Charlie Russell

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Photo of Bear Biologist Lynn Rogers (left) and Naturalist Charlie Russell

 

In world renowned Bear Biologist’s Lynn Roger’s words taken directly from his website…

“Yesterday, May 7, bears and bear lovers lost Charlie Russell (76), my friend of many years. We learned from each other. We both learned directly from bears. He lived with bears. He fought for bears. There was nothing about bears we disagreed about. Charlie was one of the few people in the world who spent enough time with bears to really know them. It was always uplifting to talk with him or be with him. I remember the great time with him in June 2013 in the woods here with Lily (a wild bear) and the great talk he gave at Vermilion Community College that evening. I remember how he flew to Minneapolis on his own dime to defend me in the DNR hearing of 2014. We’ve talked several times since, and I’d been wanting to call him lately when I heard the news today. A (great) loss.”

(Lynn’s license to study collared bears was suspended in 2014 because his groundbreaking trust based research was changing the face of the black bear from voracious killer to a reclusive, shy, and very intelligent animal, and this dramatic shift of awareness threatened hunting, state agencies that support the killing of animals, and the NRA).

This morning the sky was so clear and the birds were singing as I made my way down to the river to take in the pre – dawn splendor. Three kinds of grosbeaks were singing up the sun and hummingbirds zoomed in great arcs outside my window.

Little did I know that I would soon learn that one of the kindest and most sensitive men in the world, a truly dedicated naturalist and bear advocate had died.

I never met Charlie but I read all of his books and watched the extraordinary documentary that Jeff and Sue Turner filmed –The Edge of Eden– so many times that I began to feel I knew this man intimately – and today, learning of his death – I am filled with grief. Charlie loved bears, allowed them to teach him how to live with them, learned to communicate with them on their own terms – not his – and demonstrated to the rest of us how compassion and care – giving towards wild animals can lead to intimate relationships between humans and non human species and at the same time allow bears (and by extension other animals) to remain free to live their lives in the ways that mattered to them, not people.

Charlie life was dedicated to answering his own question: How can humans learn to co -exist with wild bears in peace? He demonstrated how easily this could be done because bears by nature very sensitive, shy, and intelligent animals who want to get along with humans if only we would let them.

Charlie’s spent many years in Russia re-introducing captive grizzly cubs into the wilderness ‘proving’ that living with grizzlies was possible if one developed the proper trust based attitude. In every sense of the word Charlie was a devoted “bear mother” who demonstrated what could happen if humans approached bears with the respect they craved.

Like this naturalist, Charlie once naively believed that he could change the way bears were perceived. For the most part he was unsuccessful in this laudable endeavor.

(The most difficult lesson that I have learned in my own work with bears is that humans don’t want to change the story. We want and apparently need to continue to see bears as killers so that we can continue to slaughter them).

My sense about Charlie is that after having lived his entire life as a dedicated bear advocate, that in part, he may have died of a broken heart.

I also suspect that today wild bears know about Charlie’s death and are grieving because they lost such a fierce and gentle advocate and a most devoted friend.

 

 

 

 

 

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A Ladder to the Stars

 

Every evening at twilight

she climbs a ladder

to the stars…

 

Venus is her guide …

As the Evening star

(who also rises at dawn)

this Goddess of Love

is her Muse.

 

As a woman who

respects herself,

she stands up for others.

She has learned how to Love.

 

Giving is as natural

to her as breathing;

every gesture is grounded

in caring for people and the Earth…

 

She honors the gift

that She has been given –

Life in all its heartrending complexity –

embracing both joy and pain

with equal intensity.

 

 

A wise woman, she reflects

a choice we

all have been given –

(regardless of personal story)

to live with an open heart.

 

Becoming a mirror for

those who might

have forgotten,

her actions remind us

that only Love endures

Firebird’s Song

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She came on the wings of the Owl
flew out of the crack of our imagining,
swooped low over the underground forest
hooing, hooing, hooing

screeching and clacking –
Haunting the night with her song.

I almost didn’t recognize her
inside the feathery brown cape with bars.

On Starry nights while the white moon sleeps
the cloak falls away and behold!
She steps out
in all her Firebird splendor.
Burning, crimson, gold, she crackles — turns blue
white light torching
the fire turned star.
Beaming second sight
she rises out of Earthen ashes

and soars …

To the edge
of the Universe

to the crack between worlds.

– Sara Wright

Postscript 2017

This poem was written/published in “She’s Still Burning” 15 years ago (2002) along with two unforgettable essays well worth the reading. At the time I was writing to save my own life. The poe m was a reference to the day Bush bombed in retaliation to the twin tower disaster, a day I was attending a retreat that involved walking in silence up a mountain. It was on this walk that I saw the owl, and the hole in the tree and “knew” that something horrific had happened. This “presentiment” followed me back to the retreat where I drew a brief charcoal sketch of the black hole in the tree.

Some of us knew what was coming. If the reader goes to Harriet’s site s/he will find an erudite letter written by Mary Meigs that expresses theses same sentiments.

Chilling, these waves of the future.

Women know.

Every Foundation needs a bear den!

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Here is a picture that Iren took after she visited the foundation hole for the new Casita.

I think this is a most creative natural sculpture that only Iren could think of! Iren is a genius and can create art out of virtually anything. Art that leaves me in perpetual AWE.

I think EVERY foundation needs a bear den.

Bears know how to deal with inclement conditions, they sleep without losing muscle tissue, recycle waste, give birth (to young or creative endeavors) in the safety of a den or under the snow.

Bears are powerful plant and root healers having a complex relationship with both.

Bears know how to heal their own wounds.

Indigenous peoples revere the bear as protector and healer.

What better way to create the space for a new home?

I must also include Bruce’s intuition that the bear of the den in question needed eyes. I totally agree! I was surprised to learn that he pulled what he thought were two quarters out of his pocket and added them to the sculpture. Later he realized that he had pulled out one quarter and one nickel by accident! I didn’t realize until he told me that the eyes were made of silver – no wonder they gleam in the afternoon light!

August 28th begins the “official” bear slaughter in Maine (baiting, hounding and trapping). When I look at this picture I imagine a 70 pound shy and reclusive bear digging his own den in a very safe place and send bear prayers his way.

Thanks Iren (and Bruce) for providing me with such a wonderful image – one that has a heart full of hope and deep gratitude at its core.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dreaming Life

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I never could have imagined

 

the dream I am having now

 

of inhabiting a house not far from the river

 

where the sound of water

 

flows by a pebble strewn island.

 

A path winds from cottonwood

to scrub,

 

parallel to a sometimes raging torrent

 

down to the water’s edge,

 

winds over a bridge

 

into a cattail filled bosque,

 

where iris and lilies find home.

 

Mud swallows soar, Sandhill cranes

 

cry out as they pass overhead

 

heralding the change of seasons.

 

‘The peace of the wild things’

 

has spirited me to this place

 

where I am loved

 

for who I am.

 

A Gift beyond all imagining.

North Pond

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Loon on her nest – author

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Above: Eaglet at the nest  Barbara Haskell

One of the activities I look forward to most each summer is spending time in my kayak exploring North Pond that is just down the road from me. There is a wonderful marsh that is tucked in a corner of the lake (a portion of which was deeded over to me because it wasn’t useful i.e. build-able), and it is full of cattails and wild orchids, not to mention a loon’s nest and many Redwinged blackbirds who hang out on slender twigs of the swamp maples that catch fire in the fall.

 

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Above: loon chicks

 

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Above: Loon chicks  with parents Kathy Hurd

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Author enjoying wandering around on the rocks around one of the islands. Barbara Haskell

 

This year I have been spending time on the pond with a friend who likes to watch eagles like I do. We pack lunches and take our kayaks out to the rocks and moor them there listening to the eaglets’ cacophony. These youngsters are now almost as large as the adults, and are still screaming for fresh fish. Because we are patient we are always able to witness the parents flying into the nest with a silvery fish, dropping it in the there and then heading for the next island to get away from their youngsters’ incessant screeching, I am convinced!

 

Although never far away, the parents leave the eaglets on their own and the two spend a lot of time flapping their now huge brown wings to strengthen them for flight and jumping in and out of the nest. One of the mole brown eaglets is larger than its sibling, which is often the case since one is usually more aggressive than the other and gets more food. Sometimes, the second chick dies of starvation, but not this one. Last week we witnessed one of the eaglets fledge. One moment he was in the nest, and the next he was in the air awkwardly landing on a neighboring tree. Within seconds one of the parents arrived with another fish and dumped it in the nest as if to say “well done!”

 

While we pick a few berries from the bushes on the island and I scour the shallows underwater for sunfish and fresh water clam shells we also have also been watching two loons that fish quite close to the island. Loons like to fish in deep water and I am always amazed to watch one swimming along with his/her head under the water scouting for fish before a black and white herringbone body suddenly disappears below the surface. Barbara and I have commented to one another how curious it is that this pair hunt so close to the island where their would be predators nest, although an eagle would probably not be able to take an adult loon. I think it is the deep water that draws both eagles and loons to the same hunting area.

 

Eagles are, unfortunately, predators of loon chicks and as an Audubon loon counter for North Pond I often have conflicting feeling about the bald eagles because they predate on the young and for the last couple of years have gotten the babies even though the parents are so vigilant. This year it rained on the day of the loon count and I didn’t see one chick. I was so disappointed believing that once again North Pond was without the possibility of the next generation of loons.

 

Then, just yesterday I was talking with my neighbor and friend Kathy Hurd at her beautiful old family farm on North Pond when she spied two loons with two babies between them. I couldn’t believe it! These two adults were swimming with their fluffy brown offspring close between them and I watched spell bound as Kathy ran in and got her camera to take pictures of the little family. This sighting made my day!

 

With August just around the corner, I am looking forward to more kayaking on those glassy mornings when the water reflects the firmament above like a mirror. Kayaking as to be the most relaxing form of entertainment for a naturalist like me. And I never know who I might meet next.

“Under Distress”

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Overheard at a grocery store by someone waiting in line behind a woman speaking in another language on her cellphone.  Ahead of her was a white man.  After the woman has ended her phone conversation and hangs up, he says, “I didn’t want to say anything while you were on the phone, but you’re in America now.  You need to speak English.”

 

“Excuse me?”, the woman says.

 

The man says, very slowly, “If you want to speak Mexican, go back to Mexico.  In America we speak English.”

 

The woman replies, “Sir, I was speaking Navaho.  If you want to speak English, go back to England.”

 

Postscript: My friend Bob sent me this gem and I want to pass it on…