Sunday, August 28, 2011

Earthfire Institute

(Photo by Marilyn Paine, courtesy of Earthfire Institute)

In August, I was honored to be invited with 10 other students to a retreat at the Earthfire Institute in Driggs, ID. We were brought there by our Reiki teacher and animal communicator Polly Klein. I am still figuring out what happened. Still journaling, meditating, singing, and whispering about it to myself, a few others. One thing I learned: right after, I should have gone into silence, as befitting the sacredness of it. But I also need to tell people. Somehow.

It was the sentences that got me, later. Impossible ones. "If you're done with the wolves, we can bring in a coyote if you'd like." "The bears are too intense so we'll just have you sit near them first, then we can bring them into the garden." "If you just move with them they'll come up to you." "If you feel a lick, just turn around slowly."

These were said quietly and without irony by caretakers and founders Jean and Susan. How do you integrate those into your usual sentences, I wonder? Even with such a strange internal dialogue as mine? I had thought, before I left, that I would get to stand really, really close to a bunch of cages with wild animals in them. I had no idea that I would not only be able to touch some of them, but give one of them a massage and a Reiki treatment to another.

I keep trying to interpret but I'll just tell.

I sat on the grass watching Jean pet ancient cougar Windwalker until he purred. (Again with the sentences.)

Behind me I heard a huff-huffing, which turned out to be a large grizzly named Huckleberry Bear Bear. Poking his giant snout under the bars of his enclosure, then followed by more of his head so I could see his eyes. Following instructions, I looked at him briefly, then looked away. I looked back and he was still gazing at me. I looked away again. Then trusted my instincts and looked back. We gazed a long time. And I heard, clear as a bell, a question from him:
What kind of animal are you?

I knew instantly that this is the question I've been answering all my life. I told him that, awkwardly.

Polly was also deeply moved by her encounter with another grizzly, Humble Bumble (above), who is a bit differently abled. We all struggled to articulate what it was exactly that had moved us all. It came to me: in zoos, which I cannot visit anymore, even if they are good ones, the animals are simply "not there." You look into their eyes and they are gone. At Earthfire, the animals are completely there. And they are completely taking you in. They see you, they are seen.

It took me a full three days to realize that Jean and Susan weren't kidding: they really do mean to be creating something new with animals. A connection. How it used to be or how it could be or something else that I won't diminish by limiting with words. But to be with wild animals who are perceiving you as a fellow critter, to be sniffed and possibly touched by them, is to restore the animal in oneself.

If that had been all that had happened I would have come away from there astounded. But it wasn't. There is more, and I'll post that soon, too.


  1. Thanks for posting some good times news. World needs more of this. I look forward to reading more. xo K

  2. Wow! I'm going to be thinking about this post for awhile. Thank you so much for sharing part of your experience, what I'm sure is just a small fraction of it, and so profound. <3 Karina

  3. Hey Caitlin

    Very moving write up and as one of the 11 who was with you, it brings it all back. I will be starting a blog here shortly as well and already know my first writing will be about my Earthfire experience. Thanks! Terri

  4. Love this! It's pawsitively fierce!

  5. Thank you Caitlin for remembering and articulating those impossible sentences. Your writing brings me back to the heart of our experience. - Katie