Wasps, Ticks, and Lessons on Balance from Land

Wasps, Ticks, and Lessons on Balance from Land

During the summer, I stumbled into a Yellow Jacket Vespula maculifrons nest. I was already aware of two other nests, which, tucked out of the way, were easily avoided. But this one, perched along the border of an Apple permaculture guild, loomed threateningly, with its inauspicious and well-trafficked location. As I nursed my angry welts, I worried about Goober the Dog entangling with them. I struggled with the rewilding rules, devised with more-than-human co-researchers, to abide all beings who contribute to the community, despite my western human discomforts.

In Southern Appalachia, white settler lore recommends pouring gasoline down the holes of Yellow Jackets at night, when the Wasps are dormant, and setting them alight. Over-the-counter insecticides boast poisonous spraying capacities of up to 20 feet, thus protecting the sprayer from any undesirable consequences resulting from the mass-annihilation of a community of stinging beings. Commercial pest control companies offer “safe” removal strategies for an exorbitant price; and online remedies suggest covering the nest entrance with a bowl, administering dry ice or peppermint oil, or sucking out the entire colony with a wet/dry vacuum. None of these options seemed congruent with the ethos of the year of rewilding, so I decided to wait and watch instead.

One of the first things I noticed was that despite appearing to congregate at the nest site, the Yellow Jackets roamed over the entirety of the Land in large numbers. I found them with pollinating Insects in stands of Wildflowers but also at the Vegetable patch amongst the Lettuces and Tomatoes. In these locations, they both busily captured other Insects, such as Aphids, Beetles, and Larvae, and collected nectar from flowering Plants, thus aiding in pollination. I also noticed that Goober avoided the nests, perhaps from unpleasant lessons learned in the past or an innate instinct. My concerns for him lessened, as I began to appreciate his keen intelligence and capacity to safely navigate his own world. 

Avoiding panic or immediately defaulting to the western imperative to manage and/or destroy unpleasant imbroglios allowed me to explore what Donna Haraway (2015) refers to as “response-ability,” which she describes as:

…the high stakes of training the mind and imagination to go visiting, to venture off the beaten path to meet unexpected, non-natal kin, and to strike up conversations, to pose and respond to interesting questions, to propose together something unanticipated, to take up the unasked-for obligations of having met. (p. 8)

Bawaka Country et al. (2019) take this concept further, noting that response-able relationships with more-than-human kin requires both a response and ability. We are required to both pay attention and to act in ethical ways, recognizing our complicity and abilities in co-shaping worldly realities.  After gaining a greater appreciation for Yellow Jackets and their valuable work within this Land community, we managed to negotiate a détente, whereby I don’t disturb their nests, they don’t sting me, and we all get on with our work with Land to heal the community. The remainder of the summer passed without any further uncomfortable interactions with Yellow Jackets.

During the same summer months, I was displeased on a few occasions to discover, after a day’s work with Land, a Tick Ixodes scapularis or two embedded in my skin. Then I started noticing some strange things happening with my body. My right thumb and right big toe started painfully tingling; my energy levels, initially revved up from time outdoors and biking, started to wane dramatically; and sweats and chills started disrupting my sleep patterns. My doctor ran a series of blood tests, and sure enough, I have Lyme Borrelia burgdorferi and Borrelia mayonii disease.

Unlike Yellow Jackets, with whom I can choose to foster a relationship of mutual avoidance, I can’t circumvent intimacy with the Borrelia Microbes that have taken up residence with all the other Microbes in my bodily community. There is certainly nothing “natural” or “wild” about the pharmaceutical-grade antibiotics I am now taking or the indiscriminate, no quarter, mass-killing of tiny lives that is currently taking place in my body because of my decision to take them. 

Tick and Borrelia beings challenge delusions of utopian Edenic rewilding outcomes, as here-and-now realities illuminate what Donna Haraway (2008) refers to as “contact zones.” Originally coined by Mary Louise Pratt (1991), contact zones refer to contested spaces where conflict and difference, negotiated amongst humans with vastly disparate power differentials, results in cultural diffusions and co-created realities across boundaries. Haraway introduces the realities of multispecies contact zones where human cultural realities are better described as complex interspecies entanglements.

The avoidance of discomfort associated with such muddles is a hallmark of the dominant culture. Food is sanitized and packaged to shield the consumer from the brutal realities of industrial farming. Forests are razed and replaced by suburban homes, safely ensconced within manicured lawns and tidy shrubs, sprayed with poison to confer the delusion of human control over Nature.  Predators are annihilated, offering a false sense of safety, as Deer, Mice, and Ticks proliferate in the vacuum. 

In his Autobiography, Benjamin Franklin (1909) observed that in the quest of seeking moral perfection, focusing on improving one fault allowed others to burgeon in the shadows of abstraction. Similarly, the western utopian quest to circumvent the labyrinthine realities of life and death on Earth breeds dystopian consequences – climate change; pollution of air, water, and land; COVID-19; and Lyme disease.

Now I must confront contact zones within my body community. I choose to resort to the western “solution” of antibiotic chemical warfare, knowing that the collateral damage will not be inconsiderable. My body’s rewilded Microbiome, carefully cultivated over the course of this year via relationships with Land and eating only food, grown without chemical inputs here and in the bioregion, will perish along with the targeted Borrelia, effectively clearcutting an internal ecosystem. The irony, tinged with a hint of potential hypocrisy, does not escape me, as I grapple with the enigma of the meanings of wildness in the contemporary world.

A few nights ago, an Opossum Didelphis virginiana braved a perilous contact zone, digging up and eating one of the Yellow Jacket nests. After fostering a complicated relationship with Yellow Jackets, this dramatic event left me with mixed emotions. I found myself hoping that the season’s new queens were already safely hunkered down in autumn’s leaf litter, awaiting the spring thaw to bring forth new generations. At the same time, knowing that the protein and fat-rich Wasp larvae will sustain the Opossum and her young through the winter ahead delighted me. In the miraculous interwoven complexities of the wild world, the growing Opossum population will also curb Tick populations when the Northern Hemisphere turns once again toward the Sun, and my body will heal, as we collectively move closer to the moving target of restoring balance.




Bawaka-Country, Suchet-Pearson, S., Wright, S., Lloyd, K., Tofa, M., Sweeney, J., . . . Maymuru, D. (2019). Gon gurtha: Enacting response-abilities as situated co-becomming. Society and Space, 37(4), 682-702.

Franklin, B. (1909). The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (Vol. 1): Createspace Independent Publishing Platform.

Haraway, D. (2008). When Species Meet (Posthumanities): University of Minnesota Press.

Haraway, D. (2015). A CURIOUS PRACTICE. Angelaki, 20(2), 5-14. doi:10.1080/0969725X.2015.1039817

Pratt, M. L. (1991). Arts of the Contact Zone. Profession, 33-40. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25595469



Six Months of Rewilding – Beauty, desire, and their impoverished alternatives

Six Months of Rewilding – Beauty, desire, and their impoverished alternatives

I see a Bee. She moves gracefully from Flower to Flower. She is busy, but her affect lacks the frenetic haste that characterizes harried human schedules. Her acute ultraviolet-sensing vision allows her to see vibrant patterns directing her to the object of her desire. As she gently probes the Flowers with her proboscis, Flower and Bee engage in an intimate relationship, forged through millennia of deep time where each co-creates and enhances the existence of the other. As the Bee completes her embrace with one Flower and flies off to the next, she is shrouded in pollen, thereby directly participating in the sexual liaisons of beings that symbolize romantic love and affection.

I wonder, in the absence of artificially constructed individualist lifestyles, and simply enthralled with the urgency of being, what does it feel like when Bee and Flower entangle? I imagine it must feel like ecstasy, a sense of fulfillment like no other, as life’s purpose is sated through union with another. Desire, allurement, embrace, and gratification – could this be love?

In the early morning hours, I catch a glimpse of a yellow Moth, languorously dozing in the cup of an Evening Primrose Flower. Drunk on the night’s rapture of nectar and coupling, the Moth epitomizes complete contentment. As a light breeze blows, they nestle up around the Flower’s pistil like a contented couple cuddling in a downy nest of blankets.

For many in the scientific community, to suggest that Insects have the capacity for love and desire commits the sin of anthropomorphizing, but perhaps this accusation points to projection. Continuing to embrace Descartes’s view that only humans possess the capacity for such emotions (Mathews, 2021; Merchant, 1980; Spretnak, 1991), the scientific community has traditionally used a yardstick, based on the nervous system of a single species, Homo sapiens, to judge the sentience of all other beings (Bekoff, 2001). Birds, Bees, Flowers, and Trees are cast as animate automatons unless they can be proven to be sufficiently human-like to be awarded some semblance (albeit still inferior to humans) of personhood. Perhaps anthropocentrism, as opposed to anthropomorphism is the real problem here.

Rather than representing the pinnacle of Earthly evolution, as Descartes and his philosophical descendants suppose, humans are simply a relatively recent evolutionary arrival on Planet Earth. Rather than springing fully formed and novel from the ether or some “invisible hand,” humans are beings comprised of slightly tweaked traits inherited from billions of years of evolutionary kin. And behind this evolutionary drive, Richard Prum (2017) surmises (after decades of studying Bird behavior) is “the taste for the beautiful…an independent and transformative evolutionary force in the history of life” (p. 28). The dispassionate concept of evolutionary adaptation via survival of the fittest plagues western scientific thought. Despite its entangled messiness, beauty drives evolution. Desire drives life (Weber, 2014).

The Autumnal Equinox this week marks six months of rewilding, and the absence of consumer goods and easy transportation has offered me some perspective on the nature of desire, longing, and fulfillment. One of my human kids had a birthday this week and wanted me to go shopping with them to offer my opinion on clothing. At REI (my favorite retail outlet outside of the year of rewilding), a purple, plaid, flannel shirt called to me with a power that mimicked, I imagine, the Flower’s allure for the Bee. Much to my surprise, desire for that shirt consumed me, along with its soft promise of warmth and coziness for the upcoming cooler months. It took almost every ounce of my willpower to walk out of the store without that shirt.

Later, at Target, I was smitten by Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day cleaning products, as I reminisced about the delicious smells of lavender, verbena, geranium, etc. that delightfully infuse the house during their use. After almost six months of rewilding, the discovery of the consumerist succubus still in possession of my psyche was unsettling.

I also confess to having stretched the rewilding rules. Based on doctor’s orders that I need to moderate my physical activities to allow my body to heal from long COVID-19 symptoms, I drove to a Fungi workshop this past weekend. The 56-mile round trip by bicycle simply was not in the cards for me. With all the Trees I have planted this year, I have easily offset the carbon footprint of the adventure, but this offsetting doesn’t account for all the other atrocities – social, environmental, political, economic, etc. – complicit with the use of fossil fuels. At some level, I enjoyed the drive – a cheap satisfaction, but one that comes with an incalculable more-than-human cost.

I now feel sullied, aware of all the blood on my hands, that no amount of carbon offsets will wash off. Death dances intimately with life. As apex predators, human lives depend on the deaths of others, but we also have the capacity to foster new life and balance the equation. In the Anthropocene, countless lives meet their end on the altar of convenience. On foot or on my bike, I am in the world, wind on my face, smells of Flowers and exhaust, rain or sun chilling and warming, respectively. In the car, I race through existence, sheltered within a mechanical shell, spewing impacts, with limited connection to the world around me. I note the contrast between these two states of being. The car offers expediency, a necessity in western life where one must get to work on time and hurry to purchase the necessities of life that cannot be procured naturally since (tragically and ironically) most productive hours are spent laboring to procure the money needed to buy those necessities. Walking and biking, on the other hand, foster connection – foot with Earth, Air with lungs, Birdsong with ear. The convenience of the former mode of transportation sacrifices the relationality of the latter.

When I am truly in the world, my desire for speed, trinkets, and manufactured fragrance dissipates. When I am rushed, overwhelmed, busy with the mundane tasks of modern human life, a chasm opens where relationship with the world should be. In that state of mind, plaid shirts and Mrs. Meyer’s Clean Day tempt me with the mirage that they too can offer comfort, connection, and an olfactory feast for the senses; but they pale in comparison with connection with my loved ones, the smell of Air when it rains, the sight of Butterfly engaged in an erotic dance among the Flowers, and the soft touch of my furry roommates at the end of a well-spent day.




Bekoff, M. (2001). The Evolution of Animal Play, Emotions, and Social Morality: On science, theology, spirituality, personhood, and love. Zygon, 36(4), 615-655.

Mathews, F. (2021). The Ecological Self (Routledge Classics ed.): Routledge.

Merchant, C. (1980). The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and Revolution: Harper Collins.

Prum, R. O. (2017). The evolution of beauty: How Darwin’s forgotten theory of mate choice shapes the animal world-and us: Anchor.

Spretnak, C. (1991). States of Grace: The recovery of meaning in the Postmodern age: Harper San Francisco.

Weber, A. (2014). Matter and Desire: An erotic ecology: Chelsea Green.




*Throughout this website, I will use capital letters for the names of more-than-humans to signal their personhood.


Five Months of Becoming Wild – Summertime Changes in Self and Land

Five Months of Becoming Wild – Summertime Changes in Self and Land

This past week marked five months of rewilding. Almost half the year has slipped into the deep time of history at timescales raging from the flap of a Hummingbird’s wings to the lethargic flow of a sludgy River. Generally, these past five months seem fleeting, not long enough to do everything I think I should be doing and achieving. Linear time within the confines of one year now seems too short to allow for a thorough transformation of self and Land.

14th August, 2022: I dream that I am wandering around the tip of Patagonia. Gazing northward, I can see the entirety of South and North America, as if from a Bird’s eye view. A road runs the entire length of the continental Landmasses, from the southernmost tip, where Land meets the Drake Passage, to the North Slope of Alaska merging into the Arctic Ocean. I know I must travel this route in its entirety on my bicycle, and I worry about the condition of the road and if it will be passable. 

Having migrated from East (direction of Spring and new beginnings), I now find myself fully entrenched in the South – domain of Summer, heat, wildness, physicality, and action – summoned, as if by an invisible force, to the physical embodiment of being and doing with the Land. Bill Plotkin (2013) refers to the Summer-aligned South facet of the soul as “the Wild Indigenous One,” the part of our being that longs for the integration of our carnal bodies within their natural home. But the programming of generations of western lifetimes, culminating in my own, resists falling away. The entangled, capitalist, “civilized” axiology that equates cognitive productivity to a person’s self-worth hijacks the gray matter of my subconscious where simultaneously the wild one is trying to claw her way through the slippery shadows back to the surface. Freya Mathews (2021) notes:

 …attitudes to the body inform the whole structure of values which shape present-day society; they are reflected in the distribution of social value and reward over occupations: the highest rewards in both material and prestige terms, accrue to the ‘white collar’ occupations and the professions, the lowest to the ‘blue collar’ and ‘manual’ occupations…We ignore the impulse of our body towards fulfilment and well-being, substituting cognitive ends (ego goals) for bodily ones (pp. 32-33).

 As Summer hearkens to my Wild Indigenous One, she revolts against the tyranny of desk, computer, and chair. Dirt calls my hands, and I revel in digging, tending and planting, as my sweat and energy seem to merge with the wellspring of enthusiastic bursting forth. The Land’s genius crafts Meadow where former Lawn once subdued diverse abundance, and new members join the community – Queen Anne’s Lace Daucus carota, Goldenrod Solidago spp., Asters Aster spp., Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis, Wild Rose Rosa carolina, and Grasses galore. Forest regenerates at the Meadow’s edge, and young volunteers of Black Walnut Juglans nigra, various Oak and Maple species (Quercus spp., Maple Acer spp.), Black Locust Robinia pseudoacacia, and Wild Cherry Prunus seritonia move into the spaces created by selectively removing non-native species. Stinging and other Pollinators fill the air everywhere, introducing a confounding combination of dazzling beauty and itchy suffering.

At the edges between Meadow and Forest, I work (sometimes with human helper and friend Kimberly) to co-create permaculture guilds with Fruit Trees, nitrogen fixers, nutrient accumulators, and Pollinator-friendly species (Canty, 2017). These constructed relationships flourish, inspiring me with what can be created via human and more-than-human collaboration, but I also struggle with age-old issues of human domination over Nature. Despite the ecological principles underpinning permaculture, I wonder where one draws the line between being a steward and helper and being a controlling colonizer?

 I confess to several actions that challenge the principles of co-operative inquiry. While watching and learning from the more-than-human world informs permaculture, the craft then imposes entirely human-conceived designs upon Land (Bradley et al., 2017; Hemenway, 2000). The guilds I have designed encourage non-native Cherry, Apple, and Peach to naturalize and behave in wild ways, fostering relationships with Black Locust (a native nitrogen fixer), Mountain Mint (a native natural deterrent to Deer and Groundhogs) and myriad native, Pollinator-friendly Wildflowers. In imposing these guilds in the borderland spaces between the recovering Forest and Meadow, I stretch deep ecology’s axiological underpinning of biocentric equality (Devall & Sessions, 1985; Naess, 1973), effectively placing the introduced Plants’ interests above the interests of the Grasses they replace. And, If I am honest with myself, I observe a certain self-satisfaction from yanking Tree of Heaven Ailanthus altissima and Asian Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus out of the ground and killing them. I recognize that in western tradition, I have labelled them as “Other,” thereby condemning them to a category that justifies treating them as “less-than” the other community members (Arnds, 2020; Ghosh, 2021).

Having operated for decades as a western traditional scientist, I find myself defaulting to objectivist epistemologies, or ways of knowing, to inform my actions. Tree of Heaven saplings are allelopathic, emitting chemicals from their roots and leaves that inhibit the growth of other Plants. In the absence of mowing, they were poised to become the dominant species in rewilding spaces. I can only assume that Tree of Heaven does not agree with my top-down, executive decision to control them, but I do cling to the hope that others in the community will approve. In the absence of being able to know what everyone wants, I justify my actions with Aldo Leopold’s (1949) Land ethic: That which serves the interests of the wild whole, supersedes that which undermines those same interests. Western science colors my decisions, as I strive to implement a hybrid rewilding methodology, blending knowledge from co-researchers’ wild perspectives to serve the interests of the vast majority, if not all.

Such methods are nothing new. Indigenous researchers have always embraced diverse epistemologies (Bastian et al., 2017; Cajete, 2004; Poelina et al., 2020; Wooltorton et al., 2020), “…merging ideas and concepts and in effect creat[ing] new sciences which weld together the bodies of knowledge which should not have been separated in the first place” (Deloria, 1992, p. 36). In other words, when Rene Descartes hypothesized in the 17th Century that humans alone possess the power of reason, elevating that form of meaning-making as the only legitimate path to knowledge, he unleashed a stifling force upon the planet that effectively silenced the myriad voices of the wild world, along with the diverse humans who live among them (Mathews, 2021; Merchant, 1980; Spretnak, 1991). As a white, western settler, constant vigilance must attend to what I have discovered is my unconscious, “rational” impulse to “shaping” the Land. As I let go of that control, a stunning and diverse community moves in to fill the sterile, lonely, and vacuous spaces once occupied by the hubris of my human exceptionalism.

As I write this, a Doe and her two Fawns (Odocoileus virginianus) meander slowly past my office window. The Doe gazes at me, seemingly unafraid, as if calling me, so I follow her outside. The two little ones are skittish in my presence, but when they notice that mom seems undeterred, they settle down to nibble on some Sochan Rudbeckia laciniata and Beans I planted as nitrogen fixers in a Black Walnut guild. Mom and I stare at each other for a few minutes. She twitches her ears, flares her nostrils a few times to catch my scent, and then flicks her tail, turning her attention to browsing Grasses and Wildflowers in the rewilding Meadow.

At one time, I would have shooed them or unleashed Goober to run them off, but after five months of rewilding and sharing the Land, I have not starved. I know the Land can support us all, even if it means I will have fewer Beans. I get joy from knowing the little Fawns will perhaps have a better chance of surviving the Winter as a result of my contributions to this community. A wellspring of love and hope grows within me for this new family of friends, as they too get to know and accept me as part of this Place.

Deer co-researchers used to roam and browse cautiously along the edge of the Forest, but they, along with Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo, Eastern Cottontails Sylvilagus floridanus, Eastern Meadow Voles Microtus pennsylvanicus, and Eastern Gray Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis, now lay claim to this Land everywhere, including right up to the edge of the house. Yesterday, a Mother Turkey and her Chick knocked on the bedroom door in search of Corn that I often leave out as an offering and incentive to Squirrels to keep them from pillaging Bird feeders. The Turkeys cautiously shuffled away a few meters while I tossed a handful on the ground. Mama Turkey clucked and cocked her head from side to side, assessing my intent. Once I was safely (in her opinion) behind the screen door, she led her Chick to the Corn, and I received in return the priceless gift of watching and being with them until they had eaten their fill.




Arnds, P. (2020). Rewilding the world in the postcolonial age: On the nexus between cultural production and species politics. Journal of Postcolonial Writing, 56(4), 568-582.

Bastian, M., Jones, O., Moore, N., & Roe, E. (2017). Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds: Routledge.

Bradley, P., Hill, A., Kirker, L., Van Houten, A., Lamy, J., Kenney, J., & Kuzmitch, L. (2017). Habitat Restoration Through Permaculture and Agroforestry in Southern Belize.

Cajete, G. (2004). Philosophy of native science. American Indian thought, 45-57.

Canty, J. M. (2017). Introduction. In J. M. Canty (Ed.), Ecological and Social Healing: Multicultural women’s voices: Routledge.

Deloria, V. (1992). Relativity, relatedness and reality. Winds of Change, 7(4), 34-40.

Devall, B., & Sessions, G. (1985). Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered: Gibbs Smith.

Ghosh, A. (2021). The Nutmeg’s Curse – Parables for a planet in crisis: University of Chicago Press.

Hemenway, T. (2000). Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture. White River Junction, VT: Chelsea Green.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac: With essays on conservation from Round River: Oxford University Press.

Mathews, F. (2021). The Ecological Self (Routledge Classics ed.): Routledge.

Merchant, C. (1980). The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and Revolution: Harper Collins.

Naess, A. (1973). The shallow and the deep, long‐range ecology movement. A summary. Inquiry, 16(1-4), 95-100.

Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild Mind: A field guide to the human psyche: New World Library.

Poelina, A., Wooltorton, S., Harben, S., Collard, L., Horwitz, P., & Palmer, D. (2020). Feeling and Hearing Country. In Press.

Spretnak, C. (1991). States of Grace: The recovery of meaning in the Postmodern age: Harper San Francisco.

Wooltorton, S., Collard, L., Horwitz, P., Poelina, A., & Palmer, D. (2020). Sharing a place-based indigenous methodology and learnings. Environmental Education Research, 26(7), 917-934.

100 Days – Rewilding Land and Self

100 Days – Rewilding Land and Self

Tuesday marked 100 days of rewilding. For the past six weeks or so, writing duties nagged at the back of my mind – I should be writing a blog post and working on dissertation research – but the draw of the outdoors proved irresistible. As the world started to awaken and burst forth at Beltane with the exuberance of late spring, a primal urge to dig in dirt, plant seeds, and generally spend most waking hours outside overtook all my best scholarly intentions. I wonder if my rewilding psyche, withdrawing from an unhealthy addiction to electronic stimulus and other continuous distractions, now yearns to align more naturally with seasonal cycles. The Birds and Squirrels reported that late spring and early summer demand time for doing. Spending each day within the flesh of my body’s physicality, as I worked with more-than-human co-researchers to rewild the Land, felt like an imperative, not to be ignored. So, I went with it. As the wheel of the year turns again, and we enter the long, warm days past the Summer Solstice, the heat of midday once again drives me indoors. The computer and the research now seem approachable. The weeds, unlike the planting of seeds, can wait. Urgency fades, and I find myself moving again towards writing. Where to begin?

Changes occur within and without. A view of branches and sky, once filled with only the anticipation of budding trees, now dazzles with leafy green ebullience. Left to their own devices, the Land wildly designs, with a broad palette of both desirable and undesirable species (from a human perspective). In addition to the Goldenrod Solidago spp., Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis, Daisy Chrysanthemum leucanthemum, Joe Pye Eupatorium fistulosum, and other native Plants; non-natives, such as Tree of Heaven (ToH) Ailanthus altissima (or Hell, as I have come to think of it) and Asian Bittersweet Celastrus orbiculatus, threaten to entirely subsume some areas.

Bittersweet strangles and kills the hosts it twines itself around, and ToH is allelopathic, killing competing plants via chemical weapons produced in leaves and roots. If I recognize the agency of Bittersweet and ToH, and their right to exist, then how can I justify killing them? I have decided to subscribe to both the North American Indigenous imperative to honor all beings (Benton-Banai, 1988) and to Aldo Leopold’s axiology that determines an action to be ethical when it supports, protects, and enhances the natural world (including humans) (Leopold, 1949). At a recent basket weaving workshop at the Firefly Gathering, taught by Nancy Basket (a Cherokee elder), she expressed the view that all Plants (and all beings) have a purpose. She urged us to rethink our definitions and preconceptions of “invasive” species and view them instead as abundant producers, just begging to be put to work. Our lives depend on deaths of others, be they Plants or Animals, every day, but those deaths can be purposeful and honored (Kimmerer, 2013). Bittersweet seems to lend themself nicely to weaving of all kinds. I am still trying to discover how ToH can be useful.

The Critter population also booms. The former lawn, now a promising Meadow, reaches waist-high and shelters families of Rabbits, Turkeys, and Groundhogs. Indigo Bunting, Brown Thrasher and Flicker, all newcomers to the Land, also join the fray. The Tomatoes and Three Sisters (that haven’t been decimated by Groundhogs) set fruit, bean, and cob, promising an abundant harvest soon, and the permaculture guilds I developed along borders (with significant help from friend and worker extraordinaire Kimberly) establish themselves and settle into their new, permanent, perennial homes.   

I am changing too. After two years of living encumbered by long covid, my body now remembers its strength, agility, and overall sense of well-being. I have lost 13 pounds (without trying to do so), and my doctor says she wishes all her patients had my blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Psychologically, however, the baseline resists change. Despite feeling less anxious, I find my usual neuroses and triggers persist. To ripen into my full wildness, I must also recover and embrace the aspects of my psyche living in the shadows of the dominant worldview and dissociated via childhood traumas and cultural programming. Bill Plotkin (2013) says that in order to heal the planet, humans must first heal themselves. Therefore, in the interest of being fully available for the work that calls me in the world, I decided to take the plunge into the hidden psychological wilderness of my unconscious mind, and with the arrival of the Super Flower Blood Moon, I brewed myself a strong decoction of Mugwort Artemisia vulgaris, an Herb known to stimulate powerful and lucid dreams, and fell asleep under the eclipsed Moon. 

My partner of 34 years, Simon, and I are looking for a house to live in. I want to build a secluded place in the Woods, but he informs me that he has already agreed to buy a house in a neighborhood with a group of friends. The neighborhood, Leeward, in the Turks and Caicos Islands, is a trendy location for an elite few. I cringe at the thought but nevertheless agree to give it a go.

 The house borders the Ocean, and when I step outside, I discover the Sea lapping at the house’s foundation. I say to Simon, “We can’t live here! If it looks like this on a calm day, what is going to happen with global Sea rise or a Tropical Cyclone?” Fortunately, he agrees with me, and we inform our friend that we cannot go through with the deal. Our friend (who is not this way in real life) furiously starts lambasting me, accusing me of spreading deliberately alarming climate change “conspiracy” theories and telling Simon how stupid he is to listen to me and miss out on such an excellent investment opportunity. Persuading our friend of the risk inherent in building homes on the Ocean’s doorstep is futile. His financial projections outweigh any climate reality.

 Simon and I find another place to stay temporarily in a communal home shared with several other people. While I am unloading my few belongings into a closet, Cindy Crawford (supermodel) appears wearing nothing but a diaper. She says, “I thought I heard someone down here, so I just threw on the first thing I could find.”

 I went to sleep with the mysteries of the hidden world on my mind and upon awaking, initially interpreted my dream as a revelation about how Western culture relegates environmental truths and ecological imperatives to the shadows, focusing instead on profit margins and investment opportunities while the world burns, forests are razed, and a rising ocean threatens to subsume us. Cindy Crawford, a symbolic pinnacle of the culture’s fascination with superficial appearances, wears a diaper, suggestively covering her root and sacral chakras, representing early childhood and adolescent development and rootedness and belonging, respectively. The world’s major religions and myriad Indigenous cultures teach that practicing reciprocity, kindness, and generosity represents the pinnacle of human spiritual development. In contrast, Western culture rewards taking and hoarding of “resources,” selfishness, and “looking out for number one,” immature impulses arising from feelings of insecurity (root chakra) and fractured notions of belonging (sacral chakra).  

I thought my dream reflected the shadows of the dominant culture; however, being aware that dreams more often than not reveal truths from within oneself (Plotkin, 2013; Zadra & Stickgold, 2021), I committed to keeping my mind open to other possibilities. A few weeks later, on the Summer Solstice, I was outside offering water to some Plant co-researchers and ran into my human neighbor who was also watering. “What are you growing?” I asked. “Nandina” (Nandina domestica – an invasive ornamental floral species that is toxic to Birds) she replied. “While I have you here,” she added, “I was wondering if I could cut down that Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) in your yard. It’s spreading all over my property.” After explaining Virginia Creeper’s native status and usefulness to Wildlife, including Birds, Opossums, and Racoons, I said “sure” and then proceeding to tell her how to do it, thereby violating every tenet of my rewilding project. Later, an irate Bumblebee Bombus spp. accosted me and stung me three times. I didn’t even know Bumblebees could sting, given their typical docile nature.

 As I went inside to nurse my stings and sit with my own confusing behavior, I had a revelation. Although my neighbor, with her Virginia Creeper-free lawn and non-native, Bird-killing flora, could be accused of subscribing to ecologically unsound cultural landscaping norms, I crumbled at the first human challenge to the rewilding project. Although I think of myself as an independent outsider, Virginia Creeper and Bumblebee showed me that deep within my psychic shadows, my unconscious insecurity and need for tribal acceptance can overrule even my most strongly held values. I wrote my neighbor a note and told her I had changed my mind. My more-than-human co-researchers showed me the path of humility. Despite my self-aggrandizing feelings (courtesy of a privileged elite education) of ecological superiority, I need to start from the root – the most basic, infantile, and utterly human parts of myself – and work my way towards wildness from there. I am an experienced and knowledgeable environmental scientist and compassionate rewilder, but I am Cindy Crawford in a diaper too.






Benton-Banai, E. (1988). The Mishomis Book: The voice of the Ojibway: University of Minnesota Press.

Kimmerer, R. (2013). Braiding Sweetgrass: Milkweed Editions.

Leopold, A. (1949). A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There: Oxford University Press.

Plotkin, B. (2013). Wild Mind: A field guide to the human psyche: New World Library.

Zadra, A., & Stickgold, R. (2021). When Brains Dream: Exploring the science and mystery of sleep: Norton.


Week 7 – Staying with the trouble of ecological “discomforts”

Week 7 – Staying with the trouble of ecological “discomforts”

As Lawn morphs into Meadow (probably much to my neighbors’ chagrin), Wild Ones move into this suburban Asheville Land. Rewilding seems to be working from an ecological standpoint, and the fecundity of late spring ushers in a flurry of Animal activities amongst the Wildflowers, Grasses, Clover, and more than a few invasive species. As I wander, admiring the diverse varieties of pollinating Bees and Butterflies, I disturb a nest of tiny Eastern Cottontail Bunnies Sylvilagus floridanus. I quickly back away, fearing that Goober, my Canine friend (who is an unfortunately avid hunter of little furry beings), might notice my discovery. Later, I observe their mother enjoying the Lettuces, Cabbages, and Kale in the raised garden beds. I have more leafy greens than I can eat right now, and have been sharing them with humans wherever I can, so I don’t mind also sharing them with the charismatic, cute, and adorable Bunnies who also live here.

 Later in the day, I notice a Crabapple Tree (whose abundance of newly formed little Apples had me prematurely and joyously thinking of future cider and preserves) has been stripped of its leaves and immature fruit by a browsing family of White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus. And a Groundhog Marmota monax, who has recently taken up residence under the shed, doesn’t share the polite manners of the Bunnies when it comes to food distribution. Rather than nibbling delicately at a few leaves and then wandering off to enjoy some Meadow grazing, he yanks entire Plants out by the roots, consuming them with impressive, albeit alarming, comprehensiveness.

My cultural programming immediately seeks to divide these discomforting relationships with more-than-human co-residents into binaries of “good” and “bad” and seeks a “solution” to control or solve perceived problems.  Should I build fences? Leave Goober to solve the Groundhog “problem,” while simultaneously hoping he leaves the Bunnies alone? Trends in “rewilding” tend to portray a return to wildness with exclusively positive narratives (Li, 2018; Mortali, 2019). We are told that getting out into nature is good for our health and overall well-being and that the reintroduction of keystone species, such as Wolves, boosts ecosystem health and restores biodiversity (Bekoff, 2014; Foreman, 2021; Monbiot, 2017).

These stories carry elements of truth, but in places, such as Europe (and my backyard), where rewilding is currently taking place, the complexities of inviting the Wild Folx back into historically domesticated, human-controlled spaces are revealing themselves (Tokarski, 2019).

My chosen methodological approach to rewilding, co-operative inquiry, demands that what matters to co-researchers/co-inhabitants is not only accounted for but awarded equal weight to my own concerns (Bastian, Jones, Moore, & Roe, 2017), further complicating issues of competing interests with Deer and Groundhogs. A well-ingrained sense of human exceptionalism thinks in possessive terms – my Land, my Crabapple Tree, my Crops – but in order to foster not only my own flourishing but also to work with Others to foster theirs, I need to challenge the impulses of binary thinking that would label these interactions as entirely problematic and “stay with the trouble” (Haraway, 2016) of the complexities of wildness returning to this Land.

I wonder if the psychological bifurcation of the “bad” aspects of Wildlife might cause humans to overreact to uncomfortable engagements with more-than-humans, such as by killing Groundhogs (which is legal in North Carolina, while relocating them is not) and erecting eight-foot-tall fences (which is the most-recommended solution on the internet to deal with Deer in the garden). Furthermore, seeing the wild world through the exclusively positive, rose-colored lenses of new age psychobabble, “we turn them into objects of admiration, beautiful and majestic, but still passive objects; or into ecosystem engineers, almost robotic in their efficiency. What we lose is the sense of these [A]nimals as independent agents that do not necessarily conform to our ideas and desires” (Tokarski, 2019, p. 59).  Pigeonholed viewpoints based on ideas, as opposed to real world relationships, prevent us from seeing the natural world in a holistic way that could lead to “possibilities of partial recuperation and getting on together” (Haraway, 2016, p. 10).

 As I rewild with the Land and all its inhabitants, and I dig into and deconstruct my conditioned responses to “problems,” myriad complexities reveal themselves: 

“…what seems needed to better understand the potential consequences of rewilding are approaches that seriously reflect on the resistance of nature and its disconcerting agency, the possibilities of coexistence with such agency, and the significance it acquires in our lives and in shaping our relations with nature. It is particularly the problematic aspects of living with such agency that form a challenge that we find difficult to accommodate and so must pay attention to—perhaps much more than we have so far” (Tokarski, 2019, p. 13).

Mateusz Tokarski (2019) suggests a hermeneutical approach, focusing on meaning, to attend to rewilding discomforts. In contemplating and researching meanings, I discover that for some North American Indigenous people, Deer represent the power of gentleness and unconditional love as opposed to force to foster flourishing (Andrews, 2010). In the tales of King Arthur, a White Stag leads knights of the round table toward the mysteries of their own essential wildness. In Indigenous European lore, the Celtic goddess of the Wilds, Flidass, drives a chariot driven by Deer (Ozurrson, 2018). The aptness of these meanings does not escape me. As I seek to shed my own cloak of domesticated conditioning, I must also learn to get along with the needs and interests of Deer and Groundhog co-researchers with an unconditional love that seeks to know them holistically – good, bad, and otherwise.

 I cannot and would not want to speak for Deer or Groundhog, but in considering what matters to them, I think it’s safe to assume that they want what all living beings want – access to food and shelter, safety for themselves and their families, an occasional treat, and spaces that allow for their own self-realization, whatever that may entail.  Groundhog is a complex, agentic being, both adorable and somewhat annoying, with a taste preference for cruciferous crops. I can protect early sprouts of Broccoli, Cabbage, Collards, and Cauliflower from him, allowing them time to grow for us both. Neither one of us will starve because of this delayed gratification. His existence is more precarious than mine, particularly with the ever-looming threat of Goober. My humanness allows me to offer him protection and safety, and by allowing this Land to rewild, plenty of wild food to enjoy while the Vegetables mature. This Land is his home as much as it is mine.

Unlike the sedentary Groundhog who lives only on this Land, the Deer range across a wider habitat. In watching them, I note the Land functions as a corridor for them, connecting two forested areas where they spend most of their time. They almost always take the same route, browsing whatever they find along the way. My human gift for reasoning suggests that I should probably find a different location for Crabapple. I can also plant other floral species to strategically attract and discourage Deer, thus ensuring their continued well-being, while at the same time protecting my own interests and increasing overall carrying capacities for other Wildlife.

I will certainly miss those Crabapples this autumn. Living together with Wild Folx, like relationships with all people, are complicated and not always perfect. The World Wildlife Fund (2016) estimates Mammal, Reptile, Bird, and Amphibian populations have been reduced by 68% since 1970. In 50 years, more than half of these sentient beings have been sacrificed on the altar of human greed, obliviousness, and selfishness. The least I can do is stay with the trouble and do my best to be a good neighbor.   



Andrews, T. (2010). Animal Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small: Llewellyn

Bastian, M., Jones, O., Moore, N., & Roe, E. (2017). Participatory Research in More-than-Human Worlds: Routledge.

Bekoff, M. (2014). Rewilding our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence: New World Library.

Foreman, D. (2021). The Wildlands Project and the Rewilding of North America. Denver Law Review, 76(2), 535-553.

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene: Duke University Press.

Li, Q. (2018). Forest Bathing: How trees can help you find health and happiness: Viking.

Monbiot, G. (2017). Feral: Rewilding the land, the sea, and human life: The University of Chicago Press.

Mortali, M. (2019). Rewilding: Meditations, Practices, and Skills for Awakening in Nature: Sounds True.

Ozurrson, H. (2018). The Great Hunt: The historical perspective and themes in the mythology of the White Stag.  Retrieved from http://codextwobears.blogspot.com/2018/06/the-great-hunt-historical-perspective.html

Tokarski, M. (2019). Hermeneutics of Human-Animal Relations in the Wake of Rewilding: The ethical guide to ecological discomforts: Springer.

WWF. (2016). Living Planet Report 2016. Risk and resilience in a new era. In (pp. 74): World Wildlife Fund International.



*Throughout this website, I will use capital letters for the names of more-than-humans to signal their personhood.