Speaking My Piece on the Idaho Wolf Hunting Issue

Photograph by Joel Sartore, via the National Geographic

I’m intentionally not a very political person, and I don’t often like to get on the soap box (especially on this blog). Most of the time, I don’t feel that it would do any good, or I’ve found that lots of other people have said pretty much the same thing and my response would only be redundant, or the issue is too complex for me to say for sure that how I feel or what I think is absolutely correct. However, sometimes an issue will prick me to my core and continue to sting until I say something about it, especially if that issue has received little attention and I feel that by doing something — even something as small as writing a blog post — will raise a little more awareness to prevent what seems dangerous and imminent from happening. I was confronted with one of those issues recently, and so here I am, on my dust-laden soap box.

The Issue

A bill, proposed by Governor Butch Otter, is up for vote in Idaho that will allow hunters to freely hunt gray wolves, a species that has been reintroduced by conservation groups following decades of near-extinction. Proponents’ reasoning comes from two angles:

1. Wolves kill the livestock that ranchers depend on for their livelihood
2. Wolves kill the elk that hunters like to hunt

For a more detailed account of the issue (including a video showing speakers on both sides), check out this article. And this one.

My Piece

While I understand the frustration that the first group — the ranchers — feels, I also believe that there must be an alternative solution. The second group — the elk hunters — is completely inexcusable to me. The main point that both groups are missing is this: the wolves are killing and eating for survival.

Let me say this: I’m not against hunting on principle, just as I’m not against eating meat. I eat meat (although I eat less of it than a lot of people). I accept that humans are naturally omnivorous and require some meat as part of a healthy, balanced diet without relying on vitamins and supplements. And while I don’t hunt, I also accept that humans are predatory animals and that there is a side to our species that, quite possibly, needs to kill — just like sharks, alligators and, incidentally, wolves. I respect that part of humanity, just as I respect that part of the wolf species.

What I don’t respect is irresponsibility, selfishness and a lack of creativity in problem solving, all of which to me seem rampant in this issue. The hunting angle bothers me the most. First of all, one of the justifications I’ve heard from hunters for hunting is “to control the population” of the animal being hunted — to keep the population healthy and thriving. So hunting wolves to keep them from keeping the elk population in check bears absolutely no logic. Second, hunting by humans is very rarely survival-based, making nearly all hunting “for sport” these days. Even those who eat the meat of the animals they hunt still go to the grocery store to buy meat. They hunt because they enjoy it, not because they need to. Which is very different than the wolf’s purpose for hunting. But, like I said, I’m not against hunting per se; I recognize a difference between “regular” seasonal hunting and the kind of hunting that’s being advocated in Idaho against wolves.

These wolves are killed because people hate them. For the most part (I can’t say “all,” since I don’t know for sure), they are not eaten, which is wasteful. Additionally, where most hunting places a limit on the number of animals that can be killed, the wolf issue is about decimating a population that has historically struggled to exist. Efforts have been made in the recent past to reintroduce a healthy wolf population to its natural ecosystems. Conservation has only recently reached the point where groups are considering delisting them from the endangered species list, and this legislation and recent hunting behavior is threatening to erase all of that hard work. In fact, Governor Otter’s legislation proposes reducing the population to 150 wolves in Idaho. 150 in 83,642 sq. miles of land.

Perhaps the most troubling issue here is that Idaho isn’t the only state taking these kinds of actions; Wisconsin, Wyoming, Montana and other states have also opened the doors to “wolf population control.” As the Live Science article I linked in the previous sentence states:

Wolves were hunted, trapped and poisoned to the brink of extinction in the 20th century, and they rebounded only after being protected under the Endangered Species Acts of the 1960s and subsequently being re-introduced to Yellowstone.

Maybe I’m being aggressively political here, but no one can tell me that wolves do not have the right to exist. No one can tell me that 150 is a comfortable number for any species’ population. No one can tell me that all of that land isn’t enough room for wolves and humans and elk and livestock. If people are truly concerned about the elk population in Idaho, why don’t they hunt fewer elk? Why don’t they leave more food to the animals that need the meat for survival? Perhaps then the wolves won’t be so hungry that they need to kill livestock. Wolves don’t kill for sport, and they don’t kill out of spite. They are trying to survive, and it’s incumbent upon us as active, responsible members of the world to allow them to do that.

Responsible hunting (which one wolf hunting gathering supposedly supported) is not about vindictive genocide. It’s about respecting the natural world and allowing it to prosper while permitting the darker, violent side of our own nature to express itself. We need to let go of the notion that we are the only important species on the planet and that our lives and well-being are the only ones that matter. We need to respect other life forms, accept competition for survival as a fact of life and deal creatively with our challenges.

On the ranching side, several individuals and groups (including ranchers) have addressed the complex issue of maintaining livestock while preventing wolf-killing, often suggesting non-lethal methods for managing livestock predation. Check out these links for more information:

Living With Wolves: Questions About Wolves
Predators — Friend or Foe?
Livestock and Wolves: A Guide to Nonlethal Tools and Methods to Reduce Conflicts (PDF by Defenders.org)

To the Mystery in a Cloud

Nimbus II. 2012. Digital C-type Print 75 x 112 cm. Hotel MariaKapel, Hoorn, Netherlands. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

I’m a terrible blogger in some ways. I’m whimsical, coy, and frequently silent. I blame this on being an INF(T)P (I also love blaming perceived flaws on personality types and star signs — I’m a Pisces — because it helps me bear them philosophically). Anyway, seeing as I haven’t posted in a while, I’ve been racking my brain for the past few weeks for something to post about. I’m extremely picky about what I feel is “worthy” of posting. It can’t just be something cool I found, where I post a brief introduction and a link and am done with it; it has to be something I can explore and build on to say something about myself or my perception of the world (very INTP). I don’t know why I’ve set this requirement for my blog, but there it is.

I was cruising Pinterest and Google images today for inspiration for a new tattoo idea I have: just a cloud, but not a cutesy one, or a cartoonish one, or an 8-bit one, or a Chinese-style one, something kind of ethereal that will still somehow work with my more classic-style blue jay tattoo. The idea was inspired by the following lines in Wendell Berry’s poem “The Morning News”:

What must I do
to go free?  I think I must put on
a deathlier knowledge, and prepare to die
rather than enter into the design of man’s hate.
I will purge my mind of the airy claims
of church and state.  I will serve the earth
and not pretend my life could better serve.
Another morning comes with its strange cure.
The earth is news.  Though the river floods
And the spring is cold, my heart goes on,
faithful to the mystery in a cloud,
and the summer’s garden continues its descent
through me, toward the ground.

I love that. If I had to name a personal living hero (and I’m not really into that; hero worship is a little dangerous), I’d probably say Wendell Berry. The line I bolded has particularly stuck with me; I think of it every time I watch the clouds drift across the blue expanse above me like a herd of diaphanous elephants. If I identify with any natural presence, it’s clouds. They have tender, fleeting existences; they take various shapes throughout their “lives” as they are created and transformed by the elements and forces around them; at different points, they are benign or malignant, soothing or ominous; and when they’re gone, it’s only back into the earth, where they nourish life and eventually are reborn in other forms. In some ways, at least from my perspective, their mystery is our human mystery. And when I get my tattoo, and people ask me what it means, I can say with droll, stark ambiguity, “I’m faithful to the mystery in a cloud.”

During this morning search for tattoo inspiration, I came across (not for the first time) the photographs of Dutch artist Berndnaut Smilde, whose surreal images of clouds within empty interior spaces have garnered a lot of attention this year. These images are not of clouds photoshopped into spaces; Smilde creates the clouds himself by misting the air and then turning on a fog machine, and an assistant takes the photo at the right time.

Nimbus D’Aspremont. 2012. Digital C-type Print 75 x 110/125 x 184 cm. Kasteel D’Aspremont-Lynden, Rekem, Belgium. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

The creation of the cloud, as performance or installation art, is a statement on impermanence and the awe one feels when watching something mysterious and unique (as no two clouds are exactly alike) unfold. The photograph, however, is representative of mankind’s special ability and deep desire to make the evanescent (more) eternal.

An article on Slate explains: “Smilde is interested in fleeting moments, the ‘in-between situations’ that are open to interpretation.” Smilde himself wrote that “the cloud brings duality because you can’t really grasp how to interpret the situation you are viewing. This is not so much about the shape of the cloud but rather by placing it out of its natural context; in this case the unnatural situation can be threatening.”

I don’t find the surreal threatening, however. I’m always drawn to the liminal and the strange. Like Emily Dickinson, I know it’s my kind of art when “it makes my whole body so cold no fire can warm me.” Viewing his photographs is a spiritual confirmation. It nods to a wordless truth — something about the beauty of transience, how things have power and beauty simply because they are impermanent — that is wonderful in every sense of the word.

It’s like seeing a spirit in daylight.

Nimbus Minerva. 2012. Digital C-type Print 75 x 113/125 x 188 cm. Academy Minerva, Groningen, Netherlands. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

Nimbus Platform57. 2012. Digital C-type Print 125 x 198 cm. The Hague, Netherlands. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Cassander Eeftinck Schattenkerk.

Nimbus Cukurcuma Hamam I. 2012. C-type Print on Dibond, 125 x 184 cm. Berndnaut Smilde/Photo by Onur Dag.

Bats in the Attic

bats in the attic

We discovered recently that we have a relatively small colony of little brown bats living in our attic, pictured above (you can click on the image to see it larger). It might surprise some people, but we’re mostly excited about them. The guano mess is going to be a pain to clean up, of course, and the removal by exclusion process can be a hassle, but their presence is a welcome addition to our ecosystem for a number of reasons:

1) They eat insects like mosquitoes, wasps, gnats, and agricultural pests. In fact, a single little brown bat can eat around 600 mosquitoes in an hour. We are rife with mosquitoes around here, but we’ve already seen a significant decrease in their population since the bats arrived.

2) Guano is apparently an excellent fertilizer. We’re starting a garden this year, so we’ll test that theory soon enough. You can’t beat free fertilizer.

3) They aid in crop pollination.

4) We think they’re cute. They have sweet little faces and furry little bodies and squeaky little voices.

Who couldn’t love these little faces?

Or this one?

So, instead of just calling someone in to evict them (or worse — we’ve heard some terrible stories), we’re going to offer them an alternative: a bat house, mounted on the side of our house beneath the vent they’re currently calling home. There are lots of bat house plans online for those who like to DIY, but we were intimidated by that prospect (being fairly inexperienced in the ways of building wooden structures and knowing that bats can be kind of picky about their accommodations), so we ordered this one:

It’s good-looking in the picture, but it’s beautiful in person. And it’s extremely cost effective compared to other bat houses of similar quality and specifications we’ve seen. The only adjustment we made was to add shingles (i.e. free samples from Lowes) to the eave, which is recommended to prevent water damage and regulate heat absorption.

For anyone interested in buying/making a similar bat house, other criteria for good bat accommodations, as established by Bat Conservation International (a great resource for all kinds of information about bats), are as follows:

1) Multiple chambers — large houses with multiple chambers tend to be more successful than ones with only a single chamber because bats prefer options and privacy. Our bat house has only one chamber, but I imagine that, given its size, the size of their colony, and their current arrangement between the attic vent and the screen, the bats will still consider it an upgrade.

2) Roughened interior crevices — all over, not just on the landing area — are essential so the bats can have something to cling to while they sleep. If the house lacks this feature, they won’t be able to use it.

3) The shade of the exterior paint/varnish is another important factor to consider, and it varies from region to region. For cooler areas, a darker shade is best to increase heat absorption, but hotter regions need lighter shades to keep the temperature comfortable. No one wants to live in a house that’s suffocatingly hot or freezing cold. The Bat Con site has a map showing regional paint/varnish shade needs.

4) Height and depth — bat houses should be at least two feet tall with a landing area that extends 3″-6″ from the opening. The chamber(s) should be at least 20″ tall and 14″ wide.

5) Open-bottom construction — this provides decent air flow and keeps the house clean. Guano builds up pretty quickly (I know from experience, obviously) and can make a house unlivable.

6) Decent sunlight — bats need houses that get at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. This keeps them warm while they sleep. Ours have parked themselves on the eastern side of the attic, which is the side that gets the most sunlight, so that’s where we’ll mount the bat house.

7) Mounting on buildings or poles — according to research done by various groups, it seems that bats prefer their houses to be mounted on buildings, but they also seem to do all right in pole-mounted houses (as shown above). One location they definitely don’t like is a tree-mounted house. I imagine this has to do with the critters that live in or frequent trees. Building-mounted houses are particularly good at protecting bats from predators and invasive pests.

8) Houses should be checked annually for signs of decay and wasp nests, which can create problems for the bats. If nests accumulate or you find some wear on the house, adjustments should be made in the fall/winter after the bats have migrated or in early spring before they make their return. You pretty much have to leave the bats alone once they’ve occupied a space.

Again, Bat Con Intl. has further details on their site, and I highly recommend visiting it if you’re considering buying a bat house or even if you just want to get some more information on bats. Education is never a bad thing.

We’re going to set up our bat house this evening (before the bats wake up, which is around 8:00 PM) and hopefully start the exclusion process, unless they’ve already had their pups, in which case we’ll have to wait until August. I’ll provide bat status updates as they happen. I love them, and I’d like for other people to love them, too. And if love isn’t possible for everyone, I’ll strive for bat appreciation.

Feel free to leave any comments or questions about bats (or anything else I’ve mentioned) in the comment section below, or you can click the contact link at the top-left of this post to message me privately. Bats are wonderful and helpful creatures that are, unfortunately, highly misunderstood, and it’s my goal to provide a little space to help change that.

March 20

In honor of the March equinox/first day of spring  (at least for us in the Northern Hemisphere), here are a few things that look both forward and backward — fitting for this time in which dark and light are momentarily in balance and things begin to wake or make their return.

“The Current”
by Wendell Berry

Having once put his hand into the ground,
seeding there what he hopes will outlast him,
a man has made a marriage with his place,
and if he leaves it his flesh will ache to go back.
His hand has given up its birdlife in the air.
It has reached into the dark like a root
and begun to wake, quick and mortal, in timelessness,
a flickering sap coursing upward into his head
so that he sees the old tribespeople bend
in the sun, digging with sticks, the forest opening
to receive their hills of corn, squash, and beans,
their lodges and graves, and closing again.
He is made their descendant, what they left
in the earth rising into him like a seasonal juice.
And he sees the bearers of his own blood arriving,
the forest burrowing into the earth as they come,
their hands gathering the stones up into walls,
and relaxing, the stones crawling back into the ground
to lie still under the black wheels of machines.
The current flowing to him through the earth
flows past him, and he sees one descended from him,
a young man who has reached into the ground,
his hand held in the dark as by a hand.

From “Rising”
by Wendell Berry

Ended, a story is history;
it is in time, with time
lost. But if a man’s life
continue in another man,
then the flesh will rhyme
its part in immortal song.
By absence, he comes again.

There is a kinship of the fields
that gives to the living the breath
of the dead. The earth
opened in the spring, opens
in all springs. Nameless,
ancient, many-lived, we reach
through the ages with the seed.

It’s our first spring at our (first) house, and it’s exciting to discover the flowers and plants we didn’t know existed when we bought the place late last summer. We’ve planted strawberries and lemon thyme in the front yard around the mailbox and more strawberries in the backyard near the porch, and the seeds we’ve ordered for our vegetable and herb gardens should be coming in any day now. So, for us, it’s a time of surprise and anticipation, of eagerness and hope. It’s also, as with other things, a time of returning. As my husband said while we were preparing the soil around the mailbox, “It’s like being a kid again — digging in the dirt outside.”

Officially a Woman Writing Nature

It’s here! The Sugar Mule “Women Writing Nature” issue containing my first published poems has been made public. Download the PDF here. (My poems are located on pages 323 and 324.)

I’m thrilled and honored to be included in the (long) list of truly wonderful writers and poets published in the issue and to have found a momentary niche in a community of sensitive, intelligent, perceptive women. Together, we observe and discuss the natural world and our places in it — the bonds we human animals make with other animals and the impact of not only ourselves on the land but also the land’s impact on us. It’s a symbiotic relationship we have with the earth, for all our sins against and struggles with it. The pieces included in this issue reflect the various, idiosyncratic experiences we have in a world that is both brazen and subtle, wild and tame, wonderful and bitter(sweet), strange and common — sometimes all at once.

Check it out. I’d love to know what you think.

Down Among the Dust and Pollen

It’s been around a year since I first heard Fleet Foxes’ “The Shrine/An Argument,” and I’m still in love with it. So is my husband, who said this morning, “I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that [this] is one of the best songs ever… It’s everything amazing all rolled into one.” And that’s coming from a sometimes agonizingly picky musician.

If you haven’t heard it yet, it’s definitely folk, reminiscent of ’60s groups like Simon and Garfunkel, but refreshed by non-folk elements like the free jazz bit at the end. It’s mysterious and ambient, unexpected and austere, progressive without being off-putting. It’s deeply, tenderly spiritual in a personal, unsentimental, non-evangelistic way. It’s flakes of sunlight, dark caverns, green apples, hidden pools, gray ghosts of fog drifting along the chill northwestern coastline. It physically hurts — like lovesickness — to hear it. Robin Pecknold singing, “Sunlight over me no matter what I do,” stretching out his pretty-folk-singer voice to release a brief, hoarse cry, gives me chills. The lovesickness is for those wafts of simplicity and purity and the kind of primal spirituality that escapes language and ritual, that’s only observation and feeling, that come in certain pensive moments I wish I could gather up and cling to, but that inevitably slip away the moment I recognize them for what they are.

“The Shrine/An Argument” also has an incredible music video directed by Sean Pecknold (Robin’s older brother and the man behind Grandchildren.tv). The video, like the song, is eerily mythic, at once surreal and earth-bound. Listen to the song with your eyes closed first, then watch the video below.