-nuded of leaves a, and stoic, it gracefully had entered its own stage of quiet reflection. My breath came out raspy and bitter. I cried into the frozen air, I screamed across the coursing river. And the world; she accepted all of my rage and my pain in her echo. I felt suddenly in my heart, a quiet acceptance, like a salve being rubbed into the parts of me that I thought were broken.


As I rode home in the waning light, a fierce realization swept over me with the crisp northlery wind, a realization that my wild heart couldn’t be broken. I saw that there would be cycles of sadness, and euphoria and great love and loss, but that as long as I nurtured my sacred bond with the wild and accepted myself as part of her masterpiece; my heart would remain wild and whole until the end. I smiled at the trees as I passed on spinning wheels and the planet spun with me, away from the ebbing sunlight and into the night.

Jennifer Conner

Jennifer Conner

Jennifer is an adventurer, naturalist, and Sierra Club activist in Southwest Missouri. Jennifer and her husband Mark and daughter Aarilyn recently started an organic farm on which they raise honey bees, shitaake mushrooms, and sorghum (so far). Jennifer attempts to strike a balance between caring for their land and embarking on as many wilderness adventures as possible. She believes that the human soul is intimately connected with the wild and works to protect and enhance the abundant and spectacular natural resources and wilderness areas near her home in the Ozarks.