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“And this is what happened, and this is why the caribou and the wolf are one; for the caribou feeds the wolf, but it is the wolf that keeps the caribou strong.” 
― Farley Mowat

Cultural conditioning has dictated the fate of the wolf in the minds of the general populace. From fairytale stories like Little Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs, wolves are portrayed as the villain, the blood thirsty, carnivorous predator of fairytale land. Modern portrayals of this noble animal extend the cultural conditioning to the next generation. In Disney’s most recent movie, Frozen, wolves attack the protagonists in an attempt to kill the characters, prematurely ending the film. The wolves are depicted as wild and vicious, a direct threat to the safety of the human characters within the fairytale. The vicious wolf character could lend itself to creating tension and excitement in the plot of a story, unfortunately, the characterization of the predatory, evil wolf pack also plays out in the real world.

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On March 26, 2014, Idaho Governor Otter signed into law HB470, the Idaho wolf management plan. The Idaho wolf population is already struggling with more than 1500 wolves killed since 2011 when Congress removed the endangered species status for wolves in Idaho and Montana. This most recent lawmaking travesty provides $400,000 of funding to reduce the wolf population in Idaho down to only 150 wolves. This is outrageous, and what is the reasoning? It is to protect the interests of the livestock industry, who are also contributing funds to the effort of wolf reduction.

Idaho is not alone in their efforts to eradicate the wolf population from the continental United States. The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service along with the Arizona Fish and Game department and the White Mountain Apache tribe has attempted to reintroduce the Mexican Gray Wolf back in to the wilds of the Blue Range Wilderness area.  However, the Arizona legislature in February 2014 earmarked $250,000 in litigation funds to prevent expansion of wolf reintroduction program, one of the big proponents of the anti-wolf policy, ranchers. It is frustrating to realize the power ranchers have over the wildlife practices of the government. Why should ranchers be able to dictate the terms of wildlife policy when they are getting free range for their cattle? That’s right; ranchers are free to graze their cattle on public land. Next time you drive down a lonely highway and notice barbed wire fencing on both sides of the road, think about the free ride given to the ranchers and the raw deal shoveled to the native creatures that inhabit the area. If ranchers are going to have free range on public land, then a little risk of wolf attack may be expected.

I am done ranting but there is an important principle that I want to emphasize besides my stance on wolf rights: coexistence. If you truly want to connect with nature you need to realize the complex web of which you are apart. Life on Earth is a complex matrix of interwoven and interconnecting energies which include plants, animals, humans, bacteria, the atmospheric conditions, water, and the other elements which combined create the system of life on Earth. John Muir clearly stated this point when he said, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”

Here is my goal and challenge to you dear reader, find an environmental cause for which you are passionate about and become an activist. I don’t mean that you need to start protesting in front of the state capitol or tie yourself to a tree to prevent logging, but find a cause, learn more about the issues surrounding your cause and then do something to further the public awareness of your passion.

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For me, this post should give you a hint as to what issue I have chosen. I like wolves. It appalls me to realize the extent of prejudice and brutal slaughter the species has undergone at the hands of greedy individuals who care more for profit than the environment. It may not seem like much but I believe that every person can make a difference even with a small amount of effort. Take up the standard, choose a cause, and stand with those who wish to protect the Earth and all of its inhabitants not just those of the two-legged variety.

 

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I have been thinking a lot lately about the future of society and where our current pace of frantic technological innovation is taking us and the ever increasing degradation of society due to the poisoning of our world. The next several posts will build off of this basic topic, asking the question of what does the future hold and how can we get there in one piece? I recently read an outstanding book, The Wayfinders by Wade Davis, that I wanted to share to kick off the subject of the future by thinking about the past. 

When you look at the stars at night, what do you see? Do you see little beads of light or points on a navigational compass? When you walk through the forest so you see the trees or an entire ecosystem providing food and medicine for your survival? The Wayfinders offers a glimpse into the world of indigenous cultures and their view of nature.  In recent years, the discussion in the scientific and political communities about global warming informed the public of the possible dangers of a planet under stress. Wade Davis provides answers to the global warming crises if we are willing to listen to the wisdom of the ancients.

Davis takes the reader on a global spanned adventure, visiting indigenous cultures in the Amazon, the African desert, the Australian Outback, and the Pacific Islands. The descriptions of each culture allow the reader to begin sensing the basics of the culture and the plight modern industrialization and capitalism have wrought on their homelands. Like the Penan in Borneo, a culture so interconnected within their community that no word exists for the expression: thank you. There is a communal obligation for sharing inherent in the culture. The Penan culture is being threatened by the logging industry and the government efforts to relocate this forest dwelling people to the modern cities. Cultures around the world are being threatened with relocation and extinction in the name of modernity.

What is at risk if these threatened cultures disappear? These cultures are part of the human legacy and Davis further argues that we have an obligation of preservation due to our connection to common ancestry; a common ancestry shared by the whole of the human race. Davis’ book offers a glimpse into the culture of the indigenous cultures and allows the reader to examine their own practices and biases against the philosophy and wisdom of the ancients still practiced and preserved among these indigenous cultures.

The book has really caused me to consider what I know and my place in the world. Especially thinking about how to learn and preserve the traditions of the past that may assist the building of a better future. No, I do not seek to return to the forest for hunting and gathering, but I do think there are lessons from the past we need to learn, like how to live in harmony with nature. This book allowed me to glimpse cultural ideas being lost to the world. In concert with this book review of sorts, I also wrote a poem called the Carnival of Curiosities. I can’t post it here because I have submitted it for publication (cross your fingers). But the idea is that the world is losing precious knowledge, knowledge and traditions that cannot be retrieved once claimed by the abyss. Did you  know there is a website created by UNESCO that lists cultural traditions endangered by extinction (here is the link). Think of the endangered species list for cultural traditions.  Did you know that Mongolian calligraphy is an endangered art?

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Beautiful isn’t it?

There is so much of beauty in the world and yet many of us are more concerned with our email and social media sites. Ancient cultures were more in tune with nature and with cultural traditions. These traditions connected a community and transformed civilization. Without cultural traditions, the strings of connectivity begin to unravel. I am not planning on learning Mongolian calligraphy, but the attitude of preserving cultural traditions, of preserving the beauty of the earth and connecting with that energy will help to take us to the next level.

Driving home from Flagstaff yesterday after a day of hiking and Barnes and Noble browsing, we noticed a highway sign stating the closure of the Grand Canyon. At the time we had no idea why the Grand Canyon would be closed, my first assumption was the possibility of a wildfire threatening the park. No it was something much more insidious and dangerous . . . politics.

The government shut down cut off funding for the national parks which are actually designated as public spaces. The original goal of my blog was to discuss techniques and practices for reconnecting with nature. The national park concept is a great concept currently managed incompetently. That the national parks and their personnel are considered non-essential by the inept politicians in Washington demonstrate the length of disconnectedness the nation has fallen. It is apparent that we live in a society that no longer values nature and culture. The national parks protect some of the wonders of the natural world (like the Grand Canyon or Bryce Canyon) as well as protect our national heritage sites, sites that allow visitors to connect with ancient ancestry, those First Nation people who lived in harmony with the land out of mutual respect.

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Looking on the outside world from an ancient First Nation site. – Walnut Canyon National Monument in Arizona

According to their website, the mission of the national park service is “The U.S. Department of the Interior protects America’s natural resources and heritage, honors our cultures and tribal communities, and supplies the energy to power our future.” How can the politicians classify the national parks and heritage sites as non-essential? My guess is that these politicians see the sites as nothing but playgrounds or memorials and not for the important American cultural sites they represent.

I was curious last night and loaded up the list of 401 national parks, heritage sites, etc. to see how many I have visited in my short 41 years on our lovely planet and was surprised at the number of sites I have not visited. Maybe I can’t complain of the problems of funding management or governance if I fail to take advantage of these public spaces. Here is my list which I have now made a commitment to grow by at least one new site per year (we have a lot of great state sites around that I want to visit too).

Bryce Canyon National Park Canyonlands National Park  Grand Canyon National Park  Grand Teton National Park 
Mesa Verde National Park  Yellowstone National Park  Zion National Park  Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve
Dinosaur National Monument Montezuma Castle National Monument Timpanogos Cave National Monument Walnut Canyon National Monument
Golden Spike National Historic Site Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park City of Rocks National Reserve

I read an article last night trying to sort through the nonsense in Washington and why certain programs were cut off for the interim including the WIC program which I think is unconscionable, I starting thinking about alternatives to shutting down. If the program was self-funded then it was saved from the chopping block. The Grand Canyon sees an annual visit load of 5 million visitors per year. Is that not astounding? For a car to enter the park it costs $25. At an average of 4 people per car, then the Grand Canyon is bringing in approximately $31 million just in entrance fees alone. Zion National Park averages 2.5 million visitors per year so their income in entrance fees is about $15 million. Do you see where I am going with this? Could the national parks go independent of the government?

In all of my musings, I will admit that my inner anarchist was begging to be let loose. If the national parks are truly public space then would it not make sense for the public to manage the parks rather than the park management to be under the auspices of the all-knowing politicians in Washington? Seriously, where are all of the park fees going? Does the money all stay within the park system or is it being siphoned off to fund pet projects in the DoD?

Unfortunately the anarchist needs to stay within the confines of the asylum of my mind. In order for the public to successfully manage the parks and heritage sites would take a modicum of social responsibility which I fear is lacking in our current societal climate. I have no doubt that if the management of the park was relegated to the public that many individuals would step up and volunteer their time to upkeep these important sites. I also have no doubt that within two days the garbage cans would be overflowing and many of the sites would be marred by graffiti. I have witnessed the level of social responsibility in my own community recently and it leaves me sick inside. Yesterday we hiked a trail in the Coconino National Forest that ends at a petroglyph site. It is a beautiful hike that we have now done twice but both times a public notice was posted describing acts of vandalism committed at the site, one of which included the removal of artifacts. If left to our current society, would any of these sites even exist in 10 years (it might take longer to fill in the Grand Canyon unless another dam is built).

The Grand Canyon

The Grand Canyon

During the process of reconnecting with nature, I believe a sense of social responsibility towards protecting natural sites naturally develops. I have found my inner social activist, he is in the room next to the anarchist, emerge with several issues surrounding wolf protection and the protection of other natural sites from capitalistic predators. I haven’t protested on the steps of the capital building or chained myself to the trunk of a tree, but in my own way, this blog is my protest to the exploitation of our natural resources.

“A labyrinth is a symbolic journey . . . but it is a map we can really walk on, blurring the difference between map and world.”
― Rebecca Solnit

Just as Japanese Gardens provide a meditative space for inner contemplation, a labyrinth is a physical map to the inner realms. My first exposure to labyrinths was upon hearing the tale of the Greek hero Theseus and his defeat of the Minotaur of Crete within the confines of the Cretan labyrinth. Though a story shrouded in the mist-blurred reality of mythology, archaeologists have discovered Cretan labyrinths dated from the fifth century BCE and mirror similar cave mazes found in India. Some believe the architecture of the labyrinth is the basis for the mandala which I will discuss in the final post of the series.

The labyrinth is generally associated with the myth of Theseus but during the eighteenth century labyrinths were referred to as the Game of Troy, reference to another Greek myth. Two labyrinth patterns have become standards for categorizing labyrinths, the classical pattern and the Chartres pattern named for the most famous labyrinth at the Chartres cathedral. The classic pattern is a seven circuit pattern generally associated with the Cretan labyrinth experienced by Theseus. It is the most common pattern and is also linked to the Battle of Troy due to the symbolism of the labyrinth being a fortress protecting a symbol of the sacred feminine, Helen of Troy. Although labyrinths are present in many different cultures, the construction of labyrinths primarily flourished in Europe.

The second most common pattern of labyrinth is the Chartres pattern. During the Middle Ages, many Christians journeyed to the Holy Land in a stream of religious pilgrimages. With the perpetuation of the Crusades, travel for Europeans became more dangerous. Labyrinths were constructed along in the courtyards and naves of cathedrals as a safe alternative to the Holy Land pilgrimages. Walking the labyrinth in penance simulated the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The most famous of the Middle Ages is located at the Chartres Cathedral in France, built in the thirteenth century. The Chartres labyrinth is designed for eleven circuits, divided into four quadrants, symbolically representing the cross of Jesus Christ. The center of the labyrinth is adorned with rosette design with six petals, symbolically representing the six days of creation. Like the mandalas, the center of the labyrinth has special significance as the focus of the circle, the space with the power to move the observer to see beyond the image.

Based on the mathematical formulas of Pythagoras, labyrinths were constructed as a cosmological map representing the unity of the cosmos with special significance to the number one. The idea of the medieval labyrinth as a cosmological Christian map mirrors the purpose of the Buddhist mandalas as a visual representation of the religious view of the cosmos.

Five years ago my wife and I came across reference to the benefits of walking labyrinths to help calm the brain and improve their focus. This came at a time when we were doing a lot research on Autism and searching for ways to improve the condition of our daughter. On a vacation to Sedona, we discovered that a labyrinth had been constructed there and we took advantage of the opportunity to try it out. Major improvements were not made from this simple exercise of walking the labyrinth in our daughter, but personally, I felt calmer after completing the circuit. There is a subtle energy with the walking of the labyrinth that when tapped into could lead an individual to move beyond the geometric shape of the labyrinth itself and begin to explore the inner self.

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We have revisited the labyrinth many times including walking through the its mazed cobblestoned paths yesterday. Every time I walk the labyrinth, I literally feel my stress levels recede. It took three circuits yesterday, but by the end I had a feeling of inner contentment not previously felt during last week’s quagmire of pressure.

Walking a labyrinth will help an individual to reconnect with nature by stripping out the stresses of modern life and allowing a beam of inner peace to break through the barricade of anxiety and connect with the energies of nature. So find a labyrinth and try it for yourself, you will be surprised at the results. Don’t know where to find a labyrinth, try this handy search engine.

World Wide Labyrinth Locator

While the labyrinth is a symbolic journey, a literal walk in the park in some cases, it is a representative map to the inner consciousness of the individual. A labyrinth is an artistic expression that we can physically interact with, walking a circuitous journey into the realm of the non-physical.

Japanese gardens ask that you go beyond the garden spiritually, that you look at the garden not merely as an object but also as a path into the realms of spirit.” 
— Makoto Ooka

Art in the human experience stretches back to the beginnings of time. From cave paintings to modern abstract design, art offers representative interpretations of the human experience and invites the viewer to delve into the inner depths of the psyche. Gazing into a mirror, Alice wondered about the differences between her world and the world beyond the looking glass; would the books have the words going the wrong way or if milk exists and what it tastes like. Alice took the plunge and stepped into the world to explore the differences but many people stay on the surface level and view only the image itself. Visual images may enhance our perception of ourselves and the world around us if we look beyond the reality of the image presented and allow our mind to turn inward. Experts in the field of psychology theorized an evolutionary process of individual growth possible through transcending our everyday consciousness to higher levels of consciousness.

Various cultures and religious philosophies integrate a level of introspection within the art as a tool for meditation and introspection. Utilizing art as a medium for reaching an inner stillness and peace allows individuals to deepen their level of consciousness and progress towards enlightenment, individuation, self-actualization, or inner peace. For the next few posts, I will explore several different types of artistic mediums designed with objective of taking the individual on a journey past the visual imagery of the artwork to explore the individual consciousness; Japanese gardens, mandalas, and labyrinths.

We recently visited the Japanese Friendship Garden in Phoenix. The garden was nice but was missing an essential element for me, the dry rock garden. If you want to visit a nice Japanese garden, check out the garden in Balboa Park in San Diego.

 My interest in Japanese garden designs spans many years and integrates not only design work but the ideas of energy flow or ‘qi’ as a protective and calming element within the confines of the garden. The design of Japanese gardens provides a pathway to reconnect with our inner consciousness and the natural world.

Japanese garden design spans centuries of Japanese history with influences from China.  The initial Japanese gardens were built as shrines to honor the kami, spirits that inhabited the natural landscape and the basis of the Shinto religion. To create areas for the kami to manifest, the early Japanese people cleared an area within the forest by performing purification rituals and covering the area in white sand. One specific type of Japanese garden is the Zen garden, a dry garden consisting primarily of rock formations and raked gravel.

In 2006, following the completion of building our house in Ephraim, Utah, I cordoned off the front yard as a blank palette to design and construct our own personal Zen garden.

My interest in construction of a Zen garden was twofold. First, I was fascinated with the beauty and simplicity of Zen garden design. The interaction of textures, colors, and materials woven into the design of the garden would promote peace. I especially admired the garden design of Ryoan-ji in Kyoto, Japan, particularly the rock garden outside of the tea house. Five clusters of larger rocks are spaced within the confines of a square gravel filled area. I had read an article that talked about the symbolism and placement of the larger rock clusters. The placement of the larger rocks approximated the branches of a tree that reach out of the temple, the trunk of the tree, into the garden. The symbolism of deeper meaning with the rock placement resonated with me.

Secondly, personal research had brought me to the point of learning about the Chinese concept of ‘qi’, the life energy that surrounds us and the ability to manipulate the qi through feng shui, principles of design to maximize the flow of qi for optimum health, wealth, and wisdom.

Ryoan-ji, along with being one of the inspirations for my Zen garden design, is Japan’s most famous Zen garden and on the UNESCO world heritage list. The rock garden consists of fifteen stones placed within a gravel area. The gravel is raked around the stones in concentric circles. What is interesting about the garden is the conjecture surrounding the symbolism embodied in the placement of the stones. The most common theory is that the stone represent islands and mountains rising out of the sea. Other observers believe the mountains correspond with mythological locations specifically Mount Sumeru, a mythological mountain shared by Taoism, Hinduism, and Buddhism. It is also known by a second name, mutei, in Japanese meaning the “garden of nothing.” The second descriptive name of garden of nothing is significant in illustrating the power of the rock garden to promote the connection within the individual with the cosmos and reach a state of inner peace. The garden at Ryoan-ji is a work of abstract art, regarded as the revealing the essence of Zen Buddhism. The lack of preconceived notions or specific interpretation of the meaning of the rock placement allows the observer to look deeper and see beyond the visual imagery of the garden itself and reach for a higher level of consciousness forging a possible path to reconnecting with nature through meditation within the depths of inner consciousness.

 

The Groundhog Conspiracy

My family and I just finished watching the annual Groundhog Day celebration (all 3 minutes) filmed in Pennsylvania yesterday and I am speechless. I am definitely good with the prediction of an early spring. However, I am disappointed to discover that in the 127 years of weather prognostication, the most famous weather animal in the United States is only right 39% of the time. So according to the data, more than likely we will have at least 6 more weeks of winter. But this fact is not what left me speechless, no there is a more sinister game at play here.

There is an organized group calling themselves the Inner Circle who keep poor Punxsutawney Phil in captivity all year round, possibly feeding him an immortal elixir prolonging his torture. This is conspiracy at the highest levels. How can anyone in our country sit back while this grave injustice is perpetrated on this poor aging animal? Not only is this Inner Circle subjugating this defenseless creature to permanent captivity but also claims to speak for said animal on the one day a year Phil is allowed to see the light of day. I demand an independent third party translation of the weather prediction. How can we trust such a group? Every year Phil’s words may be a desperate cry for help not a tryout for the Weather Channel.

It makes one wonder if this same Inner Circle is also behind other animal/holiday conspiracies like the Easter Bunny and flying reindeer. What about the decimation of the turkey population every November, maybe the Inner Circle is to blame for the propagation of the animal /holiday connection? I propose a boycott on all holidays in which animals are featured as key players. Unite and show this so called Inner Circle that their 127 year reign of poor weather predictions, fashion ineptitude, and false sense of importance is at an end.

Free the groundhog and liberate the world!

In the Sanctuary of Trees

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth.”

-Hermann Hesse

The last two weeks of the project and I decided to combine the last element and sense into one post due to the interwoven relationship of the practices I chose. The last element is wood and the last sense is smell. Nothing to me smells better than a pine forest after it has rained. If you have never experienced it, think of the smell of your fresh cut Christmas tree times by at least ten, and all of those trees are still alive. The two techniques for these practices come from a book called Your Brain on Nature by Eva M. Selhub and Alan C. Logan.

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Technique #1 – Tree Climbing

You want to get in touch with the element of wood, what better way than to go climb a tree. My grandparents had the best climbing tree in their front yard, one of my favorite activities whenever we were there for holiday gatherings. Nobody could get as high in the tree as me (for a ten year old, these were high bragging rights). Selhub and Logan state that do to the inability for many urban dwellers to have access to good climbing trees, there are movements to use tree climbing as an intervention and researchers in Japan are studying the affect of tree climbing on individuals. They claim that climbing a tree will reduce stress and anxiety as well as boost mental clarity and fill the individual with a feeling of vitality.

One afternoon I headed off to the pine forest where I had previously scouted for good climbing trees. I had one particular tree in mind, not a pine tree but an alligator juniper. The tree was perfect but the climber not so much. So it has been awhile since I partook in the childhood ritual of tree climbing, at least the branches were easier to reach. Once in the tree, I admit, I did feel an increase in vitality, a childhood sense of wonder and enjoyment also were in attendance. I can see how tree climbing could reduce stress that is until you have to come down. I thought I had the perfect dismount planned but the tree still wanted to play and grabbed me by the arm on the way out. Hey, what’s a few scratches compared to the joy of climbing a tree?

Technique #2 – Shinrin-yoku – Forest Air Bathing

Also from the book Your Brain on Nature, I learned the concept of shinrin-yoku or forest air bathing. Forest air bathing means taking a walk in the forest while using all of your senses to interact with the environment. Studies from Japan have shown that applying shinrin-yoku while in the forest has noticeable health benefits including lowering blood pressure, cortisol levels, and pulse rate. Pine forests work really well for shinrin-yoku. Evergreen trees emit a natural chemical into the air called phytoncide, for us humans, this is actually an immune booster. So there are many healthy benefits to forest air breathing particularly in evergreen forests.

I put this to the test and was happy with the results. Scientifically I cannot prove the physical affect on my system but psychologically I felt calmer and more at peace and this was after a stressful day in the office.

Project Conclusion

The principle of Forest Air Bathing really sums up the results of this project, the simple act of spending time in Nature will reconnect you with the energies of the Earth and have a positive affect on your physical, emotional, psychological, and energetic systems. Over the course of the past ten weeks, I separated out the focus of each week between the five elements traditionally identified in the Traditional Chinese medicinal practice and the five senses. My findings, while you may focus on one, all senses are alive and Nature is not nicely compacted like your average Wal-Mart superstore. Unless you want to specifically focus on one of the ten, the most enriching moments for me came in the presence of multiple elements and utilizing all of my senses to interact with the environment.

While this may be the end of the project, this is not the end of the blog itself. I plan on continuing my efforts to experiment with different practices to connect with Nature and report on my findings. My hope is that someone will be inspired to try just one of the techniques and find out that it really is beneficial to spend time in Nature and make a concerted effort to go into the wild. It is snowing this morning as I type, although not usually a fan of snow, I have let go of the resistance and look forward to enjoying Nature in all of its seasons. Thank you dear reader for considering my words.