Archive for September, 2008

The Rewilding: Part 2 (of 6): Wild Self, Wild Mind

Sunday, September 28th, 2008

The term “rewilding” has been used by diverse writers and even appropriated by a wildlife conservation organization, but was coined by Animá Center’s own Jesse Wolf Hardin in 1976, and first saw print in in 1986 in the following serialized essay.  As a result, Wolf was assigned to write the Rewilding entry on page 1383, Vol. 2 of The Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature (Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).  I encourage you to forward this 5 part series to others, by clicking on the “Share This Post” button below.  Blessings.             -Kiva Rose

The Rewilding: Part 2 (of 6):

Wild Self, Wild Mind

By Jesse Wolf Hardin (

treewoman.jpgWhen we get out of the glass bottles of our ego,
and when we escape like squirrels
turning in the cages of our personality
and get into the forests again,
we shall shiver with cold and fright,
but twigs will happen to us
so that we don’t know ourselves.
Cool, unlying life will rush in,
and passion will make our bodies
taut with power

-D.H. Lawrence

Alexander Marshack described humanity as a “persistent flowering of an ancient reality.”  The rewilding of the self is neither a retreat to the past nor transformation into something new.  Instead, it is a re-formation, a reflowering, a reinhabitation of natural form and dynamic possibility.  It is simply being who we really are, whole, vitally alive, responsible and decisive.  It is the uncomplicated if often difficult cessation of pretense and artifice, projection and denial, avoidance and distraction, suppression and repression, manipulating and being manipulated, regulating and being regulated, victimhood and control, preoccupation with the future and and attachment to fears.  Rewilding is a coming into self, necessarily involving the reinhabitation of untamable place, spirit, body and mind.

Wild Mind

Much of the destruction and injustice in the world was hatched in the brain or is a product of the ways we perceive and think.  It is where insecurity too often morphs into war making arrogance or paralyzing self doubt, where fear can turn to loathing and bias to prejudice.  That said, in its natural state it is also an instrument of awareness and response, passions and purpose.  While it can suffer from illusion or become trapped in unhealthy habits, the human mind is nonetheless an agent and extension of the wild.  We know this by the way it wanders into dangerous terrain the minute we aren’t watching, gets lost like a little kid in a department store of pictures and ideas, tosses off civil constraint and dives into the moist folds of carnal indulgence at every licentious opportunity.  One can be in the midst of a geometry test or taken up with the repair of a malfunctioning carburetor when the mind will race off to enjoin such savage themes as sex, play, and death.  The wild mind sings whatever song it wants, even if we are tired of hearing it.  There is no such thing as a confined mind.  It cannot be separated from its natural proclivities and desires, neither by dogmatic guilt trips nor by the pronouncements of custom-bound authorities.  Even in jail, the wild mind goes wherever the hell it wants.  It easily penetrates the stiffest security measures, slipping through the bars no matter how closely they’re placed, breaching the illusory impermeability of reinforced concrete in the mind’s insistent quest.  The wild mind acknowledges no limitations, boundaries, rules or taboos — and it is therefore without limit.

The human mind is not only a wild function but a wild place, an extended, unfathomable wilderness of image and sensation, memory and precognition where still exists everything that has ever been and can ever be.  The world resides there as surely as the mind resides in the world.  Wild consciousness knows itself as inseparable from everything around it, and even as it reaches out to connect with and ponder things far away it is still in the most real sense delving into the depths of its own essence and meaning.  As such, it experiences a degree of the pain and joy of seemingly disparate forms, aching for the earth at the bite of the bulldozer’s blade, and reveling to the giddy lift of wind beneath a bird’s wings.  It enjoins with the physical, experiential, tactile and carnal, and with every life-form crawling and stalking, living and dying, laughing and crying, feeling the stretch of their skin and the water against their scales or making feathery love above the abyss.

Wild mind is omnifarious and omnipresent, present in all forms and in all places at once.  As an extension of planetary mind, it is the numinous force that unites all things in a common field/body of recognition and purpose.  In recognizing and acknowledging something we touch it, connect to it, and can potentially identify with it as an extension of our greater self.  Spinoza wrote that we are only as large as our loves.  A deep identification with every element of nature results in the most profound love: a self love that encompasses every form and motion constituting an indisputably magical world.

Wild mind spins within the contours of cyclical time, tuned into the lunar and solar cycles, the monthly red tide of a woman’s menstrual flow, the changing of the seasons and each person’s lifetime of circling back into wisdom, and then back into the earth.  Wild consciousness is tuned into body time, the organic cycles of hunger and exhaustion, satiation and rest that are surely more important than any imposed linear frame.  It eschews civilized time – clock time – and the way a potentially conscious humanity has become indentured to the unforgiving and boring regularity of a blatantly unconscious machine.  The alarm clock and wristwatch can be considered symbols of our internalized control and self-imprisonment, handcuffing us to the binding schedules of a mechanized, desensitized world.  Their audible ticks usher us from one second to another, marking time like a military band for the march of mortal minutes off the cliffs of out demise.  Civilized time hasn’t the ability to adjust to natural and personal rhythms, or to synchronize with interterrestrial rhythm.

To the contrary, wild mind exists in the perennial perceptual now.  The primacy of immediate experience over preoccupation is the hallmark of primal (of first importance) consciousness and evidence of a rewilding-in progress.  No self-respecting savage would eat without tasting every morsel of nuance, or focus on some inflated future scenario at the expense of current sensations.  Temporal bliss is a function of presence, savoring the precariousness of the instant, the intense immediacy and depth of the always changing, eternally present moment.

The constant, charged, orgasmic engagement with life peculiar to the wild is a result of living in-tense-ly, fully in present tense.  In the wild mind, sensate experience, intuition and instinct remain of more immediate relevance than conjecture, objective measure or future consideration.  Original mind knows the world through feel more than analysis.  Feral mind – pulled free of the tethers that once bound it, refusing to continue to be distracted by displays of irrelevant input, and no longer held back by assumption or held down by weighty conclusion — will increasingly abandon repetitive internal dialogue for smell and feel, for the omnipresent reality of powerful visions, authentic emotions and conscious, meaningful acts.

Wild mind thus takes us boldly into the unknown.  It is not fearless, but is spared the contemporary neurosis of fearing that which does not yet exist.  When not directly and physically faced with an unavoidable threat, the natural hominid mind – like plant and animal mind – exists in a heightened condition of awakeness, passion, and awe… a lasting state of arousal and response, ache and bliss.

The left hemisphere of the brain, agent of logic and language, has been developing along with the rest of our beings since the very beginnings of our mammalian evolution.  The so-called primitive peoples of today have a left hemisphere no less highly formed than the colonial modernists appropriating their land.  They realize that in balance with the non-linear right hemisphere, the rational sides of their psyches may contribute to the continued survival of the tribe. but that if allowed to dominate the result is certain alienation from the wild self and the wild lands sustaining them.  As a result, they have come up with various checks on the hegemony of so called left-brain thinking.  Rituals, vision quests, meditation, ecstatic dance, tantra, sacred sex, the fine art of riverside leisure, the careful consumption of perception adjusting plants and food fasts all serve to prevent subordination to the dictates of the imposing/opposing linear mind set.

Logic is no substitute for intuition and instinct, vision and dream.  Language, for all its beauty, is no substitute for the actual sensory experience of that which it describes.  The right brain houses the long submerged instincts of wild self, learned not in a matter of years, but through lifetimes of learned experience, genetically/spiritually/energetically recalled by a key smell, a terrifying noise, or the embrace of dream-state.  As far removed as people seem to be from the raw processes of their own nature, they may surprise themselves by one day leaping out of the way of a speeding car they never actually saw, or wake up in the middle of the night from dreams of places and experiences more impossibly real than anything they’ve ever known in the course of their mundane lives.

Dreams are the wild mind having its say.  And visions are waking dreams, preeminent moments of peak wildness, of total connection with the flux and context of life and the living Earth.  By applying our creativity to these gifts of vision, we can recreate wild culture from wild mind.  Those visions of utmost importance will be those that contribute to the free evolution of diverse life and the unimpaired processes and rhythms of manifest nature.  Visions of ourselves contained within the earth, and of the entirety of nature within us.

We know our selves to be made from this earth.  We know this earth is made from our bodies.  For we see ourselves.  And we are nature.  We are nature seeing nature, nature with a concept of nature.  Nature weeping.  Nature speaking of nature to nature.  The red-winged blackbird flies in us, in our inner sight.  We see the arc of her flight.  We measure the ellipse.  We predict its climax.  We are amazed.  We fly.”              -Susan Griffin

We suggest you practice quiet mind. Practice visionary mind, sensual mind, attentive mind, wild mind… the greatest hope for ourselves, and our kind.

Marking Time: Seasonal Celebrations & Rituals

Thursday, September 25th, 2008



Today marks our family harvest celebration, what Rhiannon fondly calls the “Canyonwall Picnic” after the Redwall stories, which are some of her favorite books. Nestled down between to old Willows in the sand and fallen leaves, we all toasted the season with homemade lacto fermented yarrow ale and a drink Rhiannon has dubbed Blackberry Fizz, a sweet fermented drinkable pudding consisting primarily of blackberries and honey. Our small feast was made up almost entirely of homemade, local foods. Included was perfectly ripe tomatoes, watercress from the river, garden grown arugula and creasy greens, spelt scones and wild salmon salad with the tart zuchini pickles we put up last week. To top it all off there was a luscious black pepper/peach and green chile/apple pie with nut crust along with candied acorns and whipped cream.

After our delicious and VERY filling meal, we lounged in the shade for a while to enjoy the slow shift of golden light the through the trees. Around us, a gentle breeze whispered through the brittle cottonwood leaves. We’d purposely chosen a picnic spot close to one of the Canyon’s beaver dams so that when we recovered from the feast, we could take a dip in the cool water. Rhiannon was proud to show us her new swimming in circles technique while I searched for herbs to harvest along the riverbanks. It’s the perfect time to start harvesting roots, so I spent a while digging up the plentiful medicine of the wild licorice. For me, this first root harvest of the fall physically signifies the shift into the cooler, darker time of the year. While the seasons used to slip past me almost before I could notice, now our wild foods and local medicines inform me in the most tangible ways of these precious transitions. The slow turn of the seasonal wheel teaches first and foremost of awareness — to the natural world, to relationships and to our own bodily cycles.



So much of this awareness has to do with the food we consume, the clothes we wear, the medicines we use and the activities we engage in. These concrete, almost mundane elements are the stuff of life: the tart red raspberries of summer, the soft wool wraps of winter, the spicy root brews of autumn and the enlivened dance of spring. In these simple acts and objects we find connection and meaning. The ritual of gathering the first bitter greens of the growing season and of plucking the last flowers of the warm time has brought me into an ever more intimate relationship with the land I live on. I know, almost to the week, when certain flowers or particulars trees will be ready to harvest. Even without a calendar, Loba and I can tell by the slant of sun, the chill in the air, just when we it’s time to travel up to the mountains for blackberries and yarrow. Wolf remembers each season of every year of the last 30 years here in this one place — he can tell us of the progession of floods, of the changing landscape, of the newly arrived birds and flowers and the many different paths the river has taken through all the rainy seasons.

Although Rhiannon is only eight, she too understands her life by the progression of the year. She grins gleefully when the acorns begin to fatten in August, and twirls in delight at the first snow of each cold spell. Likewise, she associates these changes with certain foods and clothes, medicines and ways of moving through the landscape. When Wolf and I returned yesterday with a bag full of fresh elderberries, she paused and mused, “medicine for winter” and watched me with excitement this morning when I drenched the purple berries with honey and brandy before putting them into the pantry in preparation for the annual onslaught of colds, flu and other immune system challenges. There’s a certain special beauty to this experience of the earth as a dynamic, living organism and of ourselves as integral pieces of that animate whole.  When we take the time to actively participate and immers ourselves in the movement and rhythm of the world we notice more and more the intertwined nature of everything, and how we fit into that everything. In the spirals within spirals of time and its turning, we grow wilder and ever closer to home.

~Kiva Rose


Foraging: Finding the Wildness in our Food

Sunday, September 21st, 2008


Fall is surely here, as the leaves shift from green to gold and the light sparkles against the dew in the cool mornings. Most years, activity tends to drop off a bit when Autumn sets in, but it has been a surprisingly busy season this time around. Somewhere between the steady stream of guests, more and more students, kitchen remodeling, harvest time and book design, it often feels as if we have barely enough time to sleep. And really, who wants to sleep with this much bounty surrounding us, just waiting to be tasted? It’s been great fun to wade through the piles wild herbs and food we’ve been gathering in order to create some tasty new concoction. Just yesterday I spent my morning in the kitchen with Loba coming up with a new variation on chutney that involved peaches, olives (green, kalamata and spicy cracked green olives), apples, green chiles, cardamom and even chardonnay. It was so incredibly good that we made a huge pot to can along with the freshly made salsa (with green chiles and chipolte). We stood over the wood stove for hours tossing in pinches of this and that, tasting and retasting until it was just perfect. Today Loba is making applesauce with feral green apples we found in the mountains and I’ve been sorting through my still drying raspberry and peach leaves before settling down to immerse myself in student work. The Medicine Lodge and kitchen are both overflowing with the goodness of the season, and the smells of roasted green chiles, lemon balm, wild mint, apples and berries waft out of our doors.

While I unabashedly love all good food from anywhere in the world, there’s nothing like the wild foods we gather from right here at home. The water we drink is mountain rainwater, our greens are watercress from the river and our favorite nuts are the small acorns of the evergreen oaks and rich pine nuts from the piñons so prevalent here. When we eat meals made of mostly canyon foods, we can taste the river, the wind and sunlight of this magical place. The native plants here are tenacious and vital – full of the qualities we most need, and rooted in the earth in a way we daily aspire to emulate. And foraging is a primal activity, something that our bodies remember from forever. Everytime we pluck a berry we re-enact the primary ritual of the first humans, and of every animal.

While gardens are both beautiful and useful, I like to hunt/gather as much of our food as possible. One reason for this is purely practical in that the SW doesn’t generally support farming practices without a great deal of added water and hyperviligence (and sometimes armed warfare) to keep the crops from critters. The Southwest is a delicate eclology in many ways, easily disturbed by overgrazing, human ideas of water management and a growing population. It’s simply not ethical or sensible to use gallons and gallons of our precious rainwater to grow thirsty foreign vegetables when there’s free food to be had from the woods and meadows. There’s water in the river of course, but most vegetables are easily outcompeted by native plants, become invasive or get eaten up by the bugs and beasts. We prefer to attempt to work in cooperation rather than competition with our neighbors, both human and otherwise.

white-astersm.jpgAnother reason is more philisophical and has to do with avoiding the change in relationship and power dynamic required to shift from hunter/gatherer to agricultural. Our experience is that, here at least, this works better for the land and for us. We don’t spend valuable time chasing off hungry raccoons and bears that would have been better utilized gathering abundant greens and berries, and we get the benefits of mineral rich, easily sustained wild plants. I don’t prescribe this for all people in all places, but it’s what works for us and what we choose to do. We do make a point to actively encourage useful wild plants near the houses by spreading seeds and some transplanting and every year we cultivate a few small patches of herbs and easily grown veggies. Whatever grows and thrives is welcome as long as it doesn’t do so to the exclusion of other flora. We support diversity above all.

There’s an amazing variety of wild foods to be had in this supposed desert we live in, from blackberries to nettles to acorns to watercress to rabbits and turkeys and elk. The vitality and nourishment of these foods and medicines are exceptional and in so many ways, connect us ever deeply with the land they’re rooted in and born from. Our whole family loves wandering through the canyons, mountains and riversides of the Gila searching for each season’s abundance. We each have our favorite personal special spots as well as places we all gather from each year like the particular dip in the big arroyo that acts as a stone bowl to catch piles of falling acorns from the great oak that grows over it. With every sun-warmed brown nut I place in my gathering basket I feel my actions as an echo of the indigenous peoples of this place, and of my ancestral mothers harvesting with the same motion and intent. Walking with the same barefoot steps, carrying food back to my family.

-Kiva Rose

The Rewilding: Part 1 (of 6): Redefining “Wild”

Wednesday, September 17th, 2008

beaverspillway3narrow-sm.jpgThe term “rewilding” has been used by diverse writers and even appropriated by a wildlife conservation organization, but was coined by Animá Center’s own Jesse Wolf Hardin in 1976, and first saw print in in 1986 in the following serialized essay.  As a result, Wolf was assigned to write the Rewilding entry on page 1383, Vol. 2 of The Encyclopedia of Religion & Nature (Thoemmes Continuum, 2005).  I encourage you to send this series to others, by clicking on the “Share This Post” button below.  Photos (c) J. W. Hardin.  Blessings.             -Kiva Rose

The ReWilding

Part 1 (of 6): Redefining “Wild”

 by Jesse Wolf Hardin (


The world is a wild  place.  Even now, increasingly enshrouded in a crust of asphalt and concrete, with more and more of its life forms driven from its face, its scenic and historic character all too often usurped by tasteless development.  That said, the world is a wild place still, true to the process and essence of its own intrinsic, inherent nature — rhythmic patterns of impermanence and change.  The birth and death of her varied parts are the flex and pause of earthen heart muscle pumping new life through the arterial causeway of time.  The earth is whole and wholly “out of control.”

For someone or something to be wild is to be willed, directed and empowered by its own inner nature rather than some outside force or idea.  And we too are wild originally, deeply willed and willful.  For safety, certainty and comfort we may try to deny our wildness, sacrificing our will as we seek shelter in the relatively tamed, the safe and predictable.  Yet in spite of all the artifice and constraint we remain instinctual, dreaming beings who suffer in direct proportion to the suppression of our instincts and dreams.  We’re mirrors made of dancing flesh, interterrestrial sensors, activated nerve endings of the earthen ganglion.  At our best we’re wild reflections of this greater whole, acting out our true natural being, our instinctive need and purposeful gesture free of the over-regulation and desensitization of the modernist paradigm.

Wild (adj.) 1.  Occurring, growing, or living in a natural state; not domesticated, cultivated or tamed.  2. A natural, unrestrained life or state; Nature.

Wildness can be thought of as a condition of oneness with our bodies, desires, needs, sensations, instincts and dreams.  Wildness is oneness with the wild planet we are agents and extensions of, free of abstraction and projection, a world where even turbulence manifests itself in purposeful patterns more akin to art than artifice.

Anima teaches that social and ecological imbalance and trauma, from the polluting of rivers to the oppression of women, can be directly related to the deep insecurity that comes from disassociation with the natural world and the needs, feelings, blessings and propensities of our true individual natures.  The results of this insecurity include epidemic fear of sexuality, mortality, dark forests and animal urges, disassociation from those we allow to be victimized in our behalf and from the life support systems that not only human kind but all of life depends on.  The cure for our digression and distraction, subjegation and self-repression, can be found in the reclamation of our wildness, a high-dive into the potent flux of natural forces and the response-ability to act.

In order to facilitate the unimpeded dismemberment and marketing of the natural world, civilization had to first construct and tend a perceptual schism between the living planet and its human constituents, a doctrine of separateness, a cultivated separation between body and intellect, vision and reality, self and planet.  We find the evidence of this campaign in those other, modernist definitions of the word “wild.”  The same dictionary I cite above, also includes the description: “unruly,  desolate, out of control, extravagant, fantastic, furiously disturbed or turbulent, risky, random erratic, deviating, disorderly and disarranged.”  The definition of wilderness has thus been transformed from one of “uncultivated unrestrained  profusion” to that of a “bewildering wasteland.”

Today, “wilderness” is a legal definition protecting designated areas from being developed or destroyed, a boon to certain creatures and the cause of unbearable restrictions for various kinds of people.  In reality wilderness is simply the real world, a condition of profuse nature that includes but is not determined by the populations or creations of natural humans.  For those who seek deeper elemental contact with the forces and spirits of nature, it’s a place and opportunity to act out a wildness shared and enjoyed equally by the inspirited natural landscape.  Those escaping the boundaries of propriety and objectification are characteristically fun and to one degree or another feral.

Feral (adj.) 1. Existing in a wild, untamed state, especially, reverting to such a state from one of domestication.  2.  Characteristic of a wild animal; savage.

To the dominant global society, wild means unruly, out of control and hence dangerous.  A few generations after escaping into the thickets, feral hogs have turned the tables on many an unwary hunter.  The feral creatures are the ones who have returned to their true nature and their natural context, a freedom worth guarding once obtained.

Society refers to a willful child as wild.  “Darn wild weeds.”  “Don’t pick up the wild cat.  Beware the feral dog, the savage wolf, the savages of ‘lesser’ societies.”  We can learn so much about a civilization by the application of its language.  We read common expressions like “savaged by a bear,” and witness people yelling at their kids for behaving like “little savages.”  The word itself is derived from the Middle English sauvage, from the Latin silvaticus, meaning “of the woods.”

Savage (adj.) 1. Untouched by civilization, undomesticated, uncultivated, wild.  2.  A primitive, uncivilized person.

For the “civilized,” “primitive” has come to mean simple, untaught, coarse, barbaric.  But to the earth-centered seeker, it means primary.

Primitive (adj.)  1.  Of or pertaining to original state.  2.  Primal.

If this is our original state, the condition of our true beings, then why the denigration and fearful vilification of the primitive?  What does sophistication have to fear from the simple, artificiality from the authentic?  Or civilization from the savage, the primitive, the primal?  It’s afraid of the shift in perception and priorities, from denial to exuberance, from scheduled production to spontaneity and sensation.  Civilization fears what Nature teaches: the ascendant power of present time and the primacy of direct experience.  Going feral is a conscious and deliberate exercise in self-realization.  Voluntary primitivity embodies the negation of a ruling state and the celebration of connection.  Nature teaches us what’s most important.

Primal (adj.) 1. Original, archetypal.  2. Of  first importance; primary.

The human spirit is diluted and debased when it is tamed, and the human species cannot survive the deliberate unraveling of contextual Nature.  The scientific community has belatedly come to this realization of the full extent of biotic interdependency, the ways in which even the most minuscule of living components may hold the key for the health of the entire ecosystem.  Ultimately, civilization’s war against nature is a war against ourselves.  The individual’s struggle against the contemporary techno-industrial paradigm is, for all its assertiveness, an act of preservation: a celebration of diverse life and the fullest living of our lives.

Oddly, and sadly, civilization must continue to expand or else perish. The economic, social and political systems of the modern world cannot survive either stasis, contraction, or balance.  To the contrary, the natural world functions perfectly with checks and balances, responding to ever changing conditions with falls as well as rises in specie populations.  In nature, any single species impinging  on its fellow life forms, any one growing beyond the capacity of its ecosystem insures its own downfall.  As has been pointed out elsewhere, endless growth is exclusively the dynamic of the cancer cell.  And cancer cells are in the long run suicidal.

One response has been to blame the human species in general, resulting in an unhealthy kind of self hatred.  But by recognizing perception as the instrumental element in our estrangement and resulting malignant behavior, we have the option of  participating  in the inevitable cure.  The return-to-balance spoken of by most primitive cultures requires a reduction the human population now dangerously tipping the scales, necessarily preceded by either the vagaries of catastrophe or the deliberate shifting of the total weight of human perception.  The best solution for the disheartening human condition – and for the living earth in total – may be our imminent re-wilding.  Human existence, as a continuous part of this planet is possibly contingent on our return to our original nature, and our return to the extended nature that surrounds us.

Indeed, humans were once and could again act as integral parts of the biological fabric.  The problem is not exactly the nature of  humanity, but more the loss of its inner nature.  The problem isn’t humanity per se but our vaulted civil paradigm, the encroaching manifestation of a particularly harmful system of perception.  It’s not the only way we perceive, mind you.  Nor is it yet the primary perception of the majority of humanity, half of which remain indigenous land-based people.  And certainly not the model of perception as practiced throughout the 50+ thousand year plus history of human society, such as the Penan tribes people of Sarawak, Malaysia who continue to eschew much of the modernist opus while battling to keep their forest intact.  The aboriginals of the outback.  The Gwi’chin of A laska.  The Hourani of Ecuador.  The pygmies of Africa.  The villagers of Tibet and Samiland.  Home schoolers in North Carolina and social activists in the American West.


Primary human perception — the ways that the animals, our ancestors, primal peoples and all children before certain age experience and engage their world — is encompassing, integrative, and symbiotic.  It’s non reductive, mutually affirming, and serves to connect the perceiver and the perceived rather than segregating and delimiting the elements of interactive perception.  Original human mind is as magic as the spirits it ponders and the brilliant cascades of water that stimulate its receptors.  It is an adjunct, an equal and ally of the  human body housing it.  Original mind is an integral component of the Anima, of terrestrial mind, planetary mind, and is thus free of the imaginary or enforced schisms between mind and matter, feeling and thought, creator and creation, nature and society, spirituality and physicality, man and woman, human and home.

The sudden changes in behavior essential to our future and crucial to the continuation of evolution itself, can only follow a change in how we perceive.  The perception of the world as live, sentient, willed and inspirited is the perspective of the wild.   The world will in the end be wild, no matter what we do to tame, deaden or control it.  In geologic time, the worst of what we can do will be erased by the evolutionary fruiting that will follow.  The exciting option is to join in that native fruition, to rejoin the dance, to precipitate the reinhabitation and rewilding of self, culture and place.

Care-Takers: Invasive Species, Natives, Healing & Wholeness – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, September 11th, 2008

Invasive Species, Natives, Healing & Wholeness

By Jesse Wolf Hardin (
Even though we own the Animá Sanctuary land and worked hard for decades to pay for it, we still consider ourselves not so much as proprietors as responsible servants and full partners, with an investment and stake in its lasting health and wholeness.  Nor do we consider ourselves “good shepherds” making omnipotent managerial decisions for the perceived benefit of the rest of creation so much as “caretakers” – witnessing and buttressing the needs of other life forms, of creatures and places with their own calling, their own sense of purpose, direction, and membership.  What caretaking really means is taking care, taking lightly from the land, and never taking any aspect, challenge or gift for granted.  Our duties are in the deepest sense custodial, medicinal and ritual, tending to the energetic as well as practical well-being of the living earth.

A healer of any kind will sometimes have to assertively intervene in order to save a patient’s life, but more often they’re called to work in partnership with the patient to create the conditions for balance and contribute to wholeness.  So it is with caretaking the land, with us occasionally called upon to act assertively, and other times to step back and allow some natural process take its course.  The intuitive knowledge of when or when not to interfere requires an intense period of familiarizing oneself with the biological makeup, natural and human history, special energies, needs and proclivities of one’s place.  Rightful decisions – decisions that can positively effect future generations of humans and non humans alike – proceed from silence and arise from a great listening.

Our story here is a case in point.  As most of you know, my Project partners and I give a portion of the warm months to revegitating the canyon with long missing native species.  Of these the willow was one of the first to make a comeback, sprouting waist high as soon as I began herding cattle off the land, and becoming a twenty feet high thicket once the four strand fence went up.  Stalks chewed down to the ground had somehow continued to draw enough nourishment through an extensive and undamaged root system, propelling new growth skyward the first full season free of predation.  To hasten their comeback and to fortify the bare riverbanks against seasonal floods, we carefully cut branches from the established bushes and stuck them at intervals to take off in the damp soil.  Wildflower seeds from the year before are planted by poking a hole in the ground with a stick, barely bending over to drop two kernels in each waiting womb.  While not quite the same pleasure as a garden these trustees require no watering, weeding or battling with insects.  Success in the reintroduction of natives is a result of protection from forces outside the ecosystem, but also a species’ built-in relationship with their home environment – in balance with that which they feed on, and that which feeds on them.

The hardest part may have been figuring out which species belong and which are destructive or over competitive invaders.  Some of the exotics came across the Bering Straits, with the first human arrivals to the Americas.  Domestic dogs carried their primitive packs, and Asian seed stock caught rides in the fur gaiters around their legs and the capes that hung from their backs.  Mullein, with its soft, fuzzy leaves, seems like a benign though not indigenous presence.  Others, like horehound and the tamarisk tree quickly dominate any riparian area they sail into, colonizing foreign soils, choking the life out of every native population.  Like Columbus and Cortez, these botanical opportunists are adept at making the transition from guest to master without the natural controls common to their countries of origin.  In the Southeast the problem is the kudzu vine.  Once having escaped its ornamental plots in the suburbs, it is fast becoming the dominant species there, climbing and eventually choking the standing trees.  Rabbits released into Australia as a meat source quickly took over and decimated the available vegetation.  Sailing vessels acted as arks for the emigration of not only viruses and bacterium, but problematic zebra mussels and the opportunistic Norwegian rat.  So destructive was the rat once introduced to the Hawaiian Islands, that they decided to import their nemesis the mongoose.  The only problem was that the mongoose finds it much easier to catch rare species of songbirds than rats and has come close to decimating them.  Failing to learn from our mistakes, our latest gambit involves the planned introduction of lifeforms never before seen on this planet, the products of advanced genetic engineering.

Some more mundane intruders like tamarisk (European salt cedar) pose no great threat to their home turfs, but once released into North America they develop a biological hegemony in the riparian areas, to the point where it’s the only remaining tree along many of the rivers of the Southwest.  Worse still, they are both fast growing and herbicide resistant, and they release a shower of mineral salts that make the soil inhospitable to any competing shoots.  Unchecked they soon smother the native willows and immature cottonwoods, filling the ravines and river bottoms with their billowing pink blossoms.  There were none at all in this rivershed when I first moved there, but now they’re beginning to crop up among the beeweed.  Gorgeous blossoms, I should say, but we are easily jerked back to reality if we recall the Rio Grande River system clogged by a single-species forest, a vast monoculture, a jungle of nothing but tamarisk.  Too many of the same kind of flower, too much of the same uniform color, in a veritable holocaust of beauty.

For months we struggled with what to do, until some of the slender trees were well over our heads.  We wondered if it wasn’t enough that there was anything at all growing, after so many generations of grazing and die-back?  And besides, don’t all plants, like all people have migrants for ancestors, and thus a right to flourish in a new place?  When we finally went down to dig them up, they felt as smooth and sentient as any creature, as vulnerable in the face of our attack as other plants were in the face of the tamarisk’s own territorial campaigns.

Just as bad was the horehound incursion, seeds hitchhiking up onto the mesa stuck to our socks, moving through the rest of the county in the tails of horses and the alfalfa hay they eat. It looks so lovely at first, in patches of short ground-cover that smell sweetly when walked upon, pungent leaves perfect for brewing up a batch of old-fashioned horehound cough drops.  It isn’t long however, before they form a solid crusty plane of yard-high vegetation too thick to walk through.  Where the ground around our cabin and below the cliffs were once graced by desert mariposa and soaptree yucca, soon there was only horehound.  Prickle-poppy and evening primrose, nettle and mallow, cushion cactus and tahoka daisy were being pushed out of their own neighborhoods, denied access to soil and sun in a hostile takeover bid.  We felt we had no choice but to act in defense of biological diversity, accepting the hands-on responsibility of removing them one plant at a time, sharing their pain at being ripped up by the roots.

beaverdam-sm.jpgThe beavers are another case in point.  In a balanced river ecology they are an aid to the ecosystem by slowing the river and raising the water table, and when the ponds eventually fill in with soil they become meadows that are highly attractive to a wide range of wildlife.  Beavers are wetlands restoration experts, but like all “experts” they can be the cause of costly errors.  The little fuzzballs also require up to six acres of woods to sustain themselves, burrow into river bands causing them to collapse, and are notorious for cutting down trees that they curiously neither eat nor build with.  In a mature riparian forest thick with mixed-age cottonwoods and willows they are a welcome addition, but in the early stages of restoration and reforestation efforts they can be a terrible hindrance.  Backed up water blocks access, one hundred feet tall cottonwoods we planted as babies took twenty-five years to grow but only a single night to be chewed down.  For years we have had to wrap the trees with chicken wire and remove the few beaver that moved to the sanctuary while the forest grew back, but now we’re host to a family that we think the land might sustain.

Not all decisions are as difficult, but we find the whole concept of “environmental restoration” a touchy one.  As obviously and totally beneficial at it can be to rebuild salmon streams or replant clearcut hills, the very notion of restoration implies that humans know what’s best, and are willing to “play God” over the rest of creation — a capacity that our species has shown scant evidence of.  The other side of the argument is that humans have forever affected the world around them, and that maybe only by taking responsibility for that role can we mitigate our impact.  The caretaker must be prepared to do whatever is called for.  We’re accountable not only for our actions, but also for the results of what we have yet to do.

Only a small population of people live out in the countryside but the agreement, the contract remains the same.  To be taken care of, one must take care.  Some of the fondest of my early memories involve the front yard gardens that my father tended.   I don’t recall any happy-topped carrots or broadleaf lettuce in the gardens, nothing that could safely fill the belly, naught but food for the soul.  In the only truly creative enterprise I ever saw him commit to, what the man gardened was color.  A host of reds from ruddy to brilliant predominated in one bed, while the hedges and flower rows along the sides of the house featured variations on pearl and ivory, lavender and fuchsia.  Different plants blossomed at different times of the year, so that with careful planning there would never be a week without a display of floral brilliance.  And he gardened shapes — stars and ovals, trumpets and bells, lily sheaths and the folds of the roses running up the wood fence next to the sidewalk.  The pansies were always Grandmother’s favorites, so there had to be room made for them.  Others were selected for their meaning in one historic culture or another, a species to stir up happiness, and another for success.  All took a substantial amount of his time, quietly watering each plant with a hose when the sprinklers would have just as easily reached.  Some more out of place than others, some more vulnerable than the rest, but all required care.

As a kid I could never come to terms with the mowing of the lawn, turning sensuous wind-dancer stalks into a green flattop that felt prickly to the bared feet.  But I loved the flowers.  I picture them when I think about what it means to take on the hereditary role of caretaker, a role meant for every one of us breathing the air, eating of the bounty of the planet, heating our homes with nonrenewable fuels.  If we take care by adjusting our lifestyles, consuming less for the purpose of reducing our negative impact on the supporting world, then we must also include in our duties the pleasurable honoring of sensate life, the purveyance of beauty, the encouragement of a diverse flowering in our everyday lives.

sneezyflowersbyriver-sm.jpgAnd next, no matter where we are, we learn to identify with and care for our home-ground.  We need to develop the capacity to make the truly difficult decisions, the hard-edged choices.  As with the horehound in our canyon one must decide both what to incorporate, and what to restrain, exclude or mitigate.  Many of the things we own may be inappropriate for a life in harmony with nature and our own natural cycles.  Much of what we do may be taking us away from our path, distracting us from the richness of the moment and pressing us into a virtual rather than vital reality.  Some of the people we care about in life may prove to be a handicap to our focused practice, or act in ways that dishonor the spirit of place we’ve finally learned to recognize and interact with.

As co-creators of our world and our reality, we should not take lightly our imprint on the planet and its human and natural communities, our capacity to increase or limit diversity, to destroy or degrade, encourage or save.  No textbook can define the parameters or establish the criteria for our sometimes painful right action.  We can only learn what is best to do – and indeed, what can or cannot be considered natural – through increased intimacy with unmanaged creation, and increased familiarity with our own intuitive and healing natures.  This is the unending work of the herbalist, naturopath or Medicine Woman as much as the caretaker or ecological restorationist.
Take care…

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(All Photos (c) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Snakes & Shadows – The Dark, The Light, & The Fullest Living of Life

Sunday, September 7th, 2008

portal3sm.jpgOur lives are marked by moonless nights and sun drenched days as well as what artists call “chiaroscuro”: the delicate interplay of dark and light brought about by subtly shifting shadows. We paint with light as much as pigment, but make sense of what is illuminated one must explore the unlit depths of meaning and being. The dark serves us in the form of insightful pain, comforting silence, the stillness between periods of tiring activity, the death that begets life, and the blackness that gives birth to light. In spite of these facts, there is no element or force of nature more commonly associated with evil in Western societies than the dark hours of night, and no creature more demonized than the dreaded snake we imagine lying in wait for us there. To the degree that I have a different understanding of them – of learning from them and accessing their power – it is perhaps because of decades of deepened intimacy with a canyon as yet untouched by a bulb’s glare, and time spent in close association with the serpents housed there.

August is the month when when we are most likely to see rattlers here, black-tailed variety that is not all aggressive but dangerous if stepped on. And of all the many diverse creatures living in my magical canyon home, there is none more feared than these usually secretive reptiles we share our canyon home with. Not therattle2-sm.jpg bears, who have on occasion broke into vehicles looking for food, and once contested the fresh baked loaves on Loba’s kitchen counter. Not the chisel toothed peccary making gnashing sounds in the willows, or the giant antlered elk that dominate the river in Fall. It may be that we mistakenly attribute the snake – like the blackness – to evil entities due to the way each reminds us of our vulnerability or triggers bone deep flight from the realization of our mortal life’s end. Or we may have learned to accept our biological limits as well as value what we neither can see yet nor understand, but what is most likely to send chills up our spine is still the terror of the unknown and the nearly universal fear of change.

No wonder the snake arouses strong feelings and critical dogma, often a concealed agent of mystery and danger, a representative of the shadow world and cross cultural symbol of unavoidable transition as it yearly sheds its skin. The meaning of life itself can be discerned from a reading of its meaningful molt, with the spirit and anima continuing on as our flesh and energy is repeatedly cycled back into the earthen alchemical cauldron from which it sprouted and branched. The snake’s molting skin is emblematic of our temporal creations and fragile illusions, as well as those exactly defined personas we pray will outlast all transition.

In societies where nature is generally considered to be base, dirty or evil, the serpent is reviled. Indigenous peoples, peoples living near to the land, have never been as quick to abhor the rodent-reducing reptiles slipping through their granary roofs. Examples of snakes treated as a positive, informative embodiment of life are found among many primal cultures: coiled within the womb of the African “black goddess,” wrapped around the Celtic and Teutonic effigies, held aloft in rainbow colors by the carved image of the goddess Una in aboriginal Australia. The Sumerian “Great Mother Serpent of Heaven.” The Venezuelan Yaruro’s “Puana the Snake,” creator of all. The writhing passion of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent of the Maya. Snake-hearted Paghat of the Near East. The serpent and the planet-body, the snake and the feminized earth were seen as one indivisible entity. Thus for early Egyptians, the symbol of the cobra served as the hieroglyph for the word “Goddess,” and from her comes the egg, “Maat”: a word meaning both “matter” and “mother.”

The rattler is prominent in Native American mythology, marked by its propensity to warn us first with the distinctive buzz of its tail, the buttons of its rattle made of the remnants of its shed skins. They were often revered as agents of the Spirit who could avenge human affronts. Bites were punishment for sacrilege, or the harming of a fellow snake. The Comanche, on the other hand, would only kill one if it failed to rattle, presumably on a ninja mission of vengeance. Other tribes such as the Talawa and Tarasco wouldn’t hurt one under any circumstance. The Luiseno and Shoshoni regarded a snake-bit camp dog as a sign of failed spiritual duties. Most refer to them respectfully as “Grandmother” or “Grandfather,” in deference to their spiritual significance and power. Rattlers repay the Chitimacha of Louisiana for a historic favor by guarding their houses while they’re away.

Of all the known American rituals involving serpents, the Hopi Snake Dance is the most widely known. Many of the animals they use are rattlers, held in the teeth at a point five or six inches behind the head. This portion of the dance occupies less than a half-hour of the nine day ceremony for rain, but fascinates the snake fearing ethnologists and jumpy observers. They’re pulled from the enclosure called a Kisi one at a time by costumed participants until each one has been danced with, then they are placed in a circle of sacred cornmeal by the Antelope priests. Women scatter more white cornmeal over them, before they’re grabbed by the Snake priests in great handfuls and carried to the four directions to be released. It’s then the snakes’ job to reenter the underworld, and there ask the Thunder Gods to bring the much-needed rain.

By affirming the right to exist of snakes, we affirm proliferate, sentient, outlaw life. Sensual life. Sexual life. In the Yogic traditions the energy of life and transformation is known as Kundalini, serpent energy that rests at the base of the spine in the sexual chakra. It spirals in a timeless state, a unifying fire that extends upwards to that atrophied portion of the modern human brain, the source of shared instincts and dreamtime appropriately labled our reptilian cortex. The spine is the conduit for the life-force, the trunk of the sacred tree. It’s the arousal of the Kundalini serpent power that reunites the false dualities of good versus evil, spirit versus matter, body rattlesnakecoils2-sm.jpgversus soul. It’s our conscious retrieval by the Garden of Oneness. It’s the re-membering of our selves, of our selves as the planet-body Gaia. With Kundalini we have both human nature and greater nature on the rise. With the Greek Oroboros – the snake with its tail in its mouth – we have a complete circle, nature forever consuming itself without being diminished, a corporeal as well as spiritual homecoming.

Here is the source of mantism, telepathy, intuition and healing, the power of the Earth to know and to cure itself. It is the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl, breaking free from the hardening concrete. In spite of what you may have been told, the snake is velvet soft rather than slimy. It is a blessing. It is a teacher. It is a manifestation of anima and spirit provoking us to wake up and pay attention to the world under and around us, including those scaled and voiceless soothsayers living nearest it.

Neither serpents or the dark are threats so much as they are opportunities, with all manifestations of nature in and around us ready to inform and empower, and with darkness the fecund womb from which all possibilities arise. Both the shadow world and its resident snakes are in ways always right here in front of us, unseen among the dried grasses and lichen-covered rock of our still wild souls. They wait for nothing… but if they did, it would not be to ambush us – but to welcome us back to the real world of deeply experienced, inter-coursing dark and light. To wholeness and balance, to the wondrous endless cycling of death and life.

-(c) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin (

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(Photos (c) 2008 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)