Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wolves at the Gate

New Birth Moon

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    “Lose the bobcat?” she asked him.
    “No, lost you. For a while.”
    “Not for long, I see.”
    He was wearing his hat again, with the brim pulled low. She found it harder to read his eyes. “You weren’t after that cat today,” he accused. “That trail’s a few days old.”
    “That’s right.”
    “I’d like to know what it is you’re tracking.”
    “You’re a man that can’t hold his horses, aren’t you?”
    He smiled. Tantalizing. “What’s your game, lady?”
    His eyes widened, only for a second and a half. She could swear his pupils dilated. She bit her lower lip, having meant to give away nothing. She’d forgotten how to talk with people, it seemed – how to sidestep a question and hide what was necessary.
    “And bobcats, and bear, and fox,” she piled on quickly, to bury the coyotes. “Everything that’s here. But especially the carnivores.”
    She shifted, waiting, feeling her toes inside her boots. Wasn’t he supposed to say something after she finished? When he didn’t, she suggested, “I guess you were looking for deer the other day?”
    He gave a small shrug. Deer season was many months over and gone. He wasn’t going to be trapped by a lady wildlife ranger with a badge. “Why the carnivores, especially?” he asked.
    “No reason.”
    “I see. You’re just partial. There’s birdwatchers, and butterfly collectors and there’s gals like you that like to watch meat eaters.”
    He might have known this one thing could draw her talk to the surface: an outsider’s condescension. “They’re the top of the food chain, that’s the reason,” she said coldly. “If they are good, then their prey is good, and its food is good. If not, then something’s missing from the chain.”
    “Oh yeah?”
By Jerolek
    “Yeah. Keeping tabs on the predators tells  you what you need to know about the herbivores, like deer, and the vegetation, the detritovores, the insect populations, small predators like shrews and voles. All of it.”
    He studied her with a confusion she recognized. She was well accustomed to watching Yankee brains grind their gears, attempting to reconcile a hillbilly accent with signs of a serious education. He asked finally “And what you need to know about the shrews and voles would be what, exactly?”
    “Voles matter more than you think. Beetles, worms. I guess to hunters these woods seem like a zoo, but who feeds the animals and cleans up the cage, do you think? Without worms and termites you’d be up to your hat brim in dead tree branches looking for a clear shot.”

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The new moon this month is the new Birth Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar and the new Wolf Moon in Jessica Prentice's. It is the dark of winter, the testing place of the wisdom and support we gathered over the last summer both physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. Did the fields and herds provide enough food for us this year? Did we store enough food to last the winter? Do we have the friend and kin support to get us through the dark times?  

Humans are like other large animals top predators in that we require huge amounts of land to support our needs. Each one of us requires entire armies of farmers and ranchers, crop plants and livestock animals, food packagers, butchers and cooks to meet our food needs. Estimates of how much land a human needs to meet their food needs range from 1/5 of anacre to over 10 square miles, depending on the climate and intensity of agriculture, but no matter what, we are resource intensive creatures. In the last 50 years agriculture in the western world has changed drastically with the input of petroleum fuel and chemical fertilizers, reducing some of the human labor required to feed our growing population that now tops 7 billion souls. Unfortunately, this oil based food system is not sustainable in the long term. Unlike natural ecosystems, it both requires an in put that is not renewable and 
By Ricky NJ
it also produces waste that is not useable by the system. In fact, the waste and destruction caused by our modern agribusiness practices makes the entire ecosystem unhealthy for both humans and many other animal and plant species.

Wolves and other large carnivores were some of the first species to feel the effects of western civilization as we developed the technology to take the land we needed for our agriculture. Wolves were hunted virtually to extinction in Europe and North America as industrial agriculture grew and by the middle of the 20th century there were only remnant populations in the far reaches of their former range. The environmental movement of the last 40 years has changed the way both the public and the government views wolves, however, and in the 1990s there was a program to reintroduce wolves to the northern Rocky Mountain areas of Idaho and Wyoming. By 2004 the original couple dozen wolves relocated from Alberta,Canada to central Idaho had expanded to over 450 animals and some of those were making their way across the Snake River into Oregon. Nearly sixty years after the last wolf bounty was paid in Oregon, the fish and wildlife department confirmed two pups born to the small Imnaha pack, the first in the state. Six more pups were confirmed in the 2009 breeding season and there are two other packs now roam the wilderness of north eastern Oregon.

This autumn big news broke when a young wolf left his home pack and started heading west across Oregon. By December OR 7, as he is known, had traveled over 700 miles and set up camp in the heavily forested land between Medford, OR and Crater Lake. OR 7 is a bit of a celebrity these days and his journey, and the notoriety it is getting, is stirring up the rural/urban, rancher/conservationist divide over the reintroduction of wolves to Western States. Like Eddie Bondo, the Wyoming rancher and hunter in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer which I excerpted above, many people in rural Oregon view wolves as threats to their livelihood. The irony, of course, is that wolves returning to their mountains are in direct opposition to the real threat to their livlihoods.

By Fremlin
In Kingsolver’s beautiful novel, Eddie learns from the forest ranger Deanna about how important large carnivores are to the entire ecosystem they live in. Yes, large carnivores kill young and weak livestock, but another character in the novel notes that there are 10 other ways she might be responsible for the death of her animals. In fact, the land that supports a healthy population of carnivores can support a larger and healthier population of grazing animals. Even crop farmers benefit from the healthy ecosystems that support wolves, coyotes, bobcats and cougars. Those ecosystems provide clean water, balanced insect populations and habitat for pest rodents to live in so they are less likely to harass stored grains. Turns out, healthy ecosystems make for healthy farms, which in turn allow all people to live healthier lives.

I think one of the hardest things to wrap my city born brain around is just how detrimental our culture is to both wild things and to our own lifestyles. Our current practices of mining the earth’s resources are simply not sustainable – and I don’t mean that in the green washed way that Whole Foods or American Apparel mean it. I mean really, really for real, there is not going to be enough food, clean water, breatheable air or fertile soil to support the human population. We are filling our house with garbage and toxic waste, eating everything out of the fridge and refusing to see that things can’t go on like this.

The struggle for me, an environmentalist who cares about food issues and wildlife issues and really knows all about this stuff, is what to do on a daily basis. How do I make changes in my life that make it more sustainable, without abandoning civilization and living off dumpster diving and walking everywhere? I currently live a life that requires a car, and electricity and buying food at the grocery store. How do I take steps towards a life that this earth can actually support? Jessica Prentice quotes Martin Prechtel, the author of the book The Party’s Over, as he talks about the big, mechanized slug of a culture of progress. This “culture crushing mentality” has left behind a homogenized, lifeless civilization of freeways, big box stores and franchise restaurants. My sister went to India and her traveling partner insisted on eating McDonalds and KFC. It is mind boggling that you even can eat that food 
By Eoin C
so far away from the American heartland where it was invented! How do I fight this overwhelming slug without being a total outsider to my culture and community?

Prentice and Prechtel leave us with a simple, yet profoundly life shifting call to action; to recreate the interpersonal relationships found in our ancestral villages. Not to reject modern civilization (I do truly believe that appropriate technology will be profoundly useful in creating a sustainable culture) but building the human community within our civilization that makes life meaningful, valuable and worth honoring. In terms of food, this community is built through becoming a producer as well as a consumer, and trading with other individual producers. Buying eggs from a neighbor or local farmer, shopping for vegetables at the farmer’s market where you can shake the hand of the woman who grew your cauliflower, trading your dried oregano and wild harvested nettles for your neighbors apples or lettuce. These things allow us to see each other as valuable individuals, not just cogs in the wheel or obstacles on the way to our own fulfillment.

By Wiz411
We can create these webs of relationship in ways that don’t involve food, too. Taking the bus or walking allows us to really see our neighbors (and sometimes hear them, and smell them but that’s how we know they are real people). My group of friends is great at having the kinds of parties that allow us to build relationships, like Christmas lights viewing or cheese and wine parties or trips to the pumpkin patch. My church, like so many other places of worship, is another bastion of community relationships. When I was having such a dark time this last fall I realized that the culture of my church community involved explicitly being open with our needs and equally explicit with our ability to help each other both through encouragement and physical or material assistance. I learned that I had to be equally explicit with my non-church friends and once I did my needs were met quickly and lovingly.

The wolf is at the gate, this time of year. The days are dark and we are lonely, both in our daily lives and in our cultural life. Wolves show us how interconnected we all are and how important strengthening and honoring those connections really is. How connected do you feel these days, to your friends and family, your community and your larger ecosystem home? How do these connections nourish you, ground you or leave you feeling confined? Who do you like to buy your food from or share your food with? Do you have any wolf, coyote or other large predator sighting stories to share?  

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** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Milk Moon but it was really the Birth Moon. Since the post itself is more about the Wolf Moon, I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

New Birth Moon 2008: Waiting

New Birth Moon 2009: Advent, Awaiting the Birth

New Birth Moon 2010: Winter is Dark, Yet Each Tiny Spark

My full Milk Moon post in January of 2010 is also about the Wolf Moon, and retells the wonderful story of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio.


Anonymous said...

I love you, I love everything you write. I wish you could spend all day every day writing, so I could read all of your deep thoughts on these issues. I love the format of following the moons, it's so brilliant.

After reading your post, I opened up this article:

"To Build Community, an Economy of Gifts" -

I've long thought about this issue of giving/reciprocity/indebtedness/obligation in relationship to psychology, family, and community.

The article above doesn't mention Sarah Blaffer Hrdy's work, though it seems based on it.

"Presents: the real meaning of Christmas" -

"Embrace gift of giving" -

A culture of mutual obligation underlies traditional practices like potlatch and fiestas in Mexican villages.

(Cool article here:; amazing interview here!

I've long wanted to explore the connection between this and the brilliant work of Bert Hellinger. Check out his words on "Conscience and Balance in Giving and Taking":

If you ever get the chance to attend a Constellation session, DO!

Love overflowing to you in your amazingness, K

Anonymous said...

A few more perspectives:

"Obligations to send money and perform community service in Mexico" -

"Mexican Culture: Mutual Obligation" -

Mentions "Tequio" -

"Social Institutions" -

Elysia said...

After my recent enthusiasm for the gift economy in community, you can imagine how taken aback I was when my guru explained the yogic concept of aparagriha. Of course, the concept of non-materialism is not new to me, but he said it included not giving or taking gifts. There was no mistaking him, the purpose is to free yourself of any ties of obligation to other people. I have no doubt that is one route to spiritual liberation, but I wonder if it is the only one. His teachings were a powerful mirror, showing where your priorities lie. For now, I am still seeking to build a spiritual community. However, I know I will be wrestling with this for a long time.

Lots of writings on the internet about aparagriha, but this article is most apropos:

In the middle of these musings, I cam across this story about people who live in empty apartments:

I think that seems crazy, but I was actually really moved by this quote: "He tends to avoid the sofa, however, and has plans to jettison it. Since it is more story than object, he said, 'the story allows you to throw it out because you are not throwing out an object but ending a story.'"

I love the idea of ending the story and releasing the object.

Alyss said...

I haven't had the time to explore all these links... thanks for putting them there so I can read them! I have obviously been thinking about how our interactions create bonds of mutual need, indebtedness and connection and know there is lots more thinking to do. I can see what your yogi is talking about, how releasing and disentangling yourself from those bonds can be so pure and cleansing. Honestly, though, I actively rejected Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism in my late teens because I realized that I don't want my goal in life to be purity and disentanglement. I believe that heaven is here on earth, in the muck and blood and sunsets and beer soaked nights. Obviously, finding the proper balance for your tendencies and deficiencies is important, but I tend to the aloof so my focus needs to be on connection. That is not true for everyone.

I may write more on this, but it seems connected right now. During Meeting a couple weeks ago I was praying/thinking/talking with G!dd/ss about feeling hurt in personal relationships and how to act in a peaceful loving way even when my hurt makes me want to lash out. The response came back clear as a bell... give that hurt to me, I can take it. I am to trade in all my hurt for love and pass that back out. My job this time around, or right now, is not to disconnect, but to make those connections deep and strong. But then maybe it's a circle... one the connections are strong enough then you are released in a way, too. All I know is to listen, both my Quaker and Pagan traditions teach that :)

Elysia said...

Hey! I hope you know I TOTALLY share your issues with Eastern religious traditions. It was a SHOCK to me, to be sitting in that room, learning intensively for the first time in my life about the "yogic tradition." Actually, it's starting to seem like some kind of karma - I have to find some way to integrate or balance Eastern and Western. My life draws me back to these Eastern traditions again and again.

I hope I was clear - I am NOT about to follow the yogic path of renunciation, to become a sadhu with only two scarves and a drum to my name. I am WITH YOU on that one. I just thought it was fascinating, how it was the mirror-image of what we had been discussing. This connection of objects and people is fascinating to me. (The yogi also acknowledged that there is a path of "householders" - people who are spiritual but also settled into the material world. That is clearly me.)

However, I think I struggle, because I believe that these traditions, especially the Tibetan Buddhist path, are some of the only remaining, authentic, complete and intact spiritual systems accessible today. Obviously, the pagans are making it all up (I'm cool with that, but I have to acknowledge it for what it is). The Native American teachings - at least those available to dilettante anglos - seem decimated. I know of only two teachers from an African tradition (Malidoma and Sobonfu Some - I highly recommend the books of both!) - and they are teaching a self-helpified version, not the authentic initiatory tradition. (It does seem that, at this point in my life - and over the last few years, I am moving away from the practice of dabbling in many traditions and making it all up yourself to suit your own ego, to the idea of connecting to a deeper, fuller tradition, even if you don't "like" all of it.)

So, while I have yet to even begin to grasp how I'm going to mesh the yogic teachings into my life (spiritual or mundane), I know that there is value there, and that I must do the hard work to find what I need and grapple with what I cannot achieve in this life.

Elysia said...

Speaking of relationships, this article is amazing:


Elysia said...

Hey again! It occurs to me that it has been several years that I have been moving away from "loosey-goosey" paganism toward a more structured spiritual system. I believes this reflects a desire to consciously experience discipline/discipleship as a path toward self-discipline. The Dalai Lama says “Self-discipline is crucial to a simpler, more contented life.” And I think it is exactly this kind of self-discipline that is necessary to engage with some of the deeper principles we have been discussing, like Simplicity and Integrity.