Archive for February, 2008

The History Of Anima Center – Part 3 – by J. Wolf Hardin

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008

The History Of Anima Center – Part 3
deer1-sm.jpgI had begun the search for land with two cohorts from my Taos art gallery days, the mountain man aesthetic John Drake and adventurous Corbett Wilson. But when Corbett “flaked-out” on John, John figured the search was over and headed back to his Wyoming horse ranch. Now I was the only one left, bereft of resources, yet still wildly intent on the quest for a home. From the moment Emile the rancher had driven up, I had felt a tingle, as though the place he talked about selling was somehow magically the fated one. My heart started racing and it was all I could do not to shout with joy and expectation. As soon as he had he said his goodbyes to my real estate agent employer, I climbed out of the hole where I had been working. I was already trying to figure out how to pay for it, before the dust roused by the departing truck had settled back down again.

Within hours I had arrived at the spot Swallows had marked on the map, a section of dirt road that led to the mouth of a canyon where the San Francisco River coiled from one side of the canyon cliffs to the other, dissolving into wilderness beyond. That maiden walk in was indescribable, both what I saw and what I so deeply felt, awakening a deeper connection to myself through connection to a place. If ever I experienced what they call “déjà vu,” it was then, as each bend in the canyon appeared as I had imagined, and the water lapped at my feet with the familiarity of eons. The landscape was of course stunning, as impacted as the two miles of national forest property leading into it was from a century of cattle grazing… hosting the very rock formations, pines and giant cottonwoods of daylight visions and long held dreams. There were no fences or landmarks to indicate the boundaries of the private inholding I hungered for, and yet when I finally stopped to camp it was well within the parcel, and only yards from where I would park my school bus camper following its final earthen voyage. “Whatever it takes,” I heard myself promising, when I was finally able to relax enough to sleep.

The price seemed insurmountable even if, as Swallows thought, I could get the owner to carry the title and give me a full 15 years in which to pay, given that I had neither savings, credit nor cash, and had moved to an area where it was impossible to make any income on such “foolishness” as artwork. I nevertheless went ahead, fueled not by the recklessness of my youth, but by the power of an already irrevocable commitment. Unwilling to wait until matters were decided, I jumped in the bus and drove it – pedal to the metal – through the 7 formidable river crossings and straight up a twisty trail to the mesa where to this day it sits. From its windows I watch the river wind below on its way to Arizona, and contemplate my course of action in the glow of the sun-lit crimson cliffs.

As it turned out, the initial step in purchasing land is often an official signed Offer To Buy. But before submitting one, I was required to deposit with the agent a set and sizable amount of money. They call this “Earnest Money,” since it tends to guarantee the earnestness of the buyer. Such funds are counted towards the down payment if an offer is accepted, but are forfeit if the seller were to accept and then buyer failed to raise the rest of the proffered payment. Just getting the thousand dollar Earnest was a stretch. My sympathetic parents had no money to loan, and the only established credit I had was with the friends and associates who knew and believed in me, thus within a few weeks time I had already borrowed as much as possible from everyone I knew. Next were the forced sales of everything salable, beginning with the paintings I had done, sold to distant friends and clients at a fraction of their onetime gallery price. Then my motorcycle, a treasured bit of hardware that I equated more with freedom than with transportation, and still there was not enough. To make up the difference I decided to take a huge chance and sell the engine out of the school bus I lived in, to a new buddy I’d met named Jes.

Years later I was surprised while reading about ancient Viking history. Apparently there were times when the Norse raiders disembarked from their ships only to find themselves unexpectedly surrounded my numerically superior forces. There were time when, rather than withdraw, the chieftains would set fire to their sails. Then, with their backs to the sea, the sword wielding raiders would inevitably fight all the harder. With no exit possible, there would be no half-hearted swings. In my own way, I also had ensured my utmost efforts. Not only would I have no money to leave on, but I would also have no way to get my bus back out, and no vehicle in which to leave. From the moment Emil agreed, I knew I would only have a scant few months in which to raise many thousands of dollars, or else I would lose it all. And I already knew that this land was meant for more than just me.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin (to be continued)

Wolf Tracks In The Canyon – Tracking As An Awareness Exercise

Wednesday, February 13th, 2008

Wolf Tracks In The Canyon:

& Tracking As An Awareness Exercise

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

wolftrack-sm.jpgThe mud deposited by the recent flood here, dried up within a week, but in that time served to record the comings and goings of the many kinds of animals making this river canyon their home. Like plaster casts, they provided long lasting evidence of javalina and coons, coyotes and foxes, deer and elk. Most intriguing of all, was a row of tracks running alongside the water, showing how the animal had investigated every rodent hole and beaver den, marked certain willows with its musky scent, rested, and then ran after some real or imagined prey. Much too large to have been left by a coyote, and far from the nearest ranch, it seemed pretty clear what creature had made them: a wolf… one of a few dozen endangered Mexican Grey Wolves reintroduced into the area beginning in 1981. Many county residents actively oppose the federal recovery program, making their point by erecting “wolf proof” shelters for kids waiting for the local school bus. Meanwhile there seems to be a growing minority in this sparsely populated region that sees the extirpated animals as being indicative of a healthy natural ecosystem. Both loved and hated, the wolf who left its mark in the ground here is emblematic of wilderness, as well as the quality and characteristics of wildness.

All tracks have stories to tell once we know to read them, tales written in hoof and claw, foot and paw, pressed into sand or soil. Close examination, preferably early morning or late evening when the tracks are side-lit, show us not only what species has passed by but also what direction they were going. The depth of the track indicates their weight and size, and the distance between the tracks can tell us if they were walking slow or fast. If a deer’s tracks are far enough apart and very deep, for example, it’s likely they were running and leaping away from a real or imagined threat. With people, the kind of print can tell us not only the size and type of shoe, but also whether it was a man or woman, professional or athletic, hurried or relaxed.

For our ancient tribal ancestors, this ability to read tracks could mean the difference between starvation and a full meal…. between us catching something to eat, or ourselves ending up as a grizzly bear’s meal. Everyone was expected to be extremely aware, and the most aware of all became the esteemed hunters, medicine women, spiritual warriors, magicians and shamans. The responsibilities get bigger as our awareness grows, but the rewards increase at the same time. After a day on the trail, in a local park or area beach, we can’t help but appreciate how much sweeter recorded music sounds to ears freshened by nature’s song and silence. Eyes taught to notice the tiniest details of sign have an easier time noticing the details of a beautiful painting or the clues in a good movie. Noses stirred by the subtle smells of the forest come back wakened to the aromas of a yummy dinner! Sign is a kind of enchantment or sorcery in that it can help lead us deeper into the experience of Wonderland, and in the process, deeper into our own enchanted beings. Tracking animals, domestic or wild, is yet one more way that we raise our awareness level, open and grow our senses, and reconnect with the larger world of which we are a part. While we may appear to be following some creature, what we end up finding is our own awakened and empowered selves.

Recommended Assignments:

• Go out to the nearest wild place with a track identification guide, and see how many different kinds of tracks you can positively identify. Remember that tracks get larger and more rounded as they age or get rained on, sometimes making them look like something they’re not.

• If you can’t get to a secluded beach, state park or forest to track, find the nearest bare soil or unpaved lot and look for the always present signs of feeding birds, scurrying mice, domestic cats and dogs. You also don’t have to leave the city to find signs of the many species of wildlife that venture in or make their homes there. These can include snakes, squirrels, skunks, raccoons, and sometimes even coyotes although their tracks are mighty hard to distinguish from those of small domestic dog.

•Watch not only for tracks but for disturbed pine needles, bits of fur stuck on a sticker bush or wire fence, and animal feces. You can tell what animal left the feces by what you find in it, hair in the poop of predators who hunt for their food, nutshells and plant matter in that of rodents and coons.

•Try to determine the direction an animal was going not only by the shape of the print, but by the way the soil around the track is disturbed. Most animals throw some dirt to the rear as they step.

•See if you can figure out how long ago the animal passed by, based on how distinct or fallen-in the tracks are, how much loose leafy material has blown in since it was made, and whether or not it has rained.

•Try pouring and collecting plaster tracks from the more well defined sign, until you get samples from all or most of the neighboring species.

•Use the skills of awareness, observation, intuition and deduction that you develop reading tracks, in order to also “read” the people and situations around you in everyday life. Then you can see at a glance where someone has been, anticipate where they are going, and decide what is your wise and wizardly course of action.

The Grieving Cairn -Short Story By J. Wolf Hardin

Friday, February 8th, 2008

The Grieving Cairn
“Fiction” Excerpt By Jesse Wolf Hardin

“ You will find something more in woods than in books. Trees and stones will teach you that which you can never learn from a master.”
-St. Bernard of Clairvaux

The last kid put his personal rock with the others’, fitting it carefully into its place in the pile they called a “cairn.” Then he stepped back to wipe the sweat off his brow. It was important that they had each selected their own stone, and then carried it themselves the long distance uphill. The kids’ long-haired counselor smiled at the feat, knowing how tempted they were to think him a kook and drop out of the two week program, to head back down to Taos and party until the next time they got in trouble. And frankly, there was plenty of reason for them to bail out, from the difficult hikes to the kinds of truths they were made to face. But then there was something cool about the crazy things their counselor had them do, about being listened to for the first time in their lives, that caused most of them to stick it out. And this was a grieving cairn, after all, built to house and honor all the things they hurt over, and ached for. And the teens, like teens of any generation, could really “get into” grieving!
The counselor understood what his kids felt. The youngsters weren’t “apathetic” – as so often portrayed by the media and officialdom — they were simply pissed-off, and paralyzed. There was no excuse for some of the rotten things they’d been busted for, but any major changes in their lives would first require an understanding why they did what they did. The bad drugs and wild lifestyles, all the cheap and dangerous highs were just their way of pushing to make their lives seem more real and significant, just a push to experience more, and feel more. They saw life as a flexible membrane, and were determined to stretch it as far as it would go.
He had finally got what he wanted so bad: the Disenfranchised-Youth Franchise. He would go back to his treasured mountain cabin after each session, wondering how the kid’s were doing since he saw them last, and practicing the new dances they always insisted he learn (even if it meant breaking his thick glasses from doing break-dance spins on his head). He didn’t care what the kid’s interests were, so long as they applied themselves at something, anything. What he’d say he hoped for them was to distinguish themselves at whatever “tripped their trigger.” He loved these unhappy crews, felt the need to protect them from their addiction to being victims. Children and flies are some of the few creatures that will rush back to the exact spot where the swatter struck. In a sense, these young men had each packed his own weighty “rock” long before working their way through the confusion of broken homes, boring schools, and finally detention. They’d packed it all the way to the start of this oddball wilderness program, to this, their last chance to learn to celebrate. And first-ever permission to grieve.
For the cairn exercise, the kids were instructed to focus on some wondrous element of their past: some special person, place or living thing that made their childhood meaningful — something that had since been disgraced, defiled, stolen or destroyed. For some this meant the family they never had. Or some “Enchanted Forest” that may have been no bigger than a single undeveloped lot, that they watched covered over with asphalt for a new highway. For another, it meant the tiny run-off creek with the polliwogs in it, that nonetheless appeared to the boy as big and mysterious, as complete as an entire wild river ecosystem — later channeled into culverts and sewers. A special old apple tree in the backyard that held not only fruit in its branching grasp, but fruitful wisdom — cut down while the children were at school because some idiot gardener told dad it had “bugs.” One stone was placed for the crazy old lady with the twenty-seven Siamese cats, found frozen to death when the city turned off her gas over an unpaid bill. Another stone represented a failed teen romance, and true to form, insisted on rolling to the bottom time and again.
The cairn had grown over the course of the years, and in time featured a rock for nearly every threatened paradise, every nearby rural community turned into another Aspen for the rich. The loggers’ kids mourned that there were no more big trees for their family business to cut, hippies’ kids mourned that there were so few left to climb. Not a few ached for what they thought of as the “Wild West,” a place where eccentrics where valued and promises kept, a place more free than the imagination itself. Wild mustangs and thundering bison, chased by eagle-feathered braves, cowboy’s and outlaws who stood up for what they believed in even it was wrong. And it seemed like everybody’s kids ached over the loss of freedom and privacy, the absence of opportunities for adventure and purpose. The bigger the pile got, the more vanished loves and dreams, critters and playgrounds it came to stand up for. Here was a monument to that which was no more.
The boy they called “Frog” left one for the amphibians no longer heard singing from ponds poisoned by acid rain. “Dagger” came forward with a rock alarmingly shaped like the body of a baby, placing it in the conical pile for “the child he’d never have.” They all looked at each other, the toughest playground bully or cafeteria arsonist swinging around to take the trail back, hurrying on rather than let their buddies see the tears welling up in their eyes.
Soon every kid but one had added his grieving stone to the rest. Finally “Punky,” the smallest of the bunch, came huffing out of the thick brush. In his arms, covering much of his face, was a boulder at least half his own weight. They watched as a tiny hero, the champion of some unknown cause, completed what appeared to be the impossible. Dropping the monster stone high upon the cairn berm, Punky fell to one knee, gasping for air.
“So whatcha’ grievin’?,” Dagger asked. But the sage counselor already knew. He could sense the little fellow’s grief over the mother that passed away, the father who didn’t try hard enough to understand him. And more than that, he could feel the way the kid suffered over the uniformity of shopping malls, the disappearance of cowboys and the urbanization of Indians. Gone, the likes of Chief Joseph and Billy The Kid. Gone, the grizzly bears and grizzly fighters, the code of the West…. and all the rest.
“Everything,” Punky answered, trailing off to a whisper. “Every-damn-thing.”
The shaggy headed counselor smiled to himself, thinking how tomorrow was as good a time as any to start up a gratitude cairn. There was, after all, no shortage of rocks, and no shortage of hills still to climb.
And no shortage of blessings to notice and gifts to savor… of people and places to thank, and wholly celebrate.