Only to the white man was nature a wilderness and only to him was the land ‘infested’ with ‘wild’ animals and ‘savage’ people. To us it was tame, Earth was bountiful and we were surrounded with the blessings of the Great Mystery. ~ Black Elk
This post by Gayle M. Irwin
Last week I wrote about being inspired by nature with regard to landscapes. Whether mountains, valleys, fields, forests, oceans, lakes, streams, city parks, botanical gardens, or your own backyard, you can find refreshment, replenishment, inspiration, and creativity in nature. You can also find inspiration in the creatures which inhabit these spaces, lessons that can be applied to life, and even to writing, and so today is Part 2 — Finding Inspiration in Nature: Animals.
I recently spent more than four days in Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, sharing time with my parents for their 56th wedding anniversary and for Father’s Day. Not only was the experience pleasant from the standpoint of being with family members I dearly love, but we were in special spaces that I truly love. Each park is unique: although both have mountains, the stark granite of the Tetons contrasts with the forested hillsides that ring the Yellowstone caldera. Water can be found in both parks, including deep lakes and fast rivers. However, Teton appears more lush and verdant, possibly due to the deep valley known as Jackson Hole, whereas Yellowstone is more rocky and dry – except for the sections that received vast amounts of snow this past winter – and sprung this spring with wildflowers galore!!
The wildlife species which reside in the parks, however, are nearly identical, including elk, bison, pronghorn, mule deer, chipmunks, ground squirrels, swans, and sandhill cranes. As I spent time observing these creatures and considered the harshness of the environment, especially during winter, I felt compelled to consider what lessons these animals can teach us, and therefore, how they can inspire us, whether we are writers or not.
Learning and sharing lessons from nature is part of who I am as a writer and speaker. For years I’ve shared what I learned from my blind dog, Sage, even writing a book called Walking in Trust: Lessons Learned with My Blind Dog. When I visit schools, I talk with students about lessons dogs can teach us, things I’ve learned from my own dogs; I even created a library program on that topic, and I shared that last Friday at the Sheridan County Fulmer Library in Sheridan, Wyoming – and since Friday was Take Your Dog to Work Day, it was an appropriate topic.
So what lessons can we learn and how can we be inspired by animals? I believe there are many ways, but here are just a few:
Bison – these massive creatures have exited for centuries and Native Americans believed the bison were sacred and valued. The species nearly became extinct thanks to European-Americans slaughter of them during the mid to late 1800s. To live in Yellowstone during winter, to survive a massive massacre upon their kind, these creatures must be hardy, so I believe endurance is great lesson the bison can teach us.
Sandhill Cranes – Tall and elegant, these beautiful birds fly thousands of miles to and from summer and winter habitats. They must pass by powerlines, hunters, and storms to reach their destination. Like the bison, these creatures, too, can teach us perseverance.
Elk – these majestic animals are also resilient and they are adaptable. A creature that used to live on the plains, they moved to the mountains to escape the relentless hunting pressure of the 1800s. Yet they never lost their luster. I believe the elk teach us to adapt, to deal with the hand we are dealt and modify whatever needs to be changed, in ourselves, our life, our writing.
Swans – these magnificent birds almost became extinct due, again, to humankind’s (primarily European-Americans) slaughter of them. Downy, pluming feathers caught the eye of the fashion industry and swans, along with hundreds of other bird species, were killed for ladies’ hats and other fashion statements. Thankfully, places like our national parks provided protection and respite. Watching swans fly or swim gives glimpse into gracefulness — I believe the swans remind us to be graceful (as best we can!).
Wolves – another animal nearly exterminated from the landscape (is there a pattern here of human behavior??!), wolves were returned to Yellowstone in the mid-1990s (something that remains controversial and contentious to this day). However, to witness the dynamics within a pack of wolves is truly an amazing sight! These animals were also revered by Native Americans (again, another pattern and one that vastly contrasts with “white culture) and they saw the majesty of the pack, a unit that works together to survive. Wolves can teach us the importance of family relationships and the value of friendships.
Bears – whether grizzly or black, these animals conjure up images of fear and distrust. Bears have been the thorn in many a side of ranchers and farmers as they sometimes prey upon livestock and gardens. Hikers carry pepper spray in case of a bear encounter (or at least they are encouraged to do so). Grizzly bears in particular have been known to attack humans, especially when startled. Once again, however, the bear was revered by Native Americans for its confidence, courage, and power – lessons we can all learn, especially when it comes to facing difficulties in life and rejections (or fear thereof) in our writing.
Each of these amazing species of wildlife showcase a number of lessons we can apply to life and for we who are writers, to our craft. But, our companion animals also can provide insights:
Dogs – I don’t know of many animals, or humans for that matter, who will wait by the door or in the window for their special person to come home, even if gone for only an hour or two. A dog’s devotion is an amazing, beloved quality, and I for one am thankful that my four-footed friend loves me no matter what kind of day I’ve had or what type of mood I’m in. A dog’s loyalty is almost unfathomable, and it’s something for which I’m grateful – and from which I can learn.
Cats – my cats are much more independent, although they enjoy a bit of social time with my husband and me as well. Their ability, however, to take long times of rest and to remain somewhat independent are both great lessons for which to apply to life in general and to a writer’s life – having the confidence to pursue publishing, whether indie or traditional, and to remain strong in the face of adversity, asserting an independence-type of attitude or being part of a team whatever the need calls for at the time, are good qualities to have. And remembering to rest the body and the mind instead of constantly being on the “go, go, go!” is also a great lesson to learn from cats.
We can learn so much from the animal kingdom and be inspired by the different traits found in creatures, if we only take the time to observe, to learn, to apply, and to appreciate the lessons … and the animals themselves.
Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect. ~ Chief Seattle
Gayle M. Irwin writes inspirational pet stories for children and adults. She is the author of seven different books and has three works in progress, including a humorous children’s story called BobCat Goes to School. She is also a contributing writer for six editions of Chicken Soup for the Soul, including the June release The Spirit of America, in which she has a short story titled “National Parks: America’s Best Idea.” Gayle also has a short story in the upcoming anthology Memories from Maple Street U.S.A.: Pawprints on My Heart, a collection of pet stories to be published in July by Prairie Rose Publications. Learn more about Gayle and her writing and speaking endeavors at www.gaylemirwin.com.