Archive for January, 2011

Nature Bats Last: Animal Defense & Plant Justice – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, January 21st, 2011

Nature Bats Last: Animal Defense and Plant Justice

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

“Nature Bats Last,“ as the radical bumper sticker tells us, and in spite of human caused deforestation, soil depletion, deadly pollution and mass plant and animal extinctions, it will indeed be the self adjusting natural world that outlives both the best and the worst of what we rightly or wrongly call civilization.  In the long run, in geologic time, the 40,000 or so accumulated years of imbalance will appear as but a brief outbreak from which the planet Earth (with or without continued human participation) quickly recovers.  But for those of us fated to be born and die in the midst of hundreds of years of increasing destruction and control, with neither dramatic relief or ultimate resolution, we might be emboldened and gratified by occasional contemporary stories of the natural world getting the last laugh in our own convoluted times.

A few weeks before my writing this, the respected Reuters news agency reported a fox hunter in the region of Grodno, in the country of Belarus being taught an important lesson by a fox fueled with the anima, with nature’s irrepressible will to live.  After shooting and wounding the hapless animal, the man apparently decided to save the cost of a second bullet by crushing its skull with the butt of his shotgun, but the fox had other ideas.  Advancing and clawing at its tormentor, it somehow managed to trip the trigger with its paw and blast a nasty hole through through the shooter’s own leg before escaping into the woods.

The shooter had no intention of eating or otherwise making use of the animal if he had managed to kill it, making it a clear case of critter karma.  Other cases of leveling the field are less gratifying, with the less personally culpable passengers of jet planes paying the dues for the harmful airline industry when they crash as result of quite innocent enough geese being sucked into the killer engines.

Most efficient at affecting a broad return to balance, if not the administration of individual justice, must be the unwitting revenge of the insect world in their transmission of malaria and Lyme’s disease, and most notably the actions of bacteria themselves, increasingly antibiotic resistant, functioning as an agent of nature’s impersonal scales.

If even the most nature loving of us are to feel real satisfaction, however, it must be more personal and poetic recompense, events like the fox and the hunter, or the Arizona miscreant brought low by a vigilante saguaro.  While there are innumerable  documented stories of animals defending themselves when cornered or hurt, the crushing death of insensitive vandal David Gundman in 1982 may be one of the few verifiable cases of a plant fatally striking back.  In 1987 I had the privilege of performing on the same stage as the highly entertaining country humor band The Austin Lounge Lizards, when they played this telltale song:

“His name was David Grundman, a noxious little twerp,
Saw the cactus as the Clanton Gang, himself as Wyatt Earp.
He came out to the desert, they wouldn’t come to town,
In Maricopa County, he vowed to shoot them down.”

Saguaro cactuses are giant reservoirs of desert water, up to 30 feet tall and weighing thousands of pounds.  This officially endangered and federally protected species is exceptionally slow growing, taking 100 or more years to reach full stature, and all that time serving as an important source of homes for birds and rodents.  Their most defining characteristic – as so often seen in comic books and ads – is the way that two opposing branches can often form, resembling the silhouette of a man when viewed against the reddened glow of Sonoran horizon.  It was apparently this feature that inspired Grundman and his friend James Joseph Suchochi to drive to area near Lake Pleasant and begin acting the part of Old West gunslingers, quick drawing and ventilating the dastardly but decidedly unmoving cactus with their trusty revolvers.

“He was slightly disadvantaged by the angle of the sun,
But after all the cactus wasn’t packing any gun
His finger twitched, he made his move, he drew, his gun did bark,
And echoed with the laughter, as his bullets hit their mark.”

The first one Grundman faced off with fairly quickly folded and collapsed, as he and his buddy joked with cocky John Wayne smiles.  Their second cactus opponent was reported to be a giant, rising some 26 feet into the air.  Positioned a few feet from the trunk and standing in its protective shade, Grundman again called a marked plant out onto the streets of his imagination and commenced to fire round after round into its quavering bulk.  It was the weight of irony that an arm of the green behemoth broke off and crushed a surprised Grundman, to the twin dismay and potential education of his friend Suchochi.

“Well, the giant plant did tremble, then came that warning sound,
The mighty arm of justice came hurling toward the ground.
And the gunman staggered background, he whimpered and he cried,
The saguaro crushed him like a bug, and David Grundman died.”

The ultimate victor, of course, is in the end always diverse and tireless life, and the ways that resilient nature endlessly reemerges regardless of human impact, appreciation or witness, the animals that will one day stalk our presumptuous, silenced cities, the plants that will root in the walls of collapsed government buildings, flowering for themselves and any rewilded people who might miraculously be around to celebrate them.

A hopeful scene from the History Channel's "Life Afer People" series

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(Forward and RePost this piece freely.  More writings by Wolf Hardin can be found on the writings page at www.AnimaCenter.org, with more of his intemperate work appearing in a new book soon.  You can download The Austin Lounge Lizards’ song “Saguaro” as well as others by going to Amazon.com or the iTunes store)

Not A Drop To Spare: Water In The West – By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

Not A Drop To Spare: Water In The West

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

As you might imagine, our voluntary backwoods lifestyle is a major source of curiosity for many of the urban folk we happen to meet, and one of the first questions out of their mouths is “Do you guys have running water?”  I usually just tell them “No” and leave it at that, preferring to let them think we’re miserable grubbing cave dwellers, rather than to go to the effort of explaining and describing what I consider to be a historically correct and personally ennobling way for a fellow to live his life.  And it’s not like we don’t have “running water” either…  I mean, whenever it rains it runs off our metal roof, and then runs down the gutter to the proverbial rain barrel.  When it really storms we run around with sloshing buckets of it, madly transferring from one barrel to another.  When the house jug is empty, we run to the barrels to fill it.  And when we run out, we run down to the river in the truck to fill up, or sometimes to a favorite neighbor’s house about four miles away for a barrel or two of theirs.

Our neighbor’s deep well is undoubtedly a more steady source to rely on than the sporadic cloud cover, but it, too, is dependent on the mercy of the rain and snowfall to restore the aquifers faster than we pump it out.  In a serious drought such as our region periodically suffers, even the best of wells can one day go dry.  And in the case of a power failure or collapse of the grid, civil unrest or the eventual degradation or implosion of our vaulted modern civilization, it may no longer be possible to transport the liquid gold in gasoline powered vehicles or bring it to the surface with electric pumps.  Argument for and against the selling of county water rights to out-of-county agencies and industries, is only among the first indications of what will be increasing contention over the finite supplies of water around here.

The political wrangling over the Southwest’s diminishing watercourses has been in the making for a long time and, contrary to what you may have heard, it’s not as simple as endangered fish versus farmers.  Special interests have been impacting our rivers for a long time now, diverting water from the traditional acequia systems that the rural population depends on, while allowing the native trees decline.  Needless to say, the wider a river gets, the more shallow it will run, and the faster the rate of evaporation.  Native willows and cottonwoods contribute to water retention by binding the banks and directing the river into meandering channels.  And to the delight of the trout, they slow down evaporation by shading and cooling the water surface.

Financial interests with the big money (the “corporados,” as some call them) want us to think that the recent disputes are between the valley’s food, alfalfa and cattle producers, and a decidedly homely little minnow that never grows large enough to eat.  Tain’t so!  Truth is, on one side of the equation what we’ve got are high-tech factories with high water demands, a thirsting as well as thriving tourist industry in the northern half of the state, and herds of dollar-driven developers racing to convert old family ranches into ever more fragmented subdivisions.  On the other side are the area’s beleaguered rural residents, family gardeners and a small but healthy-flowing river that the endangered minnows merely symbolize, allies in this battle whether they know it or not.  Unfortunately, no matter what either the ecologists, ranchers or bureaucrats prefer, I’m afraid the lion’s share of this state’s vital water resources will continue to be reserved for the major high-technology industries that the legislature promotes, and find its way down the shower drains of the proliferate Albuquerque and Santa Fe hotels.

As I write this, a fine felting of snow covers the ground around our cabins, is melting from the metal roofs, dancing down our earth-toned enameled gutters, filling our modest number of barrels and overspilling into carefully cemented channels that divert the eroding streams away from our buildings’ foundations.  At such times, concerns about water conservation can seem either distant or exaggerated.  But this year, we had almost no rain from September until January, and not until now are we getting the season’s first snowfall.  The relatively few inches of fluffy white succor will only temporarily swell our river, with most of the new moisture quickly absorbed into our parched Southwestern soils.  Tellingly, little will penetrate down into its subterranean folds to replenish the coveted aquifer.  Folks without a river to draw from, have long depended on wells to tap the water essential to families and the production of food, and human residency in many parts of our county long deemed unsustainable due to the impractical depths one would have to drill in order to reach any.  And it’s only getting worse.

It might be wise not to take what we have for granted, and never take a drink… unless we first think: about where our water comes from, and how difficult to obtain it can be.  About how badly we need it, and the impracticality and even impossibility of life without it.  In the long run, it’s no different in the arid mountains of New Mexico than elsewhere: while sometimes there may seem to be enough, there’s never really a drop to spare.

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Dangerous Absurdities: Vital Lessons From The Shooting Of Congresswoman Giffords

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

Dangerous Absurdities:

Vital Lessons From The Shooting Of Congresswoman Giffords

by Jesse Wolf Hardin


There is little that is more shallow, unreasoned, shrill and tacky, and dangerous to our very freedoms than the exploitation of tragic events to push an agenda… as in the case of the rhetoric and grandstanding behind the recent shooting of Congresswoman Gifford in Arizona.  Nor is it helpful for either side of the ensuing debates, to be in denial about the reality of this event and its ramifications for all of us.  The most vital thing at stake here, is not the security of our elected officials, important as that could be, but the constitutional liberties Americans have proven willing to give up in a hopeless quest for “safety”.  I am deeply grieved at the shooting of a Representative doing the essential democratic work of meeting face to face with her constituents, and even far more so at the killing of innocent bystanders including a child full of possibility and hope.  But like the father of that murdered 9 year old little girl, I am appalled at the deaths being used to justify even more government control over our ever more restricted and manipulated lives, a fact that is easily lost among the absurd pronouncements from conservatives as well as liberals.

Dangerous Absurdity #1:  “The shooting is the fault of right wing politicians and talk show hosts with their angry polemics and heated tone.”  Bull-pucky!  All people throughout the ages have been subjected to the vitriol of others, some of whom are inflamed to take action, and some are turned off and moved to do the opposite of whatever the talking heads of the times exhorted them to do.  The ultimate responsibility in every case, is on the person doing the act, not on the persons mouthing the rhetoric.  If you disagree, picture a world where you not only aren’t allowed to incite resistance, but where your every statement can be parsed so as to hold you liable for what others might do with your expressed feelings or information.  By blaming the messengers, no matter how influential or even seedy they might be, we indict speech itself… and our own remnant right to speak out.

Dangerous Absurdity #2:  “Rhetoric and politics had nothing to do with the shooting, it was just the work of a deranged individual.  It was a target of opportunity, if he hadn’t shot a liberal he might have attacked a conservative leader instead.”  It sounds ridiculous to label the shooting random given what we’ve read so far of the shooter’s anti-federalist opinions and writings, and what we know of the Democratic Congresswoman’s beliefs and votes in the House… nor is it particularly relevant.  He is responsible for the act, no matter what his motivations.

Dangerous Absurdity #3:  “If high capacity magazines were illegal, or if there were more extensive background searches required for firearm purchases, or if guns were banned altogether, this horrible shooting wouldn’t have happened.”  If the attacker hadn’t had an extended, high capacity magazine (ammunition clip) for his pistol, he could have done as well with quick reloads from additional, low capacity magazines, or simply carried multiple firearms such as the Columbine School shooters did and not be breaking any imagined ban on such accessories.  If barred from purchasing his Glock pistol legally, he could have done what criminals do even in countries with the most strict gun prohibition laws, which is to simply steal them, or purchase them from other lawbreakers or disgruntled and opportunistic members of the military and police.  Minus a gun, he could have done the same amount of damage in almost the same amount of time with a samurai sword and a good martial teacher.  Which brings to mind one news commentator that I heard in the days following the attack, who called in a trembling voice for “civilized” laws that ensure only people who have the proper amount of training can carry a gun, without considering how much more deadly the shooter would have been with professional gun instruction, beginning with possibly choosing a larger caliber weapon with better expanding bullets.  On the other hand, if even a single person in the mostly liberal crowd had been carrying and trained in the use of a handgun, it’s possible that she or he could have neutralized the threat quicker.  Note that the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was intended to ensure that weapons and hence power would not become the exclusive privilege of the government, as its framers knew there is more to fear from established authority than from civil strife.

Dangerous Absurdity #4:  “The shooter was mentally and emotionally unstable, which we as a society have a responsibility to provide care for.”  Unstable he clearly is, but that doesn’t make us all guilty for not having identified and treated his problems.  There is no indication that he would have sought or even accepted mental health help.  And at his age, no parent or school official can easily force him into treatment or commitment… just as it should be!  As it is, convenient psychiatric diagnosis is all too often used to discredit activists, rebels and revolutionaries, and to keep some in confinement long after their criminal sentences have been served.  Imagine a world where the authorities routinely decide who is normal (acquiescent and productive) and who is aberrant (“a danger to themselves or others”).

The real lessons of this event are that: 1. There are and will always be individuals – whether emotionally troubled or scarily normal – who act out by hurting others.  2. No amount of laws can make people safe, and the desperate desire for safety makes us susceptible to being lied to and controlled.  3. The best we can do is to be alert, aware, and responsive at all times (such as were both the folks who tackled the shooter, and the intern who rushed in to perform first aid).  4. The government and special interests that influence it, will use any pretext or provocation to increase their control over we citizens, playing on our fears most of all.  5.  Whether self described conservatives or liberals, we people tend to be so attached to our preferred dogma, that we often make ourselves look foolish and undermine our own arguments and agenda.

The shooting of the Congresswoman and so many others, is fuel for the increased polarization of the American people.  I suggest we stop playing the part of indignant conservatives and indignant liberals long enough to ask ourselves “Whom does this discord and fear benefit?”  The answer is the financial elite that capitalizes on our fears to instigate more legislation and accumulate more privilege and power, people whose only real political platform is self enrichment, people who have bankrolled every U.S. president whether Republican or Democrat.  They like to keep the herd fighting amongst themselves, while they run off with the cream.

Live Your Dreams! – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

Live Your Dreams!
It’s Both Unhealthy and Unwise, To Do Otherwise

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

Kiva and I have been studying the archaic Western Four Humors constitutional model lately, after frustration over Western herbalists having to turn to Eastern cultures for an effective and practicable constitutional and energetic system.  It has proved uncanny in its descriptions of Kiva, a “melancholic-choleric”, and “choleric-melancholic” me: decisive and determined, allegiance to noble ideals, goal or cause oriented.  My type can be judgmental, intolerant and impatient they say, and I truly can’t deny that.  The corollary on the Anima Medicine Wheel is the Center place of origin, in which the predominate energy is wild growth, movement, direction and potentially abrasive insistence, not always the most restful or pleasant of overriding personality-defining characteristics, this relentless need to re-create, heal and better the world, to identify a dream and obsess over its fullest realization.

Too often, however, human kind of whatever constitution error the other way, in unhelpful extremes of acceptance and toleration, reconsideration and resignation, self doubt and imagined powerlessness, attachment to approval and obedience to authority.  As a people we tend to doubt… doubt the wisdom in any options we choose between, doubt our ability to make the right choices, doubt that we can effect the world in a significant or lasting way, doubt that we have the courage to take necessary risks or that we are truly worthy of the blessings and rewards.… doubt that we can ever live – or even deserve – the life and way of living we’ve always dreamed of.

There is something seriously wrong with the modern civilized tendency to ignore our callings and let our dreams slowly die, self-sabotaging a goal that might have been possible if only we trusted sufficiently in its meaning and value, in ourselves, in the power of courageous impassioned effort and personal persistence, and in the seemingly magical alignment of circumstances that can result in the highly unlikely often coming true.  Far too often, we may listen to the warnings and compromises of others, or be held back by the concern they might dismiss our greatest and longest lived dreams as frivolous, childish or out of reach.  Judging by some of the reactions we get, you’d think that we’re supposed to be satisfied living lives that we neither dreamed of nor planned for, obeying rather than discerning and initiating, conforming in order to function as part of a machine, rationalizing our dissatisfaction, suppressing our wild desires, and settling for less of what we need and desire most.

I can’t help but ache to this day, thinking about my own mother’s relentless desire to be an interior decorator, but never having the self confidence to act on it.  I hurt, sensing the longing of all those who dearly wish they were someplace else, dreaming of opportunities in New York while failing to notice the pleasurable aspects of a Springfield or Tucson, or dreaming of settling in Alaska or Hawaii instead while thinking they’re settling for the state where they’re at.  I am disquieted… by the quiet desperation of anyone who grew up hungering to be a healer or teacher, writer or an artist, a free form dancer or red-eyed rodeo star and then opted instead for a safe career that actually holds no meaning for them.

Whatever your most precious and significant dreams are, it’s vital to your deepest needs and ultimate satisfaction that you keep them alive, doing all you can to bring them to fruition, feeding them, growing them, and most importantly doing all you can every moment and day to live them!  And this is true whether your dream is being a folk herbalist or Ph.D-holding researcher, bioregional farmer or world changing revolutionary, underpaid tree planter or unpaid backwoods parent .  Whether it involves soothing stillness or stimulating motion, traveling the wide world or leaning how to become a responsible native in a single special place.  Remaking society, or devoted to making the most wondrous meals.  It’s stultifying to slip into default mode, unquestioningly repeating old habits and patterns, meeting outside expectations without responding to inner wants, or an inner calling reflective of a larger purpose.  There is more damage is done to one’s self and kids by resentful or unenthusiastic mothering than by turning children over for adoption, and every relationship we give to is improved as a result of our making sure our dreams are acted on instead of relegated or sacrificed for their sake.  Little that’s inspired can be expected from jobs we stick with only because we were once trained for them.  Yet at the same time, even the most uninspiring source of income can be devoted to enabling and funding our desires and dreams… if only we make it so!

It’s up to each generation to help the children to identify, define, develop, and then fully live their most meaningful dreams – those that define, excite and motivate them the most.  We may not always share their hopes and aspirations, but we need to support their pursuit nonetheless.  Some youngsters may want to finish college so they can qualify for a certain enticing career, others may be called to dis school in favor of a more experiential route.  Maybe their most fervent wish is to raise horses, work with the handicapped, or design solar powered gliders that soar effortlessly through the sky… but whatever it is they’re reaching out for, what helps most is to see the parents and adults around them stretching at the same time.  We’re the most useful example for others when we’re not always doing the convenient or practical thing, but are instead demonstrating whatever level of determination it might take to heed a calling and honor a vision.  We probably all wish the young folks we know will be able to make their dreams come true, and one of  the best ways to help them is by showing we’re fully given to our dreams too.

Give yourself to that important cause that needs your dedication.  Don’t let any obstacles stand in the way,  push forward and watch for every opening.  If you get fired from work, it could be the opportunity to create that innovative business, clinic or school that you always wanted to.  If they cut your hours, it’s more time to do the things you’ve so long been missing.  It can require a failed relationship, for us to insist on a more healthy pairing and dynamic the next time.  Deep unhappiness with any aspect of our existence, can be our chance and our inspiration to change them.  Being burdened with challenge, is our opportunity to insist and continue, persevere and prevail, exceed and excel.  And it is the very difficulty and improbability of fulfilling our dreams that makes the our efforts in that direction so commendable, our results so prominent, and the resulting satisfaction so profound.

Climb that mountain that you said you would one day.  Pick up that musical instrument you hanker for, even if it might take years to get good at it.  Move to that city you can’t stop thinking about, or finally give yourself the country lifestyle you always wanted.  Go broke if you have to, buying and sailing that dream boat.  Give your all to the difficult but purposeful task.  Do what’s required to pay for and facilitate the projects and causes you most care about, even if it temporarily means working for money at things you don’t enjoy.  Sign up for the important home study course that you’ve been afraid you don’t have enough time or focus for.  Start that practice and hang that shingle, walk that trail, organize that demonstration, stand up against that clear and grievous wrong,.  However you envision your purpose, and whatever you imagine might bring you contentment, you need to know that it’s crucial as well as possible, even if you don’t yet know how… and remember that it’s never too late, so long as you start right now.

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