Tag Archives: Environment

Hiking Through the Rhyolite

Many millions of years ago a volcano erupted with hundreds of times the force of Mount St. Helens.  Later the earth would push the remains upward leaving the volcanic rock exposed to all of the forces of erosion.  But the erosion was differential.  Softer materials washing away first. Leaving columns of stone.  Statues in precision alignment.  Sort of like the Moai on Easter Island.  Only here, they face inward to the center of the collapsed caldera.  Covered in desert scrub, it is difficult to imagine the explosive forces that once coalesced here.

The monoliths can also have disproportional heads where the boulders appear to balance mysteriously on much tinier pedestals.  All standing shoulder to shoulder like soldiers lining up on the parade grounds.

Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 7

Before I enter these mountains, I sign in with the park ranger.  They need to keep track if people go missing.  Know whose body they may find days later if you don’t return.

They warn me that there is a high chance of rain, and the trails across the ridgetop I’ve chosen to hike will have me exposed to lightening.  But I don’t believe the Thunder-beings have any interest in hurting me.  They can be great messengers of the Earth and the source of replenishing energy.

I’m prepared for the 8-mile trek.  As much as I can be.  And as I wind my way through the monoliths I follow an undulating path.  Up and down, back and forth, snaking my way along switchbacks.  That image of the snake’s path accented by the mineral serpentine, mixed with green, blue and gold lichens, reddish rhyolites, and specks of glistening mica.  A colorful cacophony.  Discordant reflections of muted color that shift continually as the sun makes its daily journey across the sky.

Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 13After a couple of hours, I reach the ridgetop.  Black char on skeletal trees, evidence of a fire from a decade ago, mixes with the light and dark greens of new pines and oaks.

 

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All of the washes and creeks are alive with a torrent of water.  Small waterfalls offer the perfect intonations for meditation.  Worn trails fragment as you hit flat rock.  And segments of it vanish completely.

There was a flash flood the night before and if there had been foot prints or trail markers they’ve all been washed away.  Erased as if no person had set foot here for eons.  And no one is here today other than myself.

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Often, I find myself in the wilderness where there are no other people.  But I’m never alone.  A troupe of Painted Redstarts moves through.  Lizards scurry away.  Butterflies seek out precious nectar from the red and yellow columbine that burst forth sporadically.

I come upon a pine totally splintered from a bolt of lightning, probably from the day before because its needles are still deep green.  No sign of this timber having dried.  Totally debarked with pieces strewn in a thousand directions.  I pick up a small piece of this now energy laden bark and place in my shirt pocket above my heart.  You can feel the energy throbbing.

I hit another point on the ridge where the trail has cloaked itself.  There are at least ten directions I could go.  Four seem more likely.  I climb up on a boulder to get a better vantage point and to my surprise a solitary white-tailed deer is right below me.  The doe doesn’t seem to know I’m there.  The wind coming towards me carries my scent the opposite direction.

I watch her quietly graze on low-lying tree branches.  Then she raises her head and sees me.  Stares right into my eyes.  But I’m surprised by her actions.  I expect her to panic.  To run away as most deer would.  She’s unconcerned.  Apparently feeling no threat.  And instead offers to help.
Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 11She alters her path and circles back toward me and loops to my left.  We lock gazes, and I follow her.  Her gentleness lures me to the right path.  And then she’s gone.  In an instant.  A blink.  As if she wasn’t there at all.  Her spirit saves me the time I would have spent trying to find the right route.  Time is life out here.

Descending from the ridgetop, I make it to the center of the monoliths.  How long have these statues stood?  Holding this ground.  Carved by forces that no human sculptor could match.  They’ll be here long after my physical body has departed.  Silently keeping watch.
Chiricahua - 8-9-18 - 15I hear an Owl in the distance.  Its affirmation tells me I am safe.  I can take a break here. Take the load off my back.  Hydrate and take in some calories to replace those consumed.  Breathe in the surroundings.

Native Americans used to inhabit this place.  It’s sacred Earth.  I offer thanks for being allowed safe passage.  I’m not the top predator here, after all.  Black beer and mountain lions call this their home.

An injury here can mean death.  Can’t let your guard down even as you grow weary.  Pay attention.

I hear a noise, and a Yarrow’s Spiny Lizard perches himself on a rock next to the path.  He does pushups and flares his neck in a display of dominance.  I stop to observe.  When I start to take my next step, I notice a large stone in the center of the path.  I had not seen it before and if I continued unaware I would have tripped over this stone and have possibly been injured.

Falling to right would have landed me on the switchback 20 feet below.  Falling to the left, into the rock wall there, could have meant a fractured skull.  Falling forward, a twisted or broken ankle.  I thank the lizard for his warning.
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Such is nature.  Be attentive.  If your soul is open, nature’s spirits will speak to you.  Warn you.  Protect you.  Give you energy.  Keep you on the right path.

The hike complete, it is time to center and reflect.  There are always forces around us at work.  This day was my mother’s birthday.  She passed away last year.  And I can’t help but think that maybe she is watching over me too on this day.  Protecting me from all the dangers that surrounded this solitary hike into the wilderness.

As I drive home, Hawks, Ravens, and Turkey Vultures line the telephone lines.  All facing inward.  Like the monoliths, soldiers.  These are the protectors, the shape-shifters, the visionaries.  And they guard my route.  Almost like a salute to a journey well completed.  So many of them.  Their numbers far exceeding and mingling with their prescribed territories.  An oddity?

Thank you, mom.  Love you and miss you.

***

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Photos: I took them all with a cell phone camera as I hiked 🙂

Published ! Thrilled and honored that my story was published by The Urban Howl on August 29, 2018, under the title “If Your Soul Is Open, Nature’s Spirits Will Speak To You.”

When Spirits Call

We live in a spiritual world.  Every part and parcel of it is imbued with particles of awareness from the spiritual source.  So why not tune in and receive unfiltered spiritual guidance . . .

You may have noticed in some of my other posts, especially in the spirituality section of my blog, that I talk about communing with nature.  About being in the natural world and learning to perceive the messages that come to us through native signs and symbols.  And I refer to the natural world as being the “real world.”  Not an artificial or illusory construct by humans.  Not temporary physical structures that will revert to dust.  Mother Earth remains eternal.

People have changed the ways that they experience their worlds.  They have a tendency to think that they have “tamed” the natural world, when in fact, they have simply walled themselves off from it.  I think it’s better to open up and see what’s really out there.  Experience it firsthand.

I realize that many people do not believe in such things.  How can a coyote deliver a message about how to live, or awaken you to an inner calling?  I get it, and no one has to agree with the things I’ve come to believe.  That’s ok.

It may even seem counterintuitive that I would entertain such beliefs given that my educational background has largely been in either the sciences or in analytical reasoning.  But I also believe there are many things beyond what science can explain, at least for the moment.  And why write off such things and discount them simply because there is no logical explanation for them?

You can define your own reality in any terms you wish, but I encourage you not to deny what your senses perceive, especially your sense of intuition.

If it helps, a scientific way to look at this is that we are electro-chemical machines and we emit energy fields.  So does everything else.  And if our fields encounter one another there will be a communication of some type.  A relaying of signals that may not require a spoken language or physical touch.  Now you have to figure out what the signals you are receiving mean.

So, since this is becoming a recurring theme in my posts, I thought I would take a moment to elaborate a little more on just what animal “totems” or “familiars” are.  They have also been referred to as “Spirit” or “Power” animals.

Spirit beings have been a part of every major religion and culture.  Whether it be the serpent, said to be the devil, in the story of Adam and Eve, or the Greeks speaking to their gods through oracles, or aboriginal tribes taking on the forms of animals through symbolic dress and engaging in ritual dance to connect with the spirit realm.  The symbolism of ties between the natural world and spirit world are universal, and many of the “messengers” of “God” are depicted as being surrounded by various animals.  Why so, except for the symbolism they convey?

A totem can be defined as any natural object or animal or being where you connect with its associated energy or life force.  A totem has also been described as a spirit being, or a sacred or power object, or a symbol associated with a clan or an individual.  Once such a connection is recognized and accepted, the spirit within it can serve as a guide throughout one’s life.  More commonly than not, the spiritual totem takes the form of an animal.

One definition I found on the Net equates animal totems with “archetypes that work with the subconscious mind, tapping into the energy that is present in all things” . . . that “can be seen as channels or frequencies on a radio with many levels of understanding.”

And just what is an “archetype?”  An archetype is said to be a typical example of a certain person or thing.  Although I never look at things as being “typical,” nor do I like that word.  I find things living and inanimate, to be magical and unique, not typical.  In Jungian psychology, an archetype is a primitive mental image inherited from our human ancestors that is supposed to reside in the collective unconscious.

However you wish to parse the words, I think we can derive that a totem, or symbolic representation of a spiritual entity or guide, can be said to have certain characteristics.  A Bear strength.  An Owl Wisdom.  A Deer gentleness.  A Fox invisibility.  I’m using one-word descriptions for this example, but the symbolism for each is far more intricate.

As a guide, an animal totem can convey many different messages.  An affirmation or a warning.  Or you may be able to tap into that spirit’s energy at a time of need.  A totem is said to be a life-long spiritual partner and it will appear in both your physical world and your spiritual world.

Another term you may have heard is that of an “animal familiar.”  In its basic origins, this referred to a non-physical being, a thought-form or spiritual entity.  But over time, the term has been applied to living animals.  Familiars can be physical or non-physical, you can have more than one at any given time, and they can change over time.

How do we learn if we have a Spirit Animal?

Well, you don’t learn it from a “How Stuff Works” Internet quiz.  One commonality across cultures that applies to totems and familiars is that they choose you.  Not the other way around.  And the way such a totem enters your life can vary.  You might be visited in a dream.  Or have a vision while you are awake.  Or it may continually appear to you in the physical form, over and over again.  If you do have such a totem, once you’ve identified it, you can start being observant for any messages it may send you.

In my case, it appeared to me in a vision when I was 15, announced its presence, and told me it would be with me.  I then discovered its presence everywhere in various forms and I learned to interpret what its presence in certain situations meant.

Encountering an animal doesn’t necessarily mean it is one of your guides.  Or if it is your guide, its presence doesn’t always mean something metaphysical is in the works.  As Freud said, “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”  There are no meanings to unravel.  No symbolism being communicated.

So how do you tune into to your spiritual allies?  See connections and messages beyond the ordinary?

Well, I recently read an article by Lissa Rankin titled: “How Can You Tell If You’re Being Spiritually Guided?” where Rankin lays out what she terms as being “15 Discernment Tools.”  She provides a list of 15 questions you can ask yourself to attempt to answer this question honestly.

1–Does it feel like shackles on or shackles off?
2–Is it kind?
3–Is there Aliveness here?
4–Does it exhaust me or fill me with dread?
5–Does it nourish or deplete me?
6–Does it feel natural, efficient, easeful, peaceful and graceful?
7–Does it make sense?
8–Will it hurt anyone?
9–Would love do this?
10–How does this feel in my body?
11–Am I rushing?
12–Is it coercive or controlling?
13–Is it ethical and aligned with my core values?
14–Will this cultivate the stillness in me?
15–What’s true and not true about this situation?

I don’t think these questions are all required for every given instance in which you feel pulled or directed to take some course of action.  I also think you need to begin with the symbolism of the totem.  If you do feel you are being given some guidance, you have to know what that guidance is in relation to.  And I don’t believe you can accurately assess what the guidance is unless you know what the totem represents.

You’ll also have to learn to trust your inner voice because you’ll have to interpret the message and how it applies to you at that given moment in time.

I know I’ll have future posts on this topic that may help illustrate specific nuances.  I’m working a piece right now where I encountered a bear in the wild.  Close up for the first time.  It certainly got my attention, but did it carry any specific meanings other than “HOLY SHIT!?”  We’ll see 😊

***

Photo:  A Western Screech Owl, a father on guard.  It is intensely watching a rattle snake that is too close to his chicks.  Nothing could break this Owl’s gaze.  This could have turned into an epic physical battle, but this father won a spiritual fight.  Energy fields collided.  And while this snake may have been too large for this small predator, its intense energy sent the snake on its way.

Writing to Survive

A while back I wrote a piece about how movement, physical movement, was necessary for our creative minds.  In fact, this was a trait we learned and passed on by the forces of evolution.  To eat, we moved.  As we moved, we learned to think.  We had to be creative problem solvers on the move, and we survived.

That article was called, “Move Your Body, Move Your Mind.”  And there, I explored the first “rule” in the book, “Brain Rules,” by John Medina.  This guy, Medina, is a smart guy. He is a developmental molecular biologist.

This technique works for me, by-the-way.  I get some of my best story ideas when I’m out hiking on the trail and I allow my mind to drift.  Evolutionary vestiges repurposed.  I hunt for words as my food is all neatly packaged at the grocery store now.

Well, the second “brain rule” is our ability to engage in IMAGINATION!  More specifically, our ability to substitute objects in our minds so that one object can represent another, or maybe a whole bunch of different objects.  This has been called “Dual Representation Theory.”  More basically, SYMBOLISM.

It seems our fossil history shows that our ancestors evolved a lot physically since humankind’s estimated beginnings somewhere around 7 to 10 million years ago, but there wasn’t a lot of mental evolution going on until about 40,000 years ago.  And then.  Bam!  We went from stone axes to painting, sculpture, fine art and jewelry.  Soon, there would be mathematics and science.  And, of course, more advanced communication.  What caused this big change?

Apparently, it was the weather.

The changes weren’t fast, but they forced adaptation.  Brought us out of the trees and into the savannah when food sources shifted.  To become more streamlined and save energy we became bipedal.

In order to master survival in all of the biomes on the planet, our brains enlarged.  This brings in another concept – Variability Selection Theory.  Two powerful aspects of the brain developed.  A database and the ability to improvise using that growing database.

And since survival not only meant staying warm and eating, it meant not being eaten too, community concepts evolved.  There was safety and better hunting in numbers.  And this meant learning to negotiate.

This raises the “Theory of Mind” or the ability to make inferences.  To peer inside another person’s mental life and make predictions, to understand their motivations.  All necessary skills to develop allies, cooperative behavior, and group species survival.

This ability to draw upon our databases and make inferences reminds me of the “predictive processing framework,” described in my piece,“My Intuition Tells Me . . ..”

With basic survival skills being mastered, humans could focus on more advanced pursuits.  Those beyond only the four F’s – fighting, feeding, fleeing and fucking.  And thus, in addition to art, music, mathematics, and science, us modern-day bloggers have electronic storytelling.

I think most of us still like the fucking, we just have more time for more things beyond the big four now. 😊

Storytelling is an ancient art, and we wordsmiths spend a lot of time in the world of symbolic thinking.  We don’t use this creative process for basic survival like our ancestors did.  Or do we ???  Maybe writing and creating worlds is survival for some of us.  And I suppose some us actually do feed ourselves by writing, a lean diet that is . . .

But basically, every word we use is a symbol, either a subject or an action or a feeling.  Every word has to represent something tangible in the physical world or summon an image or feeling into the mind.

In fact, symbols can convey meanings or reveal details of reality beyond just a physical image.  Symbols can carry strong emotions.  They can summon memories of sounds and smells and touches.  Of happiness and laughter.

And as writers, we employ that Theory of Mind in multiple ways.  We try to look into our reader’s heads, make predictions, understand what drives them.  Figure out how to lead them through the story.

There are times when we want our words to evoke a particular image and have that image be universal for all readers.  But there are other times when we deliberately want those words to convey multiple meanings, to give the reader a choice.  Or to show contradictions between choices.  Maybe they’ll choose a meaning that even we never saw as a possibility.

If we are writing fiction, we have to develop the mental lives of the characters we create.  We add predictability and motivations for their actions, even providing historic context.  Their fictional life traumas that have helped develop their passions, their fears, their hatreds, their loves, their essence.  So the reader understands the next move on the chess board.

So, this survival skill of making inferences has evolved into us examining the minds of non-existent entities and developing believable characters based upon what we anticipate would be their universal actions.  Wouldn’t we do the same thing in the same situation?  And we do this for entertainment, not for negotiating the next mammoth hunt.

Whether it’s fiction or non-fiction, the art of writing is stacking symbols in some sequence to complete a portrait.  And we want to draw the reader in so they feel like they are a part of the story.  A bystander.  A witness.  Or maybe even an active participant.

Symbols may relate to objects, but they don’t equate to objects.  They reveal essence.  Symbols are inclusive and expansive and evolve over time acquiring even more meaning from multiple sources.

Meanings may differ depending on peoples’ cultures.  The Owl, for example, to the Pawnee symbolized protection, while to the Ojibwa it symbolized evil and death.  To the ancient Greeks, the Owl represented wisdom.

Great Horned Owl - 6 - 25th Nov + Crop
According to Joseph Campbell: “Symbols are only the vehicles of communication; they must not be mistaken for the final term, the tenor, of their reference.”  This implies that no two people would experience the object of the symbol in the same way.  Maybe so, especially with cultural variations, but it seems the essence of the experience can be shared more universally with a symbol than with bare words.

With context, it seems to me that symbols are the supersonic highway of communication.  The brain is able to process a symbol as an all-encompassing experience in a nanosecond.  Faster than the blink of an eye, a complex story unfolds in images and associated feelings.

Symbolic thinking is said to be a uniquely human skill, and it allows us the ability to understand each other and coordinate within groups.  And with that, I’ll leave you with a few symbols to make of them what you will. 😊

What do these images inspire in your minds?

***

Note:  If you want to read more, there are some quotes on symbolism below.

Photos:  An angel inside an old Spanish mission.  The great Horned Owl.  A sculpture in an art gallery court yard.  Street sculptures in an eclectic small town.  A vulture crosses it’s folded wings to make a heart.

DeGrazia - Courtyard Statue     Bisbee - 25     Bisbee - 1BCrop
Bisbee - 27 + Crop     Turkey Vulture - Folded Wings 2+Crop Heart

A sort of Rorschach test 🙂

Quotes: 

“Symbolism is no mere idle fancy or corrupt egerneration: it is inherent in the very texture of human life.”
― Alfred Whitehead

“Things do not have meaning. We assign meaning to everything.”
― Anthony Robbins

“Symbols can be so beautiful, sometimes.”
― Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions

“If you have to ask what it symbolizes, it didn’t.”
― Roger Ebert

“In many college English courses the words “myth” and “symbol” are given a tremendous charge of significance.  You just ain’t no good unless you can see a symbol hiding, like a scared gerbil, under every page.  And in many creative writing course the little beasts multiply, the place swarms with them.  What does this Mean? What does that Symbolize?  What is the Underlying Mythos?  Kids come lurching out of such courses with a brain full of gerbils.  And they sit down and write a lot of empty pomposity, under the impression that that’s how Melville did it.”
― Ursula K. Le Guin, The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction

“A religion is a system of symbols which acts to establish powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods in men [and women] by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing those conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.”
― Clifford Geertz

“The same principles that make a spiral galaxy also create the structure of a seashell and unfurling of a fern.  This is why ancient spiritual people used natural symbols to convey universal concepts.”
― Belsebuub, Return to Source: How Enlightenment is the Process of Creation in the Universe in Reverse

“[A] symbol, like everything else, shows a double aspect.  We must distinguish, therefore between the ‘sense’ and the ‘meaning’ of the symbol.  It seems to me perfectly clear that all the great and little symbolical systems of the past functioned simultaneously on three levels: the corporeal of waking consciousness, the spiritual of dream, and the ineffable of the absolutely unknowable.  The term ‘meaning’ can refer only to the first two but these, today, are in the charge of science – which is the province as we have said, not of symbols but of signs.  The ineffable, the absolutely unknowable, can be only sensed.  It is the province of art which is not ‘expression’ merely, or even primarily, but a quest for, and formulation of, experience evoking, energy-waking images: yielding what Sir Herbert Read has aptly termed a ‘sensuous apprehension of being’.”
― Joseph Campbell, The Symbol Without Meaning

Contagious Evil

The Moon shines no light of its own.  It merely reflects the light from another source, our sun.  It makes no conscious choice on what it reveals to us . . .

***

For the moment I sit and seem to be without words.  So, I’m trying an exercise where I just write something, anything, just to see what shakes loose.  It’s strange, that the internal dialog in our minds never wants to shut up, but my writer’s voice goes away every once in a while.

At the same time I’m having trouble writing in this blogging format, I’ve been restraining myself from lashing back on other social media platforms.  Reining in those words. Humm, injustice inspires me to want to speak up against it.  But that doesn’t always bring out the best in my writing.  Better to stay calm and deliberate and write positively.

But deliberating about which words to use, or writing about how to write, is not the same as telling a story.  Or delivering a message.  Deliberating can turn into avoidance.  I watched many a doctor do this back when I worked in the hospital.  I called it WWDD – Watch, Wait, Debate, Do Nothing.  Ultimately, the patient dies.

Excuses right.  Always have a rationalization.  Don’t want to get too close to that edge.  The sun got in my eyes.  I tripped over a rock.  I was adjusting my medications.  Humm, most probably the later . . .

But I do have to say, the tone of the conversations permeating cyberspace in recent weeks, at least in my neck of the words, has been a bit disheartening.  It sort of left me speechless and maybe even a touch morose.  I never thought I see a time when so much anger and hatred would spread.

A sort of virus had taken over, and evil one.  It seems like people have stopped really communicating and are just sort of screaming at one another.  Whomever yells the loudest wins.  Wins what?  I’m not sure.

And one of my goals in blogging this time around has been to try to find ways to bring people into the conversation.  To keep the discussion going.  To have people actually consider other viewpoints.  But one wrong word choice can shut the whole thing down or explode it.

So how does one write positively when addressing evil?

I was reminded about some workplace research I had recently read about.  Contagious Evil.  Of course, the authors didn’t call it that.  They used terms like “corruption,” “spill-over effect,” “misconduct,” and “bad apple.”

The Harvard Business Review’s study determined that Contagious Evil (we’re going with my terminology) has a social multiplier of 1.59, meaning each time an incident of misconduct occurs, another event of misconduct will be triggered 59% of the time by peer effects.  The study focused on financial advisors, who it turns out are 37% more likely to commit misconduct if they collide with a co-worker with a history of misconduct.  And the effect can be stronger if the two doing the colliding are in the same ethnic group.

Interesting, if a colleague in your workplace lies, cheats or steals, and you are aware of this, you have a greater than 50% chance of joining in the violation or embarking upon your own dance of misconduct.  It’s as though the original evil one handed you a get-away-with-evil-free card.  A license to do bad, because, well, someone else got away with it.  Your chance to settle some imaginary score?  Get back at all those little injustices being perpetuated against you?  Perhaps.

This “spill-over” phenomenon has been witnessed in other contexts, like how one mass shooting or a suicide seems to trigger others.  A whole bunch of theories have been propounded to try to explain this contagious communal thinking.

Like the moon, an individual may not engage in any conscious determination of their actions, but merely reflect the thoughts, actions and beliefs of others.

One theory is simply called the “Contagion Theory,” where collective behavior is like a crowd induced hypnosis – irrational and emotional.  Another is “Convergence Theory.”  The crowd behavior reflects the beliefs of the individuals before they joined the crowd, so what pulled that crowd of like-thinking automatons together?  Maybe it was the media platform.

On the other spectrum, we have “Emergent Norm Theory.”  People, who are uncertain in how to act collectively, actually discuss how their behavior should be governed and allow order and rationality to guide them.  I haven’t seen much of that lately.

There is also the “Werther Effect,” so labeled from Goethe’s novel, “The Sorrows of Young Werther.”  Unrequited love ends with suicide and this was the inspiration for copycats.  The license theory – if it’s ok for someone else, they have granted me their approval and it’s ok for me too.

I don’t know if any of these equations can be applied to evil writing.  Collective thought and behavior put into words where the crowd only gathers figuratively.  Words of evil that for some reason seem to latch on to some imaginations.  Captivate and propagate more collagenous bile.  Will one person’s hateful rhetoric escalate, license and embolden?  Rising in a crescendo of a million voices, either echoing or repelling?  And can all of this hostility spill into the streets?  That seems to be what I’m seeing right now.

But then I think, just what is evil?  Evil is defined as profound immorality and wickedness and it takes on Biblical proportions when it has the qualities of a supernatural force.  But then we have the terms “immorality” and “wickedness” and who gets to define those terms?  We may all have different definitions, especially on morality.

We tend to look at things in the world with an eye of relativism not absolutism.  My crime was so minor when compared to murder, so I’m not a criminal.  Right?

And then there is the “Tonal” of times.  Morality changes over time.  Whatever the majority of the bee hive is thinking at this particular moment or era of time.  And that “Hive Think” can take over, be contagious.  Whether it is right or wrong.

We seem to be living in a time of rising intolerance, division, and social disintegration.  When I find myself speechless in the face of extreme ignorance though, I become concerned.  Are the differences so great now, the division so complete, that people think corrupting our democracy is worth the tradeoff of the loss of liberty?  The “my way or the highway mentality” feeding into authoritarianism.  Or instead of social consensus, is this merely reflecting a collective fear of deciding, of having to be responsible for one’s choices, so let’s have someone else decide, it will be their fault if it fails . . .

What do you think?  Is evil contagious?  Can the power of words be used to enhance the social multiplier, escalate collisions with “bad apples?”  Or provide a stamp of approval for behavior that is particularly wicked?

I don’t know if there is an off switch for what’s going on right now, but I do hope people will become more civil, will recognize truth, will compromise.  And hope they will start shining their own light, thinking and reasoning for themselves instead of being hypnotized with polarizing buzz words.  Be the reflection of themselves instead of becoming the reflection of other minds . . .

***

** So there, I managed to meander through my mind for a bit and put something reasonably coherent into kBs.  And hopefully I’ve done so having not offended anyone.

*** The “quoted text” is all my own.  I just wanted to set those lines off for rhythm 🙂

Photo: The moon doesn’t shine its own light. It reflects.

 

The Warm Desert Wind

The warm desert wind swept up from the chaparral.  Wrapping around my face before continuing its journey into the canyon, the place where I was heading.  Another gust comes from the opposite direction, the canyon itself.  A see-sawing of wind.  A vibratory force.  Alternating current.  An invisible infinity symbol.  The Mobius.  Lightly whistling at times.  Ever-bearing weight at others.

I was tracking up a wash.  A magical place that appears bone dry but it’s surrounded by vegetation.  What feeds it?  At different elevations, the hidden aquafer emerges.  Clear, cool, running water, disappearing beneath the rocks a hundred feet above and a hundred feet below.  Feeding Mohave Lupine, Sky Pilot, Scarlet Gilia, the Mexican Silene. Manzanita, with its dark, reddish-brown bark.  Bordered by purple Fairy Dusters.  A scattered box of crayons, melting into the brown, dusty earth.

Miller Canyon - 8

As lush and diverse as the growth is here, one might wonder whether this should be called a desert at all.  But there are different types of deserts.  And this is not a desert like the ones I’ve encountered in the furthest southern points.  So harsh that the ability to adapt can be short lived, as will you be if you’re stranded there.

Those deserts are bone dry and barren.  Every plant a spiky throwback to the distant past.  Where evolution stopped.  They tear at your ankles as you walk.  Shred your pants. Gouge your skin.  Like a pack of hungry wolves, they go for your Achilles tendons.  To bring you down.  Cripple you for the kill.  The earth soaks up your blood with a never-ending thirst.  The dryness, suffocating.

But where I’m at there are multiple biomes.  Sky Islands, so called because of the diversity that lives in each mountain range.  Volcanic uprisings now differentially worn by wind and rains.  Rhyolite columns stand like ancient warriors in the altitudes above the lowlands, guarding the pine forests and their inhabitants.

Chiricahua - Hike Droping Out of the Rhyolite Columns 9

And at the base of, or threading through the canyons, Sycamore, Willow, and Cottonwood paint ribbons of green along creaks, streams or rivers.

San Pedro River - 7

At mid-altitude, there are Pinon, Juniper, and Mesquite trees, as well as Emory and Silverleaf Oaks.  And in between these islands can be grasslands.  Vast stretches.  Tan waves of vegetation below blue skies and billowing clouds.  The land undulates, alive.

AZ Vista+Crop 1

In other outstretching plains below the floating islands lie infinite reaches of scoured desert floors.  Fictitious trails through Saguaro cacti, like standing in a perpetual hall of mirrors.  Where do they all lead?

Here, the sun bearing down causes an evolutionary reversion to the reptilian form.  Just basking in that sun raises your heart rate.  Exhaling water vapor that’s evaporated before you can see it.  Your skin desiccates and takes on the shape of scales.  It becomes armor you will need in this battle.

To tread here you must do continual 360-degree spotting, take snapshots in your mind, tracing landmarks for the path of your return.  At some point, your memory banks are full and the terrain all starts looking the same, and you must decide whether to turn around or march into oblivion.  Blood and brain broiling.  Unforgiving beauty.

Saguaro Natn Park 15

Rising from that depth, the air cools again.  The humidity rises.  Plants flourish.  Bare rocks become canvases, covered with Petroglyphs from those who knew how to survive here, how to build a community here, how to chart the stars here.  The songs of their storytelling still echo through the canyons.

For now, I’ll tread through the scrub land, rising into the pines and I’ll sit with my friends.  The deer, the javelina, the coyote, the falcon, the hawks, and my brothers the Owls.  And we’ll share the tales of our ancestors, for just a while longer.

Madera Canyon - 5 - Looking South From Josephine Saddle

***

 

Photos: I decided to include a few photos to go with my words.  Sometimes words aren’t enough to carry you there, to reveal the contrasts, the infinite beauty.

Red Coral – To Feel is to Heal

I hike into the canyon and I am marveled by what surrounds me.  It’s Fall.  Greens, golds, reds, oranges, pinks, a rainbow of leaves held tightly by the trees while others, released from that grip, float softly through the air to blanket the ground.  Painting abstract portraits.  Pastel pathways.

There are majestic mountains, and underground streams.  Dry stream beds until the elevation is ripe for the water’s emergence.  It trickles, then flows, then forms small falls over rock out-croppings.  A Damselfly lands on a Horsetail Reed.  Metallic green, it’s wings shine in the sunlight.

This land I walk, used to be on the bottom of the ocean.  Fossil remnants confirm its history.  Bivalves and crinoids and coral.  Once a shell inhabited by an animal, or symbiotic pairings of algae and invertebrates forming exoskeleton metropoles.  All forms of calcium carbonate taking on infinite designs.  All now limestone.  And eventually dust, from which something new will rise.

The silence is broken by the cry of a Hawk.  Its flight interrupted by a Raven that dive bombs it.  A battle ensues in mid-air.  And the Hawk acrobatically rolls onto its back.  Inverted in flight it claws back at its interceptor.  I’ve never seen a Hawk fly upside down.  Never.  I’m amazed at its agility.  What a true gift this vision is.

I am surrounded by life.  I hear it, feel it, taste it, smell it, touch it.  I perceive it.  Enter it intuitively.  And yet I walk alone.  Connected, yet separated.

Night time comes and I’ve returned to shelter.  And I think, how much better the day would have been could I have shared the experience.  To have gazed through more than my own eyes.  To share laughter and surprise.  A warm smile, shining eyes looking back at me.

Being alone is not the same as feeling lonely.  Tonight, I feel alone.

How nice it would be to hold someone in my arms.  Just hold them and feel their touch.  Infinitely.  Hear their breath.  Their heartbeat drum.  Feel their warmth.  Their fire.  Their love.

We all want answers to the big questions.  They usually start with the word “why?”  Why am I walking alone?  But then “where?”  Where do I find the answer?

My inner voice silent.  I look outside into the darkness.  The Coyotes synchronize their howls.  The Crickets, high-pitched chirping.  An Owl joins the chorus.  Life surrounds me in my solitude.  Why?

We all have places or entities to where we direct these questions.  Consult the ancient texts?  Cast stones or charms?  Read cards?  Deep meditation?  Extrapolate from dreams.  We find affirmations from the world around us.  Intuition is valid.  These sources nourish it.

Tonight, I pull a book.  Sacred Path Cards by Jamie Sams.  I draw an accompanying card for a daily reading.  “Coral.”  Some people might call this mysticism, paganism, or even heretical.  But isn’t it strange how these ceremonies end up being spot-on.

Coral speaks to the absurdity of my question.  It tells me to cut the “I am the only one” refrain.  We are never alone.  As the Seneca would say (Ms. Sams’ tribe), we are continually surrounded by “All Our Relations.”  It’s time to reconnect with All.

To paraphrase Ms. Sams:

Coral symbolizes the blood of Mother Earth.  It acknowledges that all “two-legged” have the need to be nurtured from their own kind.  But it reminds us who our true “Mother” is.  Red blood runs through every creature.  Water, the oceans, symbolize the blood of Mother Earth.  And Red Coral, arising from those waters carry that representation.  The “Water Nursery of Creation” gave birth to all life and Red Coral, and its connection to the sea water of its own origin, symbolizes our birth and the connection to the “Mother Of All Things.”  Every life form, “All Our Relations,” is sustained by Mother Earth.  Using Coral can allow us to reconnect to our own blood and the waters of Mother Earth.

Once we reconnect, we can “develop a communication with our physical form that is not based upon addiction, compulsion, fear, gluttony, or selfishness.”  We can recognize that our physical body is our vehicle for connecting with our spirit and our needs.  We, therefore, must learn to respect and care for our bodies.  All nurturing is dependent on our ability to recognize our feelings and needs.  And if we don’t know what we need, how would we identify the needs of others to give comfort.  “To feel is to heal.”

It is time for self-nourishment.  For reunion with the Planetary Family.  To listen to All Our Relations and acknowledge we are never alone.

While I ponder the message, I think back to today’s hike.  I fumble through my backpack and produce a stone I found.  I wipe it with vegetable oil and it comes to life.  Patterns emerge.  Skeletal patterns, flower-like shapes, concentric circles.  It’s fossilized coral. Coincidence?  I quit believing in coincidences a long time ago.  Why did I pick up that particular stone for the later discovery?

While I was on top of the ridge, and while I was down in the bottom of the canyon, I was standing on the ancient ocean floor.  The sea, the blood of Mother Earth, once flowed here.  The many connections I made today with my “Relations,” why did I try to separate myself from them?  They all visited for a reason.

The Damselfly with the power of light.  The Hawk with its visionary power, the guardian. The Raven, the magic shapeshifter.  The Coyote, the balance of wisdom and folly.  The Cricket, the bearer of luck and success.  The Owl, it’s silent wisdom, the visionary of the night.  And even the ocean creatures frozen in time.

While it’s true, I seek connection with another “two-legged,” I have that connection as I share my story of the struggle.  Like the hawk and the raven, we internally battle.  Visions versus fleeting images.  Mirages and echoes.  Our self-deception.  The denial of our eternal connections.

Others can experience what I have, see it through my eyes, brush my hand with theirs, share the joy.  I wasn’t alone, and I can be nourished by nourishing others with my words.

We are never alone.

***

Photo: I found this photo on the Internet in the public domain.  The link accompanying it tracked back to a New York Post article titled: “Forcing Coral to Have Sex Could Save the Great Barrier Reef.”  As with all web-links, this link is subject to “link rot,” and I can only say it is valid at the time I posted this article.

Attribution to The Urban Howl:  On June 18, 2018, this article was published by The Urban Howl under the title of “The Unmistakable Message Of Red Coral: To Feel Is To Heal.” I am honored to be a part of this wonderful publication.

A Return to Tribalism ?

I’ve been “retired” now for almost 2 years.  Wow!  I can’t believe that much time has gone by, and it appears a window in time for me is getting ready to close.

Because my “retirement” didn’t go as planned, I found myself trying to figure out the next step.  No new jobs were coming my way because of age discrimination and other factors I won’t get into for the moment.  So, I set my sights on finding a new home and a new location, and I gave myself 2 years to do it.  Fresh start.  New life.

But there are only so many ways to stretch a state pension, especially when the state plans on imploding it.  Time bomb’s a ticking.

Shock wave number 2, the price tag on housing has skyrocketed since the time I built the dream home with my second wife.  And the crash of 2008 didn’t really help much because housing costs were so inflated by that time that they haven’t returned to any level close to being reasonable.

I searched all over the country.  Systematically zeroing in on specific localities where I thought I’d like to live while comparing the available services, the climate, if the areas were reasonably progressive, and what the tax burden would be.  Yes, believe it or not, you can really get screwed by double taxation if you’re receiving a state pension and you move out of the state providing that pension.  Both states will tax you on the same income unless you find a tax-friendly state, and from what I could see there are only about 5 of those, three of which I don’t intend to set foot in.

And with the politicians looking at slashing and burning Social Security and Medicare, those of us with employee-earned pensions can’t count on much of a boost in income when the time comes to collect from the funds we’ve paid into for some 45+ years.  The politicians have stolen most of our investment in the SS Trust Fund for other pork-barrel endeavors, and they keep shrinking Medicare payments leaving us to pick up the lion’s share of ballooning medical costs.  Oh well . . .

Yes, the most affordable housing is in places where people generally don’t want to live and where services don’t exist.  And if you find that undiscovered oasis, look out!  It won’t be long before rich people discover it, take over, drive the home prices up along with property taxes, and the original home owners will become refugees, forced to vacate their home towns.  Better move quickly.

So, what happened in the twenty-plus years that had snuck by since I built the dream home that ex number 2 took along with all the cash?  One major thing was that wages have totally stagnated while the cost of living has been relentlessly climbing.  (See my post Balance)  And since pensions only provide a fraction of what wages are, the numbers don’t crunch so well.

But this trend is not just affecting people in my age group or who are living with similar circumstances.  Nationwide, people are losing the ability to afford housing.  The solution, being forced by sheer economics, is a return to tribal living.

There has to be multiple wage earners under one roof now, or there has be a form of piggy-backed housing on a single property where the multiple workers can reside.  I see this happening more and more, and it’s taking on a variety of forms.

For starters, we are starting to see a return to multiple generations living under one roof.  Grown kids are taking in aging parents who can no longer maintain a home on their own or who are ill.  Additionally, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, 33% of young adults between the ages of 25 through 29 are living with their parents or grandparents.  This is a three-fold increase since 1970 and is the highest in 75 years.  These numbers span all education levels, race, gender and religion.  It’s all about the all-mighty dollar.  Who has it and who doesn’t.  And these youngsters can’t afford to move out.

Another form of tribal living I’ve seen is simply renting out the spare bedroom, and not just the Airbnb way for short vacation stays.  A dear friend of mine referred to this as taking in “strays.”  If you know someone you can trust who can’t afford to rent an apartment, or much more buy a house, rent them a room.  It all equals more incomes under the same roof.  A variety of communal living.  Sharing meal and entertainment space and time.

Increasing in popularity is the “ancillary dwelling unit.”  These come with a variety of names including “tiny houses” and “granny flats,” and they can be framed units or a trailer, or an RV, or a modified shipping container.  ADUs can be subject to various zoning regulations, and they may “stand alone” in the sense that the occupier could have separate utility hookups and waste removal.  The common denominator here is the ADU dweller couldn’t afford a larger home on her or his own property, and the property owner sharing space receives some benefit in return.  Expenses have to be spread out somehow.

ADUs can also be rented out as guest houses for temporary stays, and this can be an appealing situation for a home owner that’s not quite making the bill payments on time.  I’m renting a place now where the retired landowners maintain 2 guest houses to supplement their income.

I can also foresee the restructuring of the traditional concepts of marriage and child rearing.  Will we see a return of polygamy?  I don’t know, but I can easily see 2 or 3 wage-earners living under one roof while an auxiliary spouse, partner, or whomever, stays home to take care of the children.  Child care expenses won’t be outsourced anymore.  Who can afford those?  And, we may see more homeschooling accompanying this sort of lifestyle.

Regardless of the form it takes, I envision more forms of communal living as time and economic pressures continue.  This may not be a bad thing in terms of increased socialization, but that’s hard to gauge too.  Will it result in a bringing together of more people or the formations of small clicks walling themselves off from the rest of the community – compounds instead of homes?  Who knows, but until the economy improves for the average wage-earner, I think we’ll see more forms of alternative housing and the growth of interesting social arrangements.

As for me, I’m now trying to decide between setting down roots or becoming a nomad.  Or just maybe I’ll find a tribe to join.  Time will tell.

***

Photo:  This photo was shot by my one of my Great Uncles in 1928 when he was in the Army Air Corps.  He was stationed in the Philippines at the time and he flew out into the jungle in a pontoon-style airplane, and landed to visit the native homes of the Tagalog.  Over time, he rose to the rank of Major General and he played major roles in WWII and the Korean War.

Links:  For further reading see:

The Great Urban Housing Solution That Has No Good Name
A Record 64 Million Americans Live in Multigenerational Households

Update November 30, 2018: I came across an interesting post today on LinkedIn about how AirBnB is going to start designing homes.  It seems the business world has coined a new buzzword – “Coliving” – to describe the growing trend of multiple income earners having to share the cost of housing.  I really don’t see anything new in the concept except that single home ownership is becoming more out of reach for the average wage-earner and this is, perhaps, driving the trend, as I pondered about above, even faster.  If you would like to read further, check out these articles:

U.S. Homes Prices Least Affordable in Almost a Decade

Co-living 2030: Are you ready for the sharing economy?

Link Rot: As with all links to the Net, I can’t guarantee how long they will be active, so apologies if the articles have disappeared into the void of cyberspace 🙂

 

Antimony, Stibine, Babies, and Death

Recently, I was tested for heavy metal poisoning and the tests showed abnormally high levels of 4 different metals, and not-so-good levels of another three.  One of the metals that was abnormally high was Antimony.  Now I remember this metal, barely, from college chemistry courses, but how on earth did it end up in me, and in an elevated amount?

It seems Antimony is used in fireproofing textiles and plastics.  It can be found in battery electrodes, ceramics, pigments, and gun powder.  It can also be found in soft plastic bottles used for water and the water can become contaminated depending on storage conditions.

Blankets, mattress covers, and even clothing have been treated with this chemical.  And much like the spraying of insecticides and fungicides (biocides) on clothing, manufacturers do this to extend the life of their products and theoretically increase public safety.  The big problem is that the toxic effects of all of these chemicals are being discovered later.  This stuff can be absorbed right through the skin, our largest organ.

No, not all things in life can be improved through chemistry.  In fact, some of this chemistry may prolong the life of our clothing and fabrics, but it may also be killing us and our babies.  It turns out, our clothing may remain long after our bodies return to dust.

You see, some New Zealand researchers proposed a hypothesis, gathered evidence, and then other experts set out to disprove their hypothesis and research.

Boiling this all down, the theory is like this:

Mattresses and mattress covers contain the fire retardant chemicals Antimony, Phosphorus, and Arsenic;

These chemicals can be broken down by molds to form the toxic gases of Stibine, Phosphine and Arsine;

In particular, Antimony can be broken down by the mold Scopulariopsis brevicaulis to give off the gas Stibine;

This mold is present in mattresses and mattress covers, especially once they become damp with a baby’s bodily fluids;

Stibine is a very powerful neuro-toxic gas that is heavier than air and in the breathing zone of infants;

A small amount of Stibine, when inhaled, can produce respiratory paralysis;

Infants dying from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (“SIDS”) have been confirmed to have elevated levels of Antimony in their bodies;

Although the “UK Expert Group on Cot Death Theories” could not substantiate and is said to have discredited this theory, in New Zealand, where parents followed a protocol of sealing up these mattresses and covers, no further crib deaths have occurred.

There are theories questioning the motivations and financing of the UK Expert Group.

Reading all of this information, I can’t say one way or the other if these types of fire retardants cause SIDS.  I can, however, say with reasonable certainly, that I am only one of many who are now contaminated with this chemical that does not belong in our bodies.  And because of multiple chemical exposures, my and other people’s bodies’ natural detoxification processes have become overwhelmed producing all sorts of disabling effects.

Another thing I can say is that I’ve never met a corporate entity that hasn’t put profits over people.  One just needs to look at the tobacco industry to guess how this will play out.

For years there will be denial that the product is unsafe.  Research will be stymied because of big money and influence brought to bear on regulating agencies.  Deaths will continue.  Maybe someday a plaintiff will prevail in a lawsuit.  In the meantime, fearing litigation, some producers may change their lethal chemical mix to another lethal chemical mix in order to keep moving the ball making it harder to make the connection between chemical exposures and illness.

Delay in correcting the problem equals more money for the companies and their shareholders, while increasingly turning the planet into a toxic waste dump.

If you’re interested in reading more, I have included some links.

***

Antimony-LIt seems Antimony was also used by the Egyptians in the form of Stibnite as a black eye makeup.

Postscript:  How these chemical exposures will ultimately affect us is a big question, but it can’t be good when toxins keep turning up in our bodies.  The CDC’s most recent report indicates that some 212 chemicals tested for, which are not supposed to be in our bodies, were in most people’s blood or urine.

***

Images:  These images were found in the Internet in the public domain and no other attribution could be found.  The feature image was linked to a webpage called Live Science.

Links:

Cot Death and Antimony

Has The Cause of Crib Death (SIDS) Been Found?

The report from the “UK Expert Group on Cot Death Theories”

SIDS: A Preventable Tragedy?

Six Deadly Chemicals You’re Carrying in Your Body

Health Effects of Chemical Exposure

National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals

 

Of Wolves and Hominids

Warning: I use a few sentence enhancers in this piece that might offend some. Not too many, but if you are easily offended you might want to turn back now. Apologies.

***

There’s a pretty crude joke out there about men that goes: “If they can’t eat or fuck it, they’ll kill it.” Now, that’s clearly a gross over-generalization and there are many good men out there that do not operate from this vestige instinct of the lizard brain. But there does seem to be an awful lot of killing going on, and men probably make up the biggest share of those pulling the trigger, or wielding the knife, or the tire tool, or the shovel, or whatever just happened to be lying around. Men have tempers, but worse, men often have big egos. Mix in some hormones and look out!

I remember reading a story a while back about a huge alligator in Florida. Of course, the first thing humans (and in this case men) do when they encounter such a magnificent animal is kill it. Now it doesn’t really matter what reason was contrived. It may have been rationalized as being for “public safety” or something else even more nebulous, but there are numerous examples of where people simply kill for the joy of killing, and more times than not, it’s the “man” doing the “killin.” And if wasn’t for “joy” then why string up the gator and take a picture standing next to it while smiling and broadcast it to the world?

It’s a “manly thing” to kill. I suppose it can make a man feel in control or superior in some fashion.

In my criminal law class there was a joke told about how in the South there is a justifiable homicide defense called “needed killin,” meaning if there was a just plain rotten person that terrorized the town (usually a man), then it was excusable to lay that person to rest. This, of course, is not in any criminal code, but apparently plays out in front a jury of the murder’s peers. And while I don’t agree with this defense, there are, after all, more lawful and moral solutions, that argument actually makes a little bit more sense to me than the trophy hunter trying to defend his need to prove how large his penis is.

Sorry, I don’t want to sound sexist, I realize there are women trophy hunters out there too, but I think the majority are packing testosterone and that fits better with my story today. I mean if we’re talking about men I can say stuff like, “Ok, how about this Mr. Big-game Slaughterer, why don’t you just stuff and mount your penis on the wall. I’m sure that would be impressive. And maybe you would calm down a little after that.” But hey, I won’t say that, because that’s crude 😊

The concept of being the top-predator is sort of traditional ideology and mythology that is perpetuated over and over again through socialization and acculturalization. This evolved over time where hunting was once required for sheer survival. Later, hunting was a skill for acquiring supplemental food, not the mainstay of the diet. For most, hunting eventually turned into a “sport” and spawned a sub-species of that sport; trophy-hunting. Killing for no reason whatsoever other than to mount a head on the wall and have bragging rights. And ofttimes, these senseless, violent practices are highly rewarded. All hail the great and powerful conqueror.

Hemingway captures this reward-rejection phenomenon in his short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” where Macomber’s wife, Margaret, is enthralled by, and later shares a bed with, Macomber’s guide and big-game hunter, Robert Wilson. Macomber had shown fear and had run from a wounded lion, whereas Wilson showed no hesitation when he killed it, thus earning Margaret’s lust. Of course, Hemingway added the ironic twist of when Macomber later rises to the challenge and overcomes his fear, Margaret shoots him in the back of the head because she realizes he is now brave enough to leave her. He quite literally didn’t see that “reward” coming.

Now if some so-called trophy “hunter” (and I use that term loosely as they are usually led right up to the animal by a guide) could actually kill the lion or other large “game” (an ironic term itself, this is not a game) up close and personal and with more equal armament, I’d give them some credit. That would at least involve, strength and courage, and be more sporting than putting a bullet in the animal’s shoulder, lungs or heart from a quarter mile away, especially if camouflaged and hiding behind a blind. Can’t shoot the head for the most immediate and less painful kill, you know. That’s going on the wall.

And while I’ve been rambling a bit to get here, what brings me to be writing about the testosterone-fueled murder of innocent species was the killing of Wolf ’06. Wolf ’06 was a famous alpha female wolf roaming freely in Yellowstone National Park after the wolves were reintroduced to the region. The problem is, the wolves only have protection when they are within the boundaries of the park.

The U.S. has had a tortuous history with the wolf. Estimates put the country’s wolf population at anywhere from the hundreds of thousands to millions prior to European colonization. The International Wolf Center, proving the most detailed timeline for the gray wolf population in the U.S., states it is estimated that 100,000 wolves were killed every year between 1870 and 1877 alone. According to the IWC, in 1970, there were only 750 wolves in Minnesota, some scattered individuals in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and 18 wolves on Isle Royale.

It seems wolves were truly seen as being evil beasts of no value, and they threatened the profits of ranchers as livestock operations spread across the continent. Humans like to think that they are the superior predator and that their short-term gratification supersedes any other concern. Of course, this is ignorant. And that’s been proven time and again, and in a most dramatic way by reintroducing the wolf in Yellowstone Park.

The term used to describe the effects a major predator species has on the environment is “trophic cascade.” Nate Blakeslee was interviewed by National Geographic about his book “American Wolf,” and here is how he described the effects of reintroducing the wolves to Yellowstone:

“When they brought wolves back, it quickly changed and improved the landscape in ways that even the biologists didn’t anticipate. First and foremost, Yellowstone had way more elk than it could reasonably accommodate. Wolves brought that number back down to what it historically had been prior to Europeans arriving in Yellowstone.

They also began to see other species flourishing. The elk were no longer able to gather in the valleys in huge numbers and browse at their leisure; they had to be much warier and spend more time at higher elevations.

One of the effects was that streamside vegetation began to rebound. Aspen and willow returned, which in turn encouraged beavers to return to the park, as willow is their main food source. Beavers change the profile of a river, making it deeper by creating dams and pools, which in turn is healthier for fish.

Wolves also reduced Yellowstone’s coyote population, which was the densest in North America. Because of this, the rodent population had been kept artificially low. Once the wolves started to kill off some of the coyote population—not to eat them but to defend their own territories—there was a huge rebound in the rodent population.

As a result of that, other animals that eat rodents also rebounded, like large birds of prey, raptors, foxes, and badgers. The renaissance of all these species was a direct result of restoring the top predator.”

It’s also known, that natural predators cull the weak and the sick from the herds of their pray, actually strengthening their populations. Every species plays it role in this complex web of life. And each time a species goes extinct, humans are another step closer to their own extinction. I would think that modern humans would at least understand this principle, even if they never grasp that these animals, no different than the human animal, possess spirit.

But it just seems sometimes that humans just aren’t that far out of the cave.

Blakeslee tracked down the hunter that killed ’06. Basically, this guy was just happy to kill a wolf. “He considered it to be the pinnacle of his career as a trophy hunter to be able to shoot an animal that nobody had been able to legally shoot for a very long time.” He resented the wolves for decreasing the elk population and he was unable to kill an elk the season before. He also claimed he didn’t see the radio collar ’06 was wearing when she wandered out of Yellowstone’s protective boundaries.

So, because he blamed the wolf for preventing him from killing another animal, he was happy to kill a wolf. I don’t think there is any logic or wisdom there. Other species of predators don’t kill for joy or out of resentment. They don’t take pride in it. They actually do “hunt” and it’s for survival. There is no waste when other species hunt.

Just this past week, I read where the last male Northern White Rhinoceros has died. The Eastern Puma was also recently declared extinct. And how many other animals, plants, and other species are threatened or endangered? If we lose the bees perhaps humans will wake up because then we lose pollination and many of our food sources directly.

I’m not sure when humans will finally accept they are not top-dog. They produce no beneficial “trophic cascade.” Humans can’t exist without the other species on this fragile planet, yet they can exist without humans. It’s time to put ego aside. There is no place for a mythical, god-like, hunter figure that randomly takes life irrespective of the sanctity of that life and its interconnected purpose – survival of all species. Even cavemen were more advanced than this, they took what they needed for survival.

Since it is our species that has thrown the world out of its perfect balance, it is now our responsibility to restore it. One thing is certain, the one “species” that wouldn’t be missed at all, whose loss would not have a negative impact on the environment should it meet with its extinction, is the trophy hunter.

***

Wolf

Post Script: Wolf ’06 was killed in 2012. I only recently came across the January 2018 National Geographic article that got me thinking about this – thus, the time gap. Things are hopefully starting to change. The murder of Cecil the lion in Zimbabwe by dentist James Palmer in 2015 brought world-wide attention to, and protests against, trophy hunting. I suppose you could say this “hunt” was more sporting because Palmer used a bow. But it was later discovered that he had not obtained the required permit, his guide team baited the lion to leave its protected wildlife preserve, and that Cecil suffered for 10 hours after he was first hit with an arrow before Palmer had the balls to approach him to finally kill him. I don’t think Palmer returned to the US as the conquering hero.

Photos: These are not my photos. I found them on the Internet in the Public Domain and have found no other attribution for them. Neither pic is of ’06. But I used the second one as the image for one of my tattoos.

**This is one of my longer pieces, but if you want more, I’ve included some quotes and links below just for fun 😊 All links are subject to “link rot” so I cannot guarantee how long any of those articles will be present on the web.
Quotes:

“The fascination of shooting as a sport depends almost wholly on whether you are at the right or wrong end of the gun.”
P.G. Wodehouse, The Adventures of Sally

“Sure, some find gunning down unsuspecting, innocent animals to be a real hoot. I mean, for Christ sake, they mantle the decapitated, formaldehyde-stuffed heads on the wall. Then, of course, there are the people who enjoy putting sunglasses or hats on it, even putting a blowout in its mouth as if it were an avid party animal. If it had any hands, there would surely be a plastic cup full of cheap beer in it, as well. We can’t forget that it would be named some horrendous name, such as Bill or Frank, something so plain, ordinary, and down-right ridiculous that makes me want to bitch-slap the perpetrators. ”
Chase Brooks

“Hunting and fishing involve killing animals with devices (such as guns) for which the animals have not evolved natural defenses. No animal on earth has adequate defense against a human armed with a gun, a bow and arrow, a trap that can maim, a snare that can strangle, or a fishing lure designed for the sole purpose of fooling fish into thinking they have found something to eat”
Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect

“One saw a bird dying, shot by a man. It was flying with rhythmic beat and beautifully, with such freedom and lack of fear. And the gun shattered it; it fell to the earth and all the life had gone out of it. A dog fetched it, and the man collected other dead birds. He was chattering with his friend and seemed so utterly indifferent. All that he was concerned with was bringing down so many birds, and it was over as far as he was concerned. They are killing all over the world. Those marvellous, great animals of the sea, the whales, are killed by the million, and the tiger and so many other animals are now becoming endangered species. Man is the only animal that is to be dreaded.”
Jiddu Krishnamurti, Krishnamurti to Himself: His Last Journal

“I do not like the killers, and the killing bravely and well crap. I do not like the bully boys, the Teddy Roosevelt’s, the Hemingways, the Ruarks. They are merely slightly more sophisticated versions of the New Jersey file clerks who swarm into the Adirondacks in the fall, in red cap, beard stubble and taut hero’s grin, talking out of the side of their mouths, exuding fumes of bourbon, come to slay the ferocious white-tailed deer. It is the search for balls. A man should have one chance to bring something down. He should have his shot at something, a shining running something, and see it come a-tumbling down, all mucus and steaming blood stench and gouted excrement, the eyes going dull during the final muscle spasms. And if he is, in all parts and purposes, a man, he will file that away as a part of his process of growth and life and eventual death. And if he is perpetually, hopelessly a boy, he will lust to go do it again, with a bigger beast.”
John D. MacDonald, A Deadly Shade of Gold

“Wildlife, we are constantly told, would run loose across our towns and cities were it not for the sport hunters to control their population, as birds would blanket the skies without the culling services of Ducks Unlimited and other groups. Yet here they are breeding wild animals, year after year replenishing the stock, all for the sole purpose of selling and killing them, deer and bears and elephants so many products being readied for the market. Animals such as deer, we are told, have no predators in many areas, and therefore need systematic culling. Yet when attempts are made to reintroduce natural predators such as wolves and coyotes into these very areas, sport hunters themselves are the first to resist it. Weaker animals in the wild, we hear, will only die miserable deaths by starvation and exposure without sport hunters to control their population. Yet it’s the bigger, stronger animals they’re killing and wounding–the very opposite of natural selection–often with bows and pistols that only compound and prolong the victim’s suffering.”
Matthew Scully, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy

“For us hunting wasn’t a sport. It was a way to be intimate with nature, that intimacy providing us with wild unprocessed food free from pesticides and hormones and with the bonus of having been produced without the addition of great quantities of fossil fuel. In addition, hunting provided us with an ever scarcer relationship in a world of cities, factory farms, and agribusiness, direct responsibility for taking the lives that sustained us. Lives that even vegans indirectly take as the growing and harvesting of organic produce kills deer, birds, snakes, rodents, and insects. We lived close to the animals we ate. We knew their habits and that knowledge deepened our thanks to them and the land that made them.”
Ted Kerasote, Merle’s Door: Lessons from a Freethinking Dog

“The more a woman appreciates the hunting prowess of her man, the more he will kill for her.”
Michael DiMarco, Cupidity: 50 Stupid Things People Do For Love And How To Avoid Them

“These enthusiasts often like to hang signs that say “Gone Fishin'” or “Gone Huntin'”. But what these slogans really mean is “Gone Killing.”
Marc Bekoff, Animals Matter: A Biologist Explains Why We Should Treat Animals with Compassion and Respect

“Modern life conceals our need for diverse, wild, natural communities, but it does not alter that need.. if you want to feel what it is like to be human again, you should hunt, even if just once. Because that understanding, I believe, will propel a shift in how we view and interact with this world that we eat in. And the kind of food we demand, as omnivores, will never be the same.”
Georgia Pellegrini, Girl Hunter: Revolutionizing the Way We Eat, One Hunt at a Time

“The hunter, as Theodore Roosevelt defined him, a man who fights for the integrity of both his prey and the land that sustained it, is being too often overwhelmed by men concerned mostly with playing dress up and shooting guns.”
Gary Ferguson, Hawks Rest: A Season in the Remote Heart of Yellowstone

“This for many people is what is most offensive about hunting—to some, disgusting: that it encourages, or allows, us not only to kill but to take a certain pleasure in killing. It’s not as though the rest of us don’t countenance the killing of tens of millions of animals every year. Yet for some reason we feel more comfortable with the mechanical killing practiced, out of view and without emotion by industrial agriculture.”
Michael Pollan, The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals

“We have never understood why men mount the heads of animals and hang them up to look down on their conquerors. Possibly it feels good to these men to be superior to animals, but it does seem that if they were sure of it they would not have to prove it. Often a man who is afraid must constantly demonstrate his courage and, in the case of the hunter, must keep a tangible record of his courage. For ourselves, we have had mounted in a small hardwood plaque one perfect borrego [bighorn sheep] dropping. And where another man can say, “There was an animal, but because I am greater than he, he is dead and I am alive, and there is his head to prove it,” we can say, “There was an animal, and for all we know there still is and here is proof of it. He was very healthy when we last heard of him.”
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

“But it isn’t hunger that drives millions of armed American Males to forests and hills every autumn, as the high incidence of heart failure among the hunters will prove. Somehow the hunting process has to do with masculinity, but I don’t quite know how.”
John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America
Links

The Most Famous Wolf in the World Lived Hard and Died Tragically

Wolf Restoration – The National Park Service

Gray Wolf Biolouge – US Fish and Wildlife Service

The International Wolf Center

Wolf Wars: America’s Campaign to Eradicate the Wolf

The Fight for Northern Rocky Gray Wolves

Gray Wolf Conservation

The Psychology and Thrill of Trophy Hunting: Is it Criminal? Trophy hunting is gratuitous violence that can justifiably be called murder.