Archive for the ‘Earthskills’ Category

Killers, Meat-Eating, & Rights vs Considerations

Wednesday, January 21st, 2015

Hunters cave art 72dpi

Killers, Meat-Eating, & Rights vs Considerations

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Argue about Animal Rights 72dpiIt hasn’t been easy being someone active in environmental and social issues often championed by the left wing, while writing about western history and antique firearms for an often right leaning audience.  Not easy to be a free thinking libertarian in a society that largely surrenders its independence for the illusion of safety and a semblance of comfort, or someone with a low income who is bent on making things hotter for the elite 1%.  Or a lover of peace who practices self-defense moves.  Or a guardian of nature who hunts animals, at a time when most nature advocates are against all hunting.  

The following thoughtful email from Jeff, an urban activist, asks questions about the latter, seeming contradiction – and I hope you find my response underneath it to be thought provoking.  Let’s begin with the premise that nothing is ever black and white, all bad or all good.  I suspect this email dialogue could be cause for a heated argument or two, but this could have its beneficial side.  Such passions are known to increase excitement, speed up the pulse, and promote action… each a fair measure, you’ll note, of how alive we are….    -Wolf

Hello Jesse Wolf,

I’ve always had a deep appreciation of wilderness and wildlife. I’ve also read quite a bit on Deep Ecology, Conservation vs. Preservation, Environmental Ethics , American Indian ecology and spiritualism, and animal welfare and animal rights .  But I have been perplexed always by one question, to which you seem the ideal person to ask (I remember seeing a younger you interviewed in the documentary “Redwood Summer”). As one who has shared very much your thoughts and feelings about other life forms and their natural communities, I was flabbergasted in seeing you holding a rifle and other weapons of destruction.  Which leads me to the question I ask to you, and have to many others, but with no satisfactory explanation:

Meat is Murder 72dpiYou have great kinship with life and I assume fall under being a biocentric egalitarian, yet you are a KILLER of Life.  Please do not be taken aback by what I have said, for I have said this to myself before writing it to you. Then I said to myself, but the most spiritual people in this hemisphere, American Indians, killed animals daily. Is this your mentality when shooting animals? Or do you shoot them for recreation too, perhaps to close the bond between real man and real nature.  I say this not with ill will to you, only to elicit finally a satisfactory answer which I myself have struggled with for years.

I love the environmental philosophy of Deep Ecology, sacred and whole earth, and the spirit of all beings and things. But, damn, there’s another side to me that tells me compassion.  If I were living in the Pleistocene again, or under similar circumstances now (nuclear winter, meteor strike like 65 million ago, etc.), then I’d have no problem spearing, blasting or trapping an animal for food. But, and I live in New York City, I now have other food choices to avoid killing. Many of my friends are now vegans, and swear by PETA.   So, how can one exhilarate the glory of the earth and its life, while at the same time killing that life.  Would not Thoreau, Schweitzer and Ghandi condemn this hypocrisy. Is not the short and cruel life of the chicken, pig or calf in a factory farm worth as much as any wild animal, be it wolf or grizzly?

To answer no, is to become Lord Man again.  What exactly are the “rights of nature”; is it only the “rights of species”?  That’s the paradox I’ve felt for quite a long time, I’m like a hybrid. Radically for the environment, and radically for the beings who inhabit it. Can’t seem to have a land ethic without a life ethic, and vice versa.   People working all their lives to put circuses, zoos, puppy mills, kill-shelters, fur farms, etc. out of business, and then people working to put lumber and oil companies, ranches and Big Agriculture out of business.  I’m going crazy being a member of Humane Society and PETA, while also the Wilderness Society and WildEarth Guardians.  

Can you maybe help me out on this? I’d appreciate your own thoughts on this, especially the role of animal rights in today’s society living along side a  healthy environmental movement.  Thanks very much for your time, and do answer at your convenience.

Sincerely, Jeff (an activist)

to which I replied:

hand and paw 72dpi

Greetings To You Jeffrey:

I seldom have time for correspondence, caught up as I still am with the somewhat Quixotic but evermore urgent and time consuming mission of helping awaken and heal people and planet.  I cannot, however, ignore such a well considered letter of inquiry, from such a clearly caring young person.  Relatively young, I surmise, since traits like introspection, the questioning of assumptions, empowerment and even enthusiasm all too often decline with the passing years and the imposition of harsh realities, blinding comforts, or insipid compromise.

An appreciation for wilderness and wildlife such as yours, or dare I say, a physical, emotional and spiritual or “magical” connection to the wild natural world and to one’s one own true wild nature, is not only laudable but essential – crucial to knowing one’s self, their place in the world, and membership in the chain of life and death and purposeful coevolution.  It is thus, that if you are willing to commit to critical thinking as well as deep feeling, I can commit this time to explanation.

Before getting to the “meat” of the matter, let us please dispense with the notion of “animal rights.”  There are no rights in nature, only each being’s claim to existence and survival, and a balancing of individual, community and ecosystem needs.  Rights are liberties or protections assigned by a figure of authority, be it religious (God) or secular (Government).  Animals don’t have any intrinsic or inalienable rights, but then – no matter what the U.S. Constitution says –neither do we.  As we’ve seen since the attacks on the World Trade Center, any government-given rights are temporary and conditional at best, and can be taken away whenever “security” or “order” are deemed threatened.  In a world of no rights, it becomes all the more important that we ourselves do right… and that we actively intercede whenever and wherever we see wrongs and injustices being committed.  In a world of no rights, things require considerations: thoughtful, careful and caring evaluation, relationship and interaction.  We don’t really have the right to unimpeded free speech in this country, as numerous news stories have recently borne out, therefore we consider it essential to speak our minds.  Other species are often at our mercy, their lives and deaths hinging on us, and thus we must consider their needs for territory and sustenance, postured against our perceived needs for ever increasing population, new housing, or a certain flavor of roast.  We should consider and care for animals, not because it is their right, but because it is right to do so.

protect animals by shauna leavitt 72dpi

I certainly understand your discomfort with “killing,” and you would be correct to think no one is more appalled by or driven to action than I by the sight of ancient old growth forests being killed… at times processed by beguiled mill workers whose timber and jobs were all being shipped overseas.  As their advocate, I was assaulted, imprisoned, maced.  I have fought to oppose the killing of large predators, whose deaths do nothing to ensure healthy herds of elk and deer.  I am disgusted by the visiting “horn hunters” who kill elk here in this NM county, remove their coveted antlers and then leave the hundreds of pounds of life-giving meat rotting on the ground.  Commercial meat production facilities are abhorrent in every way.  Killing people for any reason but immediate self defense is what I would call indefensible, whether it is  a murder committed by a thug or a policeman, by a pissed off Jihadi warrior or the Democran/Republicrat president’s horridly impersonal drones.

ashly_with_deer by tom chambers 72dpiThat said, all of life is responsible for the giving of death.  You cannot rinse with mouthwash without wiping out innumerable bacteria, including those known to be beneficial.  You cannot walk without ever stepping on bug.  In addition, if you eat any plant matter besides fruits, legumes and nuts, you are likely responsible for the killing of plants.  It would be the height of anthropocentric hubris to imagine plants are happy to be whacked for our salads, or to think they experience nothing akin to pain!  We can only escape the “killer consumer” label if we convince ourselves that plants aren’t alive, or that their lives are somehow less precious and individuated than the lives of our cousin animals.  And none of us can be said to have no blood on our hands, who live in cities that were once wildlands full of wandering critters and their native hunters and celebrants.  If you live on tofu, your domestic investment in the soy industry is resulting in the death and displacement of vast numbers of indigenous plant life and native animals.  If you use manmade instead of leather products, you have helped make possible the poisoning of animals through the manufacture, off-gassing and then dissolving of polymers.  And I hate to say it, but if you have ever paid taxes, you have done your part to fund roads being built into wilderness, giant dams that bring about the death of endangered salmon, medical research that sometimes tortures its animal subjects, and missiles that vaporize goats and wildlife and innocent children as well as convoys of targeted “militants.”  

Indeed, no one is blameless when it comes to death and killing, and all of us bear some responsibility for the results of our choices as well as actions, but neither blame nor responsibility fully address your quandary.  What we need is to understand that life subsists on life, in an act of eating and being eaten that is not evil even when it feels lamentable, life animated and propelled through an exchange of nutrients as well as energy and influence.  While made up of a diverse number of interactive life forms from micro to macro, all things of this Earth also exist and function as one mega organism, molecules of soil and microbe and person and bear that are never truly separate from one another.  The vegetables we eat, sprouted from the fertile detritus that is the bodies of “perished” (deconstructed) fauna and flora.  It is through the process of being eaten, that they transform into man and woman, mother, father, soldier, social activist, or healer.  We become a little more like the foods we eat, and those foods re-manifest as us.  When life is consumed, whether grazed or butchered, it changes form.  For that reason, the ethical challenge becomes for us to be at least as real and whole, as enlivened, as sentient – and as much of a gift – as those plants and animals we eat.  The primary ethical question becomes not whether or not to “take,” but rather, how best to give back!

Girls Planting Tree 72dpi

To the extent that Native Americans or any other indigenous people ever seem more “spiritual,” as you say, it is not due to ethnicity but a culture of belonging to this terrifying, inspiring, always changing, natural world… a result of being part of a “gifting cycle,” of direct, practiced, personal relationship to the living earth that we are all an integral part of.  Even there where you are in NYC, vitality and wisdom depends not on good thoughts or ideals so much as the exact point where feet touch the soil, where hands tend gardens or indoor plants, and where ideas are put into visible and effective action.  No amount of pavement and concrete between us and the ground can make us into aliens, but we can and do alienate ourselves through imagined separation from the processes and intentions of the living whole.  Our bodies will inevitably be reunited with the elements of the very real world, but until then, we humans have the option of infinite distractions and debilitating self delusions… scientifically or religiously parsing, without the conscious membership and immersion that make us more native and knowing, more relevant and helpful, more healthful and alive.

Primitives 72dpi

Choose Life 72dpiBeyond that, yes, I am a “killer” of life as you said, just as surely as I am life’s defender and proponent.  I am an occasional hunter, aware that I have an omnivore’s body that developed over millions of years to thrive on a diet that includes a percentage of animal protein, and this body likewise developed the physical appendages and natural abilities to effectively obtain it.  I respect the quarry I hunt, adore and learn from them, and it feels nothing but right that we should love and mourn and then celebrate that which we bring death to, and that we are able to admire the plants and animals that contribute to the foods we eat.  It hurts my heart to bring them down and still their breaths, or even to make soup of a domestic rooster or pull an edible plant out of the soil by its roots… and this conscious awareness and pain of connection and caring is itself a gift to me, a gift that’s as nourishing to my being and to my humanness as any broth.  Everyone who eats their veggies, should spend time planting a seed, watering and tending the new shoots, breathing into it and allowing it to breath into them, in order to honor the preciousness of their life and the significance of their death.  And I think that any who eat flesh from a package, should at least once raise and love an animal, before painfully taking its life and accepting its life-perpetuating gift.

angelaP2-72Peta Comic Book 72dpiWhile I can support actions against puppy mills and fur farms, I do worry about the ways in which well meaning practices like radical veganism and animal rights ideology contribute to our imagined separation from and superiority over the rest of the natural world.  We were neither assigned to be nor evolved to become the all knowing managers of a passive planet, but instead, we are born to be active participants in the natural and purposeful ebb and flux, growth and rest, life and death cycles of a planet in perpetual and magnificent flux.  Can the planet support endless numbers of hunters, or even chicken and beef eaters?  Of course not, but neither can it survive the effects of an ever expanding number of vegetarians… or hysterical PETA orators, or nonviolent Buddhists, or even of socially and environmentally conscious young folks like you.  Until an epidemic, nuclear exchange or bioengineering fiasco brings about a drastic reduction in our numbers, living a conscionable and ecofriendly existence will be an important but difficult quest, and slowing the destruction and denaturing of the world will be our nearly impossible but wholly essential mission.

Should you or anyone else be eating meat?  That is for you to decide, based on your awareness of your body’s requirements, and your relationship with your chosen foods.  Of course you should weigh the environmental effects, of vegetable and grain production as well as meat production.  Measure the indirect and long term consequences.  My best counsel is to not only listen to your heart, but also study and compare actual research.  Know where your foods come from, how they were grown and how they treated, how far they were shipped, what nutrients they contain as well as any noxious chemicals that may have been added.  Consume foods produced as locally as you are able, usually from the same state if not the same county you live in.  Are they truly free range?  From small farms or corporate?  I’d add, never waste anything.  And when you are at the table, set aside those feelings of guilt.  At this point, the best way to honor the deaths of those plants and animals we choose eat is to intensely taste, savor, appreciate, celebrate, and praise them!

cow in grass 72dpiholding-the-lamb 72dpifree range chickens 72dpi

I advise that you don’t look for universal answers or one-size-fits-all-solutions, for moral righteousness or ideological purity, and that you increase your awareness as well as compassion to measure all ideas and acts.  Equip yourself with the tools of discernment, not with self assuring dogmas.  It is as vital to dissect and evaluate, each and every moment, even as we choose, commit and do.  Hopefully your questions will never end, with each discovery and realization leading to further chains and channels of inquiry.  Is the warehousing of impounded dogs and unwanted cats always better for them than dying?  Are pets and domestic animals more important issues of concern than the well being and continued existence of wild species?  Are bacteria, which are being found to help orchestrate so much of our bodily design and function, less important or worthy of consideration than poodles?  Are the actions of a woman of man hunting his meal, or even of a person raising sheep for their meat and wool, really more onerous than the burning of forests or banishment of indigenous tribes for palm oil or the extirpation of wild plants and animals for the makings for our tofu?  And most urgently, what are the actual effects and indirect consequences of every single choice you make – of everything you either choose, or fail, to do?

There is, however, really nothing to choose between social activism and environmental action, between care for individuals and whole species, between treating farm animals well and protecting wild ecosystems.  When I coined the word “ReWilding” over three decades ago, I didn’t just mean establishing wildlife migration corridors, I meant the rewilding of our own natural beings as well as of this oppressed world and its life forms.  Liberate the timid human mind.  Free the children.  Free ourselves.  We need to address it all, at once.  The hard thing is focusing on each long enough to make a difference!  In this effort, I send all my encouragement and support.

Free Range Children 72dpi

I hope I’ve been of some help.  In a natural and balanced world, there would be more wild critters than people, and you and I would likely hunt for the opportunity to embody their spirits and extraordinary powers as well as for the strength their flesh can give.  We would be just as sensitive to the pain of the plants we take for healing and food, praise them in song and spread their seeds.  I wouldn’t have a slew of cage-rattling books to sit at a computer and write, and I would therefore have plenty of time to point out some of the medicinal and edible plants we pass as I taught you at least a thing or two about tracking those fellow creatures you had once emailed me about.

Adventure and savor,

Jesse Wolf Hardin

hadza hunters 72dpi

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Amphibios: Prophetic Silence and Vital Song

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Intro: The following essay is on the mythos of amphibians and what their reductions in population tells us, a classic piece from Kindred Spirits – a book of mine no longer in print. We’ve decided to give all the chapters away free here over time, and chose this piece to start with after hearing that one of our On-Site Helpers, Mattie, had been overcome with emotion after reading it. An important issue when I wrote it so many years ago, my projections for amphibian extinctions have actually been exceeded, and their worsening plight tells us something prophetic and urgent about a potential future for humankind as well. Get into your frogness, and tonight sing out….

Prophetic Silence and Vital Song

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima School and Sanctuary  –

“The toad beneath the harrow knows
Exactly where each tooth-point goes”

-Rudyard Kipling

Listen! Listen hard for the happy orchestrations of moon-crazed croakers, and the story such songs tell.

Amphibians, and frogs in particular, are living metaphors of evolution. The distinct stages in their lifecycle parallel the evolutionary imperative, from a unicellular egg into a purely aquatic tadpole, slowly developing the legs and shape of the adults. Each new frog reenacts their ancestors’ first fated gulp of air, and initial ascension onto the verdant land mass. They teach us the crucial processes of metamorphosis— changing appearance without ceasing to exist, changing form to reveal the realized self. Listen! Their raucous and amorous songs are the unequivocal announcement of a still-livable ecosystem. Their buoyant social chirps and echoing mating grunts are an environmental sound-check— a tonal, rhythmic, soulful “all’s well!”

Thus, there’s certainly no more dire portent than a quieted frog pond, no more certain omen than the recent world-wide disappearance of amphibians. Like the audible pleas of Cassandra, the plaintive silence of the frogs is a certain prediction of unfolding catastrophe. And as with Cassandra, no one heeds the crushing hush of wetlands once alive with the croaks and bellows of jeweled songsters. It is in their arresting absence they take on the role of soothsayers, forecasting disaster in a descending wall of terrifying silence. The extended silence of extinction.

We get their name from the Greek word “amphibios,” meaning to “lead a double life” above and below the waterline. The adaptation to a dual-habitat contributed to the success of a three hundred and ninety million year existence, surviving almost unchanged for the last one hundred and fifty million. It now spells double jeopardy, with high-risk exposure to both air and water borne poisons. Their common food source is insects, the victims and carriers of pesticides. An amazing, permeable skin that allows for the direct absorption of oxygen also allows the easy passage of industrial pollutants. Sensitive to changes in water temperature, reductions in cover, and situation, resident populations are effectively halved wherever subjected to logging operations. Acid deposition in the form of rain or snow retard the growth of their eggs. Once the most abundant by weight of any forest animal, amphibians are quickly disappearing worldwide, setting off a great biological alarm.
The Las Vegas leopard frog vanished when its entire range was appropriated by the city it was named for. Adapting to the warming deserts of the west following the recession of the last great ice age, they prospered in one of the driest ecosystems in this country. Finally succumbing to suburban sprawl and the theft of the remaining surface water for the city of glitter, they were only named and classified after the last known specimens were jarred in formaldehyde.

Close to extinction are the tiger salamander of Arizona, the Oaxacan salamander in southern Mexico, the Yosemite toad of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Michigan’s chorus frog and the western spotted frog. The completely logged and polluted Willamette Valley of Oregon is seeing a frightening decline in the population of the once prolific red-legged variety. There are believed to be less than a total of fifty Wyoming toads left, tucked away in the folds of the Laramie basin. By the mid-1980’s the southwest U.S. lost the relict and Tarahumara frogs. The golden toad was assumed safe in the protected preserves of Monteverde, Costa Rica. Within its misty embrace, beneath giant orchids and moss dangling from rainforest trees, the males stood out in a burning show of orange brilliance. In less than ten years they’ve completely disappeared.

The natterjack toad is a study in adaptability, and yet it too is on the way out. While preferring a hot dry climate, it’s learned to exist from Scotland north to Sweden, and on into western Europe. Its favorite domain however, is the loose-soiled terrain common to the open heaths and dunes of Great Britain. With digging spurs called tubercles on the back of their hind-ankles, the dig down from two to ten feet in the ground to survive the varying winters. With a yellow strip down their back, and a characteristic “gunpowder” smell, they were once a common sight in old England before being listed as endangered there in 1975. The coast to coast spread of housing tracts, industrial parks and golf courses result in deaths from pesticides and automobiles, while usurping their remnant habitat.

Amphibians are suddenly and dramatically vanishing from the face of the Earth. Species after species join the ranks of the recently extinct. Of these, one the most unusual was the gastric-brooding frog. Sheltered for millennia in the deep tangles of Australia’s Blackall and Canondale mountain ranges, they developed a singularly unique method for protecting the unhatched eggs from the abundant predators— stowing and hatching the eggs inside their stomach. Somehow they managed to suppress the secretion of digestive acids throughout the incubation period, restimulating their flow after a return to feeding. Following its 1973 discovery by the “modern world,” scientists rushed to study the anomaly of the gastric-brooder. By 1980 the frog that regurgitated live babies lived no more.

Amphibians first appear on the fossil record between the late Devonian and Mississippian periods. Their ancestors were the crossopterygian fishes, with flipper-like lobed fins, and lungs as well as gills. It’s unlikely they ever chose to leave the water. More likely they were caught in isolated, evaporating seas, their first excursions above a search not for land, but for more water. They were pre-adapted to life on land. Lunged fish thrived without leaving the water for hundreds of millions of years, and survive to this day in the form of prehistoric-looking coelacanths of the Indian Ocean. It was however, the existence of already developed lungs that made their land travels possible.

You can see the timelessness of amphibios in the unfocused, dinosauric stare of the rough skinned newts. Their endangered habitat is the last of Pacific Northwest’s temperate rainforest, where they float in the perfectly clear pools of rainwater. They absorb oxygen from the water, supplemented by occasional sorties to the surface for a gulp of mountain air. They rise from the depths in slow spirals in an economy of movement, their almost still tail following behind. With intense, vertical pupils, here is the “eye of newt” staring back from many a witch’s brew. The headwater seeps feeding these pools shelter the rarest of California amphibians, the Olympic salamander. Intolerant of any rise in stream temperature, they easily succumb wherever logging reduces the total amount of shade. Their rapid disappearance is a direct and accurate measure of ancient forest destruction.

The oldest frog fossils are of the family Ascaphidae, dating back two hundred million years to the Jurrasic Period. The remnant wilds of the American northwest are also home to the last living member of this family, the tailed frog. The “tail” is actually a rosy, spade-shaped cloaca, or penis. Needless to say, the female is “tail-less”. They are the only frogs that fertilize the female internally, having adapted to the coldest, hardest-rushing streams where typical external fertilization would be untenable. The eggs are then laid in a sticky secretion cementing them firmly to the rocks, and to the same end the tadpoles employ large suction-cup mouths. This creature of the torrent, muted by the roar of whitewater, faces an uncertain future. Like the Olympic salamander, the tailed frog’s sensitivity is what makes it so vulnerable to human impact. A change in average water temperature of less than five degrees can kill them.

Besides the draining of wetlands, damming of rivers and other habitat loss, amphibians suffer disproportionately from the effects of ultraviolet radiation due to atmospheric ozone depletion. The increase in acid-rain is resulting in the deformation of egg and tadpole, reducing their chances of survival. In addition, they face a mysterious “red leg” epidemic, a spreading immuno-deficiency disease often referred to as “amphibian AIDS”. Given their susceptibility to toxins, there is likely a causal connection between the disease and existing environmental pollutants.

Human beings are far more tolerant of adverse changes, and measurably less vulnerable to the toxic residues of our consumerist civilization. It would appear at first glance as if we could proliferate indefinitely, immune or insulated from the deleterious effects of such promulgation. An insular, detached humanity often seems lost in denial, desensitized, oblivious to worsening conditions, to the silencing of the frogs— conditions that in the end, will prove as disastrous for us as for them.

The coal miners of recent American history carried into those cold, black shafts a bird locked inside a cage. The golden “miner’s canary” was markedly more sensitive to the accumulation of underground gases than the men working beside them. Thus, the silencing of their song was a sure signal of impending doom. In the same way, the quieted ponds of the frog serve an imperiled planet as a tocsin for toxins, a harbinger of destruction, a red alert. Alert. Alert. Alert…

Amphibians have been communicating with our species since well before the first writing of human history. In ancient MesoAmerica, the Earth Mother was often portrayed as a giant, clawed toad squatting in the traditional birthing position. Like Kali, she wears adornments of human skulls, her gaping maw the opening to the transformative womb, the threshold of death and rebirth. In Europe as well as the New World, toads were associated with hallucinogenic mushrooms— the mythic “toadstool.” No doubt, given that the skin secretions of Bufos contain a similarly powerful psychedelic alkaloid used for centuries for shamanic spirit-travel. Vilified in the middle-ages as agents of Satan, and then as embodiments of the devil himself, amphibians have long told a story of transformation the dominant society could not afford to hear.

It is said that toads and frogs can live buried in mud for years, hibernating, mindlessly awaiting the thaw that will release them. There are incredible folk-stories of them somehow becoming entrapped in solid stone or coal, then jumping out unharmed when the rock is unexpectedly broken open. One hopes that within the core of humankind’s hardened, impermeable sheath a secret still rests, fetal, toad-like— a wilder spirit ready to spring forth, ready to belie the extinction of its kind, ready to leap the bounds of muted testimony!

Us humans seem to find it so hard to hear, so hard for even the most inspired teachers to accept the leading guidance of the creature world. I knew one particularly sure of himself educator, a brilliant cynic who needed regular visitations and miracles in order to keep his belief alive. And so long as he was open, Nature and Spirit provided. One of his lessons in perspective came at what used to be his school for “troubled youth” (meaning “hurt, conscious, and fed-up kids”)— through the timely attentions of amphibios. It happened inside of the “Earth Classroom,” a dome structure made entirely of earth and branches from the surrounding area, and completed largely due to the obsession of a particularly gifted student with the proud nickname of “Frog.” Before graduating the program, he gave a talk to the kids and counselors. For his “final” he put on a “show and tell” on all the flowers, pieces of moss covered wood, bones and such that he had brought with him, explaining their significance, and concluding with the admonition that these, rather than words and textbooks, told the real “story.” At the completion of his presentation, the young man carefully took the frog he had brought in to show and ceremoniously released it outside.

A few months later the educator was back at the earth shelter trying to find a way to talk about Spirit to his assistant Cathy— trying once again to conquer his incessant doubts, his cynicism, and the demon-making propensities of a troubled mind. As if on cure it began to thunder and lightning, and a storm was soon ripping through the forest. They sat inside, to the south of the fire, trying their hardest to relax and to receive, praying to quiet their thoughts long enough to truly feel. Suddenly into the hut hops a frog, perhaps the very same frog the student had released so much earlier! He moves into the perfect position to look them eye to eye, patiently waiting for them to notice. Once they did it began bobbing up and down, its pink little mouth opening and closing as if to remind them of a magic so easy to ignore and deny.

Without a doubt, we ignore the attentions of the animal world at our own peril. One by one the shrinking ponds cease to ring out with the glad-croaking songs. One by one they are hushed by the weight of our presence— and by what we, as lovers of this Earth— have yet failed to do. The moonless nights may soon be as still as stone. In the face of such a final silence, we should be “all ears”: attentive, concerned, and vigorously responsive.
Surely we can still learn from the example of amphibian metamorphosis. Let us look to our own cyclical unfolding— for a manifestation of self more conscious of miraculous life, more in tune with the processes of our shared Nature.

And like the so-vocal surviving tree frogs outside our cabin… let us sing.


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Interspecies Affection

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Greetings to our reader friends, on a beautiful September morn.  We’re hosting activist film makers Marissa and Patrick this week, as they record footage of me talking about a range of topics from sense of place to principles of healing, and rest and reward themselves with canyon magic prior to documenting the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference.  We continue to work hard on last minute details, while doing our best to keep up with our magazine deadlines and student responses.  It’s only a week away now, and as we gather ourselves for the coming event the monsoons seem to be receding, attended by echoes with the first thrilling elk bugles of the season.   Today’s blog focus is nothing but sweet, following the dearth of response to my apparently discomforting post on the lessons of death and life’s imperative.  Following below are some irresistible  photographs taken by folks in the front yard of their Harrisburg, Pennsylvania home.  The young buck is not their pet, it’s a wild deer that showed up several mornings in a row for no other apparent reason than to visit with their gregarious tabby cat.  When we think of interspecies interaction, we’re inclined to imagine a lion taking down an antelope, or a clever hunting alliance between a badger and a fox.  We’re less likely to picture such an example of prey species and predators  simply enjoying each others’ company.  In a month when I have had to deal with deep personal tragedy as well as a flurry of difficult and unfamiliar tasks, it is a real pleasure to see and then share with you these images of inter-critter affection and wildly contended lives. -JWH

Sharing A Meal: The Lion’s Elk – by Loba

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

Intro: Besides our personal trials and tasks, we’ve been working such long hours on the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference that I’ve been tardy in getting Loba’s following story – and resulting recipes – to you like I promised.  With all due respect to the sensibilities of our earth-loving vegetarian readers, this is a tale of fang and claw, hunter and gatherer, flesh and feast.  It is inevitable that we intimately and corporeally share with the rest of life, share in its body and force, then one day share in turn the nutrients that are us.  In death we are without exception a precious gift to the all, even if we never give ourselves enough credit for the gift that we are when alive. -Wolf

The Lion’s Elk
by Loba

Anima Wilderness School:

Rhiannon and I were out near the third river crossing picking grape leaves early in the morning for a special morning adventure. We were picking from vines that wrapped all the way around a big oak tree. She had gone around one side of the tree to pick and wandered off a little ways, and came back to me all excited. “Mama Loba, there’s an elk that’s been half eaten, pretty recently!” Of course I had to investigate. We went through the forest a little bit, and there right under a juniper tree in plain sight were the remains of a young elk. The skull had been picked clean, the guts eaten, and the hindquarters were perfectly intact. Barely cool, it had been, I guessed, only a very few hours since the elk had been killed. Claw marks showed where she had brought the unfortunate animal down… marks that remind us how in the long run the lions bring a gift of strength and awareness to the elk tribe!

We picked some more grape leaves, then walked back to tell Wolf and Kiva about Rhiannon’s discovery. Kiva drove out in the jeep with me to gather up the hindquarters. When we came back to the site I went looking for tracks, and was able to find some very close to the elk that were, indisputably, lion tracks!  Later Wolf pointed out the clean, knife like, nearly surgical cuts, typical of a cat and not a coyote or wolf.  He told us that the lion had most certainly been interrupted by us in the act of eating, as they tend to cover and hide any remaining meat for later.  No doubt she was very close by, watching us the whole time!

Once discovered, I knew she wouldn’t go back to eating, so there was nothing to do but bring the undamaged portions home!  We far prefer to eat wild meat to any other, for flavor as well as to be getting chemical free, wild hearted protein, so this was a real boon!

I was so excited, I wasn’t even finished skinning the hindquarters when I had to heat up a pan and fry up a bit of the meat. It was as juicy and tender and mild flavored as any I’ve ever tasted.  This Wolf tells me is not only because the elk was so young, but probably because the quiet stalk, sudden rush and incapacitating bite to the neck happened too quick for hardly any adrenalin and fear vibe to kick in!

Needless to say I had to give Kiva a taste right away, too, and she was just as excited about it as I was. Altogether there was at least 15, maybe 20 pounds of meat to freeze at a friend’s house and can for storage at home. We were all so proud of Rhiannon for finding us so many wonderful suppers-to-come!  She’s learned so much about nature as well as herself, and Wolf’s awareness training has really paid off!

For those of you omnivores who might hunt, discover a truck killed animal still warm on the side of the road, or be given the gift of wild meat, below is my favorite way to serve it up fresh.  Note that this works equally well with deer and other red meats. Very easy!  And by preparing it so well, and appreciating it so much, we help honor its mortal blessing and gift!

Elk with Fennel and Garlic

1 pound elk meat
1 tablespoon fennel seeds, ground in a mortar and pestle OR 1 tablespoon fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons mixed dried veggies (optional)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Butter or bacon or lamb fat

Slice the elk meat across the grain in pieces about 1/2 inch thick. In a medium bowl, rub in the fennel seed, garlic, dried veggies, salt and pepper. Heat a large skillet to medium-high, add the fat and then the meat as soon as it’s hot. Fry the meat until lightly browned on one side, then flip and quickly fry the second side. The meat should be done cooking in about 5 minutes. Serve with sauteed wild greens or with other green veggies.

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(photo of lion in the act of pouncing courtesy of Scientific American Magazine.  All other photos by Kiva Rose)

(For more homesteading and rewilding tales, stay tuned for our upcoming new online magazine site this Fall)

Bear Truth Reality and Grizzly Encounter Sanctuary

Thursday, July 8th, 2010


and Montana Grizzly Encounter Sanctuary

Trust me, the photo above is not a photoshop composite, but an actual photograph of Brutus the 800 pound grizzly bear joining the family for lunch.  Brutus is one of several bears saved from being euthanized by impassioned naturalist Casey Anderson, and displayed in natural environs at the Montana Grizzly Encounter Sanctuary.  The sanctuary serves not only as a home for cage-raised animals that could never survive being released, but also as an educational facility to help dispel the stereotype of the grizz as always being a blood thirsty man eater.  Busloads of school children regularly get fairly close to these admittedly exceptional tempered examples of bruinhood, thrilled to watch these giant critters interact in relatively natural surroundings.

As Casey well knows, there is danger in making all big bears seems as docile and approachable, which is why he teaches about caution in bear habitat as well.  For balance and perspective, it is important to take to heart not only the gregariousness of friendly and faithful Brutus, but also the case of bear activist Timothy Treadwell who insinuated himself into a wild group each year in Alaska.  As the excellent documentary film Grizzly Man describes, most of the animals were indeed accepting.  He used his films of these often playful animals to help win support for their protection, putting their images to work for the cause of improved public relations.  One such furry browed individual, however – the one that decided to kill and eat the well intentioned Treadwell – apparently couldn’t care less how his behavior reflected on the species.

The bottom line is that bears, especially wild ones, are potentially unpredictable and dangerous.  On the other hand, they are not and never were the exaggerated threat that civilized humans have made them out to be.  We evolved with them, not in spite of them, coinhabitants of a wild and magical world where we are not the top of the food chain, but a conscious link… finding not only nobility and beauty in the great grizzly but also inspiration for healing.

To read more about Casey’s sanctuary or to support its work, go to the For further bear reading I invite you to enjoy my piece below, a rather lengthy article entitled “The Medicine Bear”.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin –