Brunnhilde oversees office staffPhoto by: Earthfire

 by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

Brunnhilde the Hen: We have on the property some very strong-minded, independent and exploratory chickens. There is little that escapes their notice or their investigative interest as they wander the property seeking treats. We are not safe when we leave the office door open on lovely days…She doesn’t respect boundaries. (If only she could type…)

Cherry blossoms enliven a local parking lot | Photo by Earthfire

Glorious Blossoms: Every spring as I drive through the supermarket parking lot to get my mail, I pass these magnificent blooming cherry trees. There they grow, planted to beautify the lot, surrounded by asphalt, cars, exhaust, grocery carts and hurrying people intent on errands. But they are so beautiful! I can’t help myself and stop the car next to several of them to tell them how beautiful they are. How they are not bursting forth in full glory in vain, as mere backdrop. They are appreciated. But more than that, they have a great gift to offer, should we attend. I park my car and walk over to one, putting my face deep into their fragrant blossoms and am suddenly transported into another world; a world of bees buzzing, pollinating, seeking food for their kin; sweet fresh scents; beauty; light filtered through translucent white petals–life itself carrying on in the background of hurried, distracted people. In a few steps transported from one world to another; such a lovely, vibrant world! A reminder of how we are surrounded by beauty; what is available to us.


Earthfire’s raven guest | Photo by Earthfire

From Ground Squirrel to Raven: A family of ground squirrels has taken up beneath our office porch for several years now. They apparently find it congenial, as directly across the way is the chicken coop  (a pathway named Woodle’s Walk after our elderly, semi-blind malamute who discovers every single piece of chicken poop along the way. It is her morning joy). Thus the squirrels have only to pop up from the cool underground safety of their burrow; scamper over to the organic chicken food, gorge, and return. We frequently find the father or mother posted bolt upright, completely still; sentinels guarding their porch, annoyed at being disturbed by the humans who pass by on their way to the office door.

Our German Shepherd, Zak, has been taught not to attack them. They are so very family oriented they can’t even be introduced into another den, so we try not to cause the family grief. If they are taken by a hawk that is one thing–the hawk needs its’ meal. Our dog doesn’t.

However the other day Zak succumbed to temptation and grabbed a baby as it was emerging out of its burrow into the light. Jean saw it, told Zak to drop it, but it was too late.

Sad, he thought about how best to honor it. We recently took under our wing an injured raven, hoping its broken breastbone would heal, allowing it to fly again. I held conversations back and forth with veterinarians, energy healers and medical intuitives, asking what best nutrition and supplements would speed up the healing process. One said he absolutely loved; craved; dead mice (carrion). He had been found in the parking lot of a supermarket where there were probably plenty.

We trap our house mice in live traps and it didn’t seem fair to put them in with the raven. Plus it wouldn’t be good for him as he was supposed to stay relatively still while he healed. But a just killed baby ground squirrel? Jean brought it to him. A little while later Jean came back and there were just a few patches of fur left. It didn’t ease the sadness, but it added an element of comfort to the whole experience. Ground squirrel into raven. At least its death brought sustenance and pleasure.


Earthfire volunteer Troy battles the septic | Photo by Earthfire

The Back End: Yes, there is beauty, wonderful animals, lovely land. But the realities of life on a ranch are as vivid here as anywhere. Living in the country and homesteading, one reality is the need for a septic tank. Not to mention the difficulties when it is also used for bear and wolf feces sometimes washed down the drain with rocks by careless staff. Or blocked by masses of shedded fur not picked up before being washed down. So there is the delicate matter of a backed-up tank with a mixture of feces from various humans and animals, and humans wanting understandably to answer the call of nature at inconvenient times when it is blocked. Not all of them are attracted to the idea that we do have 40 acres filled with trees and bushes and tall grasses and multiple shovels. Besides, it might be discouraging to potential volunteers when they see employees going behind the bushes…

There is the complication of finding where to dig. Shoveling six feet down in hard, rocky soil isn’t easy and you don’t want to do more of it than you have to (6 feet is necessary because of the ground freezing deep in the minus 30 degree winters). Where is the blockage in 340 feet of possible places? And just who can we get to help dig? Jean’s knees won’t let him do it all anymore (he abused them when younger). So part of the task falls to the hapless volunteers who came for the animals. But—animals do defecate. It is part of living and caring for them.

From within the sanctuary of the office we hear cries of victory. The men come in to tell us, as proud as if they had come back from a successful hunt. They found the spot! We hope it is the only one.

Now to cut the pipe and replace the blocked section. We have been given strict orders not to let ANYTHING go down the toilet as they cut it. The images that come to mind are interesting. There is a lot of bathroom humor when you deal with animals. You have to take pleasure where you can.

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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