I have long thought that much of what ails our world is our modern culture's dis-connection with nature. I grew up in Alaska, where I "talked" with the old raven who lived in the trees around our house--in fact, as a child, I just thought everyone talked with the animals in their lives. I really had no idea that most people did not live in such close proximity to the wilderness and wild animals---I just took the nature and wildness that surrounded me for granted.
At age 9, I spent one whole summer trying to catch one big trout in a creek near our house--using string and hook baited with fresh salmon eggs. When I finally hooked this trout, I was moved by some mysterious compassion to gently unhook the trout and return him to the creek. I lived in small town, where the kids were pretty much free to roam wherever we wanted, and we thought nothing of taking off into the woods to explore...where we found natural caves, berries to eat, and had occasional encounters with the squirrels, eagles, ravens, otters, deer and bears. To this day I am still more comfortable in the woods than on a city street.
As an adult in college I wrote a paper about an encounter with a wild animal in the wilderness, and when the prof wrote on the paper "You are very fortunate for having this experience." it finally sunk in to me that most people in the U.S. have not experienced real wilderness---let alone lived in the wilderness, or encountered a bear in the wild.
Now I live in the Bay Area of Northern California where the local news has been dominated by the the killing of a young man by an escaped tiger at the San Francisco Zoo. (If you want to know more about this terrible event, just go here to the San Francisco Chronicle and type in "tiger zoo" in their search field--numerous news stories will appear for you to read)
A few weeks before this, a friend had asked me to go to the zoo with her--and I had replied, "I'm sorry, just can't go to a a zoo. I feel the animal's pain too much at a zoo." I have only been to zoos 4 times in my life--I stopped going when I saw a caged grizzley bear who had worn deep impressions in the cement by pacing back and forth in front of his enclosure. I remember thinking--"That bear really wants out, he is trying to tell us he wants out," and then I felt the bear's despair flow through me. I left in tears.
In 2004, a study by Oxford University in England concluded that large, long-ranging carnivores like lions and tigers suffer horribly in captivity and show signs of serious neurotic behavior. I would conclude from what I saw that day that bears also become neurotic when caged up by humans. Have we outgrown the zoo? Zoos are essentially a 19th century left over, and now many zoos exploit the caged animals for human's entertainment. This tiger had been subjected to daily "public feedings" where its food was withheld until it growled--to please the human audience. Is it any wonder the tiger was angry at humans? and killed at the first opportunity it had?
As a child in Alaska, I learned to hunt the wild animals for food. I regularly accompanied my father on hunting trips. We ate the wild game we shot, but we were also taught to never wantonly kill or waste what we harvested. We were taught to have respect for all animal life; we were taught that if you were respectful of bears, you would be safe. This meant we were taught about bear behavior and habits and also proper behavior and the actions we should take if we encountered a bear. We were taught reverence for the wild animals of the woods and sea, since they provided us with our daily food. Our dinner prayers always thanked the animals for providing our dinner.
In our current culture, most people do not even think about the animal or where it came from when they consume meat---nor do they thank the animal for providing their meal. Most people are so disconnected from the natural world that they never consider where their food comes from, or what tree was cut to make the paper towels they use.
I lived for over 20 years in the Alaskan "bush" where all the items we needed to survive were flown in (if we did not make them ourselves), which forced me to consider the origin of almost everything I purchased. In the bush, neccessity was often the mother of invention---if we needed some practical item to survive--often we made it ourselves from local raw materials. For example, during this time of my life I taught myself to spin wool, weave and make clothing and rugs, and baked 4 loaves of bread every week. These experiences only deepened my respect for our Earth and for human ingenuity---and I formed a reverence for all life. I believe until we all return to a place where we have reverence for all life, we will not heal our Earth and solve the "environmental crisis" our planet is now having.
Note: The art above is my Love Our Earth Perpetual Calendar. The top layer spins so you may choose which animal graces which month of the year. Created on archival museum board with gouache, colored pencils, pen, and copper foil.
The photo is one I shot while visiting my sister in Alaska---this is the trail leading to her cabin.
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