Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Wolves, a Woman and the Wild

Hi kids, I have just finished reading a wonderful, if heart-rending, book: Shadow Mountain : a Memoir of Wolves, a Woman and the Wild. It is written by Renee Askins, a woman who, for her love of wolves, especially a baby wolf named Natasha, devoted fifteen years of her life to helping to successfully reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park. Here are a couple of excerpts of what she has to say about connection with the wild:

"Experiencing the wild does not require conquest or challenge. Pitting one's wits against mountain, river or creature is an approach that can separate rather than integrate. I believe experiencing the wild is a process of allowing our senses to infiltrate, not overwhelm, the self. Our sense of self does not disappear for we, too, are of the wild; it is simply intermingled with a sensibility that is larger than we are, creating a vivid alertness and attentiveness. I think of it as being breathed by the world. Certainly, recognizing the wild involves a certain relinquishing of control, which is why so many believe we must renounce the symbols of control to experience it. I believe it is not so much the leaving as the letting go. We can experience wildness as truly through being vividly conscious during... a symphony as we can be venturing to the most remote regions of the planet. Wildness resides in us, around us, and between us.

"We haven't killed the wild but we have, over time, successfully repressed our consciousness of how important it is to us, buried it like a distant but seminal childhood experience. Its presence still expresses itself in every element of our being, however - our longings,  rages,  melancholies, pathologies and especially our dreams. Its repression only strengthens its power to haunt us......

"We still hunger for the wild as we do for our fleeting childhoods.......we are reaching for something representative of  the wild that we fear is slipping away, and we think if we mount it or wear it or own it we will embody it.  Because we intuitively know, as Gary Snyder wrote, 'A world without wildness is a world beyond its capacity to heal.'.........

"The reciprocity between wild nature and the wild in ourselves....still exists but lies dormant. It is this wild that Natasha revealed to me, a wild she both possessed and reflected.....

"For centuries, our search for wholeness has led us back to the animals, to our origins, to history. Something mysterious happens when we look into the eyes of an animal, whether it be a panther or a poodle - we see something familiar looking back....We see something that is within us and yet without us, something we recognize and yet is unfamiliar, something we fear but for which we long. We see the wild....At a time when our relationship to land and soil and place has been diminished, we still turn to our animals, domestic and wild, as a conduit to healing.And through our animals - those of our childhood, those in ouir homes, and those in the wild - we can begin to find our way back to being whole.......

"I began to realize that what Natasha really taught me was not what we had done to wolves or animals in general, but what we had done to ourselves. The conditions of her existence - trapped, diminished, disconnected and separated - were metaphors for mankind's existence. That we could sentence this creature, one of millions consigned to such a fate, to a life of concrete and cages, separated from her pack and natural habitat, was merely an expression of our own alienation. If our treatment of creatures like Natasha, domestic or wild, was as wounding to us as it was to her, then so might the gesture of inviting animals back into our lives, honoring their wildness and wild nature, their autonomy and distinctiveness, be a part of the journey towards reconnection and healing. The seed that John Weaver planted in his visit to Wolf Park, the idea of giving wolves back to Yellowstone and the wild back to wilderness, could represent one step on that journey toward restoration of our relationship with the natural world......

[Renee recounts the death of her beloved dog, Bristol, years later. Bristol was dying of a cancerous tumor, and suffering badly at the end.]

"I admit with some shame I did not have the courage to let her go. It was an act that was incomprehensible, as merited or right as it might have seemed....I was crazed with her pain and her struggle. Finally, at 2 a.m., I did what I had only done on a very few occasions, and only for the sake of my work. I called on.....the spiritual realm of wolves. Where the wild edge of our ancestor and animal guardians reside, where our spirituality wanders, and prayer travels, I invoked the memory of Natasha. I appealed to my sense of the beyond, to my trust in a meaning-filled universe where our actions and dreams matter. "For eleven years, I have worked on your behalf, Natasha, and for the wild rights  of your kind. I ask only this - that you take Bristol now. She is of your nature, take her now and stop her suffering, because I cannot. " In less than two minutes, Bristol died. Tom held her as she collapsed. I remember most the peace that replaced her anguished gasps for breath and the quiet offering of silence that held our relieved sobs. The wild's mercy......

[They wanted to return her body to the wild, so they carried her to a nearby rise, and covered it with flowers.]

"I felt strongly that Bristol did not belong under the earth. She was a free-flying spirit; no rocks or mud should cover her lightness. There the coyotes would consume her and through them she would still roam in both worlds, ours and theirs......

"As we rose to leave, I howled. Just once. A howl that screamed the agony of letting her go. Seconds later, it was as if the earth came alive. Coyote howls surrounded us like a sonata breaking from the sage and buttes and islands of trees. Howls from every direction, rising up and filling the dawn as it spread to light the peaks and ridges of Shadow Mountain."

(which just about did me in!)


  1. Wow, This was profound n' raw! The reality we see the souls of our animals and we connect. Truly beautiful in nature, their way of being!

  2. she is so insightful and speaks from a place of experiential wisdom. thanks for this. this is definitely a book i want to read.

    your experience with that half wolf is amazing. you would probably get more out of the franklin book than a typical reader such as myself.

    what we do to animals in our society today is totally reflective of our own collective disease.


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