“I always felt a deep affinity for nature and animals but it was seven wolf puppies that drove me, through love, into action.” Susan Eirich, Ph.D.
A wild animal trainer, Jean, asked me to help bottle feed and raise seven wolf puppies through babyhood. One afternoon in 1994 he drove up, parked, and told me to look in his car. There was a brown grocery box in the back seat. I leaned over to look in. It was filled with varying shades of black, gray, and brown fur huddled tightly together, very very very, quiet. That was the end of life as I knew it.
As I held those vibrant squiggly little bodies close to me, eagerly sucking down the nutrients for life, nothing prepared me for the flood of feeling that rushed through me. I swear oxytocin was flowing through my veins. It made no difference at all that it was a species other than my own. The urge to nurture and protect and help bloom was overwhelming. I made a sacred promise that I would do everything I could for them, for their species, and for all wild ones. The urge to nurture Life, and to help others see (tune to) the wonder of it, has been the driving force behind all I have done since, culminating in the founding and continuing evolution of Earthfire.
Working with Jean it became clear that together we could create something very powerful, with his ability to communicate with wild animals and handle them safely for the public, and my own abilities to communicate with humans. We decided to buy land together, where he could pursue his business training animals for movies, and I could use his expertise as I developed Earthfire as a non-profit educational organization.
We found a wild and beautiful 40 acres along a wildlife corridor just west of Grand Teton National Park. There was no way we had the funds to pay for it and banks didn’t want to lend money on raw land, but with selling everything we owned and loans from friends we were able to make the down payment. We began by building a bridge to access the property, a 600 square foot log cabin, and put in a well and electricity. In 2000 we received our non-profit status.
That was just the beginning of the fight. The land was in a ranching community many of whom hated wolves, and in a state that did their best to eradicate them by law. We had landed in the lion’s den. Neighbors were dead set against our bringing wolves and other wild animals to the area. They circulated petitions; dragged us through six contentious public hearings; the Department of Fish and Game withdrew their permission; we were shot at; our dog killed, and they defecated at our gate. Many people in Idaho really don’t like wolves.
We persisted, eventually developing good relations with many of the townsfolk and with Fish and Game, who have come to see us as a resource. A benefactor, moved by meeting a stubborn little wolf who was recovering from a near death experience, gave us funds to develop the organization. His specific requirement that we had to promise to follow our heart.
We used it to develop a web site to reach out nationally and internationally with our vision of a world where we include all living being as true members of our community, and treat them accordingly. Eventually we put up a beautiful thirty-foot diameter yurt facing east to the sunrise and the Grand Teton mountains, and began to offer retreats.
The next few years, living with the animals on that vibrant land, experiencing astounding events with the animals, we clarified what we needed to share. The growing awareness that each animal, be it coyote, bear, wolf or cougar, was a very individual being. The utter beauty and wonder available to us when we attend to anything in nature. The sense that there is a spiritual dimension to the beings under our care. The underlying utter sweetness in all of them when fear and biological hard wiring didn’t get in the way. The importance for each of us, human and animal, that we be seen and heard – that someone bears witness to our existence and how we then bloom. The sense that they want to connect with us. That Life wants to connect with Life. That they are asking for our help. That they can help us. And the profound sense of companionship available to us if we expand our sense of community to all life and the resulting life-affirming urge to protect.
Our battles have changed to a full-on focusing on changing how we humans see, and therefore treat wildlife. This is difficult to do, measure and fund, but it is none-the-less essential. Without changing perceptions, laws alone cannot and will not protect wild animals and the Earth.
When nursing those wolf babies I wrote:
“I noticed each detail; their eyelashes; the subtle shadings on their faces, a particular quality of responding to touch. Each cub was a source of wonderment. It began to dawn on me that perhaps all the myriad forms of life are the universe expressing itself through its own creations, admiring itself, dancing with itself. And love is the vehicle through which it admires itself as it delights in each creation. I came to believe passionately that it is right that each individual and each species be seen and appreciated as its own important part of the resplendent tapestry of life. With love we bear witness to the beauty. With love we want to protect. With love we want to fight for the beloved.”
Those wolf babies opened me to love and magic and a fierce desire to protect and share their wonder with my fellow humans that has never diminished.