Archive for March, 2012

Edward Abbey: My Time With The Contrary Truthsayer

Monday, March 26th, 2012

Edward Abbey:
My Time With The Contrary Truthsayer

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

All italicized quotes by Ed Abbey
(gleaned from his essays, journals, and personal correspondence with this author and others)

We here at Anima get tons of letters and comments if we post a blog on the exemplary natures of house cats, or run virtually anything written by our incurably cute and temporarily young daughter Rhiannon.  What we do not get comments on are posts describing dire ecological realities or the fundamental inherent destructiveness of our generally cherished civilization, the dangers of imaging that a candidate from one political party will be any less odious and pernicious than those from the other party, our cultural illusions and common hypocrisies, or the inescapability of personal responsibility.  Not a single person, in fact, responded to my most recent post… revealingly on the importance of responsiveness.  We understand that some topics are more pleasant to ponder than others, but continue to produce a far reaching range and hopefully balance of subjects, perspectives and moods.

“I would prefer to write about everything; what else is there? But one must be selective.”

The rule for the successful “marketing” of ideas is to identify a specific audience and narrow one’s subject matter, useful advice that I – by my very nature – tend to ignore.  “Blogging on every conceivable topic” our Anima Blog header reads, and it is thus that we post on a medicinal herb one issue, and the obstreperous author and gadfly Edward Abbey in another.  One can help to heal the body, the other may prove an antidote to the gleeful sleepwalking, suffocating illusions and restrictively polite nice-isms that make possible our toleration of injustices and indignities we might best find intolerable.

“May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.”

In one case, the path of wordage has passed through a brightly flowering meadow while in the next it has dipped into the shadows, and only through all its twists and turns can we hope to recognize the many great and sometimes untidy and discomforting truths.

“It’s the writer’s job to speak the truth – especially unpopular truth.  Especially truth that offends the powerful, the rich, the well-established, the traditional, the mythic”.

It was precisely this approach and attitude that first drew me to him, as much as his demonstrative love for the same Southwestern bioregions I’ve so long made my home.  I’d read all his books, from Fire On The Mountain – the story of a White Sands rancher’s stand to protect his land from seizure by the U.S. Air Force – to what was back then his most recent,  the rollicking novel The Monkeywrench Gang, before initiating what would many short but sweet exchanges of correspondence.  Short, I say, because it was plain postcards that he most often mailed out, a few pithy or poignant lines printed on their backs in what was this Luddite’s equivalent of today’s Twitter. I was only mildly insulted, that some of the lines he wrote me had already appeared, or would soon appear, in his essays and books.

“Wolf, don’t let the bastards get you down.”

Ed Abbey said he wrote to encourage his friends and confound his enemies.  But even more than that, he seemed to me to write because it was his nature to do so, and because being a crafty, opinionated and controversial wordsmith brought him both the attention and the isolation that he craved… nipping any superficial relationship “in the bud” as he liked to say, pissing off the powers that be as well as alienating the literary establishment, winning the affections of twenty something year-old female backpackers and the respect of tree-hugging iconoclasts.  He was flattered by the dossier the FBI once compiled on him, and by his fictional Monkeywrench Gang inspiring the formation of a real-life eco-radical tribe, Earth First!, while unmoved by the praise and critiques of what he thought of as university do-nothings, fiction groupies, disembodied intellectuals and the effete cultural elite.  His very effective means for filtering the wild seeds from the civil chaff, was a candid and profoundly liberating political incorrectness.

Step 2 will be shooting a TV that isn't already broke....

“You (Wolf), are a poet, an artist, and a man… and good at all three.”

Even this bit of praise that he sent me proved problematic, as I had to omit the part about “man” in his quote to avoid being mercilessly and ceaselessly ridiculed but the strong and equally opinionated activist women that I worked with.  Women, however, that had all read and been inspired by his classic Canyon Solitaire.  What Abbey did most masterfully, was to communicate the total awesomeness of the natural world, free of the saccharine literary pretentiousness, saccharine sentimentality, liberal guilt and suffering whiny-ness all too prevalent in the “nature writing” genre, and to kick his readers minds into gear with fearsome passion, objectionable opinion and unpredictable perspective.  This resulted in a vociferous fan base of woods romping misfits, and also no small number of critics, detractors and outright antagonists.

“Beware of the man who has no enemies.”

Ed’s enemies were many and often loud, from humanist social ecologist Murray Bookchin and the editor of Green Anarchist, to indignant feminists and offended Hispanics to corporate developers and East Coast literati.  Some attacks flattered him, others seemed to hurt him more than the crusty author liked to let on.

“Better a cruel truth than a comfortable delusion.”

Abbey was as true a man as I ever met, as truthful and wholly, unapologetically real, but he was also a bundle of contradictions, delightfully testy, exaggerated and obnoxious.  Like the character Hayduke that he created, Ed could be extolling the beauty of unspoiled wildlands while pitching a series of emptied beer cans out the window of his old gray truck.  While he loved to get out into the desert for up to weeks at a time, he did more driving than walking, and seldom camped out of sight of his rig.  While he was the best known celebrant of the purposeful sabotage of the machinery of development and wildlands destruction, from what I heard from him as well as his closest compatriots, he only rarely engaged in such illegal acts himself, and he admitted to me bungling much of the little vandalism that he did entertain.  He was disdainful of authentic Latin culture with what he say as its mix of repressive Catholicism, drug lords and corrupt politicians, yet decried the bland American burbs and “cultureless” Texas with its urban cowboy posturing.  He preached against organized religion and spiritual placation, while also holding that “Nothing could be more reckless than to base one’s moral philosophy on the latest pronouncements of science.” Ed was heavily criticized for his female characterizations in his books and his cavalier objectification of women as sex objects, and yet at the same time he spoke out often and strongly in defense of women’s right to make her own decisions regarding birth control or abortion.  He wrote about the virtues of one’s love for a woman and of fidelity to place, while cheating on each of his five wives and openly announcing that “loyalty to one would be to betray all the others”.  He asserted that people are the rightful top of the food chain, while insisting that he would rather kill a human than a coyote, identifying more with the free and furry than with his suited counterparts.

“It’s time this old wolf got out of his hole a bit.”

The postcards he frequently sent to myself and others over the years, invariably featured a return address of either “Wolf Hole” or “Oracle” Arizona, two authentically rural and totally cool sounding places nearly an hour’s drive north of the matching tacky tract homes that both he and his EF! activist sidekick Dave Foreman had purchased on the SE side of trendy Tucson, faux adobe structures featuring twin microwave ovens that no self respecting backwoodsman author or camo-clad ecoactivist could be blamed for wanting to keep quiet about.  And while Ed once served as a Military Policeman, and advocated strong central control of a militarized border with Mexico to prevent the migration of undocumented aliens years before Presidents Bush and Obama started positioning troops there, he was at the same time a self described “lifelong anarchist.”  He was fired as editor of his college paper after writing that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest” and satirically attributing it to Louisa May Alcott.

“Anarchism is not a romantic fable but the hardheaded realization, based on five thousand years of experience, that we cannot entrust the management of our lives to kings, priests, politicians, generals, and county commissioners.”

It was nonetheless an anarchist collective that gave him the greatest grief, at least outside of his tumultuous relationships with women.  In July of 1988, Ed showed up at the EF! Round River Rendezvous atop Arizona’s endangered Mt. Graham.  I was there to assume the teaching of Bill Devall’s deep ecology workshop, and shared the stage with Abbey and others before witnessing him being rudely heckled by the anarchic Alien Nation folks in the audience.  He devotes a chapter of his 1989 novel, Hayduke Lives!, to describing this scene and the remainder of the rendezvous, mentioning me by my stage name of Lone Wolf, and alluding to the bare skinned Tribal Jams concert and ecstatic “amoeba” hugfest that I instigated and from which he reasonably slipped away.  As an aside, the Alien Nation contingent’s camp was found emptied the following morning, having drove off in the middle of the night to escape what they shrilly described as “whip-cracking ecofascist vigilantes”… but that were actually only Green Rage author Christoph Manes, San Diego activist Van C. and myself looking to find and to agitate the retiring David Foreman.  It was a time of active resistance, both against the dominant technoindustrial paradigm of artificiality, conformity and destruction, and against Foreman’s secretive autocratic control of the group he helped found.

“Rebellion transforms slaves into human beings, if only for an hour.”

Foreman and Abbey used to talk about strapping dynamite on their backs once they know they are morally ill, and floating out to the center of Glenn Canyon Dam to liberate the long stagnating Colorado River, but Abbey died in his subdivision.  These days Foreman is a white haired anti-immigrant activist who has smartly avoided all use of the word “explosives” since his arrest and plea bargain.  Ed nonetheless hit the nail on the head, when it comes to the limitations of us housebound writers, and the redeeming value and utter necessity of action.

“Philosophy without action is the ruin of the soul.  Now as always we need heroes and heroines!”

The last time I saw Ed, it was in his house, in a small room he used as his study and den, a place for writing, conversation and cigars, and free from anyone telling us he had to put it out.  He played an album of classical music, while teasing me about the global rock n’ roll of my Deep Ecology Medicine Show act, the elder pouring a glass of whiskey, the younger seated far from his alternative culture of hippies and mountain men, medicine women and pipes filled with a relaxing herb.  Ed ranted about the self indulgence and trivial tangents of modern poets, while admitting he’d tried his hand on writing poetry his self.  We commiserated about the intense feelings of magic and mystery that the wild Gila forest of S.W. New Mexico excites, while regretting we could not use the word “magic” without being lumped with the carefully quaffed, gentle speaking peddlers New Age foolishness.  He remarked about the restraint and boredom inherent in marriage, told me how much he would like to come visit me in my Gila canyon home and bemoaned that probably never would.  He wistfully mentioned the handful of road graders parked unattended just up from their street, set to begin ripping the life out of the desert again come the following Monday, before pouring another drink and settling deeper into chair.  I rode off into the warm Arizona night on my motorcycle, compelled to emphasize in my mind a particularly useful bit of Abbey advice.

“It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.”

The art of doing wasn’t just a matter of resistance, I knew, an insight I had only slowly learned to apply.  Along with the resistance and struggle, the activism and wilderness restoration, we needed to also nourish ourselves with wild ideas and wild places, well prepared and fully tasted meals.  We needed, and still need, a balance point somewhere between mournful resignation and desperate reaction, a place alive with both ideas and acts, silence and song.

“One brave deed is worth a hundred books, a thousand theories, a million words.”

That said, Abbey’s words were an action in themselves, accelerants feeding the fires of so many others’ passions and causes.  And when he was asked what he wanted to do with the rest of his life, he cited not the joys of writing so much as those of food and flesh, family and friendship, in all cases most ideally shared far from pavement and in the illumination of the unbowed desert night’s boundless flurry of stars.

“I shall continue… for as long as it gives me pleasure.”


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Deepening Response: Tips For Acting Response-ably

Monday, March 19th, 2012

Deepening Response:
Tips For Acting Response-ably

Excerpted from the now available Spring 2012 Issue of
Plant Healer Magazine

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

A light swirl of snow is blowing through the canyon as I write this intro, barely wetting the soil so far.  Preceded and followed by unseasonably warm days, it is a blessing nonetheless.  There are folks who planned to arrive, but who postponed or canceled in response to what they feared would be a debilitating storm.  Our helper, Fritz, has responded by working on the outdoor kitchen construction even in this blowing white.  Our considered but trained response was to make sure the tools were all put away were they wouldn’t rust, covering the burn barrel to keep its ash dry until we dump it, uncovering the rain barrels in preparation for catching whatever amount of moisture spills from our cabins’ metal roofs.  A longer term response involves improvement of the water cache system, and erosion control where the ground is most susceptible to being stripped.  I sit here and write for you, in response to our desire to reach, share and teach, and to your desire to read, learn, know.  I respond in emails to the things that students and friends write, bus also to what they leave out, avoid or conceal, all with the aim of healing and helping.  Nearly all my actions are deliberate and a result of discernment and choice, with specific intentions and in hopes of particular desired results.

It is discernment, gained through the processes of intuition and critical thinking, that makes optimum action possible… and once we have discerned a danger or opportunity, need or course, it is for us to determine a purposeful and optimal response.

“Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Willing is not enough; we must do.” –Johann von Goethe

Let’s be clear on the definitions from the start.  A reaction is any action elicited by another action, from chemical reactions to our reacting without thinking in an emotionally charged argument.  Many reactions are habitual and unhelpful, others such as instincts are informed by the experiences of our entire species through time and are ever so valuable.  Response can be distinguished from simple reaction, to the exact degree that it is conscious and aware, deliberate and intentional.  We may react to a sudden loud noise inside a nearby building by crouching, covering our ears, or seeking directions from someone in authority, whereas an aware response might be to discern the source of the noise and then find ways to actively assist.

Response is choice made active.  Even when we choose to cease our work and flop into the hammock, this too can be a conscious doing, recognizing our exhaustion or simply aware of and desirous of the scene and sensation.  It is actively answering questions posed to us, but also the active choice to be silent or still.  It is a response, for example, to choose fully take in a new and striking scene with a quiet mind, or to cease talking when you hear a worrisome noise that needs identifying.

The origin of the word “response” is Middle English, drawn from the Latin “responsum” which means “something offered in return.”  Response is therefore a deliberate giving back, whether a verbal response to a question, or a physical response to a situation, facial expression or action.  The key is “deliberate.”  The difference between a reaction and a response is that a response is conscious and intentional.  What we offer in return, may be wows and ahhs of amazement and satisfaction, upon being gifted by the sight of a spectacular sunset.  Or our gratitude, when a botanical perfume we are making comes out just right, an herbal formula appears to work, or a student or client writes us to say how valuable our guidance has been.  Our watering of a garden is an offering, when presented with parched and wilting herbs.  When we are witness to injustice, we do well to offer remedy or resistance in turn.  In the face of love, we rightly respond with love as well.  When presented with a need, problem or illness, we may – in return – respond by offering suggestions or solutions, or help with healing.

“My biggest wish for my daughter is that she practices responsiveness. I never want her to look over her shoulder at her life, and think, ‘What is this? When did this happen?’ I never want her to wake up next to a lover she didn’t choose. I never want her to feel the pain and humiliation of being a passive observer in her own life.” –Jaclyn Leeson

In Anima, I’ve redefined the word “responsibility” as “the ability to respond”, which we all have to one degree or another, “and following through with needed action.”

We have a response-ability to do what we can to take care of and grow ourselves, to halt injustices whenever they are found, to ease the suffering we see, preserve and restore the natural world that we witness being degraded and destroyed.  This does not mean obligation or debt, it means that with awareness of needs and problems comes awareness of our ability-to-respond, and there there is no excuse not to.

This is as true in the practice of herbalism, as it is in every other aspect of our lives.  We are more empowered, less subject and victimized, the more aware we are, and the more wise and proactive our response.  A big part of the work of healing is teaching folks to discern what is going on with their bodies and what conditions or actions may be affecting them, to critically consider the condition and the treatment options, and to optimally respond in ways meant to contribute to their long-term overall wellness.

Tips For Responding:

• Unconsidered reaction shines in the most immediate and dire of emergencies, but usually proves a dull tool next to true response

• A response answers the question that every situation and act poses “What is the best action for me to take in turn?”

• Another way to phrase this: “What is the optimal gift I can give in this situation (in contribution to truth, healing, justice, balance…)?”

• Our responses benefit from self knowledge as well as awareness, intuitive and bodily sensing, discernment, analysis and appraisal

• Reaction to being ruled, will be all that’s left for those failing to respond to the imposition of regulation

• Understanding our issues, biases, angle and perspective is essential to choosing the best response

• Know that every response made elicits further reactions, and respond with future ramifications, consequences and side effects in mind as well as immediate aims

• The effective person is both response-able and responsive


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A Definition Of Feral

Wednesday, March 14th, 2012

Princess Mononoke & The Definition of Feral – –

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Letter From A Helper

Monday, March 12th, 2012

Letter From A Helper

Intro: Today we welcomed the arrival of our newest on-site helpers, Hannah and Fritz, costume maker and circus master, students of self sufficiency, interesting and darn nice folks.  And last night, we sadly said our farewells to helper Avraham.  No one coming to assist has yet been more diligent or dependable, focused or grateful, and it was emotional to bid him adieu… as goes on to gather new skills as an EMT, following his heart and calling, taking responsibility for making the choices that will define his destiny.  Below is the text of one of two hand-written letters he left with us upon departure, a blessing shared in the hopes you will find it as moving and hopeful as we did.  We are thankful not just for his assistance on important projects, but for the opportunity to help clarify and affirm – even in smallest measure – what will be his insights into, and gifts to the world.

Dear Wolf

Your home and the people here are some of the greatest things I’ve experienced.  Being here has given me nourishment, contentment, insight and fulfillment.  Coming from a society where a true purpose is hard to find – and opportunities to be appreciated for who you really are, are hard to come by – I feel the greatest love and honor working here doing my daily tasks and knowing that I am a part of something, something great.

Hearing yours and Loba’s stories, seeing Dan’l and Don’s devotion to this place despite their own responsibilities, and listening to Kiva speak for hour to the most minute details of the herbal world, have all been inspiration to me and my calling.

And the land… As dry, rocky, and strange as it may seem to someone who has lived near lush, green wetlands and woodlands his whole life, it has taught me something too. A deeper lesson in who I am for sure, but the experience to go along with it is fortunately unforgettable.

Walking the trails, river-banks and mountainsides has left me feeling the most content, natural and “in place” I’ve ever felt. The law of impermanence has never seemed so real and my attitude towards change has never been so accepting.

There have always been ups and downs for me here as moods tend to sway, especially in circumstances of solitude and introspection. But throughout these moments, whether I was aware of it or not, there has always been harmony for me. Harmony with Anima, harmony with love, harmony with the land, and harmony with you.

And even though we saw very little of each other during my time here, I feel extremely bonded by all that has happened, and have felt deeply the joy of working with you.

When I leave here, I will walk strongly on my path and always remember my brother Wolf.

And to the future I look forward, working with you, and all the others out there trying to make a difference.

May our strength prevail through the darkest of days.  May our work continue to nourish us, and may our gifts and treasures spread like wildfire.

Blessings to you,


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Deeply Satisfied, Never Sated

Wednesday, March 7th, 2012

Deeply Satisfied, Never Sated

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Satisfaction and savoring are important in a healthy life…
and so is that dissatisfaction which keeps us learning and feeling, moving and improving

Anima Sanctuary Cottonwood by Jesse Wolf Hardin

The satisfaction that comes with releasing another outrageous Plant Healer Magazine is substantial.  Like a bite of the wonderful fruit pie sweetly made for me today, I chew the feeling slowly, hold it my mouth against my tongue, postponing the actual swallowing lest the flavor of its completion be too soon overcome by some other entree.  One of the traits that I shared most with my deceased mother is the drive to always be moving on to the next experience, need, challenge and accomplishment, though I have made an effort all my lifetime not replicate her habitual failure to give any prolonged attention or credit to the tasks she so beautifully completed, the failure to bask in the warm feeling of having done well what we set out to, a failure to savor.  So savor I do, a 288 page magazine that took hundreds of hours of mine and Kiva’s time to create, looking over it as an aware and sensitized reader might, noticing the color schemes and topic themes, but also acknowledging what only the creators could know, such as the number of times the order of art and text was changed to mate one to the other, the hours given to finding illustrations for every article, and the work of making posters without certainty that the often intemperate images will inspire or entertain more than they offend.  I savor the end product, the combined harmonics, the composition that is the overall rock n’ roll symphony of instruments and scores, but I also savor each individual contributing note, each author and artist, each subject, the diversity of styles, every careful phrasing and well chosen word.

So too, the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference, quickly known for its unorthodox blend of clinical emphasis and cultural resurgence, experience and intuition.  I savor the success of each year’s event, the miracle of making a grass roots event work in difficult financial times, the dissemination and cross-pollination of ideas and information, perspectives and traditions, that altogether creates a song of empowerment and healing.

In both cases, the root that such satisfaction arises from is not simply that we contribute to our effective natural healing of each other, but to the healing of our the schism between research and intuition, the healing of self doubt and imagined powerlessness, of our relationship to the natural world and the healing restoration of the earth itself.  How satisfying, to raise the issues and values of deep ecology and conservation from the bed of this herbal garden, addressing the need to not only tend our illnesses and wounds but also affect our society, find our calling, and live our dreams.

No amount of income could ever persuade me to spend/expend the number of hours of finite, irreplaceable life that these two projects alone require, yet it seems like “the least that we can do” when we consider their use as vehicles of awakeness and relation, of caring and acting, of resistance to injustice, ancient tradition and responsible adaption, vital wisdom and childhood delight, aesthetics and enchantment.

Yet while well satisfied, I am not sated.  There is room in me to take in more, and I have more to give.  I explore how to incorporate my passion for writing fiction, by serializing the chapters of The Medicine Bear in the magazine, believing in its power and message even if we don’t always get the feedback to be certain it’s desired.  I still want to publish my politically incorrect “Straight Shot” essays, with their sentiment, irreverence, attitude and humor, in order to communicate with and affect the thinking of more mainstream rural and urban readers.  We have home study courses to expand and add, art paper awaits my pencils and pens, a graphic novel won’t leave my subconscious, and the essential core of my teachings – my legacy beyond my lifetime – remains to be systemized in ways that ensures it continues to be passed down through the generations, I remain without the apprenticeships that could establish a lineage of this vision, this place, this way of seeing and living that hinges so much on earthen heart, personal awareness and choice.

I truly wish for you to find and dwell in the satisfaction with who you really are, and what your real gifts are, in spite of any admitted weaknesses or perceived flaws.  In your commitments and results, intentions and deeds.  In the world that we are a part of it, even as messed up as it now appears to be.  In every moment that the spark and breath of anima surges through you, the sounds musical and mundane that your ears are privileged to be able to hear, the lingering tactile sensation of a lovers hand or your own sleeve cloth, the bite of food mouthed long and adoringly, the slow and sensuous savoring of every improbable or miraculous sight,  every second of effort or rest, all honorable accomplishments no matter how seemingly small, and every amazing life-giving breath.

At the same time, I would be remiss not to wish for you at least a degree of unshakable dissatisfaction as well, dissatisfaction with norms, relationships and careers, lifestyles and illusions that may thin, dilute, weaken, distract or dishonor you, disempower you or dissuade you from being your true whole self and living fully your most meaningful purpose.  I wish you to be too antsy to stick with something, even a good something, if your truest calling and inclination and passion pulls you to another way or service.  I wish for you the kind and degree of dissatisfaction required to propel you to continue trying out new ways, creating new expressions of yourselves and gifts to your world, to continue finding the sometimes discomforting means for avoiding complacency and apathy, ever new means for learning, experimenting, growing, flexing, stretching and reaching.

I am never satisfied enough with that which we do, to cease looking ahead to doing more and better, for the best of reasons and causes.  Nor would it serve for any of us to be so filled up as to have no room to take any more in, too heavy to move, or so sated as to forgo the hunger to experience and excel, give and create.  It is through the integrity of our being and doing that we best impact the world, but it is the hungering that propels us deeper and further.


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