“My dear fellow,” said Sherlock Holmes as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, “life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to conceive the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, hover over this great city, gently remove the roofs, and peep in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross-purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outrè results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions most stale and unprofitable.”
For need can blossom into all the compensation it requires. To crave and to have are as like as a thing and its shadow. For when does a berry break upon the tongue as sweetly as when one longs to taste it, and when is the taste refracted into so many hues and savors of ripeness and earth, and when do our senses know any thing so utterly as when we lack it? And here again is a foreshadowing-the world will be made whole. For to wish for a hand on one’s hair is all but to feel it. So whatever we may lose, very craving gives it back to us again. Though we dream and hardly know it, longing, like an angel, fosters us, smooths our hair, and brings us wild strawberries.
―Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping
Humans are fascinated by wildness, but interaction with humans changes a wild animal permanently. Where do such animals find a home?
Tonya Littlewolf runs Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in Lucerne Valley, located in the southern Mojave Desert in California. She makes a home here for wolves whose lives have been threatened by humans. Most have been raised as pets, only to be discarded when they grew too big, too hard to control and too expensive to feed. A wolf that has lived with humans does not become a tame dog, neither is that animal wild anymore. These wolves, if released from their sanctuary, would approach humans in search of food. Sooner or later, that kind of behavior will get an animal killed, especially a large predator that stirs a mythological fear in human beings.
Born in New Mexico of Chiricahua Mescalero Apache and Sicilian heritage, Tonya was introduced to wild animals at a young age and developed strong bonds with them, especially with wolves. In the Native American tradition of the Wolf Sibling, it is her mission to minister to these glorious creatures and to help heal the strain between humans and wolves. You may find her unorthodox, feeding wolves raw meat from her mouth and speaking freely of her spiritual connection to them, but you cannot deny that she loves them and they her. How different would our world be if we had more people caring for the animals and plants around us with this kind of dedication and respect?
This beautifully understated short film, echoing the simple starkness of its desert locale, was created by cinematographer Sam Price-Waldman, who is also video producer for The Atlantic. Wolf Mountain is a fantastic introduction to Wolf Mountain Sanctuary, moving and sensitive without becoming maudlin and sentimental. Price-Waldman has given his subjects dignity. The wonderfully textured closeups allow us a peek into the personalities of these individuals, while the communal keening of the wolf pack cuts right into the soul with its melancholy music. I can’t imagine how electric it must be to be there. At the end of the film Tonya clears the air by burning sage, dispelling negativity, and we see Native American prayer threads worked into the fence. This is a ministry, not a scientific study nor a exercise in activism.
It would be better if these animals had not come in contact with humans, but it’s too late. Our curiosity wounds and our desire to own maims and kills. Tonya and her wolves are trapped in a place that lies between civilization and wildness. She cannot leave it anymore than they can. No matter how nice a cage is, it remains a cage. And yet being stuck in this “in between” place gives the Wolf Sister and her pack a unique opportunity to be ambassadors between wolves and humans. The hairy ones have things to show us.
If you are interested in helping Tonya and the wolves with their mission, you can visit the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary in person, where you can go inside the wolf enclosure and meet these splendid, expressive animals. You can also donate online. Large quantities of red meat and chicken, loads of vegetables such as pumpkins and carrots-you might be surprised at how much wolves enjoy these-and vet bills are expensive and Wolf Mountain receives no money from the government. Please visit the Wolf Mountain website, where you can learn a bit about each member of the pack.
Images from the Wolf Mountain Sanctuary Website used in accordance with Fair Use Policy.
She was a normal wild beast, whose power is dangerous, whose anger can kill, they had said. Be more careful of her, they advised. Allow her less excitement. Perhaps let her exercise more. She understood none of this. She understood only the look of fear in her keeper’s eyes. And now she paces. Paces as if she were angry, as if she were on the edge of frenzy. The spectators imagine she is going through the movements of the hunt, or that she is readying her body for survival. But she knows no life outside the garden. She has no notion of anger over what she could have been, or might be. No idea of rebellion.
It is only her body that knows of these things, moving her, daily, hourly, back and forth, back and forth, before the bars of her cage.
And then there are the cravings.. Oh, la! A woman may crave to be near water, or be belly down, her face in the earth, smelling the wild smell. She might have to drive into the wind. She may have to plant something, pull things out of the ground or put them into the ground. She may have to knead and bake, rapt in dough up to her elbows.
She may have to trek into the hills, leaping from rock to rock trying out her voice against the mountain. She may need hours of starry nights where the stars are like face powder spilt on a black marble floor. She may feel she will die if she doesn’t dance naked in a thunderstorm, sit in perfect silence, return home ink-stained, paint-stained, tear-stained, moon-stained.
―Clarissa Pinkola Estés: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype
At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. We must be refreshed by the sight of inexhaustible vigor, vast and titanic features, the sea-coast with its wrecks, the wilderness with its living and its decaying trees, the thunder-cloud, and the rain which lasts three weeks and produces freshets. We need to witness our own limits transgressed, and some life pasturing freely where we never wander.
From adorable kittens and puppies to majestic lions and wolves, we love pictures of animals. What need do they fulfill?
Public Domain Image via Pixabay
When I am attracted to the image of animal, be it a painting, a sculpture, a photo or any other representation, it is usually because I’m identifying with the creature’s attributes or abilities. That kitten is so cute, mischievous and lazy; that bird soars through the air, feathers agleam with beauty in the sun. Much of the time the quality or talent I’m attracted to is either something I prize and wish I possessed in greater quantity or something I identify with much to my chagrin. Yes, I’m probably anthropomorphizing more than is logical. Am I alone? I expect not.
My cat, Yuri
Native American and other indigenous peoples live in much closer proximity to wild animals than most city dwellers, although we have our companion pets. These pets are all the more precious to us because they provide a link, however tenuous, to the Earth and Creation outside of ourselves. They make us feel less lonely. But indigenous man is wise about wildness, and usually recognizes the inspirational nature that exists between humans and animals. Sometimes these figures are called totems or spirit animals, creatures that reveal to us what certain traits look like. These can be valuable to city dwellers, too. If you doubt that, go to any social media site and look at the large numbers of posts that share videos and photos of animals we will never meet in our own backyards. At least I hope not!
Public Domain Image via Pixabay
If you are a creative person, check your artwork for animals that crop up. If you investigate these animals, both from a personal perspective and from the perspective of various cultural traditions, including those unfamiliar to you, you will find themes and attributes running through your work, some of which may be surprising to you because they are completely subconscious. Birds and snakes are all over my poetry and my art, as are insects.
All earthlings, human, animal, even plant, have positive and negative attributes and behaviors, and most of the time that value judgement has more to do with circumstances. When you need to stand up for yourself in a business meeting, the image above may not be the image you need; the image below may be more appropriate. Should you need to make peace with your significant other after an argument, the opposite may be true. If you are drawn to an image or repelled by it, take time to ask yourself why.
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”