The wonder and charisma of animals

 

I just returned home to Seattle from a grueling reporting trip to North Dakota for the Seattle Times, where with my colleague photographer Alan Berner we were witnessing the standoff with police from eight states against native people and their supporters opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Time again during our work on the front lines and back in the protest camp, we were struck by the importance of animals.

Alan’s photos captured in our Seattle Times special report  not only pepper-sprayed demonstrators and arrests — but the special role of animals, with their people.

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This photo by Alan Berner of the Seattle Times shows the tender connection between people and horses at the Oceti Sakowin camp, home to hundreds of opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

This beautiful horse for instance — one of many we saw in camp, and on the front lines.

But most spectacular was the herd of buffalo that spontaneously flowed over the prairie as demonstrators were facing one of their hardest days on the front lines, on October 27th, 2016. Demonstrators were outnumbered and outgunned by police from six states in armored personnel carriers, ATVs and using pepper spray, rubber bullets, bean bag shot guns. They were arresting demonstrators by the hundreds. But just then, over the hills came the spirit animal of the Dakota/Lakota people, by the thousands. Tatanka. The buffalo. People screamed. Shouted. Wept. Here they were: their oldest friends, in their hour of need.

Buffalo surge across the Great Plains, just when demonstrators needed them most. People wept and screamed with joy at the sight. Photo by Alan Berner, The Seattle Times

Buffalo surge across the Great Plains, just when demonstrators needed them most. People wept and screamed with joy at the sight. Photo by Alan Berner, The Seattle Times

I was struck all over again at how animals tell us where and how we are in our human lives, and remind us that we are embedded in nature. When I was reporting my book Witness Tree, while at the Harvard Forest in 2014-15, it was the animals that told the story of the change in the New England woods as much as the trees that now cover what used to be farms.

We put a wildlife camera up in the woods to see who would come by the big oak I was studying that year. And what a wonder it was to see the menagerie that had returned to New England, now that the trees are back. Here are some looks at the wildlife camera from the card I downloaded on trip back last September:

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A bobcat cruises down the stone wall by the Witness Tree, the big oak I studied at the Harvard Forest

 

Turkeys graze for acorns underneath the big oak I studied at the Harvard Forest

Turkeys graze for acorns underneath the big oak I studied at the Harvard Forest

A doe strolls across the forest, by the Witness Tree

A doe strolls across the forest, by the Witness Tree

A fox saunters down the stone wall by the big oak.

A fox saunters down the stone wall by the big oak.

Not sure what is happening in this photo but pretty sure it involves a deer or a moose.

Not sure what is happening in this photo but pretty sure it involves a young buck. Isn’t that an antler by his ear?

Returning to the places they were long run out of, whether buffalo of the Great Plains of the native wildlife of New England, animals are our fellow travelers on this earth. They remind us often when it seems we need it most of our place in a wondrous world, far bigger than ourselves.

 

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