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Shota the ShepherdPhoto by: Earthfire

— by Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —

I took Shota, my sensitive, gentle German Shepherd pup to Sun Valley, Idaho, for an examination by a specialist. He has had a limp for a couple of months now. Our local vet, examining him, had referred us to the Sun Valley vet. She said she could feel something in his shoulder but it needed an expert diagnosis with an advanced CAT scan machine and probable surgery.

Speaking on a video call with wildlife vet Linda Bender about a program we were planning, I mentioned that I would be leaving the next day for Shota’s possible surgery. We continued talking and suddenly she blurted out, “He doesn’t want surgery.” A little confused because we had been talking about something else, I replied, “Of course he doesn’t, who would?” She replied, “He doesn’t want it because he doesn’t need it,” and continued our other conversation. I tucked it in the back of my mind.

The vet was kind but also coolly efficient. After a brief examination in the consulting room, Shota was to be given a CAT scan and MRI. An aide put a narrow leash around his neck and forcibly dragged him away to the hospital area to be handled, manipulated by strangers in a strange place with other scared dogs, catheterized, and sedated before I am even able to say goodbye and assure him I would be there waiting. I trusted the medical aspect completely, but I did not like the cold ignoring of emotional needs.

I tell the doctor absolutely no surgery without my consent–I want a diagnosis first. The doctor demurs; “But since he will already be anesthetized, if I find something we may as well go ahead.” “No. No surgery without my consent.” “It’s a long drive to come back.” “No – no surgery without my consent.”

I waited for him outside despite the vet saying to go get lunch and they would call. The door finally opened and out came my sweet Shota, so upset and frazzled he didn’t even notice me when I called. When I took the leash and petted him he was barely there, looking around wildly. It was a long time before he settled down in the car, limp and exhausted from his ordeal, the world no longer such a safe place. I took him for a walk by a river and gave him a lot of petting and treats.

The good, and interesting, news: no surgery was needed. There was nothing wrong. It was most likely the growing pains of a large, rapidly growing dog.

I wonder about the mystery of it all. An intuitive human unequivocally saying no surgery was needed without having ever met Shota, against the opinion of a pretty good local vet who had carefully observed and examined him. What is it that they she had tapped into? Such mystery to be tuned to and enjoyed and wondered at. Life is endlessly interesting.

The Creative Universe | Stock

The Creative Universe at Endless Play

I drive into the rising sun on my way back from Sun Valley. Mists suffused by the early rays rise from a river in puffs and dissipate, in and out of existence, evanescent, there and then gone. I drive through light fog intensifying to become so dense that I can see only a few feet in front of me. I am encased in a damp, cold cloud. Imperceptibly it lightens. Then suddenly, I am driving into bright sun with a panorama of magnificent clouds drifting across the sky. They send shadows across the ragged black lava landscape, impossibly alive with sagebrush that somehow manages to thrust upward towards the sun and downward, seeking nourishment from rock. Sunlight highlights pale, delicate grasses among rugged sage.

Driving, away from the constant pressures and interruptions of daily life, the beauty seeps in. Blinded by the sun, I have to pull over until it is high enough in the sky that I can block it with one hand while driving with the other. Time is told by the movement of the sun. It won’t be long until it is high enough that I can see to drive again. Moment by moment it moves higher and the shadows change. Ravens soar above, diving and turning in unison, in sheer joy of movement. Nothing is stationary. Everything is moving in an endless creative palette of beauty. The Earth is restless and alive beneath my feet, magma moving at its own pace, ready to break though the surface and reshape the land yet again. Oh my goodness, the privilege of being alive and part of the display of life! And this is only one infinitesimal part of the living processes going on all the time around the whole world.

Approaching civilization, the land changes from a vibrant, self-organized community to one plowed and concreted over for human’s immediate needs, no longer part of a living, thriving cooperative alliance. I dread this part of the drive. A friend calls it boring but what it feels like to me is that the land is disheartened. Instead of being tuned to by humans, and worked with in a mutually beneficial partnership; instead of being built upon with the beauty and Life of the land in mind; its innate vitality is ravaged by thoughtless, destructive actions as if it were a thing rather than alive in its own right. I am never bored driving through wild landscapes, even through vast expanses of sage, because there is an aliveness. Although I may not see them, there are coyotes and sage grouse and antelopes and lizards, all pursing and enjoying their lives as the land itself nourishes it all. We would do so well to tune into this reality and work with the land instead of impose on it. What beauty we might create together!

Winter’s Darkness | Stock

Winter’s Darkness

At first, I resist the growing darkness as the winter approaches in this northern part of the Earth. It is the transition from the brilliant and generous light of summer that is the hardest. But as the darkness grows in length and intensity, I find my body embracing it of its own accord, slowing down, looking forward to the lengthening evenings as a time of introspection and rest. The darkness intensifies as we approach the solstice. The power of it always surprises me. When I open the door into the night it is palpable, so dense it feels like a silent physical presence.

As the days begin to lengthen, I will experience a resistance against the growing light, sad at the loss of the darkness and the peace it brings. I don’t think we do well with transitions. But there is a deep, visceral pleasure of living through the year’s cycles of darkness and light, tuning us to the cycles of nature. The seasons are a larger version of the daily cycle – the hope of the dawn, the activity of the day, the contemplation of the evening; the rest and dreams of the night. These are the rhythms in which our lives are embedded. It is a source of serenity, a sense of rightness, when we tune to them.

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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