My 35th Anniversary: Precious Place & Unfailing Commitment
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
The start of a New Year is always as good a time as any to look back at what we’ve been doing, to get a feel of the direction our road ahead leads us. January, 2015, provides additional motivation, marking as it does the anniversary of my marriage to this wild land.
It was 35 years ago that I closed the odd Taos art gallery that I was a youthful partner in, and gave up the work of awing (whether inspiring or unsettling) the mostly wealthy Texan buyers in exchange for an artful life in a true New Mexico wilderness. Situated in the far north of the state, eclectic Taos community and culture provided a special milieu for the development of this artist/author/activist, yet I was unable to resist the call from the spectral mountain ranges of the Gila, far to the south and near to Old Mexico.
So great was the beckoning, the intoxication, that I would crazily move away from the source of my artist’s income, away from an aesthetic and alternative community, to a place with far more elk than people, and with those people mostly being ranchers and renegades with little use for an artist’s talent.
At first I imagined it was all about me, my needs, and the path I was on. I had certainly come for my own salvation and empowerment, for the ways of the ancients and the new sources of inspiration that my spirit and work craved, and it in these ways this move served me well. It was not long, however, before I began to realize the degree to which I, instead, had been called to serve the land.
The price I paid to come here, and stay here, was certainly high enough, including: The sale of my vehicles, and even the engine out of the school bus home I lived in, in order to cover the down payment, and then years with no way to get to the nearest town and store except to walk. Fifteen years of burdensome land payments that I had a hell of a time making enough money to cover, having to be away from home months at a time working not as an artist or teacher but as an adobe brick maker, a bodyguard, a hunting guide, and a traveling rock n’ roll drummer. The loss of the family I arrived with, and being tucked so far away from the children I made. I doubt I could have persevered in this canyon if it had only been for the sake of my personal refuge, adventure, enjoyment, or inspiration. But for the chance to fulfill a calling, for the opportunity to protect and nourish and restore such a special wild place, no price is too high, no terrible cost too great for me to bear.
So often, the sale of property marks the moment its natural landscape is flattened for building sites, its native fauna and flora replaced with manicured pets and manicured lawns, but in this case it proved to be private ownership that made possible a halting of the harm it was suffering, made possible the reintroduction of a native plant species and return of its diverse wildlife.
For over a decade, I regularly left this sanctuary as part of a mission to promote nature awareness and environmental ethos and activism, combining informational and motivational talks with live music and dance, supporting local campaigns to protect forest or fauna, participating in essential protest and sometimes civil disobedience.
Thousands of hours of campaign work and outreach, public demonstrations and blockades, times of getting abused by corporate thugs, handcuffed and maced, and yet few of our activist successes proved as long lasting as – or any more significant than – the preservation and rewilding of Anima Sanctuary and the river canyon it guards the gates of. Ancient redwood trees I risked my freedom to save were subsequently cut, but the sanctuary still stands, more whole than ever, more vital, enlivened, thriving. One of the most valuable thing I have done with my life, and it required staying put, learning to be native to the land, protecting it against trespass and damage, giving as much or more as one is given, and refusing to give up. My final tour was close to 70 shows and 35 protests in 1991, choosing to affect the world through the then “new” internet technology while closely tending the sanctuary.
For ten years, I tried bring folks here to the canyon to experience what it and I could offer, spurring transitions, and inspiring transitions. Elka (then called Loba) arrived and hosted annual Wild Women’s Gatherings. Then another transition of my own, joining with partner Kiva in supporting the folk herbal movement with the help of our Plant Healer Magazine. This blog evolved from a record of student responses and anima lessons, to a place us to post the articles that fit nowhere else, and recount the tales of our dedicated lives and this canyon we are dedicated to. As a result, hundreds of people can attest to the significance of the sanctuary and its lessons about finding and pledging to home, including:all those who came for counsel, quests or retreats, to contemplate their purposes and inspire them to change their lives. The participants of the Wild Foods Weekends and Women’s events. The volunteers, interns, and homestead helpers who helped to plant the native seeds, deal with invasive species, and tend the cattle proof fencing. Our nearest rancher neighbors, who went from feeling threatened by my presence to appreciating my role in helping save this part of the Old West from the often inglorious and unlovely mechanisms of the modern age. And my dear family that eventually came and stayed, each promising themselves to the land just as I had myself. All can speak to the crucial value of unbridled nature, of inspirited place, of passionate caring and pledges to be kept… not just the importance of healthy change, but the value of what lasts.
It is not just the actual supporters of and visitors to the Anima Sanctuary who can speak to its significance and impact, of course, and it is especially satisfying to think of all of you for whom the mythos, trials and joys of the “Canyon” has felt somehow personal. You have both recoiled and rallied to help when it was threatened by onrushing wildfire, and been inspired by our encounters with floods to mine the blessings and lessons that come with extremes.
You have joined us in celebrating the growth of trees where there once were none remaining, the medicine plants that have reappeared and helped to keep us healthy, and the coming of each Spring’s green sprouting.
Our tales of becoming familiar with and learning to care for this land, have encouraged many of you to pay closer attention to where you live, to tend it and delight in it. Others of you have felt inspired to seek out a new place to live that does more to feed your spirit and purpose. You’ve told me that my stories about tilting my head to spit the berries on the wild mulberry tree here, has encouraged you to adjust your perspective on the world around you. Some of you have said that the emphasis on growing roots here, has you looking to your feet and to the ground beneath them.
And that’s just perfect, whether you are living in the city or the countryside, for we all need to plant our roots if we are to grown and strengthen. If we are not yet ready to root and settle, it is still to the ground at our feet that we must look – not to distant ethers – in order to find and define our path.
It is to all of you, then, that I invite to join me in celebration of this 35th Anniversary. Do something for and with the place you live. Feel free to imbibe the intoxicant of your choice. And raise a toast, if you please, to all things worth an unfailing commitment.
My gratitude to Rhiannon, Elka, Kiva, every supporter and sponsor we have ever had, to our students, apprentices and allies past and present, to everyone who has stuck with me through the years, the challenges, the discoveries and joys. We and the Sanctuary are with you too, in all you face and do. A wondrous New Year to you, Compañeros y Compañeras de la Tierra.
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