How Goes the War? Taking Stock and Initiating New Magick for Change

How goes the war, witches and magicians?

I think that since September 2015 it’s going rather well.  There have been a lot of interesting shifts in the way things are going in the world.  For one thing, in October, the Liberal Party of Canada, headed by Justin Trudeau, finally toppled the Conservative Harper Regime, which was well on its way to transforming Canada from its social democratic roots into a Corporatist paradise.  Those who support an anti-capitalist (or anti-corporatist) viewpoint can’t be as happy with that as we would be about an NDP victory in Canada, but it’s definitely an improvement.

For another thing, the American Presidential primaries have never been so interesting!  It’s fascinating to see how Bernie Sanders, a democratic socialist who’s been speaking from the same place since the 1960s is suddenly a serious contender for the Democratic nomination.  Not that you’d ever know this if you only followed the mainstream media!  Their deliberately misleading coverage in their desperate desire to preserve the status quo has been even more interesting, and it inspired my last article.

But it’s a truth that in magick one must be especially careful of what one wants to accomplish, because you may end up with unintended consequences. Donald Trump may be one of those unintended consequences.  Those of us working magick for change were not very specific about what form the change should take, were we?  Clearly Trump is setting out to destroy the modern Republican party, which is clearly either our foe or a powerful ally thereof, but perhaps the cure is worse than the disease.  It scares me a little that Americans seem ready to elect the 21st century equivalent of Mussolini.

So what’s to be done?  Well, perhaps more magick is called for.  Nature abhors a vacuum, and when you use magick to break down, you must also use magick to build up.

So it’s time now, I think, to call upon the growing and healing spirits of transformation.  With spring (and March 15) just around the corner, it’s time to call upon that energy of renewal.  When the system comes apart, what will replace it?  Let’s all lend our energy to the United States right now, where much of the world’s future is about to be decided (like it or not,) and then let’s spread that power out into our own lands:

Statue of Liberty of New York by Axelle B (public domain image).

Use whatever your usual procedures are to enter into a Journeyworking (spirit travel.)

Visualize a bald eagle flying high over the land.  See it flying high above you, searching.  It cries as it finds what it seeks and it lands on the shoulder of Lady Liberty, who is bearing Her torch of freedom.  She smiles and nods Her greeting to you.

Who is Lady Liberty?  Is She just a symbol, a statue?  Or is She something more?  She bears a strong resemblance to Athena to me.  I think perhaps She is a new goddess.  And as an American goddess, the fate of Americans matters to Her.

Ask Her to lend Her support to those working for the cause of liberty, freedom, and justice in the upcoming Presidential election process.  Ask Her to withdraw Her support from those who are not working in the interests of those causes.  Ask Her not to take a side in personal political preferences, but to keep in mind the personal motivations of candidates that we cannot see and the long-term consequences that we may not be able to predict.

If you, like me, are not an American, then reach out to impress upon Lady Liberty how the American Empire affects the entire world, and why we who are not U.S. citizens care about the future of American politics.

As when dealing with the Wild Hunt, be aware Lady Liberty may ask you to perform a task in return.  Listen for guidance.  If you are willing to agree to the task, do so.

Visualize the torch of freedom illuminating those who are doing the work of freedom with a glowing spotlight or halo.  Hear their words being amplified to spread to those who need to hear it.  See that light spreading out over the United States, and then the whole world.  And where it touches the yokes of the ones who would enslave us, let those yokes be burnt to a crisp.

The eagle takes flight over the illuminated landscape and lets out a cry of joy.  Lady Liberty smiles.

Return to your body and make whatever offering you feel is appropriate.

And let’s cross our fingers!

* I deferred my intended subject for the next article because I felt that this was a little more urgent.  My article on the pitfalls of internet media will follow next week.


Sable Aradia

Sable Aradia Author 1I have been a practicing Witch for more than 20 years, and an active organizer and facilitator in the Pagan community since 1993. I am a third degree initiate in the Star Sapphire and Pagans for Peace traditions, and an ordained Priestess and recognized Religious Representative in the Congregationalist Wiccan Association of British Columbia. I was the first Local Coordinator in the Okanagan Valley for the Pagan Pride Project. I am a practicing herbalist (Dominion Herbal College) and a Reiki Master/Teacher.


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A Prayer to Athena for Canadian Democracy

So-called “Mattei Athena”. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st century BC/AD after a Greek original of the 4th century BC, attributed to Cephisodotos or Euphranor. Related to the bronze Piraeus Athena. Public domain image by Jastrow, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
So-called “Mattei Athena”. Marble, Roman copy from the 1st century BC/AD after a Greek original of the 4th century BC, attributed to Cephisodotos or Euphranor. Related to the bronze Piraeus Athena. Public domain image by Jastrow, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

O Grey-Eyed One,

She of the Steel Gaze;

In nine days my country goes to cast ballots

In the ancient ritual You taught to Your city.

Our system is broken.

Hateful betrayers of Your sacred trust hold power,

As they have for many years now.

We elected them because we trusted them,

But they have betrayed our trust.

They have prorogued our Parliament,

Ignored Parliamentary rulings,

Accepted bribes,

Corrupted our electoral system,

Gerrymandered democratic ridings,

Taken the rights of our expatriates,

Denied voting access to the disabled, the young, and the poor,

And told people to vote in the wrong place

So as to spoil ballots.

They have lied continually to us,

Stolen our money and our future,

Denied basic rights to our citizens,

Reduced the rights of women

And of people of non-conforming gender,

Oppressed our poor and disenfranchised,

Oppressed our First Peoples,

Abandoned our ancestors and our veterans,

Broken the unity of our labourers,

Spit upon the sanctity and sovereignty of the earth,

And deprived us of the right to speak against them;

All to better serve their Corporate Masters.

Lady of Wisdom, You see more clearly than I do,

But I see all that You stand for being suborned.

I implore You; give us back our nation!

Strike these betrayers down!

Cast them from the lofty seat they have stolen!

Make our voices count!

Give us back the gift that You gave us

That we may once again govern ourselves,

Instead of being ruled over by Corporatist lackeys.

May Your steel gaze fall upon these corruptors with wrath!

May You look upon us with favour!

Help us to take back what was stolen

Without the shedding of innocent blood.

Send Your Owl to give Sight and Wisdom

To our people, who have been denied it.

Call upon any friends You have

Among the Sacred Spirits of our First Peoples

To ask them to take part in the ritual,

If only this once.

Draw Your Aegis over us!

Give us back our Canada!

I shall cast my ballot in honour of You.

I shall ask all who know me to do the same.

Praise be to the Lady of Wisdom!

Praise be to the Grey-Eyed One!

The Wild Hunt is Riding

“As far as practitioners of nature spiritualities are concerned, the Wild Hunt offers an initiation into the wild and an opening up of the senses; a sense of dissolution of self in confrontation with fear and death, an exposure to a ‘whirlwind pulse that runs through life’. In short, engagement with the Hunt is a bid to restore a reciprocity and harmony between humans and nature.”

— Anthropologist Susan Greenwood
Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.
Åsgårdsreien (1872) by Peter Nicolai Arbo. Public domain image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The word has spread around the blogosphere; the Wild Hunt is riding.

It’s early.  Really early. For me, they rode in to BC and the Pacific Northwest US on the night of the last full moon, riding with the great storm.

Some say they’re riding against Daesh for their desecration of ancient Pagan religious sites.  Some say they’re riding for something else.  I think there’s a lot of reasons for them to be out riding.

The leader of the hunt depends greatly on the pantheon, and has been named as Odin, Holda, Berchta, Gwydion, Gwynn ap Nudd, King Arthur, Nuada, King Herla, Woden, Freya, Frigg, the Devil, Krampus, the Faery King, the Queen of Air and Darkness, Mab, the Morrigan, Fionn MacCumhaill, Arawn, Artemis, Diana, Cernunnos, Herne the Hunter, and a variety of historical figures that have been slightly mythologized.  The Steeds are nightmares or faery horses, winged horses, faery deer or skeletal beasts; the Hounds are hellhounds, Dandy Hounds, faery hounds, yeth hounds, greyhounds, wolves, winged wolves, ravens, raptors, transformed sparrows, Gabriel Ratchets, the Cwn Annwn and the Fianna.  When I See visions of the Hunt, I see the Huntsman as Herne, because He’s the deity I follow and He and I have a “thing.”  But Beth Wodanis Sees Odin, since she is a godspouse married to Him.  Others will See the Hunt differently.

Some call them the Wild Army, the Furious Army or the Furious Ride.  They are also called by the names of the Hounds; the Cwn Annwn and the Fianna of Fionn.  In some myths they are the Unseelie Faery Ride, the Sidhe or the Faery Calvacade; in others they are the unquiet dead; in still others they are simply the Witches Sabbath.  They might sweep along anyone in their path; or they might ride against the forces of darkness to take them up into the Ride.  In his classic medieval book The Art of Courtly Love, Andreas Capellanus wrote of how the King and Queen of Love rode out in the autumn to strike down all faithless lovers.  In a manner of speaking, Robin Hood and his band of merry men could be seen as another manifestation of the Wild Hunt, riding to protect the land and its people from the depredations of the wealthy elite.

I can think of a few “forces of darkness” I’d like to see swept along in the Ride; can’t you?

I, too, have been dreaming of the Hunt.  Last night, I instead dreamed of the Round Table.  King Arthur, who wore a Horned Crown, said, “All those who would take up arms against the foe; draw your swords and ride out with me!” And I reached out to draw one of the swords of the Round Table knights (or Kings, depending on your interpretation,) knowing I would not be able to draw it if I was not meant to, just as Excalibur can only be drawn by the true King.  But it came away easily in my hand, with no resistance at all, and it felt as though it had been made for me.

Let us take a cue from Dion Fortune’s magickal experiment, and visualize the Wild Hunt riding against the true enemy we all know is out there, scouring the darkness from the land and taking them up into the Ride!  Who will take up arms against the foe?  Who will ride out with us?

The Magick: Tomorrow night is the full harvest supermoon in Aries, and a lunar eclipse.  Visualize the Wild Hunt as you see it.  Find the Leader of the Hunt and fly beside Hir for a while.  Ask who the quarry is.  Think about the “forces of darkness” as you understand them — the Kyriarchy, the Banksters, the CEOs of the large monopoly corporations, corrupt officials who do the bidding of their corporate masters, etc. — and ask the Hunter if E will help to scour them from the land.  The Hunter may ask you to perform a task in return.  Listen for guidance.  If you are willing to agree to take on the task, do so.  Visualize the Hunt riding against the quarry you’ve requested, riding them down or sweeping them up into the Hunt’s ranks, as appropriate.  Return to your body and make an appropriate offering.

Footnote: I had not yet read Lee’s article The Hunt and the Hound, Part 1 (published Sept. 13) when I wrote this; however, I think this Working may work well in conjunction with his Working, and I will be creating my canine spirit house as part of this full moon rite. A canine skull mysteriously found its way into my compost pile; I have been cleaning it and wondering what to do with it.  It seems I have an answer. 

Mannahatta circa 1609 / Manhattan circa 2015

The Welikia Project

Mannahatta circa 1609 / Manhattan circa 2015
Mannahatta circa 1609 / Manhattan circa 2015
Mannahatta then, Manhattan now
Mannahatta then
Manhattan now

So.

Did your stomach just drop? I’m sure you feel the weight of the import of whatever messages these images may convey. They can carry a lot of messages. One isn’t sure where to even begin… First, perhaps we should dwell in the emotions that rise; feel them, watch them, name them. These images give a visceral experience. Why?

For many of us, this place isn’t even our home, and we may have never even visited. But it still hits home, doesn’t it?

Something in us knows that something important is here in front of us.


These images are from the Welikia Project (formerly the Mannahatta Project) – a project of the Wildlife Conservation Society to rediscover the ecology of the New York City area before colonization.

Welikia (pronounced “way-LEE-kee-uh”) is Lenape for “my good home”. Lenape is the Native American language spoken in the New York City region at the time of first contact with Europeans.

The goal of the Mannahatta Project has never been to return Manhattan to its primeval state. The goal of the project is discover something new about a place we all know so well, whether we live in New York or see it on television, and, through that discovery, to alter our way of life. New York does not lack for dystopian visions of the future…. But what is the vision of the future that works?” – from Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

One of the main messages in this special view of the past we don’t usually get to see – the land before our cities began – is one of avoiding urban sprawl, for the future of current natural areas.

With more and more of the human population moving to cities, with several mega-cities of 10 million people or more on the horizon, and with a growing urban sprawl development pattern in the USA and elsewhere, we realize that we have the opportunity to “do” cities a better way. Going back to 1609 allows us to see what NYC was before it was a city and to reimagine the city’s development in a way that would incorporate more of the natural cycles and processes (such as the hydrological cycle) that made the island the ecological gem that it was. This is not merely an academic flight of fancy. Rather, in undertaking this exercise, we will discover ways in which we can restore some of the ecological processes lost to NYC in particular, and more broadly, we will learn how to create cities that are more “livable” for people. For instance, maintaining natural waterways like streams and incorporating more open space and tree plantings into city planning would increase a city’s aesthetic value, water quality, and air quality for city folk. Making cities more pleasant and rich places for people to live will increase city folks’ standard of living, attracting more people to cities and minimizing sprawl development between cities where the ecological gems, the “Mannahattas” of today, currently reside.” – from the Welikia Project “About” page

Whether we “do” cities at all, in the future, and whether or not one prefers that cities might one day return to their primeval state, for now, if we do have cities, it’s important that we integrate them into the local ecology, instead of just paving over it, erasing it, and forgetting it was ever there and that ecology exists and matters, to us as well as to wildlife… matters to our lives right now, as well as to our common future.

The Welikia Project includes – besides the fascinating interactive map of Mannahatta/Manhattan – resources for teachers, students, and researchers, and an expanded effort to do the same research for all of New York City’s boroughs, with the ability for you to sponsor a block of your choice. This might be an excellent contribution for a coven, grove, or other group to make together, or for Pagans and others in New York City to make to get helpfully involved with the land under their feet.

Could something similar be done in our own locales, elsewhere in the world? Of course! Soon after reading Lorna Smithers’ moving piece, here at Gods & Radicals, on culverted waterways and resacralizing landscapes, I happened to go to my local river festival and found a booth for a project looking for support to bring not one, but two culverted streams that converge and flow into the river near my house back above-ground, and reclaim land currently crusted with run-down shops on the site to create a park and informational signage about the reclaimed waterways! We can do this. Look around, or start something, yourselves.


Thanks go to The Decolonial Atlas (a blog worth following!) where I discovered the Welikia Project, with a stomach-dropping shock to my system when I first saw the images I brought over here to share.

Things with Feathers: Down with fracking; up with macaws

By Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

Here are this month’s choices for signs of positive progress in the world. Who doesn’t want more birds and less polluting, land-and-life destroying activity?

Fracking risks decreased in Pennsylvania and Australia

Earlier this spring, the two major companies who had leases on land in northeastern Pennsylvania decided to cancel their leases, and move out of the area. One of those areas is the county where Josh Fox, the director of anti-fracking films Gasland and Gasland 2 lives, and where fractivist group DCS got its start.

The companies sent letters stating that they “have elected to release your lease, thus your lease will not be continued to the development phase,” terminating approximately 1,500 leases covering over 100,000 acres of land.

“I can’t believe it and I can’t stop crying,” Fox said, adding that he is deeply grateful for this “amazing victory.” “This proves that people passionate and organized can actually win sometimes. We won’t stop until we win everywhere.”

It’s no happenstance that the unprecedented mass lease cancellation occurred in a region that is home both to Josh Fox, fractivism’s heroic Pied Piper, and to the first fractivist organization founded in the Northeast U.S., Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS)— making it a triumph both for Fox and for the dedicated grassroots effort by a community of neighbors that began in 2007.

. . .

Due to DCS efforts and alliances with the over two hundred other groups which soon formed in the Northeast, fractivists have so far been successful in sustaining a moratorium on fracking in the environmentally sensitive Delaware River Basin (as well as a moratorium on fracking in New York State). This is an achievement given that when the group first sat down with the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) —an inter-state entity charged with environment protection— Arrindell recalls that the Commission considered any form of regulation or oversight of gas drilling to be outside of its purview. Along with other factors, the protracted moratorium on drilling may have played a part in the decision of Hess and Newfield to cancel leases and depart

Elsewhere in the world, I’ve seen multiple news reports recently about a variety of really horrible plans for mining in Australia, that will rip up and otherwise threaten wild places and/or lands of major significance to the indigenous people. So this was a very welcome change in the news:

A mining company has retreated from plans to drill for gas at one of Australia’s oldest Indigenous heritage sites, prompting celebrations among traditional landholders.

Representatives of the Djungan people of north Queensland in a statement said they were “elated” at news that Mantle Mining had dropped its bid to prospect at the foot of Ngarrabullgan, also known as Mount Mulligan.

The Djungan, who have been linked to cultural sites on the mountain for more than 35,000 years, learned last week that the Brisbane-based miner had withdrawn its prospecting application after surrendering its exploration permit last month.

. . .

Djungan elder Alfie “Pop” Neal thanked supporters, who ranged from the Greens to the Katter party to graziers and mining protest group Lock the Gate.

The chairman of the Ngarrabulgan Native Title Aboriginal Corporation, Judulu Neal, said the Djungan supported a nationwide moratorium on fracking, which involves injection of chemicals into coal seams by miners to obtain gas.

One of the common threads in both these stories, if not the main thrust, is that the groups heavily involved in these specific places are working with other activists and organizations, creating and becoming part of broader networks that can sustain a long effort and push back on large corporations and governmental problems. It seems at times like these kinds of victories are very isolated, but getting a sense of how they fit into what is quite a large network with a common drive is very comforting.

More scarlet macaws flying wild

Last month I wrote about the California condor population being slowly brought back; the scarlet macaw population was also nearly wiped out last century, in part due to birds being captured for the pet trade, but laws against capturing parrots, work to breed and release birds, and educational efforts where the birds live, are now helping their wild numbers come up.

This spring, we were thrilled to take part in the release of 28 scarlet macaws in Veracruz, Mexico. With just an estimated 250 birds in all of Mexico, these macaws are slowly regaining a foothold in the wild after being nearly wiped out. With the release of 27 macaws last year, and this release of another 28, the population has increased by around 20%.

To help bring back one of the most iconic species of our rainforests, Defenders is working in partnership with the Mexican National University’s Institute of Biology. The effort to reintroduce the scarlet macaw to the rainforests of the Biosphere Reserve of Los Tuxtlas has been years in the making, and in the last year we have seen our efforts literally take flight.

. . .

We and our partners have been working continuously in local communities and schools to teach them about the plight of the scarlet macaw, the environmental laws protecting them, the reintroduction project and its importance for the species and the communities. We supply the field team with posters, coloring books for children and comic books for youths and adults that describe the threats that drove this species from the area in the 1970’s, and how the people who live in the bird’s range have the power to help protect it. This work has already paid dividends —several children have alerted the team when they learn of macaws flying into homes, or of someone trying to capture them. In this way, we can help inspire local communities to play an active role in protecting scarlet macaws.

Scarlet macaws (c) Juan Carlos Cantu  (Fair Use)
Scarlet macaws (c) Juan Carlos Cantu

“I thought: hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is just like roads across the earth. For actually the earth had no roads to begin with, but when many men pass one way, a road is made.”

Lu Xun

Things with Feathers: The Elwha River; California condors

By Fjothr Odinsdottir Lokakvan

Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul.
And sings the tune
Without the words,
and never stops at all.

–Emily Dickinson

One of the things that helps keep me motivated, reminds me that not everything is terrible, and it is not a waste of my time to try and improve what I can, is finding stories about other people doing things to improve the world. This provides a kind of hope that is not merely wishful thinking, but a hope that is based in evidence that things can be better than they are now.

I’ve been saving those things for myself in a “hopes” tag, because sometimes I need to go back through it and remind myself that there’s more to life than Shell moving to drilling in the Arctic, and I’m planning on making a post every month here with two or three items. (It’s exciting! There are a lot of cool things going on!)

Here are a couple of my favorites from the last year or so:

The Elwha River dam removal

From 2011 to late 2014, the largest dam removal project in history took place: freeing the Elwha River in Washington from two hydroelectric dams, one that had been in place for 100 years.

The project has been done slowly, so that the sediment trapped behind the dams would move into the river, and then out to sea, in a somewhat controlled fashion – too much sediment in water is bad for the health of fish and other creatures, and there was massive amount of sediment trapped behind the dams. The changes taking place are going to be closely watched, to see how the watershed recovers, which will probably affect decisions about future dam removal projects in other places. It is already apparent that rivers and their associated watersheds can recover at some of their “lost” functions quite quickly once dams are gone:

So much sediment, once trapped in reservoirs behind two hydroelectric dams, has flowed downstream that it has dramatically reshaped the river’s mouth, replenished eroding beaches and created new habitat for marine creatures not observed there in years.

Meanwhile, Chinook salmon and steelhead have been streaming into stretches of the Elwha River and its tributaries previously blocked by the Elwha Dam, which stood for nearly a century before it came down in 2012.

With the first dam gone, the ocean-migrating fish have been swimming as far upriver as they can. Scientists have observed them at the base of the second 210-foot-tall Glines Canyon Dam about 13 miles upstream, as if they want to continue on.

As they move into areas previously blocked, salmon and steelhead are acting as a fertilizer for the ecosystem, delivering marine nutrients to river otters and other wildlife.

. . .

Just three years into dam removal, scientists say they’ve been surprised at how quickly changes are happening.

The most stunning change is taking place at the river’s mouth. Millions of cubic yards of sediment held behind the dams have flowed downriver and pushed the estuary out about a quarter mile. A once rocky, cobblestone scene is now sandy beach — ideal for forage fish, juvenile salmon and shellfish.

“New estuary is literally being created. It’s wild to watch,” said Anne Shaffer, marine biologist with the Coastal Watershed Institute in Port Angeles. “Fish are using this freshly formed habitat, and they’re using it with such abundance.”

Marine creatures such as eulachon, or candlefish, and Dungeness crab have been documented in the estuary for the first time in decades.

“I was surprised by a lot of things, but I was stunned by how fast the estuary has expanded,” said Robert Elofson, river restoration director with the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe. The tribe is a partner with the National Park Service in the $325 million river-restoration project.

The mouth of the river, with new land being formed by sediment. (photo from OPB article)

Trees and other plants are recolonizing the land that was once the bottom of the “lakes” formed behind the dams, and additional work is being done by people to restore trees and plants along the river. While the dams were in place, the water held behind them was warmer than the river in its wild state was, which is another harm done to fish like salmon and steelhead, which cannot survive if water temperatures rise too high.

Before the dams were built, the Elwha was one of the Northwest’s great natural resources, hosting steelhead and all five species of Pacific salmon: sockeye, coho, chum, pink, and the legendary Elwha chinook, which commonly reached 100 pounds. Ten salmon runs — each genetically adapted to a specific seasonal migration — meant that the Elwha was full of migrating fish year-round, some 400,000 annually. . .

But the Elwha dam put a stop to that. Despite official warnings, the builder violated an 1890 law requiring fish ladders on dams, substituting a hatchery instead. Other dam builders followed suit, blocking salmon runs throughout the Northwest. That end-run determined state policies for decades, giving rise to a hatchery-dependent fishery during the hydroelectric boom of the 1920s to 1960s. . .

These declines, along with a 1910 prohibition against fishing, deprived the Lower Elwha Klallam Tribe of a key food source and cultural touchstone. After their fishing rights were restored in the 1970s, the tribe objected to licensing the dams, citing their impact on the salmon fishery and a poor safety report predicting the Elwha dam might fail during high flood conditions. (source)

So, once their fishing rights were restored in the 1970s, the tribe pushed for the dams’ removal. They were joined by conservation groups, and in 1992, Congress passed the Elwha River Ecosystem and Fisheries Restoration Act. This gave the Interiors Department the authority to buy the dams and remove them if salmon restoration needed it. In 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a plan to help with the dam removal that involved managing sediment so fish would survive its release, and in 2011, the actual removal began.

When I look at the timelines here, some of it is kind of daunting. It took, what, 15-20 years to get legal approval to take the necessary steps, and then another 19 years before the first dam removal started.

But when I look at what has happened since that started? How quickly fish and plants and other wildlife are returning, now that one “wrong” element in their landscape is gone?? It gives me such hope for other places.

 The king in feathers

I remember when I was a child or young teenager, reading some magazine article about the efforts being made to save the California condor from extinction. There were photos of the condor chicks, being raised by humans, who put condor-shaped puppets over their hands, so the chicks would see condor shape and color when being fed, and not imprint on the humans.

As much as I am a freak about birds, I didn’t give the condors much thought for quite a long time. Occasionally I’d hear something about it – the efforts were having some success! – but it wasn’t really on my radar.

Last summer, I made it to the Oregon Zoo; I’d been meaning to since moving back to Portland, but hadn’t gotten around to it. There were articles in the news earlier in the year about how the new condor exhibit was finally open. Well, I sure wasn’t going to go and NOT look the condors! They’re birds after all, how could I pass that up?

I was not expecting to be instantly overwhelmed with emotion when I caught sight of the first one in the enclosure (if I’d had the zoo to myself, I would have just sat down and sobbed). I stayed and watched him for quite a while, while he most certainly watched us, and I have honestly never felt such presence from a bird before. Or any other animal. Condors are big, but it wasn’t just his size. He was intelligent. He spent a lot of time up against the fence, reaching through it to pull at plants outside (which were just like the plants inside the enclosure), but he also had a perch that positioned him to be viewed very well from inside one of the exhibit shelters – and I think he knew he is an impressive, commanding bird. There were two other condors in the enclosure, but they hung out on some tall perches near the back the entire time I was there.

California condor at the Oregon Zoo. (photo by Fjothr)
Lord of the aviary. (photo by Fjothr)

The basic story goes like this: Condors once ranged all up and down the western part of what is now the United States. They were native to Oregon, among other places. But they died because they’d eat animals that had either been poisoned (like big predators that early settlers didn’t want around) or killed with lead shot (still a threat to today’s wild-flying condors), or because they were just outright killed. DDT and ingestion of bits plastic were other threats to their survival (plastic is still a problem).

They suffered such harm that by the mid-1980s, there were only 22 left in the wild.

They were all captured and put into captive breeding programs. These programs have done well enough that over 200 have been released into the wild again, in some very small areas, with another nearly-200 in captivity. Here’s more about the condors from the Oregon Zoo.

There is a long way to go before it’s likely they will soar over the skies they did 150 years ago, but the fact that it is possible to help a population on the verge of going extinct from crossing that boundary is a good thing.

Progress can happen. It just takes time.

That’s what I’ve got for this month. Please share additional examples in the comments!