As anyone who knows me can attest, my life has had as a primary theme, a passion for the natural world in general and canids in particular. I have served as a Maine Forest Ranger, done morphological surveys on canids and a two year white-tail deer winter survivability study with the state of Maine, to name a few of my endeavors. I owned a Seppala Siberian Husky Sleddog kennel for over a decade and enjoyed both racing and overnight camping with my team of huskies. I am now the kennel manager of a 137 dog mushing tourism kennel in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. When I am not “working” in the outdoors I am indulging in them.
There is a seminal moment in my childhood that, in an instant, formed the conservation and environmental awareness within me that drives so much of what I have done as an adult. As I will here divulge, my awakening happened in a peculiar way.
My parents had a troubled marriage when I was a child growing up in Tennessee. There was a patch of what seemed to be a large track of “woods” behind my home (perhaps not more than 20-30 acres as I think back on it now) that served as my oasis. From the age of six or seven onward, I would find myself drawn to the forest when I needed peace and to center myself. Many days I would head out there when the sun rose and come home when I knew dinner would be going on the table. My mother was always afraid to go into our basement to do laundry because I would habitually house my most recent captured wild animals there.
My epiphany, however, took place at the influential age of twelve, or thereabouts. My church youth group went to Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport, Tennessee for a tour and picnic. They had an exhibit of wolves there in an enclosure. I stood for quite some time at the fence, trying desperately to get the wolves attention without success.
The group I was with moved on from the exhibit but I stayed behind. Just as I was about to walk away a movement caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. There was a box turtle making his way across the footpath. I immediately picked it up and began examining it. Within seconds my mind hatched a scheme. I decided I would throw the box turtle over the fence as an offering to the wolf.
I know this was not a kind thing for the turtle. For that I am ashamed, but I did not do it out of a mean spirit. I did it out of an intense desire to communicate with the wolves. When I threw the turtle over, it caught the attention of the nearest wolf. A large black specimen. The wolf got up and trotted over to me very casually. Soon he was standing only a few feet in front of me. He looked back and forth, from me to the turtle, as if he was deciding what he thought of me before he would accept my gift. This surprised me. I thought he would be so eager to scoop the turtle up that he would have paid me no mind. Instead, he looked at me intently, as if he were judging the merits of the one offering the sacrifice. After a minute that seemed like an hour, he finally scooped the unfortunate tortoise in his muzzle and returned to his favored spot next to the log in the inclosure and began gnawing on the shell.
I turned to walk away and smiled. Even when I heard the shell splinter, I could not help but feel blessed that my gift had been received. I had not touched a wolf. But I had touched something that touched a wolf. I had offered a peace offering, and it had been received. That, for me, was enough.
This has brought me to a very fervent belief that “near” environment is where our children’s awakening to environmental conservation must begin. It is a sad state when our children can better describe the flora and fauna of the rainforest or African plains, due to television, than they can those that inhabit their own back yard. “Nature Intelligence” must be fostered in our youth through back yard interaction if we hope to see a generation of planet saviors.