Archive for April, 2008

Bear Poop Lookout – by J. W. Hardin

Sunday, April 27th, 2008

A fellow arrived in this county twenty-some years ago, not all that long after I did, primed to cut logs at the same time that I was busy planting the very first trees that the canyon had seen in a long time. We got along despite any differences, maybe because of all that we had in common: Neither of us being tall men, we’d spent our lives showing the world we could lift as much and work as hard as the biggest of our breed. Like me, he spoke his mind truthfully and openly whether he thought the listener would agree or not, and we both had a past with not so pleasant incidents of having to forcibly stand up for our rights and lives. Nor could anyone justly slander him as an “uneducated, insensitive logger,” when he was using his sharp mind to study everything he could about forest ecology. And to further belie the stereotype, he opposed the employee-hurting cut-and-run tactics of Stone Industries, as well as disdained the destructive clearcuts found in the American Northwest. While somebody was endangering him by hammering metal spikes into trees he was thinning, Gary was squaring off extra logs that he would give me free for my porch supports. You don’t have to like him, but you had best respect that.

What the two of us most had in common, of course, was having selected this place above all others to make our stand. Many times I’ve seen him pause in his feverish work pace, glancing up if only for a thoughtful moment at the cloud dappled hills on the far side of the river, clearly enraptured in his own way, glad not to be in a big Texas city full of gang-bangers and mall rats, certain that he had found the finest and freest place in the world. And sometimes when the urge got too great, he was known to set down the saw or hammer and take off walking in the direction of the nearest wild meadow or lofty peak. It wasn’t wanderlust, but rather, a process of being drawn to some point in the distance after hearing its siren call.

mushroombearpoop1sm.jpgOne story he told me recently, was about a hike he took up the steep slopes behind the sawmill in Lower Frisco. Alternating scrambling and sliding back down, he eventually made it up the difficult slope to a cathedral outcropping of large and colorful rock. Given the difficulty of the ascent one might easily imagine themselves the first to make the climb, but of course the animals would have been there before, and not just nesting ravens but sure footed deer and fox. And as the evidence made clear, so had a bear found its way there… and not just once, but multiple times.

Gary spotted multiple piles of dung, too large for a mountain lion, interwoven with rodent hair, speckled with undigested juniper berries and acorn husks similar to the mushroom studded pile in the photo here. They ranged from dark to light in color depending on their age, chronicling what appeared to be repeat daily trips to this most majestic of outhouses. What was the appeal, he wondered, for the animal to travel so far from any recognizable food source, away from the graze by the river and the oaks in the draws, from easy terrain and soft beds?

For some time Gary sat there enthroned on a rock, pondering it all as he gazed out at the regal valley below, the winding water bordered by green irrigated fields, flaming rimrock off to his West and Eagle Peak shimmering to the North, an eagle rising on the warm thermals of its own feathered enlightenment. It was then that the realization hit him like a gust of buffeting wind tapping him on the forehead: Perhaps the bear, like he, had picked the spot for its panoramic vista. Maybe the beasts were not indifferent after all, if they could get attached to a particular place just the same as Gary had when he chose to grow roots in this county. And one wonders if they may be more aesthetically minded than biologists give them credit for, if we consider that they might have chosen a favored spot for its beauty, or for the perspective it affords of their home.

“Does a bear poop in the woods?”, the ages-old question goes. Of course it does… and we might as well add, anywhere it darn well pleases! Yet how wonderful to imagine that a critter, like us, might pick a home because of the composition and character of the land… or that a bear, too, might go out of its way for such a fine view.

Nourishing The Sweetness of Spring -By Kiva

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

roseplate3sm.jpgRhiannon and I spent this evening inspecting our baby plants, part of our native flora re-introduction project we’ve been working intensively on for the last year. Funded by a generous USFWS grant, we are engaged in introducing native plants that will provide diversity, soil nutrition and forage for all canyon residents, whether four or two footed.

Walking barefoot beneath the Maples, Oaks and Junipers, we examined each little plant carefully for signs of growth and vitality. Rhiannon was very proud of each healthy baby, since she has been taking on the sizable responsibility of filling jugs from the river and watering many of the plantings with Loba’s help.

Although most of the trees we chose are still small, we were especially excited over the two and a half foot tall Saskatoon sapling that is already covered with beautiful white flowers! And to our delighted surprise, all of the seemingly delicate Hawthorn trees have not only survived but are sprouting rich, red-tinted foliage. The Elder trees have also exceeded all expectations, with even the tiniest four inch seedlings digging in and sending out leaves and branchlets. Wonderfully wild and nutrient rich Nettles are thriving on the forest floor, and Rhiannon and I stepped carefully among them to avoid being stung as we crouched down to look at each tiny flower or uncurling Wild Grape tendril.

As the sun slipped behind the canyon wall, we ran down the sandy trail to the river for one last splash among the Willows and Mugwort before heading back to the cabins for snacks and bed. Rhiannon danced her way back up to the mesa, her arms above her head and her skirts spinning wide. In the growing dark, we could hear the sweet trill of the tree frogs and lonesome call of the poor-wills. Below us, we feel the forest growing — drinking in sweet river water and extending soft leaves toward the rising moon.

The example of these wild, and willed, beings serves to remind me of my own core strength and innate knowledge. Every year, the plants teach me again what it means to drink in nourishment, sink my roots deep and unfold into my fullest self. Each Spring, I experience anew the exuberant expression of the earth bursting into flower, and feel myself fall further into her primal rhythms.

Making It Real: Interview With Jesse Wolf Hardin – March 2008

Saturday, April 19th, 2008

wolfapril2008-1sm.jpg(Feel free to copy and share the following new interview with Wolf by Karin Casey, conducted in March 2008)

Casey: Over the years your books and articles have inspired readers with pieces on everything from sense of place to the power of the feminine, and from shamanism for the 21st Century to alternative healing. I notice that your words all seem to evoke something more real and intimately experienced, and the concepts you teach seem to all call to be experienced, manifest and acted on. When you describe something as common as water, it is in a way that inspires us to make it more real in our lives.

Hardin (smiling): Ahhhhh… to really taste it next time we have a cup as it passes the tongue and cools the throat, to intensely notice the heat and patter of the next shower rather than thinking only about the day ahead, to tune in to the patterns of local weather as the air thickens with moisture or thins and leaves the ground and plants wishing for more, and thus to act to conserve it out of a personal knowing and whole-body connection. Language can distract, numb and beguile, such as in the case of a despot’s rewriting of history, a television pundit’s spin, superficial conversation, shallow entertainment, and even the often self critical thoughts and monotonous prattle of our minds. But language can just as well be honest and meaning-full, relevant and timely, not only educating and evoking but eliciting and compelling.

Casey: I like your concept of words and ideas as “opportunities to powerfully change our lives, and to deliberately affect the world in our own personal and unique ways.”

Hardin: I love the literal “play” of words, but not as a substitute or stand-in for whole-being engagement and purposeful action. Ideally an article I write on food results in readers paying more attention to the integrity of the ingredients and the integrative and revealing process of cooking as well as of our meals’ oft neglected pleasures. The so-called silence between words is so alive with information-packed sounds, soul stirring music and telltale smells, visual and signals and satisfying smells, that language may best be reserved for conveying what matters most. This could be a lengthy conversation about how to remedy a problem, a well crafted poem that awakens us to pain or beauty… or a simple “Yum!” expertly expressing our delight in the food we’re eating, the inexplicably sweet scent of a baby’s head, or the sensation of a lover’s fingers on our neck.

Casey: You’re certainly someone who has “made it real,” starting with selling the engine out of your only vehicle and school-bus home in order to make the down payment on the Animá Center property some three decades ago. I’m fascinated by the restoring of a river canyon ecosystem in the mountainous Southwest, as well as your time turning it into a real wilderness learning center, but I’m even more excited that you’ve organized your insights and tools into online correspondence courses that seem to be affecting people around the world.

Hardin: It became clear shortly after arrival here that the insights arising through my work – and through this revealing place in particular – were meant to be shared with others… especially those of mixed ancestry, facing the complex challenges of current times. I did my best to serve that intention through articles and books, until finally compiling the understandings, stories, and practical and perceptual tools into a cohesive and accessible practice.

Casey: Your teachings are known as Animá (pronounced ani-mah). Were you thinking of Jung’s definition of the word, as the feminine aspect, or Freud’s associating it with the subconscious?

Hardin: The lower case “anima” comes from the Latin, and meant mind and soul inseparable. It speaks to both the condition of wholeness, and the vital force animating all things. You might think of it as life’s will to live… and the collective knowings of all life throughout time, housed in a system of interactions and interspecies, intergenerational relationships… much like human memories, which are recorded not in any one static place, but in the endlessly repeated firing codes of innumerable signaling synapses.

Casey: The practice of Animá, then, is being a conscious participant in all that.

Hardin: It’s being ever more conscious and courageous participants in the processes of sensitive being and responsive doing, willing and responsible co-creators of our realities and our world. Animá is the practice of awakening and enlivening, of healing and creating, of giving to others and giving back to the earth, of passionately applying ourselves to a meaningful purpose or cause while savoring and celebrating every detail and flavor, implication and lesson, reward and blessing. The “what” and “how” will be different for each person. Instead of telling people what to do, Animá provides tools for deep self exploration and broad interconnection, leaving it to each person to grow and actualize their most authentic selves, leaving them with the burden of choice, the instructive consequence, the benefits and the credit.

Casey: Your Correspondence Courses are divided into Path of Heart, Medicine Woman and Shaman paths.

Hardin: The Path Of Heart is built with self exploration, self-nourishment/self-love and finding one’s purpose at its core. The Shaman Path is for anyone wanting to intensely develop their awareness and other abilities, vision and wisdom, purpose and power. The Medicine Woman Paths are similar in intensity and goal to the Shaman Path, only with an emphasis on healing and medicinal herbs.

Casey: You and your partners also host a number of small wilderness based events there in New Mexico, including Medicine Woman gatherings in June and August, and a Shaman Path intensive over the July 4th weekend. Much of what you teach, in fact, draws from the lessons in nature. How important is it that in today’s world?

elkantler2sm.jpgHardin: Everyone could benefit from more time outside, apart from human construction and clatter, stimulated and informed, soothed by its wild balm. It places us in the context of those elements and forces that formed and birthed us, and that plead and prompt us in our dreams. It’s not just a more peaceful setting, but a glimpse of our larger corporal as well as energetic selves, the evolving whole of which we are each an inseparable extension, agent and part. We can contact that larger being and knowing through trips to wilderness sanctuaries and ancient “places of power” like the Animá Center, through time in nearby state lands and parks, but also by close attention to and interaction with a backyard garden, a personable house plant or visiting songbird on the sill.

Casey: So how does the practice of Animá help those of us who spend most of every month working and tending to families in the city?

Hardin: Animá principles and qualities like self knowledge, heightened awareness, discernment, intuition, empowerment and commitment are as important to an urban lifestyle, as to any other. Maybe more so. Whether in a city or out in the country, the quest for each aware being is to be a student to experience and instinct. To plumb the depths of our authentic selves with all the attendant abilities, challenges, needs and desires. To utilize our gifts in service to self, others, and earth… to justice, truth and beauty. To make every moment a decisive moment, and act accordingly. To trust our visions and live our dreams. To find and fulfill our most meaningful purpose. To taste every bite of food, cry and laugh freely, run barefoot through the wet grass, and let no butterfly go by unnoticed.

Casey: And we thank you for that!


Jesse Wolf Hardin is the author of over 500 published articles and 5 books including Gaia Eros (‘04), with multiple entries in The Encyclopedia Of Nature & Religion (‘05). His work has been praised for its artful blending of ecological awareness, personalized spirituality and self-growth, by luminaries as diverse as Gary Snyder, Edward Abbey, the Buddhist Joanna Macy, and the renowned musician Paul Winter. According to the author Terry Tempest Williams it is “only through the power, strength, integrity, and courage of people such as Hardin that our society will be able to change its direction.” His vision is luminous, an intimate yet comprehensive view of life in all its forms and interactions. The Animá practices that he and his partners teach, invites ecstasy and contentment as much as it encourages responsibility, meaningful purpose and action. For information on their courses, go to A complete history of the Animá Center has been posted at

-Karin Casey, March 2008

Manzanita and the Fires of Transformation

Sunday, April 13th, 2008


Gazing up into the pink-tinged opalescence of bell-shaped Manzanita flowers this morning, I had a singular moment of gratitude for the preciousness of these brief blooms. The Manzanita is a plant born of fire, germinated by intense heat and thriving best in the new ash of the Southwest’s seasonal forest fires. On land scarred by recent burns, it’s not unusual to see hundreds of these newly emerged burgundy barked bushes crowding the still blackened hills. These are the flowers of transformation, a profound beauty birthed out of destruction.

A common theme of my writing has been the experience of the medicine of both pain and bliss, of the life changing effects of intense moments and choices. I have found that it is most often these exceptional experiences that have led me to the brink of change and allowed me to stretch out beyond my imagined limitations and normal boundaries to see the world from a different perspective. The fire of change provides all of us with a gift, an opportunity to step into our fullest selves and embody the power of conscious choice and empowered action.

The poem below is one I wrote during my first year in the canyon, while I was still peeling back the layers of my self and coming to terms with the Medicine Woman I was called to be. This was my own time of transformation, when the hurt child I had been began to blossom and grow into the teacher and healer I have become. The process of integration was not an easy one for me, and much of my writing of this time was focused on metaphors and images of fire and the sensation of being burned or burning. All of this heightened by the intense summers of my new Southwestern home and stark beauty of the volcanic landscape of the Gila bioregion. This poem remains a favorite love song of mine for the people and place I have come to know as my forever home and the wholeness I longed for.


Calling on Fire

When we need everything to change we call on fire.
-Terry Tempest Williams

I lay awake
listening to
the remnants
of an early rain

while everything
I have ever
prayed for
-asleep but still burning-
under my open hands

you are my one desire
you are the wish
at the center
of every dream

I am poppy
and nightshade
this sky is cut through
with a thousand stars

I watch for dawn
and I stare
into the eyes
of god
face unshielded

I grip the ground
and pray
for stasis
and security
even as the world
and falls out from
under my feet

even as I
say my own name
even as I know
this love
as something
no longer separate
from my skin
and the water
that moves
and shifts
beneath my body

I am still afraid
of waking
to white walls
and cold sheets

I am still afraid
of admitting
my own joy
as if by owning
its existence
it would become
something that
was capable
of being destroyed

every morning
I am more fire
and every morning
I brush ashes
from my lips
to kiss you

I have been
calling on fire
for so many years
I have been rebuilding
my own ruins
in order to be whole
in order to be able
to name myself
as yours

Letters That Sadden & Letters That Hearten

Sunday, April 6th, 2008

herblion2sm.jpgScarcely a day goes by without a letter of kind words or thanks from the great people we have the opportunity to work with and help. We save every one of them, not just to quote from them when appropriate, but to treasure as testaments of connection, affection and effect. Our hearts hurt on the fortunately rare occasions when a visitor leaves discomforted and discontent, or when a letter arrives from someone still trying to get affirmation for ideas or choices we had counseled against. Last week we heard from an apprentice-applicant from England who had dropped out of her course last Fall. Like many in modern times, her fears of inadequacy and persecution resulted in a strong need to appear she already knows everything, in order to avoid seeming less informed and thus (in her mind) of less value or power than others. She sadly felt the need to act resolved and impervious though she was really quite vulnerable and in pain, and to cling to comforting illusions that functioned as both avoidance and balm. To hear from us, she imagined, would be to admit inadequacy and invite inequality, no matter that what we were teaching was the importance of personal responsibility and the value of conscious free choice. As her boyfriend adheres to the rules and ways of a guru and they seek out-of-body experiences in India, we have to make an effort not to be disappointed in ourselves, or feel let down that the choices she freely makes are for now masking the pain as well as calling as she makes her way along the avenues of escape…

Fortunately, even as we have one example of disassociation, we are blessed and rewarded with many more emails from those who have recently been moved or touched, those expressing delight in their increased vitality after a Healing Consultation with Kiva or thankful for discovering through her a new remedy like alder or elderberry, from those that Loba has inspired to treat themselves to healthy walks or notice their savory meals, and those for whom the Correspondence Courses have encouraged not retreat but engagement and actualization.

The same day as the letter arrived postmarked from India, we received and were gratified by a student’s review of her work on our Sense Of Place lesson. In answer to how she is making more real her connection to her region, she spoke of her explorations resulting in special new friendships and alliances that filled her in about the local history and ecology, and finally to “impact my surroundings that are still open to breathing and living” by applying for the Parks Board, with the intention affecting city ordinances regarding essential open spaces. We started to get teary eyed as she described her increased noticing of her world as a “waking up,” and her increased intimacy with the various species of wild plants as “a tuning in to their inspiritedness and a knowing beyond study or words.” These days she either steps away from or uses her gifts to transform unhealthy situations, and strives to make every moment conscious and deliberate. She wrote that “Just a few short months ago, I had ‘no life,’ as the cliché goes. Now, as I am running toward rather than freezing up truly for the first time, I get to – and indeed it is imperative that I – pick and choose from the many options.”

And who could not be inspired or affirmed reading that “My perspective has shifted, returning to my core being, yet I am doing the same things, such as working my day job, and this brings me in touch with the reality I used to help create. As I work to create a different reality that respects myself, the anima and [world], I am reminded of the unaware, uniformed, the hurting and searching folks all around me. I feel more and more empowered to send ripples of change through my world, and sense the ripples moving from those I have affected to change their realities. It is humbling and satisfying, and a duty of great proportions that I willingly accept.”

In that effort at engagement and betterment, the embraiding and creating, we are joined… regardless of the difficulties or costs, and indeed, and even though we can’t expect all letters and course responses to be as heartening as hers.

-J. Wolf Hardin