I wrote a piece for the Ferry County View and, since it was an old-school paper article, I’m reposting the text here for your enjoyment.
Stewardship of and our relationships with the more-than-human have divided us for far too long and, since I see that the dualistic arguments that dominate discourse about wolves have failed to provide new ways of looking at the situation especially in the Kettles, allow me to present an alternate perspective. The mass hysteria we feed as part of our fear of the wild within us only disables our relationships with the more-than-human and with each other. What are people so afraid of?
I grew up on a steer farm in rural Washington and now work as a professional mountain athlete. Every single time I run, climb, fish or spend time outside with my daughter I do so alone, unarmed and in wilderness (not a state park or some other peri-urban forest). The thriving wilderness that we call home is full of cougars, bobcats, wolves, moose, deer, eagles, bears, snakes and we interact with these neighbors one-on-one many times a week. Every single run I take I tread where moose passed mere minutes before, I’ve been followed by cougars more times than I can count (three times that I know of this last winter alone), and last winter I had the privilege of being followed by a bobcat. I’ve run WITH four moose individuals including one with a calf, one big bull in the Colville, and one when I was nineteen alone in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The first time a cougar followed me I was alone on snowshoes near Grand Park on Mount Rainier at the age of sixteen. I’ve encountered five bear individuals on the Kettle Crest Trail alone in the last two years––one at about twenty feet away, so close I could smell her fur.
Every encounter with a furry friend in the woods inspires in me a deeper awareness of how I move, an understanding of the truth that I am very small and very insignificant, and that “wild” animals are, in our cultural consciousness, the monster under the bed. Never once has a “wild” animal so much as looked at me askance; but do you know what animal is aggressive to me regularly? Dogs. People’s misbehaving, off-leash dogs. I like to stay away from peopled trails, which is one reason why I love the Kettle Range.
As the frequency of my encounters with the wild increases, they become a still-remarkable but entirely normal part of my daily movements in the woods. I prefer the kind company of a large carnivore to the unpredictable nature of humans and their dogs any day of the week. Encounters with the wild are unavoidable if you spend time outside in Ferry County; learning to listen is a process of enrichment for us all.