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Guardian Way Blog Wolf

Who is afraid of the big bad wolf?

German version of this blogpost to be found on wildewurzeln.at

The topic of the wolves slowly coming back to certain areas of Europe seems to create more and more of a rift between people. There are those who are afraid. Afraid for themselves, their children, or their pets. Afraid for their livestock or livelihood as hunters. And then there are those who see this majestic animal that has been so connected with our development as a species. Or those that are simply longing for more balance and more rewilding in our ecosystems. Those, who want to conserve or rebuild areas of nature left alone by humans, given back to all the other beings also living on our shared planet.

And it seems that this is a divide that cannot be overcome.  One side doesn’t seem to understand (or want to understand) the other. But it won’t keep me (and hopefully others) from going for it anyway. And this article should serve as a step towards both understanding the real issue, and finding ways to come together.

So what is the problem really about?

And can it even be traced to only one reason?

Indoctrination from a young age

In so many cultures there are stories and fairy tales of the big bad wolf: Little red riding hood, The wolf and the seven young goats, and who knows how many more. They send a message, that wolves are dangerous and that humans should fear them. And who would question that subconscious message? – We learned it so early, so it must be true…

Just the idea of reading stories like those to little children sends shivers down my spine, how this negative narrative towards those animals is so deeply engrained in our culture. And when talking to people about being out in the wild, a lot of them ask “Aren’t you afraid of the wolves?”, showing the unquestioned fear that can still be found in a lot of people, even those that are not particularly against the wolves coming back.

But there is of course a lot more to the fear or aversion of wolves. And it goes deep into all kinds of aspects of our culture and civilized lifestyle.

Wolves kill

The main reasoning that is used to justify official and sanctioned killings of wolves is, that they are killing the sheep or other livestock of farmers. Also pet owners living close to forest areas are getting scared for their beloved dogs and cats. And those fears are not unjustified, as a specific case only recently in the area around Järna (Sweden) showed, where a wolf was killing house cats, as well as being seen around the village a lot.

And I get it. If someone killed my favourite pet, I would be sad and probably angry, too. But is the wolf really the only one to “blame” for that problem? Isn’t it similar to beggars stealing a loaf of bread, after being driven out of a job by a company just wanting to make more profit?

The unnatural ways of our civilized lives

This topic of the unnatural ways of our civilized lives is a Pandora’s box, big enough to fill at least one if not many books. So I won’t cover all of it here. However, I will share some observations.

In Sweden, as well as Germany and a lot of other countries, sheep – domesticated, docile, defenseless sheep that is – are kept in fenced in areas. They are a small shadow of their wild moufflon counterparts, that have horns to defend themselves, as well as the memory and knowledge that comes with living and surviving in the wild.

Those fences keep them from running away from the farmers. They also keep them from running away from the wolves, and hiding somewhere safe. We humans have created an environment that makes it easy for us to kill and eat them. And wolves are simply seeing and seizing that same opportunity. Why would they choose the alternative of chasing a deer or moose for kilometers with no guarantee for success?

The Industry

As with so many things in civilized life, there is a whole industry involved, which means, that there is a lot of money at stake. Every animal that is killed by a wolf, cannot be utilized by humans. No matter if it’s livestock or game. Sometimes it’s not even about big money, but about livelihoods. And it’s very understandable, that people see the wolf as a threat because of that.

The current situation in Scandinavia vs. central Europe

When living in central Europe, a lot of people have a very romanticized view not only of Canada and North America, but also of Scandinavia. It’s the land where big predators – or any wild animals for that matter – have the space to roam free for kilometers, without really coming into contact with humans much. Where they can live undisturbed and don’t threaten us.

But the reality looks very different. In Scandinavia, there are around 55 packs/families and 28 couples of wolves living in the wild, most of them located in Sweden. This is about a third of the numbers found in Germany, which counted 157 packs/families and 27 couples, as well as 19 lone individuals.

Additionally, the Scandinavian wolves are challenged for another reason: They are all descendants of only about 5 animals, which also weakens their genetic stance. This is mostly due to the north being reindeer country, and any wolves being shot on site. So no animals from Finland or Russia can reach the southern packs to strengthen the gene pool.

Why is the wolf important for us?

Why is it so important to allow the wolf to come back? What was their place and role in the ecosystem, and is it still valid today?

Naturally balanced ecosystem

In their natural, wild environment, they hunt mostly deer, moose and elk. All those animals, if not kept in check, would eat the small buds of young trees, leading to the forest slowly giving way to open bush or grass land. As the results from the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park shows, they do play a very important role in the natural balance of an ecosystem.

But you might ask: “Aren’t hunters taking care of this task in a lot of countries?” Well, yes, to some degree. But simply reducing their number isn’t all that wolves do in a healthy ecosystem.

It’s not like they are just killing all the animals, and also not all of them at once. They pick the weak, the old or the wounded. They only kill when they need food. And they have to constantly come up with new and improved ways of hunting, since the surviving deer learn from the “mistakes” of their fellow mates. They are chased and tested by the wolves. That way, both the deer and wolf are kept on their toes. Kept healthy, fit and strong.

So when humans hunt the deer nowadays, instead of the wolves, this healthy back and forth, this growth on all those levels is not happening. We simply use sophisticated technology, sit somewhere, and shoot. Of course, this is a very simplistic view of hunting, and there is a lot more to it, but how much are we human hunters allowing ourselves to learn from deer? And how much could we learn about balanced, healthy hunting from observing the wolves? – Not just mentally, but physically and in a lot of other ways? And how much are deer learning and growing when hunted by humans? How are they kept fit and healthy?

Our longstanding relationship with wolves

There are a lot of people very fond of those fascinating animals. They have so much in common with us, especially when it comes to social behaviour in small bands. And we as humans have a long history of being in relationship, first with wolves, and then more and more with their domesticated brother, the dog. It seems to be deeply embedded in our epigenetic memory.

Possible solutions?

So how can we create an environment, that isn’t such a juicy invitation for wolves? How can we make it so that instead of dangling a carrot in front of them and then blaming them for eating it, we can find a good balance?

Learning from others

This year I went to Romania to visit a friend, and check out an area for a wilderness immersion. A region with bears, wolves, wild dogs… and also a lot of sheep farmers!

Those sheep in Romania however, are not fenced in. So how are they protected from the wolves? – Well, they have specifically trained shepherd dogs, that are not only taking care that the sheep are kept together, but also protect them from wolf attacks!

Remove the temptation

Another way would be to put up specific fences that are designed to keep out wolves. If they can’t get in to kill the sheep, we don’t have to blame them for it. They will simply go back to their original prey of roe deer, deer and moose. This doesn’t mean that there would never be another encounter, but the boundaries would be a lot clearer, and there wouldn’t need to be so much killing.

Embrace a give and take

In combination with the above mentioned ways to keep the killings in check, we might also want to adapt our mindset about the whole situation. There are ways to live more in balance with all living beings. Natural balance is about giving and receiving. So maybe we can accept some animals to be taken by the wolf as a form of giving back to nature. As a thank you for being allowed to be here and be nourished by the land. And that way we can learn to also make peace with the situation, and find a way to live in a balanced relationship with these important animals.

And one way to do this is during our upcoming Guardian Training “Becoming Wolf“.

Current Programs

Guardian Way Blog

Becoming Protector 2022 – Going deeper

This season’s training was focused around truly stepping into our rule as protector for the earth and our people. What is needed for us to serve? How can we train, learn and grow to be able to face whatever might be coming?

The area

This time, we consciously chose an area that is not so remote. Closer to civilization. Partly because of the personal connection of one of the guide’s – Andris- to the land and the animals (especially wolves) living there, and partly because it was important to experience more directly how we humans influence the wild beings all around us.
Do they hide even more? Do they get more used to and closer to humans? – Is that benefiting or hindering them in the long run? – All important questions with no easy answer.

The bumpy start

We are living in quite challenging and precarious times, and this also showed in the start of the training. If we constantly live on our edge, there is no wiggle-room for when additional challenges come up. And we soon learn, that the most important thing is always our health and the health of our loved ones. If that is not available, it’s out of our hands to do anything else other than that.
So when two of our trainees had to switch their focus on healing, it meant that we would only be 6 people out in the forest, immersing ourselves into the quest and question of what it takes to be a guardian.

Civilization ‘s Impact on the wild

Being out there, walking through the territory of the local wolf pack, we were faced with the conflict of illegal game/wolf surveillance, having found a high tech camera in a nature reserve that most likely was placed there to catch footage of the wolves. We can only guess as to why it was really there and what might have been the final goal or intention of it all. But it shows, that not even the forest is safe for the animals to be left alone at.
We walked across clear-cut areas, reminding us that even though it’s forest and it might feel like wilderness to us, it’s actually mostly just monoculture farming of wood. Again, not making it a safe place for animals to be left alone.
We found trash randomly dumped at least every other day, seeing a very important future mission to clean up the forest from things like old tires, car seats, cables and random other items.
Coming across an old dumping ground for a specific kind of duck being raised solely for sports hunting, killed by the hundreds, and then simply dumped
wild in a field, for animals like boar and fox to then be eaten (and poisoned by the led in the bullets), as definitely a specifically gruesome part of our discovery.
Being out in mid february and having the temperature, as well as the reaction of the plant and animal life be that it would seem to be beginning of april was yet another more long-term sign of our civilized influence on the climate and therefore on the wilderness we seem to cherish so much.

What to protect?

If we truly want to step into our role as guardian and protector, we first need to deeply understand and learn about what it is that we want to protect. otherwise we might do more harm than good.
We need to live as they live, move as they move, and learn as they learn. Completely immersing ourselves. When we realize, that we are constantly at the risk of being seen, heard and therefore either hunted by other wild animals or by humans, we get a small glimpse into the natural world of needing to be ever alert and present.

Sticking together is important

Humans are social animals. We function best, when we stick together. When we all take over certain roles and tasks, we don’t have to do it all alone. Especially just starting out with wilderness skills, our “pack” learned that no matter if it’s navigation, firemaking, cooking, collecting firewood, or sharing the story of the wake- or sleep time: it, works a lot better, takes less energy, yields more/better results, or makes it even only possible, if we all work together.

The discomfort

With each experience, different aspects of discomfort come up. They can be related to the cold, or the weather in general (usually, wet is even harder to handle than cold), but also, they can be found in more invisible parts of the experience.
But knowing, why you do the thing you do is a core necessity of going through any kind of discomfort. If we don’t know, why we do what we do, or if we realize, that our ideas or expectations might have been different, this makes it a lot harder to accept and live through the discomfort, in order to experience the gift we get when we stick with the path anyway.

Living a life of a guardian or protector is not for everyone. It’s not about an adventure, but about growth, learning, being of service and fully immersing yourself.
But when you learn to feel comfortable with discomfort, there is no stopping you!

here are some impressions of the immersion:

Guardian Way Blog

Stories from Becoming Wolf 2021 – An Overview of the Mission

Becoming Wolf was the topic of this guardian intensive training. The mission was to learn about wolves in general, and especially protect the wolves in this particular area we went to from illegally being hunted.
The area a little north of Mora, Sweden is a small part of a much bigger area, where wolves seem to disappear. It is even called a “black hole” by some.

The Mission

The idea was, that people being out in that area, watching the wolves closely, could scare off the poachers and keep the wolves alive a little longer. Also collecting pee and poop samples to send into an official wolf tracking database can even help keep track of individuals as well.
At the same time, the training was still also a guardian intensive training. This means, that all people involved would be forced out on their edge. Challenged to question ideas about limits of what is possible – physically and mentally. Facing challenges in the process of working together as a group, having both intrapersonal and interpersonal conflicts, and learning to deal with them as quickly as possible, in order to function again and be able to live comfortably, surrounded by discomfort.

The discomfort in this case was high snow, heavy backpacks that needed to be carried all day every day, on skis, in intensely cold weather, and sometimes challenging areas with little water and little usable firewood.

The trainees

But 7 courageous individuals set out to face that challenge. Their self-chosen guardian names being Breathe, Snow, Crow, Blood, Bear, Vocal and Mouse Weasle. Three guides, four trainees, but as is the Guardian Way, all of them were actually trainees, since for the Guardian, life is training and training is life. The nights before the start of the training the cold had already started to set in, being around -24°C at night in the area of the base camp they had planned to start from, and even colder in the area the immersion was to take place. The snow that was at best about knee-deep, at worst going to the waist or higher (when sinking all the way into a ditch), was creating an additional challenge to the newly formed pack. Forcing them to find skis or snowshoes in order to even attempt to succeed in the mission they had set out for.

But wolves travel a lot in one day, covering huge distances, even in deep snow. So the first challenge was to get used to the new mode of traveling in deep snow, on skis, with heavy backpacks, through thicket and a lot of elevation changes. All of those conditions are no problem for wolves, but add up for humans quite a lot.

Also getting used to the cold temperatures, the new area, needing to find water sources at least once during the day as well as in the evening around a camp spot was coming in as close second, only a few hours into the immersion.

It was therefore pretty helpful, that even the participants were all quite experienced in certain wilderness skills already, having learned how to make a fire using friction (bow drill), collecting firewood, and sleeping outside. The first few suns were focused mainly on getting used to this new situation and surroundings. Already showing certain struggles of some pack members. Showing the strength of the pack as a whole on how they deal with slow or challenged pack mates. How tasks are distributed, and how to function best, taking all the limitations into account.

A different kind of training

Most trainings that are designed to bring you to your edge are mainly focused on the individual. But we are, as humans, social animals. So even more important than an individual’s strength is the strength of the group.

Being faced with the challenge of a pack member not being able to carry their backpack due to severe pain, it was on the others to distribute the burden in order to continue on the mission. Being out on your edge or even going over it now and then doesn’t mean that you have to shoulder the burden alone. All too often we are taught in our society, that we need to fight, that we are on our own, that we are not good enough and that we failed if we can’t do something.

The Guardian Way – at least how we understand and promote it – is different. Being on your edge doesn’t mean at all, that you are left to your own devices.

It rather means, that you will be challenged, while at the same time having a group, a pack that supports you in your growth. They might not take over your task, but they will make sure you have enough support and strength that you can overcome your challenge, learn and grow. And this is what was shown so beautifully in this past experience.

People taking over the burden of the backpack, while not letting the person quit so easily either. Them learning to continue with the amount of challenge they could handle, still needing to follow the rest of the pack through the deep snow, learning to track wolves in varying conditions of snow and surrounding. And learning to deal with other stress factors coming up.

So what happened with the wolves?

Well, we followed a pack of 4 wolves, 2 adults , 2 pups (almost a whole turn of the seasons old) for the whole experience of 2 weeks. First following tracks that were about 4 suns old, until we hit fresher tracks, at one point even having one of the pups checking out our tracks from the past sun! We found a lot of pee and poop, a kill site of a roe deer, lays, a playground, an exploration area, and even a pee spot with moon-blood, showing that we were right on time for the mating season.

We learned how they travel in circles, coming back to the exact same spots more than once, picking the same areas for hunting, and so much more.
We were able to get to know them not simply as wolves, but individual pack. Observing where they would get out on a road to get ahead faster, where they chose the thicket, and where they would avoid the deep snow. It was a truly fascinating story unfolding in front of our eyes, and we had the best seats in the house so to speak.

The discomfort

The cold weather also posed quite the challenge. Learning to stay warm, especially in your fingers and toes, both during the day, as well as throughout the dark hours of the night, is a very crucial aspect of survival in such conditions. A few days you can do just fine with the discomfort, but when you notice more severe signs of frost-related symptoms, it’s time to learn about wilderness self-care.

You learn how to keep dry and warm, or at least as much as possible; build up routines to keep clean, to dry your things while making sure they don’t burn around the fire, and figure out tricks to stay warm throughout the night. These might seem mundane skills for some, but having lived it, you learn about the importance – and relief – that mundane tasks bring.

This was a short glimpse of our immersion experience. More stories will emerge over time. For now, however, we would love to know what parts of the story resonated for you. And maybe even what aspects would draw you into joining a similar experience and why.

Awoooo!

here are some impressions of the immersion: