“We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then, and have known ever since, that there was something new to me in those eyes – something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean hunters’ paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view.
I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, so does a mountain live in mortal fear of its deer. And perhaps with better cause, for while a buck pulled down by wolves can be replaced in two or three years, a range pulled down by too many deer may fail of replacement in as many decades. So also with cows. The cowman who cleans his range of wolves does not realize that he is taking over the wolf’s job of trimming the herd to fit the range. He has not learned to think like a mountain. Hence we have dustbowls, and rivers washing the future into the sea”.
~ Aldo Leopold Thinking Like a Mountain Excerpt
Chapter Three – Government Intrigue
Things started to heat up — or rather boil — at this point and I began to learn to accept that everyone involved with the study was not coming to the table with altruism, selflessness or even conservation in mind— nor did they have any inkling of how to ‘think like a mountain’.
Mountains are built up of rocks including limestone deposits and as we are indebted to limestone and calcareous deposits for our very skeletons so too we are in debt to the mountains. They are the backbones of the land as the Rocky Mountains are to Turtle Isle. I have heard that the mountains are the best teachers. Why else would many of the Spiritual Masters seem to emerge out of the Himalayas and the Indigenous peoples around the planet go for a yearly pilgrimages to ‘their mountain’(god)? Must be something about the higher vibrations in the air and ethers and the human-calcium-bone connection as in “I feel that deep in my bones — the bones of the ancestors”.
Not only was there no ‘thinking like a mountain’ there seemed to also exist a refusal to learn from the past; in those places and from those who had had the same or similar experiences with wolves — AND the habitat was disappearing — the human beings encroaching on the wild with population pressure from the other side. Who is competing with whom anyway? There were plenty of studies to take examples from and I had been in touch with some of those folks. Nobody seemed willing to meet with anyone who might have the right answers and could help direct efforts in the right direction. Egos got in the way with no one truly listening to anyone else for an original thought to emerge. This was the same case with the logging and mining companies and other resource extractors; no talk about the real important issues just keep that status quo…let’s not rock this boat even if it is sinking and sure to go down at some point. This was my deepest conundrum — this unwilling behavior to learn from (wolf) history’. Of course I was young and naïve and I thought that ‘it’ could just all go away and people would start behaving ‘as if the god in all life mattered’. (thank you Machelle Small Wright) I did my best to edit the false story and plans for the wolves in a good light and one with a good outcome for the wolves. How bizarre humans are and how even more bizarre is this journey in a human body as a spiritual being! I thought long and hard about it all and everything just seemed too surreal and dark to comprehend. When I got to ‘overwhelm’ then I would put a few things together and go towards the mountains and headwaters of the Adam River where the air was fine and the mountain close; to listen and decompress from the ‘government versus wolf-lady’ pressure cooker.
Along with the acceptance that everyone was not coming to the ‘wolf table’ with the same behavior I also realized that others didn’t necessary believe in a soul or even that we as humans had one. This led me to the next realization that many had no idea of the loving sentient being holding and guiding the planet and for sure we didn’t all have the same set of personal angels. It was a little early for the Gaia theory even at the universities. All that spiritual stuff seemed some sort of conspiracy for most. I did not dare mention the word or anything spiritual for fear that they would think I was crazy. Studying wolves might not fit quite right with that notion. So who could I talk to? Communication channels were slim but I got it figured early on in the fieldwork that I could definitely talk to Sasha AND to the wolves, to Nature and to myself — in the third person — and to David W. and David S. Maybe there would not be an answer in the material realm but if I waited and was consistent to the task at hand I would eventually hear a voice or a word that had a deeper intuitive meaning. Side by side with the data I was gathering another story seemed to emerge out of the canid group soul. I would record the radio transmissions on the material physical realm and in the wilderness opened to the higher transmissions. I often felt that those transmissions were tracking and recording me! There seemed to be a relationship between the microcosm and the macrocosm which flowed both ways. Sometimes in the deep woods I would hear the music of the spheres and other such ethereal sounds. It couldn’t really be described as ‘going native’ as that means native to the culture or country. This was much deeper and more like native to the landscape with its indigenous fauna and flora. These were my friends where I felt a sense of belonging and welcome.
Elsewhere and with others — particularly the government folk — it wasn’t a given to be welcome. I did not figure that out for a while…though, not until after the predator control fellow and a wildlife technician came for a weekend to ‘help’ with the trapping. This was when I realized that my wishes for the wolves were anti-opposed to their ego maniacal thoughts on what ought to be done with the wolves. They thought the wolves were responsible for the dwindling ungulate herds and should be managed accordingly while I knew there was another picture here — nature mostly moves towards homeostasis with the exception of extinction. And too at this time on the Island there were some of the highest densities of black-tailed deer — mainly due to the large number and size of young clear-cuts which provided an abundance of lush food for the prey species. I had been to some mammal conferences and met many biologists who were known as the bear or cougar man or whatever animal species it was that they were studying. It did not escape me that egos loomed large at these conferences with plenty of competition as to who had the real scoop on the animals. I stopped going because I did not want to be involved at that level. I am not saying that there are no biologists who truly care for and about wildlife… only they seem few and far between.
I also realized that I was the ‘joe’ person who was to obtain the data then the government would fit that to their plans for the wolves. David informed me about that as I shook my head about the craziness of it all.
During the second field year Susan and I did deer counts at night with spotlights from the vehicle. Daryl Hebert had requested this. There was also fieldwork on Roosevelt Elk taking place in the area that Doug Janz from the Nanaimo branch was conducting. They wanted to determine how the ungulate herds were doing in terms of numbers. I don’t know how you can possibly ever know numbers of animals especially in second growth areas; thick and un-thinned as they often are. Counting deer at night with a spotlight seemed equivalent to ‘eye-balling it’ as far as I could see. The elk were often in forested areas so whether or not they were all visible even from the helicopter from which they were tranquilized and subsequently collared was anyone’s guess. Counting numbers of wildlife simply did not seem a reliable method to me. There were other dynamics that came into play mainly the logging practices that were impacting the wildlife on every level particularly as to habitat—the number one need for all wildlife and all life —to have a home — which was shrinking at a rapid rate with the modern methods of logging on steep sided valleys causing erosion and the washing away of life. The only redeeming factor in this area and on Vancouver Island was the fact that the rainfall is adequate for new life to spring forth. Trees were also replanted in these areas in numbers greater than what was natural replacing the diversity of the former pristine timber with monocultures. And the logging companies — the de facto government in B.C — wildlife and forestry people and mining companies did not seem to have a communication with a common interest of the land at its foundation. The B.C. public, for the most part, were not aware and did not see what was going on in terms of the provincial resources. Maybe they went to some ‘wolf defenders’ meeting or the Sierra Club to listen to the speaker tell them everything was being taken care of while at the same time they could not understand why there were conflicting newspaper articles. Neither was the truth. Nobody really knew and those involved directly on the inside were ‘just doing their jobs’. It was really depressing to learn of this selfishness and how quickly the natural resources were eroding away. If it hadn’t been for the two Davids I would have been fit to be tied on a constant basis. You have to know what you have any influence over — not much — and let go of the ignorance in this veil of tears, this limited situation we find ourselves in on the Planet. It is not permanent anyway and always subject to change.
David W. and I went to Westmin, the mine at the head of Buttle Lake. I had gone to Buttle Lake as a child to camp and swim and couldn’t understand why there was all the silty muck on the lake bottom which made you feel like you were going to be sucked under any moment. And all those stumps everywhere where huge trees used to stand. He had worked in the very early days as a logger, during times when the loggers WERE the environmentalists, and told me that the trees were so BIG that only ONE could go on a logging truck to the mill with two small supporting logs on either side! I could not even imagine that and realized that much had changed in the logging industry. We cruised through the mine in his Land Cruiser. He told me to duck down so no one would see me and I popped up from time to time to take photos. He told me of the ‘road allowance’ laws and how the mining folks had illegally cut the trees on either side of the road right up to the lake’s edge in their greed. Then how whenever anyone was busted it was sure to be the little guy or a homesteader who lived on the lake who had an outhouse which they claimed was polluting the lake. The lake in which they dumped TONS of mining tailings killing it — where there no longer could be found a frog or other life form. Or of the wildlife or forestry departments hunting elk from helicopters while the little guy who shot a deer — maybe out of season — for his family to survive took the rap. And of the heads of the forestry departments who flew to Knight Inlet to trophy-hunt the grizzlies. Of how their wives bitched and moaned around the campfire at night either about their husbands or the weather. When they complained about the weather he would tell them “that is one thing we have no control over”. As to the relationship issues that he heard so much about he realized that even with oodles of money there wasn’t much happiness or love present. David spoke of how it was rare to find a truly good relationship or one of those matches where the ‘violins played in the background’. Between his clients and the stupidity of the Fish and Wildlife in designating and cutting down his guide area dividing up grizzly territories hither and thither he ended up with a heart condition from the stress of it all. Definitely teaching stories that seemed to come from a dark and sinister place. British Columbia is a tourist destination known the whole world over for its spectacular beauty but most tourists have no idea of that thin layer of trees on either side of the highways which hides the clear cuts which lay beyond. He told me too of how the logging companies would trade off timber rights sometimes even for parks where pristine timber remained or some boggy area on Cape Scott at the northern tip of Vancouver Island would be traded for beautiful timber elsewhere all with a telephone call between the ‘big boys’. The story that really blew my mind was of the pilot — David was in the area at the time so heard the plane and saw the first puff of smoke go up — who had already put in a timber bid for a certain area of huge peeler Fir flew over the area at the height of summer dropping his lit cigar out of the plane to burn the timber and get his bid. Sure enough he won the bid; with Firs so large that they had to go to a mill in Washington State where they were ‘peeled’ for plywood. The mill on Vancouver Island did not have the machinery large enough to handle them. When a fire goes through an area of pristine timber it simply blackens the trees and leaves them standing logs. And of the possibility that the spruce bud worm was planted there by government ‘aliens’. He read the Vancouver Sun, often cover to cover, to note the snow job the public was given and the ‘between the lines’ story realizing that these big boys needed to have the whistle blown on them. Once we were in a restaurant and David was explaining some blatant act of irresponsibility of the government. The man in the next booth as he was leaving dropped his card on our table and told us he would be interested in hearing more such stories. He was a reporter and journalist from the Canadian Broadcasting Company, Cam Cathcart, I think his name was. “Watch who you talk with Barbara on this issues” said David. I was grateful to know someone who told it like it was, called a spade a spade and was so real as that quality is rare in most. He knew I was in a state of grief and helped me to detach and rather enjoy the moments and remember to stop and smell the roses. “As long as you are not hurting someone else, do what you need to do and shut up about it” I still hear him say. “And it doesn’t matter a lick what anyone else thinks about you”.
He explained what happened when someone joined the ranks of the government and how they became ‘one of them’. If they didn’t and rocked the boat then they lost their jobs. He went further telling me that nine out of ten of them were useless in terms of directing their efforts towards conservation. I won’t say what he felt should be done with them. We all have that egoism within us to a lesser or greater degree but he felt when they made use of the ‘big lever’ that simply wasn’t right. And it wasn’t.
In the early days of the logging he had fought for workers rights and the unions. But in later years when the workers ran into the mucky mucks in Hawaii over the winter after they had begun to log offshore there was trouble. They wanted to keep the little guys — who did all the real work — slaves and blind to the real story.
Shards of anger and grief arise over the sheer greed and irresponsibility of those who know only how to take, take and take; caring not whether the resources will be there for their children or humanity to enjoy. We have miles to go in our evolution as true human beings, still at the adolescent stage that we are looking on the long run towards spiritual maturity.
It became increasingly clear to me that the Fish and Wildlife folks were looking for ways to limit the wolves in their feeling that they were depleting the ungulates below carrying capacity and the question arose as to how to do that. Take out one or two wolves in a pack or the entire pack? It was known that the wildlife would cycle naturally according to food supply but they thought they needed to interfere with that process. There IS no ‘right’ way to limit numbers of wolves as they have a social organization which is subject to further troubles on the horizon if you take one or two which brings total confusion in the natural order of the pack or family unit. Food supply is influenced cyclically and seasonally and social organization feeds back into the food supply. It is a feed-back system at its finest. When the trees are cut then come the grasses and herbs increasing deer and elk numbers and a greater opportunity for the wolves to hunt with new found senses that they did not have in the pristine areas. An entirely new set of dynamics arises which will play itself out with fluctuations in prey and predator according to the habitat available and food supply and it works perfectly without interference from humans.
In speaking with David W. I knew that the wolves would always exist if only in the high country where they could get back from management schemes and be free to roam. They had attempted to helicopter log and found that it was simply too expensive and risky on the steep hillsides and besides there is nothing to log in the high country. I felt reassured and comforted.
May we all be free to roam in the ‘high country’ of our wild minds away from the senses and material realm of this dream-play that tricks us through maya and avidya to our fixations and attachments to the unreal, the untruth and (ancestral) prejudice. Ditto with the wolves. So be it.