I recently read about a bison being born in the “wild” in England. I put it in quotes, probably unfairly, thinking that England is pretty much tamed after all this time, with shrub-lined lanes, flower-dotted meadows, tidy fences, carefully pruned trees and well-behaved weeds. But reading the article I learned that indeed three wild bison were reintroduced last July in the Kent area and a young female delivered a surprise in October, the first bison born in the wild in England in 6,000 years. Pretty incredible to bring back a species after driving it to extinction. The English conservationist confessed that just about all large mammals had been extinguished in England, the result of centuries of hunting and taking over habitat. We humans don’t share particularly well when it comes to wildlife.
The same thing happened in North America once the colonists arrived. Some took what they needed of the richness that lay before them, cultivating, harvesting, hunting to support themselves. Others, a significant number, saw a huge expanse of land and resources, including wildlife, just waiting to be exploited. Some believed it was a God-given right and duty, even, to help themselves; others had commercial motives; and others simply indulged in recreational killing for the joy of it. All this is spun out in a powerful new book by my friend Dan Flores, “Wild New World.” It is a great read for all kinds of reasons. And yes, there are painful parts where you will shake your head in disbelief that mankind could be so wantonly destructive of animal life. “This is not going to be a happy ending,” you think to yourself, and then, Dan, a self-described optimist, pulls it out and ends with hope.
You know how some movies have out takes at the end? The hero misses the punch and jams his hand into a bowl of fruit. The kissing scene is interrupted by a giant moth who wants in on the action. Or, lines are flubbed again, and again, until everyone dissolves in laughter. I love those scenes. They show us a glimpse of reality, what it is really like to make a movie. And they show us that these are just human beings doing a job, however imperfectly. That got me thinking about my profession – mediation and facilitation – and out takes that I could show at the end of the movie titled, “Lucy Saves the Day,” or “Mediators: Warriors for Peace” or … well, you get the idea. So, I’ll spare you the movie, and just give you the out takes, moments from my decades of practice that make me smile.
“Hmmm…where is that place?” – I was facilitating a meeting for the Forest Service in northern New Mexico. About a dozen very rural, somewhat eccentric community members were standing in front of a wall- sized map of their local national forest. The Forest Service staff were there hoping to find out how and where local people used the forest. I was proud of this interactive tool, primitive by today’s standards but in the 1980s quite a novelty. I asked people to come forward, take a marker and indicate on the map the spots where they fished, cut wood, hiked, hunted, etc. There were different colored markers for different kinds of uses. The maps were covered with clear plastic, so they could erase and re-draw if they needed to. No one wanted to break the ice, or make the first mark. I was worried my great innovation was a flop. I saw an aging hippie woman, spilling out of her bib overalls and with a head of wild gray hair, staring at the map for a long time, the marker dangling in her hand. I encouraged her. “Do you want to put something up there, some forest use?” I asked innocently. “Well,” she said dreamily, “I’m just trying to remember…a long time ago… where it was that I laid that man at….” I suggested we could call that “recreational use” and she marked the spot.