caroll ann duffy | mr. midas

27 11 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No.386 | November 27, 2012

Carol Ann Duffy

Editor’s Note: Though the “Poet Laureate” honor has never been my cup of tea (given the politics present in such selections), I do occasionally visit whatever fashionable Laureates have been honored on the American scene just to see if they have done anything of value for the poetry cause while holding office.

I’m pleased to remind/report that though Billy Collins (far from Laureate material in my humble estimation), sure did one fine thing in his brief “hour upon the stage”: edit the anthology, POETRY 180, A Turning Back to Poetry, an anthology of contemporary poetry that speaks so plainly, so perfectly to one and all.

He also wrote a magnificent intro to this book, wherein, in part, he describes the discomfort many readers experience dealing with a poem. Having experienced the war zone of trying to teach poetry on the high school level many years ago, I could especially relate to this quote from a student:

“Whenever I read a modern poem,” this teenage girl wrote, “it’s like my brother has his foot on the back of my neck in the swimming pool.”

Buy this book. Treasure it in your personal library. Consult it often. Give a copy to a friend—even a teenager.

Another beautiful thing about this book, and all anthologies, as far as I’m concerned, coming across a poet you have not read before. And falling in love with his or her way with words.

Which is what happened to me, discovering Carol Ann Duffy for the first time. I now own three of her books…and still counting. “Mrs. Midas” indeed. — Norbert Blei

Mrs Midas

by Carol Ann Duffy

It was late September. I’d just poured a glass of wine, begun
to unwind, while the vegetables cooked. The kitchen
filled with the smell of itself, relaxed, its steamy breath
gently blanching the windows. So I opened one,
then with my fingers wiped the other’s glass like a brow.
He was standing under the pear tree snapping a twig.

Now the garden was long and the visibility poor, the way
the dark of the ground seems to drink the light of the sky,
but that twig in his hand was gold. And then he plucked
a pear from a branch – we grew Fondante d’Automne -
and it sat in his palm like a light bulb. On.
I thought to myself, Is he putting fairy lights in the tree?

He came into the house. The doorknobs gleamed.
He drew the blinds. You know the mind; I thought of
the Field of the Cloth of Gold and of Miss Macready.
He sat in that chair like a king on a burnished throne.
The look on his face was strange, wild, vain. I said,
What in the name of God is going on? He started to laugh.

I served up the meal. For starters, corn on the cob.
Within seconds he was spitting out the teeth of the rich.
He toyed with his spoon, then mine, then with the knives, the forks.
He asked where was the wine. I poured with shaking hand,
a fragrant, bone-dry white from Italy, then watched
as he picked up the glass, goblet, golden chalice, drank.

It was then that I started to scream. He sank to his knees.
After we had both calmed down, I finished the wine
on my own, hearing him out. I made him sit
on the other side of the room and keep his hands to himself.
I locked the cat in the cellar. I moved the phone.
The toilet I didn’t mind. I couldn’t believe my ears:

how he’d had a wish. Look, we all have wishes; granted.
But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold?
It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable; slakes
no thirst. He tried to light a cigarette; I gazed, entranced,
as the blue flame played on its luteous stem. At least,
I said, you’ll be able to give up smoking for good.

Separate beds. In fact, I put a chair against my door,
near petrified. He was below, turning the spare room
into the tomb of Tutankhamun. You see, we were passionate then,
in those halcyon days; unwrapping each other, rapidly,
like presents, fast food. But now I feared his honeyed embrace,
the kiss that would turn my lips to a work of art.

And who, when it comes to the crunch, can live
with a heart of gold? That night, I dreamt I bore
his child, its perfect ore limbs, its little tongue
like a precious latch, its amber eyes
holding their pupils like flies. My dream-milk
burned in my breasts. I woke to the streaming sun.

So he had to move out. We’d a caravan
in the wilds, in a glade of its own. I drove him up
under cover of dark. He sat in the back.
And then I came home, the women who married the fool
who wished for gold. At first I visited, odd times,
parking the car a good way off, then walking.

You knew you were getting close. Golden trout
on the grass. One day, a hare hung from a larch,
a beautiful lemon mistake. And then his footprints,
glistening next to the river’s path. He was thin,
delirious; hearing, he said, the music of Pan
from the woods. Listen. That was the last straw.

What gets me now is not the idiocy or greed
but lack of thought for me. Pure selfishness. I sold
the contents of the house and came down here.
I think of him in certain lights, dawn, late afternoon,
and once a bowl of apples stopped me dead. I miss most,
even now, his hands, his warm hands on my skin, his touch.

[from POETRY 180, A Turning Back to Poetry, Billy Collins, Random House 2003]





e. e. cummings | happy thanksgiving

21 11 2012

Photo by Norbert Blei

POETRY DISPATCH No.385 | November 22, 2012

e.e. cummings

HAPPY THANKSGIVING

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any–lifted from the no
of all nothing–human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

–e.e. cummings

  





alice d’alessio | conversations with thoreau

12 11 2012

POETRY DISPATCH #384 | November 12, 2012

ALICE D’ALESSIO

Editor’s Note: I have one small problem with CONVERSATIONS WITH THOREAU, which has nothing to do with this thoughtful and moving collection of Alice D’Alessio’s latest work, her third book of poetry, following A BLESSING OF TREES and DAYS WE ARE GIVEN.

My problem with this book is the same problem I have with a number of small and independent publishers and editors who too often fail to see the whole picture. By this I mean the total presentation of a book.

No one’s got a lot of money to throw at this heroic endeavor: keeping the good word alive via the small and independent presses when the big ones won’t touch this stuff—for all the obvious reasons, and then some. However, these editors and publishers are the true keepers-of-the-flame when it comes to keeping hope alive in some of our youngest, oldest, often obscure writers in the country. There ought to be an annual award (and a big hunk of national financial support) for them, but there isn’t and will never be because …it’s never there for the outsiders, the risk-takers, the small guys who publish for the love of the work, do what they do, what they must, for all the right reasons.

Yet…

I still have a problem with some of their work. A problem, in this case, with the cover of Alice’s book. It’s the WRONG cover. Hard to believe, given what resources a university-based press might draw from. A cover that borders on cheap, flashy, ugly, out-of-synch, unbecoming to the beauty and power of the poetry to be found on the pages within—where the book feels and looks a lot better. Good paper, good layout, design. Another good book added to a growing list of more than seventy-five Parallel Press books published to date. Quite an achievement in itself.

However, a writer of Alice D’Alessio’s talent, accomplishments to date, deserves better. That’s my main gripe. And it happens all too often in small press publications where sometimes the publisher/editor himself is a poor judge of the aesthetics of publishing…no sense of how a cover is the handshake, the first contact between reader and writer. How it should lead to beauty and design within–the total package. Should an editor find himself incapable of addressing these issues, he should either put all this in the hands of someone who does or seek to get better at this himself.

My problem with this book is magnified by the fact I am the publisher of Alice’s, BLESSING OF TREES, and I was aware of the early poems in this new book that were based on the poet’s “conversations with Thoreau” which I loved and encouraged from the beginning—what’s more, really longed to publish, by themselves, in a very small book, a very limited edition of maybe 50 copies, beautifully designed, illustrated—a total work of art in itself. Unfortunately, for all kinds of reasons, this did not come to pass.

But, we do have those poems and more (two other sections, “Revelations” and “Seeds of Hope”) in this Parallel Press edition. Which I highly recommend.

Alice’s grasp of the natural world speaks to us all in ways that make us better just hearing her words. I just wish the cover sang as much as the poetry within. — Norbert Blei

A Walk to Wachusett

H.D.T. from Excursions

May I join you, Henry,
to hike the Massachusetts hills?
The country open and fresh
the morning exuberant with birds:
a place where gods might wander
so solemn and solitary.

You are seeking that blue boundary
of distant mountains, with only
your stout staff, a tent
and Virgil tucked under one arm.
I would come along.

We’ll drink from springs
and scavenge wild berries,
unhurried for appointments.
We’ll pause to contemplate
our natural world, ample, roomy,
with time bounded by wide margins.

Only an occasional farmer
to share his bread and milk,
and pique our interest with his strange accent-
in that halcyon time before trucks
when travelers had no fellow travelers
for miles, before or behind!

And I know I was born too late
or that we’ll have to find each other
in some warp of time. You
and I and Virgil, perhaps, can strike off
to see those undiscovered
unmined mountains,
beyond wild fields and forests.

Our Holy Howling Mother

Here is this vast, savage, howling mother of ours, Nature, lying all around, with such beauty H.D.T. from Excursions

Bad news, Henry,
it’s hard to find Her anymore,
She’s been so scraped,
so raped, so scavenged.
And yet you’d be amazed to watch us
seek the relics left behind—
each lonely riff of trees,
each butterfly. Girded with late reports
we hurry to be the one who gets there first
who pokes the camera
at the purple prairie clover
chases the tattered Mourning Cloak
through ditches, races home
to post the photos on the web.

Yes, we fret about Her savage howling—
louder now in hot dry creek beds
and blown-off mountain tops.
But we are lulled by the sight
of an Oriole at the feeder
as Our Mother rumbles deep in her core
breathes fire and wind
in retribution.

What I’m Doing

What are you doing today? Write in your journal!
Letter, R.W. Emerson to H.D.T.

As soon as I check my balance and pay some bills
before they’re overdue, scrub up
spilled spaghetti sauce
from last night’s cooking spree,
do my exercises—stretch, bend, reach, groan—
take a pain pill, strip the purple sheets
and dump them in the wash, check my email,
invite a widowed friend to dinner
call the furnace man, the dentist

then I plan to walk among
the gold and crimson trees, listen
to leaves fall, cranes squabble
in the marsh; gather seeds from bee-balm,
milkweed pods, coneflower—all ripe and waiting
but time slips by, and I see the clouds
clump overhead, draining the color, but

before the rain comes, maybe a few miles
or so to name each plant and bird,
butterfly, and beetle (in Latin)
muse on the succession of trees—
contemplate our oneness with nature,
and take meticulous notes in my journal,
accompanied by sketches,
I know that’s how you did it, Henry.

But my watch says it’s after 4, and the phone
rings, the mail comes, and I must start the evening meal,
peel potatoes, pound a meatloaf into shape.
If you could join us for dinner, Henry,
maybe you could explain how to simplify.

[from CONVERSATIONS WITH THOREAU, Parallel Press, 2012.]





charles m. blow | don’t mess with big bird

11 10 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  No. 219 (& Poetry Dispatch) | October 11, 2012

DON’T MESS WITH BIG BIRD
by
Charles M. Blow

Mitt Romney’s Big Bird swipe during Wednesday’s debate raised some hack­les: PBS’s, many on social media and mine.

Romney told the debate moderator, Jim Lehrer:
“I’m sorry, Jim. I’m going to stop the subsidy to PBS. I’m going to stop other things. I like PBS. I love Big Bird. I actu­ally like you, too. But I’m not going to — I’m not going to keep on spending money on things to borrow money from China to pay for it.”

Those are fighting words.

Social media, and others, exploded in Big Bird’s defense.

PBS itself issued a tersely worded statement on Thursday, saying:
“Governor Romney does not under­stand the value the American people place on public broadcasting and the outstanding return on investment the system delivers to our nation. We think it is important to set the record straight and let the facts speak for themselves.”

Exactly! What they said!

Big Bird is the man. He’s 8 feet tall. He can sing and roller skate and ride a uni-cycle and dance. Can you do that, Mr. Romney? I’m not talking about your fox trot away from the facts. I’m talking about real dancing.

Since 1969, Big Bird has been the king of the block on “Sesame Street.” When I was a child, he and his friends taught me the alphabet and the colors and how to do simple math.

Do you know how to do simple math, Mr. Romney? Maybe you and the Count­ess Von Backward could exchange num­bers.
Big Bird and his friends also showed me what it meant to resolve conflicts with kindness and accept people’s differ­ences and look out for the less fortunate.

Do you know anything about looking ou for the less fortunate, Mr. Romney? 0 do you think they’re all grouches scrounging around in trash cans?

I know that you told Fox News this week that you were “completely wrong’ for making that noninfamous 47 percent comment, but probably only after you realized that it was a drag on your poll numbers. Your initial response was to defend it as “inelegantly stated” but es­sentially correct. That’s not good, sir. Character matters. Big Bird wouldn’t have played it that way. Do you really believe that Pennsylvania Avenue is that far away from Sesame Street? It shouldn’t be.

Let me make it simple for you, Mr. Romney. I’m down with Big Bird. You pick on him, you answer to me.

And, for me, it’s bigger than Big Bird. It’s almost impossible to overstate how instrumental PBS has been in my devel­opment and instruction.

We were poor. My mother couldn’t af­ford day care, and I didn’t go to pre­school. My great-uncle took care of me all day. I could watch one hour of televi­sion: PBS.

When I was preparing for college and took the ACT, there were harder reading passages toward the back of the test. Many had scientific themes — themes we hadn’t covered at my tiny high school in my rural town. But I could fol­low the passages’ meanings because I had watched innumerable nature shows on PBS.

I never went to art or design school. In college, I was an English major be­fore switching to mass communications. Still, I went on to become the design di­rector of The New York Times and the art director of National Geographic magazine.

That was, in part, because I had a nat­ural gift for it (thanks mom and dad and whatever gods there may be), but it’s also because I spent endless hours watching art programs on PBS. (Bob Ross, with his awesome Afro, snow­capped mountains and “magic white,” will live on forever in my memory.)

I don’t really expect Mitt Romney to understand the value of something like PBS to people, like me, who grew up in poor, rural areas and went to small schools. These are places with no mu­seums or preschools or after-school edu­cational programs. There wasn’t money for travel or to pay tutors.

I honestly don’t know where I would be in the world without PBS.

As PBS pointed out:
“Over the course of a year, 91 percent of all U.S. television households tune in to their local PBS station. In fact, our service is watched by 81 percent of all children between the ages of 2-8. Each day, the American public receives an en­during and daily return on investment that is heard, seen, read and experi­enced in public media broadcasts, apps, podcasts and online — all for the cost of about$1.35 per person per year.”

PBS is a national treasure, and is Big Bird is our golden — um, whatever kind of bird he is.
Hands off!

[from The New York Times, 10.6.12]





marge piercy | my mother’s body

5 10 2012

POETRY DISPATCH No.383 | October 5, 2012

MARGE PIERCY

Editor’s Note: We must remember to revisit our own bookshelves more frequently for lost books, lost authors, writers who once made a difference in our lives even though we’ve moved on to other places these days, other interests, other ideas, and the stories and poems and books which once spoke to us have been gathering dust for years. I find myself late at night searching for something among all my poetry titles—and find something else instead. An old friend. Hmmmmmm…Marge Piercy…where have you been, love?…it’s been such a long, long time…

Hmmmm, this is exactly the kind of poetry I had in mind…something I knew I had somewhere on my shelves. Exactly what the doctor would prescribe for a writing-friend to take to heart, mind, art…in a time of need.

Thumbing through the pages, rereading poems here and there, I recall putting this book in any number of hands: students, poets/writers who have never read it. Poets who are blocked, readers who just love to read poetry. Poets who are not quite beginners but new writers who have all the tools already at their disposal (perhaps born with them) yet are not sure what they should be making of everything. (For beginning poets…my preference would be ‘concrete’ imagery alone…haiku. Begin there.)

What Marge Piercy brings to the table in MY MOTHER’S BODY is an honest simplicity of language, such an everydayness of narrative welcoming one-and-all, layering, spreading into a poetry of resonance both recognizable and profound in the mystery of afterthought. It’s all so good, so satisfying, you want to read it again immediately, to taste it twice, to re-live the narrative, to allow the poem to inhabit you till you see everything so clearly, so differently.

This is the kind of poetry that works best. The skill, the workmanship, the artistry is there…yet the poet isn’t addressing the reader in a second language, as too many poets do these days. Nor does the poet speak down leaving you with chunks of prose, nothing that glows with an inner light.

So I take this book off the shelf, prepare to put it in my briefcase to either mail or hand to a friend tomorrow. But then, with books like these that I’ve rediscovered, poems like these that re-energize my faith in the written word once again—I just can’t part with it. I even catch myself entertaining the notion of not revealing my love for this book to anyone, let alone pass it on one to someone who needs it at the moment much more than I. It’s mine. I will never let it go. Who knows when I may need it again?

Instead I go to the computer…go to the internet…check the book dealers…find a good, affordable used copy…and send it to a friend who needs it. — Norbert Blei

The Listmaker

I am a compiler of lists: 1 bag
fine cracked corn, 1 sunflower seeds.

Thin tomato seedlings in hotbed;
check dahlias for sprouting.

Write Kathy. Call Lou. Pay
oil bill. Decide about Montana.

I find withered lists in pockets
of raincoats, reminders to buy birthday

presents for lovers who wear those warm
sweaters now in other lives. And what

did I decide about Montana? To believe
or disbelieve in its existence?

To rise at five some morning and fly there?
A buried assent or denial rots beneath.

I confess too that sometimes when I am listing
what I must do on a Monday, I will put on

tasks already completed for the neat pleasure
of striking them out, checking them off.

What do these lists mean? That I mistrust my memory,
that my attention, a huge hungry crow

settling to carrion even on the highway
hates to rise and flap off, wants to continue

feasting on what it has let down upon
folding the tent of its broad dusty wings.

That I like to conquer chaos one square
at a time like a board game.

That I fear the sins of omission more
than commission. That the whining saw

of the mill of time shrieks always in my ears
as I am borne with all the other logs

forward to be dismantled and rebuilt
into chairs, into frogs, into running water.

All lists start where they halt, in intention.
Only the love that is work completes them.

Peaches in November

On the peach’s wide sieve of branches
the buds crouch already in whitish caterpillar fur.

All winter they must hold tight, as the supple
limbs are strained wide by the snow’s weight,

as the ice coats them and turns them to glinting
small lights that splinter the sun to prickles.

Must hold tight against the wet warm tongue
of the thaw that lolls off the Gulf Stream

smelling of seaweed and the South, as if
not spring visited but summer in January.

Hold tight against the early March sun
with the wild tulips already opening

against the brown earth like painted mouths
when the ice will return as a thief

to take what has too widely trusted.
The news they carry can only be told once

to the bees each year. The bud is the idea
of sweetness, of savor, of round heft

waiting to build itself. As the winter
clamps down they hibernate in fur,

little polar bears on red twigs
dreaming of turning one sun into many.

Six Underrated Pleasures

1. Folding sheets

They must be clean.
There ought to be two of you
to talk as you work, your
eyes and hands meeting.
They can be crisp, a little rough
and fragrant from the line;
or hot from the dryer
as from an oven. A silver
grey kitten with amber
eyes to dart among
the sheets and wrestle and leap out
helps. But mostly pleasure
lies in the clean linen
slapping into shape.
Whenever I fold a fitted sheet
making the moves that are like
closing doors, I feel my mother.
The smell of clean laundry is hers.

2. Picking pole beans

Gathering tomatoes has no art
to it. Their ripe redness shouts.
But the scarlet runner beans twine
high and jungly on their tripods.
You must reach in delicately,
pinch off the sizable beans
but leave the babies to swell
into flavor. It is hide-and-seek,
standing knee deep in squash
plants running, while the bees
must be carefully disentangled
from your hair. Early you may see
the hummingbird, but best to wait
until the dew burns off.
Basket on your arm, your fingers
go swimming through the raspy leaves
to find prey just their size.
Then comes the minor zest
of nipping the ends off with your nails
and snapping them in pieces,
their retorts like soft pistolry.
Then eat the littlest raw.

3. Taking a hot bath

Surely nobody has ever decided
to go on a diet while in a tub.
The body is beautiful stretched
out under water wavering.

It suggests a long island of pleasure
whole seascapes of calm sensual
response, the nerves as gentle fronds
of waterweed swaying in warm currents.

Then if ever we must love ourselves i
n the amniotic fluid floating
a ship at anchor in a perfect
protected blood-warm tropical bay.

The water enters us and the minor
pains depart, supplanted guests,
the aches, the strains, the chills.
Muscles open like hungry clams.

Born again from my bath like a hot
sweet-tempered, sweet-smelling baby,
I am ready to seize sleep like a milky breast
or start climbing my day hand over hand.

4. Sleeping with cats

I am at once source
and sink of heat: giver
and taker. I am a vast
soft mountain of slow breathing.
The smells I exude soothe them:
the lingering odor of sex,
of soap, even of perfume,
its afteraroma sunk into skin
mingling with sweat and the traces
of food and drink.

They are curled into flowers
of fur, they are coiled
hot seashells of flesh
in my armpit, around my head
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

5. Planting bulbs

No task could be easier.
Just dig the narrow hole,
drop in the handful of bone
meal and place the bulb
like a swollen brown garlic
clove full of hidden resources.

Their skin is the paper
of brown bags. The smooth
pale flesh peeks through.
Three times its height
is its depth, a parable
against hard straining.

The art is imagining
the spring landscape poking
through chrysanthemum, falling
leaves, withered brown lushness
of summer. The lines drawn
now, the colors mixed

will pop out of the soil
after the snow sinks from sight
into it. The circles,
the casual grace of tossed handfuls,
the soldierly rows will stand,
the colors sing sweet or sour.

When the first sharp ears
poke out, you are again
more audience than actor,
as if someone said, Close
your eyes and draw a picture.
Now open them and look.

6. Canning

We pour a mild drink each,
turn on the record player,
Beethoven perhaps or Vivaldi,
opera sometimes, and then together
in the steamy kitchen we put up
tomatoes, peaches, grapes, pears.

Each fruit has a different
ritual: popping the grapes
out of the skins like little
eyeballs, slipping the fuzz
from the peaches and seeing
the blush painted on the flesh beneath.

It is part game: What shall
we magic wand this into?
Peach conserve, chutney, jam,
brandied peaches. Tomatoes
turn juice, sauce hot or mild
or spicy, canned, ketchup.

Vinegars, brandies, treats
for the winter: pleasure
deferred. Canning is thrift
itself in sensual form,
surplus made beautiful, light
and heat caught in a jar.

I find my mother sometimes
issuing from the steam, aproned,
red faced, her hair up in a net.
Since her death we meet usually
in garden or kitchen. Ghosts
come reliably to savors, I learn.

In the garden your ashes,
in the kitchen your knowledge.
Little enough we can save
from the furnace of the sun
while the bones grow brittle as paper
and the hair itself turns ashen.

But what we can put by, we do
with gaiety and invention
while the music laps round us
like dancing light, but Mother,
this pleasure is only deferred.
We eat it all before it spoils.

[from MY MOTHER’S BODY, Poems by Marge Piercy, Pandora Press, 1985]





george wamser | wrestling with timber wolves…

28 09 2012

NOTES from the UNDERGROUND  # 218 (& Poetry Dispatch) | September 27, 2012

GEORGE WAMSER

Editor’s Note: George Wamser is a full-time blue collar worker and a ‘part-time’ writer, with a true hunter’s heart and mind, given the gift of the natural world that surround us. I first ‘discovered’ him about five years ago and invited him to submit a piece of writing for an anthology of unpublished writers I was putting together (OTHER VOICES, Works in Progress, Cross+Roads Press, 2007). George submitted a beautiful essay: “Tales from Good Medicine Lodge” wherein he says: “…the forest…the forest…has remained faithful all along, has remained my salvation, my healer, and has accepted my words of gratitude…Every time I returned to it, it is as if I have re-entered the echo of my own wonderful dream.”

Part of his bio on the “Notes on Contributors” page also states: “….that he has no particular qualification to write anything for anybody, and that he is simply a blue collar worker, a printer by trade, who is extremely interested in nature, and human nature. He is keenly aware of the great environmental changes going on in the North Country over the last forty years, and is extremely concerned about how much of the resources will remain for future generations.

George lives in Oconto, Wisconsin with his Native American wife, where they built their own cabin, The Good Medicine Lodge, on Sunrise Lake 25 years ago.

Here in Wisconsin, the battle for wilderness preservation is fought every day. (Hunters of the world, unite! You have nothing to lose but…?) Some folks find a reason to kill whatever moves in nature. Here is George’s measured take on a current controversy of killing wolves. — Norbert Blei

Wrestling with Timber Wolves…

What is the myth… and what is the reality?

Which side of the line are YOU on? On the side of wilderness… or on the side of special interest groups that wish to micro-manage every single tiny bit of nature for its own selfish end? Because that’s what it all boils down to here, with the proposed wolf hunt. We are talking a population of 850 animals in an environment that is OVER 2 MILLION ACRES…think about that population density of wolves and you get the picture. This has nothing to do with damage caused by wolves, or even competition with hunters for game, this is all about a “state of mind” and the ancient penchant certain human cultures have; the irresistible urge to mess with and try to arrogantly dominate all things in nature, wild and free, and nothing more. Nothing symbolizes wilderness more than the timber wolf, which makes him the logical target for the enormous human ego. There is nothing logical or rational about such a hunt, in fact, as anyone who studies, or tries to photograph timber wolves for less nefarious purposes will tell you, is that even finding a wolf for a photo is maddeningly difficult, even with bait! And may require months of patient stake outs in blinds with little guarantee of success; so good luck “hunters”! Ha! Sadly, the clever trappers may do better…

Am I worried about some livestock taken? Or a few hunting dogs killed by wolves? Nope. Why? Because that is the REAL law of true wilderness, that, you take the chances of such predation when you CHOOSE to live in, or run your pack of hunting dogs in a wilderness area; which operates on its own terms, in fact, such predation is the golden badge of success in preservation of wilderness. It is the sign that things are working as they should in a northern forest left alone to do its proper thing. ANY outdoor organization who is in favor of a wolf hunt has forgotten this fundamental ideal, that so many great defenders of the wild like Ed Abby and Aldo Leopold and Sigurd Olsen fought for, and whose philosophy I still adhere to.

IF there were HUGE numbers of wolves, like coyotes, running all over the place, moving into urban areas causing all sorts of conflicts, I would have no problem with a trapping season, eliminating the problem animals in hot areas, but this is not the case…bears exist in a widespread population of many thousands and are a much smarter and more effective predator on game animals and hunting dogs than the timber wolf, but we live with them, perhaps even underhunting them for their population density. Bears do not carry the same negative emotional perception as wolves do, therefore even though bears are many times more “competitive” with humans than wolves, with a much larger population of over 20,000, they are not seen as a similar “threat”. Imagine a “hunting season” to reduce in number a population of 850 of anything…much less wolves in an area the size of all of northern Wisconsin…it is idiotic in its scope.

There may be a day when a wolf hunting season is needed, and I am NOT against it in principle; but not now. Not yet…

Wolves, like all predators, are beneficial in the ecological picture of the North Country. They kill and eat the sick and weak of the game animals, and may help eliminate deer ill with CWD, “processing” the diseased tissue through their bodies so other deer cannot access it. Mostly timber wolves are omnivorous, and eat anything that is available to them including certain plants, small mammals and even fish on occasion. Over 50% of their diet is made up of non-game animals. Predators of all types have an extremely positive effect in “balance” and these effects run through the entire ecosystem.

This beautiful predator-prey relationship, (add into this common diseases in canines such as mange) ancient way beyond historical time, is itself a natural control on the population of these animals as they are dependent upon one another…and yes, I have a history with timber wolves, and am biased towards them as a species. I worked for timber wolf recovery in Wisconsin for ten years in the late 80’s and nineties; I have studied the scientific research and the myth and historical materials, and have observed them in the field in Minnesota, which was both beautiful and thrilling. Perhaps no animal on this planet, among a family of large predator fauna such as grizzlies, polar bears, tigers, snakes and a few others is more misunderstood, feared and reviled for no scientific reason whatsoever; it is always emotional. The scientists… are not in favor of a hunt at this time. This will sound extremely radical to many of you, but in this time of Earth’s natural history, with the largest mass extinction of species since the Pliocene, experiencing a wolf up close and personal, observing, hearing their lonely call, and odd as it sounds, even in the rare instance of suffering some loss of livestock, pet or hunting dog to a wolf or another predator, is a privilege…and this spring as I heard my first single beautiful wolf call from my back door at Sunrise Lake, my joy was tempered by the knowledge that soon, people will likely be out to kill that fellow. Aldo Leopold, God’s gift to Wisconsin and the source of modern Game Management, literally writing the first textbook on the subject, started out as a “wolf killer” with a strong belief in the control and elimination of predators, but as he was a good scientist, came to the conclusion over a decade of research, from the evidence, that he had been dead wrong, and that the science backed not only the value of all predators in the total ecological picture, but also of their utter necessity. Aldo changed…through the diminishment of his ignorance of the scientific facts, overcoming his emotions, cultural biases and an official government program to eliminate predators, to a much more factual, enlightened view that counterintuitive, and went against nearly everything he was taught to believe, but was; right.

As I thought about this subject my intellect and emotions ran all over the place…to the science of game management, to the beautiful sort of simmering anger and frustration someone like Edward Abby could cleverly express in defense of the wild and play it to the public like an irritating French Horn, to the artsy satire, ridiculous, like Tom Robbins portrayed in his “Wrestling with Woodpeckers” novel, and to the utter sacredness the traditional Native Americans hold the wolf: Muwase…in the highest possible regard, just as sincerely as Christians hold Jesus Christ. Nothing is sacred anymore, not even the concept of things being truly wild, which in my view may exhibit the highest possible expression of a creator. Wilderness in and of itself is sacred enough for me. While the powerful hunting organizations pay lip service to “wilderness” they back a wolf hunt and seem to have a secret need to tame anything truly wild; meanwhile lobbying for artificially high populations of game animals and fish to satisfy the sport recreational market, rather than the healthy holding capacity of the ecosystem.

It makes us all sad when we think of the wondrous progress the human race is capable of, and then, we contrast the steps forward with the “two steps back” rut that we seem to be stuck in over and over again, dampening the accomplishments we make. We never seem to learn, as over the last century the heart of hard lessons about ecology and game management evolved around “balance” and a holistic approach to habitats which benefitted the ecosystem as a whole, which is why the major predators were allowed back to begin with. Again and again, the public thinks we can do better, and expects more from public education, an enlightened media, hunting organizations, and the recreational industry to help show us the way…but I’ll tell you, all of the above are capable of sending out bad, outdated, self centered messages as well as good ones, and they have both the money and political pressure to apply where needed to insure their agenda is on the table, regardless of whether it is good for the ecosystem or not. This is nothing new, as there are struggles over proper use of ATV’s, mining, wetland use, clean water issues, logging, oil leases and endangered species that never seem to go away.

There are just as many scientists working diligently in labs all over America finding new and imaginative ways to exploit the environment, as there are working to find ways to protect and preserve it. There are more forces as work today trying to manipulate the environment, spending money and wresting for political control over resources now, than ever, with great media outlets telling only their side of the story, and we wonder why…we are so confused as to what is progress and what is destructive. If you watch the ads on TV from BP about the Gulf oil spill they make it seem like BP was the best thing that ever happened to the region! We try like hell to subdue nature, when in reality our greatest failure is in simply conquering ourselves. Isn’t it sad, that some of our greatest scientific discoveries in ecology do not seem to carry clear instructions on how to use them ethically? Ecology is a science that does not clearly state the facts with a “good or bad” label on them, and the simple scientific “facts” the nuts and bolts of the reality, are left for interpretation by the public as a relative consequence of our economy, our population growth and so much more. And to the vast majority of the public, the life of a single wolf, an elk, a whole wetland ecosystem, or even the quality of my relationship with wolves here in the Nicolet National Forest and where it all fits in to the total picture; is completely meaningless.

IF some real meaning were endowed upon subjects regarding the environment, to the people, to the actions and potential emotion the public is capable of, if they can come to relate to the value of wild things like timber wolves, then and only then will the great power of human forces to protect and preserve be unleashed. We must learn to frankly admit that we as a people are failing now, in an era, where we are more concerned about the I-phone in our hand than the disappearance of whippoorwills, consuming the present at such a rate as to leave the future more impoverished for our grandchildren. Admitting ignorance here; opens the possibility for new directions in conservation, of new creative thinking, of a greater sense of ethics; altruism in regards to the climate, lands and waters, and ultimately even how we value our own existence as a member of an ever diminishing community within nature.

Yes, it is diminishing…

Finally, when Wisconsin was wild, it was one huge Garden of Eden underneath a canopy of massive white, yellow and red pines 200 feet tall, born before the landing of Columbus “the pinery” as it was called by the first settlers in the north, and wherever a chickadee might fly within this mighty virgin forest, along the sacred Wolf River, over the Oconto “river of many fish” over the hundreds of crystal clear lakes and deep green valleys, over the remnants of mountains once as big as the Rockies now ground down and glaciated to thousand foot hills, deep leafy deciduous glens and scrub oaks along the “Ouisconsin” limestone dells and Mississippi River through every type of ecosystem, micro climates such as along the Great Lakes or Green Bay, down from “the Spirit’s Door” south to tall grass prairies, and coulee country of the south west, over the great central bog-land, wildlife and plant life prospered in lavish abundance…nature gave and gave and gave when the humans arrived, but no adequate compensation was ever offered for this incredible unfathomable blessing we have received over centuries, and now, when nature asks for a few free Timberwolves…how do we respond?

Shame on us…

GEWamser








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