I have been dreaming about this gathering for some time now and it’s really exciting to see it all coming together. My main goal for this event is to bring people together who have a burning passion for wildlife and create a space where we can inspire and uplift each other to feel more connected, more aware and more proactive about protecting wildlife and nurturing our connection to all beings. We have a great group of people coming to speak including; Fiona Buckley – owner of Rathvinden Farm, Michael Dax – National Outreach for Defenders of Wildlife, Erin Edge – Rockies and Plains Representative for Defenders of Wildlife, Susan Eirich – Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute and Jesse Tufte – Resilient Ranchlands Coordinator for the Western Sustainability Exchange. It turned out to be a very well-rounded group of people from all walks of life. I’m sure it will stimulate great conversation! We also have a very inspired group of artists who will share their interpretations of living with wildlife here in Montana. I will be updating this blog with more tidbits about the artists and speakers.
Maybe it’s the hazy desert scene
with a vintage lens
that gives this movie
a subtle creepy feeling.
There is no gore
or dramatic loud motions
to startle the system.
It’s an underlying feeling
blanketing the entire scene.
I enter this scene
in the safety of the dream world—
the place where I can enter the fear and grief
and be present with it
long enough to understand
The spirit of fear shape-shifts from
bear to spider, ominous to protective.
My fear and medicine.
Finally, I surrender in the open field
and enter a silent mode of reception.
I give thanks to the spirit of fear,
for everything it teaches me.
I feel the gratitude permeate my entire being.
As soon as I open this portal, fear loses its grip.
I grab my things and hightail it out of there,
just in case fear changes its mind.
Maybe next time I’ll stay longer.
(image source unknown)
I recently discovered the magazine Wild Hope and was instantly drawn to the beautiful design and photography and message of hope, celebrating nature’s rich biodiversity and sharing inspiring stories of people helping to preserve what sustains us all. I’m thrilled to now offer this magazine at Wilder Goods, you can purchase the latest issue 03, here.
Wild Hope was created by Kathryn Arnold. The idea grew out of her time volunteering at the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, CA, and the International Bird Rescue Center in Cordelia, CA, and meeting so many people who were also volunteering their time to help save other species. Kathryn is a magazine editor by profession and a media consumer. She felt as though everything she was reading in the media about climate change and the Sixth Mass Extinction ignored the large numbers of caring people who are endeavoring to preserve our biodiversity heritage and focused only on the bad news. She wanted to tell the hopeful stories of people who are working really hard to prevent wild species from going extinct and hopefully inspire other people to get involved. So with a background in publishing and experience in wildlife rehabilitation, the natural next step was to create Wild Hope. Below is a story from the first issue and the inspiration behind starting the magazine.
1 man, 27,000 bluebirds
When 93-year-old Al Larson began putting up bluebird nesting boxes on his ranch in southwest Idaho 35 years ago, he didn’t set out to save the declining populations of his favorite birds from disappearing. He merely wanted to be able to photograph them up close. His hobby turned into an obsession, and he established five bluebird trails with 300 nesting boxes, which he has maintained and monitored all these years. Now bluebirds are plentiful in Idaho. The extensive data he has kept on the production in his nesting boxes has even become the stuff of a scientific study. And a documentary film, Bluebird Man, has just been made about Al. After viewing the film, we were inspired to share his story with the Wild Hope community and called him up for an interview. The accompanying photos of Al and his bluebirds were taken by Matt Podolsky, one of the producers of Bluebird Man.
Wild Hope: What inspired you to start putting up bluebird nesting boxes?
Al Larson: I was out hiking with my wife and we saw a western bluebird nest in an old tree cavity and I took some pictures of it. Then it dawned on me that if I put out nest boxes I’d have a captive, you might say, subject to take pictures of. It hit like a wave in the ocean. Once I put the nest boxes up and had some occupants in the boxes, something made me want to do more.
WH: You grew up in southwest Idaho. Over the years did you notice that the bluebird populations were declining?
AL: I wasn’t aware of it except for what I read in National Geographic or heard about from the North American Bluebird Society. They were alarmed at the decline of the eastern bluebird and they started putting nest boxes out. That got me interested in putting nest boxes out here for attracting the birds. I wasn’t focused on trying to bring back the population of bluebirds. That wasn’t my prime objective. It just worked out that way.
WH: So you put up a few nest boxes so you could photograph bluebirds, how did that become 300?
AL: I put up 25 boxes on the ranch the first year. Five or six had bluebirds in ‘em. About the same time, I took a field trip with Audubon out into the Owhyhee County up in the high mountains at about 6,000 feet. It was in the fall and there was a flock of 50 or so bluebirds out on the hillside. I thought it would be a nice place to put boxes up for bluebirds. So I put 25 boxes up out there.
It became a passion I guess. To keep adding boxes. It made me feel good. I just liked being out there with the bluebirds. I didn’t put out 300 all at once. It just kept growing. The number of boxes just kept creeping up. I finally reached the point to where I was getting home late at night. I didn’t have enough time in the day to monitor all these boxes, do banding and all that. One particular time I was out from early morning, banded 156 nestlings, and got home about midnight. I banded the last ones in the headlight of the car. When a person extends his time out like that, you have to back up a little bit and say, hey, you gotta make this a little easier. So now I don’t put up any additional new boxes. I replace some of the old ones. Like last fall we had a big fire up at Prairie that destroyed 39 boxes. I have replaced those now and the birds are starting to come back to those boxes. I wanted to see if the bluebirds would come back to the territory after it had been burned over, or how long it would take them to come back.
WH: Do bluebirds return to the same nesting cavity each year?
AL: A large percentage of ‘em do. I’ve captured one female three years in a row in one box. I had banded her as a nestling about two miles away from her nest box.
WH: So you’ve seen birds that you’ve banded returning to the area?
AL: Yes, about half of the birds I observe have bands on. I don’t know where my other banded birds go or where unbanded birds come from. Since I do have a lot of birds coming back to the same box or same area, maybe the unbanded birds were raised in a natural cavity within a quarter mile of my bluebird trail.
I have caught one bird in a nest box that was banded near Banff, Canada, and another one that had been banded up in Missoula, Montana. So they were nesting up in those places and I caught them in my nest boxes, so they do travel. Not all of them go back to their natal area.
WH: Do you keep a count of the bluebird nestlings you find in your boxes?
AL: Yes. Over the years I’ve raised over 27,000 nestlings. On my better years I’ll have 1,200 or so. Some of my poorer years it’s only 900.
WH: What is the reason for the poor years?
AL: The weather. The birds start nesting early in the spring. They don’t start incubating until they lay their last egg. When you get freezing weather and those eggs aren’t being brooded, they are killed by the cold. The eggs just don’t hatch.
WH: We’ve heard that non-endemic bird species like European starlings and house sparrows compete with bluebirds for nesting cavities, oftentimes evicting bluebirds from their nest boxes and destroying the eggs or killing the nestlings. Do you see this happening?
AL: I don’t have house sparrow or starling occupants in any of my boxes simply because I’m out away from the starling or house sparrow territories. I do have competition with house wrens, tree sparrows, and chipmunks. I even have flying squirrels in some of my boxes. But I’ve got so many boxes out there; I accept it as nature and let nature take its course. While I lose some birds to predators, I have enough production in those boxes to really have a significant replacement population.
WH: How long does the bluebird-breeding season last? How many months of the year are you monitoring nesting boxes?
AL: Birds don’t all start laying eggs at the same time. The early birds will start laying eggs in the later part of April, and that’s what gets them in trouble with the cold weather. The other birds will start laying eggs progressively right on through the end of May. And then after they raise the first brood, a lot of them will go for a second brood. And they will have nestlings in the box in July. I’ve had ‘em in the boxes as late as the middle of August. So I’m monitoring these boxes from April to August.
WH: So how many times will you visit a nesting box in one breeding season?
AL: I don’t visit each box every time I go out. I visit the box the first time to determine what’s in there, and that tells me when I have to get back out there to band those little birds before they fledge. If I find no eggs in a nest, I know it’s going to be about 33 days before there could possibly be baby birds in there 14 days old. So that’s when I would time my visit to that box again. I might visit it on the beginning of the month and there’s nothing in there, so I won’t have to visit it again until the end of the month. If I go out there and find some nestlings in a box that’s just hatched out; I have to come back within 14 days to band ‘em. I don’t want to disturb ‘em after they’re 14 days old because they’ll fledge prematurely. I would rather have ‘em fledge naturally, so that they’re able to fly when they fledge. Now, if I find a box with one egg in it, I can figure it takes five days to lay the clutch of eggs, another 14 days to incubate ‘em, then I’ve got another 14 days before I need to band ‘em. The production in the nest tells me when I have to go back out again to catch the birds before they’re too old to band. I like to band ‘em when they’re eight or nine days old.
WH: This certainly sounds like a logistical challenge. How do you keep track of when you need to return to a nest box?
AL: I keep records. When I first open a box, I write down what I see there. If it’s an empty box where there’s a little bit of nest material brought in, or a little more, or a nest finished. I write down how many eggs I see in there. I write down how many nestlings I see in the box. I try to determine if they fledged or not by the condition of the nest after it’s been vacated. After I come home at night, I transcribe my field notes onto my computer.
WH: That amounts to a lot of data over 35 years. Has anyone ever used your data for a scientific study?
AL: Yes, a researcher at the University of Idaho in Moscow used some of my data on bluebird egg laying dates for a study on climate change. [editor’s note: WH contacted the researcher, Joe Holbrook, a PhD. candidate in the University of Idaho’s Dept. of Fish and Wildlife Sciences, to find out about the study. Holbrook analyzed 20 years of Al’s data on the nesting habits of bluebirds along two of his trails and found that as the mean springtime temperature increases, bluebirds lay their eggs earlier. The study is part of a large-scale study of climate change in Idaho that will be published in a future issue of the journal, Climate, Weather, and Society.]
WH: How many times will you return to one of your bluebird trails over the breeding season?
AL: Nine or 10 times, but I don’t check every box every time I go out, only if I know there’s something that requires my attention.
WH: So you band every nestling?
AL: I get my bands from the Bird Banding Laboratory at the U.S. Geological Survey (http://www.pwrc.usgs.gov/bbl/). I have to report to them every band that I put on a bird. You have to indicate the location of where you band the birds as well. People who are making a study of bluebirds can then go to the Bird Banding Laboratory and get this information that the birds were banded at such and such a place. That information is available for anybody. If somebody finds a banded bird somewhere, they can read the band number, send the number into the Bird Banding Laboratory, and the person who banded the bird then will get a report on where the bird was found. A couple a years ago I got a report about one of the birds I banded was down in central New Mexico in the spring. It gives you information on the longevity of the birds and their migration patterns.
WH: You’re 93-years-old now. Who’s going to carry on your work when you no longer can?
AL: I’m wondering that myself. The Audubon Society is going to take over one or two of the trails to monitor. I don’t know if they’ll keep records like I do or not. I hope they do because it’s pretty important to know the life history of a bird. Like one person said, they might need 20 people to take my place. And each one of those people will see the condition of the nest a little differently than I did, so you’re gonna have variation in the data, not consistency. Hopefully, there will be experienced observers.
WH: In the film Bluebird Man, we see you leading a fieldtrip on one of your bluebird trails. Is this something you do often?
AL: Yes, I lead fieldtrips for Audubon, the Southwestern Idaho Birders Association, and for families who just want to go out and see a bluebird trail. I like to hand a freshly banded bluebird to somebody. It’s things like that that inspire people to take an interest in the birds. Everybody likes to hold a little bluebird.
When I first started putting the boxes up, I’d put ‘em up on fence posts. It wasn’t unusual to find one or two of the boxes shot up pretty bad. I had quite a bit of vandalism. But over the years the vandalism has declined a whole lot. People are getting to enjoy the bluebirds. People have gotten around to saying, “Hey, we’ve got bluebirds up here!” I think perhaps that by my having the bluebird boxes out there, I’ve changed the attitudes of a lot of people I don’t even know.
[sidebar] Wild Lens: Focus on Conservation/ or Films Starring Wildlife
Bluebird Man is a production of Wild Lens, a not-for-profit video production company that brings filmmakers and biologists together to solve wildlife conservation issues. To watch a preview of the documentary, order a copy, or learn how to set up a bluebird trail, visit http://www.wildlensinc.org/bluebirdman/. Wild Lens co-founders Matt Podolsky and Neil Paprocki say that their goal in making a documentary about Al was threefold: 1) To use the film to re-inspire people about the Idaho state bird, and possibly find a long-term solution to help continue monitoring of Al’s bluebird trails; 2) To tell the unique life-story of Al Larson, which by itself shadows the history of Idaho and much of the west; and 3) To inspire the next generation of bluebird enthusiasts around North America to take up the torch of environmental stewardship that has been passed onto them by the original bluebird conservationists. Other projects by Wild Lens include films about the Masai giraffes, ptarmigans in northern Alaska, and the vultures of East Africa.
I confess it’s the clothes that have lured me: soft leather slippers, either blossom-colored or black; leotards that reveal a bare expanse of back; knitted shrugs and warm cocoons for the legs; gossamer skirts that both obscure and highlight the hips; satin pointe shoes married to ribbons by hand-sewn stitches. The trappings of ballet possess a dynamic beauty born of their inherent contrasts. They are practical and ethereal, timeless and ephemeral, functional and beautiful. Delicate and wispy things destined to be embellished with scuffs, holes, and snags, they exist in service of an activity that demands profound athleticism and resilience. Since the age of twelve, I’ve been drawn to ballet-inspired garments that, to me, evoke a world in which these seemingly opposed qualities are forever entangled in a compelling pas de deux: vulnerability and strength, fragility and fortitude.
I buy a pair of pale blush leg warmers to help stave off the cold of another slushy Montana spring. Putting them on, I have an idea—a surprisingly novel one considering how many years I’ve spent donning dance-inspired duds. Why should ballet be something I merely think about when I get dressed? Why shouldn’t ballet be something I do?
There are many possible answers to the latter question. I’m about twice the age of a freshly-fledged, actual ballerina at the beginning of her career. There’s little chance I’ll ever achieve technical greatness—for that I would have needed to start training three decades ago. I won’t be joining a company. I certainly won’t earn any money for it, much less critical admiration. I might even make a fool of myself. But these answers seem as weightless as the bourrées of the great Anna Pavlova as she mimicked a swan’s glide through water while standing on her toes. Maybe there’s some magic woven into the fibers of these leg warmers that infuses me with courage and childlike excitement. My head, heart, and body are unified in their sudden desire, and I can’t resist the thought of entering into that seductive world of dynamic pairings. Be there beauty or bruises, I will do ballet.
I join a class for teens and adults. Beginning ballet during this womanly stage of life is perhaps the most difficult thing I’ve attempted, harder even than writing. I can sometimes manage to turn a phrase that moves a reader’s heart, but turning my body in a pirouette is impossible as of yet. I’m accustomed to making art with my mind and hands. Now I’m inspired, and extremely challenged, by the possibility of making art with my whole body.
“You seem to have some natural ability,” my teacher tells me after my first class. I can’t tell if she’s sincere or just sweetly encouraging, but I lap up her kindness and leave the studio feeling happy and high—such different emotions from the ones I associate with my only other stint as a would-be ballerina, which lasted for a month or two when I was twelve. My then-teacher was terrifyingly, tear-inducingly harsh. The family friend who took me leotard shopping subsequently expressed concern to my mother about the nonexistence of my unbloomed breasts. A prototypical mean girl made fun of me in front of everybody for practicing pliés during recess. Beastly instruction, body insecurity, and bullying tainted a pursuit that otherwise thrilled my dreamy pubescent heart, and I abandoned it—too tender to keep going, too romantic to forget my fondness for the clothes.
Possibly I’m so passionate about ballet in the present because every moment I experience in connection with it now—an enthusiastic word from my sprightly teacher, a weepy declaration from my fiancé about how beautiful he finds me in my leotard, a smile unfurling on the face of my best friend when I tell her I’m taking a class—seems to overlay the hurt and disappointment from the past, to lavish them with light and make the twelve-year-old girl who still lives inside me feel not only safe, but giddily joyful. My post-class muscles pulse with the possibility of one day being able to really dance in a true ballet, even if only for a few moments.
In the meantime, there are rudiments to master: pliés, tendus, dégagés, rond de jambs, développés, and other exercises. All of these appear easier than they are. Doing them correctly requires a precise consciousness of parts of my physique to which I’ve hitherto been relatively oblivious, like my core, plus exquisite balance—one’s hand should be barely resting on the barre, not grasping it like it’s the only rooted object in a wild and stormy gale. Hips forward, like headlights, my teacher says. Tailbone tucked. Eyes up, chest open, shoulders down. Pull up, pull up, pull up. Shift your weight. Point your feet ’till they cramp. Keep your legs turned out. Move in time to the music. Remember to breathe.
To synthesize all of these and a dozen other corporeal ideals for one second, much less one minute, is an accomplishment that eludes me. But I’m developing a keen awareness of my body’s subtleties—a degree of concentration that, despite years of hatha yoga and biking and hiking, I’ve rarely experienced. In all of those pursuits, it was possible for me to leave my body and be wholly in my head, to shift my attention from, say, the act of pedaling to the list of bills I had to pay. Maybe it’s because I have a beginner’s mind, but I can’t do this during ballet. I am in my body. Paradoxically, while being so deeply situated in that realm of marrow and muscle, beneath a netting of nerves and a blanket of fascia, I’m free. Far from a prison, the body, when wholly inhabited, is a pathway to paradise. The concentration ballet demands for an earnest beginner like me feels wonderful, meditative, almost as transporting as a tumble in the sheets with a true love, even if my movements aren’t yet pretty, much less perfect.
My clothes aren’t pretty, either. Ironically, apart from the necessary slippers, I feel sheepish about wearing traditional ballet garb in class, including my new leotard. One should really know what she is doing, I feel, before showing up at a dance studio decked out in such attire. Until I’ve earned the pleasure of wearing seamed, shell-pink tights, I stick to old leggings and tank tops and save the dainty things for the privacy of my own bedroom, where I mount a closet rod to my wall to serve as a barre and hang up a mirror. Here, I practice, well aware of my shortcomings and how far I have to go, yet equally aware of my almost-imperceptibly improving technique.
In class my teacher mentions the public recital that’s coming up in a few months. She asks who wants to participate and several of the teens raise their hands along with two women much more experienced than me. She shows us pictures of the costumes she’s picked out: transparent black skirts and leotards with sweetheart necklines. She’ll be choreographing a real dance for us, a true ballet set to a string quartet version of Nirvana’s Come As You Are, a song written by one of the artists who has meant the most to me in my life, Kurt Cobain. As a writer and guitarist, he made art with his mind and hands; as a singer who pulled sound from the depths of his stomach, he engaged his entire body. The song was all over the radio in 1992, the year I was twelve, the year I tried and then turned away from ballet.
I gulp back a lump of longing and fear, and keep my hand hanging at my side. I imagine myself on stage among a flock of flexy fifteen-year-olds, maybe messing up, maybe even falling. My teacher turns to me and asks, “What about you, Rose?” Or maybe I’ll have practiced the steps so tirelessly in my bedroom and learned the dance so well I’ll be able, if only for a few minutes, to make art with my body. I slowly raise my hand. I’ll do it. I’ll be nervous, but no matter what happens, I’ll be what ballet and its trappings have always been for me: I’ll be both vulnerable and strong, a mix of fragility and fortitude. I’ll be wearing something pretty, and there will be a girl, perhaps visible in flashes and flickers, moving across the stage in me.
The way my grandma dresses expresses the way she conducts her life and how she interacts with the world — with great care.
She most likely has never spent a day in her pajamas. For her, a new day is always a blessing and is met with a walk first thing — rain or shine. No matter what the day has in store for her, she will get dressed with great attention to detail and creativity. I see this as an offering, a ritual that puts her directly in touch with the world and the infinite possibilities of any given day. She always takes great care of herself, mind body and soul (sometimes stubbornly so) and because of this, she is able to offer so much to her community and family.
I always enjoy our shopping trips, she will even brave a grungy thrift store with me in my search for vintage gems. She has always been patient with all my weird requests and is thoughtful with her guidance. I’ll never forget the time she showed me how to roll up the sleeves of my denim jacket, this discovery made me feel so cool.
Her dress is always immaculate with an air of playfulness. My style is definitely a sloppier version of hers, I most certainly have spent many days in my pajamas, but her ritual of great care and expression is woven into my style and is a way of being that I strive for. I am infinitely grateful for her.
The website has been dormant for a while but the spring air has brought new inspiration! There are so many beautiful things in the shop right now and I’m excited to spread the love! New items from left to right >> 1. Ace and Jig Pinafore Dress 2. Sage and Rose Face Mist 3. Vintage Cream Vest 4. Glass Owl Feather 5. Vintage Denim Skirt 6. Wool Wall Hanging
The first day of spring also marks my mother’s birthday. It’s the perfect time to return to her. As the years go by (it’s been 17 years since her passing) the memories fade. I don’t remember what it feels like to be in her presence, what her eyes looked like when she smiled or what her laugh sounded like. Although these feelings fade, my gratitude grows infinitely. I’m grateful that she fell in love with the kindest, most loving man (my father) and the spirit she instilled in me. She showed me what real sisterhood looks like. She showed me what a spiritual relationship to the earth looks like. She gave me a taste for healthy nourishing food. Above all, she offered me her challenges. I have learned and continue to learn so much from experiencing her darkness. My greatest hope in life is that I develop the tools to keep my spirit vibrant, no matter what life challenges come my way and to pass that inner fire on to my dear sweet Ember.
I’m going to D.C. in April with Defenders of Wildlife to lobby for wildlife. I’m so grateful for this incredible opportunity to get a glimpse of the inner workings of our government and if nothing else, take advantage of an opportunity to stand up for my values and take my truth as far as my voice will go. I don’t know exactly how this trip will unfold, who we will be talking to, or if anything will get through to lawmakers. Still, the anticipation of this trip has inspired me to clarify my thoughts and connection to wildlife. For me, it’s a spiritual crisis, to disrespect wildlife and their habitat. How do I communicate this to people who don’t feel the same way and who have a different agenda? How do I communicate that every time a wolf or a grizzly is shot down, simply for crossing an imaginary border, my soul suffers. This poem arose from that inner dialog…
Beyond Four Walls
Your church has a steeple, a pew and an altar.
My church is vulnerable,
exposed to minds that separate themselves
from trees, water and animals.
You find peace within four walls.
I find peace Within
when my mind expands with the winds.
What do you hold sacred?
I hold the Grizzly Bear sacred.
In all her awesome power and presence.
I revere her partnership with the moths and the entire, living breathing forest.
She reminds me of my place in the circle of life.
When she is killed out of fear and ignorance,
when her home is desecrated,
my spirit suffers.
My church has been vandalized—
the place that holds me in love and understanding.
Will you step outside with me
and listen to a divine language understood only by a