Editor’s Note: In the Fight for Who We Love series, we introduce you to a species. These nonhuman species are what inspires most of us to join environmental movements and to continue to fight for the natural world. We hope you find this series inspiring, informative, and a break from news on industrial civilization. Let us know what you think in the comments! Also, if there is a species that you want us to cover in the upcoming months, please make suggestions. Today they are polar bears.
By Kim Olson and Benja Weller
When there’s talk about climate change affecting other species, people often think of polar bears. Because yes, their habitat is being destroyed — and we’ll get to that.
But the reason we’re writing about polar bears today is because long before I (Kim) knew anything about climate change or melting ice caps, they were my favorite wild animal. Because to me, they represent patience and intelligence, strength and resilience, playfulness and beauty.
FOOD + BEHAVIOR
A polar bear stretches in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo: Kim Olson
Like much of the wild world (what’s left), polar bears must put in some serious effort and time to acquire their next meal, and as the largest terrestrial carnivorous mammal on earth, that’s no small amount.
So how much food do they need, then?
“Polar bears need to consume approximately 4.4lbs [2kg] of fat daily or a 121lbs [55kg] seal provides about 8 days’ worth of energy. Polar bears can eat 100lbs [45kg] of seal blubber in one sitting.”
A typical polar bear meal doesn’t vary a whole lot and includes one main course: seals (ringed, but also bearded, hooded and harped). But when food is scarce, they’re opportunistic eaters and will munch on berries, fish, plants, birds, small mammals — basically whatever they can find, which unfortunately also includes human garbage.
Hunting patiently on an ice sheet
While polar bears use their semi-webbed, big-ass paws (about 12in / 30cm, which is bigger than most human heads!) to wander the snowy ground and doggy paddle around the Arctic Ocean like nobody’s business, they aren’t aquatic animals. So they have to hunt usually at the edge of sea ice or next to a seal’s breathing hole.
Once the bears locate a suitable place to hunt, they get comfortable and prepare themselves for a potentially long wait. This most common “still-hunting” method, which they’re the most successful at, requires that the bears barely move for hours and sometimes even days.
Days! I don’t know about you, but I find that kind of commitment and patience remarkable. Because in an age where instant gratification is a thing, us civilized humans may sometimes feel it’s unbearable to have to wait longer than even thirty minutes for a meal when we’re hungry. But polar bears? They’ve got the patience thing down. I mean, they have to. Because, contrary to popular belief, food doesn’t actually come from the grocery store.
When not about to pounce on a seal, polar bears are generally slow-moving creatures, ambling leisurely and deliberately to conserve their strength. At times they may wander for miles, their huge paws helping to keep them from sinking too deeply into the snow.
A bear walks across the snowy ground in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo: Kim Olson
EVOLUTION + HABITAT
Harsh climate made polar bears become specialists
Polar bears diverged from brown bears but it’s not clear when — some estimates say a few hundred thousand years while newer guesses put it at a few million years.
But no matter when the split occurred, polar bears developed some unique characteristics that help them survive in a harsh climate where average winter temperatures are around -29°F / -2°C.
Most bears live north of the Arctic Circle in the US, Canada, Greenland, Norway, and Russia, and spend much of their lives on sea ice hunting (some sources say up to 50% of their time).
3 fun facts you may not know about polar bears:
Their skin is black, which helps them absorb heat from the sun (when they have it, which is not much in the winter that far north!).
Their fur (the thickest of all bears) is not white and is not actually hair. The outer layer of fur is in fact clear, hollow tubes. But because of the way these tubes reflect the visible light wavelengths, the fur appears white. And the hollow tubes provide insulation against the frigid temps and repel water.
They don’t (typically) hibernate. Since their main food source (seals) is available only during the winter, only pregnant females hibernate (and in case you’re wondering, twins cubs are the most common), and even then it’s not a full hibernation like other bears do.
A mama bear with her two cubs in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo: Kim Olson
Paws: webbed paws up to ~12” [30cm] across, which makes them good paddles
Lifespan: 20-30 years in the wild
Running Speed: 25mph [40kph]
Swimming Speed: 6mph [10kph] for up to 62mi [100km] continuously
Walking Speed: 3.4mph [5.5kph]
A solo polar bear walking in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo: Kim Olson
THE BIGGEST THREAT
Melting ice sheets due to global warming
Most of us have seen pictures or videos of starving polar bears in the news. Skinny polar bears searching for food or sitting on an ice sheet with nothing around them but water are heart-wrenching to watch.
Photos and videos like those show the devastating effects of global warming, and are warning signs that express the conclusion in a BBC article by Helen Briggs and Victoria Grill: “Polar bears will be wiped out by the end of the century unless more is done to tackle climate change, a study (by Nature Climate Change) predicts.“
The single most important threat to the long-term survival of polar bears is loss of sea ice due to global warming, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature. National Geographic writes about the bears in the Beaufort Sea region, who are among the best studied: “Their numbers have fallen 40 percent in the last ten years.”
Polar bear babies need fat
In our times of warmer climate, sea ice melts earlier in the spring and forms later in the autumn, forcing polar bears to walk or swim longer distances to the remaining ice sheets.
The second effect of melting sea ice is that the bears stay on land longer fasting and living off their fat stores. In both cases, the extra energy loss affects their ability to effectively reproduce and raise babies. When the mother is too skinny, a couple of problems arise:
Initially she can’t have as many babies as a healthy mom can. But when she does have cubs, they have a greater risk of dying by starvation due to the lack of fat in the mother’s milk. This can only mean that the entire population of polar bears decline.
Fossil fuel extraction in the Arctic
Pollution and the exploration of new oil and gas resources are also major threats to these white predators. As we’ve outlined in the article about Adélie penguins, there’s persistent organic pollutants (POPs) being moved from warmer areas to the cold Antarctic and Arctic.
If bears eat seals, they also consume POPs, and high levels of POPs rob polar bears of their vitamin A, thyroid hormones, and some antibodies which impairs their growth, reproduction, and the strength to fight off diseases.
Oil is toxic for animals in the Arctic
As easy-to-access oil and gas resources become scarcer, the industries explore in the most remote places to find this so-called “black gold.” Unhinged, they try to exploit the beautiful Arctic, even though offshore oil operations pose a great risk to the polar bears.
When oil spills into the sea, it affects the bear’s fur, reducing its insulating effect. The bears unknowingly ingest the oil which can cause long-term liver and kidney damage, even if it’s a small amount. Oil spills can wipe out entire populations when they happen in places where there’s a high density of polar bear dens.
Despite sitting around most of the time, National Geographic says that these high-energy beasts can burn through 12,325 calories a day, which is equivalent to 40 (!) burgers.
The polar bears can’t just adapt to melting ice sheets and change their hunting methods in an instant — evolution doesn’t work like that.
Two polar bears play fight in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo: Kim Olson
WHY THEY’RE SPECIAL
If you ask us, a world without the magnificent polar bears is a world worse off. So they are one more reason #whywefight.
Polar Bears by Ian Stirling, Photographs by Dan Guravich
Featured Image: A female polar bear with her two cubs in Kaktovik, Alaska. Photo: Kim Olson
The 2023 DGR conference is scheduled for late August in northern California. This annual gathering is an opportunity for our community to share skills, reflect on our work, strengthen our connections, and plan for the future. While this conference is only open to DGR members, we do invite friends and allies on a case-by-case basis. If you’re interested in attending, please contact us, and if you’d like to donate to support the conference, click here.
Editor’s Note: In the following piece, Mankh talks about the detachment of technology from the natural world and urges people on the need to be in touch with nature. The promise of these gadgets is freedom but the reality is they’re tyranny. It is good to know that everything that corporations tell you is a lie. Believe the results of their actions and not what they say. Their only goal is to make a profit. We thank the author for offering this piece to us.
“But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.”
~ Bob Dylan, from “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”
The deception of technology is that its easy accessibility belies both the violence of production and the lack of consciousness of spirit or what East Asians refer to as “chi/qi – vital energy.”
The rapid reach to a global audience via gadgetry has created a plethora of productions – from podcasts to social media platforms – affording anyone with access the ability to project their opinions and viewpoints. This has its democratic positives and is helping to fill the rotten-toothed gaps of corporate media. Yet the instant gratification of social media gadgetry has dulled the respect for deep preparation, maturity, ripening on the vine, and right-wise timing. To my knowledge, East Asian and Indigenous Peoples show the most respect to elder generations.
To follow the epigraph metaphor, “songs” have become a fastfood buffet of opinions and unchecked or manipulated facts. The darker side of the coin is the outright squelching and censoring by the powerless that don’t know how to be, thus they incessantly spew new bits of information into the media/social-media sphere, to which the populace then reacts, re-spewing their karaoke of opinions. This ongoing ping-pong of songs perpetuates a binary of yays/nays, likes/dislikes, you’re right/you’re wrong — all of which is leading to a demise of nuance, and an increase of divisiveness.
The fear is that if you miss a minute, you’ll be out of touch and not up to date with the most current info. You’ll lose the argument, and, as with the Pavlovian repetitiveness of advertising, jeopardize your career.
This is the prevailing hyperactive, narrow-minded wind I notice, as the masses of would-be stars, bombastic pundits, and plastic shaman jockey for position of likes, hits, comments, applause, boos, and OMG will you marry me?! It’s a seemingly endless open mic karaoke, where only a few songs get covered by almost everybody.
Needles in a haystack
At its finest, the gadgetry landscape provides a global community bulletin board. Yet the gadgetscape is detached from land, and, as with all colonial capitalist-based products, the consumers become detached from the violence toward earth, rivers, songbirds, bees, front-line minorities and minors. Two recent books I’ve read give ample examples: Cobalt Red: How the Blood of the Congo Powers Our Lives and The Rare Metals War: The Dark Side of Clean Energy and Digital Technologies; the gists are: pollution and destruction of natural habitats along with the beings that live there, and too-often slave/torture labor, sometimes ending in death.
Add to that a most recent hotspot in Nevada, Thacker Pass (Peehee Mu’huh), where Lithium Americas Corp. has already destroyed sacred Paiute and Shoshone lands and habitat in an effort to landgrab lithium for electric vehicle batteries for GM. The Natives have recently put up a tipi on the dirt road (created by Lithium Americas Corp.), blocking truck access. What’s happening could be a watershed moment, as other such mining projects are on the charts. And by the way, an immense amount of water is needed to produce the lithium in a drought-ridden area, for faux clean energy. See Protect Thacker Pass & Ox Sam Camp for more:
My daily research efforts to combat the monsters involves a list of news sites, Twitter and FaceBook posts, along with intuitively following the trails of mentions of phrases, people, organizations and such like from which I find needles of truth in a haystack of propaganda (though some would argue whether they are “truths”). And with even a few minutes of research, one can sometimes find out what corporation owns what corporation owns the opinions of what people. Don’t just follow the money, ask to speak to the manager, no, too much hold-time; instead, websearch to find who the head honchos are, for example, website pages “about” “who we are” and Wikipedia business listings.
Once more, with feeling!
At the interpersonal and psychological levels of behavior, except for emoji hearts and faces, exclamation points, ALL CAPS, and select videos/podcasts/radio shows, the use of gadgetry lacks consciousness of spirit, chi/ki, or more colloquially, feelings! En masse, we have been conditioned into becoming one-click shoppers and button-pushers who then overreact if our buttons are pushed, if our opinions are challenged or we didn’t get exactly what we privilege entitlement wanted.
In his 1956 book, The Rape of the Mind: The Psychology of Thought Control, Menticide, and Brainwashing, Joost A. M. Meerloo, M.D. wrote:
“Increasingly the population has been seduced by the idea of remote control. The arsenal of buttons and gadgets leads us into the magic dream world of omnipotent power. Our technical civilization gives us greater ease, but it is challenge and uneasiness that make for character and strength.”
Where’s the originality? The tried and true? The tried and true originality? Why the incessant need to have a message? Why the need for constant approval? In the documentary film The Social Dilemma, the gadgetry, especially cell-phone, is referred to as a “digital pacifier.” To avoid feelings of loneliness, discomfort and anxiety, people, especially younger generations, have been programmed to reach for the hardware. The difference between today and the TV of my generation is that the gadgets are interactive and beckoning for your attention, even when OFF. A quote from the film: “There are only two industries that call their customers ‘users’: illegal drugs and software.”
How many times a day do you reach for the gadgetry?
How many times a day do you gaze at the leaves of a plant, the sky, look within?
In my experience, the art of preparation, maturity, and right-wise timing is nurtured by quiet, by listening, being open to receive, careful study, finding reliable sources (ay, there’s the rub), staying vigilant, learning from mistakes, and being content with off the radar successes.
In his brief almost 14 years, Mattie Stepanek was conscious of what he called his “heartsong” and that everyone has one. “Stepanek suffered from a rare disorder, dystautonomic mitochondrial myopathy” and, sadly, passed away at age 13. He “published seven best-selling books of poetry and peace essays.” (Wikipedia)
While the ripening vine mode is a steady, guiding and reliable energy source, an openness to the immediacy of the present with all its potential and timeless heartspace can intermittently override the evolutionary progression model.
Actually, both modes intertwine. Haiku master Matsuo Bashô expressed it neatly:
at the old pond–
a frog jumps in
sound of water
While maintaining the day-to-day well-being of and caring for the pond (protecting sacred waters and/or your sacred space), be calm, alert and ready for a frog jump and subsequent splash! It could be fun, it could be traumatic, or in- between. Ah, the Mystery.
By aligning our heartsongs and rhythms with the pulses of Earth, the cycles of the seasons, the wheeling of the stars, and those we hold dear, we have a better chance to thwart the untimely knee-jerk behavior of those who seek to destroy the inherent ebbs and flows by enforcing a perpetual boom-time based on violence and numbing distractions. The folly of their efforts and perhaps your participation as consumer is obvious. Yet to hasten the demise of such folly, I suggest that each person must muster the vital energies, know the song, and start singin’!
Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from the book Wild Yoga by Rebecca Wildbear. In this excerpt, Rebecca talks about connecting with spirituality, and demonstrates how caring for the nature and other nonhumans is an integral part of it. Learn more about her work at the end of this post.
I walk through the cave’s rocky, wet terrain, placing my hand on a wall to steady myself as my eyes adjust to the dark. Pausing, I hear the soft, dripping echo of dew sliding off rock. It sounds like a heartbeat from within this cool earthen interior. As water trickles over my feet, I remember watching springs emerge from darkness, rising from under the ground to feed streams, lakes, and rivers. I thank these waters for nourishing all life on our planet.
As a guide, I invite others to be nourished by the imaginal waters that spring forth from the depths, releasing visionary potential, expanding consciousness, and revealing other ways to live. Being in our deep imagination while attuning to nature’s wild imagination can enlarge our perception, align us with a deeper intelligence, and remind us of ancient and new potentialities. Grounded in reverence for the living planet, we can listen for what she needs.
Visions and dreams spring forth from the belly of the Earth, as does actual water, to nourish our souls and the world’s soul and keep everything alive. The majority of drinkable water worldwide comes from underground aquifers, now being rapidly drawn down. Rain is unable to replenish the amount being mined. Globally, water use has risen to more than twice the rate of population growth. It is still increasing. Ninety percent of water used by humans is consumed by industry and agriculture. When these waters are overused, lakes, streams, and rivers dry up.
In the Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico, a third of houses lack running water; in some towns, the figure is 90 percent. Peabody Energy, a large coal producer and Fortune 500 company, pulled so much water from the Navajo aquifer before closing its mining operation in 2019 that many wells and springs have run dry. And it is not only coal mining that usurps water. Since 1980, lithium mining companies in Chile have made billions consuming so much water that indigenous Atacama villagers were forced to abandon their settlements. For millennia, they had used their scarce water supply carefully. Now, where hundreds of flamingos once lived on beautiful lagoons, the ground is hard and cracked.
The cave womb of the Earth is creative and life-giving but fragile. As we bring awareness to life underneath the surface, we can grieve and offer our tears for the massive losses of groundwater and the poisoning of underground waterways. We can pray for a vision to help us respond to clear-cut forests, plowed prairies, drained wetlands, and the harms of human-only land use, like mining and agriculture. It is hard to bear witness, but we are part of the Earth’s body. We need to feel what is happening and seek and offer help.
Spirit abides in all living things and is inseparable from the natural world. To destroy the Earth is to desecrate God. Prayer is a way of being present and in relationship with everything. We begin to restore balance when we honor the sanctity of life. By listening to dreams, our muses, and nature, we align ourselves with powerful allies and can glean our purpose and understand how to serve the whole. The harm humans are causing the Earth asks us to return to her, listen, and pray for visions that can help us restore balance.
Into the Heart of the World
Opening to the suffering of the Earth carries us into the heart of the world. It is gut-wrenching to see the world around us becoming more damaged. The pain is not something we can deal with and move on. Once we finally grasp the immensity of ecological devastation, it is hard to bear the feelings of depression, rage, anxiety, cynicism, overwhelm, hopelessness, despair, and apathy. The feelings are not ours alone, but what we are sensing from our planet home. Stephen Harrod Buhner wrote it’s “our feeling response to a communication from the heart of Earth” urging us “to re-inhabit our interbeing with the world.” We need to face what is happening and let the feelings speak to us. To listen to their messages and let them alter the course we are on.
Whatever we love and may lose carries us into the world’s heart. When I was twenty-one, I had non-Hodgkins lymphoma and thought I might die. Many people prayed for me. Their good wishes healed me and brought me joy. I was surprised by how well I felt, despite the physical pain. Later, I wondered if their prayers had helped me feel good.
Prayer connects us to the moment and invites us into a cocreative partnership with life. In the yoga asana classes I teach, I invite our movements to be prayer and our bodies to be a doorway to the sacred.
I pray with others in nature, guiding people to let go and listen. To feel their unmet longing to find deeper meaning and purpose, to become whole and live a soul-centered existence. Sometimes the prayers we live can feel intensely tricky. In the cave womb of transformation, visions can emerge, and the dark nights of our souls can pull us toward the holy mystery at the center of our lives.
I am aligned with my soul, and I know others who are too. Yet ecosystems are collapsing under the greed of global capitalism, and more species and lands die each day. Our prayers need to stretch beyond the individual. Soul-making is a collaboration tied to the fate of Earth, asking us to descend into the collective dark night of our planet. To love the natural world is to weep at how humanity harms her. If we open to the tremendous sorrow of our failure to protect oceans, forests, and rivers, this can bring us into the world’s heart, dismembering our sense of self and what we have believed about the world. We can receive visions for the Earth through a collective descent into the underworldly depths. We can let the Earth touch us and listen to what she is saying through feelings engendered in our hearts.
Alicia, a young woman who lives in a yurt in southwestern Colorado, places her forehead and hands on the red soil of the desert. “This isn’t yours,” she cries, fierce and mournful. “This belongs to all of us.” She repeats this phrase over and over, her voice increasing in intensity, her hands slapping the ground.
Sixteen of us sit in circle in the Utah desert, participating in a five-day Prayers in the Dark program. The sky is blue, and the sun is bright. It is late morning, and the desert is silent except for the occasional call of a mourning dove. Today, we are engaged in a ceremony similar to the Truth Mandala practice developed by Buddhist teacher Joanna Macy, expressing our feelings about what is happening to the planet. Mary stands up and opens her mouth in a bloodcurdling scream.
The group is silent, frozen, taking in her scream. It pierces us and the land and is disturbing and relieving as if we had all howled, shrieked, or wailed.
Alex says, “I grew up on the Boundary Waters,” a wilderness area in Minnesota that is part of the Superior National Forest. He talks about canoeing as a child and all the birds he saw. “Trump has granted leases to mining companies,” he points out, referring to a past American president. “The land and water will be poisoned.”
Thomas, from Wyoming, is trembling and in tears. I asked him if he wanted to share his thoughts with the group. He shakes his head no. “I can’t speak,” he says, choking. “It’s too sad.”
I feel my longing for cement, metal, and tin to melt away. For machines that mine the Earth to be dismantled. For rivers to run clear and be full of salmon. Flocks of birds to darken the sky. Ancient trees to cover the land. Oceans to teem with whales, dolphins, and coral. People to stop extracting and start honoring. The Earth to breathe herself alive.
“Close your eyes and root in the Earth,” I suggest to the group. “Imagine you are liquifying in a cocoon or hibernating in a cave. Descend into your despair and listen for what emerges. Ask for visions of how we can respond.”
Our souls are linked to the underground heart of the world. Deeper under the surface of our planet than water is fire. Magma, a hot, semifluid material, can move up to the surface and be ejected as lava. Our feelings are linked to what is happening on our planet. Our fire — our rage — is an active and receptive grief cry. We can speak and listen, surrender and serve, and offer ourselves. We can embody what we receive as responses arise through images, emotions, words, dreams, or sensations. To live and die the visions we are given is a prayer.
An ongoing relationship with death changed my life and kept me close to the Mystery. My scare with cancer did not end once I was in remission. Symptoms I felt when I had cancer — pressure in my chest, a chronic cough, nausea — sometimes returned. I had frequent CAT scans after I recovered, checking to see if it had reappeared. Statistically, the odds of a reoccurrence were high. I worried cancer would return, and I’m incredibly grateful it did not.
Death will claim all of us and those we love one day. It preys on us, bringing us to our knees in humility, inspiring us to pray and listen. Death initiated me into the mysteries, connecting me more deeply with my soul and the sacred. Nature is a place where I’ve always experienced the holy. When I had cancer, I also encountered a divine presence within me. I didn’t know what it was then. Now I understand it as an aspect of my mythic soul.
Our death can feed the spirits if we offer our lives to what matters. According to Martín Prechtel, young people in the Tz’utujil Mayan village where he lived “wrestled with death” during their initiation ceremonies. They tried to court their souls back from death with eloquence. Death was likely to agree to give them their souls only if the initiates committed to “ritually render a percentage of the fruit of [their] art, [their] eloquence, and [their] imagination to the other world.” The Earth and Spirit are fed by how we live and die. I imagine them starving and grieving for people to listen, create beauty, and give back. When we live and die eloquently, our lives and deaths nourish the spirit world, like a grandmother tree nourishes a forest in her life and death.
Guiding on rivers, I sometimes feel close to death. Praying for my life, I am surprised by the images that arise and remind me of what I love and value — the sacred beauty of wild places; quiet moments alone with my body and my muse; being with loved ones, my dog Xander, friends; swimming or rafting; water.
On quests, I guide others to put their lives on the altar if they are emotionally and developmentally ready. Seeking a psychospiritual death is part of their prayer to receive a vision of their deeper purpose. People sometimes encounter their souls on their deathbeds, but they have no time left to live it. Intentionally letting go of the familiar and stepping into a liminal unknown is a kind of death, and visions of soul or other extraordinary or numinous possibilities can come. Some questers seek an initiatory dismemberment, hoping to receive what David Whyte calls
your own truth
at the center of the image
you were born with.
In a meadow in the Colorado high country, twelve people stand at the edge of a portal made of sticks, pine cones, and flowers. A deer peers out from behind a ponderosa pine. Quaking aspens, lupines, and bluebells surround us. Each person reads their prayer before walking across the threshold to fast alone in the wilderness for three days and nights.
Initiation ceremonies like these were common in ancient cultures of indigenous and nature-based peoples, and some still do them. Yet, as Martín Prechtel explained, when an entire culture “refuses to wrestle death with eloquence, then death comes up to the surface to eat us in a literal way, with wars and depression.” Perhaps if modern Western culture supported its people to grow and face death, it would stop consuming all life on the planet.
The dominant culture will not last. Founded on the principles of individualism, capitalism, human supremacy, white supremacy, and colonialism, this mainstream culture is incompatible with the Earth’s living systems. Yet industrial civilization continues on the path of futile addiction to an unsustainable lifestyle, in denial of its impending collapse.
The world will be healthier once the dominant culture ends — animals, plants, water, soil, developing nations, indigenous cultures, and rural people. The sooner it comes to a halt, the more animals, fish, trees, and rivers will remain, and the more likely it is that we will have sustainable food sources for future generations. Waiting for things to unravel may make the crash worse for humans and nonhumans living through it and those who come afterward.
If only the ecological crisis would catalyze radical change that would compel industrial civilization to let go of harming the natural world to keep itself alive. Government and corporate leaders and the systems of power that rule society do not seem willing to put global empire on the ceremonial altar, despite how much harm it causes. The global empire has been going on for a long time without any significant shift. Individuals and communities need to reclaim the power to take the necessary courageous steps to ensure global empire is put on the altar. We can let go of what we don’t believe in and know isn’t working. We can align with what and who truly matters.
Modern culture has separated us from our land and the instinct to protect it. We reclaim power when we deepen our relationship with the Earth and descend into the heart of our planet to grieve and receive visions for our souls and the world. Visions imbue us with mysterious powers and guide us into greater alignment with nature in ways our minds can’t conceive. Dreams are real. Listening gives us authentic power by which we can change the world, bringing together our visionary and revolutionary natures.
When we let go, we don’t know what is next. We descend into our prerational instincts, listen and attune to our planet home, and invite our visionary selves to guide us. A caterpillar offers her life in the cocoon, not knowing she will metamorphose into a butterfly. We can liquefy in our wild imagination and pray within the dark Earth. Feeling our watery souls and the water flowing under the ground, we can pray for a vision to help us restore forests, birds, oceans, and justice. Yearning for a world where the sacred is blended with all we do, we can partner with the dream of the Earth. Will the universe hear us and respond?
I close my eyes and remember visions — mine and others’ — that have sprung forth from the depths of wild nature and dreamtime. I remember springs I have drunk from in the wild, my lips on a mossy rock, my mouth filling with the sweet flavor and vibrant texture of waters that have long gestated in the dark Earth until they were ready to rise. I lean in and receive the generosity of water, longing for her elixirs to stir visions of ways to halt the human-caused harm and restore and nourish her ecosystems back to life.
A Wild Yoga Practice for Praying within the Dark Earth
Go out at night or find a dark place in nature, be present in your body with all your feelings, and listen, wait, and pray. Find a cave or other wild place where you can sit in darkness. Imagine yourself deep inside the Earth. See if you can sense the place where water arises or feel her heartbeat. Imagine you are gestating in the underground heart of the world. Wait and listen. Notice what you feel and what arises. Ask the Earth what she wants. Explore whatever comes with all of your senses. Write or create art to honor the visions you receive. Let them guide your actions in the world.
About Wild Yoga: A Practice of Initiation, Veneration & Advocacy for the Earth
Wild Yoga invites you to create a personal yoga practice that seamlessly melds health and well-being with spiritual insight, Earth stewardship, and cultural transformation. Wilderness guide and yoga instructor Rebecca Wildbear came to yoga after a life-threatening encounter with cancer in her twenties. Over years of teaching and healing, she devised the unique and user-friendly practice she presents in Wild Yoga. In this book, she guides you in connecting to the natural world and living from your soul while also addressing environmental activism. Whether you are new to yoga or an experienced practitioner, by engaging in this vibrant approach, you’ll discover greater levels of love, purpose, and creativity, along with the active awareness we know our planet deserves.
In this video produced by New World Library, Rebecca Wildbear discusses how Wild Yoga connects us to the Earth. Check out this excerpt from the book, “Playing Your Part in the Symphony,” on the publisher’s website.
Editor’s Note: It is not enough to consider short-term productivity when we talk about restoration of the natural world. It is imperative that we talk about how the landscape will be in the future, hundreds, maybe thousands, of years from today. Only then will we be talking about true sustainability, or about true restoration.
By Austin Pearsons
Our actions today determine our options tomorrow. This is as good a time as any to ask ourselves hard questions. To look around, to look inward. How are our choices impacting future generations? What will be our legacy? Will the children of tomorrow benefit from our actions today? Will our grandchildren thank us for our dedication and foresight? Our grandchildren’s grandchildren? Will there be abundance or will there be scarcity? The answer hinges on us in the present.
Many of our cultural predecessors practiced the seven generation principle or something like it. They recognized that the conditions we inherit in this lifetime have been determined by the actions of those who came before us; from seven generations ago until now. They acknowledged that the decisions made today reach far into the future; affecting those yet unborn for seven generations (there are many interpretations). Today we are imperiled by widespread pollution, water contamination, chronic inflammatory diseases, global pandemics, escalating rates of deforestation, extinction and biodiversity loss, ocean acidification and collapsing fish stocks, massive uncontrollable wildfires, insect and diseases outbreaks decimating forests, loss of soil fertility paralyzing our global agricultural systems, food insecurity, sea level rise, climate chaos, flooding, drought, inflation, debt, war, and on and on and on. This is the legacy of our ancestors which we have inherited. I often wonder if we will last seven generations more.
If we are to secure a livable future for the generations to come, we must adjust our way of thinking, acting, and being. The solutions to the crises we face are less complex than we are often led to believe. Let’s break it down. Pollution, biodiversity loss, and climate change are our big problems to solve. In solving them, we can address every related problem of our time (governmental corruption, corporate greed, and media collusion are beyond the scope of this analysis).
I cannot claim to be a global expert so I will stick to what we can do right here in Appalachia which can, in fact, go a long way towards resolving global challenges. It is worth noting that Appalachia is the largest temperate deciduous forest on earth, among the most biodiverse regions on the continent of North America (and the world). A resilient forest that once stretched, nearly unbroken, from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean, from the Gulf of Mexico to Quebec. The chestnuts, chinquapins, oaks, hickories, walnuts, hazels, maples, countless species of berries and tree fruits, roots, herbs, fish and game provided abundant proteins, carbohydrates, fats, sugars, nutrients, and medicines to the indigenous peoples who were inseparable co-creators of the forests. Some peoples supplemented their diets with diverse varieties of corn, beans and squash (and other cultivated crops) as well. They did this all without factories, steel, internal combustion engines, chemical fertilizers, pesticides, plastics, fossil fuels, electricity, or the internet. The picture I am painting is of a landscape unfragmented by cities, suburbia, fences, and roads, where water was clean enough to drink, where ancient trees freely gave hundreds, often thousands, of pounds of food to any and all year after year for centuries on end with no need to fertilize, till, spray, or tax – all while improving soil fertility, sequestering carbon and protecting water quality. Food was always close at hand: no need to ship it from California, Mexico, Indonesia or Brazil. Medicine was freely available to those who were sick. Clothing, canoes, string, sealant and shoes grew on trees, in wetlands and fields – even walked about on four legs. The forests were chemists and cooks, providers of heat, they built homes, insulated, and illuminated them too. When I consider these things, I question the wisdom of our current paradigm.
The way we practice agriculture today is the leading cause of biodiversity loss, deforestation, topsoil erosion, and the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses globally. The methods are efficient by some standards and the food produced is calorically rich, perhaps, but nutritionally poor and loaded with poison. It causes us innumerable health problems such as food allergies, irritable bowel syndrome, tooth decay, obesity, and diabetes. Agriculture, as practiced today separates us from the land, from our food, and causes hopeless dependence on the very systems that are exploiting and polluting our bodies, watersheds, ecosystems, and the planet. Conventional agriculture decreases the genetic diversity of our crop species and decreases the diversity of food that we have access to. If we wanted to stop eating roundup-ready genetically modified corn, soy, and rice, most of us would starve. We argue incessantly over jobs, and obsess over our fitness regimes, but if we took a shovel and a hoe and planted our lawns with food, we would be healthy, wealthy, and wise in no time. If we planted them with chestnuts and cherries, pecans and persimmons, our grandchildren might not face the problems we do.
Locally we farm hay, grains like corn and wheat, and cows on our most productive lands – lands that once supported thousands of plants and animals per acre. The productivity of our local agriculture declines over time as soil fertility washes downslope. Why not apply the principles of regenerative / restoration agriculture, agroecology, or closely related permaculture? The benefits of replacing conventional agriculture with diverse perennial polycultures have been demonstrated all over the world, often in more challenging conditions than those encountered here in Appalachia? Millions now replicate successful strategies worked out by indigenous peoples everywhere and described by: Yeoman, Fukuoka, Mollison, Holmgren, Shepard, Smith, Holzer, Gotsch, and so many more. There are countless documented approaches to growing food that are vastly more productive and resilient than industrial agriculture. If we applied these principles instead, we could grow more (and more nutritionally dense) food per acre, with less inputs, and labor that decreases over time while yields simultaneously increase. Intact forests would sequester carbon while feeding people, improving soil fertility, cleaning our waters and decreasing the forest fragmentation which endangers the irreplaceable biodiversity that defines Appalachia. Most importantly, by reconciling our relation to the land, we take responsibility for the future that our grandchildren will inherit, giving them a chance to prosper in what seems an uncertain and perilous future.
Our forestry paradigm is an extension of industrial agriculture. While it has (arguably) been changing for the better it still looks at forests in terms of dollars and board-feet. More troublesome yet, the benefits from cutting the trees of Appalachia’s forests don’t remain in the area, but line the pockets of far away lumber barons who ship it to distant markets where they have already exhausted their forests. Each timber harvest releases carbon into the atmosphere and disrupts the complex web of life in the soil, exposing it to erosive forces, reducing forest biodiversity above and below ground, and introducing invasive species. Mature forests are more species rich and resilient than those that grow back after logging. Ancient trees are critical genetic banks who carry the wisdom to survive changing climate, insect and disease pressures and who transfer those abilities to future generations. They also support more species of birds, insects, amphibians, reptiles, mammals, fungi, and other plants, produce more food and sequester more carbon than younger trees. It is now known that old trees nurture the young and the weak through the mycorrhizal network that connects the entire forest. When we harvest the biggest and healthiest trees in the forest, we destroy the communication and support network that is hidden below ground. Should we not revere the old giants of the forest who have been here longer than us? Should we not offer the wonderment and spiritual presence of old-growth forests to future generations? Should we not learn from their teachings of generosity, reciprocity, persistence, intra- and inter-species cooperation for the good of the whole – for intergenerational prosperity? There is great wisdom in the soil, in the forest community, and if we are wise we will pay close attention.
If you believe that there is a better way, I assure you that you’re right. If you feel powerless to do anything about it, you are not alone, but you are incorrect. We can all make small adjustments to our lifestyles, paying attention to the choices we make each day. Collectively, such actions can make a difference, but it will not be enough if we do not affect larger systems change. There is much we can do to protect what little remains and to restore what has been lost, but we must come together. We must take responsibility for the future, we must shift our perspective, we must collaborate. This human-centered, narcissistic, capitalistic, punitive, infinite growth paradigm that we have inherited is unsustainable, unethical, and unintelligent. I believe that we have the capacity to do good work for the benefit of the whole. But first, we need to shift our consciousness to an ecocentric worldview that removes humans from the hierarchy and places us in a circle with the rest of life on earth. If you agree, let’s get to work. Together we can achieve what is impossible alone.
We are a diverse group of people in every season of life with different skills and assets that are significantly greater than the sum of parts. Linked by a common past and future – like an old-growth forest – ancient mother-trees carry wisdom, access deep water and scarce resources that the young, weak, and sick need to survive. They share through an unseen network so that when the storm brings down the tallest tree, others are prepared to take their place. The individual lives on through others so long as the forest remains intact. So it shall be with us, the visionaries and change-makers. We who give freely of ourselves to ensure that tomorrow is more abundant than today.
Editor’s Note: In the Fight for Who We Love series, we introduce you to one species every month. These nonhuman species are what inspires most of us to join the environmental movement and to continue to fight for the natural world. We hope you find this series inspiring, informative, and a break from news on industrial civilization. Let us know what you think in comments! Also, if there is a species that you want us to cover in the upcoming months, please make suggestions in the comments. Today it is Adélie penguins.
Adélie (pronounced uh-DELL-ee) penguins live in the deep south: Antarctica.
You know that movie Happy Feet featuring dancing penguins? Yeah, so those aren’t actually Adélie penguins they’re emperor penguins (the other primary penguin species who exclusively call Antarctica home).
But just because Adélies didn’t star in their own film doesn’t make them any less cute or important. Because they are rather attractive creatures with some extraordinary capabilities.
DID YOU KNOW?
The Adélie penguins live on average from 10 to 20 years in the wild, can grow to about 24in/60cm tall, and spend most of their lives in the water, holding their breath for up to about six minutes and diving over 500ft/150m.
They’re also capable of swimming more than 100mi/160km in search of food. These expeditions are far reaching and can last more than 70 hours. 70 hours! That’s, like, nearly 5 days! I don’t know about you, but I can’t imagine having the endurance for trips like that.
The Adélies are not only adept swimmers, but very good walkers and can traverse over 30mi/50km at a time. Given their waddle-like tendencies, perhaps that’s not a skill most of us would’ve imagined. I mean, how many of us humans walk that much? Sure, some of us do, but probably not many and not often.
THE BIGGEST THREAT
“…[I]t’s possible that up to 60 percent of current Adélie penguin colonies could experience population declines by the end of this century.” —Megan Cimino, Scripps Institution of Oceanography
Climate Change is not only the biggest threat to Adélies, but to entire species across the globe. Bill Fraser, a biologist who has been visiting the Adélies over the past thirty years, was interviewed in the 2022 documentary series Frozen Planet II by James Reed and talks about one of the reasons why Adélie penguins are dying: the rain.
We humans often grumble a bit if we have to put on our raincoats when the weather is “bad.” But the Adélies can’t so easily deal with such drastic weather changes.
Since they are uniquely adapted to the cold temperatures and dry air in Antarctica, Adélies struggle to survive when the weather is rainy and humid. The penguins build their nests on bare ground using small stones, often returning to the same place to nest. But changes in the climate — for example, too much rain —seriously threatens the Adélies’ ability to nest. The rain soaks and flattens the chicks’ down feathers, which means that they no longer have built-in insulation against the cold.
NOAA’s (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center (CDIAC) could prove in ice core samples that carbon dioxide (CO₂), methane, and nitrous oxides have increased in the last hundred years.
Over the last 800,000 years the levels of CO₂ ranged steadily from 170 to 300 parts per million (PPM), and in 2010 they reached a record high of 386 PPM. “In all ice core samples, there is a shocking increase in air pollutants in the last 100 years that directly correlates to car use and an industrializing global economy,” write scientists of the International Pollution Issues, an electronic research journal.
Pollution in Antarctica is also exacerbated by the “grasshopper effect, which causes persistent organic pollutants (POPs) to move from a warmer to a colder climate where they are consumed by several species. Species higher in the food chain, such as seals, penguins, and whales, are affected the most because they eat organisms that have already stored POPs in their fat and tissue. This is called bioaccumulation.
Native landscapes millions of years old are being bulldozed in the name of technological progress to make room for industrial civilization and human infrastructure — things like second homes, parking lots, and factories. These devastating changes to the earth have extreme effects on the weather patterns, and create conditions that never before existed in a region.
Human-induced changes also affect the ozone layer, a stratospheric layer which shields Earth from damaging ultraviolet radiation. According to the National Science Foundation to the United States, the ozone layer above Antarctica is being depleted during long, icy winters when stratospheric clouds harbor small particulates of chlorofluorocarbons and other aerosols. And this hole that has appeared in the ozone layer above Antarctica was reported by NASA in 2014 to cover an area of roughly 9.2 million mi2/24 million km2.
“Scientists predict that more than half of Adélie colonies will be in decline by the end of the century.”
Why we fight
The Adélie penguins matter to the world and are one of countless reason why we fight.
Editor’s Note: In the following piece, Sue Coulstock invites you in Nuyts Wilderness Walk. Along the journey, she shares her reflections on Australia’s colonial past, and the many nonhumans who call the wilderness their homes.
By Sue Coulstock
Recently we did an impromptu reconnaissance hike in a pocket of remnant old-growth Karri/Tingle forest, in preparation for doing the Nuyts Wilderness Walk for the first time later this Southern autumn. I’ve blogged our hikes for years to share with overseas friends and thought I’d share this one with fellow DGR people from all over the world. Many of you will be consciously limiting overseas travel, so I wanted to give you a vicarious walking experience in Australia with us.
As we were exhausted from working a bit too hard, we set out without a particular walk target, just to enjoy the forest and possibly have our lunch at the Mt Clare hut.
Here’s a context map of this special part of the world. There are no roads south of the Deep River; it’s walk-only. That situation is a little analogous to the amazing South Cape Bay Walk in Tasmania, where the road ends at Cockle Creek and from there you hike to the ocean – in that case, to the southernmost point of Tasmania.
There are sadly so few areas left in the world like this. We are such a terribly destructive culture. 250 years ago Australia was still unmarred by European civilisation and its large-scale annihilation of native ecosystems and cultures. Many people don’t think it’s even a problem. It’s not helped by the fact that Australia, like the US, has a highly urbanised population. Most Westerners essentially grow up in captivity and have little exposure to or understanding of natural ecosystems. I met kids in socially disadvantaged parts of London who had never seen a tree that hadn’t been planted by humans, and who didn’t even have an interest in such things. I went on a bush camp with privileged high schoolers from Sydney’s Northern Beaches who screamed when they saw insects and who immediately got out their pocket wet wipes when they got a bit of mud on their legs when we went hiking. They were ecstatic to get back to the shopping complexes that were their natural habitat. People can live and die entirely swallowed up in dystopia, so far from their roots as biological beings that they may as well live on a space station.
This is at the start of our walk at John Rate Lookout.
And we shall be your Hobbity guides today, so that if you live far across the seas, you can have a vicarious experience of this ancient ecosystem, which I shall do my level best to make vivid for you through photos and prose, so that hopefully you will be able to feel that part of you went walking with us.♥
There’s a boardwalk at the lookout with steps leading to the Bibbulmun track and a sign suggesting people walk into Walpole. We were heading in the other direction.
John Rate, perhaps unwittingly part of the machine that pulled down the Old Growth Forests, got a mention on this sign but I bet his much-feted understanding couldn’t have held a candle to the ecological understanding of the Noongar people who used to live in this forest. He’s celebrated for “discovering” a species of Tingle tree, as Captain Cook was celebrated for “discovering” Australia. It’s an odd way of looking at Australian history, to imagine people could have lived here for 60,000 years ignorant of this tree or of the continent beneath their feet.
You have to read the tourist information signs in the forest areas with a large grain of salt. It’s better to get into the forest and let it inform you.
Brett and I are so aware that urban and agricultural landscapes are terribly scarred and ecologically degraded, even the ones considered picturesque. It’s funny how the Western euphemism for degradation is “development” – I laughed when I heard a story about an Indigenous man from a rainforest saying, “What do you mean you want to develop this forest? It’s already developed – it took millions of years to get to this point!”
We treasure being able to immerse ourselves in relatively unspoilt areas, and to listen, with our bodies, minds and hearts, to what nature is saying to us. This is like coming home, on a fundamental level. It is like visiting a living cathedral, and learning about the respect and kinship you are supposed to have with the web of life. It is learning your place, which is as one species among many, and not as the alleged cream of creation, nor as the self-proclaimed pinnacle of evolution. It is learning about yourself as a biological being, walking for hours as your ancestors did on the African plains, down from the trees with hairless skin to help with evaporative cooling.
I’d not felt that energetic when I woke up that morning, and we had considered shorter walks even than the open-ended “John Rate Lookout to maybe Mt Clare hut if we can make it that far.” Yet we ended up walking for hours without committing to that in the first place, just because it was so magnificent to be in this forest.
Hollow spaces, nooks and crannies everywhere. The whole place teeming with life, despite the fact that we’ve tried to crush life out of these forests, and have significantly succeeded in doing so. I’d love to travel back in time 250 years and stand in this place, before this country took the dubious honour of having the worst rate of mammal extinctions in the world and people bulldozed entire ecosystems off the face of the earth.
One of the things nature teaches is that we’re all both eating, and becoming food for others in turn. The feathers of this Port Lincoln Ringneck Parrot were left behind after it became a meal for another creature. When its body has been through and partly become that creature, the expelled remains become food for decomposers and nutrition for plant roots. We are stardust and we go around and around to make this glorious diversity of life on earth with each other. Or at least we are supposed to.
Civilised humans on the other hand like to be at the end of every food chain, taking and taking, eating everything and never giving back, not even after death, when our bodies are nowadays typically either burnt to a cinder with the help of fossil fuels, or entombed in a box of furniture-grade wood (from the body of a tree) six feet under and far out of the reach of the soil organic layer where decomposition occurs and feeds a plethora of species including, finally, plants – but oh no, why should we give back? Why should we admit we’re part of all of this when we can pretend to be above it – above the web of life which birthed us? When we can make believe we are some superior being only owed and never owing, not a mere part of the biosphere but its appointed master and annihilator?
A song about world views…
It really is insane, all this crazy desperate need
For unknowable magic, strange supernatural power
You’re flying through space at a million miles an hour
For 4 billion years, the sun keeps coming up
It’s all too wonderful for words but for you it’s not enough
You should step out of the shadows yeah and step into the light
All too wonderful for words, but precious few in Western culture who truly see it and who deeply care for it. The astronomical things sketched in the song, or the beauty and intricacy of the biosphere – which for our society is primarily a resource to be exploited, not Life to be honoured. Your life is cheap, if you’re an ordinary citizen, as many have found out and are continuing to find out when push comes to shove; and it’s even cheaper if you’re some other being, especially if you’re not “cute” (i.e. big-eyed and rounded and resembling the human infant), or if you’re as visually and behaviourally different to Homo allegedly sapiens as a tree or a slime mould. To The Economy, you’re just a commodity, valued according to the money you can make someone else. It’s The Economy, stupid. There is no community – not a human community, not a biotic community – these things don’t matter, when push comes to shove; the best they get from the power structures of our society is lip service, pretence and equivocation.
From the time I was a young child and first disappeared into the wooded foothills of the Italian Alps with only a four-legged canine companion in the late 1970s, I felt embraced by the natural world, safe, welcome; and I felt an ever-increasing awe and love for it as I got to know it better. When I was an adolescent, I began to look through the microscope of biology, ecology, physiology, biochemistry, physics etc at the natural world, like Gulliver’s Travels to Brobdingnag where he was suddenly tiny and could see the world in much more detail than ever before; like a Fantastic Voyage into the bloodstream of the biosphere. My awe and love for the natural world continued to grow.
I still feel this embrace, and my inner response to it, every time I go out to where nature is still writ large and still breathing. From the time I was a child, I’ve touched branches and reeds on the sides of trails with affection, loved the aroma of leaves and flowers and of earth after rain (for which we can thank the actinomycetes), and liked to feel raindrops on my skin. I’ve delighted in the presence of ants, bees, dragonflies, ladybirds, butterflies, scrolly-antennaed moths, chirpy crickets, praying mantises. And that’s just some of the insects…if I were to enumerate other sources of delight in nature, I could fill volumes (and I have).
So let’s turn our attention to some of the special trees on this hike. Close to Walpole there are three species of Eucalyptus referred to as Tingles, which grow into veritable giants, especially in girth. Over the hundreds of years, a lot of them get their bases carved out by fire, which is a normal feature of sclerophyll vegetation such as we steward at Red Moon Sanctuary, and also, at longer intervals, of the eucalyptus forests in the higher-rainfall areas towards Walpole. Indigenous Australians prevented major wildfires with mostly cool-burning cultural burning practices, at the right times to reduce risk and encourage biodiversity, such as the plants and the animals they depended on for food. In a summer-dry ecosystem where microbial decomposition activity is seriously inhibited, the right fire at the right time (generally small-scale, cool, and near the start of reliable rains) can be a helpful tool for turning dry dead plant material into nutrient-rich ash, which gives a boost to soils, promotes new growth in plants and allows for spectacular flowering. It also gives a good start to the seedlings that have the space and light to grow when dry dead material is converted to ash. Good plant growth and flowering in turn benefits grazing and nectar-feeding animals.
Another benefit of fire is that it tends to create shelter and nesting hollows in the older trees and in fallen trunks, which benefit birds, mammals such a possums, insects, etc etc. In the bases of many old Tingle trees, these are more like caves!
The next photo has Brett standing in the base of the tree for scale.
Now I’m zooming in, and you may see him better!
Now we’re looking up at the tree.
There is rather too much of it to get even half of it into frame. Since we actually didn’t know we were going to do a walk we’d not done before when we set out in the morning, we didn’t take the good camera that usually accompanies us for documentation. These snaps were taken on an iPod, which is a bit limited and produces a bit of distortion, most notably in people photos.
Next, Brett spotted a bright orange bracket fungus with an unusual shape.
It’s probably a Curry Punk (Piptoporus australiensis). The guide book says “edibility unknown” and that made me recall an answer I got when I was little and asked which fungi you could eat, and was told, “You can eat all fungi, but some of them only once.”
Since we knew people overseas or in cities would be interested, we took photos of quite a few different hollow Tingle-tree bases. (By the way, not all of them are hollow!)
So here’s another.
I went inside this tree but couldn’t look out of the “window”, it was too far up for me! So Brett photographed through it from the outside. The ground outside the tree is usually significantly higher than inside because the fire carves right down into the buttresses.
This was the view out. You can’t see it properly, but in the first one Brett pretended he’d been speared through the head with his walking stick. So I hereby dub this photograph “The Spearhead From Space“ (after an old Dr Who episode – my husband is a big fan).
This would be quite a nice place to overnight in if you brought a camping mattress and some mosquito veils. The base would easily accommodate a Queen-sized bed, not that you’d bring one of those. It also has great views.
This was the “door”…
This was the roof, considerably above me.
And this is another window.
We continued on our merry way. The temperature in the forest was most pleasant, even though we had been cooking already in the sunlight on the way there. The moment you step into this tall forest, you are mostly walking in shade or dappled sunlight; only occasionally there is a burst of full sun. This is how life makes conditions for nurturing more life; creates a wonderland of species and habitat and microclimates and even influences the weather.
And we Westerners chainsawed, logged and bulldozed most of these forests into oblivion, and much of what is left into a shadow of its former glory. This is one of the little patches in which old-growth trees can still be found. Most of South-Western Australia’s forests and woodlands were converted to farmland, where pastures and monoculture crops swelter under the sun in summer and exposed soils dry out and die. Because we think what we do is so superior to what the Indigenous people who lived here for 60,000 years did. And we won’t last 60,000 years, we’ve already destroyed much of Australia in under 250 – we’re a short-term thrill with chronic delusions, mostly about how clever and superior we are, and how our technology will save us.
This next photo, Brett was very adamant should be called ” The Moss-Tache”…
And then we were crossing Tingledale Drive, and arrived in the Nuyts Wilderness trailhead area, where there were lots of information signs.
We continued up Mt Clare – at this point the Bibbulmun Track and the start of the Nuyts Wilderness Track overlap, as you can see on the context map at the start of this photoessay. The climb up was on a gentle slope.
There were more information signs…
If you look closely behind the third Tingle in the background in the next photo you can just see the roof of the Mt Clare camping hut. You may have to look lower down than you are expecting as these trees are enormous…
Usually we stop and rest at these huts all along the Bibbulmun trail – they appear at approximately day walk intervals. However – and this was a first for us – the Mt Clare hut had been freshly repainted and reeked of industrial solvents, so we tried the open-air outdoors table instead. It too was most malodorous, as perplexing a phenomenon in such a near-pristine ecosystem as when you go mountain climbing with a chain smoker. So we checked our map and decided to have lunch at the gazetted suspension bridge across the Deep River, which sounded very interesting. We haven’t been across a suspension bridge on a hike since our half year in Launceston in 2009, where we were frequent hikers on the Cataract Gorge trails.
On the way there were some major tree hugging opportunities. Here’s a Tingle with a solid base.
An old-growth Tingle is not easy to hug. It’s a bit more like leaning in affectionately, but there’s no way the arms go anywhere near around even a fifth of the 12m circumference. Nevertheless, I think the intention is perceived in some way. These are ancient beings hundreds of years old. No wonder Tolkien wrote about Ents.
I don’t know how anybody can think cutting one of these down is fine and dandy, but in this world, every day, we are losing such trees to insane humans working in an insane economic system. I don’t know how anyone can think they make it right by “replanting” another tree. It would take hundreds of years to get to the same life stage, if it even lived that long – and natural forests plant themselves, thank you very much, and unlike plantations, are a treasure trove of genetic diversity and relationships. Humans only had to start planting trees after their own activities obliterated most of the trees on this Earth. We owe much more than we can ever repay, and it’s farcical to talk about carbon credits and biodiversity offsets. It’s a veneer of greenwash to conceal a core of ongoing and ever accelerating destruction, while people abuse words like “sustainable” and “love” and make “Centres of Excellence” for biological research which is never allowed to say no to profit and “progress”.
Here’s some upwards photos of the same tree! I got much of the trunk in the first one, but needed another to look at its crown in the canopy.
We had a kilometre to go until the Deep River; beautiful forest, and a fairly steep descent. As we approached the river valley, granite started peeping out of the ground.
The photos visually flatten out the actual steepness – in the next photo, we were upslope and across a small tributary valley from the dog who was climbing the slope on the other side!
“C’mon, keep up!” – says the dog, looking back at us. She could smell the water and was keen for the promised swim. When I know we have definite swimming opportunities ahead, I tell her there is a “splish” coming up. Dogs find words easier if you use onomatopoeia. This is also why when we’re talking to her, a car (or car trip) is a “brroom-brroom!” and the mention of this word at home gets excited leaps from her and immediate attempts to herd us out of the front door. I should film it sometime.
Descending towards the Deep River, there were some majestic Karri trees. The binomial name for this one is Eucalyptus diversicolor, and you’ll understand why looking at its bark.
I actually love the fact that on the remote and serious trails, things aren’t constantly manicured and tidied up for the convenience of typical urban walkers. I like having to climb obstacles in places like this and to use my wits and my body to work out puzzles, instead of having a kind of pedestrian freeway presented to me, as is the case for the touristy spots like Bluff Knoll and the Granite Skywalk. I enjoy having to look closely at where I am going, and figuring things out. Not having such opportunities is just another way of dumbing down our world, our inner lives, and our physicality. I come properly alive in wild places. The animal I am recognises what gave birth to me, to us, long ago.
And then we were at the suspension bridge.
We stopped in the middle of this wobbly, free-swinging bridge to drink in the views of the Deep River. I took two photos, to the west and to the east, which you are about to see. But just before I took them, I asked Brett to please stop jumping up and down, because I was taking a picture. And he said, “I’m not jumping up and down!”
“Hahaha…sorry!” Long time no suspension bridge. (But it’s exactly the sort of thing my husband has been known to do…not to deliberately interfere with photography, but just for the joy of it…♥)
And once arrived at the other side, our delighted dog cooled herself down in the Deep River.♥ We’d been giving her intermittent drinks from a bottle we take especially for her – in summer, there’s not much water in this landscape. Jess is nearly 11 now and needs extra TLC, plus a sofa recovery day after a long hike, but so far she is still coping well with extended walking and would be outraged to be left behind when we do something so fun. In her prime she used to run rings around my endurance horse, or our mountain bikes, and cover at least twice the distance we did; plus she swam like a hydrofoil as a young dog. I actually think it’s kinder to an animal to put it down when it gets to the point it can’t do the things it enjoys the most anymore, and not let it linger. We’re not at that point and right now she’s on excellent arthritis treatment that re-lubricates the joints. She also these days really enjoys her sofa recovery days, combined with good grub, which allow her body to rest and repair. In a way, we’re a bit like that ourselves these days.
We lunched on the steps of the bridge, in the shade, with a breeze blowing on us and the water flowing by. Brett had made us our favourite hiking salad: Just cut carrots and cheddar cheese into cubes, mix in a roughly 3:1 ratio, dress with lemon juice and cayenne pepper. Even the dog likes it. We also had salt and vinegar peanuts, half a home-grown Cox’s Orange Pippin apple each, and water from the drink bottles, mine with a splash of lemon.
Morning tea en route to Walpole had been ice cream made by the Meadery – double coffee for him; hazelnut on top, chocolate on the bottom for me. Normally we do that after a hike, but today we put it in the tank first. Waiting at home to balance us up in the evening was a big dish of moussaka, with home-grown zucchini, potatoes, tomatoes, herbs; kangaroo mince from Woolies (we’re currently out of home-grown beef mince), cheese sauce on the top potato layer, tons of grated pepper.
Kangaroo is equivalent to venison; the top predators were largely removed on the respective continents and neither the common deer species or the Western Grey Kangaroo are endangered, but the landscape has to be protected from overgrazing (and not just by kangaroos) or we’re going to accelerate bird and small mammal extinctions, not to mention flora, insects etc. We’re happy to co-graze wild kangaroos and emus with the cattle and equines on the pasture/permie previously cleared fraction of our place and don’t deter them; we welcome their presence and, excepting for our vegetable garden, deliberately made the fence passable to them but not to the livestock. (Top and bottom polybraids in the internal fences are hot but the middle is not, so they can slip through without getting zapped. Also, for boundary fences, have you heard of kangaroo gates?)
Occasionally local Noongar people will take a roo for their traditional food from the healthy local populations, including from Red Moon Sanctuary; and we eat the odd one that gets put down due to injuries like broken bones. A local octogenarian bushie friend who died last year brought us the occasional fresh roadkill he found by the highway; Trowunna Wildlife Sanctuary in Tasmania does the same to feed their charges. We don’t have Tasmanian Devils, but we do have a dog and stomachs of our own and these carcasses need taking off the roads. It’s not for everyone, but we’re fine with it if it’s fresh (and Jess prefers it when it’s not, and will track down her own). If you grew up in the city you may be appalled, but we didn’t and we do live close to the cycle of life and its realities. Also I’m a very good cook, and we’re both foodies – so don’t imagine that there are taste or food safety compromises.
Alas, the food that nurtures, repairs and powers us, and the acceptance that we should give ourselves in turn to the nurture, repair and powering of other beings when our lives end, instead of locking ourselves away like misers when we’re dead. Hat firmly off to Indigenous Australian traditional burials, and the sky burials in the Himalayas, and any other culture who recognises that we are part of the circle and need to act and live like it.
And then we were homeward bound again, for variety taking the loop route via Tingledale Drive back to the Bibbulmun (see map at start).
There were more Tingles with hollowed-out bases whose cubbies I tried out.
There was an agricultural clearing in this valley with something that looked like an outdoor education camp.
It was really hot on the road – removing a forest will change the microclimate. Local cattle were looking to rest under shade trees. Many of the big-business paddocks near where we live haven’t got a single tree in them and it should be illegal to keep animals in shadeless pastures – but the big corporations have got into the beef game and are making their own rules, which are all about maximising profit and pushing family farmers out of business. It’s expensive and time-consuming to plant shelter belts as we did, and you won’t break even financially on them through increased livestock productivity – we do it because it’s the right thing for umpteen reasons including livestock welfare, biodiversity conservation, soil conservation, the water cycle, water quality in rivers/estuaries etc, but having worked as an environmental scientist and seen how this goes, I don’t expect environmental and animal welfare issues to be given more than lip service and occasional window dressing projects by our powers that be. Money and greed drive basically everything in our culture, and big business is good at obfuscating and at finding scapegoats for a largely ignorant public to swallow.
Glory be, in this non-corporate little valley someone was deliberately planting Peppermint trees by the roadside for shade. You can see them in this view back towards the south-east. We have planted clumps of them too; a decade later they become enormous and make welcome shelter areas for birds, insects and domestic pasture inhabitants.
Mature shade trees are very popular things…
We rather felt like lying down under one of these trees ourselves, at this point. There is a world of difference between spending a summer midday in a tall forest, or walking on a road through a clearing. And to be honest, our feet were beginning to hurt after several hours of serious hiking that hadn’t strictly been on the agenda when we woke up – and it’s not as much fun to hike on vehicle tracks than twisty-turny walk trails.
Occasionally, remnant roadside trees provided a bit of shade. We were very happy to get to the Bibbulmun track intersection and back into the proper forest, where Brett was keen to pose for a photo.
He is such a drama queen. I’ve got a very similar photo of him at the tail end of our 8-hour loop climbing Cradle Mountain and returning via the Twisted Lakes, from years and years ago…
We were very happy to be out of the sun again.
Fallen forest trees make such great habitat opportunities…and it’s so annoying when ignorant people take their chainsaws and 4WDs into forests to “tidy up” and get a trailer load of firewood, thinking they’ve done some kind of community service when they’ve actually made wildlife homeless. This is where we are at – with a largely ecologically ignorant population of zoo humans thinking like this, about this and hundreds of other situations involving other species. Where do you even begin, and what hope if it conflicts with their existing world views, which are so precious to many and almost written in stone? That’s adult…it was a lot better working with adolescents, who were more open-minded and willing to look critically at the everyday and “normal” than their alleged elders and betters, than it is to try to have discussions like this with adults who have shut shop.
Thankfully I also know adults who haven’t shut shop, and continue to learn and to modify their working hypotheses; and they love the natural world. Those are my tribe, and it’s a small tribe, possibly endangered, but much loved and appreciated!♥
And that’s all the photos! We got back to John Rate Lookout, where we immediately took off our hiking boots to air our hot and tired feet, and drove home barefoot, listening to mostly acoustic music and chatting about this and that while fantasising about large cups of tea and bed rest. What an excellent day – and such an unexpected long adventure on a completely new-to-us trail! I couldn’t sleep for ages that night due to all the metaphorical champagne bubbles fizzing around inside of me. A day like this makes up for so many days of toil and staying home, for living on a smallholding in the middle of nowhere and no longer travelling much in the world. A day of wonder where you see and embrace wild nature, and she sees and embraces you.
♥ ♥ ♥
All the photos in this piece were taken by Sue Coulstock and Brett Coulstock.