Thursday, October 9, 2008

Wolves: Cinematic, Political, Biological, Cultural

11/26/90 I'm coming back
from a state of being stunned. I we
nt to see Dances with Wolves and came out of the theater in a daze. . . . The movie swept me up completely and I had no sense of three hours passing--And that is what caused the daze--being totally in that world, feeling part of a life of respect, love, brotherhood--and not wanting to leave it. . . . The massive shots of the South Dakota prairie, the connection of human to horse and wolf. . . . There were tears in my eyes several times during the movie, most strongly during the killing of the wolf which was caused by Dunbar's need to break him, to destroy the wild in the wolf, the need to have him eat out of his hand. And the buffalo hunt was difficult to watch even knowing that artificial animals had been used. . . . That name seemed very powerful to me, how he came to a crisis point and chose to see himself as Lakota instead of as white man, how he chose that path because it was what felt right to him even though he knew that way of life was doomed, how that matches my own sense of fatalism but still the need to do it.

Wolves have been featured in political ads from both of the big two parties this year, in one as vicious attackers, in the other as the victims of vicious killers. No surprise which party the NRA endorsed.

Some local hunters are upset that they won't get to kill wolves (legally, anyway) now that the wolves have been returned to federal protection under the Endangered Species Act. It must be hard for them to keep a straight face while one side of their mouth talks about how there are too many deer and the other side talks about how there are too many wolves. We need many more wolves, not fewer.

2/23/91 Still had very little sense of three hours passing--I was immersed in that world. Longing to be a part of that world, crying for the beauty and innocence lost. Wishing to have that communion with people, wolf, horse. Wishing to earn their respect by following the trail of being a human being, to be among people who are close to nature, who understand the sacrilege of a field of buffalo slaughtered and left to rot. To fight for a noble cause.

Next month, there are going to be several events in town celebrating 50 years of the moose/wolf study on Isle Royale in Lake Superior. (There's also currently a photo exhibit at the university library through October 24th.) I'm planning to attend these three:

George Desort’s documentary on the Isle Royale wolf and moose study, Fortunate Wilderness will be shown from 7 – 8:30 pm on Thurs., Nov. 6 in the Marshall Performing Arts Center. Fortunate Wilderness captures the science and wonder of the world’s longest large mammal study — the study of wolves and moose on Isle Royale.

“American Indian Ethics Meets Wolf-Moose Research” with wilderness scholar Michael Nelson will be presented from noon --1 pm on Fri., Nov. 7 in the Library Fourth Floor Rotunda.

“50 Years of Wolf Moose Research” with biologists Rolf Peterson and John Vucetich will be presented from 7 – 8:30 pm on Fri., Nov. 7 in the Marshall Performing Arts Center. They will present findings from the 50 years of large mammal study on Isle Royale.

5/8/91 Underway after watching Dances with Wolves for the third time. I think for me this is the most powerful movie I've ever seen. He leaves both the white world and himself as white man behind, follows the most important trail, learns to live as part of the system, the whole tribe, finds like minded souled people. Death comes with his choices but the death of that way of life was inevitable--at least for a time. My hope is that some will s
urvive to live that way again when this one is done; already its death is obvious and near to anyone who removes the blinders. . . . In the aftermath of battle as they call him Dances with Wolves, he reflects that he never knew who he was before, his old name had no meaning but now, his identity is part of his name. They are not just words to label him; they are him. . . . If an Indian must be an "apple" to survive in the dominant culture, what is the word for me--white on the outside, red on the inside? For surely indigenous culture, society, way of life, means much more to me than the white world. It speaks to what is true in me. To live joyously, naturally, to be aware of your life at all times, to be in community, to share, to suffer and give thanks together. To do those things instead of constantly trying to keep myself strong enough to survive in a society which does not support me but isolates me, wants to put me down so others can step on me, where each is an individual owing nothing to each other, allowing nothing to develop--those emotions get in the way of materialism. I must belong in a commune of some sort--I certainly don't belong in this society. . . . The movie makes me alive again. I feel like running and jumping and yelling out loud, echoing off the trees and rock. I smile and feel good and happy. I am who I should be once more, not trapped in the white man's world.

In 2000, I spent a day at a wolf education center. I'd known about it for years but hadn't gone because of mixed feelings about these sort of places, but now that I would soon be leaving the area I wanted the experience. There was classroom time spent watching film and learning about the meaning of various wolf behavior and postures. I knew most of this in advance; it was what was to come which drew me there. We headed outside and observed the main pack in their fairly large area. More fun, but still not why I was there. Eventually, in groups of two or three, we entered a cage with the two most socialized wolves. For all my negative feelings about captive wild animals, I don't regret the experience of having a wolf standing face to face with me with his huge paws on my shoulders. Sorry I can't share the photos I have of that experience.

I've seen the movie several more times over the years and recently watche
d it again, still hurt and angered by the white society's trashing of the natural world. The film's not quite as emotional for me as it used to be, due to the difference between a small tv and a movie screen, an extra hour of footage which while interesting slows the pace, repeated viewings, and 18 years of losing whatever hope I had left by 1990, but it still remains one of my favorites.

There are many potential pitfalls to be aware of: romanticizing, the Noble Savage, cultural appropriation, one-sided views, assuming ecological intent which may have been merely circumstance. For all of that, there are both cultural and individu
al differences, and I remain just as convinced that I was born in the wrong time and society. I remain just as convinced that our species has lost touch with what matters about being alive, and has traded our place in the world for insignificant products and illusions of control. I remain just as convinced we won't be the last species standing on this planet. I remain just as disappointed in our behavior and just as ashamed for all the species we'll eliminate before our turn comes.

All photos from where you can see much larger versions of these and many more.


Lisa J. said...

This is possibly one of the most beautiful posts I've read by you.

I was just thinking that it was about "that time" to watch Dances With Wolves again. We'll see... I have a very difficult time with the shooting of Cisco and Two Socks. I had the pleasure of playing music from the movie at a concert back in 1996. It was emotional - partly because the music is beautiful, but mostly because of the themes that run through the story. I don't normally get emotionally caught up in the music I play - I just play it.

This used to be a paradise, the land that is now America, until the white men came & shot the animals, slaughtered the natives, and raped the land. I am ashamed for what the "pioneers" did to this place, but I am more ashamed that we continue to destroy our home just because people have become too complacent to do anything about it.

I remain just as convinced that I was born in the wrong time and society.
To loosely quote my friend Gandalf: "So do all who live to see such times."

I've often felt the same, but... then again, perhaps there is a purpose to you being here & now: to teach, to guide, to be an example. Stay positive.


During my brief stint as a middle school teacher (1998-1999), I led an after school club dedicated to learning about animals. As a project, we chose wolves as our focus - we adopted a wolf from the Yellowstone pack (quite honestly, she looked like the dark one you have pictured here on your blog...). We watched any and all documentaries I could get my hands on about wolves, and the kids went nuts for this stuff! And why not? Kids naturally love animals and they are inherently kind. Put them in a "safe" environment where they can ask questions or really say what is on their mind and magic happens. I have hope that those 20 kids in the "PAWS Club" are still in love with animals. (though I realize that those "kids" are now graduated from college by now!!)

greentangle said...

Thanks, glad you liked it.

It is wonderful music, one of the few times I bought a soundtrack (Casablanca is the only other one I can think of offhand.)

It is cool to see kids interacting with/learning about nature and animals. Thanks for doing that.