Wolves and kinship
“It’s really difficult for me to see a forest, or the ocean, or the sky, or the earth as being something that I’m not a part of. It’s completely beyond my imagination.” —Stan Rushworth
Last week I saw the news that twenty wolves whose packs are based in Yellowstone National Park had been killed. One pack is considered gone completely. This is before Montana’s new trapping season, which now allows baiting and luring wolves, begins.
I will try, in the future, to share the work of an organization that helps Montana ranchers coexist with wolves and grizzly bears by using education and volunteer Range Riders, but right now I have no room for that. Because this isn’t about coexistence. When the Montana legislature debated new regulations for wolf hunting last year, there was little in the conversation about balance or respect for life—or, heck, even about predators’ impact on ranchers—and a whole lot of barely disguised glee at the prospect of permissive violence, often via explicitly cruel methods, toward a species whom many human cultures have been bent on controlling or eliminating for centuries.
The truth is, I am wordless with grief. How to coexist is a tangled question that requires real-world understanding of humans’ place in nature and our use of it. It’s not this, though. This is extinction, and that aim has been directed at far too many forms of life for far too long, including our own.
It’s hard to pull these words out, to say anything, especially knowing that this grief is only a shadow of that felt by people who’ve seen this kind of self-righteous violence clearly for much longer than I have. All I want to do, honestly, is sit around a campfire with close friends and drink beer and cry. Perhaps then I could take a deep breath and try to recommit to believing that humanity can be better than this. That we are better than this.
I should be wordless with grief about other things, and often am. But there are a few things that center in my own heart how I feel about the world and our relationship to it, among them wolves, water, trees, children’s freedom of self-determination and joy. With these things, I don’t have many words. I can only say that how we treat them indicates to me how we would be willing to treat anyone else. I come back, again and again, to Joe Wilkins’s novel Fall Back Down When I Die (which also revolves around the killing of a wolf), and his astute understanding of the attitudes and feelings of rightful ownership over the rest of life that people use to justify treating it this way:
“He knew then what the difference was between them and the others—they thought they were owed something. . . . Someone had told them they were owed something. He wasn’t yet sure who, hadn’t had time to think that through, but that’s what they thought, that it wasn’t fair. . . . But it wasn’t like it was all of a sudden hard. It wasn’t the EPA or the BLM making it all of a sudden hard. It had always been hard. That’s why the wolves were coming back. They were built for it. They didn’t worry about what was owed to them. They lived how the land demanded.”
Maybe that’s why the words are hard. Because I should be listening instead to what the land asks of me.
Some stuff to read or listen to:
An audio reading of famous Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem “No One Has Taken Anything Away” in The American Scholar, translated into English.
Psychoanalyst Josh Cohen writing in Aeon on the meaning of anger, the personal and the political and how they feed into one another: “When a claim for justice is dismissed, anger is liable to take on a life of its own. We are living in a world of proliferating and often conflicting angry demands for recognition. In terrorism, populist authoritarianism and online hate, we see some of the consequences of their denial.”
Philosophy professor Myisha Cherry speaking on the Smarty Pants podcast (produced by The American Scholar) about her new book The Case for Rage on the uses of anger in social justice movements (I’m sensing a theme here).
Yuvan Aves’s work on citizen science in India, and its role in education and democracy: “I want to see the scope, potential and future of Indian Citizen Science through these political lenses. Of it becoming, in various spheres, a form of direct democracy. Where it can facilitate knowledge-making, progress, policy, and processes – ground-up and side-by-side. A thinking, informed, proactive citizenry ensures good governance. Or rather governs itself for the most part.”
An excellent interview on Frontiers of Commoning with Jose Luis Vivero Pol on treating food as a commons, not a commodity: “Food is essential for human beings. . . . It is a human right, a public good, and a commons.”
In Sapiens, what examination of tree rings in a 1629 shipwreck’s surviving wood can tell us about wood industry economics in 1600s Europe. (The most valuable wood came form Lower Saxony in Germany, and I’m reminded of the fact that Karl Marx first stewed over his ideas of class by observing the loss of the commons as German forests were harvested for foreign industrial uses.)
Alex Wolfe is walking America despite—or to demonstrate—its built-in unwalkability: “The initial inspiration for Wolfe’s work was ‘not born out of an eco-friendly, advocacy lens,’ he said, but navigating so many roads and thoroughfares on foot made him realize the ‘subtle kind of stress you carry with you in these spaces’ when you’re not traveling at 60 miles per hour ensconced in a few thousand pounds of steel.”