Finding Inspiration in Nature: Animals

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

 

Yellowstone Sign_Gayle Mary_smallerThis 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!!

daisies_yellow with aspen

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.

ground squirrel

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.

Sage_Gayle_Children_Library

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:

bull buffalo and carBison – 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.

swansSwans – 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.

Grizzly_YNPBears – 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:

Mary in Greg's officeDogs – 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.

Bailey_sleepCats – 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.

bison calf

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 and Mary_river walkGayle 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.

SageBigAdventureFront-small   Sage Finds Friends_front cover   Cody Cabin_New Book CoverImage   Walking_FrontCover_small   Dog Devotion Book_Cover_Final   Dog Devotions 2 Book Cover Sage Advice Cover   Blind Dog Ebook Cover_updatedMay2014   Chicken Soup_DogDidWhat_Cover   Spirit of America book

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21 Responses to Finding Inspiration in Nature: Animals

  1. Wranglers says:

    Lovely. It’s true if we will be observant, we can learn much from the animal Kingdom. Thanks for the reminder. Lovely photos. Happy Anniversary to your parents Cher’ley

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    • Gayle Irwin says:

      Thank you, Cher’ley — we did enjoy our time together and yes, I agree — we people can learn a lot if only we take the time to observe, to listen, to ponder, and to appreciate nature, including the animals. Thanks for your comments.

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  2. katewyland says:

    Very nice post and great pictures. I agree animals are important to our lives and we can learn a lot from them. I can’t imagine not having them in my life.
    I’m glad you didn’t try to put a positive spin on ground squirrels. In my experience they are unbelievable destructive and I wouldn’t wish them on my worst enemy. 🙂

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    • Gayle Irwin says:

      Living in Wyoming, I understand some people’s “unhappiness” with ground squirrels, prairie dogs, etc., but I am one who believes they have a place in the ecosystem (feeding hawks, black-footed ferrets, and other creatures, and keeping down bugs, etc. — and entertaining me! 🙂 The little fella I photographed was very comical — I enjoyed watching him! I do love and appreciate nature and feel so blessed to be so close to so much of it in the west. Thanks for reading and commenting, Kate!

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  3. Mike Staton says:

    Reminds me of a wonderful summer vacation back in 1980. Traveled West from Ohio and took in the wonders of Yellowstone and Glacier national Parks. Camped out, tried some of the trails, watched the August Perseid meteor shower as I lay atop a sleeping bag in a sky where the only light was the stars and the moon. Somewhere hidden away are lots of photographs I took of the wildlife when on the hikes.

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    • Gayle Irwin says:

      Such great memories, Mike — thanks for sharing them! I’m not one for sleeping under the stars (never have been) but I have camped in tents. I admit, I much prefer my cabin! (and those I stayed in with my parents last weekend!!) But we sat out on the porches and took in the sights, sounds and smells around us — and when I’m at my mountain cabin here in Wyoming, I enjoy sitting under the lodgepole pines doing the same things. Nature speaks to many of us, and I love sharing about it! I appreciate you reading and commenting on my post!

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  4. Gayle, I agree with everything you say here. I hope you and your animals continue to have happy years together.

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  5. Doris says:

    Well said Gayle. Perfect examples of what is available to teach us if we have the courage to look at ourselves and what is around us. Thank you. Doris

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    • Gayle Irwin says:

      Thank you, Doris — I appreciate your comments. You are so right about courage — sometimes it’s difficult to accept the lessons we find and therefore we choose to ignore. I’m still learning, that’s for sure!! 🙂

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  6. Thank you for a wonderful post, Gayle. I adore and/or admire all the animals you mentioned including squirrels. 🙂 I love watching them run around, eat, etc. and Hana enjoys chasing them. I don’t like cats at all since i’m highly allergic but I have friends who loves kitties so I will also include cats as animals I can appreciate. We can learn and gain so much from all animals if we just take the time.

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    • I have a cat that I think you’d like, Sarah, as she is very friendly, sweet, and vocal. But, yes, if you’re allergic to them, I can see why you keep them at a distance (I’m glad that’s not the case for me!) I enjoy animals of all sorts (except reptiles, but yet I suppose we can learn from them as well… although nothing comes to mind right now! LOL) Thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting.

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  7. Neva Bodin says:

    I love all animals too, while recognizing their roles and our roles in managing them. Animals are amazing, and if you want to learn how to read body language, watch the animals. They are masters of it. Great post, Gayle!

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    • You are so right, Neva — I think many people forget to observe that body language (just think of the tourists in the national parks!). I know you and your family are animal people — perhaps living in the rural areas as you and I have for years helps contribute to that appreciation for the variety of species we are fortunate to encounter. Thanks for your thoughts!

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  8. Nancy Jardine says:

    Beautifully bound together, Gayle – the nature and the aspects of writing. I’ve never experienced any of the massive parks you write about which look awesome – that word used in its proper and original use. I’ve only managed to dip a toe into Yosemite, but since it was late December, and snowy, we could only get in a tiny little bit of it. I didn’t see it in its spring or summer glory. I’m going to be seeing a lot of desert soon, though. I’m heading to the Bryce Canyon area at the end of August driving across from Las Vegas and then we’re driving down to Pasadena to a family wedding. I’m really excited about the trip- though in all honesty, not looking forward to it being too hot.

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    • Oh, Nancy, how lovely! Bryce is BEAUTIFUL! I do hope you enjoy it despite the heat (and perhaps most of the hot weather will be evaporated by then since it’s already scorching!!) I’ll be interested to know your thoughts on the areas you’ll visit — perhaps your travels will inspire a post from you! Thank you so much for reading and for your kind comments!

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  9. Joe Stephens says:

    What terrific lessons! I especially loved your observations about the bear and the wolf. And, of course, I’ve always known that dogs are much better people than humans are.

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  10. Great post Gayle. Loved the photos too. Just your blog post and the pictures inspire me to really look closely at the beauty around us when I write and include it in my books. Thanks for the heads up.

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    • Thank you, Linda — I appreciate you reading my post and your kind words. I wish you could join Neva and I and our writers group for the mini-retreat we have at my cabin: talk about squirrels, birds, beauty and peacefulness! I know you have such things at your lakeside abode and one day I hope to “retreat” to a waterway getaway for a few days or a week. Nothing is so inspiring to me as Nature! 🙂

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  11. S J Brown says:

    You know I loved this post now that I finally got around to reading it. What’s not to love, it has good writing critters, life lessons, and pictures. Thanks for sharing

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