Hope the Wolf DogPhoto by: Earthfire

by Susan Eirich, PhD

Hope, a feral wolf-dog, was caught between two worlds. Not just the wild and the human, but even more, between deeply ingrained hard-wiring for fear and self-preservation, and the need to connect. Once we trapped him it took a very long time for him begin to tentatively trust anything; dog, wolf or human. But he so wanted to! On some level he understood that to connect was to fill a hunger. And in the larger picture, that to connect was to ensure survival.

These things, when one considers them, are mysterious. He took a chance; he dared. Why? We humans made an effort. But so did Hope. This wasn’t humans “taming” a wolf dog. He had to participate equally. He had to dare to approach instead of run away. He had to take the risk of being caught or hurt somehow. It was a potent urge driving him forward in spite of fear.

We humans too are pulled between two inner forces. Powerful hardwiring pushes us to act in our individual self-interest, but our innate sense of kinship with all life draws us towards an entirely different set of values and actions. It is this aspect of us that we need to cultivate now, in ourselves and our culture, if we are to make environmental decisions that support Life. I believe it is innate in us, but we haven’t found a way to maximize it yet over the more immediate pull of comfort, convenience and self-interest. That self-oriented approach to life simply won’t work in the long run, in the interconnected world of nature.

One good effort happening is the increasing awareness of the importance and usefulness of mindfulness. It is rapidly becoming a widespread cultural phenomenon. It is us cultivating our human brain capacity to be aware of the larger picture. But alone it can be an empty exercise. It needs to be embedded in an awareness of our connection with all living beings.

Hope and Woodle in the pondHope and Talkeetna in the pond – Photo by Earthfire

The urge to connect, I would argue, is universal – as universal as life itself. Animals show us this primal and life-enhancing need, and this innate wisdom is in us as well. We just have to attend to it. Every animal here at Earthfire, once fear is relieved, has wanted to connect to humans. Every single one, from badger to bear, bison to cougar. Life wants to connect to life. Life recognizes life and is enriched by the connection, the flow between beings, be it walking through a forest or loving a pet or caring for an infant. It nourishes us. Calms us. Helps position us to operate from what is really important.

Hope, the wolf-dog, drawing on his courage, chose Life over fear. He allowed himself the vulnerability of hope for a fulfilled life, and then hope gave him the energy to try for it. And he is doing spectacularly. He has widened his pack to Nightstar the wolf, Zak the German Shepherd, Talkeetna the malamute, Jean and myself. The most obvious result is his absolute joy in companionship. He exults, glows as he plays with his various interspecies companions. And so can we.

Allowing the vulnerability of hope, helps us try and try again. Allows us to dare. Daring, brings results. We need to dare at this time, think widely for solutions. Hope, the feral wolf-dog without a home or family, dared, and was rewarded. Yes he is an “animal” but frankly so are we, and the fundamental principles are the same. Fight for life using the energy of hope, or give up. Which, as we are now stewards for all life on Earth, is not an option.

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.

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