Nature and Environment

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Backpacking Tarp For Shelter 

For many people, the thought of backpacking conjures visions of physical hardship and heavy, cumbersome gear. It’s a grueling challenge of man vs. nature, a battle in which each contender fights to overcome the other.

It doesn’t have to be.

Imagine this scenario. Your total pack weight, with food and water, is well under twenty pounds, and you save money doing it. I typically carry just seven pounds of equipment. No longer are you competing with nature, but you’re traveling lightly and living in harmony with you environment.

Ultra-light and minimalist backpacking has taken off in recent years for a number of reasons. Most importantly, less gear and lighter weights means it’s easier than ever to skip out for a weekend in the woods. The first step in lightening your load is to consider your shelter.

A Tarp for Minimalist Backpacking

Using a tarp, instead of a conventional tent, will cut your pack weight considerably.

Tarps, when pitched properly, offer complete protection from the elements and will cut pounds from your pack weight. For most three-season (spring, summer, and fall) backpacking your shelter is meant to do one thing, and one thing only, keep you and your gear dry. With that in mind, there is therefore no reason to involve yourself with zippers, fancy poles, or multiple layers of fabric or netting of a brand-new feature packed free-standing tent.

Anything from a conventional “blue” tarp bought at the local hardware store, to a contoured sil-nylon tarp, to a high-end cuben fiber tarp will do. It may take a little more effort pitching your tarp, but consider the effort you have saved in carrying a lighter shelter.

Tips for Tarping

The following are a few tips for those hardy folks ready to consider tarping:

Location is crucial. Unlike a fully enclosed tent, tarps are more easily affected by the terrain they are pitched upon. Look for sheltered or protected areas to decrease the effects of wind and ensure your tarp will stay put throughout the night.

Assess the weather. Depending on your specific set up, it is likely that you will have a leading edge and an exposed opening to your tarp. Be certain to pitch your leading edge into the wind in order to block any precipitation. Having to re-pitch your tarp in the middle of the night is not fun.

Carry a ground cloth. Because a tarp does not have a floor built into it, you will want to carry a ground cloth to keep you and your gear out of the mud if it does rain. Thin plastic painters ground cloth is cheap and works great.

Tarps will not protect you from bugs. If it is mosquito season you may wish to consider another shelter. At the very least, bring a head net!

Practice makes perfect. It is highly recommended that you practice pitching your tarp before taking it on its maiden voyage. As with all outdoor gear, your tarp will only work if you know how to use it.

Still not sure if you’re ready to take the plunge into the world of tarping? You may be able to pitch your existing tent using only the rain-fly. This compromise will save you from carrying the physical tent body, but still allow you the comfort of a familiar pitch. Best of all, it won’t cost a dime!

With these tips in mind and a willingness to forgo the advice of the salesmen at your local outfitter, you’ll be well on your way to a lighter pack and hopefully a greater outdoor experience.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page. 


For passionate gardeners and farmers, there’s an immense joy that comes from browsing through garden catalogues on the dark, cold days of winter. Cuddled up with your favorite steaming, delicious beverage, hours can pass as you peruse and dream about your next backyard adventure. Perhaps this year you are going to try a permaculture mound full of your favorite vegetables or you’ll create a native wildflower pollinator patch or, perhaps, design a bird sanctuary outside your favorite window? Wherever your imagination takes you, it is always advisable to begin with a map, a YardMap!Cornell Ornithology YardMap Yard Map

The YardMap Network is a citizen science project designed to cultivate a richer understanding of bird habitat, for both people concerned with their local environments and professional scientists. The program is housed at the Lab of Ornithology, in Ithaca, New York. We collect data by asking individuals across the country to literally draw maps of their backyards, parks, farms, favorite birding locations, schools, and gardens. We connect you with your landscape details and provide tools for you to make better decisions about how to manage landscapes sustainably.

In the United States, there are over 40 million acres of non-native lawns[1], about the size of Wisconsin. Some lawns serve practical purposes, such as space for kids to burn-off extra energy in a neighborhood game of soccer, but many acres of lawn exist out of horticultural habit, a default American garden landscape of sorts. With over 75% of endangered or threatened species occurring on private lands[2], the individual homeowner has the capacity to make a big difference in encouraging dynamic, native landscaping in place of non-functional lawn. So, keep a little lawn, the stuff you use, while letting us help you transform the rest of your property into a wildlife haven. 

We will ask you to outline your property and indicate the basic land-cover types in your yard.  Then, you can use simple drawing tools to showcase trees, bird feeders, compost bins, and the like, to show us the types of features you use to encourage wildlife and live more sustainably. It is a fun process that allows you to understand where you are at while beginning to envision where you want to go with your landscape.

YardMap has an active citizen scientist social network. There are 1,000s of others who have already joined the project, who have a wealth of knowledge to share with people just starting their wildlife landscaping journey.

With thousands of acres being transformed into residential landscape each year, we want to encourage everyone to think creatively about how to use their homes, apartments, farms, schools and parks to meet human needs, but also maximize habitat for North American plant and animal life. Join the YardMap community and become inspired for your next landscape adventure.

You can also follow YardMap on Facebook and Twitter for inspiration on gardens, birds, landscaping and much more.

[1] Milesi, C., S. W. Running, C. D. Elvidge, J. B. Dietz, B. Tuttle, and R. R. Nemani. 2005. “Mapping and Modeling the Biogeochemical Cycling of Turf Grasses in the United States.” Environmental Management 36 (3): 426–38.

[2] North American Bird Conservation Initiative, U.S. Committee. 2013. The State of the Birds 2013 Report. U.S. Department of Interior, Washington, D.C.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Many of the traditions that we associate with Halloween ­— including dressing up in costumes, going trick-or-treating and carving jack-o’-lanterns — are modern interpretations of Samhain (pronounced saw-win). Gaelic for “summer’s end,” Samhain is an ancient Celtic festival celebrated from sunset on October 31 to sunset on November 1; this falls about halfway between the autumn equinox and the winter solstice. The festival marks the end of harvest season and the beginning of the darker, colder half of the year. During Samhain, people bring cattle down from their grazing pastures and choose which animals to slaughter for winter. Households take careful stock of their pantries and food supplies in order to prepare for the long, cold weather ahead. Unlike the Gaelic festival of Beltane, which celebrates life and growth, Samhain honors the darker side of things.

Samhain is considered a “liminal” time, as it straddles the line between the abundance of summer and the harsh realities of winter. The liminality associated with the evening of October 31 creates a window during which some people believe spirits can easily enter the world of the living. Believers think that during Samhain the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest, and deceased family members and friends can return to their previous homes to bestow gifts or seek revenge. To appease the wandering spirits, the Celts would place a dinner plate at their table and bowls of food or treats by their front door. People took special care not to offend any wandering spirits, and if they left their homes they would disguise themselves with masks and costumes to avoid recognition. Eventually the tables were turned, and the masked citizens started imitating the spirits they once feared by going door-to-door demanding treats and threatening to perform mischief of their own.


Large fires were lit on hilltops to protect the community from wandering and unpredictable spirits. It was said that the fires mimicked the sun and also helped hold back the darkness of winter. The bones of recently slaughtered cattle were thrown into the fire, and hence the term “bone fire” was coined, which eventually turned into the modern word “bonfire.”  This protective fire was carried around by community members and mischief-makers alike by placing a hot coal inside a hollowed-out turnip, potato or beet. These makeshift lanterns were frequently carved with creepy faces to represent and scare away the wandering spirits. The term “jack-o’-lantern” comes from an old Irish myth about a man nicknamed “Stingy Jack.” According to lore, the drunkard Stingy Jack tricked the devil into never condemning him to Hell. When Jack died, however, God wouldn’t allow such an unsavory soul into heaven, either, so Jack was sentenced to eternally wander the Earth with nothing but a coal nestled inside a hollowed-out-turnip for light. The Irish referred to Stingy Jack’s ghost as “Jack of the Lantern,” which eventually became “jack-o’-lantern” as we know it today.

These vegetable lanterns took a modern twist when large numbers of Irish immigrants settled in the United States during the potato famine and discovered our native pumpkin, a vessel which is much larger and easier to carve than the turnip. Pumpkin carving eventually became so popular that American farmers began to breed varieties specifically for carving. Breeders paid special attention to pumpkins with thick stems, shallow ribs, thin flesh and large bodies. A few of the carving pumpkin varieties that have withstood the test of time include ‘Howden,’ ‘Casper’ and ‘Young’s Beauty.’ For tips on growing the best carving (or pie, or decorative) pumpkins, see gardening expert Barbara Pleasant’s article “All About Growing Pumpkins.”

Foods for Thought (And Divination!)

Divination and ritual have been a part of Samhain festivals since ancient times. Because the veil between worlds was thought to be at its thinnest on October 31, people would play divination games in an attempt to predict their future, specifically future events related to death and marriage. One particularly quirky divination game was called “Pou (Pull) the Stalks.” In this game, eligible young men and women were blindfolded and led to the garden, where they would uproot a kale stock. The piece of kale was thought to determine characteristics about the participant’s future husband or wife. One would hope for a tall, healthy piece of kale that tasted sweet. The amount of dirt clinging to the kale stalk was believed to represent the size of the dowry — a clean root represented poverty. Kale has been ridiculously trendy lately, between kale chips and kale smoothies, but perhaps its true popularity was during ancient Samhain divinations games. Who knew?

The song below, which is excerpted from Halloween: A Romantic Art and Customs of Yesteryear, breaks down the rules for “Pou The Stalks.”

“A lad and lassie, hand in hand,
Each pull a stock of mail;
And like the stock, is future wife
Or husband, without fail.
If stock is straight, then so is wife,
If crooked, so is she;
If earth is clinging to the stock,
The puller rich will be.
And like the taste of each stem’s heart,
The heart of groom or bride;
So shut your eyes, and pull the stocks,
And let the fates decide.”

If you’d like to celebrate Samhain by making a traditional Irish comfort-food dish that happens to include kale, the charmed divination vegetable, check out this delicious recipe for colcannon.

Halloween as We Know It

The term “Halloween” is a result of Catholic interference with Samhain in the year 609. All Saints Day is a Roman Catholic holiday that honors and remembers all Christian saints both known and unknown. Pope Gregory IV decided to officially move the date of All Saints Day to November 1, the same day as Samhain. All Saints Day is also called “All Hallows” because “hallowed” means sanctified or holy (for those of you who know The Our Father prayer, think of the part “hallowed be thy name.”) The evening before All Hallows was a popular time to celebrate, so the term “All Hallows’ Eve” was used quite a bit. Eventually the term All Hallows’ Eve morphed into Halloween as we know it, and along the way it snatched up and mingled with many of the Samhain traditions that had already been happening for thousands of years.

The history of Samhain reminds us that we once celebrated holidays because of a shared human connection that resonated with the Earth’s cycles — the weather, the moon, the harvest — instead of a celebration of consumerism or heroic dominance. This year I plan on skipping the tacky costumes and the individually packaged candy bars. Instead, I think I’ll light a bonfire, cook up a little colcannon and see if any mischievous spirits come a knockin’.

Photo by Fotolia/irene1601


Phenomena to see this autumn

Fall is arguably the most beautiful season of the year, with thousands of people flocking to see the annual displays of colorful leaves all over the world.

However, there’s much more to autumn than the traditional brilliant colors associated with these leaf shows. Mother Nature offers up some stunning phenomena during the fall months that must be seen to be believed.

Here are some unusual, beautiful and memorable sights that can only be found in fall. Put some or all of them on your bucket list, and prepare to be amazed.

1. Staircase to the Moon

Along the coast of Australia, the reflection of the full moon rising over mudflats creates a stunning optical illusion: that of a staircase rising in the sky. It can be seen for three nights every month from March through October, and is an especially big deal in the town of Broome.

2. Snow Geese Migration

In the fall, snow geese begin their annual migration from the Arctic Tundra to the southern east coast of the United States. Flocks can easily number into the thousands, making for a stunning visual display. The best place to see them touch down is at Squaw Creek National Wildlife Refuge in Missouri.

3. Tallulah Gorge Dam Release

Scheduled dam releases at the Tallulah Gorge in Georgia in September, October and November create a stunning whitewater river. Visit Tallulah Gorge State Park to see this man-made phenomena from the various trails or the suspension bridge. The gorge itself is two miles long and 1,000 feet deep, and offers gorgeous views in the fall.

4. Swallow Massing

During their fall migration, tree swallows gather in large masses at Goose Island in Connecticut. At dusk, these birds flock in huge spiral and funnel shapes in the sky before landing on the island in communal roosts.

5. Shadow of the Bear

In the mountains off of Highway 64 in North Carolina, a shadow forms from mid-October to early November that resembles that of a bear. It only makes its appearance for 30 minutes beginning at 5:30 p.m. as the sun sets behind Whiteside Mountain.

6. Caribou Migration

Every fall, beginning in late August to mid-October, the North American caribou—aka reindeer—begin their annual migration as temperatures drop in northern Alaska. They travel to the south and then make their return trip as temperatures begin to rise—a loop of about 1,600 miles.

7. Black Sun

During the months of October and November in Denmark, the migration of the European starling literally turns the sun black. During their annual journey home, millions of these birds appear in the sky at sunset, blocking the sun’s light.

8. Coral Spawning

The Caribbean island of Bonaire is host to coral spawning during the months of September and October. The coral begins spawning in the days following a full moon, filling the waters with pink, orange and white polyps that float with the currents.

9. Monarch Butterfly Migration

Beginning in October, monarch butterflies begin their migration from the cold regions of the United States and Canada to the warmer climes of Mexico and southern California. They travel in huge flocks by day and roost in pine, cedar and fir trees overnight. The best place to see them is at the in Mexico.

10. Cano Cristales River Colors

Every fall, an aquatic plant turns the Cano Cristales River, located in Serrania de la Macarena National Park in Columbia, into beautiful shades of red, orange, blue, green and yellow. For this reason, it is sometimes referred to as the liquid rainbow.

11. Sunrise and Sunset

The Brunswick Islands in North Carolina offer the rare opportunity to see both the sunrise and sunset over the same horizon. These islands run east to west parallel to the shore, making it possible in late fall to see this phenomena from Oak Island, Ocean Isle or Holden Beach.

Whether you venture to one of these locales to see these phenomena or stay closer to home to view those changing leaves, be sure to make the most of what this stunning fall season has to offer.

Photo by bark

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


When I was a kid, my dad occasionally would point to photos of animals such as the duckbill platypus, or to an actual 'possum in our rural Oklahoma neighborhood as evidence that God has a wicked sense of humor. A book released this week by Workman Publishing approaches nature with that same appreciation of its whimsy. 

WTF, Evolution?!

In Mara Grunbaum's WTF, Evolution?! A Theory of Unintelligible Design, just released by Workman Publishing, is a pictorial blooper reel of 100 funny creatures that will have you wondering if nature occasionally needs a designated driver, goes a little crazy or just runs out of steam. What to make of the Regal Horned Lizard, for example, that defends itself by shooting 3-foot streams of blood from its eyes?  Or the Peacock Spider, whose flamboyant mating dance and vivid markings would be right at home in a Mardi Gras parade?

Thanks to meticulous sourcing and fact-checking, we can believe Grunbaum when she tells us that the Banded Piglet Squid, which looks like a water balloon that's delighted with its new 'do, appears jolly thanks to the band of chromatophores (colored cells) that encircle it. Or that some species of Cordyceps fungus can control their hosts' behavior, compelling them to climb onto a high leaf before they die, to make sure the fungus' spores spread as widely as possible. Her conversations with and about a hilariously personified "Evolution" provide a running commentary that sounds like Mystery Science Theater meets Scientific American — over a stack of really excellent nature photographs and maybe a couple of beers.  

On her popular WTF Evolution Tumblr blog, Grunbaum mentions that her grandmother had been a bit concerned about the veiled profanity of the title but ended up being "delighted" by the contents. Some of the text might be considered a bit raunchy, so this book might not be for everyone. But for the not-easily offended, these charming, funny and fascinating pictures of nature will leave you shaking your head and maybe agreeing with my dad. A wicked sense of humor, indeed.

Usumbara Giant Three-Horned Chameleon (Chamaeleo deremensis)

"Sure, Evolution, being able to see in two different directions at once is kind of nice — as long as one of those directions isn't into a mirror."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Jack Milchanowski/Getty Images


Giant Three-Horned Chameleon

Peacock Spider

"Just go with it, okay? kind of waggle the flap back and forth, like this — but really, really fast — and bend the legs up and down like you're directing traffic. ...The lady spiders are super into this."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Jurgen Otto/Rex USA
Peacock spider

Babirusa (Babyrousa babyrussa)

"Why so gloomy, babirusa? Is it because Evoution gave you some weird extra tusks that are ugly, useless, too brittle to fight with, and may eventually grow so long that they curve around and fatally puncture your skull? Could that be it?"

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Danita Delimont/Alamy


Water Bear or Tardigrade (Paramacrobiotus craterlakii)

"Tardigrades can enter into a state of suspended animation called cryptobiosis, which is effectively a reversible death. Zombies, take note."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Eye of Science/Science Source


Galápagos Batfish (Ogcocephalus darwini)

"Clearly, the red-lipped batfish is a work of satire, not meant to be taken as a literal 'animal,' ..."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images

Red-lipped Batfish

Lowland Tapir (Tapir terrestris)

"Good lord, Evolution, what is that ...?

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo Thomas Vinke/age fotostock


Banded Piglet Squid

"The piglet squid would seem to suggest that Evolution's medications are working. Possibly a little too well."

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo © Mark Conlin/Getty Images

Piglet squid

Cordyceps fungus on a moth

"...the fungus kind of exploded its brain. But doesn't it look neat?"

From WTF, Evolution?! Workman Publishing; photo ©Science Photo Library/Alamy


Mara Grunbaum 

Mara Grunbaum is a science writer and editor who's covered everything from the biology of whiskers to mining palladium on the moon. Her work has appeared in Popular Science, Discover magazine, OnEarth, and other publications and websites. She's a graduate of New York University's master's program in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting.


Cardinal in Snow

The trail camera is used by sportsmen for learning the what, where and when about game animals. These relatively new devices started in their infancy as security cameras about three decades ago. Wildlife biologists quickly repurposed the standalone cameras as game management tools. Hunting equipment companies jumped on the bandwagon and began marketing them to outdoorsmen to promote success. Today the trail camera market is flooded with varying makes and models and prices.

Millions of these spy-eyes are sold at hunting equipment retailers each year. Surprisingly, more than half are purchased by individuals and businesses for security measures or by nature lovers for wildlife viewing. Trespassing, theft, harassment and other misconducts caught on camera have made a case for offended citizens. Just the warning that a security camera is on duty can discourage crime and mischief. For animal observation, the possibilities are limitless.

Have you ever wondered what goes on in your backyard or barn lot when you’re not home or at night? A trail camera offers users a detailed report that sometimes explains the unexplainable. For instance, your bird feeder, filled with thistle seed, literally had multitudes of gold finches visiting it, but now its void of the cheery yellow-black callers. A location-placed camera could reveal that a predator bird, such as a kestrel or falcon, may be using the feeder as its focal hunting ground.

Our farm has a small creek that became backed up by a beaver dam. Small trees that inhibited bank erosion were steadily disappearing, chewed down and converted to dam material. I dismantled the obstruction multiple times with a tractor to discourage these industrious tree-eaters from using the area. Each deconstruction was met with a reconstruction, and—unbelievably—almost overnight. The immediate assumption was that these elaborate rebuilds required the efforts of several adult beavers. Rocks, some the size of a basketball, were moved a quarter the length of a football field to reinforce the dam’s structure.

After placing a trail camera at the dam site, I was astonished to learn that only a single, 25-pound beaver was the culprit; it had moved into the area from a larger creek and was determined to set up house. Since the tractor deconstructed much quicker than the beaver reconstructed, the lone animal finally got the hint  after a couple of weeks and moved back to the larger stream. A beaver can live two to three decades, and though a large one might weigh 60 pounds, I’ve personally seen trapped specimens that tip the scale at nearly 100 pounds.

Eagles and HawksThough a hunter, I gain equal delight from observation of non-game animals as tracking the activity of open-season prey. It never ceases to amaze me what shows up at a road-killed carcass before it is completely consumed: owls, hawks, eagles, turkey vultures, crows, coyotes, foxes, opossums, raccoons, bobcats and even curious members of the deceased animal’s family. My favorite camera location is on a winter bird feeder. My wife Connie and I live between the Illinois and Mississippi Rivers. Migrating birds captured on film in this fly zone offer us the unattended viewing of nearly a hundred different species.

As an independent tester of trail cameras, I would advise buyers to “Beware!” Only two trail cameras are built in the USA where on-site quality can be maintained: ReConyx of Holmen, WI and Buckeye of Athens, Ohio. Though these camera manufacturers are quality-proven marketers, their units are at the top of the price scale. A standalone unit may run $450-$750. Wireless or satellite units reporting to computers or cellphones can cost substantially more depending on optional bells and whistles.

Most trail cameras today—no matter the major brand name marketer—are made in China at just a few factories. Depending on features, these cameras can cost from $50-$500. Don’t be fooled by the two-year warrantee of a foreign-built camera. Many of these do not work straight out of the box, and some only function a few weeks or months. The American marketer, through their Chinese supplier, will keep replacing your camera until your two years is up, or until you simply go away. You’ll often be stuck with the cost of shipping the unit to the supplier.

There are a few respectable Chinese cameras in the $200-plus range. Your best bet to finding one that has some degree of quality and longevity is to get online and read the reviews of independent trail camera testers. One of the better testers is The three most desired features on a camera are long battery life, quick trigger speed (for catching birds in flight), and ease of use/setup.

Please feel free to ask me even the simplest of questions about trial cameras. We all have to start somewhere.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


We live within driving distance of a wolf refuge (Mission: Wolf) which we occasionally visit. The curator of the refuge is usually present and only too willing to educate anyone about wolves. Many of the myths we have heard are dispelled when we learn the actual facts and habits of wolves. We have learned from several trips to the refuge that misunderstanding about wolves has created multiple problems for the wolf. I am not an expert on wolves and don’t know much except what I have learned visiting the wolf refuge and taking the time to talk to those who have more knowledge than I possess.

Myth vs. Fact

Wolves are a subject that seem to bring out the worst in some people and the best in others. My personal experience with wolves may be limited but I have found that when misinformation has been repeated over and over, many times it ends up being published as fact. I have always understood if you repeat a lie often enough that it does not change the initial facts. Apparently when dealing with wolves that is the exception and a truth can be over powered by myth or falsehood if repeated enough times. This blog does not provide the room to discuss all the myth-versus-fact distortions but visiting the wolf refuge and speaking to those who actually live with the wolves each day certainly helps make a distinction between fact or fiction.

Personal Wolf Experience

My wolf experience started when I was given a dog that actually turned out to be about 90 percent wolf. She was a genuine challenge to say the least. She ultimately bonded to me but not so much with other family members, friends or neighbors. She had the typical large feet, pale green-to-yellow eyes and was brought down by a military friend from Alaska as a puppy. When she became too much for him to handle he gave her to me. She was so intelligent that she was taught the four basic commands in less than one-half day and never forgot them. She was gentle with me but not so much with family members or others. She was so strong she could easily overpower dogs twice her size. She was unfriendly to domesticated dogs—unless they were more alpha and stronger than she was. She challenged every one including myself. I was barely able to subdue her and prove my dominance, which is the only thing she seemed to respect and understand. When she tested me she was clearly intent on killing going directly for the throat. Her traits and behavior were definitely 100 percent wolf. Our veterinarian believed she was at least 90 percent or more pure wolf.

Leave Wolves in the Wild

I, personally, believe trying to domesticate a wolf or cross-breeding one is very cruel to the wolf. A wolf in the wild knows it is a wolf and lives within its traits and instincts as a wolf. Placed in a domestic situation it becomes unsure of what it is and it has to put its natural instincts aside to mimic a domesticated animal in order to fit in. The wolf may partially adjust to being with humans but the basic wolf is still there albeit restricted. There are exceptions but in general altering the behavior of an animal that was meant to be wild and free and which relies on its instincts for survival is wrong in my opinion. Sort of like the old saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy."

Face Grabbing: A Wolf Trait of Affection

When a wolf puts your face in their jaws, the natural tendency is to pull back. They will then grip tighter and skin can be broken. If you have children, that can be daunting to say the least when you see your child’s head and face in the jaws of a powerful wolf or dog. To the wolf, however, face grabbing is an intimate sign of affection. Failure to understand their traits and behavior can be scary, and the partially domesticated wolf ends up being euthanized or—if it's lucky—it ends up at a refuge like the one near us.

Fierce but Gentle Animals

One time, when we visited the wolf refuge, we were privileged to participate in "the circle." We sat on logs placed in a circle and an ambassador female wolf was introduced on a stout lead. What I found interesting is that the ambassador wolf, which weighed over 125 pounds, quickly checked out every person in the circle and determined which ones were friendly and worthy of her affection. She was then quickly taken around the circle of people and would kiss each person on the mouth that she felt comfortable with. I was happy to have been one of those few she kissed having received her approval. I have to add that when a large wolf that is capable of crushing your head comes up to you with a big smooch on the lips it is a little nerve racking. A wolf's jaws can exert about 1500 lbs per square inch. When they bite, they don’t just rip and tear skin; they crush bones. They have incredibly strong jaws but they can also be very gentle.

Balancing Nature of the Species

Wolves are unique animals which are meant to remain wild. Their instincts are finely honed and flawless which has enabled them to survive in the wild and have been genetically instilled in them over the ages. Again, I am not an expert on wolves, but, in my limited experience, I have learned they are valuable in balancing the environment. They are both unique and important in maintaining balance in elk and deer herds. While some may disagree, I believe these animals play an important part in our environment, and trying to eradicate them or domesticate them seems horribly tragic and unfair to the species. These are highly intelligent animals that have strong family bonds and don‘t deserve to be hunted, trapped or shot from airplanes.

Photo courtesy of

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