Many years ago, Jean, Co-founder of Earthfire Institute, saw a magnificent old cottonwood tree stump lying on a sidewalk in Driggs, ID. It lay on its side in the hot sun, all of its limbs sawed off and strewn around it. It had been cut down to make room for a parking lot. Apart from the sorrow for the tree, the idea came to Jean that the animals of Earthfire would enjoy playing with the stump, which would give its death some meaning.
He arranged for it to be brought to the Earthfire Wildlife Garden. A single tiny sprout showed through the rough old bark of the stump. For some reason, he felt compelled to scrape the ground and set it upright—“planting” it, so to speak, rather than laying it down on its side as he had found it. Knowing Jean, he probably sensed there was still life in it and he wanted to give it a chance.
He watered it.
And just as Jean imagined, it has provided enrichment for all the animals who have played in the Garden ever since. They have been seen playing chase around its enormous girth, lying in its shade in the summer heat, and hiding behind it.
The thing is, a few days later, there was a different wolf in the tree! For the ten years that tree has been in the garden, the wolves have played around it, but never climbed it. A few days later, a second wolf was spotted in the tree! What was happening?
It’s true that wolves learn from and imitate one another. Chimps do that, learning to use tools from watching other chimps, and I suspect many other animals do as well. But the second wolf hadn’t been in the garden at the same time as the first when she climbed into its branches, so she hadn’t learned by example. Wolves are telepathic by nature, but this skill is typically used when they intend to send information between pack members while hunting. In this case, they were both just exploring, having fun, raising more questions about their psychic abilities and deep pack connections to each other. Was it a kind of cultural learning, where the exploration of the first wolf somehow went out into the ether, and the second wolf, her sister, picked up the idea? I wonder if that is how some information gets transmitted among humans as well.
The Cottonwood, no longer just a stump, continues to thrive today as part of the Earthfire family. What Jean instinctively felt and acted upon is that all Life is inherently sacred, regardless of appearance. Sometimes, it takes just one person seeing the potential and deeply valuing Life to bring renewed joy to many.