Dr. Lynn Rogers, Black Bear Biologist: A Biographical Portrait

 

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Dr. Lynn Rogers with cubs – photo lifted from daily updates on WRI’s site (Same with Shadow below)

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Shadow, the oldest 31 year old Matriarch of the clan that Dr Rogers has been studying. She and her offspring are wild bears that live in Eagle Township, a place where wild bears and humans exist without conflict in Ely, Minnesota.

 

Dedication: To an academic mentor and friend who taught me how to trust what I observed in the field with black bears. The extensive body of his academic work not only educated me but gave me a context for what I saw and experienced, helped me to believe in myself and reinforced my intuitive sense that the bears would teach me everything I needed to know about what they wanted/needed if I simply paid attention to their behavior and gave them the respect they thrive on.

 

Last November 13th was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Lynn Rogers black bear research, and for the first time ever Lynn began to talk about himself on his daily updates from the Wildlife Research Center in Ely Minnesota. Characteristically, we learned about his personal and professional life through the lens of his naming bears after the people that helped him along the way! Dr. Rogers has a profound quality of deep humility equal to that of Primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall who was also his mentor, and pioneered the trust based research that Lynn eventually adopted as his own.

 

Lynn is 78 years old and was adopted by loving parents who supported his love for animals and his development as a naturalist. This foundation eventually led to his becoming a bear biologist and a scientist of great acclaim.

 

As a young man Lynn was selected by the Research Director for the Michigan Department of Conservation from dozens of undergraduate applicants for one of the two 1967 summer internships at Cusino Research Station while he was still an undergraduate at Michigan State University. He was left in charge of capturing bears while the director was on vacation. Dr. Erickson then accepted him as a graduate student at the University of Minnesota even though Lynn had another year of undergraduate work to complete. To make that happen Dr. Erickson held open a paid Ph.D. position for over a year. In that capacity Lynn would conduct the first field study of black bears ever done in Minnesota. To give him more experience Dr. Erickson arranged that Lynn be the first intern to return to the Cusino Research Station for a second summer. That fall Lynn discovered that he was enrolled in the prestigious new Department of Ecology and Behavioral Biology that was designed to train students for research. His graduate research was completely funded.

 

During the fall of 1968 to the spring of 1971 Lynn discovered that the black bear population had been severely decimated. Bears had been managed as varmints with bounties being paid to kill them in any way at any time. Excessive public fear prevented legislators from adding these misunderstood animals to Minnesota’s protected list. Residents demanded the right to shoot bears on sight – commonly gut shooting them so they would die elsewhere. Lynn began lecturing across Minnesota and using the many media opportunities that came with his bear study to change attitudes and to pave the way for new legislation. Lynn was able to introduce and pass the necessary legislation in 1971. He and Dr. Anderson dedicated themselves to educating the public – Dr. Anderson through the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and Lynn through giving professional talks and writing extensively.

 

The DNR officials asked Lynn to write new bear –hunting regulations, which he did. In the spring of 1971 Lynn reduced the seasonal slaughter from 52 weeks to 6, made bear hunting more humane, prohibited shooting bears in dens and set the bear population on the road to recovery. The bear population quadrupled over the next two decades.

 

In 1974, Lynn expanded his study with grants from Washington based organizations. The National Rifle Association (NRA) gave him more money than they had ever given to any research project and also provided Lynn with an expensive night vision scope.

 

During that same year an academic paper Lynn wrote won a prestigious award from the society of Mammalogists. When this paper was shown to Harvard professor E.O. Wilson he was writing a book, and when it was published it recognized Lynn’s study as one of the top four animal studies ever done in the world – alongside Jane Goodall’s study of Chimpanzees.

 

More funding came his way without solicitation. The Washington Office of the U.S. Forest Service took note and began considering a USFS research position for Lynn. Others made similar recommendations. At this point Lynn was still a graduate student who had acquired high –priced help! In this proposed research position Lynn would continue his bear study as a long term United States Forest Service (USFS) project while designing similar innovative studies for other species. Lynn was able to secure funding from Senator Hubert Humphrey and the job became reality it 1976. Lynn was ranked number one in his field and began work in August of that year.

 

The research scientist position at the USFS was exactly what Lynn needed. The Position Description stated: Supervision is characterized by a degree of confidence in and reliance on the researcher’s productivity, competence, and judgment that there is an unusual level of support of his recommendations and his most novel and as yet seemingly fruitless investigations; the supervisory relationship fully reflects recognition of the incumbent as a top technical authority in his field in the agency and as a distinguished and brilliant scientist. The Incumbent’s technical judgment and conclusions are considered authoritative…

 

In Lynn’s own words he tells us that “throughout my research I’ve continually tried new things – always with an eye towards kinder, gentler research methods. As part of that I adapted Jane Goodall’s trust- based research methods to bears in the mid – 1980’s. By combining her methods with modern technology, advances in our understanding of black bear behavior, ecology and habitual requirements came quickly.”

 

As a result Lynn received the 1988 USFS Quality Research Award. To educate he shared his findings with the public through popular articles, lectures, the internet, field courses, and TV documentaries. For the scientific world he senior authored more peer – reviewed scientific papers on black bears than anyone to this day. A worldwide survey of bear biologists conducted by the International Bear Association ranked two of those papers among the top five contributions to the scientific understanding of black bears.

 

With the attention his trust -based study was getting for its advances (by this time Lynn was collaring bears without needing to sedate them) USFS Associate Chief George Leonard arrived to experience what Lynn was doing in the field. Together, they accompanied a mother and cubs, using a field computer to record what they did, how many bites the family took of each food, and the habitats the bears used.

 

At the time the USFS was caught up in a nationwide controversy over clear cutting. These bears were showing the benefits of clear cutting for bears – increased berry production meant more natural food. The overall data showed the advantages for the many other species that also benefit from wild berries. George Leonard learned how safe it was to accompany habituated bears in the forest and gave the study his full support. He protected Lynn’s study by having the DNR close his study area to bear hunting, making it safer for the bears and for the nearly 200 citizen scientists that the USFS would soon authorize to accompany Lynn and his study bears. As a result data flowed in revealing more and more about how a forest could be managed not only for lumber but for wildlife.

 

The data also showed the ecological value of unique oak stands in Palisade Valley. Lynn presented that data to the DNR and The Nature Conservancy for action. The Nature Conservancy took the lead by purchasing the valley and donating it to the state of Minnesota eventually protecting the area for posterity by adding it Tettegouche State Park in 1992.

 

USFS biologists saw the data the bears were revealing. Dr. Allen Boss top biologist for USFS region 9 (the 23 northeastern states) described the importance to ecosystem management writing: ” In short, this is the foundation of what ecosystem management is all about. This is the kernel of the New Perspectives message and is at the heart of the effort to conserve biological diversity and Threatened and Endangered Species recovery.”

 

During the white pine controversy many people supported his work. Part of Lynn’s study with the US Forest Service was about obtaining ecological bear data that could help ecosystem management. The bears Lynn was radio tracking and walking with showed them the value of big scattered white pines. The pines hadn’t received much attention because they had no food value to bears, but the bears revealed another aspect of the importance of these trees. Mothers with cubs passed up thousands of other big trees to make 90 percent of their day beds at the bases of these refuge trees that cubs could climb safely and quickly. When Lynn passed on this information he was supplied with data on the importance of these trees to bald eagles, ospreys, and other wildlife. Another important paper was written: Supercanopy, White Pine, and Wildlife.

 

Nearly all of Minnesota’s white pines had been harvested over the past century. Only 2 percent had grown back. The scattered remaining mature pines were the few that had been spared in the last century and they were doing well but now they were being cut. In fact Minnesota’s two national forests prescribed harvesting most of the remaining white pines and replacing them with red pine and spruce that grow faster and bring in more money. The plan was contrary to ecosystem management, which Lynn was studying. He recommended that the forestry agencies reverse direction and begin to manage the public’s white pines sustainably and conduct more research to improve regeneration. Both the USFS and the Minnesota DNR eventually adopted Lynn’s recommendations and the Governor provided 1.2 million dollars for the regeneration research. This change didn’t occur without a struggle but Lynn was supported by members of the Sierra Club and a legal defense fund was formed with the help of most of Lynn’s co workers.

 

In February 1996 Lynn introduced a legislative bill to preserve the white pines and an article was written about Lynn entitled “Keeper of the Pines.” The effort was a success and today both the DNR and the USFS leave most of the white pines standing, including those in areas where all other trees are cut. On April 15th 1996, the Minnesota Wilderness and Parks Coalition named Lynn “Minnesota’s Environmental Hero for crusading to preserve and regenerate Minnesota’s depleted white pine forests.

 

Today Lynn lives and works in Ely Minnesota where the Wildlife Research Institute is located. The North American Bear Center, an ever expanding educational facility dedicated to public education is nearby and there are four wonderful Ambassador bears that cannot be returned to the wild who also live there in very large natural enclosures. Lynn, of course, heads both these organizations because research and education about the misunderstood black bear is still his top priority (Website: www.bearstudy.org ).

 

Shadow is the matriarch of all the wild bears that Lynn has been studying for all these years. She is the mother of the largest clan ever documented. Amazingly she has retained her reproductive ability longer than any female black bear on record – wild or captive. Her huge clan includes 108 litters (276 cubs) sired by wild male bears who have also been documented whenever possible (many young males are shot). A most exciting development is that Shadow, this 31 year old wild bear, was seen in the wild with a male on June 19th 2017 during the mating season. Shadow is presently keeping everyone in suspense (including me!) to see if she has a cub with her when she emerges from her den in the spring.

 

More on WRI and NABC:

 

WRI is conducting the longest and most detailed black bear study and the largest educational outreach program ever done for black bears. Research focuses on improving coexistence between people and bears in an increasingly urbanized environment.  WRI provides the information to over a hundred million people each year through TV, radio, books, magazines, museum exhibits, black bear courses, and the Internet.  It created the content for the North American Bear Center’s new Visitor Center, which opened near Ely, Minnesota, on May 5, 2007.  WRI works with government agencies to improve bear management.  WRI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization supported by course fees, lecture fees, memberships, donors, merchandise sales, and dedicated volunteers. Please check out the North American Bear Center’s award-winning website at http://www.bear.org.

The mission of the non-profit North American Bear Center is to advance the long-term survival of bears worldwide by replacing misconceptions with scientific facts about bears, their role in ecosystems, and their relations with humans.

There is a huge need for accurate information about bears worldwide.

Bears have been unfairly demonized for centuries.  Exaggerated perceptions of danger historically led to eradication campaigns using bounties, poison, trapping, and shooting.  All eight bear species around the world are now listed as vulnerable, threatened or endangered in all or portions of their ranges.  Remote habitats that once insured isolation and protection are now being occupied by people, and the attitudes of these people will determine the future of those populations.

The Bear Center is dedicated to replacing misconceptions with facts worldwide.  It is also working to conserve bear habitat, stop poaching for bear body parts, rehabilitate injured and orphaned bears back to the wild, and implement methods to reduce conflict between humans and bears.

Journalist Charles Kuralt, owner of the local Ely Minnesota radio station gives Lynn a weekly program called “The Bear Facts.”

Postscript: All the information presented in this essay comes directly from Lynn’s daily updates and from WRI and NABC. I have plagiarized happily and without guilt!

I conclude urging anyone who has the slightest interest in bears to visit the sites cited above. Lynn’s academic papers are available to peruse along with tons of facts, and wonderful bear videos for people of all ages.

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Hope

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Lily hugging Hope

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Hope

 

Hope was a wild bear cub born to Lily at the Minnesota Wild Research Center in 2010.

 

She was one of bear biologist’s Lynn Rogers study bears. Lynn cared for the little cub when mother Lily temporarily abandoned her (as young, first time mothers sometimes do). Lynn also reunited Lily and Hope.

 

Lynns’ videos went viral because they were the first to document Black Bear behavior in the den and eventually the Minnesota state wildlife agency (2012) shut down his Black Bear research forcing him to remove the collars of the 12 wild black bears that Lynn put on them by hand (without darting the bears with drugs) because his research was exploding myths about the dangerous killer black bear.

 

Lynn has literally been “walking with black bears” for 30 plus years after studying them from afar as a state biologist during his early career years. As a result his research has been an invaluable contribution to Black Bear Study. Lynn knows more about Black Bears than anyone on this planet because he has studied them the longest. His astonishing career and the multitude of his academic papers can be accessed on his sites.

 

Today, he continues to educate adults and children by inviting them to the Minnesota bear center where four bears currently reside in Black Bear luxury…

 

I have been privileged to have him as a mentor and now as a friend. He provided me with the first meaningful CONTEXT for my own observations as an ethologist who conducted an independent Bear study for 15 years (officially) and he continues to help me in his roles as educator and friend.

 

Lynn is finally in the process of writing a book about his amazing career. His deep humility and respect for bears opened a door that can never be shut again.

 

Little Hope’s life will continue to have meaning for many people although it was tragically cut short. Hope was killed by a bear hunter in 2011 who it appears targeted Lynn’s bears.

 

Yesterday was Hope’s Birthday… and those of us who continue to mourn her loss also know that she changed Black Bear history.

 

I love you Hope.

The Turtle Dance

 

Today my friends and I attended the Turtle Dance at Okay Owingey ( San Juan pueblo). This is the first dance that celebrates the return of the Light.

 

Oddly, and no doubt due to the influence of Patriarchy the dance is done by men, not women, who have been associated with Turtle for millennia.

 

The men wear elaborate headdresses adorned with eagle feathers on one side, a hand –painted half “flower” gourd on the other. Many of these gourds are adorned with the morning glory, a symbol of the summer and the harvest to come. Even the skunk – furred moccasins worn by all to symbolize water also denote the return of the summer people because some are yellow to mark the return of the sun. The white kilts are exquisitely decorated with meaningful symbols, mountains, clouds, thunder are examples, and the sound of bells accompanies the men’s chanting as the group moves from plaza to plaza ending their last set at the kiva. All wear turtle shell rattles on their legs. The torsos of the men are covered in clay.

The men dance in long lines with the black and white clad clowns with fantastic striped “ears” moving through the crowd talking, reprimanding, and making humorous remarks. All the men carry sprigs of spruce, a universal symbol of life. There are private jokes and laughter between the men. Much is left in mystery to an outsider like me, but this air of unknowing is pleasurable. It is only right that secrets are kept from the public eye. I feel that it is a gift to attend these most sacred Pueblo ceremonies at all. The dance is hypnotic and I found myself relaxing into a light trance, for which I was particularly grateful for because my body is so exhausted.

 

The scariest figures are the whippers wrapped in coyote fur and other animal skins, faces covered, slits for eyes who carry whips that strike the ground ominously. Some men are called to enter the open spaces to be whipped, others choose to enter on their own. After these whippings the men shake hands, and others in the crowd throw corn pollen. The sense I have is that there is both correction and blessing associated with this complex ritual. The whippers have been in the kivas for 10 ten days and at the end of the dance we watch these frightening supernaturals return to their mountain homes for another year.

The Bride and the Bull

 

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Both photos were taken at last year’s dance. This year we were asked not to photograph the ceremony, yet some did anyway. This lack of respect appalls me.

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Luminary

 

Christmas day dawned thick with clouds… This morning I even imagined I saw snow on the mesa… an illusion, but perhaps a harbinger of the healing moisture that could bring life to the cracked red, ochre, sea green earth, her wild grasses, cactus and trees. Our beloved desert is parched – in desperate need of rain or snow.

 

When I heard the call of the Great Horned owl from my friend Iren’s house I felt a flicker of hope and peace running through this tired animal body that strives to meet the coming day.

 

My dove sang his beautiful morning song in response to the Great Horned owl. These curious exchanges between predator and prey baffle me. Great Horned Owl is fierce, and aptly named “Tiger of the Sky” and yet these two birds are apparently communicating something of import to one another!

 

Late yesterday afternoon, Christmas Eve, I went with friends to the Pueblo of Okay Owingeh (San Juan) to witness the spectacular dance of the Matachines. This ceremony has roots in both Pueblo and Hispanic traditions of the Rio Grande in New Mexico and revolves around the young Indigenous maiden, the Matachine, and a bull, also an Indian child, the latter of which is symbolically killed and castrated at the end of the performance as his seed is scattered to bring new life to the people.

 

This story sounds grim to those unfamiliar with world mythology but its theme mirrors that of those gods of vegetation like Attis who were sacrificed for the very same reason, to bring forth new life. The mythological roots of this ceremony extend back through time to the earliest Great Mother and her Consort stories, and for me it is very satisfying to witness these stunning dancers with their rainbow colored regalia, ribbons flowing in every direction and the impressive mitered headdresses, the sound of drums and bells as they pass by the luminaries or fires that are lit in the courtyards. At sunset the dance is reenacted in each of the four plazas and ends up at the church where it began, as dusk turns to night. Last night the sky was on fire. The moving crowds of mostly Pueblo people made it hard to see the dancers at times, but for me it was enough simply to be there.

 

The Pentitentes, or Brothers, associated with the Pueblo’s religious observances, chant “Ave Maria, Madre de Dios” (Hail Mary, Mother of God) in somber voices as the procession proceeds from plaza to plaza, each symbolizing one of the four directions. I certainly have the feeling that this chant is much more significant than the simple mantra that appears to belong to the Catholic tradition. What I hear is a universal prayer and entreaty for a Blessing for the people, the animals, plants, trees, and Earth from our Beloved Mother of the World.

 

To say that this ceremony is moving is an understatement. I feel as if I am participating in a ritual that returns me to the origins of humankind.

Osha – Bear Root Medicine

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Osha is an herb that belongs to the parsley family. It is found in Northern New Mexico and other areas of the Rocky mountains at elevations of 7500 – 10,000 feet in wet moist areas with rich organic soil. However, unlike it’s poisonous cousin Water Hemlock it is never found with it’s feet growing in water because it has a reciprocal relationship with mycorrhizel fungi that also makes Osha impossible to cultivate.

 

The herb has been used by Indigenous peoples for thousands of years to treat respiratory and digestive issues when taken internally, and topically as a skin cream to moisten dry skin and heal surface wounds. The seeds and leaves were also ingested as natural food. The root of the herb was/is chewed for endurance, respiratory, problems and to combat altitude sickness.

 

The root of the herb is prepared by simmering it for up to three hours resulting in a dark aromatic tea. The root can also be tinctured in alcohol and has a spicy aromatic pungent taste.

 

Osha is an indigenous name for bear. Indigenous mythology tells us that Native and Hispanic peoples first learned to use the herb from the bears that lived in the Rocky Mountains. Since both Grizzly bears and black bears once inhabited these areas both used the herb when they emerged from hibernation to cleanse their sluggish digestive systems early in the spring, just as black bears do today (grizzlies were extirpated in most western states by the last century). During this period bears ingest many kinds of new greens, usually the only natural foods available besides roots and corms. During the warmer seasons both grizzlies and black bears have been observed (by both naturalists and biologists) rolling in Osha to kill parasites and soothe insect bites as well as chewing the roots when feeling ill.

 

All through the Americas the bear is still considered by Indigenous peoples to be the greatest healer of all animals with the black bear believed to be the greater “root” healer while the grizzly is invoked as the greatest source of spiritual protection.

 

Although western medicine has been slow to acknowledge the healing power of natural herbs, it reluctantly acknowledges that the antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal, anti-inflammatory properties of Osha “may” inhibit colds, flu, and other viral infections. It is probably the most widely used herb in the Southwest.

 

Bear root is seriously threatened by over – harvesting and cannot be successfully cultivated, so it is imperative to wild-craft responsibly. Osha has parsley –like leaves and umbels of white flowers. The root crowns have a reddish tint. The roots when dug are fibrous with dark wrinkled skin and the scent is similar to that of celery.

 

Osha is an herb with no known side effects; however because it contains oxytocin it should not be used by pregnant or nursing mothers.

 

I have been gathering my own herbs for 50 years and making tinctures/decoctions/salves out of the ones I grow on my own land or wild-craft in Maine. I do not normally procure herbal preparations from commercial dealers, preferring to use what is available in my own backyard. Now, however, that I am living in New Mexico I hope to find some Osha in a place where I can gather some roots without damaging whole clumps of these plants.

 

Because I am a black bear researcher and have observed many bears ingesting herbs in the spring I have a particular fascination of the multiple uses of Osha, and have just begun using an extract prepared by others. The bear in me just has to find out how this herb works for me!

A New Dawn?

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Lily B my dove sings up November’s ominous orange sun peering out his window that overlooks over the mountain soon to be marred by machines that will create chaos in the skies. Dead bats and birds will be the invisible collateral damage. Whirling blades create noise that “hums” creating electrical impulses that are registered in human/animal bodies perhaps below the threshold of awareness but these waves of electricity are capable of disrupting bodily integrity and creating illness in ways that have not yet been studied.

 

I just read yesterday that my most beloved twenty – six year old collared dove is also avidly hunted as a game bird in New Mexico, (although New Mexico it must be noted, has much stricter hunting laws than Maine does). How can Lily B not know that others of his kind will be slaughtered while he lives on as a free flying house bird, protected and loved? Is there no escape from this “harvesting” of animals and birds for sport (fun) and trophies, and the addictive high that comes with each new kill?

 

When Europeans first came to this country they brought their guns introducing their profoundly “nature hating” way of life to the Native peoples and animals that already inhabited this continent. These men killed because they could. They bragged about shooting any animal that moved, collected pelts, heads, teeth, gall bladders, horns as evidence of their superior skill. When wounded grizzly bears responded to attacks by retaliating in self- defense, these poor animals were simply extirpated.

 

In the process of the violent takeover of this continent and its peoples the myth of “the killer bear” was birthed, soon becoming an American “truth.” It didn’t matter that Indigenous peoples had lived in peace with polar, grizzly and black bears for millennium, naming her/him Healer, Guardian, Guide and Protector. All bears were demonized and became the enemy, destined to fall to the hunter’s gun. As the settlers moved west and north black bears, grizzly, buffalo, antelope, deer, polar bears and birds disappeared, some species becoming extinct. Europeans shot everything that moved as the vicious and soul destroying “hunting tradition” became their new dawn.

 

I just finished reading a book about a man who lived with polar bears for a number of years and found them to be highly intelligent and shy animals that co- existed with him in peace. This biologist never carried a gun and the only near attack situation he found himself in was one that he deliberately provoked.

 

Charles Russell has lived around grizzly bears all his life (he’s in his late seventies now). He did an in depth study of grizzlies in Russia over a period of ten years to answer the question of whether or not it was possible to live with these animals in peace in a wilderness area where these animals had not yet learned to fear humans. The answer, of course, was yes. The only protection Charlie ever carried was pepper spray, and the only time he ever used it was to protect his rescued grizzly cubs from adult male grizzlies before they were old enough to be returned to the wilderness.

Dr. Lynn Rogers 55 plus years as a bear biologist and the most extensive researcher of black bears on the planet attests to the peaceful nature of black bears. His educational facility and many academic research papers can easily be accessed on his website www.bear.org.

 

If the myth of the killer bear is false, then how many other lies are being told about other animals?

 

Yesterday I heard one man say “we have to keep on hunting because if we don’t the animals will take over and threaten our way of life. We have to keep them under our control.” This is the standard response of most people I know. How this logic could possibly apply to deer, doves, elk, bison, prairie dogs or moose is beyond my comprehension. Bears are a different matter because men project their darkest fears onto these poor animals and then slaughter them without mercy.

 

Aside from projection, the question that is never addressed is why Americans continue to hunt in the first place, since most folks no longer “need” to put meat on the table. After all, we have grocery stores and programs (at least for now) that assist those in financial need.

 

What we refuse to acknowledge is that Americans hunt because they love the addictive high, and the sense of power they experience that comes with the kill. Is it any wonder that murdering innocent people is now so commonplace that we are immune to hearing it on the evening news? I would argue that there is a direct relationship between slaughtering animals and killing humans.

 

We also keep violence in the foreground in this country with our obsessive need to celebrate heroes of war through “holidays” like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day when we venerate the fallen “heroes” of war, never acknowledging the deadly context in which these deaths occurred. We never hear about the thousands/millions of innocent people that died for absolutely no good reason. Going to war is an ideal that Americans hold dear. Think about it. We are the only country in the world that has no rituals to honor people in death that are not soldiers of war.

 

According to many American sources, men who have “served their country” develop bonds in war that they are unable to duplicate in daily life (if this doesn’t reveal addiction what does?). What this says about the state of human relationships in this country is terrifying to contemplate. In order to feel men (and now some brainwashed women) have to place themselves in a situation in which they wound and kill others or are wounded or killed themselves. Power over at any cost defines the structure of Patriarchy. This is where it is easy to see that the hunting tradition is an extension of a patriarchal perspective that Europeans brought with them when they invaded this country with their guns, and their need to slaughter innocent animals and Indigenous peoples who simply wanted to live out their lives in peace.

 

In these dark times where once again we are threatened by war on a global scale, most Americans are hell bent on keeping their destructive war rituals intact. When they get out there on Veterans Day this year to wave their flags and honor their heroes in death maybe they need to take a moment to pause and reflect upon who it is that they are really serving.

 

It certainly isn’t Life or Love.

Precognition, Telepathy, Presentiment, and the End of the Year

 

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(painting by Susan Boulet)

 

Yesterday, I sat on the top of a granite glacial boulder on a carpet of green moss that overlooks a tired ribbon of sluggish water recalling years when this brook was a force of nature tumbling to the sea after abundant October rains. Summer temperatures kept biting insects active, and swarms of small gnats swarmed around my face like a plague. We will soon be moving into November and still the rains do not come.

 

I look around me at the withered leaves of many deciduous trees noticing papery skeletons devoured by insects falling into the stagnant pool below me, striking because the water is unmarked by a discernable current. The brook has dropped three feet below “normal.” The fish are gone.

 

Thirty years ago when I first lived on this land that was once lush with new growth and clear untroubled waters I dreamed repeatedly of a time when the brook would no longer flow, and the pools would stagnate. Many beloved trees would also be destroyed dreams warned me. I was so happy here in this woodland sanctuary, so full of gratitude and love for the cathedral of evergreens that climbed the mountain that I was totally baffled by these forbidding words and graphic images.

 

Another set of dreams ran parallel with the dreams of severe drought and tree destruction and these also haunted me. “Mean neighbors” would soon surround me and cause endless amounts of trouble. Since I had no neighbors and lush forested areas held me in their embrace this series of dreams made no sense to me what so ever.

 

Today, they do.

 

I couldn’t comprehend it then that the earth was trying to warn me about a future I would one day begin to live. The way She chose to communicate with me was through my dreaming body.

 

Sure enough, seven years later the first neighbor bought land behind me and logged most of his property, left piles of slash in his wake, and opened gaping holes to the sky letting road noise in. The one time I visited this man’s house I was horrified to see snarling bear heads complete with bear skins (some from very small bears) hanging from most of the walls. The second neighbor who bought land in front of me built a house and cut trees down on my property to build a bridge over my brook, as well as stripping his own land of trees. When I asked him to remove the bridge his response was that “he had done it for me.” A third neighbor built a house in front of me refusing to leash her free roaming dogs who bullied my animals for years beginning with the day she first arrived. When I attempted to address the bullying she told me her dog “just wanted to play.” (Last year after twelve years of this behavior I finally submitted a formal complaint to the state in order to get the bullying stopped. The town refused to help me). Finally a second hunter bought 100 acres next to the bear killer, and he cut huge swathes of trees including boundary trees on my land totally destroying what once was a wilderness area that I loved as much as my own property. The two miserable hunting/tree destroying neighbors who live behind me (and now others) treat me to random blasts of machine gun fire as part of daily reality. Fireworks split the nights in two.

 

How was it possible that I had forgotten about those dreams in less than the four years it took for me to be surrounded by these hostile neighbors?

 

That the dreams suggested precognition or prescience doesn’t change the fact that precognition isn’t supposed to happen because it apparently violates the principle of causality. What is so hard to understand about precognition is that time as westerners experience it is not experienced in a linear sequence. Instead, precognition indicates that the future (personal and collective) is somehow present now and can be accessed through visioning, paying close attention to natural occurrences, or through dreaming. Dreams, I might add, are the language of the body.

 

 

Even rogue scientists like Rupert Sheldrake are somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of precognition, although telepathy, presentiment etc. are subjects he discusses with ease. For example, Rupert Sheldrake believes that telepathy is a survival mechanism that allows animals to communicate with one another even when they are separated by great distances, and that humans have this ability too, but it is not as well developed. From my experiences with animals wild and tame I would have to agree that animals have the edge here.

 

One other point that Sheldrake makes is that precognition may be less about seeing into an objective future and more about dreaming a personal future that will be experienced by the dreamer. If I look at my hostile neighbor experiences in this light, I can easily see that if other people lived in this house, perhaps hunters and lovers of guns, noise, and wild dogs, they wouldn’t experience the grief and rage that I have endured as a naturalist who loves stillness, trees and bears. But this doesn’t change the fact that I dreamed my own future.

 

Indigenous and country folk of all cultures took dreams seriously. I think they were able to maintain more open minds as a result, and probably routinely had experiences similar to mine because they lived in harmony with nature. It is my experience that when a person is aligned with the earth (and nature) communication between the two occurs in improbable ways. The earth body and the human body are part of one whole and experiencing this form of communication is an opportunity to see how well connected we really are.

 

We know through folklore that there have always been men and women who communicated with the Great Beyond.

 

Women in particular were associated with prophecy and these women came to be called witches during the very Christian middle ages. Witch, by the way is a modern word meaning to bend or shape; these same women were healers, and women who were also greatly feared because they could apparently discern what the future would bring.

 

When ancient shamanistic practices began to emerge this power was subtly transferred from women to men. Some men made journeys to the spirit world, leaving their bodies behind. Some were (and may still be) great healers, but prophecy wasn’t as important a quality to these practitioners, although some did engage with the future especially with regard to hunting practices through visioning, the use of hallucinogenic substances, and dreaming.

 

Indigenous women continue to practice midwifery/hospice, healing with herbs, and prophesizing, some “reading” tea leaves, cards, sticks, melting metal, etc. to help them see into the future; others receive this knowledge through dreaming.

 

One difference that stands out to me concerning Indigenous men and women healers is that men often leave their bodies in trance to gain knowledge, while most women remain in their bodies retaining a close connection to the earth in order to heal with herbs, or read the future.

 

In the Amazon I witnessed (over a period of three years 2005 – 2008) authentic women shamans practicing in their own villages, while male shamans traveled from one village to another with ease and were generally accepted as being more powerful. Is this an example of the hierarchical structure of knowledge over intuition? At the risk of sounding the bell of sexism I also wonder if men and women who live in communion with the earth are gifted with information that comes to them (in altered states) in different ways that somewhat depend on gender?

 

Today, shamanism is primarily a New Age commercial construction and almost all modern day shamans are men. It is very important to recognize that shamanism may also represent the first transference of spiritual power from a matrifocal culture to a patriarchal one.

 

But to return to the thorny subject of precognition, the fact remains that in scientific academic circles precognition is relegated to the absurd. I think this is why having dreams or visions that indicate precognition causes many individuals to reject their own experiences seeking other explanations.

 

I know I certainly did.

 

However, as a woman who has kept track of her dreams and visionary experiences (altered states of consciousness experienced without drugs that occur spontaneously when I am in a very open, receptive state) for more than 40 years, I was forced to come to the conclusion that precognition in some form does indeed exist.

 

After researching so called paranormal abilities in depth I recognized that for me telepathy works through my body when I am awake often affecting my nervous system. I sometimes experience an uncomfortable buzz when telepathy is occurring with people. Presentiment is a sense or a powerful (often totally illogical) feeling that something is about to happen, that I experience during daylight hours. Both can manifest for me through an animal sighting (or cluster of sightings), weather, or other natural occurrences and are reinforced by my dreams.

 

Years ago I began to put either a “T” for telepathic or a “P” for precognition at the tops of dreams and animal sightings that seemed to carry a peculiar charge of energy and/or message/ information. I also noted feelings of presentiment.

 

When I review my journals once a year I continue to be struck by the accuracy of these T’s and P’s. Many of my experiences are telepathic. And because I already had a dove who had been reading my mind and vocally responding to my thoughts on a daily basis for many years and had repeatedly entered these vignettes in my journal I had developed an open mind years ago. Lily b, taught me that telepathy was real, so I am not surprised that experiences of it are so commonplace in my life. I have lived the same kind of instantaneous “knowing” with my dogs, my children/other members of my biological family/friends/foes/ and in Nature with wild animals, especially during my study with wild bears who apparently communicated with each other and with me through what I still call the “bear grapevine” though we were/are separated in space/time.

 

I’d to give the reader a personal example of what I believe might be objective precognition. In 1997 I dreamed that my mother developed cancer in her left breast, and that she was operated on and survived without a reoccurrence. Just before receiving this information I was in a yoga class and heard my mother’s voice singing a song she loved in French in a plaintive frightened voice. Simultaneously my body cringed with some kind of irrational death fear that I was unable to shake. A year later my mother did indeed develop breast cancer and was successfully operated on. The cancer did not return.

 

How else do I explain this experience if I refuse to acknowledge precognition? Telepathy may have been part of this soliquay (the song coming through the air) but the cancer itself hadn’t been diagnosed yet. Of course there was always the possibility that the seeds of the cancer were there in my mother’s body and I picked that up telepathically.

 

On another occasion I dreamed that my youngest son was going to have a terrible accident. He was in college at the time and working construction over the summer to pay tuition and you can imagine his reaction when I told him not to go to work the morning after I had this dream. He ignored my warning and almost cut his hand off. Again, it could be argued that telling him he was going to have an accident may have made him more likely to have one.

 

The night my son was in what could have been a fatal car accident, I woke up hearing him cry out to me at 3 AM in the morning. The next day I learned that the accident occurred at 3 AM.

 

I have literally, hundreds of personal stories, some more fantastic than others but together these accounts have taught me that at the very least I must always keep an open mind.

 

Although unable to stay in my body under stress – I have an anxiety disorder – unconsciously, through my dreaming body and consciously through a powerful sense or feeling I seem to have a direct link to other ways of knowing. Believe me, some days I am really haunted especially since there is no consensual reality to access for confirmation unless I consult cards or throw myself on the mercy of Nature.

 

I have written this essay to raise questions about how we perceive reality, and hopefully, to open people’s minds to new possibilities. As the reader can surely understand my experiences raise some questions that I cannot answer.

 

It is my intention to put my queries out there to allow the forces of nature to provide new insights if they are so inclined. All Hallows is almost upon us, signifying the end of the year for many Indigenous and pre- Christian cultures, a perfect time I think, to query what we mean by “reality,” because the veil is thin as we move into this dark time of the year. I think of this passage as a holy time, a time to honor the dead and to give thanks for life, as we set new intentions for the coming year.