A Wild Vocation

by Aram Mitchell

This summer has been a season of steady momentum for Renewal in the Wilderness. We have been collecting skills, forming relationships, scouting lands, paddling lakes, and shaping the vision and strategy for our future. In the midst of this movement I have also been pausing periodically to reflect on my responsibility as the one charged with guiding the mission and manifestation of Renewal in the Wilderness.

One day this summer, while we were picking our way along a small boardwalk in a marshy portion of the forest on Great Cranberry Island, my friend Jim asked me, “When did you know that you were meant to work with the wilderness?” I didn’t offer a precise answer then, but I have continued to hold Jim’s question in my mind, even going so far as to consult my heart, during the weeks since.

When did I sense the call of the wild? Pretty early on. And frequently.

I have an old photo taped on the wall just above my desk. In it I’m leaning against my dad who is leaning against a hitching rail in a forest near a birch tree. We’re held in the photo by a small pocket of light. It was the late ‘80s so, of course, we have matching mullets. There is a distinct smile on my face as I anticipate exploring the shadowy places, the unknown that extends from each corner of the photo.

My dad has always woven encounters with the natural elements into the memories we’ve made together. Age 8: We clawed at the soil to climb out of the ravine on trail 3 at Turkey Run State Park. I can still smell the earth. Age 12: We dismounted our mountain bikes to cross the trails flooded by the White River. Age 14: We stared at the moon through the mist before falling asleep in an open field in the Scottish Highlands. Age 21: We stood atop Mt. Marcy in the Adirondacks pelted by wind and snow and glee. A couple times a year for the past decade: We have walked through the Paria Canyon together, remembering with Heraclitus that you can never step in the same river twice.

Over the years my dad gradually coaxed a spirit of curiosity out of me on our adventures. My curiosity has compelled me toward other profound encounters in the wilderness with other loved ones, and sometimes with strangers, and sometimes solo, though never quite alone. The vocation has always been there, taunting me, inspiring me, moving me, guiding me.

Reflecting on my personal relationship with the wilderness has anchored my sense of professional vocation in the work of Renewal in the Wilderness. It’s been one year since I stepped into the role of guiding Renewal in the Wilderness. I feel more committed to this work than ever. And more excited than ever about where we are heading.

The trajectory of our movement is leading to intersections with others who are striving in their own vocations to make a more just and beautiful world. Keep on keeping in touch with us to explore fresh manifestations of our mission as we cultivate curiosity in ways that sustain a culture of compassion!

(PS - Happy birthday Dad! xo)

Aram Mitchell

Renewal in the Wilderness, 135 Sherman Street, Portland, ME, 04101