Connection with wild animals leads to the majesty and the grief of the balance that we have strayed from.
When the group of women we were with this weekend first came upon this patch of snow we saw a disturbance. As we looked closer, a many layered story emerged before our eyes. Each time we uncovered tracks of beaver, coyote, bobcat, weasel, porcupine, and others, we came into an intimacy with the more-than-human world. Living, as most of us do today, inside of a human-centric and domesticated culture, inquiry and connection with wild animals leads us back to both the majesty and the grief embedded in the remembrance of the delicate balance that we have strayed from.
The first layer of the story in the photo above was revealed as we saw that the five toed hind prints were left by … Wanna guess first before you read on??
It is … our friend the beaver. He/she had lumbered out of the water in the early morning, walked to a nearby pine tree, sat back on his/her hind feet (leaving the hind feet and tail imprints in the photo) and nibbled a delicious breakfast before turning around and sliding back into the creek. It brought butterflies to my belly and a feeling of ancient aliveness within me to see the presence of this wild one in this spot.
How can we learn from the beaver? As a “keystone species,” beavers create dams and lodges for their families to live that add immense richness and diversity to the ecosystem, which in turn, benefits the beaver. Living in a world where our human creations, more often than not, create destruction of habitat for other species, which in turn leaves us with a world that could soon be unlivable for our own future generations, the beaver is an important teacher for us.
And how are we taking care of the beaver, who takes care of us? Because beaver pelts were of high value, the explorers funded their journeys to the Americas by hunting massive amounts of beaver and exporting their skins back to Europe. Their over-hunting continues today and the beaver population in California is at a dangerous low. The absence of beaver has had large scale negative impacts on our ecosystem, including eliminating habitat for the Coho salmon which has gone to near extinction, and reduced our above ground water reserves, which are much needed, especially in this time of drought.
So, the story of this beaver is magnificent. Seeing this beaver probably means that there are other beavers living in that same protected watershed. Perhaps she was out foraging for her family, slipping in and out of the water as she pleased, surviving through the long and cold winter, using her ancient skills, evolved over millions of years, to feed her children. What beauty there is to behold.
And the story of this beaver brings sadness and grief of what has been lost. The short sighted decisions that humans often make for our own benefit which causes destruction not only for the present world, but robs future generations of living in a balanced, life sustaining world, is a hard thing to face. And, as we feel this loss, may it be an inspiration to become inspired to do our little part, whatever it is that we are capable of, to bring life back into balance.
Holding these two polls of magnificence and grief is what we are being asked to do in this time. Through spending time in the wild places, we reconnect to the majesty and fall deeply in love with this planet we are so blessed to live on. And, in so doing, we inevitably face the hard feelings that come along with the reality of what has been lost, and the ways we have gone astray from our responsibility to hold this sacred and natural balance.
As we write the next chapter of this story, can we learn from the beaver and our other wild friends?
When as choose to step out of our domesticated world (even in our back yard) and visit those who are still wild, we can look to them as our teachers, to re-member the original agreements and symbiotic relationships between species that keep life in balance. The beaver shows us that when he builds something for himself, it increases diversity, and life for the local ecosystem.
How can we create like the beaver – as we build a house or a project or any other creation – and pay attention to doing it in a way that is life giving and affirming and provides more life balance for the humans and non-humans who surround us?
A few practices to do with your daughter that can cultivate keen observation, inspiration in wild places (including your back yard), and stewardship:
1/ Each of you sit with either the same or different trees or plants with a journal. Be the voice of that plant and ask the plant what message he/she has for you or for humans in general to help bring life back into balance. Let the plant speak through your pen onto your paper. Then share with each other what message this plant has for humans. Offer the plant your gratitude in some way.
2/ If you are on a walk in a place with mud or sand or snow, look down and notice if there are any mysterious prints that have been left behind. Let it be a mystery that unfolds. What animals live in this area who this could be? Why might they be walking here? Can you find any clues anywhere else near the prints that can give you more answers? Give thanks to this animal in some way!
3/ Choose a “spirit animal,” who lives in your local ecosystem. Draw this animal, learn how it interacts with the rest of the environment and other species. Why is this animal important to the overall balance of the ecosystem? How can this animal inspire you to also be balanced in your ecosystem?
4/ To take your observations learned from these plant and animal teachers into action find local creek and watershed clean ups, help replant our native species, and pick up litter in our open spaces. Also, check out the Bring Back the Beaver campaign, led by Kate Lundquist, to learn more about the work being done to help beaver return to California.
** Thank you to Meghan Walla-Murphy, Kate Lundquist, and Catilin Williams for an amazing weekend of tracking in the snow and for providing much of the above information and inspiration about tracking and beavers.