Our Wild Places

by Gabe Herron

A post in our Milestones series from past contributor Gabe Herron.

Our best stories have milestones within them, marking out the locations of older meaning, and because of the limitations of language, we've carved out these beautiful symbols that transcend the toolset we've used to shape them. There are places that only narrative will lead us, if we let it, and more importantly, return us safely from. The sums of these milestones tell a story too. They murmur that we have been constructed of the same stuff, molded by the same forces of selection in the heat of the hottest of all foundries. That we have been made much alike and for damn good reason. So, when I become turned around in the forest of a story, tangled and lost in its understory, I listen for the sounds of drumming. If I hear a rhythm beating out in that darkness, I start in that direction, even if going that way is weird, or confusing, or scary, and sometimes because it's weird, and confusing, and scary. I can always turn away, always run for it if needed, and so, I try and get myself as close as I can to the place where stories were first told—our human hearth.

We can still hear their drumming because our ancestors aren't behind us; they are us. We are their story. The story of their collective successes and many failures. We all share hundreds of thousands of years of emotional coevolution, common instincts, and multilevel selection for mutual awareness, and those are the forces, always present and persuasive, that churn within us all, that make us what we are today: walking the earth, doing our human stuff, the good, the bad, and the indifferent. If we don't pay them some tribute, if we do not honor the ancestral rhythms left encoded within us, then one day, we may be overrun by their pounding, and so become their tribute instead, because what we do not understand about ourselves, we leave for others to understand for us, and then to capitalize upon. But I believe narrative is a connection back to our origins, a path to something much greater than ourselves, and one of the primary forces that shaped us.

These milestones connect us all together. We are their locators, curators, and transmitters. As we find them, as we leave their locations behind for others to find and to fix, we mark out our humanity, so that none of us feel so lost inside its vastness. It's as timeless a thing to do as can be done: the making of these bonds between a storyteller and a listener, between a writer and a reader. It's possibility forged of human spirit. But really it's enough just to share in a world that is created together, a good practice, to share a world, even if only an imaginary one, so that we know we are in every way for each other, and because of each other we're not alone, but a collection of many through the millennia—a tribe of storytellers.

Gabe Herron lives outside a small town near Portland, Oregon with his wife, son, and daughter. His stories have won Glimmer Train's Short Story Award for New Writers, and Best New Writing's Editor's Choice Award.  His fiction has appeared, or is forthcoming in Glimmer Train, Prairie Schooner, and The Missouri Review.  He has worked at Powell's Books for fourteen years.