Radical Dreamwork

Radical Dreamwork

By Rebecca Wildbear

Cottonwood trees shaded the little river, while the rising sun brightened the blue sky and lit up the expansive slopes of the Sonoran Desert, dotted with prickly pear, saguaro, and cholla cactuses. I was in Aravaipa Canyon, a gorge in the Pinal Mountains of Southern Arizona, where I would prepare thirteen people to be in ceremonial conversation with the land for three days and nights. Aravaipa is an Apache name which means “laughing waters,” and the name fits. The river was brisk and clear as it churned its way around boulders and rippled over gravel bars in a playful, bubbling chorus.

On that first morning in the desert, I’d awakened with a dream.

I see a woman about to be raped. She’s yanked out of the driver’s seat of her car by a man who holds her captive while undoing his pants. A male friend turns to me and asks if he should try to stop it.

“Yes, absolutely!” I respond in haste.

            My friend picks up a club that resembles a baseball bat and moves toward the rapist. My stomach knots; what if I’ve just sent my friend into a dangerous situation and he gets killed or hurt? I decide to join him and approach the rapist from behind, while my friend approaches him from the side. As we get closer, the rapist stops, and I feel surprised when he turns around with his hands held up in surrender.

Although our dominant culture marginalizes dreams, we must learn to pay attention to the wisdom and direction they offer. The Tz’utujil Mayan culture elected officials based on the number of villagers who dreamed of that person occupying the position.[1] The dreamwork of the Iroquois preceded the dreamwork of Freud and Jung. The Iroquois knew dreams were sacred and that to ignore them was to invite disaster;[2] they understood that the human soul makes its desires known through dreams.[3] Founder of Dream Tending, Stephen Aizenstat says dreams arise from the “World Dream;” they offer us a glimpse of the desires of the world so we may “act in the world, on behalf of the world…in Archetypal Activism.”[4] When the wisdom of our dreams guides our direct action, we’re able to bring together our visionary and revolutionary natures in a radical dreamwork. With the earth dreaming through us, we’re guided to take the actions that matter most.

Dreams hold a multiplicity of meaning and, like trees, rivers, and birds, each dream element has intelligence; it usually understands more than our waking ego. I guide others to recount their dreams in present tense, inviting them to be in the dream so its visceral impact has an opportunity to arise or burst forth.

On that morning in Aravaipa Canyon, I closed my eyes, returning to the dream about the rape. What was it asking me to experience and how could I steep myself in its mystery? The edgiest part of my dream was asking my friend to risk his life. I felt afraid that he could get hurt or die. I feel similarly when I send questers on a 3-day solo fast. Although I’ve taught them ways to be safe in the backcountry, anything could happen.

On a vision quest, each quester is invited to let go of their identity and listen for a deeper call—in this way, we discover who we really are and how we may serve the world. Questers are invited to undertake a psycho-spiritual death, an initiatory dismemberment, which can lead to a mature adulthood. Such a journey is inherently risky, even beyond the solo days.

Founder of Animas Valley Institute, Bill Plotkin writes that the great crises of our time stem from breakdowns in natural human development. He says that healthy, mature cultures have always emerged from nature: “from the depths of our individual and collective psyches, from the Earth’s imagination acting through us, from the mythic realm of dreams or the Dreamtime, from Soul, from the Soul of the world, from Mystery.” We can’t think our way into maturity; we cultivate our wholeness through allowing the natural world and our dreams to guide us.[5] Yet we can only become whole within a healthy Earth community. So what about the clear-cut forests, drained wetlands, and plowed prairies?

As mountains are mined, rivers are dammed and poisoned, and hundreds more species become extinct each day, my heart breaks at our human failure to protect our nonhuman relatives on whom we depend; they’re dying because they depend on us too. As the oceans fill with plastic, the ice melts, and greenhouse gas emissions grow higher each year, I feel the rape of the Earth alive in my body and psyche. Perhaps this dream invites me beyond myself. What if this dream is asking me to seek assistance in stopping the rape of Earth?

Rape is Acceptable

I had a lot of dreams about rape in my early thirties; it felt unstoppable. How surprising that this dream ends with my friend and I stopping the rape.

I remember guiding women survivors of violence on Women of Courage Outward Bound courses in my twenties. We’d listen to the women’s stories, the other two female guides and I, and then one night, to our surprise, we shared our stories in hushed voices, confessing that we too were survivors. The line between heroine and victim, wilderness guide and survivor, blurred.

It’s hard to perceive rape when you’re raised in a culture where rape is acceptable. As the most under-reported crime, rape[6] is notoriously under-investigated, largely unpunished, and rarely spoken about; less than one percent of rapes end in a felony conviction. Even then, a perpetrator does not often receive jail time, especially if they knew their victim; this sends a message that it’s acceptable to rape someone you know.[7] In eight out of ten cases of rape, the victim knew the person who sexually assaulted them,[8] and ninety-three percent of perpetrators of child sexual abuse are known to the victim.[9] Our culture barely acknowledges rape happens and nearly condones it. The rape of women, the abuse of children, and the destruction of land is our norm.[10]

Sister Carl, my junior high school teacher, repeated daily: “Silence gives consent, girls.” Perhaps she was trying to help us avoid some trauma she’d suffered. But what did the boys in the room hear? What if there wasn’t an opportunity to speak, or we were too young to understand? And what of the Earth? If we are deaf and dumb to her language, does our lack of hearing exempt us from the harm we cause? Perhaps the memory of Sister Carl’s words is echoed in the message of this dream: speak, act, stop the rape.

Rape is Legal

American law is orchestrated to protect abusers,[11] and it legalizes the right to exploit land and water, while simultaneously making it illegal to protect them. “Sustainability itself has been rendered illegal under our system of law,” said Thomas Linzey, Executive Director of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.[12] Our dominant culture, global industrial empire, does not acknowledge the rape of the Earth. Instead, it talks about acquiring resources and the right to exploit. While the Earth suffers massive environmental devastation, many call it climate change and focus on human survival, but dealing with climate change within the values of our dominant culture will only allow the rape to continue.[13]

Our ecological crisis is sourced in a “collective perceptual disorder,”[14] a “collective myopia”[15] that misses our innate connection to Earth. Our culture is founded on the misperception that nonhumans aren’t alive and have no feelings or consciousness; this allows us to perpetuate the lie that no rape is happening at all. To stop a rape, we have to perceive that one is happening, and to do that, we must recognize that we live embedded in relationship with all of life on the planet.

How will I ask people to help me stop the rape if they don’t see it? Dissociation, denial, and silencing perpetuate trauma; to heal, the truth must be told. Although the “ordinary response to atrocities is to banish them from consciousness,” remembering terrible events is part of restoring justice.[16]

How would you respond if someone you love was threatened? When we see our earthly relatives being harmed, aren’t we equally responsible to act fiercely and lovingly to protect them, like a mother grizzly looking out for her cubs? Fighting back isn’t wrong; it’s relative to the situation in which we find ourselves. It is just as wrong and harmful “to not fight back when one should as it is to fight when one should not.”[17]

The Love of Trees

I know how it feels when others don’t see the rape. My neighbor friend and I were four years old when we had our first sleepover. When I returned the next day, sick with a fever of 103, no one guessed that my neighbor’s father, Jack, might have hurt me, even though his wife sometimes came over to our home when he was drunk to avoid being hit. No one found it odd when I said my vagina hurt and suddenly refused to attend nursery school. I screamed and cried until I was allowed to stay home. No one wondered why my friend, Jack’s daughter, was so troubled. I still remember when she stabbed me in the belly button with a needle. After playing with her, I often returned home with bite marks and bruises up and down my arms.

When I kept insisting that my vagina hurt, my mom took me to the doctor. She stayed in the room while the white-haired man examined me. I asked her later what he had said, and she told me that he said I needed to use less soap.

Being told everything was fine was confusing when my body knew a different truth—one that my mind didn’t know how to hold, let alone put into words. Although in the dream my friend could see the rape, no one saw it when I was four.

But I wasn’t alone; I lived in trees. The thick, ancient trunk of a giant ash tree that rose well over 100 feet in my backyard was the center of my world. Down the hill in a grove of pines, I played in needles, sometimes climbing to the tippy top, arms and body wrapped around the thin tip, the weight of my body gently swaying from side to side. In summer, I crawled to the far reaches of the cherry tree’s branches, eating more berries than made it into my basket for mom’s cherry pie. The maple tree grew in the front yard; I went there to hide, high behind walls of green leaves, where I could see all and no one could find me.

I sensed the trees had feelings, lives; they were living beings with whom to be in relationship. Did the trees know my secret? Is that, in part, why it felt like they looked after me? All trees know rape; ninety-seven percent of North America’s native forests have been cut down.[18] I didn’t know why my young body returned again and again to be held in the branches of these elders who surrounded my suburban home. Or why I turned to the smell of pine and bark instead of human skin or voice when I hurt. Now, I imagine that something in my cells trusted their love and wisdom; they nurtured me.

The Rape of Earth

The Apache who named Aravaipa Canyon no longer live here. Sitting at the edge of the river, I marvel at the joyful laughter of its flowing waters. During the 19th century, the Aravaipa band of Apaches living here fought many battles with the U.S. Cavalry. Hispanic and Anglo settlers began grazing stock and developing copper mines in the watershed. In the infamous Camp Grant Massacre, a death squad of American pioneers—including Tohono O’odham Indians, as well as Mexican Americans and Anglo-Americans from Tucson—descended upon an Apache camp before dawn on April 28, 1871. Those sleeping were clubbed to death, while those awake were shot by men stationed in the bluffs above. [19]

arvaipa canyon wilderness in arizona, a stream running through the bottom of a canyon with saguaro cactus and tall red-rock cliffs

Arvaipa Canyon wilderness

In less than an hour, the raiders had claimed the lives of nearly 150 Apaches, mostly women and children; the men were away hunting. With no casualties to themselves, they sold twenty-nine children into slavery in Mexico. This is neither the largest nor the most brutal of attacks on Native Americans, but it came at a time when a “peace policy” had been promised by the federal government. President Grant expressed outrage and sought to punish the attackers. Although a trial was held for 100 alleged participants, no justice was had; a jury of twelve Anglos and Mexican Americans from Tucson took only nineteen minutes to find the accused not guilty.[20] The remaining Apache were relocated to White Mountain Reservation to the northeast.[21]

The rape has been happening for the last 6,000 years as “indigenous people and their tribal societies have been targeted” by the predatory expansions of civilization.[22] Species disappear by the hour.[23] Capitalism is a war against the planet—operating off the slave labor of poor people and countries, poisoning our waters, air, and lands, and destroying ecosystems through mining and agriculture. With patriarchy, “men become real men by breaking boundaries—the sexual boundaries of women and children, the cultural and political boundaries of indigenous peoples, the biological boundaries of rivers and forests, the genetic boundaries of other species, and the physical boundaries of the atom itself.[24]

Civilization is brutal and unsustainable; agriculture is dependent upon imperialism and genocide. As feminist and environmentalist Lierre Keith said, “You pull down the forest, you plow up the prairie, you drain the wetland. Especially, you destroy the soil.”[25] Shifting from fossil fuels to green energy is a false solution. Green technology markets solutions while denuding the planet; corporations and government profit.[26] Ecosystems are devastated by solar and wind projects, and the increased mining and consumption they entail. Our political system is bankrupt, and violence against women and the Earth are “legitimated and promoted by both patriarchal religion and science” and “rooted in the eroticization of domination.”[27]

The Earth Created Us This Way

Three saguaro cactuses surrounded us in Aravaipa Canyon; each one about thirty feet tall with barrel appendages on each side that look like arms. I shared my dream with the questers in our opening council. “Will you help me stop the rape?” I said. “Put your body between the rape and the rapist?” I raised my voice, uncomfortable with the ferocity of my words. The rim across from us was some distance away, but several moving dots caught my eye. I slowly deciphered them as five bighorn sheep moving causally along the mountainside.

Harrison[28], a young man in his late twenties in graduate school, later shared his view over dinner.

“There’s not a problem,” he said. “The Earth is dreaming us; she created us this way.”

“It’s not a problem that 200 species go extinct each day?” I responded, feeling stunned.

“Extinctions have happened throughout history,” he answered. “It’s all part of her plan.”

“Extinctions have never occurred at this level. This isn’t a passive geological event, it’s extermination by capitalism,”[29] I said. “Yes, the Earth is dreaming us, but we’re sick and disconnected. This isn’t her plan.”

“We shouldn’t treat the Earth like a victim,” he responded. “She’s whole. She doesn’t need us to rescue her. She can take care of herself. She’s more powerful than we know.”

“Isn’t it possible for someone to be both whole and harmed by another?” I asked. “Life is far more complex than a drama triangle—victim, rescuer, perpetrator. This is about honoring the Earth and all of life as Sacred, regardless how powerful she is.”

“Activists are too angry, and protesting doesn’t change anything,” Harrison stated. “Tapping into the imaginative powers of Earth and soul is more powerful—shifting our consciousness.”

“Listening to dreams and perceiving our larger mythic potentialities is imperative, but so is direct action; there are forests, prairies, and animals alive today because of activists and revolutionaries,” I responded. “Perhaps it’s not either-or, but both-and. Each perspective, dream, and revolution are relevant. The mythic is happening, and the rape is happening too. It seems necessary we attend to both. Why are you opposed to seeing the rape?”

A Morsel of Empathic Resonance

While apprenticing on a women’s quest in my early thirties, I asked the dream-maker to help me remember what happened when I was four. Sleeping on the edge of a red rock cliff, I awoke to roaring thunder and the grove of ponderosa pines lit up in the lightning’s glow. Jack was in my dream. “I’m the one who abused you,” he said.

In the months that followed, I remembered the grey streak that ran through his curly black hair, and the disturbing way he looked at me in later years when we both found ourselves at the curb taking out the trash. With the support of trees and humans, my body re-experienced and integrated the memories that arose. It took years to trust what came and even longer to speak about it; it’s not a story I often share.

Those victimized in our culture are invalidated and stigmatized, but my story is only a small thread in the tapestry of violence that pervades and envelopes our culture. My trauma has gifted me with a small morsel of empathic resonance for what most other living beings on this planet endure far more often than I.

By the age of five, I wasn’t allowed to play with my neighbor; my mother had grown concerned about the reoccurring bites and bruises. The giant ash, the grove of pines, and the cherry and maple trees with whom I grew up were far less fortunate; all have since been chopped down. Although my parents had moved, I returned to pay my respects for the lives and deaths of those loving trees who raised me and were my family. I remember them often in my imagination.

The Questions of Displaced Descendants of Slaves

I remember weeping in love and loss while huddled in the crowded adobe hall with over 100 people; Martin Prechtel was sharing the rare and forgotten history of indigenous peoples worldwide. We listened to their music and heard about their creation stories, animals, and daily life. We wept over the rape, the slavery, the injustice, and so much beauty already lost. We asked questions: How did we get here from there? What birthed the original destructive culture that grew to destroy all others? How can we, the displaced descendants of slaves, live and die in a way that feeds life?

Bolad’s Kitchen is a never-before-seen school which aimed to help us remember an intact human approach to living in sacred relationship with Earth. I returned there for seventy days over four years, in my mid-thirties. Martin had grown up on a Pueblo reservation and apprenticed to a Tz’utujil shaman. He taught us an ancient economics. Fellow participants and I made beads, and later repaid our debt to the Earth for the obsidian rocks and shells we borrowed. We made pottery, moccasins, and felt, always offering the best back to the Holy Earth. She is starving and grieving, because she has not been given the ritual food and gifts she needs to live.

Martin shared stories of indigenous cultures who responded to attack in two ways. Some acted directly, fighting to protect their land, animals, and people; they were often killed or enslaved. Others acted mythically, returning to the “origination” place of their creation stories; there they waited to die intact, so their death would send out an echo that feeds all of life. But what if it isn’t either-or but both-and? What if we could act both mythically and directly? What if our revolution to stop the rape was sourced in both our ability to attune to our dreams and our willingness to resist our dominant culture?

Stopping the Rape

My dream seems to imply that we can stop the rape. I write to weave the world of dreams with direct action, so that our dreams can guide us. The weaving of mythos with revolution can support us in stopping the rape. Dreams are “willful, living beings”[30] that can re-align us with earth’s wishes. Through dream incubation, artists ask for a dream to guide their creation, and the dream that comes is “for the work of art, which uses us to birth itself.”[31] Similarly, we can invite the Earth to dream through us, and guide us toward the actions that matter most. When we act on our dreams, more dreams come to guide us further. In this way, dreams can come to guide our life. Dreams have led me to heal and discover my soul; they direct me now to guide and write; they urged me to write this piece.

Dreams offer pivotal clues about our deepest purpose. Each soul’s story feeds and seeds the mythic sinew of our human potential while also empowering our creative service on behalf of Earth. Just as individual transformation requires a journey of dismemberment, so too must our patho-adolescent civilization dismember and dismantle. Civilization will fall no matter what we do, and it’s likely to be messy and dangerous. To stop the rape, we must stop industrial civilization from continuing to harm people and the planet.

Radical change is necessary rather than minor reforms; it doesn’t work to “ask for justice from a system which is deeply invested in injustice.[32] We’ve been taught to solve problems by getting along, but this strategy isn’t effective with an abuser, and global industrial empire can be likened to an abuser. Abusers “feel entitled to exploit, will do anything in order to exploit, and will exploit precisely as much as they can get away with,” and as eco-philosopher Derrick Jensen says, the only way to stop an abuser is to place him “in a situation where he has no other choice.”[33]

How may we bring this radical change about? We need stealth, resistance, ferocity, and creativity. We need to cultivate a relationship with our dreams, the more-than-human world, and our deep imagination. We need humans willing to fight for what we love by all means necessary to dismantle industrial civilization. Judith Lewis Herman says it’s “morally impossible to remain neutral.” Bystanders are forced to take sides. It’s tempting to side with the abuser, because doing so risks nothing and requires nothing from us; it also appeals to “the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil.” Acknowledging rape asks bystanders “to share the burden of pain.” It demands “action, engagement, and remembering.”[34]

Global industrial empire and a living planet can’t exist at the same time. If you love the Earth, are you willing to stand with her? What happens to Earth happens to us; to side against her is to rape ourselves.

Primal Scream

The cottonwoods shaded us as we sat in final council. Harrison shared an encounter with a teddy bear cholla—a cactus so thick with spines, it almost seems covered in fur.

“It told me to slow down so I could listen better. I took off my shoes and walked barefoot,” he said. “I later touched a hurt place on a barrel cactus, and a surprising flood of painful memories returned of a time when I was abused.”

Harrison’s demeanor was soft and somber. I wondered if his experience would shift his perspective on the rape of Earth. Many women in the group had shared stories of rape earlier in the week. One woman had dreamed about a primal scream of pain for the feminine and the Earth. She carried it out on the land.

“I wanted to hold that scream forever,” she said. “Perhaps my writing can be a voice for it.”

As we paused to take in her words, a squadron of javelinas wandered into a neighboring field to eat some nuts from under the truffle trees. Javelinas are pig-like animals with tusks; they roam the gulches in family bands (like the Apache did).

I shared too.  “You may see me as a strong guide, living her mythic purpose. Yet I’m also someone who has been harmed by the violence of our culture. The young girl inside me who carries this hurt also holds gifts. I love her. She lives within my mythos, her heart connected to the heart of the world in a cave underneath a world tree. That little girl who found comfort in the arms of the trees still speaks to me today—if I’m still enough to listen. She informs how I love, guide, and write.  She chisels a sensitivity into my bones that attunes me to the rape of Earth and feeds my fervor to act.”

Author Bio

Rebecca Wildbear is a river and soul guide who helps people tune in to the mysteries that live within the Earth community, dreams, and their own wild Nature, so they may live a life of creative service. She has been a guide with Animas Valley Institute since 2006 and is author of the forthcoming book, Playing & Praying: Soul Stories to Inspire Personal & Planetary Transformation.

Image is Toppling Over the Edge of the World [Collage] by Doug Van Houten ©, used with permission.

Upcoming Radical Dreamwork Event

Rebecca & Doug will offer an Animas Valley Institute program to Deep Green Resistance members and allies, June 26 – 30, 2020, A Wild Mind Intensive for Activists & Revolutionaries: Partnering with Earth & Dreams. We’ll deepen our ecological perception and engage in radical dreamwork…and more!

See the flyer for full description ~


Or register on-line  ~



[1] Martin Prechtel, Long Life Honey in the Heart (North Atlantic Books, 2004).

[2] Tika Yupanqui, The Iroquois Dream Experience and Spirituality, webwinds.com, 1998.

[3] Derrick Jensen, Dreams, (Seven Stories Press, 2011).

[4] Stephen Aizenstat, Dream Tending: Awakening to the Healing Power of Dreams (Spring Journal, Inc., 2011).

[5] Bill Plotkin, “Self-Development and Cultural Transformation #6,” Musings, animas.org, March 2019.

[6] National Sexual Violence Resource Center, nsvrc.org/node/4737.

[7] Lili Loofbourow, “Why Society Goes Easy on Rapists,” Slate, May, 2019.

[8] National Sexual Violence Resource Center, nsvrc.org/node/4737.

[9] RAINN, rain.org/statistics/children-and-teens.

[10] Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

[11] Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (Basic Books, 1997).

[12] Sean Butler and Will Falk, “Rights for Lake Erie? Why Corporate Rights and Preemption Must Go,” DGR News Service, December 2019.

[13] Aimee Cree Dunn, “An Open Letter to Climate Activists in the Northwoods…and Beyond,” DGR News Service, December 2019.

[14] David Abrams, Spell of the Sensuous (Vintage, 1997).

[15] Laura Sewall’s essay “The Skill of Ecological Perception” was published in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind by Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes,  and Allen Kanner (New York: Random House, 1995).

[16] Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (Basic Books, 1997).

[17] Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

[18] Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

[19] Ari Kelman, “Murder, purely,” The Chronicle, April 2008.

[20] Ari Kelman, “Murder, purely,” The Chronicle, April 2008.

[21] Edward Abbey, “In the Land of ‘Laughing Waters’,” The New York Times, January 1982.

[22] Aimee Cree Dunn, “An Open Letter to Climate Activists in the Northwoods…and Beyond,” DGR News Service, December 2019.

[23] Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

[24] Lierre Keith, “The Girls and the Grasses,” DGR News Service, August 2015.

[25] Lierre Keith, The Girls and the Grasses, DGR News Service, August 2015.

[26] Max Wilbert, “The Moral Argument for Ecological Revolution,” DGR News Service, November 2019.

[27] Jane Caputi, Gossips, Gorgons & Crones: The Fates of the Earth (Bear & Company, 1993).

[28] Name and identifying details have been changed.

[29] Justin McBrien, “This is Not the Sixth Extinction. It’s the First Extermination Event,” Truthout, September 2019

[30] Derrick Jensen, Dreams (Seven Stories Press, 2011).

[31] Robert Bosnak, Embodiment: Creative Imagination in Medicine, Art, and Travel (Routledge, 2007).

[32] Shahidah Janjua, “By Any Means Necessary?” DGR News Service, December 2019.

[33] Derrick Jensen, Endgame, Volume 2: Resistance (Seven Stories Press, 2006).

[34] Judith Lewis Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror (Basic Books, 1997).

Deepen Your Ecological Perception

Deepen Your Ecological Perception

by Rebecca Wildbear

The first time I was invited to speak to nature in my late twenties, I walked into the oak-hickory forest near the Blue Ridge Mountains, skeptical but eager. A former Outward Bound guide and a Wilderness Therapist, I loved nature and preferred being there to anywhere. I biked and backpacked, kayaked and rock climbed, always longing to be closer in some way, but I didn’t know how. It had never occurred to me that I could have a real conversation.

A squirrel began barking almost immediately. I felt surprised and captivated. The sound grew louder and closer. When I finally looked up, I saw a squirrel only ten feet from my head, looking straight into my eyes and barking loudly. I had witnessed squirrels bark before, but never one like this. He was persistent and emphatic. He barked while maintaining eye contact for a long time. Then he began to move up and down the tree and along several branches, still barking, before returning to the place where we first encountered one another. Again, he looked into my eyes. He seemed neither upset nor injured. It seemed clear this squirrel was tirelessly trying to communicate something, but I felt dense to his message.

I was participating in a Soulcraft Intensive, my first Animas Valley Institute program, and the guides had urged us to wander in nature alone and listen for who wants to speak with us. Soulcraft[1] springs from nature-based cultures, eco-depth-psychology, the poetic tradition, and wilderness rites of passage; it offers a contemporary path to soul discovery.

He must be talking to someone else, I concluded, but I looked around the forest, and there were no other squirrels or animals in site. He moved closer, looked into my eyes, and continued his sequence for more than an hour. I thanked the squirrel, feeling elated to have had this intimate connection even if its meaning was still mysterious.

Our deepest place of belonging is nature. Most young children instinctively sense this connection. They are enchanted by the flutter of hummingbird wings, the colors of wildflowers, and the sounds of a rushing river—until they’re separated from nature, placed behind walls, and removed from the sounds of leaves blowing in the wind and the smell of rain falling on meadows.

We reside within Earth; she’s our home and our greatest teacher. Re-attuning our perception—our sensing, feeling, and imagination—so that we’re able to listen to the Earth is imperative to the wellness of both humans and all of life. Author and activist Chellis Glendinning believes our “original trauma” is the horror of the domination paradigm in Western civilization that has systematically removed our lives from participation in the natural world, a psychic displacement or homelessness.[2] What if the anxieties and mood disorders of the DSM-V[3] are symptoms of this greater illness? What would our treatment be then?

Although I’d witnessed people grow and heal in the wilderness in my roles as guide and therapist, I’d intuited in my heart that even this connection wasn’t deep enough. Nature was still merely a backdrop for human healing. Indigenous nature-based peoples know a deeper way. When I read “conversations across the species border” on an Animas brochure, I knew I had to participate.

A couple weeks after returning home, I walked on the farm where I lived in West Virginia at dusk. Across the small pond, a red fox appeared. He stared at me, and then he too began barking.  His bark was different from the squirrel’s, more shrill and piercing. He looked at me and barked for a long time before turning to continue his walk. “What were the squirrel and red fox saying?” I asked in an email to my Animas group. Lauren, my Animas guide, responded, “Perhaps they were noticing and welcoming your presence in the wild world?”

Whatever was happening, it was evoking aliveness and connection. As I remember the squirrel and red fox, I experience Mary Oliver’s words in Wild Geese. I feel the wild world offering itself to my imagination, calling out to me “harsh and exciting,” as if to announce my “place in the family of things.”

Replant Ourselves in Nature

It’s vital we realize that Earth and all its creatures are fully alive; to be healthy ourselves we must attend to our relationship with the Earth community. A “re-enchantment with the Earth as a living reality” is needed to stop the destruction humans are imposing. What we experience as alive and sacred, we naturally want to protect.[4] We can’t be healed separately from the planet, because the human soul exists within the world soul.[5]

Our wholeness comes from rooting in the rhythms and cycles of nature. When tending the health of a damaged ecosystem, we improve the soil quality and plant native species, rather than eliminating invasive species. Likewise, we tend the health of our psyches, not by getting rid of pathology, but by cultivating the “native species” within ourselves. Bill Plotkin’s Nature-Based Map of the Human Psyche offers a pathway to cultivate wholeness by replanting ourselves in the natural world; this occurs through allowing nature to be our primary guide.[6]

When we’re whole, we feel both Earth’s magnificence and her destruction, because we’re no longer separate. This awakening is urgent. “We belong to this world…[and] of all the dangers we face, from climate chaos to nuclear war, none is so great as the deadening of our response.”[7] Our ecological crisis is sourced in our species’ “collective perceptual disorder,”[8] a “collective myopia”[9] that has missed the basic reality of our innate connection to Earth, perhaps originating from “the historical and conceptual split between ‘in-here’ and ‘out-there’”[10] between self and world.

We become whole not only for ourselves, but also to strengthen our capacity to protect and serve our world. Protecting nature means resisting the dominant culture, industrial civilization, a way of life fueled by the perpetual exploitation of peoples and lands in a futile addiction to an unsustainable lifestyle. A strong resistance is one that is multi-faceted; a foundational ingredient is rooting the depths of our psyches in a genuine perception of the Earth as a living and breathing being with whom we can commune and listen.

We must let it direct us. “Nature is an incomparable guide if you know how to follow her.”[11] Laura Sewall offers five practices to cultivate ecological perception:

  • Learn to attend. With mindful awareness, we get out of our heads, and become open, receptive, and reverent to the forms, textures, and colors of nature.
  • Perceive the relationship between things. We look at the interface where everything meets everything else and see the Earth through “love eyes.”
  • Develop perceptual flexibility. We feel how human time interacts with the pace of Earth’s processes and grasp time scales beyond that of a human lifetime.
  • Re-perceive depth. We recognize that we are within and wholly dependent on the vaster body of Earth, living in a communion similar to that of a lover.
  • Receive images from Earth through the imaginal self, through body and psyche, like a force of nature entering us. We become co-creative.[12]

Most of us received messages in grade school that imagination isn’t real—that we must put it away like an outgrown toy. Yet nature-based peoples have always experienced imagination as a way to listen and commune with the world. Strengthening our imagination returns us to our primal roots; it’s an avenue to our aliveness. The deepest layer of this realm isn’t under our control, but bubbles up from some mysterious place deep down.[13] It’s not created from our minds, but has its own intelligence. Rather than trying to interpret it, we allow it to guide us; we partner with it in the process of co-creating the world.

Six months after my encounter with the squirrel and red fox, I quit my job, moved out west, and participated in an Animas Quest, a ceremony to be alone in conversation with the land for three days and nights while fasting. Nature was my greatest love, and I put my life on the altar and asked how I might serve. My question, however, was met either with silence or a simple response: “You’re not ready.”

I felt weakest on the third day of the fast. I’d just hiked back up the steep trail after placing a rock on the stone pile to signal I was okay. Every few feet, I had to stop. My heart beat so rapidly it scared me, reminding me of when I’d been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma at the age of twenty-one. The two lymph nodes in front of my heart had grown a nine-centimeter tumor. Chemotherapy and radiation had been the prescription, and I was told there was a thirty-three percent chance it would work. It was then that I first learned to let go of my plans and truly listen.

Feeling unsteady from the hike, I sat on a large rock that had invited me to a high perch with its glimmer from across the red rock canyon. It comforted me. “What is my purpose?” I asked, more softly this time, directing my question to the juniper and pinyon trees covering the canyon.

“Brave Heart,” a nearby pinyon pine whispered. I felt disarmed.

“No, that’s a movie.” My response was rapid, but too late to stop the mysterious flood of memories, images, and emotions that ensued, including both moments I had been a brave heart, inciting tear-filled awe, and moments I’d turned away afraid, breaking my heart in utter disappointment. Some memories highlighted my courage to speak the truth and others were of times when I’d silenced my own voice.

Many a night in the months after the quest, this vision awakened me as if asking me to tend my newly de-thawing heart in its unraveling. I’d write poetry at 3 a.m. with tears running down my face, feeling as if a dam had burst and the inner river of my heart and soul and words were finding their way back to life.

Layers of understanding the meaning of “brave heart” unfurled over decades, persuading me that perhaps I was being asked to embody the strength of a warrior and summoning me to hear again the bark of squirrel and red fox as a call to speak out, make a lot of noise, perhaps through guiding or writing.

Restore Animistic Perception

When we listen to the Earth, we may receive the most important instructions of our lives. As Geneen Marie Haughen wrote in “Wild Imagination,” to listen to Earth requires we access our deep imagination; this is a necessary capacity to decolonize the mind and “revive animist perception”—a perception that experiences all things as alive or sentient. For those who experience the world as ensouled, and for whom bear, river, tree, and rock are regarded as intelligent, are more likely to fight against global industrial civilization. Yet it’s difficult to thwart the fragmented narratives that our colonized world urges us to live, and to engage, instead, directly with the natural world and our deep imaginations.[14] Perhaps in part, because this would require us to feel our grief and rage at the ongoing destruction of so many beloved wild places and beings.

One of the oldest belief systems in the world, animism isn’t a religion, but a way of experiencing the world. It suggests that soul or spirit exists not only in humans, but also in animals, plants, rocks, and geographic features such as mountains, oceans, or other entities of nature, including thunder, wind, and stars. Although each culture has different mythologies and rituals, animism is a foundational thread of indigenous peoples around the world.

Being that all humans are the descendants of indigenous peoples somewhere, we all have ancestors who once experienced the world this way. Therefore, it’s in our DNA to open to this way of sensing and perceiving. Bill Plotkin describes three possible ways to be indigenous: culturally (of a particular people or tribe), ecologically (of a particular ecosystem or geographical place), and terrestrially (of Earth).[15] Though only some of us are culturally or ecologically indigenous, we are all terrestrially indigenous. Remembering our relationship with Earth in our flesh and bones is a resource of the greatest significance and potency.

For nearly all of the time humans have been on the planet, regular conversations across the species border were an everyday natural part of life. Sadly, this seems like a strange invitation in our world today; most people have difficulty initiating such a conversation. Perhaps this is because we’ve been taught from a very young age to perceive nature as separate, a life-less object, a commodity. This mistaken perception seems to be at the foundation of our cultural ills.

In The Lost World of the Kalahari, Laurens van der Post writes about living among the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert and describes how shocked they were that he couldn’t hear the stars. At first they thought he must be joking or lying. When they realized he really couldn’t hear the stars, they concluded he must be very ill and expressed great sorrow.[16] For the Bushmen knew anyone who can’t hear nature must have the gravest and deadliest sickness of all.

Humanity’s ability to perceive the sentience of Earth is critical to our survival and to all life on Earth. Eco-psychology reinforces insights from naturalists like E. O. Wilson, who suggests that we possess “an innately emotional affiliation with all living organisms,” a biophilia.

Longing to be in conversation with nature can catalyze us. And perhaps the natural world longs for this relationship with us too. Longing is not acquiring, as the vulnerability of failure feels all too possible. Instead, longing incites us into feeling the love-ache of what we really value, and it matures us into becoming and creating that which matters most, like an embodied prayer that lays our life on the altar to serve what we love.

One week after the Quest, I backpacked six miles into a remote and ancient red rock canyon in Arizona; dwellings and petroglyphs were abundant here, marking the lives of those who came before. It was the middle of the night, and I couldn’t sleep. The canyon seemed to be calling me out of my tent, to wander in the dark and be in conversation. I was afraid of the dark—tarantulas, rattle snakes, anything I couldn’t see—but I longed to engage with my surroundings as I had on the Quest. And I wanted to accept the invitation to be a brave heart.

I wandered to the creek that meandered through the canyon; it formed a large pool near a tall red rock wall; the stars glimmered in the water. Meanwhile, a memory from my Quest arose. I had picked up a heavy rock and tossed it down hard on several rock surfaces repeatedly. I was trying to crack it open, whilst asking nature to help me crack open my heart so that I could feel it fully. Sometimes I felt as if I lived imprisoned behind a protective shell. There were tears to cry and secrets to encounter, but I could not access them. Unsuccessful, I eventually fell over exhausted from my effort.

I tasted the possibility of failure. How would I ever become a brave heart if I couldn’t even feel my heart? I spoke to the rock wall and the creek, the spirits of the ancient ancestors who lived in this canyon and the cottonwoods, to any wild being who was listening.

I spoke of my longing to feel my heart, to free the dam of my emotions and cry, so that I could be a brave heart. When a few tears came, I offered them; they fell and splashed in the water. The wind and water seemed to respond to my words and tears in gusts and ripples. The light of the stars seemed to dance and grow brighter on the water.

I made rhythm with two small rocks, one red and one white, which I left at the edge of the creek. Some of my words later turned into a poem, the first I’d allowed myself to write since high school.

A mysterious ache in my chest keeps me from sleep.

Is this pain ~ heartbreak, longing, or love?

I survived by skipping my feelings.

Sensitivity grown tough.

Let the dam crumble.

Let the river flow free.

Let me cry for the Earth and all its people.

In the morning, I returned to the water. My two rhythm rocks were not on the ground where I had left them. They now sat elegantly atop a rock a few feet off shore, surrounded by water.  Placed underneath them were red and yellow flowers. My heart began racing. How could this be? Who moved my rocks and put flowers underneath them? No other humans had hiked or camped out there since my arrival. I felt as if the canyon and its inhabitants had heard me and were grateful for my presence and words. This felt magical and touched my heart deeply.

This thread of my conversation with water has grown into an unfolding tapestry. Un-damming the waters of my own heart has ushered me into an inexplicable conversation with the ocean and river. The more-than-human world has become my family, my best friend, my muse, and my lover. They guide me to new edges every day.

Co-create & Dismantle with Earth

The rock canyons with whom I have lived see me more deeply than I see myself. Nonhumans are more intelligent and wiser than we are, although most humans believe they’re superior. Humans have a lot to offer, and our greatest contributions are inspired from a relationship with nature. If we can decolonize our minds and our lives by allowing the beings of nature and our deep imagination to be our guides, they may offer us genuine direction and possibilities we’ve never considered.

Surprising and even extraordinary occurrences arise personally, such as my experience with the rocks and flowers in the canyon, and they also exist on a grander scale. Thomas Berry calls them “moments of grace”—the star out of which our solar system was born collapsing in enormous heat, scattering itself as fragments in space; the first living cell, a prokaryotic cell capable of a metabolic process never known previously, involving the energy of the sun, the carbon of the atmosphere, and the hydrogen of the sea; or 2.5 million years ago in northeast Africa when the first humans stood erect.[17] These wondrous transformations certainly don’t lessen our responsibility to engage directly and act politically, but rather they encourage us to open our communication to those who are of greater intelligence, and the guidance, support, and potentialities they offer us.

The Earth community is in dire circumstances. Our old paradigms don’t work—individualism, patriarchy, imperialism, capitalism, human supremacy, and technology won’t save us. If we look at the environmental devastation and the political-economic corruption, there seems to be little hope. Ecological revolution by any means necessary is a moral imperative; we must do what we can to stop industrial civilization from destroying the planet.[18] We must listen closely to the animate natural world and be willing to engage through direct action. We must become visionaries and revolutionaries who tune in, engage, serve, and fight both in deep relationship with and on behalf of Earth.

What we co-create in concert with nature is far more powerful than anything our minds create in isolation.  Through embodying the images that arise from nature and our deep imagination, perhaps we can dismantle and de-construct our pathological, adolescent civilization and co-conceive and remember alongside nature another way of being human in relationship with all of life on Earth.

Converse with Nature ~ an Invitation

Wander in a wild place, away from humans, and see who attracts, repels, or scares you (rock, tree, or wind). Speak aloud to the others as you attend to what’s happening. Introduce yourself out loud and tell the others what you notice about them. Share a deep truth or offer praise. Be curious. Perhaps communicate with song, dance, or movement. Listen with all your senses, intuition, feeling, and imagination. Notice shifts in the world around you as well as in your own perception.

Be surprised. A response may come as a sign, synchronicity, dream image, vision, memory, or kinesthetic or emotional sensation. It may be immediate or delayed, auditory or visual (color, shape, movement). It may be unusual, and you may miss it or talk yourself into believing it was nothing. What’s mysterious is well worth pursuing, being with, and learning from!

Rebecca Wildbear is a river and soul guide who helps people tune in to the mysteries that live within the Earth community, dreams, and their own wild Nature, so they may live a life of creative service. She has been a guide with Animas Valley Institute since 2006 and is author of the forthcoming book, Playing & Praying: Soul Stories to Inspire Personal & Planetary Transformation. 

Image by Doug Van Houten, “A Journey to the Depths of Soul” [Collage]

Upcoming Listening To the Land Program

Rebecca & Doug will offer an Animas Valley Institute program to Deep Green Resistance members and allies, June 26 – 30, 2020, A Wild Mind Intensive for Activists & Revolutionaries: Partnering with Earth & Dreams. We’ll engage in practices to replant ourselves in nature, restore animistic perception, co-create & dismantle with Earth…and more!

See the flyer for full description ~


Or register on-line  ~



[1] Bill Plotkin, Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche, New World Library, 2003

[2] Chellis Glendinning, My Name is Chellis and I’m in Recovery from Western Civilization (Boston: Shambhala Publications, 1994).

[3] Diagnostics and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, fifth edition.

[4] Thomas Berry, The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future (New York: Random House, 1999).

[5] James Hillman’s essay, “A Psyche the Size of Earth” was published as the foreword to Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind by Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes, Allen Kanner (New York: Random House, 1995).

[6] Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche, New World Library, 2013

[7] Joanna Macy, www.joannamacy.net.

[8] David Abrams, Spell of the Sensuous, Vintage, 1997

[9] Laura Sewall’s essay “The Skill of Ecological Perception” was published in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind by Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes, Allen Kanner (New York: Random House, 1995).

[10] Theodore, Rozak, The Voice of the Earth, Phanes Press, 2001

[11] C.G. Jung, Letters, Volume 1:1906-1950, Routledge, 1973

[12] Laura Sewall’s essay “The Skill of Ecological Perception” was published in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth, Healing the Mind by Theodore Roszak, Mary Gomes, Allen Kanner (New York: Random House, 1995).

[13] E.S. Gallegos, Ph.D, Into Wholeness: The Path of Deep Imagery, Moon Bear Press, 2002.

[14] Geneen Marie Haughen, Wild Imagination, Parabola, May 2019.

[15] Bill Plotkin, Wild Mind: A Field Guide to the Human Psyche, New World Library, 2013.

[16] Laurens van der Post, The Lost World of the Kalahari, Harcourt Brace & Company, 1977.

[17] Thomas, Berry, Moments of Grace, Yes! Magazine, Spring 2000.

[18] Max Wilbert, The Moral Argument For Ecological Revolution, Deep Green Resistance News Service, November 2019.

Listening To Earth

Listening To Earth

By Rebecca Wildbear

I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 21. Scientifically, the odds were that I would die. They could have rolled me aside and let it happen, but doctors and loved ones did what they could to keep me alive. They tried to save my life even though they did not know if it would work.

The Earth is suffering. She does not want her rivers poisoned and dammed, her mountains blown up and mined, or her ecosystems and biodiversity destroyed. If she received the same care as me, perhaps we could stop the harm. Efforts to help show care and respect, whatever tomorrow brings.

When I have been abused, the most painful part is when no one sees it. Dismissing the harm that is happening to the Earth makes us complicit, even if particular philosophies seem to justify it (Doctrine of Discovery, Manifest Destiny, the American Dream, Gaia theory, the Sixth Mass Extinction, “it’s already too late”).

If your child or lover were drowning or trapped in a burning house, you would try to save them. If it’s a reflex to save our endangered loved ones, why can’t we develop an auto-response to save bears, prairie dogs, mountain lions, horses, and forests?

To belittle or discourage those who work to save the last remaining species and wild places seems like a betrayal of the Earth and those on the front-lines, the majority of whom are indigenous peoples (whose on-going genocide feeds the destruction of the planet).

Social psychology reveals that individuals commonly find ways to ignore those being harmed and consciously or unconsciously align with those in power, because it is safer.

Humans have imagination, soul, and agency. We can listen to the Earth, not only for our own re-wilding, but for what species, land, and ecosystems need too.

Rivers, forests, and oceans can be restored. Once they are, the climate dramatically improves. Perhaps humans can stop those destroying the biosphere and the last remaining species and lands. Why not support those who try?

Visit a clear-cut forest, plowed prairie, or concreted wetland. Ask them what they need. Ask the squirrels, rabbits, owls, and blue jays who live once lived there. Ask the bears in Asia, tortured for their bile, if their suffering is Gaia’s plan. Ask wild buffalo or horses routinely slaughtered, if people should stop helping them because it’s too late. Ask the last remaining birds, orcas, polar bears, fish, rhinos.

“Please help us,” they tell me. Don’t take my word for it. Go ask them yourself. The narratives and people that inspire me most are the ones that make listening, honoring, and keeping alive these voices central.

Where We Live

Where We Live

Editor’s note: We are grateful to present this wonderful article by our appreciated guardian Trinity La Fey today. Original writing by DGR cadre, guardians and supporters makes the most powerful articles because it genuinely reflects our spirit, the deep empathy and love for the natural world that keeps us grassroots activists going, and gives insight into our struggles.


By Trinity La Fey

When, concerned for our safety, my husband pressured me to either censor or disguise myself online, I replied, “You keep talking at me like I don’t know what kind of world this is and I am asking you: what kind of a world do you want to live in?”

I-search papers annoy me and I try not to write them, but in this, there can be no dispassionate analysis. Without relating the experience, how can this story be told? If Rebecca Wildbear, who recounted, “Since the dawn of civilization, humanity has caused the loss of 80% of wild mammals and 50% of plants. 90% of large fish, 50% of coral reefs and 40% of plankton have been wiped out. Of all the mammals now on Earth, 96% are livestock and humans. Only 4% are wild mammals.” couldn’t convince you, or at least pique your curiosity, I doubt I will either. There are already exceptional writers and reciters of numbers and names of species. That is not what I am and that is not what this article will be.

This is about where we live.

When I hear about dams, mining, logging, drilling, fracking and industrial production, I hear about it in numbers and names: this many of that species eradicated (to use the euphemism); this much money for that company; this many jobs for which community; how many years of what material; this many of that habitat displaced.

Are these the questions we really want the answers to?

I live in my body. When I eat too much or not enough, when I’m ill dressed for the weather, when I’m careless with my movements in relation to my environment, pain and discomfort tell me, in no uncertain terms, what is wrong.

Derrick Jensen once said, “Before you laugh and say a river is just a container through which water flows and happens to be filled with other beings, let me ask you: when was the last time you had a drink of water; and let me ask you: when is the next time you’re gonna’ pee?[ L]et me remind you that more than 90% of the cells in your body don’t contain your DNA . . .”

I can tell you the kind of world I don’t want to live in and the kind of person I don’t want to be. That is a world in which dams, mines, drills, deforesters and trawlers go unfettered in their genocidal quests, the kind of person that is complicit in those atrocities by default.

If I were a rich man, maybe it would embarrass me to hear arguments to the effect that environmentalism is a luxury of the privileged. Maybe, if I didn’t know that Bangladesh is one-third under water, I could be spoken over about how, “There’s no point in trying to ‘save the planet,’ how arrogant and self-righteous it is when everything is doomed and Earth has gone through plenty of extinctions. What’s one more event?”

But I am not a rich man and I live in a country that has displaced more people than water has, so far, in Bangladesh. Will Falk once said, “Don’t ask, ‘What can I do?’ but, ‘What needs to be done?’”

So I went to Thacker Pass and asked him.

Except it wasn’t as simple as that. Before Thacker Pass, since September of 2015, my husband and I have spent but one night apart. We’re the kind of couple that really leans into the whole ‘interdependency’ concept. Though I have been a passenger near and far, being a late-blooming driver, until Thacker Pass, I’d never myself travelled more than two hours away from my home. Thacker Pass was two, eight-hour days of driving away from my responsibilities and loves, where I work for a living. As I told everyone who came to the camp, I cried all the way to Laramie. I bored everyone else to tears talking them up about him. All five of us.

Surreal doesn’t touch it. I had to rent a car, reserve an out of state hotel, two ways, with a card. I am not a rich man luxuriating in ideology. I’m at ground level out here, seeing and feeling the dire effects of pollution and poverty. Both of those acts were things I’d never done before. They were alien and beyond expensive. They are things I want gone: emblematic of a way of life that as Max Wilbert so eloquently said, “ . . .we don’t get to vote on . . . .”

Before I left, I kept thinking: this is my ‘real’ car insurance money this year.

Do I really care about the planet, or do I care about the people that I personally know?

This is my tuition for that class I have to take.

Do I really care about the environment, or do I care about my life today?

Am I betraying my relationships by leaving to do this?

Do I really care about the Earth? What do I care about?

What if something happens to one of us? I am on my little flippy phone; no use out there in the boonies.

I can barely bring myself to leave the house for work or groceries. How the hell am I going to leave my life, with my husband, in our apartment and stay away for fifteen days?

I cried


the way

to Laramie.

I wasn’t out there because I so much enjoy winter camping. I wasn’t out there for my good health. I had to go because I couldn’t live with not going. It was an emotional allegiance I could either live up to or shrivel. I didn’t want to leave at all. My husband had to encourage me to go because I had convinced him with my initial determination and it was too late to back out now. In one of his videos, Max spoke about native people who rejected horse riding because it moved your body faster than your soul could travel and it took time to catch up.

That is my experience also.

As soon as I got there, I wanted to go back home. Principle had made me some kind of fool to bring me out in the middle of this beautiful nowhere when I needed to be saving up and hunkering down. I set up a little calendar to count down the days. It was February 16th. At that time, there were three of us.

It would be inappropriate to speak about the others, by name, who, like me, came and stayed and left. I will say that true-blue environmentalists are some of the most attractive people it has been my pleasure to meet. They were an easy crowd to be around, easy on the eyes, easy to fall in love with. We made coffee and dreamed dreams and walked around and waited for our souls to catch up with us.

The expectation felt was that we should write some great thing to make us not euphemise genocide and then stop committing it. I’m a writer. I write. So, I know how this works. You can’t effectively write about what you don’t feel. If I wanted to be able to listen to the place, I’d have to get all the other stuff out of the way. I wrote love letters to my husband like it was some bygone wartime. I wrote every day, sometimes all day. There was much to get out.

Finally, the walks started yielding phrases and poem snippits. Then themes from our conversations and firelight stories gave me some language of place. I started writing love letters of parting to my fellow campers.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time outside in wild, half-wild and deadly domesticated places. I would describe Thacker Pass as half-wild. Cattle move through there; we were camped under a weather tower; roads, fences and power-lines are visible in the day; city and ranch house lights are visible at night. We were completely surrounded by mountains. From a mountainous place, I didn’t expect the desertous Nevada I remembered to have such landscapes. It really was a wonderful consolation against the cold and wind and waking up alone to piss in the cold wind to be in such a beautiful place, surrounded by so many impressive kindred. Everywhere life was teeming around us, in the ice and wind. Every night the coyotes sang from the valley below. Every day the ravens cawed and swooped down from the cliffs above. The kangaroo mice left their tracks and teeth marks on everything. I made friends with a rat. The sage was very patient with us. The rabbit brush was like the sage’s lover. These others weren’t names on a list. These are family members in a shared landscape. Once my soul caught up with me and I got all my stuff out, there wasn’t too much I missed. The number-one reason I don’t recreate in the mountains of my home is that it is Earth-expensive, but a close second is that it hurts so much to come back. The longest I’d been out before was a week. After two weeks at Thacker Pass, I was half-wild again too. Coming back is some bullshit.

There are good things. I wept with a soldier’s relief to see my husband again. Having running water, with soap, next to a toilet is amazing. Showers.


What does it cost?

Do we want to live in ugly places?

Why are the places we reside and rely on made ugly and despoiled?

Lierre Keith noted, “Right now, we are losing 200 species every single day. So, all the prairies, all the forests, anyplace that you could grow those crops, has been taken over. It’s quite grim when you think about it: 99% of the forests are gone and 99% of the original prairies are gone.” What could I possibly write to convince one who would rationalize or justify? The Lorax has already been written. It’s all there. No need for an argument about numbers as ratio or names as technicality. There is only: the last one. Then: none.

Where I live, there is a beer manufacturer polluting the river; a steel refinery, a meat packing plant and a pet food company poisoning the air. You can tell which way the wind is blowing by them. There are fracking rigs everywhere. Really. Everywhere. Deserted oil derricks, mine pits, clear cuts: those are mostly in the half-wild places.

Why did I go to Nevada when there’s plenty of work to do here? Because I can’t face down a sea of denial in all human relationships. I can’t fight this alone, just like Max and Will put out the call for others to come join them: because they understood that it would take the people living in and around Thacker Pass; it would take Canadians holding Lithium Americas to account and it would take total strangers willing to sacrifice, in solidarity, to stop the mine from going through.

What if we worked together to stop all the mines?

What if we invented life insurance?

What if we stopped industrial agriculture?

What if we invented credit cards and rental cars?

What if we ended rape?

What if we charged people to live in endless toil?

What if we murdered every species until they were all driven to extinction?

What if we don’t do that?

That is the only thing that concerns me now. This is not a passive extinction event, wrought about by the inevitable breaths of algae or touch of comets. We are doing this, as one species, to every other. Rather, some humans, with names and addresses, are profiting enormously (short term, of course) from massive social inequality among humans and human indifference or contempt for our only home and fellow Earthlings. This is not a series of accidents. These are devastating acts, deliberated over and intentionally carried out by people for whom they have been structurally incentivized.

What if we restructured?

I’ve been back now for longer than I was gone and still, I am not acclimated back into my normalized civilian life, because it is unnatural. I can’t unpack. I just walk around in my camping clothes, waiting to go back.

Even in the half-wild, even without my better half, even sometimes feeling pain and discomfort, re-wilding happened effortlessly. My stance widened. I grew two inches back from my working years. It felt good to do a hard, right thing: to put my time and money and body where my mouth was. My speech grew free and bold among new friends. I had a good time.

What if we were mammals inexorably bound to and interdependent with a larger, encompassing body?

What if, instead of quantifying, justifying, rationalizing, minimizing or qualifying global genocide, we stopped being genocidal?

What if we continue being genocidal?

What if we call the abuse of women and girls ‘sex’ and feed the footage of it to the limbic systems of men and boys for a few generations?

What will happen?

What has happened?

The expectation is that I should write something to make it stop.

You make it stop.

The Lorax has already been written.

Rebecca, Derrick, Will, Max, Lierre and I are part of an organization trying to do together what we cannot do alone. We need your help. In every way, we have to stop extracting and start re-wilding. There is no effective isolationist approach. We cannot buy into or out of it. We cannot escape from civilization anymore than we can the climate. We have to change.

We have mutilated ourselves into whatever kind of cyborgs we are now. Certainly, we can do something else instead, perhaps extending some humble curiosity toward the other species who do not destroy all life on the planet as a matter of course, but contribute to the possibility and furtherance of life, or our human ancestors who did the same.

I’m not feeling numbers and names when I feel the pull back to the half-wild place, but the same pang of love that is concerning one’s self with another. Not one inch of that place is appropriate to sacrifice further. Not one of our kindred species is it okay to push closer to the euphemism.

I don’t want to be the kind of person that says, “I tried to stop the mine at Thacker Pass. I spent two weeks there, but I had a life and couldn’t afford to go back.”

I want to be the kind of person who can say, “There aren’t mines anymore. We made sure of it.”

That takes living in the kind of world where you’re prepared to make sure of it too.

As Chumbawamba said it best:

“when the system starts to crack

we’ll have to be ready to give it all back

and when the system starts to crack

we’ll have to be ready to give it all back

and when the system starts to crack

we’ll have to be ready to give it all back”


Rebecca Wildbear, Premise One, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0IT4e4gMCA

Derrick Jensen, Earth At Risk 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vr2_Gbuo3OE

Will Falk, Protect Thacker Pass, https://twitter.com/ProtectThPass/status/1370621991598755848/photo/1

Max Wilbert, Premise One, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0IT4e4gMCA

Lierre Keith, Premise One, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0IT4e4gMCA

Chumbawamba, Pictures of Starving Children Sell Records, Invasion, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7LwXoaj5q4

You can find out more and support Thacker Pass:

The Green Flame Podcast: Protect Thacker Pass [Dispatches from Thacker Pass]

The Green Flame Podcast: Protect Thacker Pass [Dispatches from Thacker Pass]

Protect Thacker Pass with activists Max Wilbert, Will Falk and Rebecca Wildbear

Activists aiming to stop Lithium Americas’ Thacker Pass open-pit lithium mine – what would be the United States’ largest lithium mine, supplying up to 25% of the world’s lithium – launched a permanent protest encampment hours after the Bureau of Land Management gave final approval to the mine on January 15.

The Green Flame brings you the voices of land protectors Will Falk and Max Wilbert who mean to stay for as long as it takes to protect this old-growth sagebrush mountainside despite winter conditions at Thacker Pass. Rebecca Wildbear, river and soul guide, lover of the wild, joins us in honoring and calling for defense of the Great Basin, Thacker Pass and the whole of wild creation. Many thanks to Green Flame sound editor Iona and to the many non-human voices – Golden Eagle, Coyote, and Greater Sage Grouse – speaking to us in this Protect Thacker Pass episode of the Green Flame.

You can find out more and support Thacker Pass: