Wild Thing

It is not often that we receive impromptu lunch invitations. Saved from the prospect of egg sandwiches at Rainbow Bridge, sharing a burger at Vesta or heaven forfend, munching rice crackers and almond butter alone at our desks, Lorrie and I joined Steve and Caroline for lunch at their Sulphur Mountain equestrian estate where they were entertaining our mutual friend, the production designer David Brisbin.

We arrived to find that Tim Cummings, Polixines in Theater 150's recent production of The Winter's Tale (see The Winter's Tale 2010-07-29) - who had been billeted with them for the duration of the run (which ended a week or so ago) would also join us for lunch. The six of us sat down to a Mexican feast contributed by various friends and housekeepers. Their beautiful dog, half wolf, lurked at the margins of the gathering.

David is an American ex-pat living in Vancouver with his partner Laimis. We have known him for twenty years or more. Originally trained as an architect he has had a stellar career in production design and has directed his own film Nice Hat! 5 Enigmas in the Life of Cambodia Canada/ Cambodia, 2005. Color 86 Minutes, which we saw upon its release five years ago in L.A.

Laimis is a Lithuanian Geographer whose field of study is his home town Vilnius - that historically embattled, culturally marbled city at the heart of the European maelstrom. Together, these global citizens live in Vancouver at the western edge of the Canadian Universe where 'niceness' and 'friendliness' masks the usual dark North American history of genocide. Their respective fields of study (David's is avocational) concern places with thick, tangled histories that are intensely stratified - each uncovered layer revealing new strands of profound complexity.

Their home is an isthmus of bright blue-glass sky-scrapers, pacific north west cuisine, runners, ultimate players and sequestered remnants of rain-forest that sit like an arboreal ghetto at the far end of Stanley Park. It's cultural heritage is encapsulated in the crisp, hard planes of Arthur Erickson's Museum of Anthropology on the UBC campus. Only the relentless influx of asian immigrants threatens the placid contentment of the Canucks and their Britannic triumphalism. We visited them in their English Bay apartment a few years ago.

There is, in California a very different sense of destiny. It is not race based, or even historically founded. It is, instead, something that springs out of the 'being present' nature of the place. It is willfully a-historical, willfully spiritual and at the same time, willfully materialistic. At lunch, we spontaneously toasted the news that Judge Vaughn R. Walker’s had struck down Prop. 8 - California’s ban on same-sex marriages. After lunch, we trekked down to the horse-barn where there was a new born foal, Lilly the Filly. Barely a week old its mother Eve, an exquisite black pony pivoted to protect her tiny offspring from our inquisitive gaze.

Outside the barn, talk turned to feral cats with a taste for rats and the acquisition thereof. We are all under seige currently from wood rats. They are hiding behind the newly installed fire-doors at Margot's, living under our entry deck and whooping it up in the pool equipment corral. We need cats! I spoke with Lorenz and he is on the look-out for likely felines. They are assured a healthy diet of Neutoma muridae - the signature animal of mature chaparral.

Until recently, our thoughts had been on dogs. Derek died nine months ago and we still miss him. He was a profound presence in our lives. I first set eyes on him when I was working for an architectural firm in West Hollywood. The two principals of the firm would have their hair cut by an itinerant hairdresser who was also in the business of rescuing dogs. So it came about that Derek accompanied her on her visit to the office and she parked him in the basement, where I had my desk, while she cut hair. It was empathy at first sight. Derek was suffering from acute post traumatic stress disorder, but over a few weeks of visits to the dog rescuer's house, and slowly introducing him to the family it became evident that despite his damage, he was the dog for us.

Over the years and with the intense involvement of our two sons, Derek became a wonderful house-dog. A couple of years after our taking him in he was spooked by fireworks one fall evening and ran away into the chaparral north of Sunset Blvd. in the Pacific Palisades. After a month's absence we were ready to give up, "if that which is lost be not found".

Then, miraculously, late one night we received a call from a security guard who had seen an emaciated dog behind a building site in the Palisades Highlands - connected that with our lost dog posters - and called us. Early the next morning, with a jingle of keys and raw hamburger meat Derek was finally lured from the bush. Covered in ticks and having lost 20 pounds he was days away from from being taken by coyotes. Derek was home for Christmas - a heartwarming winters tale that seemed to further embed him into our family.

While in Pittsburgh recently for the Brown family meeting a cousin of Lorrie's was selling her sister's recently published book, The Sacred Path Beyond Trauma - Reaching the Divine Through Nature's Healing Symbols, Ellen B. Macfarland, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, Ca., 2008. Reading the book I realized that while we had healed Derek, the process had been mutual - he had had a healing influence on me and perhaps the entire family.

Ellen maintained a private psychotherapy practice in Milwaukee for twenty years before getting her Phd in Jungian depth psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute in Santa Barbara. She now lives in Big Sky, Montana - close to Bozeman.

As she would have it, Derek was healed through his embodiment in the life of our family. But she would also suggest that Derek was bestowed to us by the universe to heal us and help us claim our full family potential. She describes the healing power of dolphins, horses and trees. These material beings, these wild things, also exist as imaginal symbols always present to serve in the communication between soul and conscious awareness.

Nature provides us with symbols to salve the soul. Our inner harmony, she suggests, can be facilitated by an engagement with the natural world. She made the decision to move to the wildland/urban interface with this benefit in mind.

The Talmud tells us that the dog has no soul. Marc Sirinsky, an old friend and for many years now a rabbi in Ashland, Or., explained to me that a reasonable interpretation of this would be that the dog has given its collective soul to mankind. Ellen is now working with the wolf nation - a member like the dog, of the Canidae family - whose plight in Montana is well known. Wolves she writes, "seemed to take over my dreams, and I experienced soulful connections to these animals that were impossible to ignore." By listening to the symbols that call to us from the wild, and finding solace in their imaginal presence, we can perhaps find space to harmonize our relationship with the natural environment.

The work of this century is to re-establish the necessary synaptic connections between spirit, soul and matter - towards a re-integration of the universal soul. That's my kind of Globalism. Perhaps it can be achieved one dog at a time, or one tree at a time. Those of us fortunate to live in the wildland have a particular responsibility to move this project forward.

I have taken on the care of the chaparral in my little neck of the woods - time will tell whether it will reciprocate as my spirit helper.