Living Honorably in the Forest

Awakening to woodland song and breath, in a place now called home and a dream come true, every day is the becoming of a new life and new wonders. Through the window, a verdancy of leaves and trees dancing with life-song is the first thing my sleepy eyes make of my new day. Stepping out onto native ground shy of sunrise, I am reminded each morning, is a blessing—my bare feet tell me so. Aromas of ancient healing power drift unseen in swirls around me quelling any unforeseen ills, I too, an expression of the dance of life, breathing deeply, cleanly, walk in gratitude of nature’s givings. It doesn’t really take much to see that truly, we are blessed. All of us.  

I knew that living on the new land would bring about endless inspiration, new surprises and beginnings, and it certainly has—though, not all surprises were good ones. Firstly, the now extreme drought has pulled us frightfully into a very active fire season across the state. Then, we learned my dear dog Dharma had developed serious heart issues, something we are still trying to navigate, but have finally been able to manage after a few weeks of scary symptoms and trials of different combinations of medicine. And now, while I am so happy to have my girl back to health, I find myself grappling with the fact that she may never be able to backpack, or come to work with me on a remote field job, again. Dharma is a dear friend of 10 years, coming this Fall. In light of the possibility of losing her, the new health scare forced me to realize just how much she’s actually taught me, and perhaps most importantly, what she continues to teach me today: to live fully present. Her new health turn, which is now thankfully under control, was both a new surprise and a new beginning for us. We, she, my partner and I now walk a new life together. 

Through all of that, the good work for a good life continues, just as it should and in the forest, we continue finding bits and pieces of rusted debris on our casual wanderings. My partner and I walk barefoot regularly and so we hope to clean up as much scraps of sharp rusty metal as possible, which may lay hidden underfoot. We also find heaps of garbage in the surrounding forest which we also pick and toss. 

(A warning, of an upcoming rant..) 

Another type of unsightly garbage I want to see disappear for good is barbed wire, which sadly we find at random in disjunct bits, in tossed and forgotten piles or strewn about the trunks of trees. Many of which are cutting into the trunks leaving behind scars of human neglect and disregard. 

I admit, I have a particular aversion to barbed wire fencing (and sometimes fencing in general), finding that it speaks to our discordant, dominant modern nature to not only divide and conquer, but to exclude and choke the natural flow of life-force across  otherwise natural and free landscapes. 

This kind of fencing is a bit of a touchy topic in the southwest as it is widely used to keep grazing cattle roaming our public lands, out of private lands. I live in what’s called an “open range” state, that means livestock including cattle and sheep are allowed to freely roam, and that it is the landowner’s responsibility, not the livestock owner’s responsibility, to pay for and erect adequate fencing if you wish to prevent wandering cattle from decimating your property, something that can happen quite quickly if enough cows gather when you’re not around to shoo them away. The kind of destruction cattle can inflict on an otherwise healthy landscape and to naturally occurring waterholes makes it difficult for native wildlife to forage and flourish. 

What interesting is that the open range law is not actually a law at all, but a generalized agreement that has been tolerated, though not without conflict, since the 1800s. Interestingly, livestock became the sole reason barbed wire was invented in the 1870s in the first place. With a heavy ranching history in the state, and deep sense of land ownership, barbed wire became a standard form of fencing for so many. In my eyes they remain an eyesore, but for others however, fencing in general can be crucial to protecting their land from cattle grazing, sloppy hunters, and for their own sense of security, or sense of ‘mine-ness’. 

(Okay, rant over.)

In the forest, we hope to allow as much permeability onto this land as possible, and that wandering wildlife find this piece of forest an inviting space to wander and forage. In time we’ll figure out the best-for-us solution to keep in alignment with our wishes to do what’s best for the land if free roaming cattle ever becomes an issue. For now we’ve been incredibly fortunate seeing and finding prevailing signs of coyote, deer, black bear and more throughout the property. 

One day last week, I worked for nearly five hours straight to remove a random triangular barbed wire fenced in area near were I would like to start a garden. As each wire disappeared strand by strand, views of the forest open unimpeded. I had just finished removing a four-strand fence length when I looked at the next rusted T-post standing with four more strands. I bent down with pliers to begin again when I saw a beautiful sleeping moth on the post. Come to think of it, I realized, I too needed rest, and hydration. So, I then took the moth’s unspoken advice and took a much needed rest. In the end, it felt great to get this done. With the hideous rusted barbed-wire gone, the trees of the forest seemed to stand even more majestic than before. 

Thoughts on how to live with as minimal impact as possible now occupy my mind in every literal step. I think of the land’s history and think to whom the land truly belongs, not to the one, but to the many. Not to only us who now call the forest home, but to the canyon towhees, Stellar’s and scrub- jays who scratch at the litter, squeaking and squawking joyously every morning. To the bridled titmouse, phoebes and warblers who forage gingerly from tree to tree every evening. To the hermit thrush whose magical song always manages to draw a deep sigh from within me. To the acorn woodpeckers who drum laughter and playfulness into every day. To the deer who walk delicately through, and who rise gracefully unseen to pick tiny fruits from the highest of branches of the newly discovered fruit trees. And to the coyote who’ve I’ve seen sitting curiously beyond the property’s arbitrarily drawn boundary, peering in wonderment of our arrival. To the tiniest lichen and moss blanketing the forest ground, and up to the grandest ponderosa. And also, to the unseen wild wanderers who elusively grace this land with continual renewal.  

I live hoping I can walk a feather light path in my wanderings. That I reciprocate, not only take. That I lead a stewardship of living simply. That I not repeat the insanity of western entitlement, exclusion and excess. That my presence in this forest can add to, not subtract from, the essence in which life flows and flourishes.

That is my wish for this forest. All I can do, is my best.

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