Ghosts and tiny treasures


We are quick to condemn a hunter posing with his prey, but all too slow to cultivate a chronic passion for wild things

by Bryan Pfeiffer

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Gone but not forgotten: Ivory-billed woodpecker study skins at Harvard’s Museum of Comparative Zoology. Photo by Joel Sartore/National Geographic


Ten years ago this spring, in the darkness before dawn, I switched on my headlamp, dialled in my compass, and set forth into a chilly Arkansas swamp. Dressed head to toe in camouflage and lugging an arsenal of camera gear, I wandered alone that day through lowlands of oak, cypress and sycamore, through muck and icy water, and through my own hopeful apparitions. After about 10 miles of this, in the golden hour before sunset, I found a dry rise in the land, propped myself against a fallen tree, and waited for a resurrection.

At the end of my tree, an orange-crowned warbler, drab as those leafless woods, foraged for insects. A white-tailed deer, a buck with an eight-point rack, sauntered by, sniffed the evening breeze but failed to pick up my scent. The evening’s first few mosquitoes found me. No matter. I would not give up this spot, my focal point until after sunset: a hole about four inches in diameter high on the trunk of a sycamore.

This had been my routine every day for the better part of two weeks. I walked miles through the swamp, searching the skies and the naked trees, and listening for a telltale double-knocking sound or a distinctive tin-horn ‘kent-kent’ call – the sounds of a ghost. Along the way, I found wrens and butterflies, beaver skulls and turtle shells. I found time away from work and the glowing screens, time for daydreams, and for hope. And at the end of each day, I parked myself at a hole like this one so that I might, at long last, witness some sort of human redemption. On this final evening in the swamp, like every other, I waited for an ivory-billed woodpecker to return from the dead.

And on this day, like every other, the woodpecker never came.

After one of the most expensive and unsuccessful bird hunts ever, the ivory-billed woodpecker is almost certainly extinct and, when I was in Arkansas searching it, probably had been gone for decades. We logged and neglected this giant woodpecker into oblivion – not into the figurative oblivion of obscurity, but the literal oblivion of nothingness, a final flight from which there is no return.

It turns out that extinction is indeed forever. And in the time since a wing-flash of hope came from Arkansas, an apparition of this woodpecker in the swamp, we’ve learned so little about nature – and about human nature. With too many of us watching from the sidelines, extinction and ignorance march onward, including a kind of extinction in our own backyards.

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Wild Roots Feral Futures 2016!

“We are very happy to announce that, for the 8th year running, the Wild Roots Feral Futures (WRFF) eco-defense, direct action, and rewilding encampment will take place in the forests of Southwest Colorado this coming June 18-26, 2016 (exact location to be announced). WRFF is an informal, completely free and non-commercial, and loosely organized camp-out operating on (less than a) shoe-string budget, formed entirely off of donated, scavenged, or liberated supplies and sustained through 100% volunteer effort. Though we foster a collective communality and pool resources, we also encourage general self-sufficiency, which lightens the burden on communal supplies, and which we find to be the very source and foundation of true mutual sharing and abundance.

We would like to invite groups and individuals engaged in struggles against the destruction of the Earth (and indeed all interconnected forms of oppression) to join us and share your stories, lessons, skills, and whatever else you may have to offer. In this spirit we would like to reach out to frontline community members, local environmental groups, coalitions, and alliances everywhere, as well as more readily recognizable groups like Earth First!, Rising Tide North America, and others to come collaborate on the future of radical environmentalism and eco-defense in our bio-regions and beyond.

We would also like to reach out to groups like EF!, RTNA, and the Ruckus Society (as well as other groups and individuals) in search of trainers and workshop facilitators who are willing to dedicate themselves to attending Wild Roots Feral Futures and sharing their skills and knowledge (in a setting that lacks the financial infrastructure to compensate them as they may have come to expect from other, more well-funded groups and events). We are specifically seeking direct action, blockade, tri-pod, and tree climbing/sitting trainers (as well as gear/supplies).

Regarding the rewilding and ancestral earth skills component of WRFF, we would like to extend a similar invitation to folks with skills, knowledge, talent, or specialization in these areas to join us in the facilitation of workshops and skill shares such as fire making, shelter building, edible and medicinal plants, stalking awareness, tool & implement making, etc. We are also seeking folks with less “ancestral” outdoor survival skills such as orienteering and navigation, etc.

Daily camp life, along with workshops, skill shares, great food, friends, and music, will also include the volunteer labor necessary to camp maintenance. Please come prepared to pitch in and contribute to the workload, according to your abilities. We encourage folks who would like to plug in further to show up a few days before the official start of the event to begin set-up and stay a few days after the official end to help clean up.

Site scouting will continue until early June, at which point scouts and other organizers will rendezvous, report-back their scouting recon, and come to a consensus regarding a site location. We are also planning on choosing a secondary, back-up site location as a contingency plan for various potential scenarios. Email us for more info on getting involved with scouting and site selection processes.

WRFF is timed to take place before the Earth First! Round River Rendezvous, allowing eco-defenders to travel from one to the other. Thus we encourage the formation of a caravan from WRFF to the EF! RRR (caravans and ride shares can be coordinated through our message board at

We are currently accepting donations in the form of supplies and/or monetary contributions. Please email us for details.

Please forward this call widely, spread the word, and stay tuned for more updates!

For The Wild,

~The Wild Roots Feral Futures organizers’ collective

humans are not on top of the food chain

If you put an uncultured, naked human in a natural area with a variety of animals, the human would either become prey to predatory animals, or hide & survive by eating off vegetation. In his original form, a human does not have instincts to hunt, much less to take bites of raw animal flesh, but to forage.

Perhaps humans became enculturated into using weapons technology and artificially landed on the top of the food chain, but by our nature we don’t belong there.


What Does a Dying Forest Sound Like?

As temperatures rise, scientists scramble to pinpoint trees in danger of drought

Populus tremuloides
Severe drought killed this stand of trembling aspen trees, Populus tremuloides, near Fairplay, Colorado. (William Anderegg)
April 21, 2016

You can actually hear a tree dying.

No, it doesn’t scream in pain as a denim-clad lumberjack joyfully chops its trunk. However, during the increasingly common periods of extreme drought and heat, a tree’s slow desiccation becomes audible through a microphone pressed to its trunk.

“It sounds a little like popcorn popping—little cracks and pops,” says William Anderegg, a biologist at Princeton University.

The process that leads to the crackling noise is one of several that scientists are studying to better understand how trees react to drought and heat. With the loss of millions of trees as global temperatures continue their upward march, this information could help scientists more accurately predict which trees are most in danger, leading to improved climate models as well as better management of forests during periods of drought.

In just the past several decades, we started to see a lot more of these widespread, drought-driven, tree mortality events,” says Anderegg “That has prompted a lot more concern from scientists to try to figure out what’s happening.”

Foraging for Wild Edibles


Foraging is an option for a vegan that tends to live nomadic or freely. Living on the land by growing your own food may not be an option for you, so the next best way to consume free, organic food is by exploring the world around you for fruits, nuts, greens, herbs, or seeds. It is no wonder that raw foodists believe their diet is ideal because wild herbivores live day-by-day foraging for their own food.
However, foraging may be ideal for those who live in warmer climates. For example, Wild herbivore animals may not have access to fruits, greens, beans or nuts during the winter, which may lead to consuming road kill, insects or small critters (Which makes us different from animals because we have the industry to provide year-round fruits and veggies so we do not have to resort to eating animals). Of course, our forests have been destroyed of the plentiful fruit and nut trees in order to log for money, so it is also no wonder we could hardly live or thrive off the foods found in the woods in this modern day.

Although it’s true living in tropical or sub-tropical climates are ideal, yet you can easily forage during the colder climates, as well. In fact, I live in a colder climate of the United States, and I am to forage for fruits during the Summer; and in the Fall, I am able to forage for walnuts and hickory nuts. In the winter, I am able to forage for persimmons!

The list provided below includes wild edibles that can be found in most climates, if not all.


There are all kinds of common mushrooms: morels, chanterelles, oyster, and boletus. Mushrooms typically grow during the Spring and Fall when nights are cool but days are still warm.
“Before you begin gathering wild mushrooms, identify any poisonous species that grow in your area. Although most are edible, it’s better to play it safe. Also, never eat them raw and stay away from those that have been damaged by insects.

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Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?

Excerpted from Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? by Frans de Waal, to be published on April 25 by Norton.

One morning, at the Dutch Zoo where I used to work, we showed chimpanzees a crate full of grapefruits. The colony was still in its night building that adjoins a grassy island, where it would spend the day. The apes were interested enough watching us carry the crate through a door onto the island. When we returned to the building with the empty crate, however, pandemonium broke out. As soon as they saw that the fruits were gone, 25 apes burst out hooting and hollering in a most festive mood, slapping one another’s backs. I have never seen animals so excited about absent food. They must have inferred that grapefruits cannot vanish, hence must have remained on the outside island onto which they would soon be released. This kind of reasoning does not fall into any simple category of associative learning, especially since it was the very first time we followed this procedure.


Apes keep surprising us, sometimes even in direct comparison with humans. There is the example of Ayumu, a young male chimpanzee at the Primate Research Institute of Kyoto University, in Japan. I watched Ayumu’s incredibly rapid decision-making on a touch screen the way I admire my students typing 10 times faster than me. In 2007, he managed to put human memory to shame by recalling a series of numbers from 1 through 9. He tapped them in the right order, even though the numbers appeared randomly on the screen and were quickly replaced by white squares. Having memorized the locations of all numbers, Ayumu touched the squares in the right order. Reducing the amount of time the numbers flashed on the screen didn’t bother him in the least, even though humans become less accurate the shorter the interval. Trying the task myself, I was unable to keep track of more than five numbers after staring at the screen for many seconds, while Ayumu did the same after having seen the numbers for just one-fifth of a second—literally the bat of an eye. One follow-up study managed to train humans up to Ayumu’s level with just five numbers, but the ape remembers up to nine with 80 percent accuracy, something no human has managed to do so far. Taking on a British memory champion known for his ability to memorize an entire stack of cards, Ayumu emerged the “chimpion.”

The distress Ayumu’s photographic memory caused in the scientific community was of the same order as when, half a century ago, DNA studies revealed that humans barely differ enough from bonobos and chimpanzees to deserve their own genus. It is only for historical reasons that taxonomists have let us keep the Homo genus all to ourselves. The DNA data caused hand-wringing in anthropology departments, where until then skulls and bones had ruled supremely as the gauge of relatedness.

are we smart enough to know how smart animals are?

With regard to Ayumu, it was the turn of psychology departments to be upset. Since Ayumu is now training on a much larger set of numbers, and his photographic memory is being tried on ever shorter time intervals, the limits of what he can do are as yet unknown. But this ape has already violated the dictum that, without exception, tests of intelligence ought to confirm human superiority. As voiced by American psychologist David Premack, “Humans command all cognitive abilities, and all of them are domain general, whereas animals, by contrast, command very few abilities, and all of them are adaptations restricted to a single goal or activity.” Humans, in other words, are a singular bright light in the dark intellectual firmament that is the rest of nature. Other species are conveniently swept together as “animals” or even “the animal,” as if there were no point differentiating among them. It is an us-versus-them world.

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