Lessons from Yellowjackets: Speaking with the Natural World

By Madronna Holden

Some years back, my then three year old daughter and I were sitting in our front yard when a decidedly threatening man appeared and insisted I hire him.

For what, he never said.

In fact, without listening to my answer–which was an instinctive “no”– he let himself through our side gate and went around to the back of the house.

I barely had time to register my alarm at the fact he didn’t leave when I asked him to than he came out of our yard again, shouting that he was being attacked.

He was indeed. He had a swarm of yellowjackets in hot pursuit.

We never saw him again.

We ourselves came into daily contact with the yellowjackets who had a nest in our yard, but they never bothered us. I felt no qualms about sharing our garden with insects that had the capacity to be a nuisance, but also assisted us with pollination in the spring and consumption of other insects to feed their young later in the year.

I liked to imagine they refrained from stinging us since we tended the place where they found their sustenance—and they sensed this in whatever way yellowjackets might sense such things.

I liked to imagine that our daily rounds had become an accepted element of their world like rain and grass.

I know there are less poetic explanations for the yellowjacket attack on the stranger when they were so peaceable with us.  But I am reminded of the response Albert Einstein gave when asked if humans might one day reduce everything in nature to scientific explanation. His answer was yes, but that would be like explaining Beethoven through the measurement of sound waves. We could do it, but it would tell us nothing about the music.

Reportedly the anthropologist Branislaw Malinowski once grew impatient with the Trobriand Islanders as they related the reverent actions that made their yam gardens grow. Attempting to elicit a more pragmatic basis for their methods, he asked them whether they didn’t notice cause and effect.

They told him that was the simple explanation. The one reserved for things that didn’t have any meaning.  And growing the garden that gave them life did not fall into that category.

Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel once observed that it is an ” arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be put into a computer with the hope that, sooner or later, it will spit out a universal solution.”

I agree.  I prefer the story of natural creatures who express themselves in their own ways—and sometimes, if we are lucky, do so on our behalf.

I like to think that such creatures—even those we may be least apt to recognize as brethren—might choose to accept us into their communities and form alliances with us.

If we take a different view of the natural world– that of a “mere puzzle to be solved”, we lose considerable capacity for both wonder and vision.

The following Plains Indians story of a vision quest is illustrative.

A man who is seeking a vision fasts for several days.  He cries for his vision, humbling himself before the spirits of the world.

When he has done this for many long days and still no vision comes to him, he becomes desperate.  He climbs to the top of a great waterfall, determined he will live with a vision or die without one.

He jumps, abandoning himself to the roiling water.  And at that moment a magnificent white buffalo appears and swims him safely to shore.

From that day forward, the white buffalo becomes his spirit guide.

For the Indian audience that is the end of the story.

Still, the storyteller knows non-Indians will have questions:  “Was that really a white buffalo that pulled him out of the water?  What would someone standing on the shore see?”

So the storyteller adds something for their sakes:  “Something pulled him out of that water,” he asserts, “And whatever that was, belongs to him.”

It is only because the observer is a mere watcher on the banks of the river of life that he questions the life-saving vision another has found for himself.  Such an observer, with his self-proclaimed “objectivity”, is all too ready to declare his view of reality superior to that of the one who has chosen to dive in.

When I worked among the Chehalis Indians several decades back, elders were indignant that members of non-Indian culture might deem their traditions as “just stories”.   In such stories, passed down through thousands of years, was the collected wisdom of a people.

For their part, the elders who kept this knowledge on behalf of their people expressed considerable epistemological sophistication.  They understood that their individual views of the world were not reality.  To make such an assumption would be to insult those who shared their world. They honored all their unique voices as they asserted, “No one speaks for anyone else”.

By contrast, “even the best scientists” in Western tradition have made the profound mistake of believing, as Wes Jackson, director of the Land Institute, put it, “that the world operates by the same method they use to study it.”

With parallel arrogance, colonizers regularly deemed the beliefs of those whose lands they usurped as “superstition”.  Anthropologist Ruth Benedict had a response to that:  an analytic response that makes the way modern industrial society uses technology the real superstitious behavior.

According to her, superstitious behavior is based on adhering to simple stimulus and response. (This is the view of cause and effect without deeper understanding that the Trobrianders decried).  We do something—wear a black sock– and something happens—our team wins.  And so we continue to wear that sock every time our team plays in hopes of controlling the outcome.

Superstitious behavior attempts to control the world through magical thinking.  And thus we cast our lot not only with the black sock but with science’s magic bullets.

Incidentally, the story of the yellowjackets with which I began this essay could  also become an instance of such superstitious thinking  if I interpreted it to mean that I might blithely trounce through the natural world without ever worrying about yellowjackets.

Like all stories, this one belongs to a particular time and place.  I have been elsewhere–out in the woods–in the front of a line of other humans on a hike when I inadvertently stepped too close to a yellowjacket nest and was stung.

And I can tell you a yellowjacket sting is no fun.  But the appropriate response seems to me not to try to get them because they got me– but to pay attention.  I have not learned to magically control all yellowjackets but to live with some of them for our mutual benefit.  They still are very much creatures of their own.

By contrast, our characteristic pesticide use is an instance of superstitious behavior by Benedict’s criteria.  We spray pesticides and insects die—until they no longer do because they have grown immune. But our behavior has becomes a reflex action.  So we spray more, still hoping to control the world for our convenience–not noticing the effects on the environment and our own health that a deeper assessment would bring us.

According to Benedict, the contrasting attitude is based on dialogue. It is about reverent communication with the world.  Thomas Berry eloquently expressed the same view when he stated that the world is not a “collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.”

The first kind of behavior—the manipulation of our world—has left us with climate change and cancer epidemics and skyrocketing autism rates. The other one left us with sustainable models by which humans lived in harmony with their natural environments for thousands of years.

Wonder cannot be commanded, but if we view the world with humility and respect, there is just a chance it will respond to us with marvelous rather than deadly surprises—as happened in the modern community of Gaviotas in Colombia.

The consequence of their careful partnership with place was the serendipitous restoration of the rainforest in all its biodiversity on once ravaged aluminum-laced llanos.

We should all be so graced.

420 Responses

  1. It’s always been interesting to me that outsiders see fit to ridicule the history and tradition of the indigenous people they are chastising and overtaking by dismissing their teachings as ‘just stories’. Considering, for the most part, white history and tradition is based on a book (the Bible) written thousands of years ago by numerous people, initially passed on verbally, translated in written form many times for ‘clarity’ and still taken literally by hundreds of thousands of people, how can we pass judgement? Clearly, if we all listened to those “stories” our planet would not be in the dire condition it is currently. It’s a shame that arrogance and a feeling of superiority override the common sense demonstrated by those who have learned to value nature (yellow jackets included) rather than trying to force it into submission.

    • Hi Susan, thanks for your comment. Good perspective on the validity of comparative worldviews. At least, we ought to give the stories that went with successful care for our shared earth an equal berth with (what modern industrialism calls) “scientific” stories that have led to its ravaging.

  2. That is a great story Dr. Holden. I’m sure it was a little frightening at the time. I think it shows us that in all walks of life, when we respect others that respect is returned to us. When you respect your fellow humans they respect you back, when you respect animals, such as a horse or a dog they will show you respect back. I believe in a ecocentric view that has us working with nature instead of attempting to control it.

    • Hi Mitch, thanks for your comment. It was frightening to be a woman alone with a child and have a strange man come in with his dubious excuse for heading into my backyard. But it shortly proved humorous– since we came out safe in the end.
      I think you are very right that respect yields respect. That is something to aim for! And as far as I am concerned the ecocentric view you mention is the most mature (certainly, it is the most comprehensive) of ethical systems.

  3. The manipulation of our world is is such a frightening thought when you think about what the outcome has been in so many cases. This attitude instills a state of mind that makes a person believe that everything must be altered and messed with so that it is compatible with what they want. The world we live in is not meant to “fixed” or changed to meet the wants of so many people; and quite clearly it has brought some devastating consequences our way with things such as cancer, pollution, and loss of resources. The basic needs of humans can be met in terms of food, shelter, clothing, and other resources if we should choose to live harmoniously and beside nature rather than above it with the mindset that we can constantly take and take without caring and giving back. It is an unfortunate truth that we are using pesticides and other chemicals to rid of insects that might be found on our foods, but what we don’t realize is that not only are we harming insects that serve a purpose on this earth, we are also harming our bodies with those chemicals.

    There should most definitely be a medium that could be adhered to by everyone in order for every life-form to live in a balanced state. Indigenous and native peoples who have lived off the natural world for thousands of years, have managed to contribute quite significantly to the sustainability of nature—and it’s not because they interfered with the process of life and resources, but rather they took things how they were and made it worked.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Erin. The concept of acceptance comes to mind as I think of your response–and of course, adapting ourselves to our world rather than re-arranging it to fit our desires.
      Long term flourishing on earth is based not– as you mention– on “interfering with the processes of life”– but on honoring them.
      And it is also important to remember, as you point out, that all these lives have a place and purpose in the larger cycle of things– and because we are all interconnected, poisoning them results in poisoning ourselves and our children as well.

  4. Wow! The first to reply. I think this post is a fusion of a lot of the concepts we have been talking about–holism, reciprocity, kinship–and has the added element of the basis of all the environmental values, spirituality. I’m starting to see that the root reason (I guess I’m always looking for roots!) for the difference between the holistic worldviews that promote caring and compassion and partnership, and the dualistic worldviews that have competition, survival, and power as their trademarks, is spirituality. Spirituality, or seeing a special, living, valuable, spark or reason behind a physical form, gives a whole new dimension of meaning to seemingly inanimate objects; and for those who see it, spirituality provides the compassion and motivation to protect that special thing. If you don’t take time to see the spirit of something, it is easier to treat it like a commodity, something to use to your advantage or rid yourself of if it is a nuisance.

    • You got right in there, Jennifer! Great summary of comparative values here; I think it is important to get to such understandings of root causes-the better to address their results. As you aptly put it, if you don’t see the spark of life/spirit (for some cultures it is the same thing) in something, it does indeed make it easier to denigrate it– and to license using it– or obliterating it– for our convenience.

  5. I think it is always important to consider the non-scientific explanation for things. Some things just can’t be explained away, something magical, or religious, or spiritual just happened, and there is no way for science to simplify it. This post reminded me of when I first got my degree in Geology. I remember being in Grand Teton National Park, with some geology buddies, and we were all looking at the mountains. Someone began talking about the structure of the actual mountain, the way it was formed and the forces that have worked on it since then. I had been there before, without the knowledge I then possessed and had just sat and marveled at how beautiful the mountains were, just amazing, huge and beautiful. Now, our conversation about the science of the mountains felt as if they were taking something away rather than adding. I felt like by simplifying the mountains to a geologic structure that could be explained by science, we weren’t just seeing the true natural beauty that was in front of us. The more I thought about it, I was saddened by how we could no longer just stop, look and enjoy the beauty without injecting scientific explanation. I think, to the same extent, non-natives have had trouble with just enjoying the lessons that can be told by a good story without trying to explain everything.

    • Hi Matt, thanks for sharing your powerful experience of the mountain here. Seems like the best science should add to our experience of the wonder and beauty of the world, not subtract from it as in this case. I would hope that our learning might add dimension to our world. I know that my own learning of Chehalis stories lent immense dimension to the local landscape for me–and communicated knowledge at the same time.
      I like your last sentence about just accepting a good story–after all, science is also a story– one kind of story we tell about the natural world. It would be great if it told better ones than those that hold our world to a view without spirit in order to manipulate it.
      And to me (just a thought) seems like you and that mountain have a special relationship yet–or you wouldn’t be sticking up for its spirit as you are.

  6. “Superstition”, as it were, is a great taboo of western culture and society. It is simultaneously avoided on principle and practiced as rhetoric. Whether one believes that insects in their garden share a reciprocal relationship which offers security against intruders or that wearing black socks will ensure continued success in a game, there is often still that neighbor who feels that insects are simply pests and should be destroyed. The lessons that are lost in the type of behavior which supposes that nature is made as an obedient and manipulative reality (such as would the proverbial neighbor) offer far more sustainable benefits to the human presence if those lessons were not ridiculed as mere superstitious “stories”. I also agree with you that those stories past along through generation after generation of indigenous peoples could serve us all as the “collected wisdom” of humanity which has sustained and nurtured the natural world on which it depends.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kirsten. We certainly use the label of “superstition” to denigrate any thinking that is not like ours in Western culture. What I thought was most interesting about Benedict’s definition is that a good deal of modern technology (flip a switch and the world does what we want) falls into this category, whereas some indigenous stories fall into the category of deeper thinking. It is always good to actually define what we mean by such words–makes it harder to get away with using them indiscriminately to indicate our thinking is better than someone else’s.
      As you indicate, if Westerners and humans were not so involved in a contest to prove that they had the only legitimate hold on reality, we might have learned a few things from others– of all species.

  7. That is an amazing story and also a very compelling argument. This article goes hand in hand with concepts that were discussed in the first two lessons; for example, Native knowlege versus Scientific knowledge. I think that most people in this country hold scientific knowledge above Native knowlege by reducing native stories to being just a superstition. It seems as though our fast-paced, know-all culture does not always value deeper thinking and finds it easier to accept the calculable scientific explanation for why things happen. Nature is not something that we should try to nail down and understand, but rather something to observe and appreciate through humility and respect.

    • Thanks for your comment, Bree. As you indicate, there is a kind of “calculated” understanding gained from nailing something down and another kind gain from developing a relationship with it of humility and respect. I think it is time to value the deeper thinking you refer to rather than rejecting the knowledge of other cultures as superstition.

  8. I do believing that living with the world, not controlling the world, are what we were made to do. Have you seen those “Coexist” bumper stickers? There are representative that all people can live together in peace and harmony, no matter where they come from or what they believe. I thought this was a great idea, but after reading this article, I find myself wondering if there is a bumper sticker that will symbolize all things living together in peace and harmony, even the yellow jackets.
    As I just watched “The Bee Movie” last night with my kids, it came to mind again in this article. All living things do stem and rely on each other for their existence. In knowing and believing that, we should give the proper respect to all, even if we do think of some of them as pesky pests. 🙂

    • Hi Jennifer, thanks for your comment. I think “co-exist” says it already. After all, we co-evolved with other natural creatures and within natural systems: since that placement is the source of our lives both historically and on a day to day basis, seems like something to continue to attend to.

  9. I would consider myself more of a resource manager than a scientist, but one of the important concepts in natural resource management is adaptive management because it is understood that we really have little understanding of all the connections and a complexities of the natural world. We are always striving to have a better understanding, but I don’t think that we will ever find the key to understanding it all. I think that is OK. I never get tired of seeing wildlife or the beauty of nature and I always feel a sense of wonder about how amazing it all is. We are no were near figuring out how the human body works, let along how the entire world functions! I am with you Dr. Holden, I like to see the magic in it all.

    I agree that we all have a different perception of how the world works and they are the truth for each individual or community. What is so different between the Plains Indians story of seeing a vision and finding a spirit guide than other more familiar religious beliefs like Jesus being born of a virgin birth or raising from the dead? I don’t see the difference myself. It is all in the heart and mind of the believer.

    • Great perspective on perspective, Christina! The part I like most about the Plains story is the fact that vision belongs to the one who sees it–and no outside observer has the right– or perspective, if you will– to denigrate that. I think that we in modern Western culture are all too ready to declare that someone else’s feelings are “unreal”–perhaps stemming from the fact that we also allocate feeling to the feminine gender–and thus it is something less than, something that can be manipulated by the higher authority of (supposed) reason.
      For me, the major distinction is not the content of one’s vision, but whether it is one of fear and manipulation or communication.
      It also seems to me that perceiving the magic of the world opens us to continually watchfulness and learning. Thanks for your comment.

      • I can relate to having my feelings rejected as “silly” or “unrealistic.” I agree that it is related to gender and I think it is part of the stereotype of women being irrational. I think it comes from different ways of expressing oneself. I am working on a house-building project with my husband, which is always a learning experience. Anyway, we were working together the other day and he stopped and commented on how differently we go about figuring out how to do something. I talked my way through the whole thing, sort of thinking out loud and waiting for collaboration from my husband. He does far less talking and just decides what he wants to do in his head and then does it. I am amazed how much differently we are wired sometime. I am ready for female gender related things to be considered equal and good, instead of lesser and ruled by hormones! I try to explain to my husband that he is ruled by his hormones as much as women are, he just doesn’t have a menstrual cycle to make it as obvious!

  10. The destruction of indigenous culture and beliefs has trailed us throughout time and space. Western civilizations culture is based on the principle of materialism that is expressed through the destruction of indigenous and native cultures spiritualism. Western society uses scientific knowledge to explain the physical reality of our own existence creating a knowledge that is based on scientific materialism. If we could just take a step back and recognize that the reality of our existence may indeed be spiritual, not material, then maybe our blurred connection with the natural world will become more visible.


    “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world”.
    – John Muir

    • Thanks for your comment, Rita. I think it is important to remember that for some, the material IS spiritual– after all, what is more holy than life itself. It is only when we see the world as non-living that it loses this sense of sacred vitality.
      There is a quite lovely poster with the saying you quote on it! Have you seen it?

  11. I really like this quote, “Wonder cannot be commanded, but if we view the world with humility and respect, there is just a chance it will respond to us with marvelous rather than deadly surprises.” and I believe that it is so true. The story of the yellow jackets just proves that God is wonderful and amazing! We have to both start and continue to treat the world better to have a equal relationship with it. If you would have been killing off the yellow jackets, like I believe I would have done since I am allergic to bees, the man would have possibly had his way with the house. Leaving them to be and do the work that God created them to do, is wonderful and is something that I am learning more and more from this class. Although I know these things, they are often hard to implement in daily practice.
    It’s funny to think about superstitions and the way that we tend to attribute great things to something else, or something that is an object, or science. I play softball and I remember one time in high school I pitched a perfect game with a visor on, and immediately attributed it to the fact that I was wearing a visor. After reading about the black sock, it’s so funny to think about my own actions and how I do things like that. I feel so blessed to be able to take a class like this and be able to think about and change my life for the better.

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for your comment. Being allergic to stings can be very dangerous –and something to be taken into account if you have to live in an area where the bees are likely to nest.
      I think it is tempting for all of us to express such behavior– including, of course, me. It is most apt to occur when we feel the most impetus to control the outcome of something (winning a game).
      Thank you for your kind words about our class: what you are getting out of it is certainly directly related to what you are bringing to it!
      I appreciate your point about the wonder of creation–in the way it all works together!

  12. I have found that the more I try to control a situation or person, the more it struggles against me. I think that this is epitomized by research showing the effects our chemical treatments have on our enviroment and ourselves. Like most other things in life, if we take the time to assess the source of our problems, maybe we’d find a real resoultion instead of postponing it.

    Do you think native peoples might adhere to the saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica. If we didn’t try to fix what wasn’t broken, where would the impetus for all those new consumer products and variations on fast food go?
      Unfortunately, a good part of our economy is based on engineering things for which there is a dubious need for and destructive result.
      Good point about assessing the sources of our problems rather than postponing (facing?) what really needs to be done. I hope that we get this one right on the climate change issue, for instance.
      And I think we can count on the fact, as you observe, that the more we try to control something–or someone– the more we immerse ourselves in an escalating struggle. In the natural world, the more we try to control one part of an interconnected system, the more we interfere with the balance of the system–and thus throw the system itself out of control.
      This is the paradox of the controller: the more we try to control, the more that goes out of control.

  13. There are many things in life that cannot be explained by scientists. What makes us make the decisions that we make, why do we pick the life style we do, are some examples. At high level science we must use statistics to describe observations as no two observations are exactly the same.
    The natural world can never be fully explained, some must be left to marvel. Though, one can help us appreciate the other. Since taking classes at OSU, my understanding of the natural world has changed dramatically.

    • Hi Patrick, good points–and statistics are, in turn, always probabilities rather than certainties. Good points about science not explaining (and perhaps needing to take into account?) its cultural, economic and ethical roots. And I do think the great thing about stories is that we can certainly have more than one story about things– and in fact, we may need numerous stories to get at what at a sense of what is really going on.

  14. I have always looked at life from a very logical and scientific point of view. When given the choice I have always leaned toward explaining things with science. I do believe that everything has some science basis however that doesn’t leave some things up for mystery. No mater how much we learn about the natural would we will never know everything. Knowing that we are all made of protons neutron and electrons does not explain the complexity of life. With all the technology that we see in the world it is amazing what we don’t know. I will never forget what a doctor told me once. He said that “we have been studying medicine for thousands of years and we still look in your eyes and ears to try to figure what is wrong with you, it is all a big educated guessing game”. Life if so complicated, the more we learn about it, the more there is to learn. Your reference to Einstein was especially eye opening to me. I have to constantly remind myselves to be humbled by the power of nature. I am not sure why but the whole time I was reading this article I couldn’t stop thinking about the Joni Mitchell song Big yellow taxi and the line in the song “give me spots on my apples leave me the birds and the bees”. I guess I was thinking of this song because of your reference to the benefits of the bees even though they are sometime slightly annoying. I think that this is similar to what Joni Mitchell was trying to say.

    • Hi Zane, thanks for your very thoughtful personal comment from the perspective of a logical thinker. Logic is certainly important: if it is logic and not purely reflexive or magical/manipulative thinking that takes that name for itself. I think it is ironic that we sometimes use the term “rationality” as an excuse for avoiding deep thinking–that is, for ignoring all we do not wish to think about or acknowledge.
      I like the balance in your perspective-and the song line brings to mind that everyone of our actions with respect to the natural world have consequences.

  15. I remember seeing a documentary about some people living in the U.S.S.R. some years ago and one of the Soviet women commented to the interviewer that she thought that people that believed in the bible were naive and she couldn’t understand why so many people believed in those “fairy tales” (referring to bible stories). I had never thought of it like that before, but she had a point! Fables, stories, fairy tales, dreams, visions…they are all ways for humans to explain the world and put meaning between cause and effect. Everyone who hears or reads the story perceives it differently based on past experience. When I watch insects, I think of them as having a brain and desires of their own, therefore, I think that the yellow jackets knew that your intruder was up to no good. The yellow jackets could smell that he was an intruder and see that he was trespassing so they chased him away for you! That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

    • Hi Kelly, this is a delightful response. I am just reading The Old Way about the African Bushmen by Elizabeth Thomas. She has a powerful and pragmatic view of stories and a provocative quote from these people who arguably lived the ancestral way of life of all humans: “An elder without a story does not exist.”
      I loved your last analysis and especially your last line! Thanks for your comment. I know I felt grateful and relieved that those little creatures handled this situation for me.

  16. My take on this was in a different vein. I find it interesting that because you allowed the yellow jackets to remain, they inadvertently saved you from possible harm. There aren’t many people, (parents especially) that would have allowed a nest of yellow jackets to remain due to the perceived danger for their children.

    Your partnering with nature, rather than destroying it benefitted you, your garden, and the yellow jackets as well. I have never heard of insects of that nature being accepting of foreign presences by their nests as a part of everyday life.
    It is a great example of how we as humans can never fully understand how nature will respond. It is also intriguing how they became used to your presence, but registered the difference of another human and attacked. Says something to the intelligence of these insects that we may have not taken into account before.

    • I’m not sure that there aren’t many who would allow the nest to remain, Kathleen–it was in an out of the way place in the back corner of the yard and no insect in that nest ever stung us or any invited visitors that year.
      I find it interesting that (as you indicate) some parents might be more accepting of toxic chemicals that have serious health effects to eradicate a nest. The dangers of cancer or autism or diabetes evidently seem far away compared to a stinging insect. This response leads us to consider the ways in which we might really protect our children.
      And by the way, for those who need to remove a nest, there are effective non-chemical ways. Check out the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides library (on our links page). Trapping, for instance, has cleared out an entire stadium of multiple nests in a week.
      Thoughtful note about the intelligence of insects. Certainly their behavior is complex and social–and we who would consider ourselves the lords of creation could use a bit more humility.
      Thanks for your comment!

  17. I love Albert Einstein. I wish I could have met him. Most people don’t know that the fact that Einstein and Paul Robeson, two of the 20th Century’s most famous and popular figures, were not only friends but co-chaired the American Crusade to End Lynching and shared a dozen other anti-racist activities, could serve as a role model for millions. Yet the story has remained untold as has Einstein’s support for W. E. B. Du Bois, his friendship with Marian Anderson and his many ties with the African American people living in Princeton’s own little ghetto, in and around Witherspoon Street. Fred Jerome has written two books that I know of about him. Jerome wrote that Einstein was asked to be the first president of the new state of Israel. He refused, saying that he feared the State of Israel would be obsessed with its borders and not the human rights of Palestine’s inhabitants. How prophetic.
    I think Dr. Einstein would love Gaviotas. He would be amazed at the community innovation in energy conservation, their connection to the earth, and their peaceful embrace of diversity and honor to the commons.
    I also think Dr Einstein would love Dr. Holden’s Yellow Jackets and their heroic purpose.

    • I had known that Einstein was an advocate for human rights, but I had not known all of these details. Thanks for sharing them, Val! I know that he also remarked that one of the greatest dangers of the modern age was that our technological ability outreached our moral ability to choose the way we use it. There are many things to take to heart about this man– whom I would call a scientist in the best sense of the word.

  18. On Autism:
    (thank you Dr. Holden for including this issue within your incredible essay)


    Click to access 06-AQ-019_mercury.pdf

    At what point do we say, our worth, and the worth of our planet, is more than corporate greed and influence?
    This assault on our environment and children cmust be stopped by us, because our government will side with the power plant for political gain, ignoring the external costs.

    • Thanks for these links, Val. I know that autism is something your are personally concerned about as a mother. I do find one thing hopeful: Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator appointed by Obama has asked Congress to revamp our old chemicals law and bring more inline with the community in Europe and their use of the precautionary principle. I think it is very important to support her in this, and make sure it moves along. It will certainly face some serious difficulty from the chem industry who has so far been allowed to place so many chemicals into our air and water with so little resraint!

  19. Since we are all made of energy, it makes sense the bees recognized your energy and left you alone. It also makes sense they didn’t recognize the “strange” man and reacted defensively. Who knows what he was doing which caused the bees to act so aggressive- but the end result was it didn’t matter. I find it inspirational when animals, domestic, wild or other, decide to share their energy and life with us. I believe everything has something to teach us if we only will listen. Apparently the bees taught you and the stranger something and I doubt he’ll forget it!

    • Hi Christy, thanks for your comment. I like it that this story has incited so many interpretations. Since in traditional cultures, an audience helps make a story, a story that has as many interpretations as it has listeners is a good one! On the learning curve you refer to, those yellowjackets gave us all something to consider.
      And the idea of natural energy has been around in Asian medicine for thousands of years before the AMA ever got started. Interesting idea.

  20. This article reminded of me when I lived at home with my parents. We had a home outside of the city, the way I prefer it, with a couple of acres in the back. A time when I was able to have animals like turkeys, chickens, peafowl, goats, etc. At this place, we would find all kinds of little critters crawling and flying around in our kitchen or on our patio. Various insects and arachnids which we would not discriminate against like other families might. The most welcome of these insects and arachnids were the daddy-long legged spiders and wolf-spiders, and… the “mud gobbers” or mud wasps, which is what this article initially reminded me of.

    We kept these predatory arachnids and insects around because they kept the number of other, more reproductively dominant, pests down. We allowed them to co-habitate with us, and they in turn served us with NATURAL pest-control. Not only did we learn to co-exist with them, we respected them… I think I above the rest of my family (parents at the time and brother) respected them. That is, more consistently than my family, I actually looked out for the spiders and wasps. If a wolf spider got caught in the shower, I would move it to safely. If my father started getting annoyed with the decoration of mud nests, constructed of course by the mud wasps, on the exterior walls (and even parts of the interior of our home–most predominantly in my room) and began to knock them down, I would argue with him for the sake of the wasps. And when he would go around the house with the broom to knock down daddy-long legged spider-webs, he would holler at me to come get the spiders and do something with them before he decided to step on them. I quickly ran to their aid after he insisted on tearing down their beautiful homes and food-nets. I would gather them up in my palms and lead them outside.

    They inadvertently looked out for us in a way not everyone is able to see, and in return I attempted to look out for them. I enjoyed their presence. I would follow the mud wasps around with my note-book, describing their every wondrous move… such intelligence they display, if you only watch, and all for the sake of reproduction and survival. This certain type of intelligence people take for granted simply because they are bugs… “pests”, which they are truly anything but. They haven’t the intellect of human beings, but if one observes, they will see that these wasps and spiders are nothing less than artists and laborers, whose work surpasses that of any human artist or worker to have ever existed. It truly is a beautiful thing if one would just LOOK.

    “…the world is not a ‘collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.”’ is something I wish more people could heed and understand. Wasps are not just “wasps”, spiders are not just “spiders”… they are everything grand and wondrous we humans are not. We should learn more from them, allow them to guide us rather than want to dispose of them. We should indeed each think of some such creature as our “spirit guide”, just as the white buffalo was to one man. We all have one, even several… but we have to open up our minds, see them as the extraordinary beings they indeed are.

    • Wow, Cherisse, you were obviously an observant child (or young woman?) -and one that was never bored as long as you could watch natural creatures. Interesting details on the mud wasps. The Old Way, on the Kalahari people by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas, offers persuasive arguments for the astuteness of observation-and thus knowledge of natural animal behavior among our human ancestors. I think the natural world calls to us to pay attention –and it is heartening when a child as you were (I think children in this culture may feel this call most strongly– if they are in the natural environment in which it can be heard) continues to do this rather than having this drummed out of them by the culture that thinks differently. As in the case of the geological knowledge in indigenous NW stories, Thomas gives examples of astute knowledge that was called superstition by Western scientists in the mid-twentieth century until after the fifty years or so it took Western knowledge to catch up and find the Bushmen were right on in their observations.
      Paying attention to natural life in its own environment is something we don’t do enough of in our learning processes today.

  21. Dr. Holden, I really agree with what you have said in this article. I loved the story that you started the article off with. I think it’s interesting how we can have that kind of connection with the world around us, your case being the yellow jackets in your backyard. I think that instead of us trying to manipulate the environment to our own benefit we should really put into perspective how great it is to be able to live on this earth and share it with so many interesting beings. If we really put a conscious effort into trying to work with the environment rather than against it I really believe that we will be able to live better and healthier lives!

    • Hello Alana, I’m glad you liked the story. It is indeed a gift to live amidst all the life which lives and has lived with us since we became human! Living better and healthier lives is certainly a great goal–and one that might motivate us to open ourselves to our world more.

  22. I think it’s silly to try to catagorize everyone’s thinking as a whole. Everyone views the world differently, and therefore has a different story to tell. Some people may think Native American legend is a “superstition” or “lore” but I find it to be another kind of knowledge. Each story has a lesson, and each person interprets that lesson differently. Each story teller could even tell the story differently, emphisizing different points to the point where each time you hear it you learn something new. No one person has the right to say what is fact and what is lore, because chances are when that story was first told, our great great great great grandparents weren’t even born yet. So we don’t know if it was real or not!

    I also think that a life spent trying to solve the “puzzle” of life is a life wasted. When you are trying so hard to get a meaning out of life, you’re missing everything else as it flies by. I’ve discovered that the only way to live life (at least for me) is to live as if life had no puzzle. You just live it to the fullest. Experience what you can, and never regret anything because that choice made you who you are. No puzzles involved. 🙂
    Although if life was a puzzle, it’d have 5,000 pieces… and one would be missing!!

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective on the stories we tell to connect us to our world– and share our knowledge and experience. Becky. I think you have got at something interesting in this “puzzle to be solved” business. Looking at the world in this way indicates not only that we are trying to control things, but that we have feel insecure or threatened–and thus we wish to be able to control and predict things. However, not only are there are those shifting pieces of the puzzle (different people, time and places), but such an approach stops us from true communication with and observation of our world.

  23. I like to watch my cat and observe the way that she interacts with her surroundings. I have three dogs as well but their reactions to events around them are so dramatic, that I prefer the cats subtlety. I have noticed that my cat reacts more noticeably to stimulus and events that are unfamiliar and those that she has not yet learned are non-threatening such as the sound of a car horn quite a distance away, the gentle and almost silent whirring of the hard drive spinning on my computer, and the neighbors telephone ringing. It occurred to me that her most dramatic reactions result from the noises and actions of humans and our machines and devices, while the sounds that would have existed for thousands of years before humans barely register with her. Instead, she hears the wind, the water running from the garden hose, the whinnying of a horse, but they are quickly dismissed as not being worthy of her attention. I sometimes wonder if this could mean that her genetic “programming”, which my cat and her ancestors have been working to develop for eons, have not yet assimilated the changes to her environment created by humans, and that what I am seeing in her reactions is her continuing development as she learns about how to understand a continually changing world.

    I have long believed that the non-human inhabitants of our natural world have developed not only heightened senses that enables them to see, smell, hear, feel, and taste far more than humans, but they have perfected their senses to work in concert with one another, and the result is that they remarkably more aware of their surroundings than any human yet. After all they have had more time, humans have only evolved into our current form over the last few million years, while most of the species of our natural world have likely had many hundreds of millions of years to develop into what they are today.

    I do not doubt that the yellow-jackets in your backyard may have a higher regard for you and your family, while having no problem defending their turf against an unwelcome and possibly aggressive intruder in your backyard. The yellow-jackets may be able to sense the calm that you bring when entering the backyard and did not like the hostility, however imperceptible to us, that the stranger may have brought.

    I believe that the ancestors of and the current indigenous people of the world also spent/spend considerable time watching the birds, animals, bugs, etc. because they knew that there was much to learn from them. I think the lessons that they learned from nature over the centuries helped them to survive and prosper in their specific environments. I also think that modern humans have forgotten this and need to learn it again. We are so inundated with our technology and the insatiable desire to accumulate more wealth than our neighbors that we are missing out completely on the wonders of the natural world that surrounds us. I believe that the answers to some of humans greatest mysteries may be lying dormant within our reach, if only we can break the code and learn to see them. The moral of my story…more people should make the time that is necessary – to sit down and watch their cat.

    • Some great observations here, David–one’s of which your cat would approve? The intricacy of the communication intertwining of the lives in the natural world is amazing (as you indicate, it has, after all, been millions of years in the making). The level of observation of the Bushmen of the Kalahari whose genes indicate they are the ancestral humans of us all is breathtaking, and the observations that animals share in turn is likewise so, as analyzed by Elizabeth Thomas in her The Old Ones. Especially pointed (since we are talking cats) is the relationship with lions, which is every bit a cultural relationship in the manner of human cultures–and which faded quickly when the Bushmen were (tragically) put on reserves. It is a way of life, as Thomas points out, 150,000 years in the making–and we need to treasure it rather than throw it away as we have done in the destruction of indigenous cultures with colonization (and now globalization) everywhere. In this context, I am heartened by the UN’s move to honor indigenous knowledge (which or course one can only do by preserving the cultures that hold it).
      Anyway, the Bushmen observed the natural world as if their lives depended on it. And in the face of looming environmental crises, perhaps our lives depend on such observations as well. So watch away! I am sure your cat enjoys the attention.

  24. Gaviotas is such a great example of how people can really make a conscious decision to create a community that is like Thomas Berry’s example of the world being not like a “collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.”

    If more people would make conscious decisions to live with nature, like the yellowjacket example, then maybe we wouldn’t have so many environmental problems. The whole pesticide and creation of super bugs demonstrates the problems of just trying to subjugate nature instead of learning to live with it.

    The problem that we face now, with parts of our environment being trouble, is that many are the result of actions that happened a while ago, so now we are faced with having to fix a problems without causing other problems.

    Las Vegas is an example to look at. It is a desert city that has sucked out much water from the Colorado river to fuel its growing population. They have created huge casinos and subdivisions that are reliant on large amounts of water and now they need to cut back because of a drought. If better planning had been used in the first place, something more in communion with nature, then they wouldn’t have a huge population living in an area that doesn’t have enough water. Greed for more people to move in, allowed the city to grow bigger than it should have. But unfortunately for the environment, the Colorado River is so taxed that it doesn’t even flow into the ocean anymore because it is all used up.

    • Good points about making problems for ourselves in the attempt to control parts of the natural world, Sandra. Great example of unsustainable development in Las Vegas. The Colorado is not the only river with this problem. Desert cities like Las Vegas are drawing down local water tables as well. And their power usage is off the map. It will be a very different city once carbon cutbacks (and these ARE coming if we hope to continue to live on earth) cause them to turn off all those bright lights that act as nothing more than those come ons for gamblers.

  25. Dr. Holden,

    The story you shared with us follows the many stories told by the elders of the indigenous tribes. I enjoy hearing stories reciprocity and sharing in everyday life. It is true that so many of the problems we have created for the environment seem to stem from our desire to mold the earth to suit our needs and rid our space of unwanted pests(Guests). There seems to be a poisonous chemical available for sale to rid us of any annoying pest that might come our way. I think its time to learn that we are all guests of the earth and not pests…before it is too late.

    • Hi Anedra, thanks for your comment. I like your play on guest/pest here. Attempting to wipe out others we consider pests make us the true “pest”–and I wholeheartedly agree that we are all guests of life and should behave accordingly.

  26. I really like your interpretation of superstition. All too often, it is incorrectly applied as a blanket term for the indigenous worldview, and, in general, for any belief or explanation that does not fit the western paradigm. It is completely superstitious to follow the basic flow of cause and effect in the name of ‘science’, whether it be with pesticides or other quick fix-its. With the destruction of forests, we have another example: it seems many people think we can continue our current consumption of tree products and solve the problem with a reflex response: cut down a forest, and simply plant a new one.
    But as you point out in this essay, the story of the web of life is much more complex than this. We have not even begun to understand the subtle relationships between all living things, and it is foolish of us to think that we can balance out our destructive behavior with simple solutions. When you cut down old-growth forests, you lose the biodiversity that has developed for thousands of years, and planting new trees (or spraying more pesticides) is a poor substitute.
    Likewise, every individual or society has their own way of telling a story or making sense of the world around them, and it sickens me to know that others pass judgement with an air of superiority.
    I love that you’ve kept the yellowjacket nest in your yard. I too, in relation, have a hive of bees in my garden. They never sting us, and bring us much enjoyment while pollinating the entire neighborhood. Plus, the recent wave of colony collapse disorder is very alarming. This, too, is another example of how science cannot explain everything. So far, they have failed to isolate a single cause and effect for the disappearance of the honeybees. Rather, it is a huge warning sign of the collective harm we are inflicting on the environment, and indicates a host of contributing factors such as the prevalence of monoculture (and lack of diversity, health, and immunity of ecosystems), the use of pesticides, and commercial bee keepers’ horrific abuse of the honeybees (in-vitro fertilization of the queen, and replacing honey with corn syrup-ah!). If we are wise, we will listen.

    • Hi Natalie, what a great gift that you have honeybees in your yard to help pollinate your neighborhood! I know that colony collapse disorder is a serious problem for pollination in commercial orchards. In Germany, they almost immediately banned a pesticide implicated in this as soon as the data came out. I know that beekeepers who rent out their hives in the southeast are asking that the orchards to which they go have not been sprayed in order to protect their bees.
      I think you have a strong point about simple reflex action in some of what passes for modern science. In the old growth situation, not only do we lose an irreplaceable “library” of biodiversity and the way all the elements of that relate to one another. Planting trees to replace these forests does not take into account the time factor: if we only cut them every 5 or 6 hundred years, planting a tree to replace the original one might come close to replicating the original (if of course, we spray no pesticides and make sure to allow the forest to recede naturally in a diverse manner AND we have not compacted the soil and silted up the streams in that forest through our logging process or taken off the debris that fertilizes the soil).
      Monoculture is a problem everywhere– not the least problem of which is maintaining it with all the chemical props since no monoculture is a vital natural system. I heard something else recently from a beekeeper I had not realized: the last food of bees in fall tends to be fruit (most or all of the pollen is gone), and thus the last batch of honey tastes very fruity. However, it there is no diverse planting that allows bees access to foods ready at different times, they won’t be able to put in the food to get them through the winter.
      And corn syrup– yug! The latest is that it tends to be laden with mercury. That can’t be good for us or the bees.
      Thanks for your thoughtful post.

  27. One thing that interested me most about this article was the last comment about how we have created our own health problems. That has completely changed my perspective! I understand that some medical problems are genetic, etc. but I never thought about how we’ve created some of our own medical problems by saturating our environment with chemicals. Many advances in modern medicine are meant to counteract our society’s NIMBY attitude. We are choosing to ignore that we are starting these problems in the first place. So we spend more of our government’s money on finding cures to problems that wouldn’t exist if we were just more careful in the first place. But instead of taking responsibility and reassessing our use of, in this case, harsh chemicals, we blame it on superstitious ideas and conspiracy theories.

  28. This motive, by our population, of convenience seems to be common link to many environmental problems. The idea that we can control and manipulate our environment, the natural world, to suit us, and to make our lives more convenient is such a selfish one, and extremely inconvenient for the natural eco system that are being disturbed, set off balance and destroyed. I agree that it is arrogance on man’s part to think that we can not only over come it, but that we are in charge of doing so. Our stewardship should not be one of dominance, but one of nurturing and partnership-not one above the other, as it is now.
    I read a bit more on the town of Gaviotas, and I feel it a success story. I think Gaviotas needs to be viewed as a model/example for us to follow, with which to rectify the damage we’ve done in our country. I believe it is an encouraging example.

    • Thanks for your comment, Erin. You make a good point that what is a mere matter of convenience for us is a point of radical disturbance for other lives. If we assumed a stance of partnership, we might at least register the effects of our actions on others. Gaviotas is an encouraging example indeed.

  29. I agree with the idea that if we only view the earth and its wondrous nature as complex puzzles to solve, we will forget about the importance of the intricacies of the way living creatures interact with each other and the earth. I have to say, if even Einstein didn’t think that everything needed a scientific explanation, that we should leave nature as is. While we need to seek knowledge in order to become better environmental stewards, we make the mistake of questioning everything that is given to us in order to find what we think will be a greater meaning, but in that quest it ends up losing its value. As some have commented before me, by trying to find scientific truths in everything (which ultimately tend to be disproven as we are far from understanding the infinite truths of our world) we lose the traditions that have maintained the earth and provided for us until this day. By attempting to use science to advance, we have exploited our earth and caused it great harm (for instance, industry and global warming). The real truths that remain are those that seem simple, that respect the earth for what it is and what it “knows”, something that has worked since the beginning of time.

    • Thanks for your comment, Lauren. You have an excellent point that the attempt to find “scientific truths in everything” can actually rob things of their meaning– as too often, finding such truths is a matter of controlling and predicting. And we should certainly consider how much we need the other kind of truth; that “storied” truth that, as you point out, have “provided for us” and for our care for the earth for thousands of years.
      I also agree with the value of acceptance you express here. Working within and adapting to natural systems rather than tinkering with them to reshape them according to our whims seems to me to be the greater “scientific” project. Though if it doesn’t look so much like magic, it might not sell as well and somebody might lose a potential buck somewhere!
      Great comment!

  30. After reading this, all I wanted to do was go out into the woods somewhere and interact with the animal world…and the I read it again and thought twice lol. I am not one for superstition but I do like to think there are karma-like energies in the world. And if not karma, then inexplicable energies working for the common good. I don’t think this has too much to do with yellowjackets, but it was just my first reaction to the reading. Thanks!

  31. This essay reminded me of one of the best classes I ever took. When I was at Walsh University, one of their requirements for all students was to take this one class. It didn’t fit into any category. It was simple Interdisciplinary Studies. Rightly so, this class took an issue, and had us use multiple disciplines to create a vision of the issue from multiple angles. You might use mathematics, sociology, Asian studies, biology, theology, etc.
    The interesting thing is that we learned that to solve a problem, it doesn’t necessarily have to be “scientific” for it to be truth. We must also understand that everyone has different experiences with a situation as well, even if they are looking at it from similar angles.

    • Great perspective, Danielle. Thanks for placing me in this category of the multi-disciplinary. Isn’t that– as you indicate– where we all do our best thinking? As you also note, honoring all these different perspectives opens the way to dialogue with others that broadens our own. Thanks for the comment!

  32. I don’t necessarily believe that there has to be a scientific explanation for things that occur in the natural world. This story reminded me of one that I saw on a program on the discovery channel. It was about a boy who was swimming in the ocean and was suddenly surrounded by dolphins. They were acting very strangly and would not let him out of the circle. He was actually very scared because he thought that they were going to attack him. He then saw the fin of a great white shark and realized that the dolphins were protecting him. Now scientists can probably come up with some scientific explanation for the dolphins behavior, but I prefer to maintain a more mystic view. I think that the dolphins felt a connection to the boy as a living thing and instinctually tried to protect him. The relationship one can feel between themselves and an animal should still maintain some mystery.

  33. I feel this article “shows” us that we need to respect one another, which means other people as well as the land, animals and vegetation that surround us. The yellow jackets attacked the strange man because the man wasn’t respecting the woman or her property. It is the say things that you hear, treat other of how you want to be treated. This goes for animals and land as well. The lady respected the yellow jackets so the yellow jackets respected her. But, once that strange man came in the back yard not respecting that woman, then they were not going to respect him. We need to realize that we need to do good to all others, that was good will be brought upon us in

    • Great analysis of this incident in terms of the reciprocity we share with all of nature, Jose. Thanks for your comment reminding us of our need to respect other natural creatures.

  34. So TRUE! Disecting every when, where, how, and why about life ruins the fun in believing in the magic and mystery of it all. Not everything can be explained, and I don’t think it should be. Faith, wether its in the protection the yellowjackets provide, or the white buffalo, by believing, we can relinquish that overwhelming need to control everything, and just let it happen naturally.

    • Great points, Emily. I certainly agree: it is so hard for us to relinquish control and let some things be– to adapt ourselves to the world than trying to remake the world to suit ourselves. Thanks for this reminder on that point.

  35. I’ve heard that many animals are sensitive to aggression and rage. So perhaps the yellowjackets sensed the unrest with the man in your yard and in turn felt uneasy so they attacked him. I almost feel as if they were returning the balance they had in your yard before the man entered it. You and your child probably never disrupted the balance in the yard so they left you alone. I imagine that dogs are similar because if you feel fear, dogs in turn smell or sense your fear and are more likely to act aggressively toward you. I wonder if it’s because they are afraid of you because you are feeling uneasy, or if you are already afraid, then you are perceived as weak. Interesting for sure. I’ve been stung enough times to know how uncomfortable it is!!

    • Hi Amy, thanks for your comment. I can’t testify as to what the explanation is– though I do think that animals of all species (even insects) are more sensitive to their worlds than we normally give them credit for.

  36. Dr. Holden,

    I have always noticed that in America, the majority of us are not only looking for an answer but a silver bullet. Everything from fashion to parenting to eating the perfect diet is sought after to be known. To the contrary it seems to me that often times the solutions are ever-changing. If that is the case then how can you ever trust them? I feel that they are ever-changing partly due to the fact that nature ceases to be the reliance for that silver bullet answer. If that were the case, then would that so-called valuable answer ever change? I have noticed that such answers that coincide with a partnership with nature are everlasting throughout time and generations of humans. What gives? I think this also is a resemblance of the desire for the new and shiny. Traditions are ceasing to exist and technological advances are what the cool kids have and outliers should strive to have. At the end of the day, as the article explains, these “admired” solutions are such a dissonant relationship with nature that they are, in actuality, destroying it.

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Dana, I think the dangers of the idea of a silver bullet are obvious with geoengineering’s idea that since we are changing the climate, maybe we can fix it by doing something like blocking the sunlight that falls to earth. A recent government report remarked with no small amount of irony that this kind of thinking implies that we aren’t smart enough to fix our mistakes, but we are smart enough to re-engineer the natural world.
      You have a very important part about dynamic solutions; indeed some modern physics indicates that one reason why science will never know everything is that the very laws of nature are apparently changing as time goes on.
      As you point out, time to rethink our culture’s impulse to reach for something “new and shiny”.

  37. The yellow jacket story is a good example of how creatures “accept” humans into their communities. At home, you knew their boundaries and they accepted your “comings and goings” around the yard. On the trail, you were the invader of the community and were stung. It’s much easier to imagine with animals such as mammals. I read that scientists now think that wolves moved into human communities thousands of years earlier than thought. It was a symbiotic relationship where the wolves ate food scraps, etc. discarded by humans and the humans benefited by the “early warning system” of their “barking” at marauders.
    The white buffalo vision story was interesting because, “vision” or “reality,” it still got him out of the water. Paul McCartney claims to have “heard” Beatle hits in his sleep, then written them down when he woke. Also, it is now documented that dolphins have saved people. (Gorillas, dogs, and other animals have, also, saved humans). As stated in the article, the world operates as you choose to study it. (Look at the dinosaur as reptile vs. dinosaur as bird shift in recent decades!!)

    • Thanks for sharing your perspective about the ways in which we share our world with other lives– it is not, as a dominating society might assume, that we can define and use them however we wish, but rather than they choose whether or not we belong in their communities. A number of things to dwell on, Taylor.

  38. The story of the yellowjackets in your yard is a wonderful example of trust. We have a nest of them right above our backdoor and every summer they buzz around above our heads as we come and go, but they have never bothered us.
    I believe that animals can sense our fear of them and because that fear can make us spray pesticides and try to remove the threat, the animals may attack us.
    Living with yellowjackets involves a sense of trust that they won’t just attack but that they do so with reason. The complex relationship of humans to animals requires a respect of their capacity to defend themselves and an understanding of the symbiotic relationship that is possible between humans and animals. You tend the garden which supports the life of the yellowjackets and they in return pollinate and eat insects. In addition they act as a beacon for situations that are out of place, such as the man coming into the garden obviously filled with emotions that were threatening to you as well as the yellowjackets. This is such a beautiful, and mysterious, example of how amazing these relationships can be.

    • Hi Jessica, I like your example of trust–and you may or may not have yellowjacket of the aggressive kind (which usually nest in the ground). Bald face hornets are relatively mild manners and make a hanging nest. I very much concur with you about the balance between ourselves and the natural world in this case. Both mysterious and wonderful–and both of these because we are not in control of matters.

  39. I agree that we need to scale back on pesticides and find natural ways of controlling pests (if we must) in order to preserve our environment. Controlling pests isn’t always the answer and I think it’s good practice to live alongside insects, such as yellowjackets. The comment about walking up on a nest of them in the forest, being stung, and telling yourself that you should have been more aware that they were there is an important concept to grasp. We live in a world of creatures that can hurt us, but instead of extinguishing them because we are mad that they hurt us, we can know better about how to deal with them in the future (ie: look for their nests, be aware of hanging around their food source, etc).

    • I agree with you, Katy. All such creatures belong in ecosystems-and if we are reside there alongside them, we should increase our consciousness of what they are doing there rather than trying to obliterate them.

  40. I wish I could say I had the same amount of trust in wasps as you did. Last summer when I found a nest growing in a shrub along the side of my house I quickly put a power sprayer attachment on a garden hose and removed the nest (it was not very large, only about 6-8 inches) and then for good measure, and knowing how wasps orient themselves based on visible markers, I cut down the shrub as well. Looking back on it I now see this as a very literal example of a Not In My BackYard response of my own. I welcomed the wasps to help pollinate the flowers and eat the other insects in my yard but they can please live somewhere else! I won’t lie, if I was given the same choice today I’d do it again.

    One of the things I appreciated most from this essay was the comment from the Chehalis elder who was upset that non-indian cultures considered their stories “just stories”. The oral traditions of a people are usually developed over thousands of years and together can sum up the beliefs of a people. These “stories” can usually tell one everything there is to know about a people, from their beliefs, their customs, their laws, to how they interact with their natural surrounds or to how they interact with each other. I’m reminded of the “StoryCorps” project on NPR which documents the lives and stories of so many different people and of which I’m a big fan. It may not be a “oral tradition” in the traditional sense but does a great job of recording and bringing to life the stories of so many different people.

    • I agree that such stories are essential to all of us, Jeff. I appreciate your self-reflection on the wasp incident. And just my own opinion, but you might want to check into the wasp situation a bit more before you declare such all out war on future nests and their habitat (which also happens to be your habitat). Aggressive species of yellowjackets tend to nest in the ground; mild mannered and relatively harmless wasps– for instance, paper wasps– make nest in bushes or trees. And the bald faced hornets (also non-aggressive) that make nests under eaves are also non-aggressive.
      And even yellowjackets are better trapped than sprayed. Recently a stadium with several dozen yellowjacket nests (where there was danger of someone being fatally stung who might have been in an attending audience) was completely trapped out in a week by strategical placed traps. Once a queen is in a trap, the nest is pretty much gone.
      Check out the “dandelion wars” essay here for a list of some of the dangers of certain pesticides (of course, I don’t know what you sprayed). The Northwest Coalition on Pesticides has a great online info site listing non-toxic alternatives in treating insect pests.

  41. It’s nice to see that not everyone is afraid of yellowjackets. I don’t particulary like getting stung by them, but I realize that they sting because I was threatening to them. I know so many people that just sit on their porches with a can of insectiside spraying away. This is bad for the yellowjackets, but I wonder the health effects it has on the humans. Probably not good.

    I remember reading stories about native americans searching for their spirit animal. It was always an important time to them. One where they transitioned from boyhood into manhood. It always suprised me that they would fast until they saw their spirit animal. Sometimes this could be for a very long time. I like the idea of spirit animals. It gives a little comfort and protection in the world.

    • I like the idea of a spirit animal too, Hannah–and among most people on the Northwest coast, girls as well as boys went on vision quests.
      Not only is sitting on your porch, in the image you describe, with a can of insecticide in your hands not good for humans– it is not entirely effective against yellowjackets, which are better trapped so you can get the queen if you don’t want a nest around– see my response to Jeff Verret above.
      And I know that some people are allergic to yellowjackets such that they could die from a sting– yet another reason why it is important to be inforemd. Thanks for your comment.

  42. I have been deathly afraid of all yellow flying insects, ever since I had an allergic reaction to yellow jackets while working for the Forest Service. To paraphrase the old master Yoda, the fear soon turned into disdain. For a long time, I saw no redeeming value in flying “pests,” until I helped my neighbor harvest honey from his garden. I quickly learned to see incredible value in these organisms, but not simply because I learned about their fascinating honey-making processes, or of their roles in pollinating the beautiful gardens around Corvallis. I saw them as indispensable, because they do many things that no other organism can do. Their role in our life (not lives, because all living things share the same one) I will never fully understand, and their importance I will never truly grasp, but I do know that they have just as much importance and deserve just as much respect as cute burrowing animals or majestic flying birds.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience in coming to understand the place of such creatures in the natural cycle, Morgan. There is that ancient East Indian tale in which a god takes away all the things inconvenient to people–and winds up creating a terrible drought that almost destroys humanity as a result.
      If you had an allergic reaction of the non-fatal potential (thought terrible enough in itself), you might be able to blame that reaction on pesticides. A mainstream M.D. told me some time ago that he has seen the reactions to insect stings (including mosquitos) more and more exaggerated in his practice. His theory is that the survivors of the pesticides used to attack them are injecting those pesticides straight into our bloodstreams and thus the increased irritation.
      Indeed, some little things called “haptans”– I may say something about these in my next post here– associated with our current chemical usage and mutliplying out of bounds are responsible for the huge increase in adult-onset allergies to foods like fruit and vegetables– something not seen as much as twenty years ago.

  43. Respecting animals within our world, as the indigenous people did, give us perspective beyond our human abilities. The experience described with the yellow-jackets in your backyard is a great example. As the Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel stated, “it is an ” arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be put into a computer with the hope that, sooner or later, it will spit out a universal solution.” We cannot explain this phenomenon with science, there is no real pragmatic explanation. But we can explain this through the eyes of the indigenous people who once taught this type of reverence to many generations.

    Our culture tries to label everything with a scientific reason, and possibly if these types of situations were researched for many years the truths that animals reciprocate the care humans give may at some point be scientifically answered. However we need to understand there is a bigger power at play here. And we cannot always label the phenomenon’s we are fortunate enough to experience. My dog is a great example. Early on when he was younger, our girls would bring dates home for us to meet. If he liked the new acquaintance he would be friendly, but if he for some reason he took a dislike to their new friend he would growl and show his displeasure with this person being in our home. At first I did not understand his different personalities. But it didn’t take long for me to realize, the young men our girls brought home that he didn’t like had some type of background we would not have been pleased with allowing our girls to be alone with. It didn’t take long for me to heed his protective and loyal displays of acceptance, or anger. Now, our girls know if he growls and shows displeasure to one of their dates, they no longer will spend time with that person. Some people say this is crazy. But for me, I trust my loyal companion more than I trust an unknown stranger. And so far, he has been right on target for all of his evaluations!

    As the storytellers told their stories about animals protecting humans, and once this happens the animal belongs to them, explains the importance of understanding there is a bigger phenomenon to the situation. When reading this article, it came to mind that beauty is in the eye of the beholder…what you believe, you will understand. The people, who do not understand these types of experiences, try to put everything into a nice, neat, little box. But in reality, experiences like the yellow-jackets, or my dog, cannot be easily explained by scientific measures. We need to take these situations and recognize the animals are doing their part for humans, now it is our turn to reciprocate and recognize we are all dancing together as one big unit, complimenting each other with unique special blessings.

    • I think you are absolutely right about our not giving animals enough credit in contemporary industrial society, Marla. The more research we do, the smarter we realize these animals are. I can think of more than one parent of a teenage girl who would like to have a dog around with such detection abilities. And if we a dog can be taught to detect cancer and to warn seizure victims of an oncoming attack, don’t know why they couldn’t smell out an unsavory character.

  44. Yellow jackets have their place on the earth just like the rest of nature, but I admit to not being too crazy about them being around due to an allergic reaction I receive when I was stung many years ago. Still, they have their place here too. I can’t control all the yellow jackets. Nor can I control all the ants that like to grace our kitchen in the middle of winter. They will always be there. Some things can be controlled, but should they be controlled? I much prefer that the ants stay in the ground and out of my kitchen. Then again, I didn’t build the house that sits on top of their home. Maybe I should be just a bit more tolerant.

    • Thoughtful perspective, Judilyn. I admit to having baited sugar (“stink”) ants that periodically invade my kitchen with a boric acid mix. Although I find a more effective technique is to keep everything with any sweetness to it in the fridge where they can’t get to it–they just leave if there is nothing around to consume.

  45. I liked the quote in “lesson from Yellow Jackets” which states, “Albert Einstein gave when asked if humans might one day reduce everything in nature to scientific explanation. His answer was yes, but that would be like explaining Beethoven through the measurement of sound waves. We could do it, but it would tell us nothing about the music.” This really a beautiful way of describing the emergent properties we see in nature and it shows that some things in nature can’t be explained without the knowledge of its many connections of life.

    Ruth Benedict’s statement that, “superstitious behavior is based on adhering to simple stimulus and response.” made me think about why superstitions work in some instances. Because the original stimulus gave a certain response, we change our behavior. If we had a good experience with our stimulus, our behavior will mimic the same reaction we had when we first initiated our stimulus. So, like in the yellow jacket example, the people are calmer around the bees because they view them as harmless. The person that had not lived along with the bees reacted with a negative stimulus which initiated a negative response. Their behavior responds to ours as ours responds to theirs; it’s reciprocated.

    • Interesting thoughts on reciprocation. This is what those like Gregory Bateson called a “positive feedback loop”- – which goes beyond Benedict’s notion of superstition. In fact, I think of it as a kind of jab at those who this they are scientifically advanced by explanations that entail nothing more than stimulus/response– but as you note, Einstein’s quote lends some perspective on such simplicity. Thanks for your comment, Benj.

  46. The story of the yellow jackets can be interpreted in many ways. Were they really protecting? Did they sense the negative energy of this man in the yard? I think the most important aspect of the event is that the family was able to live peacefully with the yellow jackets. They shared the garden, each served a purpose. The yellow jacket pollenated, and ate other insects, and the family took care of the garden. I think that this symbiotic relationship was in fact recognized by both parties.

  47. I feel very strongly that we should not view the natural world as merely “a puzzle to be solved.” I think that the primary motivator for those who want to solve the natural world is the motivation to change the natural world. Instead of solving, I want to understand the natural world. I want to learn its intricacies and learn to work with it (and in some cases around it). When we fail to show reverence for the natural world, we open the doors to all sorts of disasters. We try to hold back the seas, they rally and pummel our defenses. We try to build where we shouldn’t, nature bucks us off.

    While I have no stories as poetic as the yellowjacket story, I have often times felt a benevolence from the Earth. It’s almost as if it understands that I want to work with it, and treats me kindly. I don’t know how better to explain it. It’s a powerful and humbling feeling, It makes you think about how the Earth, in all of its wonder, deigns to care of such a small, seemingly insignificant organism as one person.

    It takes my breath away.

    • I think you are right, Amanda, that the motivation of those who want to “solve” the natural world as they would solve a puzzle is about control. Understanding is something very different from control: indeed, if we are focused on controlling something, it is unlikely that we are learning much about it. Thanks for sharing your sense of a benevolent nature that is stirred by our actions; there is no guarantee that other lives will act in our favor, but I have experienced so many wonderful times when they mysteriously do. You are right, it is both a powerful and humbling feeling when this happens–sometimes it takes my breath away as well.
      Thanks for your comment.

  48. I took a Near Eastern Religions class one time when I was a younger woman. One thing I remembered was a point the teacher was making about how man was not created to know all things of this realm and those beyond. That, for me, was a freeing concept. There are mysteries and wonders of this world and worlds beyond that I do not need to know, and can not know. I feel like when we try to figure out the puzzle we are ultimitely trying to place ourselves at the utmost top of the hierarchy; the all knowing. Just one more unknown thing to fear and control.

    Life is much more beautiful when we realize that we are a “part” of the planet/world/universe. We have a place, and that place was never ment to be at the top. The planet has its order, and somehow we have steped out of it. I love the comments about the reciprical relationship between all things. I agree.

    • I agree with you on the issue of allocating the universe a bit of mystery, Shawna. I think you found this appropriately freeing. And though if we take this stance, we will have to give up our supposed power to control everything, we will gain in our connection to a vast living world.

  49. This is an interesting story to use when considering where we fall into the natural order. I think it is something we are trained to do from a very young age to reject any nature that could in some way harm us. My parents always killed Yellowjackets with poison, or shot rattlesnakes with a gun, but we never really considered if there might be ways in which they could help us. In exchange we could have mutually helped each other, which I’m sure your particular Yellowjackets sensed. Nature can and sometimes does take the defensive action and attempt to attack things it doesn’t understand or fear, but only as a last resort. Rattlesnakes did not develop rattles because they wanted to attack something. I have heard that North American rattlesnakes are becoming evolved to no longer use their rattle as a warning. They have survived humans killing the things they fear by hiding and keeping their location a secret. This response to humans will actually result in more snake related deaths than when the snakes rattled because we could avoid them. If we interact with nature and attempt to destroy the things we fear, especially in a proactive manner, we will likely find nature more than willing to fight back, much the way your intruder learned.

    • Some insightful observations here, Damien. In the Willamette Valley (from pioneer reports) rattlesnakes were ONLY killed by indigenous people if they did not rattle first. Seems like our behavior is fostering an entirely different and more dangerous form of natural selection.

  50. I’m not a fan of spiders, or of yellow jackets for that matter, and I had to deal with both in great measure when living in an old house that had been originally built near the Willamette River in the late 1800s. I wanted to use chemicals to remove the unwanted bugs from the house but was concerned with how that might affect my pets. I watched the spiders and yellow jackets for several days after moving in, mostly to figure out how to avoid them, and realized that the spiders were growing large and grotesque by spinning their webs and catching the yellow jackets that were nesting under the eaves of the house. Remarkably, the majority of the spiders stayed outside during the summer and kept the yellow jack population from overtaking the yard. In the winter many of the spiders moved inside but I was less inclined to kill them then I would have thought because I would need them again in the summer when the yellow jackets returned. There is a scientific explanation for the behavior of the bugs inside and outside my house but at the end of the day, I benefited more from simply observing and cohabitating with them then with understanding or trying to control them. It was one of my first experiences with “communicating with the world” and I was able to observe first hand the benefits of that system.

    • You likely did protect your pets with your observant attitude, Katy–and yourself as well. The (usually) aggressive yellowjackets are the ones that nest underground and outside, not inside a house and under eaves (that I know of). You might want to read up on the NCAP site about yellowjackets–and if the spiders aren’t trapped them for you, baiting and trapping yellowjackets is an effective non-chemical method of dealing with the aggressive species– which certainly might be necessary if someone in your household is allergic to their stings or they decide to nest in a high-traffic area.

  51. Your experience with the Yellowjackets is amazing to read about. The way they identify you as part of their natural surroundings shows that they too should be idetified and respected as inhabitants of the Earth. I feel that animals and birds in my backyard display a sense of knowing me as me and not just a person. Birds, for instance in my backyard land near me when I go back there, in order to ask for food. I do not feed them every day so it is not repetition. They do not land near other people for food, so I feel they know me, this gives me more respect for them, a friendship of sorts.

  52. Aside from being not very poetic, I believe part of the reason our culture is so detached from the beauty of nature is our ability to rationalize everything scientifically. If you can break everything down into its scientific components it’s easier to ignore the whole which reduces its importance as a living being. Its easier to destroy nature when you break it down into its useful components and find use in 1/1000 of the plant itself – you forget why you needed that whole plant when all you’re after is the oil it produces. When people spend centuries doing this microscopically I guess you really WOULD tend to forget the beauty and importance of a tree for the shade it provides or the air it cleans. Intelligence and education can really breed its own kind of ignorance.

    • Great point about the ways in which breaking up things into bits makes us lose perspective on life as a whole: interesting repercussions for the ways in which we think of medicine.

      • I never thought of that in the context of medicine…that is very interesting. When you consider the implications of adding a part of a substance to our bodies without truly knowing how it works with the other components of its original form you have to wonder if maybe that is part of why we have so may problems with medicines. We don’t simply break it down and remove it from its’ natural “body”, but we add it to other components, and expect to be able to control the effects. With respect all the side effects and late onset diseases that result from our “medicines”, this is an interesting aspect to explore. I’m sure it would explain a lot, actually. I wonder how much of this concept is actually known and understood but buried to avoid frightening the public and the other economic/consumerist readtions that would follow such a discolusure.

  53. We have a wild ring tailed cat that lives in our loft/attic. It is a nocturnal creature so we never see it in the day time and only rarely see in the night, until recently. It turns out that this ring tailed creature has a craving for sweet things. We found this out upon the discovery of a missing gingerbread house after Christmas; then, the honeycomb behind the couch. Finally, I got the critter in action as it tried to drag a bag of cookies under the couch one evening. The funny thing was that it wasn’t scared of me (I also didn’t try to be very scary!). I attribute this to the fact that it’s been living in the attic for over a year and has taken its time to get to know us before venturing down for a treat while we’re home. I think it trusts us in a sense.

    This turns out to be a wonderful relationship because the cat keeps away the mice! And for a house that’s over one hundred years old, that is quite a feat! I don’t think that human food is good for wild animals, so I don’t intentionally leave food out or feed the cat, but, I do like that it feels safe enough with us to live in our home and venture down on occasion to check us out!

  54. In our society, I think we fear that which we don’t understand and can’t control. Some of this fear is helpful; after all, yellow jacket stings DO hurt, and we learn from a young age that stinging insects are to be avoided.

    We recently adopted two kittens from the local animal shelter. They are our youngest children’s first pets, and it’s been challenging to teach them how to act around animals. Like all young cats, these kittens like to play, and their play often involves scratching. One thing that I keep telling my children is to never punish the kittens for being kittens. When my 7-year-old was watching TV the other night, our male kitten reached out and gashed William’s foot. William was shocked and hurt by this; he was intently watching the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and he didn’t even realize that the kitten was in the room. His first instinct was to swat the cat for scratching him, but as I tended to William’s profusely bleeding foot, I explained that Lucky doesn’t understand that he caused William pain. Lucky had just wanted to play with William’s foot, and the fact that William shouted in pain was probably enough to tell the kitten that he had done something wrong. A short time later, Lucky climbed into William’s lap and took a nap. This incident could have had a less happy resolution if I had allowed or encouraged my son to punish the cat instead of trying to understand him.

    Kittens will be kittens, and yellow jackets will be yellow jackets, and we humans need to learn how to understand the viewpoints of everything around us.

    • We do need balance here, Roxanne– there is such a thing as appropriate fear and caution (thus the precautionary principle with respect to the testing of “new” chemicals). “Lucky” is lucky to have a home such as yours! You are obviously putting into practise “learning how to understand the viewpoints of everything around us”.

  55. Since I was little I always seemed to have an understanding with yellowjackets and bees. Those around me would get stung. I think it was because they would see the creature and immediately freak out or try to kill them. I always believed that if you didn’t mess with them, they wouldn’t mess with you. I never had a problem with any bees or yellow-jackets. I believe we can live in harmony by respecting each other’s space and doing (or not doing) unto others as you want done unto yourself.

  56. I like the contrast here between superstition and simply living your life with respect and reciprocity. I really don’t think my thoughts or words are powerful to change the outcome of a football game or the weather or any other thing that people concern themselves with. But the way I live my life can be powerful enough to make some things go well for me. Like you mentioned, even though you are kind to the yellow jackets in your yard, and you never have problems with them, that doesn’t necessarily mean the entire yellow jacket population will avoid stinging you. They are still yellow jacket’s and they will still behave the same way. However, not shaking their nest might help your odds of not getting stung. Very interesting points here.

    • Great point about living your life in a way that makes things go well for yourself, Alyssa. This is an important contrast with those who think you can simply think the right way to get anything you want in life– that might work if you were the only person in the world! Thanks for your comment.

  57. That is a nice story. And we defiantly should thank the nature around us including animals, plants, water…etc. As we value the nature, the nature will provide us with all of what we need to have happy and healthy life. I encourage everybody to learn how to love the nature and relate to our lives.

  58. I have never thought it wise to underestimate animals. What gives us grounds for such superiority anyway – after all, who are we to dictate what other organisms experience and perceive? for all intents and purposes, it would seem that they have a lot more to teach us than we have to teach them. They certainly have a grace and an ability to endure and co-exist with others of their own species, as well as with species very different from them, with better efficacy that we are able to co-exist with ourselves or with other organisms.

    • This lesson of co-existence is a profound one to be able to learn from other living beings, Hannah. It is a contrast from the ignorance of making ourselves into little “dictators” as if we could pronounce what others are feeling and perceiving. Great perspective!

  59. I really enjoyed this essay a lot and the bees in your yard brought back a lot of memories of my childhood because of our garden that seemed to be filled with bees as well. Anyways, What I feel that your story of the yellow jackets says is that if we don’t mess with nature, nature won’t mess with us and if we help nature, nature will help back. It resembles a sign of respect for one another and compassion, especially in your case which is why the yellow jackets never stung you and may have attacked the intruder. I know you say the story seems a little superstitious and is merely just a vision rather than the scientific truth but I think it’s the idea involved that’s the truth. As you say, the “manipulation of the world” (disrespect) has left us with climate change and cancer epidemics but the “sustainable model” (respect) has left humans living in harmony. Respect seems go a lot further and the truth clearly presents itself.

    • I think you are certainly right that respect goes much future in engendering sustainability than does manipulation, Dylan. I also didn’t say that the incident was superstitious; though its interpretation could be. How is “superstition” as defined here actually applicable more to some things we assume “scientific” rather than to human relationships with other life that entail the respect you admire?

  60. All things are built though the existence of another. My personal opinion is that the world is a puzzle, and that all things are connected in that way. Each piece fits together, some are jammed into place and create disturbances in the big picture, but it does all come together. Other pieces are able to co-exist, and slide in nicely together, like a gardener, safe from the yellow-jackets which fit with the cultivated garden. The roof of the house provides a haven from rain.
    I think to say that the “magic” that connects us should be taken as just that, magic, is wrong. Striving to know every connection, though an impossible task, is something worth living for. Making the best possible combinations of living harmoniously with others is like striving towards a “heavenly” concept, maybe even nirvana.
    Though science has lead us to the environmental hardships we face in the future, it has also led us to the ability to measure it and recognize the problem. Recognizing a problem is much better than passing it off as magic. Hoping for a miracle, on the other hand, is completely within reason.

    • Thanks for your comment here, Anthony. The main point of this essay is the interconnection you mention. However, I am not sure you understood the point about superstition here: a certain kind of what passes for “science” today is actually superstition by Benedict’s criteria– since it is based on mere stimulus-response and not on deeper connection and understanding.
      Hoping for a miracle as “rational” is interesting: what ethical stances and actions put us in a position for this? I think the restoration of the rainforest in the community of Gaviotas in Colombia is a prime example.

  61. It seems to me that this seems to be the general method of western action. View everything as something that can be packaged, commericalized, adapted, and used up. Everything is a competition to control. First our ancestors competed with the Native Americans for land and resources, claiming the worldviews of the natives to be just stories. Now we try to influence every bit of that land that was taken. Certain animals are seen as pests and so are wiped out, certain plants are weeds and are pulled up. Forests are simply a resource and so are used up.
    This really makes me think back to the reading we did for a different lesson that talks about the difference between dualistic and interdependent worldviews. The key element that I remember of a dualistic view is that it is a view of competition. It separates everything into “us” and “them.” Nature is something that is in our way and when it is not helping us by offering its resources, it is hindering us by being in our way or slowing our accumulation of wealth.
    Until recently I’ve never looked too deeply into the needs of nature or the environment. However, with some of the things I have read recently it seems arrogant and irresponsible to view things like this. Even if we look at it in a self-serving light, humility and respect are much greater in long term benefits than greed and control. Taking and controlling leaves room for mistakes and shortsightedness. But if the world is viewed with a healthy respect for what we can’t and will never know, we will be much more likely to avoid more problems in the future.

  62. I don’t think we should ever take nature for granted. I know I am new the an greener point of view but I have always believed that if God put it there it has a purpose. We may not know what it is but just like it says in the Bible just because you don’t understand it doesn’t make it any less true.

    We all share our space whether we are aware of it or not. I have different kinds of bird feeders around my yard. My neighbors ask me why I don’t try to chase the squirrels away from the bird feeders. I just tell them that the squirrels get hungry too. I have a huge pine tree off my front deck. In the late summer a HERD of tiny birds would come and eat the seeds out of the pine cones. It would take them all day and their gentle fluttering from one branch to another was beautiful but at the end of the day, when they were all done, it was so AWESOME to see the whole flock lift to the air as one, in harmony, hundreds of tiny green birds leaving with full bellies. My pine has since died and the tiny green birds don’t come any more. The sad part of my pine tree story is that I could have saved the pine tree if I had used a strong insecticide but I wouldn’t. I didn’t know what it would do to my old scrub oaks that live around the old pine and so I sacrificed my lovely pine for the sake of prudence. I am often tempted to try to have someone dig out my old pine to plant a new one so that some day, even if it isn’t in my life time. Someone else can be amazed by the beauty of those hundreds of tiny green birds.

    • I really like your idea that we all share our space, whether we realize it or not, Cendi–and it follows that when we
      “develop” areas mindlessly we destroy habitat we don’t even consider. I don’t think your refusal to use a strong insecticide on your pine tree is a sad thing. From the publication of Carson’s famous Silent Spring it has been clear that insecticides cause immeasurable harm to birds (and now bees with “colony collapse disorder). You may not want to plant a species susceptible to the same insects in the same place again– but by NOT using that insecticide, you did not poison the home of these birds.

  63. I hope the Yellowjackets got him good.We have for too long taken nature for granted. We have not listened to the indigenous people. We took, and still take them for granted.. Has the time not come to listen to both? For too long non indigenous people have raped the land for its resources, all the while thinking they were inexhaustible. Now, we suffer the consequences. Is this the world we want to leave for our future generations? Thinking that the indigenous peoples are just superstitious is irrational. We see now that they knew the way to treat nature. They reaped the benefits of their treatment. The settlers and others destroyed it for them and us. We do tend to take the easy way out. We use the pesticides to kill weeds, all the time not caring that the pesticide not only kills the plants, but goes right into the water table harming everyone. In sharing with nature, we will reap benefits as the indigenous have. If not, we will continue to see the decline of the land. Which situation do you want? Nature does have meaning. What we may believe about it does not. It will be our actions that tell the story for the future.

    • I don’t know how good the yellowjackets got him–but I do know he never came back, Scott! You have a powerful point indeed at the conclusion to your comment: “it will be our actions that tell the story for the future.” I would love to know that the future will see this time of decision as the one in which we turned things around and began to nurture a bountiful and just world for the future!

  64. Whenever someone freaks out over a bee near them I always advise them to stay calm and it will not bother you unless you bother it. I relate to this anecdote as I have always been neighbors with bees. Surrounding my patio is a huge bush covered in newly bloomed bee attracting flowers and each day there are hundreds of bees on my patio each day. Instead of fearing interaction with them I enjoy watching these creatures thrive around my flowers in a time when the population of honeybees is drastically declining. There is no way of explaining it, but my housemate talks daily to her plants and they thrive while my less chatty rosemary is scraggly and bare. Needless to say there is something to be said for having a relationship with nature. Living with the natural world is not the problem, our manipulation of the natural world is. Thank you for the engaging article.

    • I very much enjoyed watched the proliferation of native bees of all types in my garden during the beautiful sunny day yesterday. They are a bit mesmerizing to me. Yes, honeybees have been hit with “colony collapse disorder” (directly linked to the pesticides on flowers they visit–which it why Germany has outlawed specific pesticides harmful to bees in the last two years– time for us to get on the train) AND the imported mites to which bees had no resistance (but beekeepers are developing organic responses). Thanks for your comment, Cheyanne.
      And just a reminder: bees are not yellowjackets, two very different creatures, though they are in the same general insect family. Foraging honeybees are highly unlikely to sting you, whereas it may be a very different matter with yellowjackets.

  65. I enjoyed reading both about the peculiar episode with the strange man and the yellow jackets that kept him from invading your home, and the idea that the repeated use of pesticides can be seen as a superstition. The fact is, we do, erroneously, think that we can control the world for our convenience. What do we get from that superstition? Pollution, cancer, and Earth’s species in massive decline. It would seem that, even though our superstitions are not serving us, we still want to hold onto them with all of our might.

    • I think you have an important insight here, Michele. If our acts in the world were really rational, we ought to be able to let them go when we get the evidence that they stop working– rather than assuming because something isn’t working, it is because we need more of it. (What’s wrong with t his picture?)

  66. I find it interesting that stories of indigenous people are “just stories.” Every culture around the world has stories even the bible. These are important moral lessons for children and adults alike. The interesting part is that one culture would deem another culture’s stories as foolish. Within the stories there would be non-reality scenarios but the story would always pertain to a common cultural value. This leads to the thought that everything needs to have an explanation, i.e. how did the white buffalo save the young Indian? Often times there is a need to think beyond the how and contemplate the why. The journey is often the most critical part of any quest; just look at education, everything builds up to the diploma but is the diploma the important component?
    I enjoyed the Thomas Berry quote; the world is not a “collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.” As we share the world with others we cannot describe them as objects; we are all a connected part of the natural world. The more we try to control the natural world the more it will lead to suffering for all beings. From the few passages I have read, this is what the people from Gaviotas were trying to avoid. They are working toward a harmonious existence with the natural environment around them.

    • I appreciate your response, Renea. I do think it is especially insulting that we see the stories of others as unreal and yet take our own literally. Sharing our stories with other is a way to make our place in the world truly “a communion of subjects”.

  67. I do not find it surprising that people would think of the stories of indigenous people as superstitions or old wives tales. We tend to ridicule anything that we don’t understand and to also assume that our way is the right way. The story of the yellow jackets is remarkable but makes a lot of sense. People tend to think that animals don’t have intelligence. In this paritcular situation it is obvious that the yellow jackets sensed danger just as you and your daughter sensed it. I would say that exemplifies the fact that we are closer related that we think.

    • I like your conclusion that sensing the same things as other species “exemplifies the fact that we are closer related than we think”, Mildred. And we enlarge ourselves with such connections as we listen to and observe the dimensions of this world that are continually revealing themselves to us.

  68. The introduction story about the yellowjackets attacking the unwelcomed boy, reminds me of my two dogs. Animals, I believe, sense bad and ill-nature in humans and other animals. For instance, my sister’s ex-boyfriend would always be barked at by my two dogs when he came to our house. I found it slightly humorous because no one in my family particularly cared for this man, we thought of him as a bad influence and unworthy of our sisters time. I believe my dogs sensed something in his aura and behavior and my family’s response to his existence in our home. However my sister brings home her new boyfriend frequently, whom my family and I love, and my dogs have never been happier to greet him. This exemplifies that they are more than willing to share space with people as long as they demonstrate that they are good natured.

    I am not one for superstitious thinking, but I do believe that by respecting others space, you will get the same respect in return. Like you said, being stung by a yellowjacket doesn’t mean you should seek revenge, but otherwise learn. The yellowjackets don’t attack unless threatened, and we should use the same logic in our industrial world instead of overusing our power.

    • Thanks for your comment, Angela-and it was an unwelcome man, not boy– which made it seem all the more threatening. Good balance in your points points about using our power appropriately. Those dogs are evidently on your wavelength!

  69. Taking care of nature is one of the most important ways people can become a part of The Circle of Life. Every time we plant a seed, listen to the birds and animals, singly gently to the plants, or say thank you to the blooming flowers, we are giving a gift. In turn we receive knowledge, peace of mind, food for our bodies, protection, a growing spirit of giving and a sense of having a full life.
    When we observe and pay close attention to the plants, insects, birds and animals we really begin to know them- their habits and the changes they experience. We notice enemies and problems as soon as they begin to attack, just like the yellow jackets did. We can see when they are doing well and when they are not. It is never too late to relearn how we are related and to begin living in ways that support the Circle and keep it strong. This can bring great wisdom.

    • There is a profound wisdom in these words about joining or rejoining the circle of life, Kim. I think that it is not only we who miss out– but our plant and animal elders must be tired of all these potential observations of them we miss. The world is so incredibly rich and glorious– such a loss to miss this!
      I like Paula Gunn Allen’s idea about extinction from her Laguna Pueblo perspective: she says that animals and plants leave us just as anyone would leave an abusive partner when we do not fulfill our part of the partnership with them–and we are left in great loneliness as a result.

  70. This is something I’d never expect, insects and humans having an understanding of each other. If I think about it they actually function similar to us. Their queen is their government and they work for a living. They won’t get in our way unless we get in their way and vice versa. With pesticides we have definitely gotten in their way. Not only do we harm the earth with the toxins but we’re doing double duty with taking out their population.
    Referring to the earth as a “puzzle to be solved,” I think we can and should continue to do so with science. Some of our practices are just really inefficient at doing it right now. Pesticides are an example. It’s a quick and dirty job. If we take our time to find alternate ways, and understand, then we are doing something right. Humans and the world is a place that “can” do this. Especially here in the US, we’ve done some amazing things.

    • It is certainly true that pesticides are an inelegant as well as ineffective approach to a problem that we see. We have done some amazing technological things– time to shift our ingenuity toward creating the sustainable and healthy society most of us want.

  71. This article was a joy for me to read on one hand, but makes me feel a little argumentative on the other. I enjoyed reading about the difference in thinking that people have, between wonder and cause-and-effect. Through the yellowjacket story and the vision quest story, you give clear examples of the difference in a culture’s way of thinking. I also think an important aspect of the article is the clarification that individual views are not reality. This is true for not only the history that the natives share, but also the way each of us sees the world.
    Most likely because of the way I read the article, not your intent, I would have a hard time not arguing the definition and role of superstition in our current culture and science. Superstition is believing in correlation without any known causation, and it seems modern science and technology is always seeking to find the causation when they see the correlation. It’s not magical thinking, scientists are much too logical for that. I understand the gist of Benedict’s point though, and see that the natives beliefs would not be defined as superstition either. I also hope that more people feel the wonder that comes with humility and respect than the article gives credit for. Modern technology and science are not separate from wonder, there is a place for it there. I give credit to each of us as individual thinkers, but think the fault lies in what happens when individuals become a group and we only look at the general thoughts and characteristics of that group.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jamie. This is not my definition of “superstition” (stimulus-response) but that of a well known early anthropologist– though I think it gives us something to think about. You have repeated precisely what she said in another way: superstition is believing in correlation without understanding causation (without really understanding the relationship that produces a particular kind of result).
      I hope I was clear that neither she nor I meant to make out native belief as “superstition”– precisely the opposite. I think there is a particular type of logic (correction without understanding) that is characterized by magical thinking– and has been since Aristotle, as I argue in my essay on “Re-storying the world” published in the Australian Humanities Review this past fall (linked here). I think that it is important not to assume that logic is coincident with reality-but instead to step back and look at the dynamics of particular types of “logic”.
      I had no wish to paint all scientists with the “magical thinking” brush, but sometimes it seems like we fall prey to that type of thinking in looking for instant fixes and magic bullets to fix the problems we have made.
      I have just been reading the report of the President’s Panel on Cancel that takes to task the fact the scientific approach to environmental toxins is characteristically “reactionary”rather than “precautionary”. The reactionary approach doesn’t consider the results of its actions because, in effect, it only bothers with stimulus-response (if one does x, why results) without understanding — or even bothering to try to understand underlying causes. The precautionary approach that his report argues is needed, by contrast, does not allow actions to be carried out wily nily without understanding their deeper results.
      This is another point about magical thinking: it is essentially and only result-oriented. If I am in a magical thinking mode and want something to happen, I just do whatever brings it about without knowing how or why my result happens. In this sense, I think many moderners deal with technology precisely this way: we turn on a light switch or buy packaged meat without any sense of the causes (or “stories) behind the light or the nutrition in our hands– or the larger stories resulting from our choices to use both of these.
      I appreciate your comment; one of the things I like about cross-cultural perspective is the ways in which it allows us to step out of our own supposedly “scientific” worldview. As Thomas Kuhn’s historical study showed, Western science has for the last few hundred years been more willing to throw out data that conflicts with its paradigms than change its paradigms IF a new paradigm that accommodates the date challenges cultural assumptions about reality. “Logic” is a choice in how to look at a thing and its relationships– not a given that leads to only one right answer: as Werner Heisenberg proved, the observer of an experiment in particle physics actually changes the mechanical outcome of that experiment according to whether he is looking to see waves or particles.
      Indeed, I am not necessarily critiquing “magical thinking”–which I actually think is an artifact in all cultural technologies, including those of more than human species– since it is result-oriented without being explanatory. What I AM critiquing is the idea that there is only one right answer, science has it, and its “story” is truer or more real than any other.

    • And feel free to indulge your impulse to argue ideas here any time– that is what this forum is all about, Jamie. I don’t think there is anything with which we can replace our own authentic decision-making activity.

  72. The story of the yellow jacket was very interesting. I feel like animal are very in tune with the emotions that humans and other beings give off. Its very cool you have a pack of guardian yellow jackets. I agree with Thomas Berry’s quote that the world isn’t a “collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.” Everything on the Earth is sharing the space and human control and manipulation might not be the right way to conduct ourselves. You brought up a good point when you pointed out that our attempted manipulation of the world has give us climate change, cancer, and high autism rates. I guess every action has an equal reaction…..

  73. Our personal view of how we see and interact with nature is just that, personal. To let it affect us the way that it needs to rather than what we expect of it is always a surprise. Go home relaxed, exhausted, and fall asleep – the next day, your perception of the fun and the experiences you had will have changed slightly – but you will still remember you were outdoors and enjoying yourself (hopefully!) Nature stimulates us, and we respond somehow either with the same or a new approach. Nature isn’t a puzzle to be solved, rather it is to enlighten and surprise us with its ability to keep us entranced in all that it is and can do.

    • Delightful perspective, Mary. Thanks for sharing it–and perhaps we may even have a story to share if we are open to nature’s ability to “surprise and enlighten us”.

  74. While reading this essay, I kept thinking about one of my favorite songs (I have many, many favorites) by Blitzen Trapper called “Furr.” I considered only posting an excerpt of the song, but then decided if I am going to post it at all I need to do so in its entirety. So here are the song lyrics:

    “Yeah, when I was only seventeen
    I could hear the angels whispering
    So I drove into the woods
    And wandered aimlessly about
    Until I heard my mother shouting through the fog
    It turned out to be the howling of a dog
    Or a wolf, to be exact
    The sound sent shivers down my back
    But I was drawn into the pack and before long
    They allowed me to join in and sing their song
    So from the cliffs and highest hills
    Yeah, we would gladly get our fill
    Howling endlessly and shrilly at the dawn
    And I lost the taste for judging right from wrong
    For my flesh had turned to fur
    Yeah, and my thoughts they surely were
    Turned to instinct and obedience to God

    You can wear your fur
    Like a river on fire
    But you’d better be sure
    If you’re making God a liar
    I’m a rattlesnake, babe,
    I’m like fuel on fire
    So if you’re gonna get made
    Don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned

    On the day that I turned 23
    I was curled up underneath a dogwood tree
    When suddenly a girl
    Her skin the color of a pearl
    She wandered aimlessly, but she didn’t seem to see
    She was listening for the angels just like me
    So I stood and looked about
    I brushed the leaves off of my snout
    And then I heard my mother shouting through the trees
    You should have seen that girl go shaky at the knees
    So I took her by the arm
    We settled down upon a farm
    And raised our children up as gently as you please

    And now my fur has turned to skin
    And I’ve been quickly ushered in
    To a world that, I confess, I do not know
    But I still dream of running careless through the snow
    Through the howling winds that blow
    Across the ancient distant flow
    To fill our bodies up like water till we know

    You can wear your fur
    Like a river on fire
    But you’d better be sure
    If you’re making God a liar
    I’m a rattlesnake, babe,
    I’m like fuel on fire
    So if you’re gonna get made
    Don’t be afraid of what you’ve learned”

    I think the main reason I kept thinking of this song is the beautiful relationship it shows between man and nature. In Western culture, animals are often shown as dangerous and something to separate ourselves from—and wolves, like yellowjackets, are a great example. Animals are not to be seen as friends, unless of course they are our domesticated pets. In contrast, as exemplified in the retelling of a vision quest, Native cultures greatly respect animals—so much so that animals are spirit guides. I was also reminded of “Furr” by Einstein’s insight that “humans might one day reduce everything in nature to scientific explanation[…]but that would be like explaining Beethoven through the measurement of sound waves. We could do it, but it would tell us nothing about the music.” I love this! I believe the meaning of music is up to the individual to discover within himself or herself—not to be reduced to scientific explanation. So, what I personally found in this song is a story about a man who removed himself from society to be immersed in nature (his God). He found companions among wolves and forgot his fears and judgments. Eventually he meets a woman and faces a world that he confesses he does not know. But, as he returns to society, he does not forget his roots in nature. I think this is a wonderful way of showing humans are indeed part of nature and animals are deserving of respect and to be seen as equals. Like living in harmony with your yellowjackets, the man in the song lived in harmony with the wolves. And what a statement it is for the man to me more comfortable and at home in “the wild” than in society.

    • Hi Kirsten, thanks for sharing one of your favorite song/lyrics with us. Music can show us the wonder of the music of the natural world (as you put it) that we should not reduce to a collection of objects or a “puzzle to be solved”. The story in this song is very much like many stories of indigenous peoples in which a human goes to live with a particular species–and is able to come back to his/her people with special knowledge as a result.

  75. I like the idea that the yellowjackets were essentially protecting against hostility in the realm of their existence. Animals have a very strong sense of fear, and so then in my opinion, can sense other emotions as well.

    If one approaches creatures, as well as nature itself, with a malicious, objectifying manner, the non-human life will attempt to protect itself and the environment from harm. Those who cross this path with an open mind or with an intent to benefit the natural world, will be unharmed and allowed to coexist with the animals.

    Generally speaking, what is good for the earth and the creatures who inhabit it, is good for humanity. Not necessarily capitalism and industrialism, but for the living breathing humanity and all the benefits that we can apply to the world.

    • I like your distinctions both about our choices of ways to approach the natural world and the creatures who share it with us and the distinction between capitalism (certainly in the mode we now have it) and what is best for humanity, Rick.

  76. The idea of the natural world being a puzzle to be solved had me thinking about human nature. There are so many natural qualities to humans: to be curious, to be protective, to be caring, to take what we need, to give to others. Some qualities are innate, others learned as we grow older. As a parent, or someone who thinks that she “knows”, as we get older, there is an instinct to teach. When we are young, we have an instinct to learn. What I have been learning about myself is that I need to nurture that instinct to want to learn, absorb what is being taught around me.

    When my inquisitive son asked “what is a rainbow”, I began to tell him about prisms, water, and light reflections, etc. When a much wiser mommy turned and smiled at us. “We like to just think of them as magic.”
    I think sometimes we need to just appreciate the natural world and all its wonders– instead of breaking them apart and “knowing” everything. The rainbow can just be beautiful and as a mother I could just share a moment of wonder with my son. I think I was getting caught up in being a “teacher” or being the one with the answers about the rainbow’s “parts”.
    I think sharing knowledge and wanting to help a child make sense of his world is just fine, but I agree that sometimes it can just be magical and bring joy without understanding the scientific answer.
    Perhaps it is the motive behind the instinct that makes the difference. I’ve been trying to understand my motives lately. What is my reward? I think that one thing I have been learning more about lately through some experiences and considering these ideas is that I need balance. Nature has balance, and through a reciprocal relationship, I can find more balance.
    The yellow jackets and your family seemed to have found a balance, as well as a reciprocal relationship. The man who would not leave was disrupting the balance.

    • It seems to me that one of the things that is most “natural” to humans is our adaptability and variation, Erin. Which is why is it touching that you foster the traits you do in your children.

  77. Two items stood out to me as I was reading this article.1) The importance of the individula’s experiance and 2) The Chehalis Indians belife that their stories are a collected wisdom of a people. No one speaks for any one else you must have all the voices to make the story.

    All to often we try to posses, demand and take. I enjoyed the story of the yellow jackets. No one told them that was you place but they knew who belonged and who did not.

  78. I agree that reverence and respect are the only alternatives to our Western arrogance. I believe that it is in the deeper meanings of things that life truly exists. If we as a society continue to pass down to our children the worldview of domination, we will have effectively stripped all wonder from life. As you say, it will simply be a study of cause and effect, which as we have seen, devalues the very sanctity of life.

  79. Your essay reminded me of the time I was in the field for a week for NBC detection training. We were on the last day and were playing “real life” in the woods with our full chemical gear including our gas masks. For some reason or another, my team got attacked and we were all dead. I got mad that we got killed, went stomping back towards camp through the bushes and trees, ripped my mask off, turned around and and…BAM, immediately got stung beneath my eye. I reached up and got stung beside my nose. I howled like I was being beaten, it really hurt! Now whenever I see anything of the stinging nature I get scared and of course run the other way. In all this time it never occurred to me that I might have been the reason I got stung. After all, I was the one who entered his territory. The area we used for training only got used at the end of spring when the weather was nice, approximately the same time him and his family come out to play.

    • Ouch! And of course, your stomping around did not help. I understand that some stinging insects cannot see something standing still–and see jerky movements best of all. Which is the kind of movement all of us make when being stung!

  80. I love the analogy of explaining Beethoven through the measurement of sound waves, it’s so interesting how we can analyze and deduce scientifically so many things, but we don’t really learn anything about it. We can teach a computer to recognize a painting or text characters, but it will never appreciate the beauty of art or poetry. I also was reminded of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy when the Czech ex-president talked about plugging every piece of data into a computer, I honestly believe our answer would be the ironic “42” or something else of no value.

  81. We often don’t realize some of the instincts that animals have, and the mental capabilities that these different animals possess. There are many times when dogs and cats seemed to be scared at “nothing”, when in reality most of the time there is sense that they are getting that we are unaware of. While I don’t know believe that these yellow jackets attacked this man because they were protecting the others living at the home, but what I do possibly believe is they felt threatened by the way he was acting and sensed stress and harm. He was a intruder, who was not calm like the family that lived in the house and yard.

    There are many times I have been at a friends house and immediately a dog starts to bark, when a stranger walks near the house and does not have the calm actions like others might have. When a friend of the family walks up to the house, the dog does not bark because they don’t possess this calming nature.

    We need to realize that while animals might not have some of the same mental capabilities that we have, they have others that we are not aware of. No human is able to sense fear like other animals are, and the senses that we have and they don’t, they have much stronger senses that make up if the senses they don’t have.

    • I think we might indeed learn much from paying attention to animals about what is going on in our world, Daniel. There is one theory that dogs evolved in concert with humans by lending them their sensitivity– as in smells, so that this human sense devolved while the dog’s grew.

  82. I don’t know what the yellowjackets had in mind- -but their action is certainly fruitful ground for speculation.

  83. I’ve always thought how miraculous it is that some people have such an affinity for nature that they can do things, such as being a beekeeper, without getting stung.

    I think it is not just a romantic notion that having certain feelings about the non-humans in our environment creates a like-minded response in those non-humans toward ourselves.

    I’ve always had a certain fear of dogs, and I’m pretty sure dog’s recognize that and terrorize me because of it!

    • Thanks for your comment, Mark. I don’t think it is miraculous–but the result of care and intimacy. Though I do think that dogs know when you are afraid, and I can get along with almost any animal, I was recently bitten by a dog while simply walking down a trail in the opposite direction. It was a rescued dog that had evidently been often kicked and thought it was defending itself from me as I lifted my boot to walk the path. I was really shocked– but animals (including humans) who have been mistreated don’t have their instincts in tact. Interestingly, though that sent me to the emergency room with copious bleeding, it did not make me afraid/wary of dogs. In fact, I reasoned that this was a good thing to have happened to me rather than a child whose head was at the level of my bitten hand. And the owner now has to walk her dog with a muzzle for a year when she walks it on trails– a safety precaution I hope she actually extends.
      But then there was always my Grandpa who could grow anything anywhere. My family lived at that time in Arizona and had been trying to get a peach tree to grow in our front yard– having had a few unsuccessful tries at it resulting in dead tries. When my Grandpa came to visit, he went to the nursery, picked out a peach tree, planted it, and we could hardly keep it from growing for all the years we lived in that house.

  84. I really like the yellowjacket story and I believe that the bees got so used to the people that lived there that the people really did become a part of the bees world, like the aura they give off that when the other guy came in the back yard, he had a smell or something that did not sit right with the bees so they attacked. I like how its talked about how the manipulation of our world is what is causing the climate change and all the bad things. When it really is, if humans were not manipulating the world to fit them better, then all the problems of the world would be prevented, like global warming, and loss of biodiversity. Since all of those are caused by humans.

    I also feel that animals really do have a since of what is going on around them and how the people that are around them feel. Like how dogs can since when someone is not wanted in their home, so they start to growl and get aggressive.

    • Thanks for your comment, Ayla. I think there is more to the natural world than we tend to give it credit for– since that would mean that we would have to work at adapting to it rather than trying to force it to adapt to ourselves.
      We have seen the results of that, as you point out, in things such as climate change and species extinction,. We can hardly afford such losses in the living world that sustains us all.

    • I agree that if humans did not attempt to manipulate the world to fit them better but instead understood the importance of their role within the flow of the whole, we would be much better off. We have attempted to make ourselves gods by manipulating nature and this is unnatural. We do not have the right to regulate or change the earth. We need to work together to bring nature back to a place where it is able to regulate itself.

  85. I definitely appreciate Einstein’s response regarding the reduction of everything to a scientific explanation. Modern science does seem to have a tendency to reduce everything to its finest parts while missing the very essence of whatever is being studied. Sort of like not being able to see the forest for the trees. The Trobiand Islanders’ preference for meaningful explanations over the “simple” ones of cause and effect also seems to foster more of a connection with life-sustaining processes, in spiritually relating to these processes rather than standing at a distance and analyzing them. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with trying to understand the various details or mechanisms by which our world works, we sometimes just need to step back and put such details within the context of the “big picture”–we may be surprised by just how little we actually know despite all that we’ve learned.

    • Perceptive comment, Crystal… indeed we need a “big picture” to tell us “how little we actually know despite all that we’ve learned” (and thus how much we still have to learn from the living world about us.

  86. This is a really great story Dr. Holden. I did not want to stop reading about the intruder and how the bees came to your rescue and protection. I think the thought about you tending to the garden, and the bees living in the garden is a good reason to why the bees don’t bother you and your family. Once they felt threatened, or something felt a little different, the bees reacted in their defense systems. Animals and insects have a very good idea of what and whose around them. I feel like they have a knowledge about a certain presence that maybe even humans are blind too.

    • I think you are right that the other lives with which we share our world can teach us how to sharpen our own senses, Jessica. Thanks for your comment and your kind feedback.

  87. I enjoyed the quote by Einstein that says we will have an explanation about everything, but it says nothing about the music. We may understand everything but it takes an entirely different understanding to hear the harmony of nature. This harmony is expressed in the stories of indigenous peoples. The other side of “science.” To truly know about nature, you must have lived it every day, have a community of accumulated knowledge passed down for thousands of years, to truly understand how it works. Much like the yellow jacket, they seemingly had no problem with you Dr.Holden, but they could sense an intrusion in their territory. It is the unseen harmony between all living things that makes our methods of scientific studies almost useless.

    • Thanks for your comment, Kyle. I like your phrase “the unseen harmony between all living things”– but I am not sure it renders our science useless– a certain kind of science is, if you will, in harmony with this view. What it does undermine is a particular brand of scientific arrogance.

  88. I like the Indigenous person’s further explanation of the white buffalo. He is pointing out that an objective viewpoint is actually subjective. Just because you can’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. This is the main reason that I declare myself an agnostic, rather than an atheist. I hold no personal beleifs of my own, and have not had any religious experiences, but that does not mean there is no God. I hold myself open to the possibility. That is what I feel the Native American story teller is really asking. Just keep an open mind, and never expect that you can’t be proven wrong.

    I am really terrified of yellow jackets though. I appreciate their help in pollinating the world’s plants, but I prefer to keep my distance.

    • Great point about the objective viewpoint actually being subjective, Frank– assuming that what YOU don’t see isn’t there.
      Not a bad thing to keep a distance from yellowjackets!

  89. Professor Holdren,

    It is somewhat alarming that strangers are wandering into your yard!! Aside from that though, it is interesting the bees attacked him when they never attacked you or your child. I am not positive if a bee can reason enough to recognize who was grooming their habitat. I do think it is possible that the man did something unfamiliar to them and that is why they attacked. A very interesting idea to ponder and maybe in fact, they can realize such things, and this is why the bees near my mother’s garden have never once stung me in my entire life.

    • It is alarming that this stranger wandered into my yard– but luckily it isn’t a regular occurrence. In fact, I can’t think of its happening again in all the decades I have lived here. Interesting point about the bees in your mother’s garden, Kurt. Sometimes I wonder if all the time I put into this yard makes me smell like I belong here– just as bees have their particular pheromones. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

  90. I love the yellow jacket story. It is amazing how you become a part of an organisms life and daily routine simply by residing in the same location. When the man was attacked by them it showed that one little change in any specific environment threatens everything from large organisms (humans) to the small (the yellow jackets).

    • Very nice point about our fitting into ecosystems, Jessika– including the one in our own backyard.

    • I agree, i thought it was amazing that this happened to you. I knew that bee’s had certain ways of sensing emotions from humans due to the chemicals our bodies give off during these emotions, but i never thought that they would pick up on your sense of alert and attack intruders. I think it is really neat that the bee’s adapted to the lifestyle of being around you and your family and any change in that is what upset them.

  91. The point about people using technology they really do not understand but just take for granted I think is a great point, and one that is very prevalent in our current society. How many people (myself included), really understand even the basics of so many of the modern tools we use today to make our lives easier? Cell phone, computer, the internet, their car, their TV, just to name the big ones.

    If we all took the time to fully understand these devices, we would seriously appreciate them much more, and once we started appreciating these things, I think people would be much more receptive to appreciating natural things surrounding them, because we would realize the beauty in their own workings, and how an ecosystem is just as complex as a computer or a cell phone, but in it’s own way, and be more willing to protect it.

    • Thoughtful point, Kamran. It would be nice if we did indeed appreciate intimacy and knowledge with all the things that surround us in our everyday lives. I think that we sometimes assume the natural world is not worthy of such understanding/observation/intimacy at the same time that we relegate our technology (for better or worse) to “experts”.

  92. I greatly appreciate the “no one speaks for anyone else” idea that the Chehalis expressed. It seems very wise to understand and accept that one person’s reality is different than another’s. Every person has different viewpoints and interpret stimuli in different ways. I feel that it only makes sense to extend this idea to other organisms as well. How are we to know what the life of a bird or an antelope is like? It seems ludicrous to me that human suffering is so frowned upon, but animal suffering by our hands is often completely ignored by our society.

    I liked the point you made about the yellowjackets; the response we have to their stings should not be to destroy them (they do indeed pollinate most of our crops!), but to pay more attention so that we don’t disturb their nests in the future. We have become so accustomed to trying to control our world that it is hard to sit back and enjoy what we can find right in front of our noses.

    At the same time, as a scientist I see great value in much of the scientific research being conducted. I think it is presumptuous to think that scientists are searching for some “universal solution,” or that they view our existence as something so simple as a puzzle to be solved. For me, the more I learn about nature’s intricacies, the more I respect her. To know the ingenious methods that cells have developed to combat evolutionary problems simply deepens my awe for life and makes me realize how lucky I am to be here.

  93. I enjoyed reading your story about the yellowjackets. It was like they were the protectors of your garden. It amazes that they never stung you! We used to have wood bees that live in our backyard that like our wooden fence. We never really botered them, but the would chase after you. The male wood bees do not sting you just follow you, but we got used to them and would just walk or run past them. They were a part of our kind of.

  94. This story of the yellowjackets running off the creeper that intruded on your property and lessons of partnerships with nature instead of conforming it for our convenience was wonderful, Professor Holden. Your posts are so inspirational and beacon of hope and compassion to me in these times of horrible treatment of our animal kinfolk.

    It seems like it would take so much to “reprogram” people to stop looking at mice, yellowjackets, and other earthly creatures as pests and more as life forces that power the earth. That is the feeling of hopelessness I am referencing; how do you change an entire society (millions) of selfish people who think of nothing but themselves and their comforts? Despite that hopelessness, I cannot keep to myself about these things and routinely voice my concerns on Facebook and the like, not to mention my friends and family having to listen to my continual rants about these kinds of issues. I can only hope that this advocacy balloons into something bigger and people push their ignorance aside and let a little bit of education in…

    • In the old traditions, a story is made by the audience as well as the speaker, so your being audience to this with your own open heart makes the story what it is to you. So thank you, Crystal.
      I can see the overwhelming task you see– I don’t see it as hopeless, however. I have had too many students like you over my years of teaching!

  95. The story of the bees is a good one, and I wish I had a similar story of insects or animals coming to my rescue. We must respect their habitat and function in nature and maybe they will respect ours. As you said when you got stung, your reaction was not retaliation, but a realization that you must learn from your mistake. If we all learn from our mistakes, maybe we can learn to better co-exist with certain species. I also agree that we must not look at the world as a puzzle waiting to be solved, because we lose a sense of wonder and vision. Indigenous people preserve nature through respect and storytelling, and we must learn from them as they got it right for thousands of years.

    • Hi Kyle, just a technical point. These were not bees but wasps– the latter are generally more aggressive than bees- unless you decide to attack a hive.
      I like your emphasis on wonder and vision–and fitting in with the lives that share ours in the natural world. My sense is that this is not only pragmatic, but expands our own sense of being in the world. Thanks for your comment.

  96. I like how you thought of the bees in your introductory statement as protectors and helpers of your garden. Too often people kill insects with pesticides because they are scared of them or dont like the way they look. It was kind of sad one of my friends once used about a half can of raid to kill one spider until i can and took the can out of his hand. He had been standing directly over the fumes and i had to tell him that can was hurting him way more then that spider was. Insects are a key aspect of our environment and help the environment flourish. Without them our world would see extremely negative effects.

    I have grown to be alright with insects and instead of killing them invading my space i simply put them outside, where they were probably trying to get anyways.

    • Thanks for sharing this personal example and your own choices, Jason. Half a can of Raid on one spider? I never knew a spider had that much power. You certainly had a point in telling this fellow that he was harming himself more than the spider (who was likely long dead).
      TV commercials for Raid which play on the idea that these dangerous alien lives are invading our homes does not help matters!

    • Jason, you are right that many insects are very helpful. Unfortunately, many of us too often just try to kill them because we think they are dirty or just creepy.

      A couple of years ago I found a large number of mud nests in my garage and a friend told me that they were made by wasps. I was completely set on setting off a Raid bug bomb to make sure I killed all of the wasps until I looked in one of the nests and found tens of dead black widow bodies. After closer inspection dead black widows were in many of the small nests. At that point I realized that the annoyance of some wasps in the garage was much better than finding a thriving number of black widows around my house. Since then I thank the wasps for the fact that I have never found any live black widows anywhere near my house and I learned the valuable lesson that even insects that we see as bad have many good purposes.

  97. My earliest experience with a yellowjacket was being stung in the face. I was riding the bus home from school and a yellowjacket flew in the open window next to me and stung my cheek. From the yellowjacket’s perspective (as I imagine it), it was flying along, minding its own business, when my face collided with it. My Uncle Walter, who lived about a half mile from my grandfather’s house in Visalia, used to often sit outside on the back porch underneath a hive of honeybees that lived in the eave of the house. There were always bees crawling on his hands or arms and he told me once that he’d never been stung. I believe, with him, it was as you said: “… they refrained from stinging us since we tended the place where they found their sustenance”.

    I’ve always been afraid of insects, specifically cockroaches and spiders. This last house I moved into a few months ago was very “buggy”, as it had stood vacant for some time before I moved in. Before this, I would make every effort to kill any bugs I might find in the house, but this time I’ve tried something different. I’ve discovered that a glass and an envelope (with something in it so it’s heavier) work quite nicely to contain the bug (usually here it’s some type of spider but lately it’s been crickets). I take them outside, let them go and wish them well. I feel a lot better about myself and in turn, I find I’m feeling a lot better about the bugs. I still don’t want them in the house with me, but at least this way they’re getting a fair shot at life and I feel comforted that I’ve helped them on their way.

    • This is a terrible way to be stung, Barbara. Thanks for sharing your open-minded perspective on this!
      Bees and wasps share some similarities (like the ability to sting!), but wasps like yellowjackets are likely to be much more aggressive.
      The story of your uncle Walter’s living with the beehive is a lovely one.
      It sounds like you have worked out a system that works for both you and the insects and spiders in terms of removing them to the outside.

  98. Your story about the yellowjackets is interesting because I have actually never been stung. Often I find myself in situations where yellowjackets are around and I don’t worry – my mother always told me that if I did not bother them, they would not bother me, and I have always found that to be true. It always seems the person who screams and swats at them is the one who is more often stung.

    In Hawaii there is a constant struggle to make people understand how to live in partnership with their environment. They travel here for vacation and want to snorkel with the pretty fish, unaware that their sunscreen and hair products hurt the coral, which in turn hurts the fish they wish to see. They take the pretty shells on the shore as mementos, without understanding that shells are homes to animals – the less shells on the beach, the less shelter for the animals, the more the environmental cycle is damaged.

    In the last couple years, Hawaiians have tried their best to inform visitors of their impact on the environment, but it seems that every visitor thinks the rules don’t apply to them – they’ll only wear the bad sunscreen this one time while snorkeling after all, then they’ll go home. They don’t realize there are over 1 million visitors to this island each year who think the same thing, and we’re all suffering because of it.

    • Screaming and swatting at a stinging insect is not a good approach to avoid being stung! In fact, many insects cannot see you if you remain still– though I would suggest getting out of the range of say, an African honeybee hive, as quickly as possible! (African honeybees, escaped from Latin American hives, are migrating north, but have been limited by weather to the southern reaches of the US).
      Thanks for sharing these details of what tourists are doing to undermine the very environment they come to Hawaii to enjoy, Roman. I don’t think these rationalizations (only wearing the “bad” sunscreen once) are limited to tourists in Hawaii.
      On a large scale, we need to understand how such actions are important both because they are cumulative and because they model care or carelessness for others.

    • I lived in Hawaii for a long time and noticed a similar thing. Tourists did wear sunscreen adn take shells but locals did the same kinds of things but many times they justified taking the shells or wearing the coppertone with the fact that they had the right to because they lived there. similarly, we used to go to certain spots on the island (i lived on Kauai) where we knew tourists didn’t really go and we’d find tons of garbage on the ground. we knew it was local people dirtying and polluting- not the tourists. Regardless of whose doing it, it needs to stop.

      • Actually, Ely. Ocean currents move things around such that we cannot be sure that the source of garbage on any beach originated there. That being said, I do not think that all native peoples– especially in the context of the history of colonialism, have pristine ecological values. But here is another perspective: whereas we tend to separate ourselves from our wastes by carting them off into garbage dumps, some other folks choose to live with theirs. And in the days before plastics and metal and extra packaging, such garbage would have fertilized the land.
        In Palestine millions and millions of stones have been picked by hand from the land in order to terrace it to hold olive and fig tree roots: the terraces had the added effect of clearing the land of stones to give more growing room for these trees. Making these stones into terraces was an environmentally sound thing to do–but today you will notice that along with stones there are five gallon plastic containers woven into these walls–and who is to say that is not as good a use for them as putting them in a landfill.
        Just a perspective. Thanks for your thoughts here.

  99. I enjoyed reading this article. It reminds me of the book, “Secret Life of Bees”. The movies are symbolic in the movie to the character’s connection to spirit. The main character talks about the fact that there is much to be learned from the life of these creatures. We as humans can learn alot from them. The bees all work very hard together and they highly depend on their partnership and cooperation with one another. They all have a specific job to do within the hive. The other message presented in both the book and the movie was the importance of having respect for the bees, leave them undisturbed, and to treat them with love. That every creature needs to be loved. This message is not just important for bees, it pertains to all living creature that we encounter, including other humans. Just leave them to be and love and appreciate them for exactly who and what they are.

    • Interesting point, Elizabeth. Bees have often been used as this kind of metaphor in world folklore. Great point about what we might learn from these creatures. Though bees are not yellowjackets, I placed a hive of bees in my backyard for the first time this year –and am certainly learning a great deal from them as well.
      I think we only harm ourselves (by losing out on potential lessons among other things) if we fail to appreciate such creatures for (as you aptly put it), “exactly who and what they are.”
      I find my own bees utterly fascinating.
      Thanks for your comment!

  100. I think there are many instances of successful co-habitation that we could all find in our own little portion of the world if we look closely enough. There are obvious examples like the hummingbirds in my yard that live in the tree above where we keep our trash cans. I put a hummingbird feeder in front of our kitchen window and since that time, the birds say hello to us when we are outside. No matter what time of day it is, they fly right by our head once really fast, then they circle around and hover right in front of our faces’ for a good five seconds, and then fly away. They also talk to me in the morning when I am watering my garden; you would not think a hummingbird was so loud, but they chirp multiple times in a row and it is almost as if they are trying to have a conversation with me. I felt so special the first time the hummingbird buzzed by my head. It was like we had connected, and it is a very neat feeling to experience. I think we are silly not to consider as much information from as broad of a cross section of our world’s peoples as is possible when considering how to best approach repairing and restoring our earths forests, oceans and populations. We are only putting ourselves in a bad position if we choose to ignore information that may prove vital to our existence. Our existence is far too precious than making a point is, so I must then ask why things continue on as they are currently. Whatever the approach may be to successfully mitigating our impact on the earth, we all must be taught that each and every one of us has a hand in the effort and that we all must do our part in order to make a difference. We can all start by looking around our yard and getting to know our animal neighbors.

    • Delightful story of your hummingbirds, Lizzy. I love the birds in my garden as well: all the different kinds create quite a flurry when they come through on feeding missions–and they are a delight.
      I very much like your idea of looking around and getting to know the more than human neighbors that share our yards.

  101. “He jumps, abandoning himself to the roiling water. And at that moment a magnificent white buffalo appears and swims him safely to shore”.
    To abandon oneself to the natural world is finding something more than what we understand in our zest for realityt. I believe that the world is beyond just a scientific perspective. I think that science is awesome to try to explain the natural world but I also think that the natural world has a way of revealing itself to those who want to understand. I think our minds are afraid of the unknown but our spirit wants to understand where it comes from. It is easy to disregard what is not understood I believe that humanity is limited to the natural world even though it is interconnected to nature but being in content in that fact may be difficult. On a general basis, nature’sl iving beings such as insects such as yellowjackets, fireants, rodents,etc. are seen as pests to exterminate since they are considered bad or dispicable. I think that nature’s animals, plants, insects and so forth understand and perceives those who care for it compared to those who want to harm it .
    . The stories that are passed down can be disregarded, however if we listen to those who have stories to tell and really listen, then there is so much more to learn. Revelation is a soul who is willing to listen and abandon oneself to the knowledge that humanity is connected to nature and be content in that knowledge.

    • Thanks for the food for thought here, Tina–as in your proposal that our minds are afraid of the unknown (and our egos of the uncontrolled in the domination worldview?), but our spirits want to understand something of this…
      Dismissing what is not “understood” (cannot be controlled) but is a part of our experience is what led to the collapse of the Newfoundland cod fishery which was “managed” by a science that dismissed non-quantifiable sense data on the part of local fisherman according to historian Dean Bavington.
      It takes some courage to abandon oneself to the wonder and spirit of the world– but it is my sense that if we close ourselves off from this experience, we are vastly poorer in experience as a result.

  102. This is such a great story about the friendship between human and animal. It reminds me about my country’s old stories. The stories were about heroes who were doing good deeds, and they always had an animal as a friend as well as a battle buddy. I think it is really cool. Animals have feeling and emotion too. If we treat them like friends, they will treat us like friends. And of course, if the animals feel threaten they will defense themselves. In my culture, we believe that animals can sense the attitude of humans. Here is a story to illustrate my opinion. One day when a Buddhist was teaching a crowd, there was a snake coming out from a bush. Everybody was scare. Instead of running away, the Buddhist stepped forward the snake and bended down to it. Gently, he rubbed the snake’s head. Finally, the snake turned around and went away. The snake went away because it felt the compassion and peace from the Buddhist. I always believe with a heart filled with compassion and peace, you can convert your enemy. Recently, human experienced many natural disasters. I guess one of the reasons was the bad deeds of humans plus the negative attitude toward Earth mother. Thus, instead of waiting for a magic bullet to fix all the problems, why don’t we try to use compassion and peace to fix ourselves?

    • How fortunate you are to have an inheritance of such stories, Vu. I would love to see stories about the power of compassion be prominent on modern media as they were in oral traditions throughout the world.
      One thing we can count on: compassion has no negative side effects– such as creating feuds by asserting one’s own power over another– even if one feels that they are in the right.

  103. This story is helpful to understand how the modern world can observe nature and build a relationship the natural world. I have a friend who has a garden and it became infested with little bugs that were eating his garden. Rather than spray the unwelcome bugs with toxic chemicals, he took the time to figure out what had changed in his garden. He observed the garden for several days until he noticed he had not seen any lady bugs fluttering around his garden as he once did before. Surprisingly he went to the organic feed store and they sold lady bugs. He bought the lady bugs and released them in his garden and much to his surprise the little lady bugs feasted on the uninvited bugs that were eating the gardens bounty and both the lady bugs and garden thrived. The typical Western approach to driving the bugs away is with toxic chemicals, but this simple observation of nature allowed for my friend to develop a relationship with nature and helped me understand at a deeper level how such communion with nature can teach us valuable ways to work with and not against nature as it seem you did with the relationship you built with the yellow jackets in your yard. The natural world has the power to teach us many valuable lessons if we are patient enough to listen. The natural world is not “puzzle to be solved” by manipulation, rather a puzzle to explore with wonder and reverence as creation is slowly revealed with magical experiences we observe in the natural world, not manipulate for our amusement.

    • Nice perspective on alternatives on our war with nature for the sake of controlling it, Angel. I am guessing your friend had aphids in his garden. I don’t know what happened to his natural stock of lady bugs, but they can be killed with pesticides– or will leave to go elsewhere if there is limited food source and habitat for them.
      I very like your contrasting notion of “puzzle to be solved” (and manipulated) with a world to explore with wonder and reverence. Certainly, we might ask which of these approaches gives us the better quality of life.

    • The story of ladybugs is far too common and it is also inspiring,the fact that the ladybugs can take care of this problem points out that we do not need the insecticides that are mutating animals on a daily basis and injuring the farmworkers that harvest the vegetables and fruits. the sad thing is that no matter how many stories of lady bugs and snakes saving the day or saving gardens that are out there there are more people who decide to take the lazy route and purchase insecticide and sing its praises over the natural remedies.

      • Indeed: with a little more information it is hard to believe that anyone would sing the praises of insecticides. Last week I just read a study that indicated that those who used Raid in their houses decreased their children’s IQs.
        We certainly can’t say that about ladybugs!

  104. This Article reminds me of a post Renee Roman Nose wrote on her Facebook. She said: (I am paraphrasing) I want to thank a swarm of yellowjackets for the much needed exercise they gave me today.
    Now among being a Native American actress from OSU she is also a stand up comedian. But really the point to her comment is that we “Native Americans’ see the gifts nature brings to us, instead of the obligation to tame or control it…You have to admit the visual of Renee getting exercise through the gift of yellowjackets is pretty dang funny. I love her humor.

  105. I think the scariest part about our world manipulating nature is, (like said in the above passage) it has become a reflex action. It has become an automatic response. We don’t think twice about spraying a pesticide because that is just what you do. It is so deeply concreted into our brains and our ways now that it has become instinct. Along with many other actions, us humans, take in order to better our own environments without thinking twice about the environment that is housing us. This article reminds me of a children book because it is such a simple concept but possesses a very real and important message- Leave the bees alone and they will leave you alone. However, our world keeps complicating simple situations in order to “find answers,” when really we already know the answers and a lot of it has to do with humbling yourself to a greater power, such as nature

    • Very thoughtful point about the way in which we manipulate nature as a “reflex action”- I agree with you about this unthought-out behavior being very scary, Courtney.
      And perhaps the most dangerous part of this “reflex action” is that it has no considered definitions about what “improvement” really consists of.
      I like the fact that you mention children’s books and simple concepts. There are many things we simply take for granted– whereas if we assessed them as a child would do, it would give us pause in the leap before thinking attitude.

  106. What you say about paying attention deserves more recognition and awareness. People just don’t pay the deserved attention to the natural world. It seems that people become so entranced with their own personal satisfaction or instant gratification that they don’t have time to pay attention to nature let alone establish a relationship with her. My husband and I have always tried to teach our kids that insects, arachnids, animals, people- whoever- all have the same right to life. My son- whose only 5- once cried because he thought he killed a spider that he was trying to take outside. My daughter and her friend once scolded an adult friend of mine who squished a spider out on the grass. I think that if we teach our kids to pay attention and acknowledge that those little creatures have the same rights to life as we do then maybe nature stands a chance with our future generations but if we fail to do this then what is to come of it all? Pesticides and other poisons will continue to kill off species and pollute our environment and eventually we will have nothing left all because we couldn’t reach a balance between us and nature.

    • Great perspective, Ely. My own experience has been that kids easily feel this sense of compassion until they get a bit older–and perhaps more influenced by our cultural media. Hard to maintain this level of care when you are seeing shot ’em up and crash films all the time.
      You might be interested to read Arnulfo’s response about honoring spiders in his grandmother’s house. I have heard of this honoring of spiders in a number of indigenous traditions.
      It sounds like you are raising aware children whose lives will certainly be the fuller for it.

  107. I too can relate with a similar story like the one of the yellow jackets I would have to say that the story would involve chickens in the same manner, when I raise chickens back in my hometown I never once saw them pick or squawk at of me. But when strangers will come around the chickens would get agitated and either attack or scratch at anyone that would walk by or try to pick them up.when I first started raising them I thought it was because I was the person that brought their food that is why they were so nice to me but it wasn’t until I got older I realize that the chickens have a mutual respect for me, when the city forced me to relinquish my chickens because of zoning laws I had to surrender them to the zoning law instructor of the city who coincidentally owned a farm in order to avoid fines that my family could not afford to pay. I found out later on that my chickens all died. My mother told me it was because the man placed them inside of coops and houses and never paid attention to them the way I use to, it also turned out that the chickens where more unruly then the ones he owned already.

    • This is a sad story about zoning laws that obvious did not protect the human or animal lives within their boundaries. I am sorry that you had to lose your chickens in this way. Perhaps there is some consolation in this for you that your wise chickens gave this man a bit of trouble– we can only hope that they taught him something.
      Thanks for sharing this.

  108. Your tale about yellowjackets I think illustrates a common theme shared by many of your essays regardless of topic. There are lessons to be learned from nature and natural processes. Lessons that can’t be learned if we continue on our race to dominate nature. Or, lessons that WILL be learned “the hard way” when nature fights back with no laboratory-designed weapon with which humans can use to control it.

    What is a yellowjacket sting? It is just another lesson learned. If one doesn’t like being stung, one must simply be more aware of–and learn to respect–that which has the potential to sting/teach.

    • You have a great perspective in your connection between stinging and teaching here, Gabe. Let us hope that humans “get it” in terms of our relationship to the natural world before the sting gets any more painful– in changing weather patterns, for instance.
      The point is, that humans don’t rule the natural world– and if we ignore our natural partners, we face some unpleasant consequences.
      Thanks for sharing your insights here, Gabe.

    • I like you’re last point, that a sting is a lesson learned. I’ve only been stung once in my life and that is when I was a younger (probably 6-8) and when it happened i’m pretty sure my mother’s words at some point were “now you know to avoid those, huh?”

      • I like the point of sting as lesson as well, Chamae. Though I don’t know if I would say that to a child in pain– but then, I wasn’t there and over the years your mother’s words may have become transposed into your own lessons– all the better!

  109. I like the story about the yellow jackets warding off the man who stomped through your yard. Maybe you and your children were just extra careful in the garden and never happened to disturb the yellow jackets, but I do believe that animals possess a certain sense and know “their” people. Obviously dogs and cats recognize people, so why can’t an insect? Yes, they have smaller bodies and nervous systems, but, the yellow jackets seemed to chase off the right person! It may not be scientifically accurate but it’s a great story representing the partnership between humans and nature.

    • You bring up an important distinction between stories that give us a sense of partnership with the natural world and those that are scientifically predictive. I would not predict that all the yellowjackets in my yard would always act in this way. But this experience did give me the sense that I should respect their place in the ecological system of which I am also a part.

    • I thought the same thing about dogs and cats, so why not insects? It’s such a strange thought to think though, because let’s face it most people don’t really take that into account when seeing an insect – the initial thought is to get rid of it! But it’s definetly true. Just think of how much an insect begins to scurry when someone comes near it.

      • At least insect/get rid of it is linked in the minds of those in our culture–and especially if pest control businesses have anything to say about it. In Buddhism, an insect is just another “sentient being” like ourselves– which is thus deserving of our compassion.

  110. In looking at the example of Gaviotas as a careful partnership, the beauty of Gaviotas is in both its environmental rejuvenation and its social development. Not only did the rainforest restore itself on the llanos, but through work on the environment a community was established. This community became a safe, healthy and peaceful place based on mutual respect of one another, the land and of non-human animals in the region. There was no commanding involved in the Gaviotas development, only mutual respect. The Gaviotas example in environmental sustainability and social ethics should act as a guide to possibilities worldwide and to teach people that communities can live in harmony with the natural world.

    • Indeed, Rory. Gaviotas is such a touching example of what is possible today in the partnerships between human and between humans and their environment. The essay here, “how can you not plant a rose in wartime” gives some other such examples. Blessed with such models, we are called to our own best possibilities.

  111. I think that there is nothing wrong with trying to understand the way the universe works, until you pointed out that we cannot command wonder. With this kind of manipulation of the planet, we will have so many further issues, just like global warming and cancer. A better way to handle it in my mind is to treat the earth with more respect, and then we can still possibly receive answers about the universe that way instead. I think though, that there can be a fine line between superstitions, and understanding how the universe works.

    • Thanks for your comment, Michelle. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with trying to understand how the universe works– isn’t such drive to find meaning– and our own place in the cosmos– an essential part of our humanity?
      Whatever our explanation of the way the universe works, I think it is important to understand that our conceptual schema is not reality–but only one way to look at it.

  112. While reading the yellowjacket experience of yours I couldn’t help but think of cartoons/movies such as ‘a bug’s life’ or ‘antz’ etc. because in those movies they portray all of the bugs as just normal living things and essentially the humans are ‘the bad guy’ that attacks them for no reason. I can’t personally say i’m fond any form of insect/bug but I think those kind of children movies are made to show that there are other life forms on this planet, and they too have a purpose. It’s important to find a balance with all species on this earth. In terms of the story dealing with the man saved from a white buffalo, I find it a powerful thing for one to hold such strong beliefs and it’s entirely true that one from the riverbank would probably see something other than a white buffalo, but what the man saw, is what truly matters.

    • Thank you for sharing your observations on good things such films might teach our children, Chamae. I very much like your response on the white buffalo. We have no right to attack the personal vision that saved someone else’s life.

    • I tend to like the kids movies that are anthropomorphic towards animals. It really makes people think a different way, as in what they do will effect other creatures in possibly dangerous ways.

    • Those movies are interesting because they put you right in that species shoes and usually that species felt they world revolved around them and usually always saw humans as the enemy.

      • Much worldview folklore for children puts us in the shoes of others– like outcast humans as well as other species–a good way of getting the audience to practice compassion.

  113. While I understand the message about this article, I do not agree that the bees seem to know what they are doing and why they sting. I have been attacked unprovoked and not even near the nest. Of course now I have a chronic fear of bees which most likely ends up making them more attracted to my fear pheromones released etc..I will respect a honey or bumble bee because they tend to be peaceful unless specifically disturbed. I attempt to respect animals unless I am in specific danger– spiders will be released outside unless they pose a direct threat, and flying bugs will be pushed out a window (unless its a hornet.. then i run!).

    • While I agree that the yellow jackets probably did not necessarily know what they were doing, I think there’s an equally valid lesson to be learned from context. Madronna and her daughter knew the bees were there, so they were mindful of that. This stranger most likely had no idea, disturbed them, and his lack of respect lead to him getting stung repeatedly. It almost has the sound of a fable to it.

      • This is also the dynamic of replacement of one scientific “truth” by another in the history of Western science as documented by Thomas Kuhn, John. He observed that science threw out the data that challenged it paradigms until society changed in such a way for that data to become absolutely visible– and the paradigm had to change accordingly.
        Thanks for your comment.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal experience, Samantha. The part I wrote about NOT assuming yellowjackets are thinking like we are (who I am to presume such a thing)– and getting stung when stepping on a yellowjacket nest in the forest, applies to both of us. Who knows what you did to disturb these guys. There is some research–even on honeybees, though the foragers are too busy to bother with humans unless you happen to step on one– that their alarm chemicals are related to banana oil. There are those who suggest a beekeeper not eat bananas before working a hive! On the other hand, they love the smell of lemongrass: if you put it on cotton in an old hive, you are more likely to attract a swarm.
      The good thing is that you are wise enough to learn the difference between all these kinds of insects. I know many who hate honeybees because they confuse all stinging insects.

  114. What you said about the Chehalis elders worrying about their mythology being disregarded by outsiders reminds me of something I heard in a recorded lecture by Joseph Campbell. If I remember it correctly, he was discussing how every culture when it encounters another is quick to dismiss the newly encountered culture’s mythology as mere superstition, and then tries to replace it with its own mythology. He then went on to discuss how science is just another version of the same, with different paradigms making up the new mythology.

  115. I do not think that we will every truly understand the “meaning of life” as it really is but what we can do is find our own meaning that relates to all beings around us. It is interesting that the yellow jackets attacked that man when he was unwanted by you, but it is hard to say if it was a coincidence or the yellow jackets sensed that he was not wanted. Just because we are at the top of the food chain we think that we are all knowing but I believe that animals and insects know more then we think they know.

    • The natural world is mysterious and all the more lovely for that, Jake. At the very least, we can say that it benefits us to be careful not to disturb a yellowjacket nest (literally and metaphorically).

  116. What a scary story about that man coming into your yard, but I think the yellojackets attacking him was a sign, he was bad and needed to get away from you so nature interveened and tok care of the problem. I think animals and nature work together to take care of us and themselves as with the buffalo story. Animals have a capcacity for caring much greater than what we know and as nice as it would be to know how everything works and why it would take that magical feeling out of it. Knowing that everything works perfectly and for no reason at all just astounds me. Whether it is the fact that the sun comes up everyday or that I continue to breath just because my body does it, it is amazing.
    My boyfriends dog saved his life one night and if she hadn’t of woken his parents up at that very minute to call an ambulance he would be dead today. Their instincts to know us (in his case his breathing was off and she went and woke up his parents and then brought them to his almost lifeless body) and even know when we are in distress is the magical workings of God.

    • Thanks for offering us another examples of the mysterious ways of our animal companions– to which your boyfriend owes his life, Cyria. I think it benefits our quality of life to attend to the natural order and agency of the natural lives around us.

    • Wow- that truly is awesome. It seems that animals have a tremendous capacity for understanding humans despite a lack of shared language. It always amazes me that some people dismiss animals as “dumb” or don’t believe they have emotions.

      • Or perhaps from the animal point of view that shared language is something other than English? Everything I am reading lately shows that science continues to reveal that animals are much smarter than we thought they were.

  117. Your story about the yellowjackets reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite stories, Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. The protagonist is being shown how to care for the bee hives and she wants to know how to keep from being stung. Just send them love, she is told. Send the bees lots of love.

    There have been a few instances in my life when interpreting the energy of a situation or sending out my own intention, may have helped me pass safely through a tricky situation. Being both a scientist and an agnostic, I’m at a loss for explanation… but I have observed that it does work. Whatever it is, it’s mysterious and amazing!

    • As much as I would like to think that works (sending the bees love), there are no guarantees on that one– as I can attest, since I am a beekeeper myself (if only a budding one). And that having been said, I will admit that I just put sugar/oil patties in my hives to help fight the possibility of tracheal mites–and I felt completely righteous in giving the bees something–and so interpreted their actions differently than when I am, say, taking honey off the hives.
      I don’t know whether I send my bees love, but I am in love with them as such amazing creatures. And I concur that the natural world is mysterious and amazing from whatever perspective we use to view it.

    • I knew there was a reason why I leave all the creatures alone who live around my house and garden. 🙂 I read that book, Amy, and it was a fantastic read. Very inspiring. The fact that I live in Georgia and have driven through many a town like the one described made it feel like I was reading about home. Creatures and people can get along just fine. Just leave them be, recognize their place, and they will leave you be and maybe even attack a stranger for you. 🙂

      • I have some fennel just blooming and it must have a hundred bees and twenty species of insects on it– including butterflies. What a joy it is for me to just watch those insects flitting in the sun: it gives me a sense of immense well being. Creatures and people–as you say– can get along get find– in fact, there have been contexts in which they have for thousands of years. Thanks for your addition here.

  118. I agree with Thomas Berry when he states that “the world is not a collection of objects, but a communion of subjects.” I feel this is true because in order to live on this Earth we need to live with each and every living thing not try and be the superior species. For us to survive we need the tinniest organism to do its part. So, we should be thankful to all creatures and not try and wipe them out no matter what they are just like the yellow jacket.

    • I was also moved by Berry’s statement that you quoted above. I think we have lost a sense of community as we have industrialized. We used to recognize everyone we saw walking down the street and start up friendly conversation or at the very least smile, and now, according to a recent survey, most of the American population would prefer if no one talked to or acknowledged, even with a smile, them when walking past.

      Now I must admit, I can be seen screaming my head off and flapping about ridiculously when a yellow jacket comes near, but the difference is I recognize that I was in his space and home. I must respect the fact that he is my neighbor regardless of how bad it hurts if he stings. He is trying to survive just like I am, and I feel that this is a fundamental area of neglect, the need and desire for survival, when we destroy habitats and kill innocent creates on a whim.

      • Nice self-reflection, Amber. And if you don’t want to get stung (which point is obvious here), “flapping about and screaming” is not a way to accomplish this goal. Unless you have stirred something up by stepping on a nest or crushing an insect. Being quietly, freezing for a moment and then quietly walking away seems a pretty good strategy. If you act so very dangerous (from an insect perspective), the insect is likely to assume you are!

    • Indeed, Desiree, such creatures have a place in natural systems beyond the value which humans place on them– so if it possible to share habitat with them, we should (and make accommodations accordingly)

  119. I really like what Einstein said about how we could explain Beethoven’s music through science but that doesn’t mean we would understand the music. It reminded me of our readings in Wisdom of the Elders and how they were saying some things shouldn’t be explained, that some things should be left to mystery. Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Sometimes just knowing it’s beauty and wonder can lead to appreciation and respect.

    Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel quote reminded me of what so many people believe today. That technology will eventually save us from our problems. So many use this as a reason to not change their ways, and to keep polluting the earth. But I also think that so many people don’t realize that our inventions of technology helped us to be where we are at now. We chose to use and buy things, but without the help of agricultural equipment farmers would not have been able to plow up the land nearly as fast. Without the use of machines we wouldn’t nearly be able to cut down as many trees. Technology along with our ignorance got us here, but it is doubtful that it will get us out. As you said living with a view that respect the world, we might just see the world “respond to us with marvelous rather then deadly surprises.”

    • Thank you for another compassionate as well as thoughtful response, Laura. Einstein has also said that we cannot use the same type of thinking to get us out of a problem as we used to create that problem in the first place. Besides the expansion of our own lives in viewing our world in such as way as to honor its mystery, it might teach us humility–and even hope in the fact that if we act responsibly, the world may just respond in unexpectedly positive ways.

    • Laura Zeljeznjak, I believe that you misunderstood the quote in the article: “Czech ex-president Vaclav Havel once observed that it is an ” arrogant belief that the world is merely a puzzle to be solved, a machine with instructions for use waiting to be discovered, a body of information to be put into a computer with the hope that, sooner or later, it will spit out a universal solution.”

      I believe the quote says that although people attempt to control and manage their environment, and dominate it like a “puzzle to be solved,” in reality the “universal solution” is beyond our control. Therefore those that propose that “technology will eventually save us from our problems” adhere to the philosophy that nature can be dominated and controlled to serve mankind. In the process of “solving the puzzle” humans have destroyed ecosystems, frayed biomes, and have disturbed the balance of the entire planet.

      Yes, technology has enabled us to be the functional society that we are today, with a population topping 7 billion people. Man has learned to dominate his environment and pave the way for the propagation of our race. But at what cost to the rest of the planet.

  120. Madronna,

    Your story about the yellow jackets reminds me of the many stories that people have had with animals, especially in the wild. For example, some surfers have been bit by sharks, but on almost every occasion, hold no negative feelings towards the animal that could have killed them. Their respect for the ocean is apparent.

    This is a distinct psychological mindset that empathizes with nature on the deepest level. There are also completely opposite psychologies such as the one my mother’s long-term domestic partner exhibited when I was a child. We lived in the rural area of south central Pennsylvania where many snakes make their home on the farms and in the mountains of the countryside.

    On one particular occasion, I remember this person stopping the car in the middle of a mountain road just to back up on a snake that was trying to cross the road. It is that type of psychology that may have led the yellow jackets to protect their home from the stranger that was invading yours.

    If more people were “in tune” with the natural world, perhaps we could avoid many of the ecological catastrophes we are facing.

    • The story of running over the snake is certainly a sad one. Snakes are considered sacred in many indigenous cultures. Of course, there are poisonous ones that need to be treated with care (and distance).
      I hadn’t any idea that snakes (in the ocean?) bit surfers.

    • Being in tune with the natural world would definitely help us reduce the amount of catastrophes that have been occurring. Respect for life in all forms would the saving grace to the problems with environment caused by humans. People could even learn something from even the smallest of animals.

    • I find it dis-heartening to read such stories as yours about the person intentionally running over the snake. It is amazing sometimes how little compassion people have for the flora and fauna around them. While working for the forest service this summer I all to often came across the scene of a person running over trees in their way with a 4×4 vehicle or dumping trash on the side of a dirt road. It is sad to say but I am no longer surprised by the actions of others when it comes to the treatment and care of the natural world.

  121. I enjoyed the story of the white buffalo. It made me think about how when people are going through some tough times in their lives and then miraculously they “find God”. As an observer, I have my doubts to this explaination. I believe rather that they found themselves with help through the meditation of prayer. But who am I to judge? Stories like the one of the white buffalo and about finding God are to be shared as a message of hope to others.

    • I also enjoyed the story. I sometimes find it easier to digest a lesson if it is shared through a parable, or in a more creative visual. It sinks in a little more because I have to imagine all of the senses involved.

      • Nice point, one of the reasons, I think, why traditional folklore is such an effective teacher– it engages us as experience.— as if, a Chehalis elder put it, we were “right there seeing it happen.”

    • Kiley, I like your “Who am I to judge” comment. To me, white buffalo, God, what have you, it all means the same thing, and I agree, they are all messages of hope. And really, if they believe it happened, who’s to say it didn’t? Who’s reality is it? No two people ever have the same exact experience because of individual perceptions. So if it makes their lives better and it doesn’t hurt others, I say more power to them!

  122. Looking at the world as a puzzle to be solved, closes our minds to the potential of ourselves, in living within the “puzzle”, we create borders for our future. We have learned from this class, that though the world is divided up by borders, the way we live affects not only ourselves but others worldwide, other people, plants and animals, because we are “a communion of subjects.”
    I also find it interesting how our trust and use of technology is considered superstitious. It is interesting to look at our lives from the outside.

    • It is indeed instructive to look at our worldview from the outside, Michael. Perhaps that is the only way to get a real perspective on it.
      I like your take on looking at our world as a puzzle to be solved and dividing it up by borders.

  123. Dr. Holden,

    I’m glad you look back on your incident with humor and an open respect for life, a respect that you knew was there with the yellow jackets to begin with, but it seemed to manifest at that moment in time. Realizing such symbiosis with the animals that may seem otherwise a nuisance speaks a lot in terms of scale….and respect. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story. The story of the White Buffalo spirit guide was also nice. I am glad that you showed an outsiders view to the story, in their objectivity a new understanding of the actual subjective experience is presented in its simplicity and awe.

  124. I have always found it ridiculous that the history and traditions of indigenous peoples have been cast aside as just stories. These histories and traditions are no more right or wrong than people believing in the bible. It is too bad that arrogance has taken over and that our oral and written traditions are seen as being “right or law” and that indigenous oral and written traditions are seen as just stories.

    I am also amazed by the story of the man and the white buffalo. It is intriguing to me that this man was saved by his white buffalo and when relating his story after his experience his story was just that a story. But if a christian is “saved by god” during a time of need his story is taken to heart and believed by our western culture.

  125. I don’t think your explanation of the yellowjackets’ reaction is out of line, or merely poetic story telling. The man was clearly unaware of others around him, including apparently yellowjacket nests. I find this to be true in my own yard; I leave wasp nests of all kinds alone, and they leave me alone in return. I try to explain to others that they’re very beneficial garden friends, usually to no avail. When I teach salmon anatomy, though, the salmon carcass always attracts wasps and I use this as a teaching moment for the kids, encouraging them to watch closely as the wasp cuts a chunk of pink meat, picks it up, and flies in circles until it gets its bearing, then zips off towards its nest. Usually the children are able to get their faces very close to the wasp and as long as they remain calm, the wasp doesn’t mind them at all. I hope that the children and their families take those moments to heart.
    I am grateful to be alive and studying nature in this time, when we are becoming more aware that the more science explains, the more most scientists are growing to appreciate the wonders and beauty inherent in nature as nature. I’m also grateful that people in general, because of science making “proofs”, are becoming more appreciative of nature. Awareness of nature is growing, and science is helping; maybe it’s not too late.

    • A hopeful point. Thanks for sharing your experience and the wonderful image of those kids looking at the yellowjackets! Maybe that way they can even learn the difference between honeybees and yellowjackets– I recently had an experience with a ranger at an Oregon state park that lumped them together!

  126. I forgot to ask, has anybody seen “Microcosmos”? Also an amazing documentary all about the secret life of insects.

  127. It is ironic that the ‘superstitions’ of Natives have been dismissed, specifically with the abuse of the land. Even to the extent that Natives believed the ‘white’ god stronger than their deities. I think Natives were more tuned in to more subtle messages/warnings/punishments, so they learned more quickly. The dominate culture is oblivious, so often, of the obvious. The punishment for the ‘white man’ or the dominate culture is already here and it is amplifying by the day. If the dominate culture does not make major lifestyle/industrial changes, the land will no longer sustain us. It’s a shame so many have to die before and along with us.

    • I am not quite sure where you got the idea that natives believed “white god” stronger than their deities. Firstly, I would not call spirits of nature “deities” necessarily; second, many native societies believed in a Supreme Being.
      And thirdly, I have a very large amount of satire composed by native peoples that indicates they did not (and certainly did not always think white God “better”– in fact, many that their Creator comparable to him, which missionaries often heartily disputed.
      You have some thoughtful points here: I just want to correct the passing on of some potential stereotypes here.

      • I’ve read things, here and there, and I couldn’t tell you what they were now, that spoke of ideas on why colonization was able to occur from a Native perspective. Why weren’t the spirits protecting them? One reason was that the spirits that took care of the people could not overpower the ‘white god.’ Perhaps I use the word ‘god’ too loosely. I did not get the impression they thought it ‘better’ so much as more powerful.

        • I cannot image what native peoples who had lived securely on their land for 10,000 years– who had no doubt that if a person died, their people would continue — felt in terms of shock at contact with all its assorted tragedies. I know missionaries told those they wished to convert that their god was stronger– but I think the idea that native peoples all thought this is a bit of projection, following the idea of Manifest Destiny. As a matter of fact, most native people at least that I worked with where no in the habit of comparing their religion with another to tell which was stronger, since they say no reason why they couldn’t embrace plural religions.– theirs and someone else’s at the same time. There is a story of Johnny Moses that makes this point (he is from Puget Sound). He tells how his uncle dreamed he died and went to heaven, only he didn’t know which door to go in– he was faced with a long hall with doors labeled Methodist, Catholic, Jewish, Baptist, etc.Finally, he saw one he thought referred to Indians, so he went in–and when he did, he found everyone was in one big room together, even though the doors by which they entered it were different.

    • It is indeed a shame that it takes tragedy for some of us to learn particular lessons that we might have learned in an easier way!

  128. I thoroughly enjoyed the Yellowjacket story. I always try and share my space with critters. Recently, my neighbor insisted I kill some common ol’ garden spider that was doing no harm (and plenty of “good”) on my porch.. I refused.

    The reference to the “White Buffalo” sadly only kept making me think of this ridiculous movie “Hot Tub Time Machine” my S.O. made me watch! Although I still gathered the idea. I’m not superstitious at all and can not see the benefit of counting on superstitious behavior to assist in endeavors (I think of OCD people, actually; it seems more of a hinderance); however, I do think that if you appreciate something for what its worth, it has the ability to return the favor.

    And as the author Alice Walker pointed out, “animals of the world exist for their own reasons and no less than human beings are doing in all parts of the world, they are seeking sanctuary.” Respect is wonderful.

    • Thanks for your comment, Jessica. Your point about respect is a good one. I am unclear how this connects with the idea of “superstition” as you are labeling it here. The whole idea of the white buffalo story is that an outsider cannot term this superstition– does that make sense to you? Do you see why this might be?

  129. The story of the yellow jackets really reminded me of the book Life of Pi. The yellow jackets seemed to be ok with the people living in the home. One of the reasons why it reminds of the book is that the book said something very similar. Animals want a space that is their own. Pi the main character is stuck on a lifeboat with a tiger. They are both shipwrecked and both are hungry. During the book Pi has to continually try not to be eaten by the tiger. He does one thing which is he sets up a space for him and the tiger and made sure that none of them crossed it. It sounds like space was created for the yellow jackets and was not crossed until the man came. Then obviously he got attacked. One of things that I took form this story was that when we let nature do its own thing it does not attack us.
    Secondly I do feel that we do not place as much value on personal experience as we should. We do tend to have a greater sense of this is what we can see for ourselves than what others are experiencing. Sometime I feel that my own need to be objective in situation does not help the situation.
    I thought that the idea of having seeing other species as different nations was an interesting way of looking at environment. When seeing animal species as nations it does make the way that we treat animals look extremely wrong. I think that this was only a step in living with nature. I can think of a few nations that the United States does not care too much about and how well we treat those nations

    • Interesting analysis of not being attacked by the natural lives we do not harm; it is certainly true that in any partnership we can count on other lives to dislike us if we treat them badly. This does not mean that there will never be things like earthquakes, since the natural world does not run for our convenience.
      As for nations of life, I like to look at it that if we learned to treat other lives well as such nations, perhaps we might even be able to get along with other nations of humans.

  130. This is a good reminder of how we need to pay attention to the world around us. Living with the natural elements of this world, be it the weather, or animals; is the ideal situation, as opposed to dominating the world. If one has rodents in the garden, the current idea is to spray poison all over the place in hopes that gets rid of them. To live in the world, one can get a cat to deal with the rodents; this will provide not only a natural solution but a companion as well. People are too quick to destroy something that is in their way, rather than taking a step back and seeing the whole picture and come to a solution that benefits all.

    • Thoughtful point, Stephen.
      Of course, living with other lives also entails attention and care–and time.
      One can also use live traps for mice indoors and release what you catch far away. Spraying poison all over–or even baiting for rodents in a family garden has some serious negative consequences for both humans and the environment. Cats (though I love my cat) have another problem. Domestic cats are the greatest cause of loss of native bird populations: one thing that lessens this is a cat “bib” that throws the animal off balance just a bit when it jumps to strike (http://www.catgoods.com/– some cute pics of cats with their bibs here as well) developed by a vet. Some cats are not good mousers even when kept indoors. Others catch snakes (which are helpful garden creatures) and rodents even with their bibs (which of course you can leave off indoors) — since bibs do not affect balance when they are pouncing down rather than jumping up.
      Moreover, though research indicates that mice will likely not establish in a residence that has a cat–if they are already there, a cat may or may not clean them out. The Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides has a website library with alternatives to dangerous pesticides in treating pests of all kinds.

    • People are too quick to destroy something, like a house spider that is just looking for a home or a fly that we let in the house. Rather than trying to help them back outside, we are quick to smash them. As with the yellowjackets that lived very quietly in the yard, Americans need to learn to live quietly with the natural world because one day we might need their help to deter a stranger.

  131. There is a lot or interesting points to consider in this essay and started me thinking that the man making demands of you had ill-intent and was focused on getting entry into your home, that he did not see nor hear the yellow jackets. His lack of awareness of his surroundings, blinded by his personal goals and intent, almost did him in. You and your family both knew of the yellow jacket nest and respected them thus created a harmonious relationship. I see western society much like the vagrant man, so focused on the goal of taking or getting something, that we are missing many of the important warning signs, signals, sounds that are going off all around us in nature, that we might get “done in” due to short-sightedness and greed. Sometimes those signals become such a hindrance to our goals, we elect to use poisons to clear the way for our success. They may work for a short while but as the essay points out, eventually they will become ineffective and we will have to accept the pain of the sting. A very thought provoking essay Dr. Holden.

    • Great analogy, Scott, between the one who missed the yellowjackets and our current tunnel vision with respect to the world which we rely on to sustain us.
      Food for thought indeed!

    • Collectively we have become less concerned with the next generation and just worry about ourselves. How selfish can you get? Most species on the planet only live to reproduce and make sure their offspring continues on. The 7 deadly sins. Try not to commit them and you will see its difficult. Why do these scientists create such poisons? I seen a scientist recently made the black plague just to keep it stored. Why have it if it is dangerous? Why even create such things?

    • I think your point of being self-focused is very true. I also think we have become a society of convenience, always looking for what is easier. We are poisoning the mice or spraying the yellow jackets because they are inconvenient to what we are doing at the moment. We are now driven to find the cheapest and easiest route to many things in life, predominantly food. In the end, those who only seek convenience get stung metaphorically speaking, and often with the result being a shorter life.

  132. First off, where do you live? This sounds like something that would happen in my neighborhood. Maybe the man stepped somewhere you wouldn’t have or disturbed them in some way. The best way to look at some things like Einstein, some scientific explanations do not matter. I am a very superstisous person. I often find myself changing something that doesn’t matter if things aren’t going my way. I also realized after something goes the wrong way that I had a chance to make a different decision right before it happened. People need to be careful when they say climate change is caused by humans. There is no proof that this is the case. The Earth has changed on its own since the beginning of its inception. The ice age, the “dark” ages, but there has never been a warm age and there still hasn’t. So it’s not snowing in the north this year but it is in Texas and Seattle, That’s not even US warming. Scientists believe the Earth is cooling and some others think its warming. Global warming was a scam for money. Al Gore made a career out of lying why do you think he started telling the truth?

    • Rather than demeaning the US winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on the environment, check out the data with respect to global warming on the site of the Union of Concerned Scientists.
      Use your personal critical thinking to figure out who has a motive to put down the concept of global warming and you may be able to follow the money to gas, oil, and coal interests.
      It is a great tragedy that they are selling us such a bill of goods when our energy usage makes us one of the central countries able to do something about global warming by changing our own consumption.

    • Al Gore is not the only man who believes in climate change. I do not pretend to be a scientist, but I have done some research on climate change, beyond that off Al Gore’s movie. I think that global warming was a poor name to use, when this concept first came to light, because the problem is not the warming of the whole earth. To my knowledge, it is a warming of the ice caps. This melting at the poles causes sea levels to rise, which causes weather patterns to change (hence the name climate change). This could have many effects, one minor example is on farmers who make their livelihood, and help feed the increasing population, growing crops in a certain climate. A bigger example is the increase in natural disasters and flooding along the coastlines, displacing and killing people. I do not think you should be so quick to dismiss this concept as least a potential reality. And, yes, the earth has changed on its own for as far back as we know. But, scientists also have data that shows due to our carbon emissions, pollution, and inability to care for our home, we are causing the earth to change at a quicker rate (which goes back to the fact that this can have ill effects on humans and the natural world). Don’t worry though I have faith that the earth will heal itself after it gets rid of its terrible disease known as humans and their lack of compassion for the reason they are able to think and breathe in the first place.

      • Important points, Kelly. Thanks for stressing the data on climate change. I am very concerned that “climate skeptics” funding largely by the fossil fuel industry are keeping us from doing what we should to mitigate this serious threat to earthly life.

  133. If we pay attention to the signs that the living world is telling us like climate change and the rising of the cancer epidemic we would realize what our impact on the earth is doing. I agree that if we change our ways and start treating the world as a living world instead of treating it as objects then maybe Mother Nature will surprise us and heal herself. I have been stung several times by yellow jackets at the same time when I accidently dug up part of their home. I did not feel well from all the bites but I also was sad that I had destroyed their home. We have a lot to learn from the natural world as well as not polluting it and ourselves.

    • Thank you for the reminder about seeing our world as alive rather than made up of objects to manipulate–and you have a generous response to those yellowjackets who, like us, protect their home.

    • Christi,

      I think it shows good character that you still felt remorse for the insect that stung you. You realized why the bee stung you (you dug up their home) and felt bad for it. I always hear the comments from people about how this insect or that animal did something in “their” yard. My response to this is number one, I do not think that an insect or an animal understands the concept of “owning” a piece of land. Second, if we did not continue to destroy the natural habitats of these animals in our everlasting search for material “stuff” than these animals would probably be less likely to invade the yard of a person, because they would have their natural habitat to live in. Like you said, if we paid closer attention, we might see the underlying cause for many problems we have.


      • Just a small note to both of you: yellowjackets are very different from (honey) bees– it is likely a yellowjacket nest that was dug up in the ground, not a bees’ nest. I stress this as I often see honeybess get a rap for being aggressive when it is yellowjackets folks are dealing with: this kind of ignorance was even expressed this summer by a ranger in a campground where I stayed who did not know the difference!
        Both paying close attention and sharing our habitat with other natural lives is, as you stress, our responsibility. Thanks for your comments.

  134. I really believe people can only do what they know, or are taught. This is the definition of culture, being collective learned behavior. If we are taught superstitions are normal, then this will prevail. If we are taught that visions are real, they become real. If, like Beethoven, we are taught to “feel” the music, then it becomes a tangible sound.

    On the contrast, is we are taught that visions are simply a manifestation of schizophrenic hallucinations then the vision isn’t real. If we are taught that superstitions are silly and impractical, then we have no silly impractical thing to embrace. For most people music can be seen through notes on a page or heard as sound waves. At times, people can feel the vibration from loud sound waves upon their skin. But most people do not feel deep in their heart the emotional sensation from the music like Beethoven did.

    It is the rare person who is taught to open their mind and body to new experiences and believe what they can’t see or feel. We can only choose to believe the yellow jackets stung in protection, or vise versa that they didn’t sting with the land stewards, when we open our mind to the imagination of the unknown. Then again, isn’t this perhaps the definition of faith by which many Christians believe?

    • There ARE cultures whose members are taught to be open minded in this way; who in fact teach their children how to become adults by expanding themselves in this way (to other species and other genders, for instance).
      And also, even as you write this, it indicates that we may be directed by our cultures but are not locked into their beliefs– though cultures that honor contraries and tricksters might make more room for individual differences.

  135. Our arrogance knows no bounds. How can we shun indigenous wisdom as “stories” instead of considering it the way to spread intelligence? We learn things in a numerous amount of ways, through experiences, repetition, reading, watching, experimenting, listening, etc. How are “stories” immediately considered fiction, when they are the direct retelling of events and thus should be considered non-fiction?

    This is why it is so ironic that for all our supposed scientific aptitude, humans are still eccentrically superstitious. Being indifferent wasn’t bad enough, we’re also hypocritical. We cling to scientific reason, but when science cannot explain something we amusingly find some fanciful explanation and run with that. However, we don’t accept any indigenous knowledge because all of it is deemed unscientific. We then proceed to fill in the gaps of our understanding and explanations, thus justifying our own “stories”. Seriously I hope appreciation and acceptance begins to set in as a cure to the disease of our arrogance.

    • I appreciate your perspective on stories, Trent-and what is “fiction” but what we have declared it so?
      I also think that those who tell stories by tradition are very sophisticated about metaphor (including science’s usually unconscious metaphors), whereas we have a pretty literal worldview.
      Appreciation and acceptance do indeed seem like a (first step anyway) to healing the “disease of arrogance” with which humans have done so much damage in this world.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • Science is culturally relative and I tend to view the Euroamerican perspective as one clinging to tangible, provable models, that logically support a hypothesis. My ancestors (I am of European decent) came into North America and bulldozed their way across the country in a quest to conquer and own. Sadly, they took no time to listen to the wisdom of the original people of the land. They had a different agenda that didn’t include listening to others, much less listening to natural world. There is some knowledge that can only be gained by hearing the words of others and listening to the voice of nature. Today, with our modern technology offering support the obvious problems, our western culture might be on the threshold of an awakening yet success may hinge on our ability to pull the ear-buds out of our head and focus.

      • Listening is an important skill that, it seems, takes practice– especially when those to whom we wish to listen do not speak a human language, much less English. Thanks for your comment.

  136. All too often we have to try and figure things out, analysis, pick it apart, and try to put it back together. It is in our nature to try and find all the pieces of life’s puzzle. I have three little kids (ages 8, 7, and 4), who just love telling me stories everyday of what they learned in school or read in a book. Most of the time their stories are about animals and nature full of wonder and vision. I think finding the pieces to the puzzle is not a bad thing as the more we learn, a deeper appreciation is shown. One is not so fearful of the unknown. My son once thought that if he heard coyotes howl then they would come into the house and get him. We had to tell him many times that coyotes can’t come into the house. Now that he has a better understanding for coyotes, he has learned to live with them.
    As with the yellow jackets, knowing that they were not going harm anyone in house and not being fearful, one learned to live with them and had a better appreciation for the bees.

    • It must be quite delightful to live amidst these creative children and their stories so full of wonder.
      I wonder how your son might have felt about coyotes if he had inherited some of the very many native stories about coyote/trickster told in many regions of the US?
      Knowing something can indeed prove a remedy to fearing it– but is it always necessary that that knowing be of the reductive or “literal” rather than relationship kind?

  137. Scientific explanation really has no meaning in the natural world. If science could explain nature, then things would happen exactly the same way everytime. Weather forecasts would always be accurate, yellowjackets would alway sting. As you learned with your yellowjackets, as we have learned with our garden bees, if we let nature do it’s thing we can do our thing. What we still don’t seem to understand, despite countless lessons, is that being a part of nature we cannot control it. When the rains come, even with our dams, we have to make adjustments. The traditions of indigenous peoples are a product of generations of living with nature. Their tales are our lessons for understanding how to be a part of our natural world. The natural world is a puzzle that is already solved. The way to understand it is to experience it, be a part of it.

    • Hello William, thank you for your comment. Would you agree that science is one ways (or many ways, since there are many perspectives in science) of telling the story of the natural world.
      I very much like your point that “the natural world is a puzzle that is already solved”! Great point.

  138. Two points stood out to me in this article. One was the yellow jackets and your comment “I like to think that such creatures—even those we may be least apt to recognize as brethren—might choose to accept us into their communities and form alliances with us.” I think is an important way to view the other inhabitants of our earth (including the grass, sky, river, elk, dog, beetle, etc.) We may think that the little gnat has nothing to offer us but it could be that little gnat who saves our life one day. You just never know. You cannot count anything in life out and to do so is too cut yourself short. Embrace all the aspects of life and they will embrace you.

    The second point was that of the Chehalis peoples and their view on reality. They know that their reality is not everyone else’s, so they know that is unnecessary to attempt to force another to take up that perception of reality. (Such forward thinking for “primitive” people) I think that this is one of the biggest causes of argument and war. The fact that everyone is trying so hard to get their point across and put their point on other people, they forget to live their point. Believe in your reality, for it is real to you, but let others believe in them for the same reason.

    • I meant it to read…Believe in your reality, for it is real to you, but let others believe in theirs for the same reason. 🙂

    • Hello Kelly: what you are saying about the little gnat perhaps saving our life one day– we can’t just dismiss it– is a wisdom expressed in folklore throughout the world that passes down human wisdom (see Wild Justice here for other examples). So you are not alone in this insight!
      On your second point, we are one of the few cultures in the world that tells its members which “reality” is right–and to experience (as opposed to enacting) sonmthing is right or wrong.

  139. Being a beekeeper I naturally enjoyed this reading. My first year as a beekeeper I spent every afternoon talking and communing with the bees and was somewhat unafraid of them, even though I had been stung. My first sting felt like a bee kiss, and I received it on the very first day of getting them, oddly that first bee sting meant something positive to me.
    On an overcast and somewhat drizzly day the state bee inspector came to visit and check the health of the bees. I was in shorts, tank top and no veil in weather that bees do not particularly fancy. The inspector asked me ‘do you talk with your bees?’ I said yes I do, why? He said his wife did the same thing, and that she thought they sensed her presence and knew it was okay. He said to me due to this weather and you being dressed the way you are, happy and fearless; reminds me of her.
    I have been stung many times since then, but I like to believe they know I needed their venom for healing. I would like to think they know I’m not here to harm them or take their hard-earned honey, but that I’m here to help them conquer the invasive species that have wreaked havoc on their lives.
    I do wear a veil now, one sting under the eye, taught me something else about the bees. ‘Yes, we’re family and we get irritable too.’
    There is reciprocity, kinship and their very lives are more valuable than mine.

    • Thanks for sharing your experience with bees, Debora. I am glad they are so much more mild mannered than yellowjackets! I do get annoyed when (as happened a few months back) forest rangers who are supposed to be educating the public call yellowjackets “bees” since they don’t know the difference.
      I have heard from many beekeepers that a sting in the eye is the best reason for wearing a veil. It only takes once. And as much as we might be gentle with our bees and they with us, they are at base a very different species and it expresses a bit of hubris to be so careless as to think we can always read them.

    • Thank you for your story. Bees are hard to miss in our yard as it is full of flowering plants. It is very satisfying to watch them as you know they are a part of a process that enhances your garden and the natural environment. I have not been stung by one, at least recently, but I hope that I would have the same attitude you had. I think if we were to take a step back and recognize nature in all its grandure, we may begin to form partnerships with creatures around us.

      • You are fortunate to see those bees! There were so many more bees around in the spring thirty years ago here– you could hear a steady human amidst the flowers in my yard. Then there came a time when there were hardly any at all. I am happy to see them about again– along with bumblebees and mason bees. Something about these insects reflected in the sunshine as they flit from flower to flower says peace and well being to me.

    • I just wanted to comment that it seems as though the beekeepers that I have met in my life tend to have a pretty good understanding of reciprocity. Maybe because they know what a BIG responsibility such a little creature has in this world. I like that you pointed out that “Yes, we’re family and we get irritable too” because I think it absolutely okay to have that irritability as long as you recognize the deeper kinship between our species and theirs.

      • Key point about small creatures with big jobs in the ecosystem, Aaron. And the fact that other species are allowed their “irritability” counters the romantic impulse to see the whole world as put there for our convenience, such that something is wrong with nature when it does not do our bidding.

  140. I wonder if the natural world is listening into more of our conversations than we know. Animals can sense danger and fear, and react accordingly, but I find the yellow-jackets behavior most intriguing. There are many interpretations for why a creature may react in a certain way. I would like to think that there is some empathy or alliance with human kind in some situations. I think if we seek to understand natural processes and behaviors, we will treat nature with mutual respect. Thus we will not hope “to control the world for our convenience.” Our own ignorance can blind us from the kind of interaction you had with the yellow-jackets in your yard. A deeper understanding and level of awareness may be required to reach such a state as we seek to live in association with natural processes and not in opposition to them.

    • The alliance between humans and other creatures that you indicate here is very much, I think, like the partnership between humans and others enacted in some ancient human societies–and aimed for in certain ecological approaches as well.
      We lose much knowledge as well as shrinking our own ability to observe and listen to life when the only way we interact with our world is attempting to control it.

    • Interesting point Chris. My dad alwasy talked said about critters, “if you dont’ bother them, they won’t bother you.” For the most part he has always been right. Whether they sensed my intentions or heard me talking about them, it seems that they do know. I also think that the more in tune we become with nature, they more nature understands us.

      • Being in tune with the natural world, in turn, requires some of the attention and observation you mentioned in your previous comments. If we are so wrapped up in ourselves that we don’t attend to the world around us, we won’t even know how to avoid disturbing it.

  141. I think this is a great story that reminds us that we compartmentalize the world to make it easier to understand through human eyes. And that we may come to some small understanding of the world, this does not make it the law of the land because these understandings are only temporally based. When investigating the cause and effect of the world’s wonders I agree that it has to be done in a manner with great humility and respect. The assumption of “the law of the land” has lead to the demise of a health environment in many different ecosystems because people were not able to recognize that their individual views were not reality. Even the smartest physicist has to recognize that they may be able to interpret and manipulate some physical action within the universe, they don’t understand the harmonious interactions as a whole.

    • Good reminder in your comment that something that makes sense to us in terms of a small understanding of the land through human eyes does not thereby make what we grasp a “law of the land.”

  142. Before this class, I never knew the depth of understanding and knowledge native stories hold. Now, it is astonishing to me that they are not included more in the education process in the U.S. since it is ultimately the heritage of the land we inhabit. But I also understand the reasons for why it is not included, mostly because they are viewed simply as stories and not as having deeper meaning than that. That they are not “scientifically based.”

    There is something to life that we will never fully understand. For the last few years I have tried to come to terms with this and feel that I have made some progress in learning to accept things as they are and to just go with it. I believe that there is an underlying reason for everything, even if it’s not clear or that time or even if it never becomes clear. There are reasons for everything that happens in our lives and the lives of all living beings around us. There are especially reasons as to why interactions between one another take place. Once I began viewing my life as a journey and that each event and each person I meet, each experience is a part of that journey and leading me to where I’m meant to go, my life took on far more spiritual meaning for myself. Sometimes we just have to learn to accept the unknowns, which, I believe, is one of the values included on our contrasting worldviews list. To accept that the world has its mysteries and always will.

    • Thank you for sharing this part of your personal journey and the meaning it holds for you, Jillian.
      The stance of acceptance you express counters our attempt to control our world– which is all too often the central criteria of our science. That is, something is legitimate if it leads to our having power over something in the natural world. But the assumption that that power is the same as understanding has no rational basis– and only leads us into the precarious situation of having much power but little understanding.

  143. The humility and respect that you mention is what is most profoundly lacking from people today. Because we lack this, the cancer and autism epidemics that you mentioned are outcomes that we must now face. We need to live with nature and not demand that it bow to the feet of humans. By doing so, we can live harmoniously with it and begin to cure some of the ills we have caused. I hope when more people look around and people see those that do live in harmony with nature living a better existence, that they too will adjust their way of life and create a better place for themselves. Having a communion with nature will make for a happier outcome for all of us. It is important that we transition our thoughts from a dualistic view but one that is holistic and understanding. Until we do so, we must live with our consequences

    • There are many sad consequences to the attempt to live in a dualistic worldview, in which we place ourselves in a distinct category that separates us and raises us above all other life– even that which supports our subsistence.
      I hope with you that intimacy with the natural world will lead to a more harmonious existence not only with the natural world but between humans– after all, isn’t our place on this planet and dependence upon it for our lives what we all share?

    • Travis,
      I agree with everything you said. I think it is human nature to claim ownership. The machismo mentality that “this is my yard and therefor nothing has a right to its use” has been a big problem in our society. We may own land in the human rhelm but we do not own the right to destroy habitats, afterall, we did not purchase our land from the spider. We need to be more conscious of the whole and less focused on our self serving ideals as humans.

      • Thoughtful points about the need to expand our consciousness of the whole interconnected cycle of life of which we are a part.
        I would ponder the idea of “human nature” more closely, since there are such vast differences on this point between cultures. Might we say instead that this is a common impulse of those brought up in modern industrialized cultures?

  144. By observing the natural patterns of the world we can certainly glean a better understanding of them. I suppose one thing, as usual, that I can truly get behind in this article is its scorn for the notion of throwing everything into a completely scientific, secularized box/”puzzle”.

    That kind of thinking actually would lend itself to a lot of very, very dire results. A friend of mine once asked “If “science” is to provide our morality, okay, how do you rightfully place a number on a human life? What formula does that unquestionably fit into?” Something like that, at least. A lack of reverence does indeed seem to be quite a threat to human civilization, with rather horrid results…

    • Good point, Thomas. That is precisely you have put your finger on the problem with pricing human lives– which corporations have done in figuring their bottom line-and which is inexcusable.
      I agree that a lack of reverence leads all too easily to this kind of thinking–and I also think that lack of reverence for the glory of creation parallels lack of reverence for the amazing creature that humans may also be.

    • I like the comments you made about the placing everything into a box- compartmentalizing if you will. So many people become caught up with proving answers and being scientifically explicit that they lose sight of what makes humanity important. Science can not be compared to morality, and like you point out, it by no means provides it.

  145. I loved Einstein’s response about how we may reduce everything in nature to scientific explanation, yet it will really tell us nothing about nature. How profound! It seems to me that modern science and our Western world wants answers for everything — and has no qualms about manipulating the world to fit into a prescribed mould. Radio collaring wildlife is an example that comes to mind. While certainly useful in researching how to better understand a species, there comes a time when we must ask ourselves if intervening in the life of an animal will aid in the greater good, or simply make our lives easier. Biologist Renee Askins worked extensively with the reintroduction of the gray wolf and writes eloquently on the matter in her memoir “Shadow Mountain,”

    “I feared the presence of the collars revealed something darker than the altruism we all professed. Under the surface of our intention was a far more dangerous impulse – the need to control what we had pretended to set free.”

    • This is a powerful quote that gives us much to consider, Kayla. Thanks for sharing it. Surely one of our greatest missteps lies in our inability to gain a critical perspective on ourselves and our own behavior.

    • Kayla, you made a great point with regards to the radio collaring of wildlife. We humans seem to think that it is perfectly acceptable behavior to interfere with breeding, feeding, and the daily activities of wild animals, with little to no regard for their well-being. We as a species tend to be very arrogant and have the mentality that whatever we want, we can have, no matter the consequences.

  146. I think that this is a important message, that is important for us to have relationships with our natural world. As with your yard and the bees, I think we have to be conscious of our affect on nature and as you said learn to pay attention. In many cases, science does try to explain away everything, I think that is a natural reaction to human curiosity to look for the explanation. Where many of us lack is understanding not everything has to have a natural explanation. We as people can choose to accept. I think if we did a little more accepting and a little less investigating, we would be a happier human race. Enjoy life, enjoy what we have, over analyzing anything is never a good idea.

    • Looking for an explanation–and casting that explanation in a story– is indeed a part of our humanity. An important point to consider is the way this story reflects on others and ourselves and the relationship between them.
      Interesting point about doing more accepting– perhaps we might well let other lives tell their own stories in our accepting observation of them?

  147. I don’t think this is hokey at all. The anecdote you shared about the man being attacked by the bees does not weird me out like it may some because I believe the natural world is full of animals and creatures that have instincts much like humans do. I remember when we would take my two dogs (both very large golden retrievers) out on to a frozen lake near our house in the winter time. Without fail, they were always acutely more aware of the lake and their surroundings in general than we were. I could go into the multiple stories of how they were always the first ones to know when the ice was cracking and whatnot, but I don’t want it to seem like I’m boiling it down to just a scientific explanation. There is something else about animals and nature that science can’t really answer, and I think your story illustrated that very well. My question is why would people want to leave it to “simple” science?

    • Thanks for your comment, Joce. If anyone here saw this story as “hockey”, I missed it. Of course, we have a great group of responders on this site in my opinion.
      One guess in response to your query about the basis of the impulse to leave things to “simple” science seems to me to be bound up in the issue of control. “Simple” science not only re-affirms in our minds that humans have control over the world– but tells us how to do it (and legitimates control over that “simplistic” world with our “simple science”).
      It is something to consider that so many of us think something is “weird” if we do not think we can control– or simplify- it.

    • Joce,

      I think that animals know how to communicate better with the natural world then we do. I think our disconnect and cocoon of technology lulls us into this state of being muffled away from the language we once understood. I do believe the bees were guarding their area. What made them distinguish a threat from the regular inhabitants only they know, but it still makes you smile when thinking about it.

      • The image still makes me smile as well, I admit. Watching that man flee with the bees in hot pursuit says something about the wisdom of the natural world as well as its power.

  148. What a great story. So often we forget about the larger picture, instead concentrating on the trials of the moment. It is easy to see a spider and think of it as a pest at that moment instead of thinking of the spider as a regulator of the needed biodiversity even in ones own backyard. It would have been easy, and justified, for you to knock the nest down in the moment of self indulgence instead of respecting the role the bees play in the larger picture. I do not see it as accidental that the bees protected you in your time of need as you had protected them so many times before. I loved the quote from Albert Einstein, it seemed to explain the role of science perfectly. Science may be able to dissect nature but it will never be able to explain the symbiotic whole that is nature.

    • Thanks for your feedback, Jessica. I like the Einstein quote too–and who better to point out what science does and does not do in the intellectual realm…
      These yellowjackets nested in the ground, so I couldn’t knock them down–and anyone who decided to knock down a yellowjacket nest “in a moment of indulgence” would be in for more than they bargained for!
      Thoughtful point about the fact that we too easily forget the purposes and importance of creatures who may not be entirely convenient for us. There are a large number of Native American and AFrican cultures in which it is thought the worst of luck to ever harm a spider.

  149. I enjoyed reading Einstein’s quote regarding how we perceive our world. The purely analytical approach to something is lacking spirit. I think I would greatly miss the beautiful music of Beethoven or Mozart if I could only register it for the sound waves. Not to mention it would be boring. The indigenous story regarding the spirit guide completely made sense to me. You can’t tell someone how to perceive their world. To think that you could know another persons reality displays a lack of understanding of your own world.

    • Not to mention, as you aptly state, it would be boring for us to reduce music to sound waves. Surely, the goal of science should not be to drain the meaning and joy from our world– but to allow us to see these things more fully as we learn more about it.
      And we also try to tell others what they experience: have you never heard of a modern parent telling a young child what they should be feeling?

  150. It is interesting that the rationalization of science (trying to understand everything) actually creates a disconnect (or loss of understanding). Science makes us lose a connection with the meaning or spirituality of our “subjects”. And, it seems that we don’t have the moral capacity to “use” science and maintain that connection with – and care for – nature.
    I wonder if that is why the indigenous communities that had survived for so long hadn’t developed science – because it didn’t fit into the moral and spiritual unity that they have with Earth. Why would they need to understand things scientifically when they had a deeper personal understanding of things?
    If people learned to work with nature we wouldn’t be creating these new problems like super-“pests” that are immune to pesticides and we wouldn’t use the pesticides which are actually quite toxic to us!
    The occurrence with the yellow-jackets goes along with the numerous stories I’ve heard about pit-bulls rescuing people (I volunteer at a Pitty rehab center for abused/neglected pits). These yellow-jackets and pits seem to have a bad rap within their species, they are seen as more aggressive and are therefore more disposable. But people are not considering the benefits that could come from them if they simply worked with them to maximize the benefit one could get from them. And they certainly aren’t noticing that if you care to work with them they will return the favor!

    • It is truly sad that Pit Bulls do have such a bad rap because if you actually know one they are the biggest, sweetest mushes you could have for a pet. Pit bulls and yellow jackets aren’t inherently “bad” it’s people that make them that way or label them as such. Again, this is a lack of understanding. Stereotyping comes from a place of ignorance, this doesn’t just apply to people.

      • Good point about stereotyping. Not only does it comes from a place of ignorance, but it usually has a self-serving tilt to it, whether simply to assure ourselves WE (or our dogs or our species) are not the vicious ones. And all too often, this we are not the vicious ones stereotype has been used to incite horrible violence toward those whom we stereotype AS vicious.
        I do know that particular owners are drawn to pit bulls with bad results-and I personally know of pit bulls gentle enough to be service dogs.

    • Good point concerning the irony of learning about something we are distancing ourselves from– which works out the opposite of what we planned.
      I would only note that not ALL science is this way, though too much of it is from my perspective. I do think many indigenous people developed the best kind of science: in intimate partnership with the natural world. What this worldview did not contain was our sense that we should distance ourselves from the world–or objectify it in order to learn about it.
      What successful peoples have done– those who survived thousands of years– was avoid technologies that attempted to control nature rather than work in concert with it.

  151. I liked that this essay discussed how there is truth to be found in all cultures and traditions. I think it’s important for us not to ignore or ridicule the beliefs of others, but to learn about them and apply what we find to be true in our own lives.
    I also appreciated the recognition that stories, whether those are memories from our own lives (like the story related about the yellowjackets who chased a threatening man from the property) or sacred traditions passed down to us for generations (like the story of the white buffalo who saved a man from the river), usually belong to a particular time and place. Just as the author did not walk carelessly into yellowjacket nests and the Plains Indians did not jump into a waterfall whenever they weren’t getting answers, each of us needs to see truth in these different places and use wisdom to apply it.
    With my own faith, I pray each day for safety and happiness, especially for myself and the people closest to me. I then take try to take care throughout the day to be safe, to have a good attitude, and to help others and show appreciation for them. Some might say that I am able to be safe and happy because God allows it because I prayed. Others might say that I make myself safe and happy through my actions. I believe it’s a combination. And I believe that combination of faith plus action can apply to our relationship with each other and the environment as well. We need to appreciate the earth and all it provides us and know that it has the capacity to continue providing for us, and we also need to learn about it, take care of it, and try to understand it.

    • Very nice perspective on inclusion and understanding of context that grounds particular stories, Samantha. Thanks for providing your own experience. An essential point of what you have chosen seems to me to be the fact that it is chosen– that it is an intentional path.
      Appreciation of the gifts of life is another good reminder!
      I very much like the idea that we can learn from the ideas of others.

  152. I found this essay very interesting because of how the yellow jackets attacked the stranger. One might assume they felt threatened and were protecting the house. Perhaps they felt something bad was going to happen. For whatever reason they attacked, it is interesting that they did because of how Holden explained how she had walked by the nest multiple times and they had never harmed her. I really liked this quote in the essay: “the manipulation of our world—has left us with climate change and cancer epidemics and skyrocketing autism rates. The other one left us with sustainable models by which humans lived in harmony with their natural environments for thousands of years.” Why can’t we go back to living one with the land? Are profits and a capitalist ideal so important that we don’t care about our fellow brothers and sisters? The way we live our busy lives today it is not wonder we need easier ways to make our schedules workable. But, it is worth all the dilemmas that are caused?

    • Thoughtful response, Kayla. And in fact, it coincides with Juliet Schor’s idea about “plentitude”– an idea about cutting work weeks as a way to decrease carbon emissions, for one things. See her book by this name as well as a recent broadcast and public radio’s alternative radio– it is a hopeful vision full of fascinating data and analysis. You may have seen her name before if you have read certain essays on this site about consumerism, as the author of Born to Buy, on media’s teaching of children to be consumers.

    • You ask some great questions, Kayla. I think it’s important for us to make sure we’re always asking questions like that, because it helps us to assess what we’re doing and whether it’s the best thing we could be doing. It helps us to reevaluate what means the most to us.
      I think we’re always having to evaluate and balance our lives–as you said, we need to balance things like the need for time with the need to get certain things done, the need for resources for our ourselves and our families with the need to care for and act responsibly towards everyone.
      We will probably each come towards slightly different conclusions as we think about those questions, but I think we will all be moving towards the same goal of greater balance and harmony between each other and the world.

      • Developing a critical perspective is part of an authentic personal stance and the responsibility for our choices.
        And the fact that we come to “slightly different conclusions” is what democracy is all about. That is, learning how to expand and connect our views in community. We know much more, in this sense, as members of community, than as individuals.
        Good points, Samantha.
        The fac

        • I agree, it is very important to understand each others’ opinions about things in life and develop new ways of compromising and leadership. It is also important, however to challenge each other and seek new ways of sustaining our lives and species around us.

        • Nice balance here, Kayla. For true dialogue to take place, we need both to listen to others and to put forth our own authentic ideas– which challenges others to grow. In this sense, our differences, well expressed, are a kindness to others.

      • I think you are very right when you say we have to find a balance in our lives. It can be very hard to do but I also think it is very important. I also like what you said about everyone having different ideas and conclusions, but all moving towards the same goal.

        I also like Kayla’s comment about listening to each other but also challenging each other to live sustainably.

    • I have asked similar questions Kayla. I think it can sometimes be overwhelming to think about changing peoples views in order to go back to sustainable living. I know when I try to share my opinions about living in harmony with the land my friends kind of laugh it off. I think this is because a lot of the negative effects of our capitalistic society have been hidden by the media, and many people believe they will never effect them. On the other hand, I think many people are blind to the fact that our current way of living is causing harm to others and the environment. I think in this case education is key to changing peoples ways and opinions. Classes, like this one, have taught me a lot, and are constantly opening my eyes to issues I was oblivious to.

      • It is sometimes overwhelming to contemplate the changes we need to make to achieve sustainable lives. However, I am heartened by all those working to this end that are not part of our media focus. I agree education is key– certainly most of us care about the future of our children (not to mention the quality of our own lives) and are likely to make good decisions once they have good information. The problem is (note our current quote of the week) that our economic system encourages self-serving rather than balanced distribution of information.
        Thanks for your comment on this class: from what I know of your work, I can say that what you have received from this class is only comparable to what you have personally brought to it.

  153. My favorite quote in this article is “…if we view the world with humility and respect, there is just a chance it will respond to us with marvelous rather than deadly surprises…” I think the example of the yellow jackets not attacking Dr. Holden and her daughter, but only the intruder was a great one. Allowing the yellow jackets to build their home and survive in the environment demonstrated a respect for their livelihood. Being mindful of them but not dominating is a good model for us to follow. The yellow jackets were treated with humility and respect and they responded by chasing away the intruder. I immediately thought of the “pay it forward” mentality after reading this article. One good deed can lead to another and another!

    • Thanks for your thoughtful idea about paying it forward, Maddy. I would like to believe this about the yellowjackets, though I am not quite sure if we can attribute intention of our sort to them (other than that of survival and the fact that our activities were part of their home territory). But I do think that treating our fellow creatures with respect has consequences we may not foresee– as does treating the habitats of others (human and more than human) without respect.

  154. The yellow jacket story was interesting, because I do believe that animals/insects can sense human’s demeanor. My instincts tell me that the yellow-jackets were able to sense the male’s aggressive manner, opposed to the calm nature they were use to. Additionally, I thought the reaction to a yellow-jacket sting was important to note. The reaction was not to kill it or get it back, but to be more mindful and pay attention. This shows a higher level of consciousness; by realizing that stepping near their nest was in the yellow-jacket’s space. Humans do not own the Earth and therefore need to be aware/mindful of the environment that life’s creatures are living in.

    • Great response! I totally agree. It does show a higher level of awareness to not simply kill the yellow jackets, but to pay more attention. We need to share the same earth, we might as well try to get along instead of trying to kill each other!

    • I appreciate your insights here, Leah. Awareness that “humans do not own the earth” might cause us to tread more carefully around the habitat of other creatures– whether or not they sting to remind us to pay attention.
      I think it a lovely vision to contemplate how our lives might be different if we finally got the message that we do not indeed “own the world” and rearranged our lives accordingly.

    • I completely agree. Every time I find myself around a Bee I try to stay clam whereas someone around me always seems to scream! I think the more you move and scream the more likely you’ll get stung because you release hormones like that man many have released when he barged into the back yard.

      • Good point, Molly. I also understand that bees and yellowjackets perceive fast movement more than slow movement. Their vision is such that they may not see you if you freeze (though of course, if you are exuding fear smells, they can find you anyway!)

  155. My first reaction when I see a bug or a bee is to avoid it – not kill it. Unless it is in my house and poisonous or will cause me an allergic reaction – I tend to let it be. I believe in the Wiccan spiritual belief system where the main sentiment is “Harm None” so I feel I have a special connection with nature. I may not care of insects but I respect what they do (unless they are mosquitos trying to eat me!). We could take this a step further even and apply it to all animals, insects and the like. We don’t need to exterminate, just accept and leave them be. For instance, my family has had a black bear that likes to come into our yard and make a mess of our birdfeeders and garbabe cans. Instead of going out and shooting it, we simply take our trash cans in at night and stopped using the birdfeeders during the spring and summer. Now we know the bear is still out there, but now he is more encouraged to forage for the foods he needs and not garbage!

    • Interestingly, the ethical code you quote is actually also parallels that of Hippocrates–and his oath, still taken by some modern day physicians, “Do no harm”.
      Something to consider in our current use of drugs and chemicals in general, I think. We cannot avoid harm if we do not understand it is being done, which is why we need the precautionary principle to research new technologies BEFORE they are released into the environment.
      Good points about respecting what insects do: I also think we ought to get the message that we cannot poison something so prevalent in the natural world without poisoning ourselves.
      Good thoughts about bears as well: sad that we tempt them with our carelessness and then punish them for it.

    • I think you have a lot of good points. We need to stop having the mind set of killing things that we see as a threat like bees, hornets, spiders, snakes etc. Humans are hurting the balance of the ecosystem with our ideas of being superior over other things (like insects).

    • I feel the same way when I see a yellow jacket or a wasp, I will run into the house. I also feel the same about exterminate this is not the way. Bees are disappearing and extermination is still being performed. In China most of there bees have disappeared so many local people pollinate the fruit trees by hand.

      • One thing you might note in terms of bees– when they are out foraging, they are unlikely to sting unless they are stepped on or smashed.
        I understand that our current almond crop in California will be short several hundred thousand hives for complete pollination this spring. Without the bees many of our favorite foods will simply be unavailable to us.

  156. I think this is a great story, of a group of hornets protecting its home. I think that many people hope that they have a connection with animals in some way. This is why many people get dogs or cats to be their companions, who become our friends when we need them and in return we give them food, shelter and entertainment. Although you don’t quite believe the hornets protected you from the man but ran the man off for their own benefit, it’s nice to imagine that they were trying to protect you and your daughter. Dogs are similar, barking at intruders or nipping at heels in order to protect the ‘pack’ and their territory. Little instances like these make us feel closer to nature, connecting different species for common causes.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response: incidents like this do indeed make me feel closer to the natural world. At the very least (since I cannot do justice to the motives of the yellowjackets with any sure accuracy), there is a lesson here on belonging to particular natural environments, including our own backyards.

    • they are deemed ‘man’s best friend’ (which makes me wonder which animal is supposed to be ‘woman’s best friend’) and are considered a family member in many families. Additionally, as you mentioned, they protect those they love. People put up the ‘beware of dog’ signs to make people be fearful of their dog. However, in reality, the dog is likely friendly to all of the family members who reside inside of the home (as well as protective of them).

      • Psychologist James Hillman has a pointed observation that is pertinent here: he notes that those creatures we consider most different from ourselves (as “other”) are the ones we tend to both fear and set out to destroy. Insects are a good case in point.
        By contrast, we think of the dog as (often) part of our family. I like to imagine what it would be like if we had a worldview more like that of the indigenous peoples who see all living things as a part of their family.

    • I actually thought the Yellowjackets were being protective: they were protecting their home. I wonder if Bees and Yellowjackets can sense when they have found people that actually don’t mind their presence.

  157. I connected with the part about manipulating our world. We are born with this intense worldview that we must conquer and destroy in order to gain success and achieve development. Just like with pesticides, we are trying to prevent anyone/anything else’s success before ours. We are teaching that it is okay to destroy, mutilate, or harm our environment and the creatures within it because that will put us ahead. When in fact, it is creating the extinction of species worldwide, causing a snowball effect on our ecosystem. We try so hard to control and manipulate the environments we live in, instead of trying to coexist with them. Dominance over nature will continue until we show others the value of our world as it is, and the value of all living things within it.

    • Are we born with this worldview– or within a culture with this worldview? The latest archeological research indicates we became human in the context of highly cooperative societies and this was a trademark of our species survival.
      I think it is important to make this distinction so that we have an alternative vision from the one you outline with so many destructive consequences here.

  158. I found this essay extremely thoughtful in the ways it related yellow jackets to vision and to superstitions. I really felt like I could relate to the superstitious part and found it interesting that it related to things that I had been doing lately. One of my jobs is working at a bar and I always seem to knock the salt over, about once every day, and I realized the other day that throwing it it over my shoulder so I’d have better luck was really not going to make a difference. I actually thought to myself, “how stupid is this that I think this will cause me bad fortune if I don’t do this” I realized that if something bad is going to happen then It’s meant to be and going to happen whether or not I throw salt!

  159. Looks like the yellow jackets were your protector and friend. I find this story amazing, since the sharing of the garden really worked out. I freaked out when I see a yellow jacket; I will run into the house to get away from it. For now on as I see a yellow jacket I will remember this story. If you respect the nature it will respect you back.

    • I can’t say what was in the mind of the yellowjackets, Kim. I wouldn’t go so far as to assert they were my friends, though they did function as my protector, whether intentionally or not.
      I think there is some research that indicates that such insects zero in on fast rather than slow movements– so freezing in place may well save you from a sting, whereas running and flailing may have th reverse effects of those you desire.
      Having said that, thank you for your gracious response to this story. Yellowjackets also have a better part than in our own stories in a native Chehalis story in which they helped sing for the time of the world to bring us daylight.

  160. I am inspired by the story about living with the Yellowjackets. To be honest, I don’t know how I would react because I have a big fear of bugs and snakes. I do think that if we learned to leave creatures like Yellowjackets and Bees alone, then we could learn to live with them. I must say that it takes a special heart to be able to live with them.
    Albert Einstein was right about science in that we could learn all we want to about it but it doesn’t benefit us and that it’s just like trying to figure out how Beethoven could compose music when he was deaf. I mean, you don’t have to know everything there is to know about science in order to enjoy the beautiful nature walk or the walk along the ocean to be swept away with the serenity it brings. You don’t have to know all of science to observe bird behavior or to know what it feels like to hold a bird for a split second only to enjoy watching it fly off again. If we knew all there was to know about science, I believe that we would forget to appreciate the wonder of it.

    • Thanks for sharing your personal insights here, Mary. Many of us don’t particularly care for a number of different insects– but learning about and from them in the kind of daily observations you suggest might help up counter the worldview that stereotypes these creatures, along with snakes, as disgusting.
      I am actually quite happy to find a garter snake in my garden: good for snail clean up and it always says something to me about the health of my yard.

  161. This essay brings up some interesting points about superstition, reductionism, and the understanding of nature. I would agree that superstition and reductionism are misguided thought processes that allow people to explain things away in their own minds. As the author states, ” we lose considerable capacity for both wonder and vision.” This is especially true when the reductionist mentality is emphasized. I believe it would highly beneficial if we could approach nature and all it encompasses with a child-like mindset where believing is seeing and seeing creates that sense of wonder. Somethings we just have to accept. By accepting the things which nature provides-whether it’s a lesson in humility (a yellow jacket sting) or protection (the swarm chasing the stranger away), we can gain a sense of self-satisfaction in knowing that we will be provided for if we foster a relationship of mutual respect.

  162. Wow I had never thought that “Superstitious behavior attempts to control the world through magical thinking. And thus we cast our lot not only with the black sock but with science’s magic bullets.” I must say that I know people that have good luck charms ans are very superstitious. I never sat down and thought that they are really trying to control the environment around them.
    When I was younger I was myself a bit superstitious but for some reason out grew it and realized that I have no power over anything. I realized that if I worked together with the environment and the animals then hopefully when I need them they will work with me. So far I must say it has worked out very well! Just like the yellow jacket story, which is a beautiful story I am glad that they were in my mind defending their family, which included yours.

    • Another observation about superstitions I had after reading your comment was the impact a given superstition has with the relationship of the believer with the act they have attempted to explain away. This seems to create a negative relationship because the generation of the superstition leads to an inherit fear held by the believer. This circles back to that dominating relationship which is characteristic of a male centric society, where fear is often a tool used to control others.

      • The use of fear to control others is certainly a dynamic we need to change, Sarah. You give an excellent illustration of a negative feedback loop in which more fear makes for more attempts at control makes for more fear, etc. And this is all bound up in superstitious behavior–and our lack of knowledge about something like the dark- or about nature itself. We would be less afraid of it if we knew more about it– in an intimate way, not just according to what we can control.

    • As you point out, we might well ponder about the real nature of “superstition”– which applies to much of our dealing with modern technology–what could be more expressive of stimulus-response than just pressing a button to get what we want?
      It is great that you took a more relationship attitude in your own dealings with the natural world.

  163. I would like to think that the yellow jackets were protecting you. Animals and at times insects have a better sense of danger than we do. Growing up in the mid west, when the birds stopped chirping and the dog would go crazy, combined with luminous clouds, I knew we would be in for a storm/tornado.
    I don’t believe that nature would purposely lash out at us but I do believe that when we fail to pay attention she will let us know.

    • I like your idea that the yellow jackets were protecting her because its true animals do seem to have the ability to sense danger and emotions quite well. Horses can sense danger and I have even had experiences where my own dogs have sensed my mood and tried to comfort me when my mom was in an accident. It is all quite interesting.

      • We can certainly share many stories of other mammals– horses and dogs– that respond to our emotions. Things become more mysterious (and less susceptible to the analysis of shared emotions in the case of insects– but whatever is shared is worth attending to).

    • Thoughtful points, Melissa. It is great that you learned to listen to the prophecies of the insects and dogs as for coming thunderstorms. Time to listen to the changes in the weather itself to learn something about the consequences of our spewing carbon into the atmosphere?

  164. Nature defends its own. Everyone has heard at least one story of a dog saving their human (I don’t say owner, because the best relationships come from mutual love not ownership) and similarly I am sure that many if not all people have heard a story of someone saved by a wild animal. Living in as outdoorsy a community as I do I have heard my fair share of stories similar to the yellow jackets in this essay. If nature will defend its own, humans as a whole are in trouble. As superstitious as our species is it is fairly easy to see that Mother Nature has already started to send out her own yellow jackets. Natural disasters are getting bigger, the climate is changing, and species we depend on for life are dying out, like the honeybee. This is nature’s defense, if humans are no longer around the environment can regulate itself naturally and will be better off, given our current use of it. Something in nature, climate change, lack of sufficient quantities of food, and predators, caused the wooly mammoths and saber tooth cats to die out, why can’t it cause humans to die out as well?

    • You have a pointed analogy in your view of nature “sending out her own yellowjackets” to defend herself aginst human actions– ironic as it is sad, since it is the natural world that births us. We are inevitably embedded in it.

  165. I’ve always thought that having respect others despite your differing cultures and experiences is something that needs to be given. This story just goes to show that. When we don’t have respect we lose the respect of others and for good reason and the same goes for showing respect to nature and rituals. An animal that is not respected becomes resentful and does whatever it must to protect itself from whatever it sees as a threat. We should really be mindful of this and implement it into our lives otherwise who knows where we may end up.

    • Very thoughtful application of the value of respect not only to other humans but other species. As you point out, there are unexpected consequences of treating others according to value. Fortunately, not the negative unexpected consequences of treating others without respect.

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