Thunder, an ancient wolf, lay dying. Strong old wolf that he was, he lingered for days in the shade of his favorite pine tree. We finally called Don, our vet, to help him pass on. Thunder lay in our Wildlife Garden, far out of sight of all the other wolves. Don kneeled down, gently gave him the shot, and listened to his heart.
The instant the life left his body, all fifteen of our wolves started to howl in a long, low, mournful howl in an exquisite harmony of voices.
They had no way of see- ing or hearing what was going on. Yet somehow they knew.
Our practical and conservative vet, still on his knees, turned pale and muttered “that’s eerie.” He stood up, looking around for some realistic reason why they howled, and still pale, asked if maybe they were being fed. He muttered again, “that’s eerie…the timing…”
How did they know? Were they howling him through his passage?
There are many such stories I could share; wondrous ones that widen our understanding of the workings of nature. There is much we don’t tune in to, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Such stories have made me realize how woefully inadequate our current piecemeal approaches are to our environmental crises. We need to shift our conservation thinking towards something that has a better chance of working.
We need to expand our thinking.
What if we developed a strategic business plan for the Earth the way successful businesses do, but include more voices than those of humans? We are managing the Earth and wildlife anyway; we are just doing it really badly. What I suggest is not that we run the Earth as a business but rather that we ask the larger questions first. Where do we want to go; what culture and values do we want to encourage. Let’s start from a beautiful hopeful vision that includes wisdom common to the world’s great spiritual traditions as the frame. Then from that frame, begin to make practical plans and decisions about what to do and how to make it happen in reality. In effect using the wisdom of spiritual leaders and combining it with the know-how of our business leaders; of systems analysts; of our scientists, and the wisdom of the animals, trees, nature, in order to reach a more coherent and effective approach to conservation. To access the wisdom and fluid coherence inherent in life itself.
To make a plan that supports all life.
In “Voices of the Wild,” Bernie Krause writes of thunderstorms near the equator giving off electrical signals that are then transmitted through the earth’s magnetic fields to the north and south poles. Low-frequency radio receivers such as those used by NASA can detect and record these signals. Bernie writes, “What is curious is that there are remarkably similar vocalizations produced, in turn, by Weddell seals in the Antarctic and bearded seals some 12,000 miles to the north in the Arctic. These vocalizations not only closely replicate the signals detected by NASA, but they are similar to each other even though the species have never met.”
The seals at each pole are singing their songs; tuning to the same vibrations. One way of looking at this is that the earth is connected from one pole to another through sound and the animals are singing a song of the earth. There is a “song line” from one pole to the other. Maybe there are many song lines interweaving, holding the earth together through energetic vibrations. From within that larger frame of mind let’s begin our strategic planning.
The joy is that if we do so, we begin to discover incredible wonder, and new creative solutions. Hopeful ones.
There is much reason for hope despite the media focus on the negative (playing on the fact that our brains are wired to be four times more likely to attend to the negative than the positive).There are hundreds of thousands small organizations around the world doing incredible work towards change. Some of these coalesce into movements, which have enormous positive political, environmental, health and spiritual potential. An example of one such movement is concerned with how we raise our food. A current movement is towards regenerative agriculture and biodynamic farming – the next step after organic farming. The biodynamic approach seeks not only to avoid poisons and increase nutrition, but to heal the Earth through agriculture. They see the farm as a whole living system which is affected and affects the world around it; plants, animals, insects, people, cosmos, soil and more, all benefitting from each other to provide healing vibrant food for people.
And in the process healing rather than merely taking from the earth.
What we need next is to integrate these positive movements into one large movement. We need a vision for the Earth that we work towards in a coordinated way. Not only are we humans wired to emphasize the negative; we must overcome our tendency to think small and immediate. That results is our being overwhelmed with a thousand small crises, each important in themselves but part of a larger problem. And of course we are wired to focus on humans in our decision-making. We must overcome an innate tendency to protect “ours.” There is nothing wrong with the tendency to protect, in itself. We just have to redefine and enlarge the concept of “ours.”
All these tendencies inhibit us from focusing on the larger picture. But now that there are so many of us and we have such power to make negative change it is critical to overcome these innate biases in order to make better decisions.
To work in harmony with earth systems we need to step out of ourselves.
In effect we need a strategic business plan for working with the earth, which includes all “stake- holders” (all living beings), each of whom have something to contribute even if we don’t yet understand what it is. Each life form includes unique information. A more poetic version of that same thought is that we need a new story or a new vision. A “What if…?” What if we could interweave wildlife corridors throughout the continents in companionable coexistence with human habitation? What if we would all pay care-full attention to the food we eat- where it comes from; how it is raised, the costs to the Earth and to other lifeforms as we raise it – and then honor it each time we eat? What would that awareness do to how we raise food? How would that affect climate change? (Science suggests it would help significantly). How would that change our relationship to eating other living things be they animal or vegetable? What would that awareness do for our soul? What if we could connect nodes of brilliant humane thinking around the world into a cohesive system?
Reactions to this idea of a strategic business plan for the earth have been wildly diverse, from “brilliant;” “I would gladly put my time into that,” to “idealistic, unpractical, a waste of time and undoable.” I personally think we need to work at all levels, from the very specific to the grand scale, but we need a frame and a beautiful story to work from. My plea is to coordinate all these efforts towards a positive coherent vision. That is the missing link in our being really effective stewards of our Earth. I believe other living beings would welcome our loving, intelligent, heartful leadership. In any case, they need it.
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.