The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

Honoring the Predators: A Story of Reconnection May 14, 2016

My last beekeeping post told a the tale of my two bee colonies destroyed by colony collapse disorder. I had hoped to have better news to share about my beekeeping endeavors this year. And things started well enough: a friend removed some bees from a house that was to be torn down and gave them to me; I moved my hive to a new location and setup the hive in a friend’s yard, and then I was able to setup an empty hive with the hopes of catching a second swarm. But, unfortunately, this tale has a different end, and a different lesson. The bees were doing great, I had just added honey supers a few weeks ago, and I was expecting a ton of honey from such a strong colony and then–the bear came. I have read about bears taking out beehives, but I have never talked with anyone that had this happen. My friend had never seen a bear, and there were no reports of them in the area, but clearly, one was nearby! The bear ripped open the hive, and, in the middle of a rainstorm, flung the colony all over the place as he had his meal. Bears go for honey, but especially, for the brood: the bees’ young larvae and pupae are very protein rich. And so, this was the scene that greeted my friend when she woke up, and the scene that greeted me when I arrived to see what could be salvaged.

Destroyed Beehives

Destroyed Beehives

Two of us worked for most of the day to salvage what we could. The bees that remained were soaking and, since it was only about 50 that day, very cold. The equipment was soaked, and I had no idea if the queen had survived. I thought it likely the bear would return, so I spoke to various friends in a desperate effort to move the hives before dark. I wasn’t able to secure a location, and since it is illegal to have bees inside of town limits, we instead drove many pieces of rebar around the hive, wired it up, strapped it shut, and hoped for the best. I wish now I had just stuck them on my porch for a day or two until I could figure out where to move them and risked the citation. Unfortunately, the bear came back, and while we made it harder for him to get inside, he still did, demolishing what was left of the hive.

 

The end of this tale is a bit better–although there weren’t many bees left after the second bear visit, we salvaged what was left: the queen and about 5000 of her workers. We borrowed a travel box from a friend, and we saved every bee we could, gently helping them into the hive box. A fellow beekeeping friend has a number of hives, so he had brood and resources to help them get back to health. They are now back on their way to a strong colony again, and they are protected from bears. All the beekeepers in the  area are on alert now about bears, thanks to my hive. This whole event has given me much to think about and meditate upon, and a variety of lessons  to consider–and today, the lesson is honoring the predators.

 

It’s ironic that this the lesson I am exploring, because the the hives were torn apart on the early morning hours of May 2nd. The day before was May 1st – Beltane. I met with a new friend, a woman who had dedicated her life to the work of the goddesses, and we got together to do a Beltane ceremony. As part of our first ceremony, each of us brought some things from our respective traditions to share with each other. One of the things she brought were offerings, including an offering honoring the predators. She made her offering and spoke beautifully about the predators, their role, the goddesses connected to them. In my mind, I was certainly not honoring the predators. All of my experiences with predators as a homesteader were negative: the hawk that swooped down to kill many of my dear chickens, including taking a peep right from in front of me. The dead chicken bodies I found as the hawk flew off after eating a meal. I remember the evidence of the badger that ripped my coop open one night and drug off my beloved rooster (an event I still haven’t written about), the snakes by the pond swallowing frogs whole, their peeping and screeching noises going on for over an hour till the snake finally finished its meal.

 

As my friend spoke so beautifully about the predators, I was instead filled with these images of predators and how I spent so much of my own time over the last few years keeping them away from things I loved. And then, that next morning–the largest predator of all in this area–the bear–came and feasted upon my beehive.

 

I have reminisced in the weeks that have passed since the hive was eaten that I really do have a problem honoring the predators–and that’s a problem with me, not a problem with the predators. And the predators, in their own way, will make themselves known and continue to show up in my life until I am able to honor them. And so, to help myself come to terms with the loss, I thought I’d write about the predators and, finally, begin to do the work of honoring them.

 

Cultural Problems with Predators

We learn about predators in school in really scientific ways: predators sit at the top of the food chain; they are carnivorous, eating only the flesh of other creatures; they may be solitary or run in packs. We learn about predators from the local news: a hiker was mauled by a bear, a swimmer was eaten by a shark, a pack of coyotes killed a number of neighborhood dogs. We learn about human predators, who we view as the worst kind of people: those who stalk, kill, harm and maim others. This, term perhaps shows us the cultural view of the predator, that we take this term and we attach it to heinous actions that are in no way comparable to a bear or a fox taking a meal. I think I was viewing the predators that had eaten the bees, the chickens, and so forth in the same way: you, predator, have taken something I value, you have taken a life. You have done me wrong and have done wrong to others.  But this is not the lesson of the predator, not the lesson at all.

 

Nature’s Wisdom

Sometimes, those of us, especially those in nature-based spiritual paths, want to see nature as all roses, all pretty trees, all little birds signing. But roses have thorns, the trees compete for light, and the birds sometimes knock each other’s eggs out of nests. Like everything else, they are working to survive by any means possible. A forest is full of both competition for resources and cooperation. I’m reminded here of the lesson of the many medicinal mushrooms of the woods (and you can read some of this in Tradd Cotter’s book; he gave a fascinating talk on this subject last year at the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, PA.) The medicinal qualities–particularly the anti-cancer, anti-microbial qualities–of mushrooms like birch polypore, turkey tail, or reishi are based on their growth in natural environments, where mushrooms have to compete to survive. Tradd gave an example in his talk of a petri dish that he was working on that had birch polypore in it–he had dropped something nasty into it (e-coli, I think) and was amazed to see how the birch polypore exuded an anti-fungal agent to combat it, and surround it, and eventually subdue it using what was essentially chemical warfare. That same chemical constituent, when taken within, helps us fight a number of diseases. If the mushrooms are grown in a lab or in a controlled setting, their medicinal value drops significantly–because they don’t have the natural competition of all of the other bacteria and others in the fungal kingdom. These mushrooms aren’t predators in the traditional (animalistic) sense, but they certainly  have similar qualities and offer similar lessons.

Tradd Cotter teaching us about mushrooms

Tradd Cotter teaching us about mushrooms

Predator Patterns and Restoration Agriculture

The truth is, predators are a key part of nature, and without them, we lose a greater part of the whole and the entire ecosystem suffers. Recently, farmers and activists in permaculture design and in sustainable agriculture have been reintroducing predator-driven graze patterns to help regenerate agricultural lands. These patterns, set by millions of years of evolution, are now mimicked by humans on farms to move herd animals through various terrain. This work is perhaps best illustrated by the work of Joel Salatin at Polyface farm (see Polyfaces) and Mark Sheppard at New Forest Farm (see his book Restoration Agriculture or the film Inhabit). The principle of understanding why traditional graze patterns is simple: if you’ve ever visited a chicken run or petting zoo, you see what happens when animals are fenced in the same area for a long period of time. They first eat their favorite food, then nibble down to the less desirable greenery, and finally, eat whatever is left, leaving bare soil.  This is what happens in a stationary system, rather than one driven by predators.

 

Rather than fencing animals in the same spot, folks like Salatin and Sheppard carefully rotate their herd animals  among large tracts of land in traditional grazing patterns. Mark Sheppard has his system so effectively designed that every different animal (cows, pigs, geese, chickens) move through a patch and quickly out of it in only a few days time. As the herds are rotated, each animal gets it’s own best “first bite.” This technique encourages the grass to stay alive, and to shed carbon (as the grass is bitten down, it sheds roots to accommodate it’s smaller size, and that sinks carbon into the topsoil, enriching it). This, friends, is why prior to the settling of the USA by Europeans, the prairies had soil horizons that were 12 feet deep of rich topsoil: it was millennia of herds moving quickly through areas, driven by predators. Predators, then, are responsible for herd movements that can literally sequester carbon and stop climate change. Farmers interested in regenerative agriculture are using these same methods to sequester tens of thousands of pounds of carbon each year.  Salatin has compelling evidence tha  if every US farmer who raises any grazing animal used these techniques, we could sink all of the carbon the USA has ever emitted in less than 10 years.

 

This is the power of the predator, and this one of many reasons that they are deserving of our respect.

 

There are other examples of this as well. I’m sure that many of you saw the video about Yellowstone Park, where it was shown that the re-introduction of wolves changed the whole ecosystem because of the movement of herds.  The wolves were able, as the video suggests, change the movement of herds, which changed rivers, and helped regenerate the entire ecosystem. (There are some new articles that suggest that this video exaggerates the claims a bit, but I am still inclined to believe that a whole ecosystem, with it’s predators intact, is a more robust and healthy ecosystem). Without predators as a part of the ecosystem, all suffer.

 

Predators and Inner Lessons

The outer lessons, above, are clearer the more I write and think about them, but I would also like to spend a few moments on the inner lessons that the predators offer. I, like many, saw predators as a nuisance, as something to keep away, as something you don’t want to see flying above the skies or slinking through the grass.  But predators have another message–they are awareness medicine.

 

The hawks flying overhead made me better protect my chickens, and sent me a powerful message about defenses, about being vigilant, and about not letting my guard down. If my chickens were the tastiest plump morsels around (and they are, they are made of chicken), then I had to change my own relationship with the predators and protect my chickens better. If I lose a chicken to a hawk, this is not the fault of the predator, this is my own lack of vigilance.

 

The badger who broke into my coop, and dragged my beloved rooster off never to be seen again, sent me the message that I was to return to PA to my beloved mountains, a message I have since enacted in my life. The magic of my homestead worked because of my rooster, Anasazi, and without him, I knew it wasn’t going to work in the same way. That powerful message was the last thing I needed to truly move forward in my life.

 

And the bear, who easily took out the beehive during the first evening, and even more skillfully worked his way through wire, rebar, straps, and more, teaches me the lesson that the predators need to be honored. To be respected. They are there, they are present, and there is no getting around their message.  They are there whether or not we want them to be. And it is me, not them, who needs to change my own thoughts and actions .

 

The lessons of the predator are many: power, strength, vigilance, loss, opportunity, precision, healing, defenses, paying attention, cultivating awareness and openness to your surroundings. Friends, readers, what are your experiences with the predators? Do you have any additional lessons to share?

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29 Responses to “Honoring the Predators: A Story of Reconnection”

  1. Dawn Vierra Says:

    Thank you so much for this post Dana. I’m so sorry about your hives. It sounds like you did the best you could under the circumstances. I have gratitude and appreciation for what you have learned and that you are sharing this with us. Much love.

    • Dana Says:

      Thank you, Dawn! I did my best, and I am happy that in the end the colony will survive. That’s the most important. But going there and trying to clean up the mess–twice–yeah, it was hard.

  2. platyzoa Says:

    I really enjoy reading your posts. This makes me think of the wolf culls I’ve been hearing about in different countries. Here in Norway there are often conflicts between wolves and sheep farmers. Sadly for the few wolves that are left, the sheep farmers tend to win. Thank you for sharing your more rational and insightful perspective.

    • Dana Says:

      Thank you for your kind comment. Since you are mentioning it, it’s actually a problem here as well, where it’s often human vs. predators, and the humans win. And now, for example, we have many animals lower on the food chain that are overrunning and overpopulated: deer, for example, are overpopulated in many areas and harm the ecosystem; wild boar, etc.

      • platyzoa Says:

        Exactly, or the opposite problem like in BC where the caribou are struggling and people decide to cull the wolves thinking they are helping the caribou.. when really they should be paying more attention to the destruction of the caribou’s habitat. Nature must be allowed to ebb and flow and maintain it’s dynamic way of keeping balance, but we need to give it space to do so.

        • Dana Says:

          I think that part of this is that people think they must intervene rather than letting nature balance itself. It’s sad to see–we have so little understanding of nature these days, and nearly everything we do is worse than just giving space to let nature self correct :(.

  3. Sandra Says:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom xxx

  4. Karen Fisher Says:

    Wow… I just connected this with a situation in my life involving a human predator. We may refuse to honor scumbags, and rightly so, but there’s still a lesson there about learning to protect ourselves. Thank you so much for posting this.

    • Dana Says:

      I hope everything works out and that you stay safe, Karen.

      • Karen Fisher Says:

        It’s something that happened a long time ago that I still stew about occasionally. The important thing for me is to take the lesson without becoming (too) cynical. Thanks for your concern.

  5. Monica Seuthe Says:

    It may sound campy, but it’s important to respect the circle of life. We are all predators in one way or another. We all consume in order to live. Some creatures consume other creatures like the bear and the bees, and others consume plants. The plants, in turn, consume us, in a way. We become the nutrients for the trees, eventually, through fertilizer.
    Predators are very important. Without them, there is no balance. Without light, there is no dark. Without sadness, you can’t know joy. Without predators, their prey can run unchecked and the scales, out of balance, will show us repercussions. This very thing is the reason most nations restrict the transference of outside flora/fauna. If an animal or plant is introduced that happens to not have a natural predator, it will breed, it will eat, and it will destroy.

  6. Many hard and vital lessons here in your post. It challenges us to really put our beliefs to the test. Do we really believe that it is possible to live together on this planet, in balance, with bears and bees, herbs, fungi, trees, grasses, and even the growing crystals of the earth? Do we really believe that we are moving into an age of partnership and cooperation, instead of hierarchy and domination? And so, how do we do this? I don’t have all of the answers, because I am still learning. Thank you for being such an excellent teacher!

    • Dana Says:

      I think that there will always be both in the world: cooperation and synthesis, as well as hierarchy and domination. Nature offers us that lesson each day, and nature is our best teacher. Whole ecosystems work because of the checks and balances in them, preventing overpopulation of one species (which requires hierarchy, predators) and ensuring balance for all. Humans are at a point where we have, in a severe way, lost our ability to self-regulate. To regain that skill, we must relearn, regrow, rethink our own lives and our relationship to the living earth. That, perhaps, is where the partnership comes in.

      Overall, I don’t think we are moving into an age of anything we, ourselves, don’t work to create. We have a major, unsolvable predicament ahead of us, but I do think that bringing communities and people together is a way to continue to take steps to ethically respond. I hope that makes sense :).

  7. The main predators we have here are cats, some feral, some abandoned. Last summer I saw raccoon spoor. They were apparently drawn by my compost pile. At the same time, a feral cat we call Cinnamon was raising two kittens, and one just disappeared. My wife grilled me until I admitted that, yes, a raccoon would eat a kitten.

    Well, she got pretty murderous about it. I understood, but not only have I been with the woman for over thirty years, I’ve also met raccoons before. I didn’t try to talk her out of killing the raccoon because 1. I couldn’t and 2. I didn’t have to. She staked out the compost, weapon in hand, and came face to face with a creature that’s capable of expressing itself. Dogs aren’t the only animals with eyes that can talk. She couldn’t do it, of course.

    On a side note, the kitten we’d called Ginger was lost, but her brother, Nutmeg, ran between my feet to get inside the house on the night of Samhain last year. He quickly made friends with the indoor cats and, although he was at least 7 months old at the time, acts like he was born in here. We call him Cesar now, because he came, he saw, and he conquered.

    • Dana Says:

      Love the story. I think it’s really hard to see a little one taken away–as in the example of my baby peep. But still, we need to honor that circle of life. I’m glad Cesar has a good home!

  8. Adam Says:

    I’ve often found that when an ecosystem is out of balance one of the biggest problems is almost always lack of appropriate predators, and that introducing them can bring it back to a balance.

    When I had a fruit fly outbreak in my kitchen from some unattended fruit that spread to my worm compost, I had a big problem dealing with it at first. I found the most effective way to deal with them was a combination of predatory nematodes that eat the larvae and relocating a couple of house spiders to build their webs to eat the adults.

    Similarly, in my garden, bringing in lady bugs and praying mantises works well to deal with run away aphid and other pest populations.

    My friends that run a small farm use rehoused semi-feral barn cats to deal with rodents and chickens to keep the insect population from destroying their produce.

    And on the larger, wilder scale, the biggest sign that my families old homestead land is returning to a healthy state is that it can now support a pack of around six wolves. Hearing them take down an elk can be disturbing, but it means that the grasses are returning, trees are growing and land is healthy.

    • Dana Says:

      Thanks for your insights, Adam! I have a bay plant with really bad scales on it which is a predator problem–I’ve been trying to remove them myself, and online you see things like “buy ladybugs, let them eat the scales, and then they will die of lack of food” (nice, huh?) The simple solution (as soon as it stops the crazy weather here) is to put it outside, where it was intended to grow and let nature do its work! Thank you for your comments 🙂

  9. I don’t know if the post or the comments thread was more educational here. Thanks for all this wisdom! I would agree that we humans are predators too. Every creature survives by eating something else, We are all food. This makes us all one. Our chickens live outside our bedroom window, and I have chased raccoons out of our yard–I want them to know that I am the largest predator here. I’m sorry to hear of your losses, I dread losing any of the girls, but I will have to end their lives myself, as we have a small city yard and can only support layers. We thank them for their eggs, and eventually we will thank them for their bodies. And I hope to set a handsome table when it is my turn and I return the body I have borrowed to the earth it came from.

  10. CindyW Says:

    and your post helped me see the human predators that most occupy my thoughts in a different light – not the obvious ones like killers or criminals, but the ones who use their social/economic position to prey on more vulnerable. I am afraid you’re right – we have to honor them, which doesn’t mean surrendering or allowing to rule, but acknowledging and granting a certain amount of respect. Maybe they just have more competitive survival memories that are hard to transform/transmute than us more peaceful ones? in the image of the whole, the appearance of the bear was a good sign, despite its destructive local effect …

  11. taliesin2 Says:

    Reblogged this on The Crane Book of Wisdom.

  12. Patrick Ford Says:

    Thank you Dana. Are we not all predators on some level. I doubt the wheat cries for joy when the harvester slices through. Patrick

  13. Max Rogers Says:

    Hi Dana,
    Very good article and I practise restoration grazing here on Denman with multi-species grazing. It makes the pastures wonderfully fertile. I agree with you that it is the farmer’s responsibility to protect their livestock and produce.

    We do that here with electric fencing to keep the raccoons out of the orchard and garden and electric mesh nets to keep the sheep safe from dogs. i believe you will be able to spare the bears returuning to your state if you encourage the beekeepers to protect their bee yards with portable electric mesh netting such as poultry farmers use. One zap on the bear’s sensitive nose should be all it takes and the bear will not be shot as a problem bear.
    Yours under the red cedar,
    Max

    • Dana Says:

      I think that’s the solution as well, Max. I wasn’t able to put up a fence where I was keeping them before, but when I start again in the future (probably after buying new land), I will fence them for sure!

  14. I have predators on my 5 acres of woodland that backs up to a wildlife corridor. I have planted many natives to feed the wildlife, but also have chickens and raised vegetable beds I call a potager. This year I have an increase in predators and see it as a healthy ecosystem. A hawk took a wild rabbit right in my yard. This winter a mountain lion reared up and looked in my bedroom window. I too have bear. I will build a couple bee hives this week and start the journey of learning. I joined a beekeeping group, and the 2 members who live here in the mountains mentions a small electric fence around my hives to keep the bear out. Ditto for pigs I want to try next year. My chickens have a 2×12 building to sleep in. 4 coyotes were yapping around my coop and only feet from my window. I am glad they did not get my chickens! Or my small dog.
    I use a bit of caution outside. I love every sighting of my predators, scary too. I grew up in the backwoods of Oregon and it seems normal to coexist with predators. One funny scene was several ravens running the hawk off. The Ravens are huge and fly over me in circles watching what I do.
    My bear got caught in a late snowstorm and napped it out in my shed. Game guy came and ran him off for me… well armed. He asked me what a good outcome was. I said that I heard that darted bears almost invariably die in their new locations. He agreed. I said I prefer the bear move out of my shed before he decides it is his shed. He scared the bear out and it ran like crazy, but if it had rushed him, he would have to shoot it.
    Since I moved here, I keep planting bear food and deer food etc. Uphill. Rabbit food, and so on. This area is more settled all the time, their days are numbered. I try to coexist.


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