Readers of Sharon St Joan’s blog site, “Echoes in the Mist” (recently changed from “Voices-and-Visions”), will be familiar with her ethereal poems, which have always resonated with me as a view into the sacred soul of Nature.
Over the last two years, Sharon has graciously devoted some of her time and creative talent to composing twelve poems for the latest volume of Secret Voices from the Forest—Thoughts and Dreams of North American Trees.
Volume Three: The East, in which you will find her verses, concerns a few of the trees native to the eastern part of this continent—from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean—some well known and some quite uncommon, and some wholly unique to this continent, although not necessarily familiar to all of us; examples are Sugar maple, American chestnut, Pawpaw and Tulip Tree.
These brightly illustrated volumes familiarize us with each tree, utilizing facts about it and its native surroundings, as well as a few particulars about some of the animals and other plants that share its environment. At the same time, each tree is given a chance to “speak for itself,” in a section titled, “Reflections,” in which we can imagine how the tree might see its place in the world and how it may view us, as fellow travelers on the Earth.
In the world of books about nature, these publications are distinctive, blending fact and fantasy for adults who are willing to consider the idea that we are all equal participants in the great work of Creation.
You can find this, as well as the first two volumes, The West and Midcontinent, on Amazon at this link.
Concerning the mortality of young calves, only 1 to 2 percent of these deaths are caused by predation — from all predators, including dogs. All the other calf deaths are caused either by illness or are weather-related. Ranchers are compensated for the loss of their livestock, and non-lethal forms of predator control have been shown to be the most effective response. So there is no reason to kill cougars to protect calves.
Just the opposite is true. It has been shown that increased hunting causes more, not fewer, calf deaths.
It is, in fact, a grave mistake to increase cougar hunting quotas in the hope of lessening livestock predation. Hunting cougars (and other predators) disrupts their social order. This means that young cougars are separated from their mothers while they are still learning to hunt their natural prey. With fewer adults in the population, hungry adolescent cougars are far more likely to engage in erratic behavior – to attack livestock or to roam near agricultural fields and structures, potentially leading to more human/wildlife conflicts.
The higher incidence of livestock deaths noted in certain areas in Utah was most likely directly caused by the increased hunting of predators in recent years. If the hunting quotas are increased again, as is planned, then the greater numbers of cougars hunted will almost certainly lead to even higher livestock deaths in these areas next year and the year after. Like pouring gasoline on a fire – killing more cougars will not work and will only make things worse.
Cougar mothers ought not to be killed
When their social order and their habitat are left undisturbed, cougars do not seek out or attack human beings or livestock, and they do not hang around human structures. They prefer living deep in the wilderness, and maintaining wilderness for them to live in is the best way to help both wild lands and ourselves.
The lives of individual cougars and their offspring have a value conferred on them by nature. When they are chased with packs of dogs, treed, and then shot, this is inhumane and is not ethical hunting.
Both female and male cougars are hunted. From a distance the hunter cannot with any certainty tell male from female. At any time of year, kittens may still be with their mother because they stay with her, learning survival skills, for up to two years.
Although, according to Department of Wildlife Resources regulations, killing a mother accompanied by kittens is prohibited, as is killing any adult accompanied by a young cougar, this does nothing to protect very small kittens left in their den, or left to play while their mother goes off to hunt, or kittens which are separated from their mother (and therefore are out of sight) when their mother is fleeing a pack of dogs. About one third of all cougars killed are females, and clearly a great many kittens die as a result.
It is a universally accepted norm that female animals with offspring should not be hunted – though, sadly, this basic humane principle is often disregarded. In the case of cougars, wherever any cougar hunting at all is allowed, whatever the season, females as well as males will be killed, and kittens and youngsters not old enough to fend for themselves will inevitably die.
Since cougars are not hunted for food, increasing the numbers hunted is for no good reason. Fewer cougars should be hunted, not more.
No taking into account future threats
Without a scientific estimate of the numbers of cougars in Utah, there is no basis for increasing the hunt quotas.
The increase is arbitrary, and may be critically harmful to sustaining the cougar population. This is true especially since there has been no taking into account of clear, predictable threats to wild lands, such as the shrinking and chopping up of wild lands and wilderness corridors. Further loss of habitat is likely in the wake of more intense wildfires, possible droughts, more people moving into Utah, and government policies that promote extractive fossil fuel activity, along with the accompanying pollution and habitat deterioration that oil wells, coal, and fracking bring.
Not planning for future conditions that are scientifically and statistically probable leaves wildlife populations at risk. Not only will they have to deal with overhunting, but they will have to do this while being exposed to all the other growing threats to wild lands and ecosystems – the harm we as human beings are causing to the earth.
Just as we normally plan for any disasters likely to strike, future threats to wildlife should also be taken into account when setting hunting quotas – because they are a foreseeable part of our future.
Nature must be left in peace
We need to take a new look at wildlife, cougars included, to see them once again as our valued and beautiful fellow beings on this planet, whose presence is a gift, enriching the natural world and our own lives. Let’s let them live in peace.
How you can help
Please send an email to help cougars.
You may choose one or two of these points below and use your own words. Ask that cougar hunting be reduced, not increased. Please indicate the state and/or country where you live. See the link at the end for the email address.
One: Cougars’ lives have an intrinsic value. They are not hunted for food, and hunting them does not provide humans with anything that is actually needed.
Two: Overhunting harms the balance of nature.
Three: Cougars are beneficial to the ecosystem. A scientific study in Zion National Park demonstrated that where there are cougars, there are abundant deer herds, healthy streams, and a far greater abundance of life forms: three times as many fish, and more saplings, birds, butterflies, frogs, and small mammals.
Four: Cougar hunting leads to more deaths of ranchers’ calves. Cougars self-regulate their populations according to availability of food and habitat considerations. Only one to two percent of calf predation can be attributed to predators. Hunting disturbs the cougars’ social order, leading to erratic behavior by young cougars who are then more likely to kill calves.
Five: Hunting cougars is inhumane. Chasing cougars with dog packs up a tree and then shooting them is inhumane. Killing females with kittens who will then be left to starve is also inhumane. Because there is no certain way to hunt cougars without killing females that have dependent kittens, hunting cougars is not ethical hunting, and they should not be hunted.
Six: Predictable future threats to our wild lands ought to be taken into account when determining cougar hunting quotas.
Please send an email expressing your views to Dave Black, Chair of the southern Utah RAC region. firstname.lastname@example.org
Or better yet, attend the RAC meeting on August 1, 2017, at 7 pm in Beaver, Utah, at the Beaver High School and speak up for cougars!
Information for this was drawn from the HSUS cougar report – State of the Mountain Lion: A Call to End Trophy Hunting of America’s Lion
Standing on a rock in the sunlight surveying the lands below or leaping through a rushing stream, cougars, like all wild animals, have a striking, incredible beauty – an intrinsic worth and value as individuals and, collectively, as a species. The value of their lives is their own and is quite independent of their usefulness or benefit to human beings.
The natural world is an interwoven net, grown up over many millions of years, in which each species plays an essential role in the health and well-being of the whole. We are part of this net.
Extirpating or decimating any natural species harms the ecosystem and adversely impacts the vitality of the whole system.
Every year in Utah these beautiful animals, the lions of North America, are targeted for more killing. This year the planned hunting quotas are being raised yet again. For the 2017/2018 season, the proposed target for cougar hunting is 565, up 40 from last year. This does not even count certain areas where there is unlimited cougar hunting.
Like all of our fellow beings on the planet, as humans, we do need to use some resources – but, really, cougar hunting, which is mainly trophy hunting, is not a normal use of natural resources. It serves no purpose at all – not even for food.
Human beings’ use of the earth’s resources to live and thrive ought to be minimal and limited to what is actually needed. When we use more than our fair share, we are harming not just other species, but also ourselves. By using too much, we undermine the whole of nature, and nature is also our own habitat. It is the home where we live, and we cannot continue to live without the natural world. We are dependent on nature and the earth.
This core principle applies in a unique way to predators, which are keystone species. Scientific studies have shown that predators are essential to the health of wild lands and wild species. We must stop trying to get rid of them.
A study on the benefits of cougars
A scientific study done by Oregon State University, published in 2006 in the online publication Biological Conservation 133 (2006) 397-408, looked at the impact of cougars in Zion National Park. (Please see the links at the end of part two.)
This study uncovered profound, long-term effects following the decline of cougars in Zion.
As the numbers of cougars took a downward dip, herds of mule deer no longer kept moving along as they would naturally do in the presence of cougars. Instead, the deer began to spend a lot of time hanging about, congregating in stream beds, browsing on cottonwood and other saplings, and leading a “sedentary” lifestyle. The forest was diminished and the abundance of all wild species: mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and other plant and animal life went into decline. The stream beds were trampled and muddy, and all life near them dwindled.
By contrast, in the North Creek area of Zion National Park, where there was far less human intrusion, both the cougars and the deer remained lively and active much as they always had. With far less trampling, streambed erosion and loss of soil were less than half what they were in the rest of Zion. There was an abundance of young cottonwoods, squirrels, butterflies, lizards and water plants. There were three times as many fish found in streams in this area. The wild lands stayed healthy and thriving.
All this was thanks to the continued presence of the cougars. Cougars are essential to Utah’s wild lands.
Cougars benefit human beings too
A healthy ecosystem does, of course, also benefit human beings. Who would not prefer to be surrounded by wild lands where wildlife are active and in good shape, where lands shine with the natural vitality, health, and the beauty that nature intended?
When our wild lands are healthy, we too can breath clean air, drink pure water – our agriculture benefits, and so does our economy – not too mention our own health, peace of mind, and happiness.
Predators, including cougars, are keystone species that have been proven to sustain and invigorate the well-being of the environment on which our own lives depend.
Yet, paradoxically, we continue to persecute and attempt to eliminate these essential, beneficial predators. Coyotes, wolves, foxes, cougars, bobcats, and other species that belong in nature are systematically targeted, year after year, with increased quotas for hunting and/or trapping.
Why hunt cougars?
The hunting of cougars is not real hunting at all. No one hunts cougars for food.
They are hunted for trophies and also because of a mistaken perception that where there are fewer cougars, deer hunting will be better, and ranchers will lose fewer calves to predation. None of these beliefs is true.
The head of a cougar is far more beautiful and magnificent on the living animal where it belongs, than it is when it is dead and mounted on a wall.
Whether or not one is a deer hunter, we can all appreciate that the health of deer herds is enhanced by cougars and other predators who maintain a dynamic and beneficial relationship with the deer. The natural order of things serves the animals far better than human interference. Cougar populations are self-regulating and do not require human management. Their mating and breeding are determined by the numbers of cougars that the land will hold. Killing cougars does not regulate their population. The availability of food and good habitat does.
Continued in part two (with how to help, sources, and photo credits)…Click here.
The 27 National Monuments now under review for downsizing are some of the most uniquely beautiful wild lands on the planet earth, with spectacular mountain ranges, enchanting rock formations, magnificent wild birds and animals, essential wildlife corridors, and hundreds of thousands of sacred Native American sites. Nature really is not ours to destroy, and the continued protection offered by National Monument status is needed to prevent opening up these lands to threats – either from coal, oil, fracking and other development, or from further changes in status down the road which could lead to their being sold, exchanged, or otherwise disposed of.
Please send a comment to the U.S. Department of the Interior, asking that the 27 National Monuments and the oceanic Monuments which are also now under review, not be diminished or downsized in any way.
The comment I have sent is given below.
Here is the link where you may send your comment. Sometimes this link doesn’t work. You can also go to www.regulations.gov and continue from there.
The deadline for comments is July 10, 2017. The deadline for comments on the Bears Ears National Monument was May 26, and has already passed.
If you live in southern Utah, or even if you don’t, you may wish to comment specifically on the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, which is the largest of the Monuments.
Several criteria are listed which Secretary Zinke will be considering when making his decisions about these Monuments.
If you can submit a comment that relates to these criteria, please, by all means do so. That may be most effective. I’m not suggesting that you write a comment similar to mine below. Sticking to the criteria given may work best.
I confess that I was unable to force my comments into something that could be fitted into the pigeon holes of the criteria. Because we have freedom of speech and freedom of thought, it seems that our comments ought to be considered, whether or not they fall within the stated categories. Also our own sense of justice requires that we speak up clearly on behalf of nature that is in peril.
Among many of us there is a feeling that perhaps the decision has already been made, and the die has already been cast. There have been a great many occasions; however, when public comments have actually been heard and have modified an outcome. In any case, speaking up in defense of wildlife and wild lands is worth doing, regardless of whether or not one is being heard, even if only the clouds and the wind are witnesses.
Also, hearing happens on many levels. We ourselves hear what we have said, and all those who have ears to hear do also hear. This gives strength to the global movement to protect the natural world, and on some level, joins forces with the plants, the wild animals, and the earth itself.
Here is the comment that I sent:
Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the review of certain National Monuments established since 1996.
I am opposed to this review, and I ask that Secretary Zinke not recommend diminishing any of these Monuments which were designated by former presidents.
In my view, there are no legal grounds and no justification for attempting to undo or downsize any Monuments designated under the Antiquities Act. The Antiquities Act provides for the establishment of such Monuments by American presidents, but it does not provide for their dismantling by any succeeding president.
The efforts to downsize or diminish any of these Monuments are misguided.
Cascade Siskiyou in Oregon is home to two hundred species of birds, including the endangered Great Grey Owl. Craters of the Moon in Idaho is made up of amazing volcanic landscapes found nowhere else. Giant Sequoia Monument in California has some of the oldest and most spectacular of these beautiful trees. Gold Butte in Nevada protects the threatened Mojave Desert Tortoise, Bighorn Sheep, cougars, and magnificent desert rock formations. Grand Canyon-Parashant includes remote natural wilderness areas near the Grand Canyon.
Grand Staircase Escalante has some of the most beautiful rock formations on earth as well as sacred Native American sites and essential wildlife corridors. The only remaining jaguars within the United States, whose presence is greatly endangered, are to be found in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. Upper Missouri River Breaks National Monument in Montana is filled with scenic wild lands, still unspoiled since the Lewis and Clark Expedition passed through in 1805. The Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona holds 12,000 years of Native American settlements and some of the earth’s most astonishing 3,000 feet high rock formations. For 11,000 thousand years, human beings have lived among the forests and rivers of the Katahdin Woods and Waterways National Monument in Maine. Each of these Monuments has unique and irreplaceable natural wild lands.
The five marine National Monuments also being reviewed, the Marianas Trench, the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts, Pacific Remote Islands, Papahanaumokuakea, and Rose Atoll are the homes of some of earth’s rarest and most endangered sea birds and sea creatures. The preservation of these great ocean expanses is essential to the continuation of life in the sea.
When my ancestors and the ancestors of many Americans first arrived on our shores around five hundred years ago, and began to travel west, they found a continent overflowing with life. From coast to coast, there was such an unimaginable abundance of wild lands and wildlife that it would have been impossible to imagine that today it would be mostly gone. The Native Americans who lived here for 13,000 years used what they need to survive and destroyed nothing else. They left the natural world as they had found it.
A September 9, 2016 article on the online site Science Alert, reports on a study which estimates that today only 23 percent of the world’s wilderness areas remain intact. Very little is left of the natural world. Yet, instead of striving to protect whatever bits of nature are left – every tree, every mountain range, every wild species, the rivers, the oceans, and every blade of grass – instead, we continue to plunder the natural world.
The claim that the natural world “belongs” to us, because our forbears traveled across the prairie displacing the Native Americans who were here for many thousands of years before us – or that wild lands exist solely in order to be gobbled up by coal, oil, fracking, and other industrialization, is absurd. The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.
This is not a weird or unpopular point of view. The vast majority of the American public supports protecting public lands, including the National Monuments, along with all wild lands and wild species. Americans, like all peoples on the earth, value the intrinsic beauty and worth of the natural world. We are part of nature. We cannot exist without nature, though, irrationally, we are rapidly killing the very source of life on which we depend. When the natural world is gone, we will be gone too. Yet that, in itself, is not the primary reason to protect life on earth. The earth has it’s own existence and its own value, and it is not ours to destroy.
When we destroy our past – the ancient sacred sites that are the legacy of this continent, and when we destroy the great beauty and sacred integrity of the rocks, the rivers, the mountains, the wild animals and birds, and all the life that was put here long before we arrived, that is a mistake that cannot be undone.
I would like to request that the Department of the Interior and Secretary Zinke undertake a review of all the as-yet-unprotected wild lands in the U.S. with the intent of seeing how they can be safeguarded by being designated as National Monuments, National Parks, or other protected lands.
Fifth photo: Bob Wick, BLM / “This image is a work of a Bureau of Land Management employee, taken or made as part of that person’s official duties. As a work of the U.S. federal government, the image is in the public domain in the United States.” / Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, in Colorado, Painted Hand Pueblo.
All of the above is not in any way to downplay the dedication, heroism, and lifelong work of the many who have fought to protect our wild lands. Though this is a struggle against an overwhelming force, there is no doubt that this brave work has held back and delayed the deluge of destruction.
It is not simply greed that is at fault here, though clearly that plays a large role. But even more basic is the notion, pervasive throughout our culture, that all of nature is subservient to human beings, and ultimately that nature is an “it” not a “who.”
Some level of sentience is accorded to animals, but in the common view and the commonly accepted norms of science, no level of sentience or consciousness is accorded to plants, let alone to rocks, cliffs, mountains, the oceans, or the earth. This perspective is so fully embraced by science, and science has now taken such a lofty place of authority, that suggesting that the beings of nature have their own lives, as well as their own awareness and intrinsic value, is considered so farfetched as to not be worth a passing glance.
(I do understand, and I agree, that science can play a vital, much-needed role in combating climate change and the destruction of species. It remains true, however, that science is a double-edged sword. Science also ushered in the industrial revolution and many of the ills that are now destroying our planet. Science, like any tool, can be used for harm or for good.)
There is a counterforce to the drive to destroy nature – a simple one – many people the world over are distressed and protest vociferously when great old trees are cut down to widen a city street. They see a tree as a living being; in a way, as a person. People feel the same reaction when they see the ocean clogged with garbage or watch any aspect of nature being treated with disrespect or disregard. There is an underlying sense among most of us, not always articulated, that Mother Nature is being harmed, and this deep love for the earth lingers on in the human psyche despite all the centuries of propaganda promoting dominance and destruction.
There are two forces within human nature. At the moment, and cumulatively over the centuries, the powers of hatred and the drive to kill the wild, are winning. We need to become aware of these two forces within us and around us.
If we are ever to have any hope of re-connecting with the earth and with the natural world of which we are a part, we will need to go out into nature, in respectful silence, to once again come to know and to acknowledge the sentience of all of nature, the spirits, and the beings that our most distant ancestors knew so well. We are not separate, as we believe. We are they, and they are us.
One way to re-affirm this bond with nature is through art and music, which tend to value the spiritual and the spirit. There are mystical realities far beyond the prosaic, assumed certainties of the linear mind. We must get to know nature once again – revere and worship the trees, the cliffs, the moon, the stars, the great bears, the cottontails, the eagles and the red-winged blackbirds. Without this deeper perspective and reality, we are doomed to destroy the planet, all living things, and ourselves as well. In the interests of our own survival, physical and spiritual, and in the interests of the sacred lands and sacred beings all around us, it is time for us to do this.
It may, or may not be, too late to save this world, but nature is not just physical, it is spirit. It is eternal and transcendent, recurring and recurring, again and again, always present in the greater cosmos that lies beyond. So this effort spent to re-connect with the beings of nature will bring a clearer, mystical reality; it will bring inner peace. It will help the beings of nature and ourselves, and, whatever the outcome, it will not be in vain.
Industrialization, like oil, coal, fracking, uranium, and copper mining are prioritized by legislation passed in the U.S. Congress, going back to the General Mining Act of 1872. One might be under the mistaken view that the job of the BLM is to protect the land and the wildlife that live there, but this could not be farther from the truth. Coal heaps line some of the roads through BLM lands. Coal trucks spew giant dust clouds visible a mile away. Because of coal, waterways are contaminated with mercury. They are also clogged by the feet of grazing cows, who, by the way, drink the polluted water, and then are sold for slaughter, later to become someone’s dinner. This is tragic for the cows, and for the lands and wildlife on 155 million acres of government land, where their feet trample delicate native plants, young saplings, streams, creeks, and wild bird habitat – destroying the natural world. The cattle industry is, as well, one of the leading factors tipping the earth towards death by climate change.
In among these lands are still to be found thousands of sites sacred to Native Americans – these, despite efforts to protect them, are being vandalized. Burial grounds are ridden over by ATV’s and petroglyphs defaced.
State and federal wildlife agencies which one might hope would be caretakers for the wilderness, instead seem to manage wildlife with a view towards eradicating wild carnivores: coyotes, cougars, bears, and bobcats, meanwhile focusing on growing to record numbers deer and elk herds, so there will be more for hunters to kill.
How did all this come about? It is not only the ancient peoples of the Americas, Asia, and Africa that felt a kinship and a reverence for the wild animals around them.
If one goes back far enough in European history, to pagan times, one finds that there was a widespread reverence for the land, the earth, and the animals. There was worship of the World Tree. Serpent goddesses were revered in Crete. In Finland, for example, Ukko was the ruler of the sky and thunder. In this far northern country, there was a goddess of the forest, a goddess of the moon, a goddess of the wilderness, and countless nature spirits. The most sacred water bird was the swan. Throughout Europe, in pagan times, the gods and goddesses of nature were worshipped.
In the Eleventh Century, Christian missionaries entered Finland, and, as they did throughout the world, embarked on a crusade to purge the country of the original faith. Remnants of the old ways carried on, however, here and there, and even today, the ancient religion has been brought back and is still practiced by some. (This perversion of Christianity, by the way, had nothing to do with the original Jesus Christ, who loved nature, and, to commune with God, was known for going up into wild areas of the mountains to pray.)
By the time of the advance of European civilization across the globe in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, the worldview of regarding nature as something to be subdued and conquered had become fully entrenched. Slavery, genocide, and colonialism – brutality to human beings – went hand-in-hand with brutality towards nature and the philosophy that nature was created solely for the benefit of humans and had no worth of its own. The influence of this worldview is still widely prevalent today and is ensconced in American law and practice with regard to wild lands. Exploitative and utilitarian forces remain in control, and regardless of the known impacts of climate change and the destruction of wild species and their habitat, nothing changes. Despite a vast array of conservation laws that have been passed and measures that have been put in place by good people who do care, American wild lands and wild species are still, perhaps more than ever before, being exterminated and systematically destroyed. It seems that our basic intentions, as a society, to dominate and harm nature, do unerringly find a way to override or bypass any conservation legislation. We may feel that this is not true, but it is happening.
Sacred lands. Where has the concept of the sacred gone? Indeed this may be the key question to understanding our alienation from nature.
All over the world, tribal people and people who have not lost touch with the natural world have an enduring concept of animals, plants, the mountains, and the stars being sacred – respected, revered, and worshipped. It is only “modern” man – often “western” man — that objectifies nature, treating the earth with condescension and disrespect.
The consequences of this alienation from the earth are a profound malaise at the center of our being – as we rampantly destroy the forests, the wild species, polluting rivers and oceans, and hurtling pell-mell towards climate change run amok.
Meanwhile, we wonder why our western society is ill – crime waves, opioid epidemics, suicide, divorce, fragmentation of families, mental illness, racial injustice, warfare, and a profound fear and deep-seated unrest that afflicts a large part of the population.
To see a difference in cultural perspectives, we’ve only to look to North Dakota, at the Standing Rock Sioux – thousands of brave people over several months protesting the plan to run an oil pipeline under a river which would risk contaminating the water. Hundreds of tribal people are standing their ground; some have traveled there from all over the world. They talk about their sacred land, that water is life. Law enforcement chases them with dogs, sprays pepper spray into their eyes, and runs trucks across their burial sites. They talk about their treaty signed by the U.S. Government, which everyone ignores. Only the oil companies’ view of the law prevails, and Native American sacred lands and the water that is sacred to them, and has been for thousands of years, carry no weight within the law – no standing or recognition. The only law recognized is that of their conquerors, who took their land away generations ago.
To Native Americans, water is life, and the mountains, rivers, and the earth are sacred too. The lay of the land on which they live is also sacred. In the southwestern U.S., to the Hopi and Navajo people, four sacred mountains encircle their lands, framing the sacred center in the middle. This is the area where Utah, Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico meet, known as the Four Corners region. These mountains are Mount Blanca in Colorado, Mount Taylor in New Mexico, the San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, Arizona, and Mount Hesperus Dibe Nitsaa in Colorado. From a great distance driving through the desert, one can glimpse the San Francisco peaks, covered in snow, mist-encircled, looking just like a high place where spirits surely live.
Animals are sacred to Native Americans as well. The word coyote comes from the Aztec word “coyotl.” The coyote is generally a trickster God – intelligent, resourceful, a magical creature who is sometimes helpful to human beings.
Another trickster God is the raven, worshipped as the maker of light, the being who existed before the beginning of time and created the world. The raven is also credited with creating the stars, the moon, rivers, and the sun.
On the other side of the earth, in India, the oldest book in the world, the Rig Veda, depicts the forces of nature as powerful living entities, as Gods. (Even today, we can see faint shadows of this belief, as when hurricanes are given human names.) To the ancient rishis who wrote the hymns of the Rig Veda, Agni is fire, Vayu is the wind. Indra, leader of the Gods, is the Lord of storms and lightning. Varuna is Lord of the oceans and the universe. Aditi is the original Mother, the boundless one of the heavens. Throughout the long history of Hinduism (at least 5,000 years, maybe 10,000), there are millions of Gods, yet they are all One. Every being has a soul, and the soul of every being is the same soul, the underlying ground of reality, the spirit of the universe.
The sun is Surya, the moon is Chandra. The universe is filled with life, and nature is sacred. Life is based on reverence and worship, on fulfilling one’s duty.
This worldview is in many ways the opposite of the western way of seeing things, where individuality is exalted, and the individual reigns supreme. In our culture nature is objectified – it is to be used and consumed. Its existence is deemed inferior to our own. Signs at the entrance to public lands run by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management proclaim that these are “lands of many uses.” This phrase, which sounds benign, in fact means that the land is a resource to be used by human beings.