The Animals Are Calling Us to Council

Asking how we can help “birth a new story for humanity” will lead us astray. A more useful and very exciting question is how to help birth a new story for Life on Earth, within which humanity is embedded. We need to think larger than humanity.

For the last 25 years, I have had the opportunity to live with rescued wildlife that can never be free: bears, wolves, bison, wildcats, and other animals native to the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem where we are located. Having lived with them their whole lives, and through their deaths, I have witnessed astounding events that challenge our idea of who these beings are and the very nature of reality. There is the Apricot the wolf, healed by energy work from the aftereffects of distemper in her brain; Teton the grizzly bear who couldn’t walk, treated by long distance healing and five years later is still walking; a pack of wolves who howled at the passing of one of their own even though they couldn’t see or hear him; Windwalker the cougar who transformed radically as he aged from an aggressive wildcat to a soft, powerful being who people spontaneously called ‘teacher.’ These stories and many more are a portal into a larger way of seeing and valuing life. They offer a new story for how to live together on our Earth. The animals are calling us to council.

As we get familiar with the wild ones, we see they are not ‘the other.’ They are part of ‘us’ and, by extension, so are all living beings. It is basically so simple. If we come from a position of inclusion instead of exclusion, many of our most intractable problems would go away—inclusion as in humans, animals, insects, soil, plants, trees. If we operate from a fundamental position that all life is sacred, to be treated with respect, cared for and not wasted, everything would change.
If Life is sacred, we must include the well-being of each life form in our considerations. We are no longer free to do as we please. But in return we receive companionship, joy, peace, meaning. The animals and trees in a forest welcome our presence. “Who are you?,” they want to know, sending out sensitive feelers in their own species way.

We humans struggle, living part-time in our own heads and fears; part-time in reality; part-time mired in the biological hardwiring of our past for self-esteem, territoriality, survival, in ‘us’ versus ‘them.’ And part-time reaching for something beautiful we can sense and know is right but can only see through a glass darkly. That is where the animals and nature can help us, taking us out of ourselves to connect with something larger, nourishing, healing. They offer us different, non-human-based information. There are so many forces pulling us from ourselves. We need help getting back home.

The animals are calling us to council and we are beginning to hear their call. I feel obligated to do my part, which is to convene us together. And so I founded Earthfire Institute, named after a female wolf with a passion to protect and nurture.

We hold intimate, intensive, multi-species retreats, bringing non-human voices and perspectives to the human conversation. This changes how we conceive of and practice conservation. The bears, bison, wolves, wildcats and other denizens of Earthfire are each acknowledged and given the opportunity to participate in their own way. We invite people in positions of influence to these retreats with the agreement that they will carry their voices out into their own fields of work. Because the retreats need to be small, we work to bring the results of these conversations to the widest audience possible through all forms of media.
We aim to develop a new story, where we expand our sense of community to truly include all living beings, as equally valid expressions of Life; where we are deeply enriched by the presences and intelligences of all forms of life. An ever-changing harmony made up of myriads of individual beings. Not humans plus others. Not our concerns first and theirs secondarily. We are all in this web. Coming from a position that all life is sacred means we make wise environmental decisions automatically. It is ultimately practical and the key to our survival.
As a species, we are moving towards this vision. But are we prepared to give non-human beings the basic right to exist if they are inconvenient or cost us money? We might consider where our human–centric approach has taken us. If we truly consider and make room for all living beings, there is the possibility of unimaginable magic waiting to unfold before us.

The animals are calling us to council. May we listen!