Eat Prey, Love – the Sequel

There has been an update since I originally posted “Eat Prey, Love” in the fall of 2012! Journey not only has a mate, but a new family!

Read about it here.

 

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A Lone Wolf called Journey

Journey was a lone wolf that crossed into California in 2011. He was the only one left from the scattered—or poached—Imnaha pack in eastern Oregon, and the first wild wolf in California in nearly a century. Since then, he’s probably been looking for a mate and scouting out his territory. Being alone for so long, he probably had a harder time hunting larger prey like elk and lived mainly on smaller animals like beaver or rabbits.

I hope Journey has found his mate and gets his family. Most of all, I hope he learns to hunt wild prey, rather than sheep or cattle—a sure death sentence.

I hope we can learn to respect wildlife for being themselves rather than as trophies, entertainment, or pseudo-pets. I hope we will make a place for wildness.

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From Eat Prey, Love, originally posted October 25, 2012

 

Can we make a place for wildness?

A lone wolf called Journey was California’s first wild wolf in nearly a century. Now, he’s back in Oregon, possibly with his new mate.

 

Wild or Captive? It makes a difference

Many wildlife biologists no longer favor the term “Alpha” in describing wolf behavior. Even the idea of a “pack” is somewhat outmoded. These old ideas were originally made popular by biologist L. David Mech in 1970. As he explains on his website, his original research was done on captive wolves, and has since been updated with field research on wolves in the wild—with quite different results.

While captive wolves do behave in the alpha-dominance model, it is not common in the wild. I’ve heard it likened to how humans behave when forced into captivity, like prisons or concentration camps. Social norms break down. Things get savage.

In contrast, wild wolves live in family groups of related individuals: the parents, called the breeding pair, and their offspring, which include the current years’ pups and possibly older siblings from one or two previous seasons. The breeding pair are the leaders, not because they fought their way into their high status position through force and dominance, but simply because they are the parents. Parents know best, right?

It makes a subtle but important difference in how we view wolves. Their social behavior is not centered on dominance, but on family. Wolves live and work together cooperatively based on age and experience, with the older ones teaching the younger ones how to be wolves. When they’re ready, the youths leave the family to find a mate, establish a territory, and make a family—their own pack.

 

What does it mean to be wild?

I flip open my ipad and check my Google alert on wolves (October, 2012). The top article is from Wisconsin, where the first wolf hunting season in 38 years started a few days ago. A father-son team of trophy hunters snared the first wolf, a young female, in a legtrap. They had seen her struggling as they approached with their rifles, finally shooting her in the head to complete the hunt. Her pelt would be their trophy, hanging on their wall to remind them of their proud accomplishment. They get to be the alpha dudes, the true top predators, thanks to superior hunting skills—and a little help from modern technology.

The next article tells of a college girl who takes her wolfdog (85-90% wolf, 10-15% dog) to campus with her. The photo shows her and the muzzled wolfdog gazing into each others’ eyes, and the girl receiving a huge juicy-looking tongue kiss. The caption says she majors in wildlife science and occasionally sleeps with the wolfdog.

These two cases really run the gamut. The first is about dominance through violence, and the second, well, it is a form of trophy-ism, too, just on the other extreme. A little too Fifty Shades of Graywolf, from the look of it.

I wonder why we need to treat wild animals in these ways, either to prove our own supremacy, or as proxies for decent relationship-material? (Or worse, for cheap entertainment, as in some circuses and creepy You-Tube videos.) I’m not saying that trophy hunters—or college girls who love wolves—should be kicked out of America. But what about simply appreciating wildness? Do we have a place for that, as well?

It’s only recently we’ve learned how important top predators—like wolves—are in natural ecosystems. When they are gone, they are missed—not just by us tree-huggers, but by other living things like trees and plants and pollinating insects, and birds and even the prey species, eventually. Living with wildness is messy and complicated and will take serious cooperation and effort and money from all of us, but it will be worth it in the long run… if we want to leave something decent behind us when we are gone. A habitable planet, for example.

 

To learn more about wolves and conservation in the Northwest: http://www.conservationnw.org/

To keep on Journey and his latest doings: http://www.oregonwild.org/fish_wildlife/bringing_wolves_back/the-journey-of-or7

To read an article about top predators and their effect on ecosystems: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203630604578072693046060834.html

Forest Sketch

This post was originally published in May, 2013

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On one of my forest walks, I came upon an elderly gentleman who was standing by the trail, gazing up at a gnarly bigleaf maple. It was one of those Seattle-summer days when the sun comes out unexpectedly, and after weeks of dismal gray, the world was in full-color once again. The whole forest was glowing.

As I passed, the man tipped his hat to me in a polite, old-fashioned way that seemed out-of-place in West Seattle. He must be from a foreign country. Or at least, a foreign time.

“You know what I wish?” he asked, smiling. “I wish I was an artist. I wish I could paint this!” He swept his hand across the lovely scene.

I stood with him for a moment admiring the lumpy, twisted old maple. The sunlight was filtering through the leafy canopy, falling in streaks against the brilliant moss-covered trunk. I imagined painting the tree, how I would drag brushloads of sap green over raw umber to capture the colors and play of light.

I was just about to share my art-thoughts with him when I noticed his eyes had teared up a little. “I want to remember this tree,” he said. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, but by the time I get home, I’ll have forgotten. It’ll all be lost…like it never existed. If I was an artist, I could paint this and take it home with me. I’d have it forever.”

I realized we weren’t really talking about art at all, but about how it feels when things we love slip away. Was he afraid his beautiful world was disappearing…being erased into blankness?

He was still standing with the old maple when I continued on my walk. I hope he remembers his tree.

I wish I had painted it for him.

 

An acrylic sketch I did of a maple in one of Seattle’s beautiful forested parks. This one didn’t have a mossy trunk, but it was beautiful anyway.

 

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A sad note to end this story…

A few weeks ago, I learned that this same gentleman — a well-known park visitor — was knocked over and badly injured by a couple of (illegally) off-leash dogs in this same park.

Increasingly, people are treating urban natural areas as places to let their dogs run free. It is only a minority of the dogs that cause damage or injury, but that minority is causing serious problems—not only to other visitors but to the plants and wildlife that depend on these natural areas for survival. For that reason, ALL dogs need to be leashed where the law requires it. Unless everyone cooperates, those few trouble-makers will simply say “Everyone does it.”

Please. Leash. Your. Pets.

It is your responsibility.

 

Nature is a Puppy

 

Finding meaningful connection with nature is difficult for the average urban dweller. Some of us simply don’t know how—without a prescribed activity, we are at a loss. Others are bored unless nature offers something tangible, like something to speed through, climb up, jump over, or zip past.

But, in a world where the population keeps growing and nature keeps shrinking, natural areas will eventually become overwhelmed by hard, active use. Wild nature should be valued for its own sake, not only for its Use Potential.

We need a more mindful approach.

Why not approach nature as a fellow living being?

 This is a watercolor I did for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado.


This is a watercolor I did for the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Colorado.

 

A Barrel of Puppies

Of course, nature is not always fluffy and cute. Even if you’ve never felt the sharp edges of wilderness survival, you’ve probably seen enough on the Nature Channel to know that true Wild Nature can be downright horrifying.

Mostly, it’s Eat or be Eaten.

But, the nature most of us will encounter in daily life is tamer. Our urban parks, our greenspaces and natural areas close to population centers are not places where you need to fear for your life. On the contrary, nature has far more to fear from you.

We have no problem treating puppies and kittens with tender care, why can’t we treat birds, and small mammals, or even insects and worms with the same consideration? Most wild animals and wild plants in cities—even ones we are taught to think of as “bad”—are simply trying to survive.

Try this sometime: when you visit a natural area, try approaching it as you would a living creature you wish to get to know. Everything—the plants, the trees, the animals, and everything in between—is Life. Treat it with some tender care.

You will feel truly connected to nature.

Happy Earth Day!

Join the Slow Nature Movement on Facebook!

Join me on Facebook!

Slow Earth Day

 

We’ve been celebrating April 22nd as Earth Day since 1970.  It’s a day when people flock outside to volunteer for eco-restoration or to work on other environmental or community-minded projects. It’s a great time to get involved, be active, and make a difference.

But now I think it’s time Earth Day had a companion: Slow Earth Day. We need a day to simply look, listen, and above all appreciate nature.

Let’s start today… or maybe tomorrow.

April 18th is hereby Slow Earth Day.

DDahnDouglasSquirrel

 

Even ordinary things in nature can be amazing, if you look beyond notions of “good nature” or “bad nature”. Just look, and appreciate. At least for one day.

 

It may not be that great…but it’s a pretty good piece of turf.

 From: Is Weedy the New Wild?

 

Earth Day is a day to get yourself outside. Slow Earth Day is a day to get outside yourself.

What would you look like to a woodpecker? Try seeing the world through wild eyes.

I did this illustration for my Federation Forest Project. We were trying to promote meaningful nature connections for children.

 

We’re all just big clumps of carbon-based molecules, arranged differently.

Ah, but what beautiful arrangements!

DeniseDahn_kid_in_nature4

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Slow Earth Day!

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You might also like:

Forest Sketch

Old Growth Forests

Slow Nature

 

Wild River

Last year, I wrote about a proposal to build a dam on the South Fork of the Skykomish River—one of the last wild rivers in Washington. Today, there was an announcement of a decision to modify the project. Read the about the new developments here.

The original post from last year:

Rivers Are Us

If you want to study a single topic to help you understand history, the environment, politics and the economy…choose rivers.

From: Rivers Are Us

A watercolor I did of the Skykomish River

 

What other topic is so intertwined with everything on earth? Rivers sculpt landforms; living beings depend on rivers for food, shelter, transportation, and water; people struggle to control rivers for their own purposes. It’s all there.

Rivers are dynamic—moving and changing constantly. They meander, they rise and fall, flood, dry up, erode here, deposit there. Like a caged animal, rivers often do not respond well to confinement.

Many of my interpretive projects have been about river restoration. After a century of large-scale damming, diking and diverting, we have figured out that we’ve been too heavy-handed in how we treat rivers—people and wildlife have suffered as a result. Many agencies and organizations are hard at work to restore some of the natural ways rivers work.

What is a wild river worth?

There aren’t many rivers left in Washington State that are free-flowing—unrestricted by dams. One of the last major wild rivers, the South Fork of the Skykomish, may be losing its wild status. As of spring 2012 there is a plan underway to give the Skykomish its first dam. The project is hugely controversial, and has resulted in the river being added to the List of America’s Most Endangered Rivers by the organization American Rivers.

In any dam project, there are winners and losers. When the Elwha Dam on the Olympic Peninsula was completed in 1913, many people prospered from the access to cheap electricity. But, the Klallam Indians saw the wild river and salmon they depended on virtually disappear. And now the Elwha is the site of an enormous, unprecedented restoration project: removing the dams and restoring the habitat for salmon, wildlife and people.

In Snohomish County, many people want access to affordable energy, and some see damming the Skykomish as an efficient way to achieve it. The area is growing fast, and the economy is always slower than we would like. And, since there are no salmon in the upper reaches of the Skykomish anyway—they are prevented from moving upstream past the waterfalls—it seems to many like the perfect place for a dam.

But, what is lost when we use up the last bit of something? If there is only a tiny fraction of something left…old growth forest, or tall-grass prairie, or peat bogs, or wild rivers, shouldn’t that loss be figured into the cost/benefit of using it up? Do we have a responsibility to future generation to leave some wild things? What is wildness worth?

What do you think?

I’d love to hear your comments! Just click on the light gray “thought bubble” next to the title of this post.

For more on the Skykomish Dam:

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2018315558_skykomish30m.html 

For more on the Elwha Dam:

http://www.nps.gov/olym/naturescience/elwha-ecosystem-restoration.htm

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/flatpages/specialreports/elwha/

For more on the Skykomish River as one of America’s Most Endangered Rivers:

http://www.americanrivers.org/newsroom/press-releases/2012/south-fork-skykomish-river-among-americas-most-endangered-rivers-2012.html

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