A beautiful poem narrated by the peerless Norman Bailey, about listening to things that cannot be heard through our ears but through our hearts. The animals, without thinking they are always listening and we are linked by the great listening to the larger knowledge circling this earth.
“You can go in,” Jean said. I was kneeling outside the male wolf pup’s enclosure, sketching him onto a postcard for my friend. I stammered, “Wha…really?” and jumped up, immeasurably excited by the chance for some alone time with the pup.
At three months old, this little Tundra wolf has already been through too much. Though seemingly born healthy, he broke his leg a month or so ago and has experienced complications since. At the time of writing, his lower back and hind legs (the source of greatest power in a healthy wolf) are paralyzed. Because of this, his physical development has been stymied and he is now noticeably smaller and frailer than his sister who once deferred to him.
Sitting in the enclosure, I was able to observe the boy’s interactions with his sister. Though the two can no longer share a space (her increasing strength repeatedly albeit accidentally overtakes his own), the boy eventually dragged himself over to the divider between them to press his nose against it while whimpering quietly. He did and does this many times throughout the day and the active little girl interrupts anything she’s doing to faithfully trot over to him and rub herself against the divider, licking his nose and snout. As much as the boy can manage, the two of them play though the gate with paws swatting, tails wagging, and a heartwarming amount of happy panting, yips, and whistles.
Prior to this interaction, I’d only ever been with the pups one at a time and in very different circumstances. The girl pup is physically active and lively, with all the powerful physical attributions appropriate to her developmental stage. Out in the garden, she was a little imp trying to tear out the hoses, discovering the ponds, and scampering around with adult wolves. She ran up to each of the artists in residence (Jamora, Saba and myself) to smile and greet, in between gamboling around the place. Amid the birdsong and sunshine, her vitality was impossible to miss.
The first time we met her brother was in a chiropractor’s office. Our initial interaction with him was on the other side of a screen, snapping photos and shooting video. Though a welcoming environment, it’s the furthest place imaginable from a lush garden and there was precious little in similarity to his sister’s everyday reality. In place of birdsong and sunshine were conversations full of technical medical terminology and office noises under weak fluorescents. All the pup’s vitality and childhood curiosity was confined to his eyes; his body was unable to share in that energy.
As a result of these disparities, their kinship was always a somewhat abstract concept for me. The colossal visible differences between them always classified the girl as “healthy” and the boy as “sickly” though in reality they are nothing more than siblings with a love for each other and desire for the other’s company.
With an older sister of my own, this display of interspecies sibling affection has been a very potent experience for me. Since the first instance, I have visited with the two several more times and find each occasion to be incredibly special and life-changing. Just as my sister and I don’t goof off or act like our insane selves around strangers, neither did the pups. Only when I had sat with the two of them for some time did they break down that barrier and engage and it’s for this acceptance into their sibling relationship that I am truly grateful.
I began to contemplate how I could utilize my talents in a way that expresses humanity’s indispensable connection with wildlife/nature from the time I signed up for the Qigong workshop in February. The stories posted on Earthfire’s website and newsletters became the source of inspiration behind these paintings as I endeavored to reveal the sacred cosmic connection of all all life. I put these pieces on an icon panel as a way to show reverence for this sacred connection and for the sacred act of creating. These new paintings feel like the most authentic work I have done to date and I know that my vision will continue to evolve on this path. I am confident that I will gain more clarity during my time at Earthfire on ways that I may contribute back to nature through all of my talents.
You can view more works on my website: catherinelucasart.com
“MERGE” (Egg Tempera, Etching Ink, and Gold Leaf on Icon Board 13″ x 17″)
These paintings are symbolic of my experience with connecting and
merging with my animal spirit guides. The owl came to me in a vision
in 2009 that led me to the study and practice of shamanism and re-
awakened that deep connection to nature that I used to experience as a
child. These works are more symbolic than my previous works that were
created from direct observation of life. My attempt here is to blend
the ethereal with the natural bringing alive the manifestation of
spiritual into physical. It is interesting that when you view the
above painting straight on, you can see your reflection in the moon.
(I need to photograph the above painting better to show the detail
that was burnished into the owl).
METAMORPHOSIS (Egg Tempera, Gold Leaf and Gems on Panel 8″ x 10″)
This painting is symbolic of the the divine state that is achieved
upon deep communion with nature/life.
When you drive up to Earthfire now, the first thing that greets you are these splendid 4’x 6’ murals painted and donated by Philbin de Got mounted on fences donated by Dennis and Susie Gertmenian. We’d been wanting something like these for a long time to set the tone for visitors – art in the “cave painting” style that helps us feel the connection between us and early humans, between humans and animals; between us and Life itself. We wanted to share them with those of you who can’t visit. Enjoy! ~Susan
Art & Creativity | July 18, 2012
As I spend my second week at Earthfire encountering magnificent individual animals, I go deeper in myself looking for the missing conversation we used to have with Wildlife. We lost it since the day we took control of what we call Nature. Instead of being a part of it nowadays, we want the Nature to be part of us.
Living as a musician for almost 15 years, I no longer find words deep enough to express myself.
Therefore the recording which you are about to hear reveals my deep emotions evoked by this wonderful place and its wonderful people that taught me so much.
In this recording you will hear a Kamancheh (Persian spike fiddle) played by me which recorded in the Earthfire Yurt (which is like a temple to me) during a rainy afternoon.
Listen to: “Greetings Earthfire” composed by Saba Alizadeh
A visit to the Earthfire Institute is for many a once in a lifetime experience. I have had the honor and pleasure to make a second visit as part of the Michelle Lund CalArts/Earthfire Institute Residency. Students from the California Institute of the Arts, Susan, Jean and all the animals of Earthfire are brought together for two weeks to tell the stories of Earthfire in a powerful and creative way. This year we have Saba, a musician studying contemporary experimental sound practices; Megan, a visual artist who works with drawing, sounds and text to tell stories and Jamora, an artist who works both behind a camera’s lens and behind the blank page to produce powerful creative non-fiction.
Earthfire plays a crucial role in the complex ‘ecosystem’ of conservation organizations. Conservation, by its nature, requires an inter-disciplinary approach. A partial list of areas that must work together in order to arrive at an indefinitely sustainable conservation plan would have to include ecology, anthropology, political and economic theories. Each of these disciplines has and will continue to speak to conservation endeavors. The role of Earthfire runs simultaneously parallel to and cuts across these standard perspectives. Most disciplines are able to advise on how to address conservation issues. The Earthfire Institute does this too but also takes on the task of championing WHY wildlife must be protected by cutting right past notions of ‘economic and ecosystem functions’ straight to the heart and the soul. This deeper motivation not only informs, it sustains conservation solutions despite how circumstances may change overtime. It is this role of sustaining conservation priorities that Earthfire’s role reaches out across all other disciplines.
The power of Earthfire’s approach to sustain support for conservation at a deeply spiritual and ethical level is at times matched by its ineffable nature. This is where Art makes an important partner. This year, the students have been blessed with experiencing a pair of wolf pups; a baby fox, cougar, and a white buffalo calf among the many other residents of Earthfire. These young animals embody the vitality and fragility of life. Importantly they illustrate how animals rely on each other (their pack, their herd). This connection is apparent to anyone lucky enough to spend time with wildlife. Sadly, too many people lack the opportunity to directly connect to wildlife. The students in this year’s residency program are combining text, images and sound to help tell the animals stories. The emergent effects of combining these media start to render the ineffable apparent. Facilitating deeper connections between humans and wildlife is an important step towards making sustainable and global conservation plans.
There are parts of me I miss, terribly. At an early age, I understood my relationship with animals. With unapologetic certainty, I knew we were kin, that our lives were entwined, our destinies connected. I spent hours in a tree in my grandparents’ garden talking with birds, communing with spiders, feeling the joy of being alive with them.
As happens to all of us, I grew up in a world that looks at animals differently, and I changed. I never completely lost my core, but I learned to hide it, sometimes even from myself. It happened in increments, but I remember moments. When I was in third grade, my father went hunting and brought home a pronghorn antelope on the roof of the car. I looked into that animal’s still bright eyes and sobbed. In a futile attempt to comfort me, my mother assured me that he – the pronghorn, not my father – had no soul, so he had nothing to lose. I knew better than that, and silently apologized to him, and to all animals, for human ignorance. I vowed through my tears to somehow make it up.
Entering adulthood, I chose to pursue another passion, and became a fiber artist. But I never forgot my pledge, and when the longing to be with animals became too sharp to ignore, I left my studio a few hours a week to volunteer at a zoo. Those hours stretched, turned into a job, and inspired me to incorporate abstract animal imagery into my art. In turn, the images became more realistic, and by the time I accepted a job at a wildlife rehabilitation clinic, I had written and illustrated two books about wildlife. Those books were for children as much as they were for the pronghorn. Getting them published was a step back to myself.
And still, I was in hiding. The wildlife center where I worked strictly limited human interaction with the animals in residence. While I respected the need to keep wildlife wild, I grieved many missed opportunities. I secretly took many of those orphaned or injured animals into my heart and did my real work with them in the quiet of night. It was in that safe space that I could explore the deeper meaning of our intersecting lives. I reached out, and they were there, just waiting for someone to initiate the connection.
During my third summer at the clinic, the director made the decision to cover the cages where young crows were kept indoors until they were old enough to join others in an outdoor aviary. Of course, the idea was to keep them from bonding too much to their human caretakers, but the edict was unbearable to me. I argued that these birds needed exposure to the busy clinic. Most basically, they needed light, and in a state of deprivation, many weakened and some died. I fought until I lost my voice, literally and figuratively. With resignation and a feeling of failure, I left my job.
I’ve carried that painful memory for almost two decades, and along with it, a deep desire to find a different way to work with wild animals. A few months ago, a friend introduced me to Earthfire Institute through a link to the video of Apricot. I blinked through tears as I witnessed a healing collaboration done with integrity and skill, and so much love that I felt my own heart begin to heal. In that moment, my earliest understanding of life came rushing back. It is so simple: we are one, and we help each other.
I also knew that I wanted to honor Apricot with a portrait. Paper is my medium, and I work in a form of collage most like the traditional Japanese art of chigirie. With my background as a fiber artist, I am suited to working with layers of paper, and over the years, my work has become increasingly painterly. It is also a profound way to connect with animals. Even when my only source is a photo, as it was with Apricot, I can step aside and let the animal come through. It may take days to get the details right, but the hours are suspended, as they are when I am in the company of animals in so-called real time.
I have been honored to do portraits of animals, both companion and wild, for humans who want to remember. I chose to portray Apricot so I could remember. It is an honor to share this little collage with my kin at Earthfire Institute. I will visit someday soon, but this place, these people, and these animals already burn brightly in my imagination. I am grateful beyond words.
This video of Humble Bumble bear is a first ever in the world, in which the sound of an animal is made visible in real time. What you are seeing are the energy patterns within sounds.
Earthfire is privileged to be the first wildlife sanctuary in the world to have animal sounds made visible on a new type of scientific instrument, the CymaScope. Unlike instruments such as sonograms and oscillograms which show sounds graphically, the CymaScope gives us a picture of sound by imprinting the animal sounds on the surface of water. Rather like a fingerprint on glass, the voice of the animal imprints the surface of water, leaving an embossed impression that can be photographed with special imaging techniques. The images are not computer-generated but are the actual patterns of energy created by the animals.
So far, the CymaScope has been used to image three of our animal voices: Windwalker, the cougar, Firefly the fox, and Humble Bumble, our special grizzly bear. We plan on having the sounds of all our animals imaged to build a lexicon of animal CymaGlyphs – the name for a CymaScope image – that will be unique in the world.
John Stuart Reid of Sonic Age America, the company that developed the CymaScope said, “We are entering a new realm of exploration in which the voice patterns of these wonderful creatures will almost certainly lead to a better understanding of their communications and of the creatures themselves.
Thanks and gratitude to John Stuart Reid for his work and contribution. For more information, please visit www.cymascope.com.
CalArts Student Manuel recorded this mini whirlpool during the CalArt residency at Earthfire Institute last July. The music was done by CalArt student Jxel. This wonderfully creative video starts slowly and out of focus. As it gradually comes into focus the music changes and you begin to hear the sounds and essence of Earthfire. Enjoy the surprises as it unfolds, as any good discovery does.
Susan Eirich ED of Earthfire reads from her book Into the Space and Silence which expresses the compassion that Earthfire Institute promotes, not only towards animals, but towards ourselves too. The video was edited by Manuel Barenboim with music by Jxel Rajchenberg during the CalArts residency program last July.
Find Earthfire On:
- Teton Totem: A Fine Bear
- Video: Humble Bumble Awakes with Spring
- A Ground Squirrel Spring
- Healing Animal Voices by Rose De Dan
- May 2013
- April 2013
- March 2013
- February 2013
- January 2013
- December 2012
- November 2012
- October 2012
- September 2012
Blogs We Visit
- Buffalo Field Campaign Weekly Update from the Field
- My Yellowstone Wolves
- Wolves in the West
- Y2Y Conservation Initiative
Named after a passionate earth-mother wolf with a fire in her belly to protect anything vulnerable, Earthfire was founded in 2000 to develop a new model of relating to nature through the voices of the rescued wildlife>Read More >