Animal Writes
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18 March 2001 Issue
Working Vacation

by Kim Stallwood
Email: [email protected] 

It will be winter when you read this editorial, but it was written in mid-August when I stayed at a friend's cabin in the foothills of the Catskills. I escaped for most of the month from Baltimore's intense heat and humidity despite it being one of the coolest and wettest on record. I had long looked forward to this "working vacation," as I insisted on calling it, because I had recently emerged from one of my busiest travel schedules. This was in addition to an intense production schedule, a tough organizational cycle, and other management responsibilities. Although I had to return to Baltimore once, I was not disappointed because I learned something important about myself as an advocate for animals.

I invite you to imagine I'm sitting at a rough wooden table on the cabin porch, working at my rechargeable laptop and listening to National Public Radio on a solar-powered/wind-up radio. The cabin, which does not have electricity or water but is insulated, is one large room with a sleeping platform accessible by a six-foot stepladder. The property -- which was covenanted long ago against development and hunting -- and its surrounding area sits on rolling, largely wooded hills. There is a fast-flowing river nearby and many ponds and lakes in the area. The small town is close, and it is possible to hear the traffic on the minor road that connects to a state highway.

I came prepared to work but also to relax and enjoy the woods and its inhabitants. I caught up on my reading, which included a backlog of magazines and miscellaneous articles as well as Steve Wise's Rattling the Cage, which I thought was excellent and highly recommend. Long ago I had promised myself to read The Boundless Circle by Michael W. Fox, which I finally did and regretted I hadn't read it sooner because it was so unique and informative.

There was also the writing of my Agenda editorials, as well as what has frankly become what I now think of as my long shadow that follows me around everywhere: my attempt at writing my first book, a practical, moral, and spiritual action plan for animals that lies unfinished despite a well-developed outline. It shouldn't be surprising that the three weeks went quickly and barely a dent was made. My excuse? Well, in addition to my deadlines, obligations, and backlogs, there wasn't enough time, but there were also the distractions.

For months my friend had been teasing me with reports of bear spore, and I thought it would be wonderful (if a little scary) to see a black bear. I wasn't disappointed late one afternoon when I caught a glimpse of one as I was leaving my friend's cabin. Out of the corner of my eye I spotted in the
darkening depths of the woods a big, black, furry shape among the lush green ferns. My mouth must have dropped as I stood there thinking about what I had just seen. I am, after all, a product of London's outer suburbia who now lives in the heart of Baltimore. And I was lucky enough to just see a bear. I put my bags down and walked slowly back to get my friend. We stood on the bed of my partner's pickup truck, saw the ferns move and briefly heard the bear, but we never saw him or her again, although we
were probably being watched the whole time.

I thought that this is what it must be like to be Jane Goodall. It was a magical privilege to see such a beautiful creature whom we knew was protected from hunters on this property. Although we occasionally heard the bear's voice, the form did not reappear. But we did see an abundance of other wildlife, including some amazing caterpillars who looked as if they crawled out of Star Trek.

As important as it was for me to catch up on my reading, meet my deadlines, and attempt to write my book, it was my feeling of almost solitariness in the woods and my direct contact with nature that was the most worthwhile aspect of my August. I learned it was important for me to stay in touch with nature by spending time alone in a world where the impact of the human animal is minimal. I returned home recharged with a renewed appreciation for the natural world, which strengthened and enlightened my commitment to fulfilling my role as an advocate for animals -- both seen and unseen.

“Reprinted with permission from The Animals’ Agenda, P.O. Box 25881,
Baltimore, MD 21224; (410) 675-4566;”
Email: [email protected]

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