I first heard of the violence of the American West through my grandmother, who was born in 1898 and had lived through some of it. I learned about wild wolves around Denver, skies being darkened with raptors, vast prairie dog towns, and the still-recent 1870s death -- and complete removal from the plains - of the great wild herds of bison. She recounted stories of scalps of Native Americans still being sold as trinkets in downtown Denver theaters.
My family appeared without human prejudice and discussed living in balance with nature. Racial slurs were never allowed in the home decades before I was born.
Paula on the New Mexico High Plains in 2011.
Some of my family believed that the West's momentum towards dominance over and hatred of nature was magnified after the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, if that was possible, considering the amount of killing of previous decades. What people did not realize was this was all a byproduct of a disconnect with their own nature, which by the 1930s produced much suffering of their own.
In 1979, as an 11 year old child, I witnessed the first bulldozing of a prairie dog town. I vowed to do something to rectify such senseless cruelty. In my teens, I made a promise to God that I would devote my life to serving this abundant planet we call home. I knelt in a church, which was one of the original Catholic churches on the Front Range of Colorado, and struggled with the negative history that churches may have had here in the beginning. But I felt a personal peace, acknowledging our astronomically fortunate opportunity to be alive in a world that was created in balance and beauty, as well as our gift to make things right with each and every life.
In my 20s, I began working daily toward ecological justice on the Great Plains, especially Colorado and New Mexico, as well as the grasslands of the Rocky Mountain West. I started rescuing prairie dogs from development sites and working towards creating and expanding refuges for prairie wildlife. Little did I know that my ongoing exposure to the violence against these creatures, who I consider sacred, would unknowingly cause deep scars and changes within myself. I will never forget filming a construction worker driving a bulldozer over a prairie dog town who ironically told me that he did not like prairie dogs - native wildlife who have been here for a million years - because "...they tear up the land." It was as if he had gouged out a piece of my heart with his actions and statement.
Poisonings and bulldozings became rampant. Over time, I pulled so many little broken or convulsing bodies from beneath the ground in an attempt to bring them back from their injuries that my own body was beginning to break down. I would hold them, and most seemed to acknowledge you were not intending further harm. Their expressions were clear as they stared into your soul, and when one was lost it was like losing something within my own spirit.
Soon, the wildlife refuge that I lived on was slated for development and the prairie dogs that we'd relocated would need to be moved again, as well as myself. The other wildlife in the area to be developed would die. One of the healthiest pronghorn herds in northern Colorado would be subject to freeway traffic. I found no refuge for myself or the creatures.
As science was published on the 1%-5% of prairie dog colonies remaining alive, and as over and over I watched their societies being destroyed, I lost my bearings as a person. How does one psychologically deal with extinction of what you consider to be your brethren? Truthfully, it may not be possible. In fact, it may begin to cause the extinction of your self.
I have gained a lot of weight, partially resulting from medical treatments a few years back. However, I have also been advised that the heartbreak, stress, and anger I have encountered while working for the Earth may have caused hormonal and other systemic imbalances to a toxic point, which I am still experiencing today.
For the past 6 weeks I have been making a sincere commitment to health and well being, I'm glad to be a member of the Great Plains Restoration Council team, and they are helping me help myself as I help the prairie dogs and our Earth. I have begun to lose weight and feel I am reclaiming my natural and abundant love.