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4 Nature as Measure < % T Ahe argument runs like this: We have the poor and starving and we have wilderness. We can't save both. The wilderness advocate: "The poor will be with us always." Even Jesus said it. And besides, their numbers keep multiplying, we can't feed them indefinitely into their next few doublings. "We should do the best we can to feed them, but not at the expense of wilderness, for once wilderness is lost, it's lost forever." And: "The ecosphere gave rise to us. We did not give rise to it. We must keep its creative powers intact." And so on. We might call this the argument of the ecologist. Then there is the argument of the anthropocentrist: "Like it or not, we humans rule the earth." "No wall is high enough or strong enough to keep out the hungry." "Our concepts of justice and righteousness may be very late arrivals on planet earth, but too many of us hold those concepts dear for them to be easily put down." And so on, and so on. Is there any hope for common ground? Lynn White in 1967 proposed Saint Francis of Assissi as the patron saint of ecologists. Francis held the radical position 62 Becoming Native to This Place that all of creation is holy Yet nothing in the record shows that he arrived at that position because he was initially endowed with the wilderness psyche of a Henry David Thoreau or a John Muir or an Aldo Leopold. In fact, his entry was from a point at nearly the opposite end of the spectrum—this son of a well-todo father chose poverty. Apparently Francis took seriously the words of Jesus of Nazareth, "If you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto Me." Francis's intimate identification with the "least," his joining the "least," must have prepared him psychologically to be sensitively tuned to all the creation, both the living and the nonliving world. He was a sort of Christian pantheist who believed that birds, flowers, trees, rocks, fire—everything had spiritual standing. The founder of the most heretical brand of Christianity ever, Francis began his journey with marriage to poverty. That poverty, voluntarily chosen, apparently was the necessary prerequisite for becoming what White calls "the greatest spiritual revolutionary in Western history."l His marriage to poverty and his sparing use of the earth's resources led to deep ecological insight. You may remember the legend of the famous Wolf of Gubbio, which had been eating livestock and people. Francis approached the wolf and asked him, in the name of Jesus Christ, to behave himself. The wolf gave signs that he understood. Francis then launched into a description of all the wolf had done, including all the livestock and people he had killed, and pronounced: "You, Brother Wolf, are a thief and a murderer" and therefore "fit for the gallows."2 The wolf made more signs of understanding, and Francis continued, stating in effect: "I see Nature as Measure 63 you have a contrite heart about this matter, and if you promise to behave, I'll see to it that you are fed." The wolf showed signs that he promised, and the legend has it that the wolf came to town, went in and out of people's houses as a kind of pet, and lived that way for two years before dying. The townspeople all fed the wolf, scratched its ears, and so on. Its last days were spent enjoying the good life at the dog food bowls of Gubbio. In light of this story, I once thought that Saint Francis might more properly be regarded as the patron saint of domesticators . Anyone able to encourage a wolf to stop behaving as we believe a wolf must behave, given everything from its enzyme system to its fangs, is not likely to be regarded as an ecologist, let alone a patron saint for such. ^ E r About three o'clock one morning a few winters ago, the barking of our two dogs woke me up. Soon there was hissing and growling and more barking right on the back porch. I went outside and saw a raccoon cowering under a step stool by the dog food bowl. I chased him away with a stick, sicced our border collie, Molly, on him and went back to bed. I confidently went to sleep. A few minutes later I heard more barking , more hissing, more growling. Once again I went outside, and the dog and I ran the coon off. Back to bed, and sure enough the same story. This time, however, I left the porch light on for my visitor. I lay in bed and listened, there was no more ruckus. I felt pleased with myself for solving the problem with a light switch thanks to my knowledge about nocturnal animals, and I went to sleep. The next morning I headed out 64 Becoming Native to This Place the back door to begin the day's work, and there in the box of tinder on a table was the coon, sleeping away. Both dogs were asleep under the table. Each time I returned to the house during the day, I expected to see that the coon had gone. But it didn't leave. And as it slept that day, the dogs would walk by, look up, and sniff, well on toward accepting their new fellow resident. What was going on here? We are taught to consider recent changes when something unusual breaks a pattern. And so I may have an answer. Late in the afternoons that winter I had been going to my woods with a chain saw, some gasoline, and matches to burn brush. I had cleared out most of the boxelder trees that had grown up there over the last forty years. They were early-stage succession trees that had mostly covered the area where a former tenant had logged out all the walnuts and burr oaks. The box elders are the first to green up in spring, and they accommodate woodpeckers. They are no good for lumber, and though we burn them, they are very low in fuel value. I want to accelerate succession by planting some walnuts and oaks for my grandchildren. Nearly every box elder I took down was hollow The woods are less than a quarter of a mile from my house along the Smoky Hill River. I suspect that I had destroyed the home of Friar Coon, who, looking for a new home, simply moved into mine. Back to Gubbio. Why was the thieving, murdering wolf forgiven and granted a life of ease at the dog food bowls? I suspect that the ecological context necessary to accommodate


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