Dear Laurie Markoff:
Your letter, (below,) raises the questions that have to be raised: What difference do consciousness and heart make? What is their pragmatic value to a world that is increasingly mired in brutality?
In Liberia, the elephants have been coming to the people in just the ways you describe, asking them to restore the contract or asking that the old ceremonies, sacrifices or offerings be restored. These were interrupted by the horrific civil war, though they were already yielding to more practical concerns and large scale land clearance on behalf of farming, manufacturing, mining and other human activities. It is hard to make offerings to the elephants with one hand, or to read them the Koran, while holding an AK 47 in the other. Each demands its own logic. The AK 47, designed to kill humans, certainly does not value elephants. Standing before the question of expanding territory, hunting meat, procuring ivory, the AK 47 mind wins. The AK47 exists in a field of ideas that include dominance, control, self-interest, entitlement, superiority, power.
Reading the Koran to the elephants, assumes the animal’s intelligence, understanding and sacred nature. The elephant whisperer that I met, who read the Koran and attributes his survival to this activity, also credited the elephant with protecting him and his family during the war, advising him when to flee and where, when to return, and where to farm. What the elephant couldn’t do, however, was protect the whisperer from peoples’ envy and their accusations of witchcraft.
Another distinction arises. The elephant whisperer and his family were not as hungry as the poachers were. Alliance with the animal world protected the whisperer, but would such alliances protect an entire village? Some think it would but only if there were enough land to grow food for each person AND enough land for the elephants. The elephants need a vast territory so the trees they tear down and eat this year will be fully grown by the time they return. A 200 year migration cycle is best but this does not suit the needs of corporate farms and plantations, landless people, expanding towns and cities. The people and the elephants are displaced from their land, separated from their rituals, deprived of their elders, and are without food and water.
Their common suffering pits them against each other. We have not learned how to relieve each other’s suffering through alliances. What would an elephant/human alliance around such issues look like?
We do not have the means to act on the basis of our heart alliances with non-human beings. The elephant asked you to fulfill your contract and you don’t know how to protect them from poachers or guarantee their territory.
There was a time when people talked with the animals because they saw them as kin, peers or holy creatures. Understanding these relationships, they lived accordingly, honoring the animals and respecting the animals’ needs for territory and independence.
I don’t know the answer to your anguished question, but I do believe that engaging the non-humans in heartfelt interchange and speaking of this freely, creates another intellectual and spiritual environment that will influence our responses. When we think differently, when we carry different assumptions, we act differently.
When Linda Hogan, Brenda Peterson and I published the anthology, Intimate Nature: The Bond Between Women and Animals, in 1999, almost no one recognized the extent of animals’ intelligence or their spiritual nature. At that time, Jane Goodall’s essay, “I Acknowledge Mine,” astounded us by documenting instances of chimpanzee compassion AND their great suffering. One essay after another asserted the reality of complex heartful intra and inter species relationships and the pain we subject them to. In ten years, so many more of us are aware that we torture the natural world and that the natural world is sentient. Just as we have become aware of our cruelty and obliviousness, our hearts and minds perceive the animals differently and our formerly thoughtless behavior becomes untenable. In 2010, we are living in an ever deepening, ever expanding field of respect and love for the animals. Because of the field, we respond differently. Your experiences and your willingness to speak of them, make an important contribution to this field.
So now we have the Deer Mother. Wasn’t she also an ambassador to you? Will people reading our correspondence invite her and her fawn into their consciousness so that, without remembering why, they might act to preserve the deer, or refuse rat poison, or leave the deer the woods it needs, discourage hunting, allow the deer to nibble their roses? Might it not become commonplace to speak about the Deer Mother and her family in the ways we speak of our own friends and family? Can we doubt that this will make an enormous difference to the Deer Mother’s life?
There is nothing I can or would do to ease your grief. Understanding our role in these tragic times is essential. And also, I will do everything to defend the reality and profundity of interchange between you and the Deer Mother. Also, this year, I am not the only one who thinks this way. There are many of us now, a mere ten years since this understanding burst into print.
Your heartbreak is an essential medicine for the violence of this time. It is not the only medicine we need, but it is a medicine. We are creating a field of co-existence, of ‘all my relations.” Thinking this way will have repercussions though we don’t know where we are being taken and how the world will reconfigure itself in the light of such alliances.
Thank you for writing, Laurie. Please tell the Deer Mother that I hold her and her little ones in my heart and prayers.
(Letter from Laurie Markoff) “Dear Deena,
It is strange that you have been writing this letter to me, as I have been writing a letter to you in my head as well. I have been re-reading “Ghost River” (maybe this is the sixth time and each time it feels like a new book, but perhaps that is because I am different.) and this time it feels like it explains what is happening to me, how I am becoming undone and feel both strongly called to respond to these times and deeply unsure that I know what to do. It is not that I don’t see the signs, it is that I do not know what the signs are pointing me toward. I go and pray for forgiveness for my people at every body of water I encounter. I dreamt that Mandaza was pouring water over a bunch of miniature rose buds between my naked breasts and saying “This is medicine for your people” and so I found a miniature rosebush and we will make a flower essence in that manner. At the SpiritSong retreat, when I was singing, the elephants came and surrounded us, and when I finished singing they spoke to me and said ” If your people will restore the contract, we will do our part.” But how do I make that happen? What am I to do? When I took my daughter to college, early in the morning, as she slept, I hiked up in the woods that the college owns. I saw one or two young people hiking up there, and was thinking of how the woods and the farm there (where my daughter teaches children how food grows) are teaching and tending these young people, and I stopped and made an offering by a tree with roots like the feet of an elephant, thanking the land for tending these young people. Later, a deer stepped onto the trail 20 feet from me and made eye contact. I spoke to her in my mind, introduced myself and she nodded at me. And then I said “You look like a mother. I am a mother too, and I am here to thank all of you for tending my daughter while I am not here. And she nodded again, and her fawn stepped out of hiding and looked me in the eye as well. We stood like that for while, and then someone shouted in the distance and they bounded off. I could not stop crying. In my dream group, in all of my communities, many of us are all having encounters like this. As if the animals are coming to us to make alliances. I am grateful for the signs, I am listening as hard as I can, but I do not know what they are calling me to do, only that it is urgent. I am hoping somehow, Deena, that we will find the answers here. If nothing else, it makes me feel less alone with my questions. So thank you.