• Available from Amazon paperback or Kindle

  • Now Available! Buy all 3 books in 1 for only $6.99 and save $2!

    A COMPENDIUM FOR THE DRY GARDEN

  • Recent Posts

  • Tracking Footprints

  • Archives

  • Top Posts

  • Pages

  • Advertisements

Does the Land Weep for Us?

I just returned from 7 weeks away. I had to leave for a surgery that I was unable to have performed here in town. I stayed with friends in my old haunts of the Bay Area; had Christmas with family; and when I felt well enough to haul my own wood and take care of myself, I returned home to my little cabin in the woods. I’m still not healed enough to hike, or even walk around much, but happy to be back in the wildest lands in lower America.

In California after a few weeks, I began dreaming of home. I flew into the Absarokas in a small plane, landing high up in rugged country. I found elk, moose, and bears living in Marin County so I tracked them. Eagles soared overhead, wolves howled in my dreams in friend’s homes where I stayed. I missed my home and my dreams said so.

DSC00895

Flying in my dreams over this place near my home

I arrived home last night. No moon, the stars crowded the night, shimmering like millions of ice crystals in the sky. This morning some young buck deer came into the yard, looking for corn I’d thrown out for the wild turkeys. The turkeys milled easily around the deer while both fed. At dusk I drove to the flats above the cabin where hundreds of winter elk feed. I knew they’d be there as they are the Lamar migratory herd that arrives in December.

elk moving up the hillside

Lamar migratory herd

It’s getting cold now and I’m back at the cabin, windows closed, when I hear familiar sounds calling faintly outside. The wolf pack is howling, getting ready for their nightly rounds.

(Wolf sounds I recorded last year)

Winter is the best time here. Tourists are gone. Local townspeoples are gone. Even the residents, mostly snow-birds, have left. The valley belongs to the wildlife and their evidence–tracks–is everywhere.

Back in California, I pictured myself walking through my little woods which I like to do on a daily basis. I’ve spent ten years here–appreciating, loving, serving this place and soaking it up with my whole being. And now this tierra and all its surroundings where I’ve wandered, have gotten deep into my blood.

But does the land miss my regard when I’m gone?  In some small way, I like to think it does. But I’m only one person. What the land, and its community of wildlife, was adapted to long ago was a tribal presence that cared, and did ceremonies of thankfulness.

When I lived in California, I learned about how native clans gathered yearly each October to harvest acorns, do ceremonies, dance, give thanks to the trees, find mates amongst the neighboring clans,and tell stories. Some clans had special Oaks they claimed and served. During the rest of the year they’d prune these trees, and clear brush by fire around them. Acorns were their life blood and also the king-pin for forest food of thousands of other animals.

Miwok preparing acorns

But now no one dances nor eats the fruits of the oaks. No one comes to tell stories and give thanks to the trees and the trees suffer with strange invasive diseases. I believe they are suffer from this lack of regard.

Maybe our trees in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, infested with beetles, suffer this loneliness as well.  Scientists study these trees, but perhaps a different approach is necessary for their healthy response. White Bark Pines shared a similar history for the native peoples in our area. Whole encampments centered around White Bark harvests; now those camps are buried and forgotten, and the trees weep with their sap.

Sheep Eater Shoshone harvest site called High Rise Village

Maybe in my absence, my nearby forest missed my presence just a little, as I missed it.

 

Advertisements

The Heart of Wildness

….When Mabel McKay, a deceased Pomo basket weaver and doctor, heard somebody say that he had used native medicinal herbs but that they hadn’t worked for him, she responded, “You don’t know the songs. You have to know the right songs.” With no one to teach us, we don’t know the songs either.  The native practice of dreaming songs about the nonhuman world seems as valuable and elusive as a piece of pure bunchgrass prairie or the truth about the land. “Gardening with a Wild Heart”

Some say wilderness disappeared with Lewis and Clark.  We may still have wild lands, but true wilderness is gone.  Maybe once we finished mapping every inch, that was the final nail in the coffin.

Dad's Lake.  The Continental Divide looms in the background

Dad’s Lake. The Continental Divide looms in the background

Indigenous cultures once had their very identify, culture, and religion tied to the Land. The plants and animals were as familiar and knowable to them as our ATM’s and supermarkets are to us today.  They were Earth-based cultures. And although I consider our European cultures ‘Sky-based’–we identify with ideas i.e. ‘liberty and freedom’ or ‘God in Heaven’–there are still those of us who find sustenance and spiritual refreshment in Land.  And I would argue since all human beings are fitted to this earth, therefore the natural world and its wildness must resonate for everyone.  In essence, we are still Land-based peoples. Only our culturally-inherited earth knowledge has been diminished.

 

Swallowtail

 

In todays world, it is expedient and pragmatic for conservation groups to cloth their case in economic terms, whether it be for wildlife or land preservation.   Protecting wolves or bears becomes important because people like to view them, which brings in tourist dollars.  Setting aside elk habitat is good for hunters as they pay for the game agencies. The argument to preserve every ‘cog and wheel’ for its own sake has no power.

 

Coyote pups

Yet conservation groups are amiss to ignore this argument, for truly that is what is at the heart of the issue–we need these lands for our spirit; preserving the entire biotic community is important for its inherent value, not its monetary one.  The mysteries of this Earth spark our sense of wonder.  If all becomes mapped and pedestrian, where shall we look for awe, for beauty, for the surprise of diversity and difference.  Without these basic human needs met, we lose our compass in this world.

It is time to add this other dimension to our call for protection.  In my book The Wild Excellence I call this added element ‘The Sacred Land Ethic’.  Aldo Leopold’s land ethic states

A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise.  The land ethic simple enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.  A land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.  It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such.

To this eloquent and beautiful description of the way we should live, I’ve just added the word ‘sacred’ to include Land as a source of vision, spiritual awareness and sustenance.  Sacred includes all the plant songs we have yet to remember, and all the dances the animals have yet to re-teach us.  Sacred includes that moment when you stand in awe at the edge of the Grand Canyon, or the moment alone in the woods when you encounter a new-born fawn.

Moose and calf

All of us have resorted on many occasions to the natural world for restoration. So let us not hide behind the arguments of ‘monetary value’ of wildlife.  Let us speak the truth of why it is we are fighting to preserve what’s left of the wilds.

Shoshone National Forest Hosts a Heated Day-long Discussion on their Proposed 20-Year Plan

I want to write a very short blog entry on a special ‘objector’s’ meeting held October 8 of this year.  The Shoshone National Forest held an unprecedented meeting to discuss just a few very contentious issues in their proposed twenty year management plan.  I will provide a link to the transcript of that day-long meeting which I found incredibly interesting and informative to read.

The meeting was restricted to four issues, and only people who had made written comments previously could comment verbally, either on the phone or in person.  But the meeting was open to the general public.  The issues were:

1. The Forest proposes to eliminate goat-packing due to the potential for bighorn sheep to contract diseases.  The northwest quadrant of Wyoming has biggest and best bighorn sheep herd.  There’s over 4000 bighorn sheep on and around the Shoshone National Forest, more than any forest in the national forest system.  Bighorn sheep advocates and goat packing advocates made their case.Rocky Mountain Bighorn sheep

2. Lynx habitat and forest management.   Biologists and conservationists defended the proposed thinning restrictions in certain areas where lynx were known to exist or there is excellent snowshoe hare habitat.  County commissioners and their hired company, Ecosystem Research Group, argued for more thinning in those recommended designated lynx areas.

3. After lunch the two most contentious issues were addressed with lots of people arguing for wilderness preservation.  The Dunior Special Management Area has long had illegal mountain biking and the Forest Service plan is calling for mountain bike specific trails. This was a fascinating discussion with knowledgeable conservationists going back to early 70’s when the Dunior was suggested for SMA and eventual Wilderness designation.  No one from the biking community showed up, but the discussion was passionate, with many locals and wilderness advocates feeling betrayed by years and years of promises from the Forest Service as to Wilderness recommendation for these areas that never appeared, but now it seems to be ‘dewilding’ this area.

Jade Lake near Bonneville pass in the Dunoir

Jade Lake near Bonneville pass in the Dunoir

4. Lastly a heated discussion of increased ATV use in the forest, and in particular Franc’s Peak and how more motorized vehicles will disturb wildlife, destroy soil integrity, and be a hazard to horses and hunting use.

We have a chance to preserve and enhance this special area…the heart of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem–one of the few remaining intact ecosystems in the temperate world–and preserve these places for future generations with roadless areas and habitat for elk, grizzlies, wolves, wolverines, and all the iconic species that it contains.

I think you will find this a fascinating and informative discussion.  Click this link, then at the Shoshone Forest page click the link at the top that says ‘Transcripts from October 8 2014 Meeting with Objectors’

 

 

What is wild?

What counts as wildness and wilderness is determined not by the absence of people, but by the relationship between people and place.  A place is wild when its order is created according to its own principles of organization—when it is self-willed land.  Native peoples usually…”fit” that order, influencing it but nor controlling it…  Jack Turner

I’ve been re-reading ‘The Abstract Wild’ .  Jack Turner is so eloquent and makes such an impassioned plea for wildness.  Neither does he mince words nor ideas.

I find it interesting to consider once again What is Wild?  Turner argues that it isn’t just about the preservation of ecosystems per se, but what wilderness and wildness does for the soul of people.  People need wildness.  We need it to know who we are.  “Something vast and old is vanishing”

Black grizzly

I live in a beautiful and some say remote, isolated place, right on the border of our largest Park.  Yellowstone National Park, and its surrounding region,  is the only intact ecosystem in the temperate world.   I live bordering the Shoshone National Forest, a National Forest with the most designated wilderness area in the U.S.  Many people would say that apart from Alaska, these are truly the last wild areas left.  To me it has a certain wildness; but truly it is not.

Wolves are captured, collared and sometimes killed under a ’10J’ rule; elk, deer, and sheep are carefully counted to keep track of their numbers, then hunts, seasons and quotas are established; grizzlies are either dropped off here or, if they are ‘getting into trouble’, they are captured and moved; studies are conducted constantly on habitat health for different forms of plants and wildlife; commercial logging goes on.

Elk study expedition

There are the public interests as well.  All Terrain Vehicle owners want more roads and access; ranchers move their cattle onto the public lands, want protection and reimbursement for losses, want fences built and water sources maintained; back country horsemen clear trails; hunters blaze new trails; snowmobilers need their winter access; trappers work their traplines; and in every season people shoot coyotes, ground squirrels,  badgers and other ‘varmints’.

In our National Park next door, there is no hunting, trapping, or ATV’s, but there certainly are snowmobiles and biology studies that include collaring animals.  Trails are ‘managed’ for bears to have their privacy in the spring, and for humans to be safe from bears. Aspen or White Bark Pine studies are conducted.  Fish are monitored. Even frogs are monitored.  Backpackers are assigned to specific campsites on specific days, and reservations can be made in advance. And cell towers must go up to appease tourists who complain about poor coverage.

As remote as my cabin may seem to most of my friends and visitors, it is not wild and this place is barely a direct experience of wilderness.  What makes it different is the presence of top predators, especially the Great Bear.  If it were not for the presence of grizzly bears, there would be many more people hiking these mountains, making it even less wild.  The nearby Wind River Mountains or The Big Horns are a perfect example of beautiful mountains without grizzlies that are full of people.  The Winds are considered a Wilderness area, yet sheep graze there in the summer. And although grizzlies make their way down there as it is good habitat, they are endlessly moved because it’s not part of their sanctioned ‘reintroduction area’.  The Big Horns are full of cattle and ATV’s.

Wildness is determined by the relationship between people and place…where people influence but not control it.  Here is the fine line between ‘influence’ and ‘control’.  In order to understand that difference, one must identify with one’s Place.  That takes living there, watching its order, its seasons, its needs, what a Place wants.  An attitude of service to a Place is necessary rather than exploitation for fun or profit.  If one works the land for a living, then a sensitivity must occur where the entire biotic community is taken into account along with ones’ needs.  That is not an easy task when it comes to growing food–no spraying, no rodenticides, protection from deer and bears, rabbits, and frosts.

And if all this is done properly, I still am not sure that Turner’s definition is complete for wildness.  Wildness as a relationship requires an intimacy that we no longer will know ever again.  There may be a handful, if that many, of tribes in the entire world who still know that kind of intimacy.

Intimacy with elk.  The wild herd of Yellowstone in Sunlight in Winter

Turner pleads for a new tradition of wildness. To create a wilder self, the self must live the life of the wild, mold a particular form of human character, a form of life.  Relics will not do, tourism will not do, books will not do.  He does not look to the past– Native American traditions or African bushmen or Australian aborigine knowledge.  The landscape of the past is gone.  Turner says we must consider what our new intelligence of the wild will be today, in this modern age; and then expound it through art and literature.  Although this ‘rant’ of a book might be considered pessimistic by some, it truly isn’t. Turner has hope that as the emergence of new ‘wild’ spokespeople is taking place, others will seek that wild direct experience too; and they will demand it of our culture.  Turner’s is not a lament, but a plea.  In this complex World where economics is the glue that binds all of us, it is difficult to see where wildness will win out in the end.  Even with the ‘good fight’ that takes place day to day,there is a slow (or maybe fast) erosion of places where direct contact with the wild can even occur.  I, unlike Turner, am not so optimistic.

Cub carves out his space in the forest nearby