I am always thinking about or — much more accurately — feeling into the relationships among all Earth’s creatures — what scientists call ecology and old stories call kinship. I am struck by all of the different inter-species interactions. There is, of course, the relationship of eating/feeding each other & the behaviors that elicits. A couple of weeks ago I watched a high circling hawk suddenly fold his wings & plunge to earth. I could not see the final outcome but I might guess. I often see crows mobbing hawks ( at our last house, it was owls), loudly cawing their own version of “We see you! Go away, bully, or else…”
Several days ago, as I was watching the local herd of 12 deer grazing in the grassy area below our house, I saw a different sort of interaction: A doe roused a pair of mallards who had been hidden in the long grass at the edge of the mown meadow. The deer alerted, ears up & then resumed grazing. But as the ducks waddled off down the length of the meadow two of the younger deer were fascinated & followed them — not chasing, just curious. And the ducks waddled on. At last, having drawn their observers quite a distance from their hiding place, the ducks flew away. So much to wonder about. Were the ducks nesting? It was an odd place for them…. But mostly I was left with a smile at the gentle way [from my perspective though not, perhaps, the ducks?] the interaction unfolded.
And then, too, I ponder — much less happily — the various ways that those human animals who are members of the capitalist/extractive/consumer culture interact with other-than-human beings.
Of course, when any of us focuses Attention & Intention on something, all sorts of related things seem to pop into one’s field of vision/sensation! The quotes & the story below are some of those gifts that have recently arrived here — a flood of pondering by kindred spirits.
As a result of that flood, I have just kept adding more & more, and this post has gotten very (probably “too”) long. I do hope you’ll at least read the story of The Fox & the Girl at the end.
This post is very long. I just keep adding more & more. But I suddenly realized that today is Earth Day & I should stop now and just post it! I hope you’ll at least read the story of the Fox & The Girl at the end.
According to Heather Cox Richardson’s “Letter from an American,” nearly 60 years ago the amazing scientist and writer Rachel Carson (considered by many to be the Mother of Earth Day) wrote:
“Man’s attitude toward nature is today critically important simply because we have now acquired a fateful power to alter and destroy nature. But man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself. [We are] challenged as mankind has never been challenged before to prove our maturity and our mastery, not of nature, but of ourselves.”
Science has continued to show us the ways in which our actions are destroying Life’s Web, of which we are a part, but it has not been able to motivate a critical mass of people to make the changes necessary to stop the tsunami of damage. Indeed, as we keep relying on technological “solutions,” we are often creating further rips in the Web. Some of the “solutions” being considered (e.g. “geo-engineering”) are absolutely terrifying!
Traditional science is based on the strange myth that a scientist is a “Neutral Observer,” totally disconnected from what she or he is observing. Both ecology and quantum physics have shown this to be an error, but that new awareness has not percolated through the “over-culture” & the stories it tells itself. Can other Stories help us find deeper understanding & knowing? New tellings such as Journey of the Universe by Brian Thomas Swimme & Evelyn Tucker or Swimme’s book The Universe is a Green Dragon translate scientific findings into Story. And, of course, ancient Stories remind of what we have forgotten.
“According to the mythtellers, we are part of the living music of the Earth, her dancing story, and our capacity to participate in the music and move with the rhythms was a gift from our animal helpers.
Evolutionary biology also tells us that we inherited from our animal forbears, but evolutionary biology does not tell us how to honor this connection nor how to communicate with it, let alone within it. Myth, born within the participation of honoring and communicating, speaks a different language from science. The original mythtellers were not trying to conceptually “explain” how the world works, to scientifically contain it for management. Those stories, told communally around a fire at night or inside a lodge to young people transitioning to adulthood, were repositories of an ecology of knowing, they held the “parts” of the local Web-of-Life in a living dance of relationships wherein no life was separated from the sacred pattern of familial connection. ….Each telling of a story was active participation in the living landscape, knowledge as intimacy.“— John Shackleton,”Languages closer Than Words”
The following story in Orion ( https://orionmagazine.org/article/winter-snow-sacred-season/ ) by Chickasaw novelist, essayist, and environmentalist Linda Hogan arrived via the internet not long before John Shackleton’s words above surfaced in one of my piles of papers :
“MY LIFE IS ONE ENRICHED BY ANIMALS: cats, dogs, the birds at the raptor rehabilitation center where I volunteer after teaching, and all the wild animals that pass by my little cabin, which sits in a wildlife corridor, bears, wolves, coyotes, mountain lions, foxes, deer, bugling elk.I have heard a Pueblo emergence story about a man being sent from the world beneath the earth level to see if his people might ascend there to live in harmony. He climbs a reed and, upon reaching the surface, he first meets the animals. To his surprise, he is wounded by them, but after the wounding, after they have shown him their powers, they heal him. In this way he is taught methods of healing — with plants, with songs, with minerals. When he is whole and has seen this world of richness and beauty, he returns beneath the ground and tells his people, “We have been accepted.” It is a story not only of human mythology, but of animal powers, the teaching of respect for them all. As I stand with the horses beneath the black, wintry sky, watching the elder one eat, her warm, dark eyes looking grateful for food as she chews and concentrates, the wild horse leans against me gently, and I think: I have been accepted. Perhaps she still holds the consciousness of a herd, and for her, I have become a part of it. So often, I have observed that being accepted by animals is something most human beings want and need.“Linda Hogan,”snow”
With Linda Hogan, I believe that “being accepted by animals is something most human beings want and need,” something intrinsic to our own nature as fellow animals, as kin.
Although we humans in the “over-culture” have been tamed and domesticated, I believe there is, in each of us, a wildness that longs to connect with the different wildnesses of our other-than-human relations, that knows we are all kin. Perhaps that is partly why people flock to zoos, why so many of us have pets. And I suspect that many of you have had that magical experience of feeling accepted by a wild animal. A feral cat finally trusting you enough to share your home and your love. The doe that looks at you long & long and then returns, relaxed, to her grazing. The phoebe that nests on the porch and goes happily about her busy-ness as you come and go. I think especially of the coyote — one of several that denned on the hill behind our house on the farm — who deliberately stepped out of the woods and onto the path just in front of me. He stopped…. He gazed at me for minutes/hours/eternity — seeing deep into me — and then, apparently satisfied, disappeared calmly back into the woods.
In “The First People” ( https://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2020/05/keeping-the-world-alive.html ) Linda Hogan explains further:
“That we held, and still hold, treaties with the animals and plant species is a known part of tribal culture. The relationship between human people and animals is still alive and resonant in the world, the ancient tellings carried on by a constellation of stories, songs, and ceremonies, all shaped by lived knowledge of the world and its many interwoven, unending relationships. These stories and ceremonies keep open the bridge between one kind of intelligence and other, one species and other.“
What and where are our current stories and ceremonies to open this bridge? Foro
What and where are our current stories and ceremonies to open this bridge?
[For one example, see the beautiful story Marti tells in response to my last post.]
It has been said that we humans will never have peace with each other until we are at peace with and at home in the larger Earth community. Several weeks ago I was introduced to “The Curing Fox,” a story from the Cree Nation of North America. This story was gifted to Hugh Lupton and published in his book Tales of Wisdom and Wonder (Barefoot Books, 2006). It has been haunting me, showing this sacred connection among kin in a beautiful way.
Sometimes the telling of indigenous tales by people of European descent is fraught with the ugly history of those who stole & often destroyed the poeples and lands who gave birth to these stories. Sometimes there is, no doubt, a sort of “appropriation” by those of the dominating culture, a further theft, a further kind of colonization — a hunger to fill the emptiness of our current “over-culture.” But that is different from appreciation of & learning-from the stories. The Land still speaks in Stories and those who live on it — especially those of us in the all-too-often deaf and deadly “over-culture” — must begin to listen to and heed the Land’s voice. Often the old stories tell us exactly what the Earth community needs for us to learn. Several weeks ago, I heard the botanist and writer Robin Wall Kimmerer say that along with conservation and restoration of the land, we need to engage in its “re-Story-ation.” It is in that spirit of gratitude and humility that I offer these words.
This is my telling for today, with gratitude to the Cree storytellers who gave breath to this story & kept it alive and to Hugh Lupton was entrusted with the story & shared it with us. I don’t know if this is exactly how it happened, but I know that this Story is true:
This is my telling, based closely on Lupton’s version, and re-told with gratitude to him and to those who told him the story and to the whole community of Cree storytellers who kept the story alive. Re-telling indigenous stories is sometime fraught with the danger of “appropriation,” and this does sometimes occur. But there is a difference between “appropriation” and “appreciation” or “learning-from.” So, this story is told not only with appreciation but also deepest gratitude and humility. This is truly a story that we in the destructive “over-culture” need desperately to hear and to learn from at this time. I don’t know if this is exactly as it happened, but I know that it is true:
There was once a village in a forest clearing. In one lodge, near the edge, there lived a hunter, his wife, and their beloved daughter. She was a happy child — active, curious, always the one to find the ripest sweetest berries and most delicious mushrooms. When her chores were finished, she liked to slip in among the trees, listen to the birdsong, and dance among the shadows.
One day, as icy air from the north shivered into the village, the girl fell ill — struggling to breathe, barely able to stand. A cough shook her whole body and left her gasping.
Her parents placed her bed near the fire. They covered her with the warmest furs and offered her broth & sips of tea from the summer herbs she’d gathered & dried herself– but still the girl coughed and gasped for air, growing weaker and weaker. On the third day, her father went to ask the village healer, old Duck Egg, for help.
Duck Egg entered their lodge silently and went straight over the the girl. Still without speaking, Duck Egg lowered her ear to the girl’s chest. She listened carefully for a long time. “I hear a fox,” she said. “I hear a young she-fox struggling through the snow. I hear her sinking again & again through the icy crust of the deep, deep snow — khuh, khuh, khuh. Her paws have grown sore. It is so hard for her. She is hungry and growing weaker. We need to help that poor fox.”
After a moment, her father spoke. “I am a hunter. I will find the little fox.” Without further words he rose from the floor by his daughter’s bed and, after gathering together the things he would need for his journey, the father tied on his snowshoes and stepped out into the swirling snow and the bitter wind.
The hunter walked for a long, long time through the forest. He could see the tracks of deer and the trees where they had gnawed the small branches. He saw the skittering script left by snowshoe rabbits. But it was only as evening was falling that he saw the tracks of a fox. In one print there was a trace of blood from a worn paw. “This must be the poor little fox,” thought the hunter, and he followed the trail. Once, just up ahead, he glimpsed a flash of red between the broad trunks of the trees. A thin fox was forging her way ahead of him, struggling as she ran through the deep snow.
Back in the village, old Duck Egg again placed her ear on the girl’s chest. She listened long and long. At last, she raised her head and said to her mother, “I hear the sound of your husband’s snowshoes and, nearby, the crunch-crunching as the fox’s paws fall through the crust — khuh, khuh, khuh.” She lowered her head again and listened. “He has seen the fox,” she said. “He has seen the poor little fox.”
At nightfall the hunter made his camp and kindled his fire. The flames leapt brightly. The little she-fox felt the warmth. She moved as close as she dared, hidden among the flickering shadows of the trees.
In the village, Duck Egg listened closely to the girl’s chest before speaking to her mother. “Your husband has built a hot fire and the fox feels the warmth. Tonight your daughter will be hot with fever.” And sure enough, though they laid cool cloths on the girl’s forehead, she sweated and glowed with fever all night long.
In the morning, the fox began to run once more, every step sinking through the icy crust with every step — khuh, khuh, khuh — slower and slower And, in the village, the girl shivered and coughed — khuh, khuh, khuh.
The hunter followed the fox and soon caught up with her. The frightened little she-fox stopped and turned towards the hunter. “Why have you been following me?” she asked in a shaky voice. “Go ahead and kill me. I am tired of running.”
The hunter looked at the fox. She was thin. Her copper coat was dull and rimed with frost. He reached down and picked her up. As he cradled her shivering body, he felt her heart beating quickly with terror. “I will not kill you, little fox,” he said. “I will help you. And perhaps my daughter will be well again.” The hunter turned toward home, the fox still trembling with terror in his arms.
In the village, the daughter began to shiver. Old Duck Egg listened to how wildly her heart was beating. To her mother she said, “Your husband has found the weary and frightened she-fox. He is holding her in his arms. They will soon be home.” The daughter gasped for air. Her heart struggled and each beat shook her thin bony chest. Her eyes began to dull. The girl’s mother sat weeping but Duck Egg was silent, listening to the girl’s heart, listening to the world.
After a day and a night, they heard the hunter’s snowshoes crunching towards their lodge. He pulled aside the deer hide that covered the door and stepped into the warmth, carrying the limp and nearly lifeless fox in his arms. Gently he laid her on the thick furs at the foot of his daughter’s bed.
“Bring meat,” commanded old Duck Egg, and the mother brought fresh meat to the fox. At first the fox was too weak and weary to do more than sniff and lick at the meat, but little by little she began to chew. And finally the fox ate it all. She closed her eyes, and went to sleep.
The girl, still coughing, slept beside the fox. Nestled in warm furs by the fire, they slept for a long time.
No one spoke. Then, at the very same moment, the fox and the girl opened their eyes. Duck Egg saw that their eyes were brighter now and she smiled. “Bring more meat,” she said.
Again the mother brought fresh meat She placed it beside the fox and, without any hesitation, the little fox ate every scrap. The fox stood up. She shook herself, fluffing out her bright copper coat.
Duck Egg nodded at the father.
Duck Egg raised the girl to sitting and held her so she could watch as her father pushed aside the deer hide. The fox watched too.
Then out the door the little she-fox trotted — strong and firm.
Duck Egg and the girl watched together as the fox gradually disappeared into the falling snow. When they could no longer see the fox, they listened to her footsteps, still strong and firm, moving away through the storm. The sounds grew fainter. Finally, they heard only silence. Inside the lodge, the girl’s cough stopped. She got up and walked to the door. Looking out at the forest and the snow, she smiled.
Old Duck Egg rose too. She nodded.
As so it was.
Finally, I want to share with you some remarkable images to ponder. They are by Sarolta Ban http://canislupus101.blogspot.com/2015/02/images-from-surrealist-artist-sarolta.html . I am especially intrigued by the 3rd image down.
P.S. You might also enjoy checking out her video, “Fable of the Wolf,” and the brief clips of the howling wolves.
The beautiful Red Wolf you hear howling is indigenous to North Carolina and is nearing extinction. Currently only between 13 (collared) and 19 (estimated) are living freely in the coastal forests of NC wildlife refuges. Early efforts to re-wild captive-born red wolves were successful but ran into problems of politics, perception, and funding. New programs are being implemented. There is still hope that these magnificent beings may once again roam freely, taking part in all the interactions of the land where they evolved. Can we humans learn that we are not the sole “managers” of the land, that each kind of being is vital the creation of a complex & healthy web of Life? Can we learn what our role is?
From the poet Gary Snyder:
“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”