"Seton Castle...on the last rampart of the Rockies where the Buffalo Wind is blowing."

Friday, February 27, 2015

Lucia and the Bear

Lucia at the ready

In his first book of stories, Wild Animals I Have Known, Seton included “Bingo, the Story of My Dog.” In the account, the narrator is caught in his own wolf traps and is soon surrounded by wolves.  From afar, Bingo senses his plight, and comes to the rescue chasing off the wolves and bringing a wrench within reach so that the narrator can release himself from the traps. (A model for the later movie and television character, Lassie.) The story is about the high moral value of loyalty, one of the canine virtues.

With that in mind, I present a story about a real dog, Lucia LRC, as told by one of her humans. Lucia passed away after a long illness on February 24, three months shy of her 14th birthday. Lucia knew only other dogs during her first four months of life. She had never set foot into a house until she came into ours, inexplicably already house trained. She remained remarkable to the end, a canine of the highest virtue.

Lucia and the Bear by Bonnie Schermerhorn

I was sitting on my porch one delightful summer afternoon enjoying the simple delights of warm air and sun on my skin, a book in hand, a drink at my elbow when Luca and Lucia began a ruckus. Lying down and barking—yes they are multi-taskers—something, or someone was getting their collective dander up.

They raised themselves from the cool of the cement and ambled over to the edge of the porch, hackles rising as they walked, warning in low-throated growls rising to deeper barking, bodies stretching and straining. What was over there, I had to wonder. “Quiet down, quiet down” got the usual response – increased barking and growling. Enough growling and I had to get up to determine if anything was truly amiss—strangers on the property, another dog passing through, a flock of wild turkeys?

As I stood at the end of the porch tension increased—Lucia, ever faithful, ever vigilant ran to the edge of the house and took a stand. With her paws firmly planted and barking in her deepest, deep throated bark she made it clear “no one shall pass!” Luca, never one to be left behind, and devoted sibling that he is, ran to her side. Between the two of them they sounded like the hounds from hell banishing whatever fool-hearted being might come their way and try to cross their path.

However just as Luca took his stand, shoulder to shoulder with Lucia, to battle whatever demons were approaching I saw something. Emerging from the trees was a large, brown, no…cinnamon colored, an elk calf, a large dog? As it ambled ever closer both Luca and I realized at the same time just what it was—a cinnamon bear. Big, shaggy coated, large head moving slowly side to side as it waddled along.

Luca registered the bear as a ‘do not mess with’ creature. He promptly turned tail and ran back to me on the porch and inserted himself behind my legs with only his head peering around from my knees. Lucia barking manically, Luca yapping and yelping, me screaming at the top of my lungs for Lucia to get herself over here—well, we were quite hysterical!  Frothing, biting, champing at the bit, sounding as demented as we possibly could and Lucia never wavered. I called to her, I pleaded with her, Lucia return to safety! What I was going to do to defend us all should the bear continue on his path I gave no thought to. Lucia stood her ground. She would do battle with that bear if it was her last act upon this earth.

We all stood frozen in this tableau for a few minutes continuing our ear shattering sounds. The bear was practically nose to nose with Lucia when finally, it seemed, he had had enough of our foolishness. Perhaps too much noise after the relative quiet of a night filled with dumpster diving. He took one final look at Lucia; he couldn’t be bothered with Luca or me, ever so slowly turned his back to us and meandered away as if not bothered by a care in the world.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Wolf! Annual Letter to Lobo

Canine drawing by Ernest Thompson Seton, courtesy Academy for the Love of Learning

January 31, 2015 marks the 121th anniversary of the death of Lobo, a wolf trapped by Ernest Thompson Seton along the Corrumpa River in northeastern New Mexico. I have written in my book on Seton and elsewhere in this blog about how he underwent a psychological and spiritual transformation as a result of his encounter with the great wolf Lobo. This encounter became one of the foundational moments leading to today’s environmentalism. Over thirty years after Lobo’s death, Seton wrote this wolf appreciation. Excerpt from Vol. I of Lives of Game Animals (1925), pg. 336-337.

LIFE VII—THE GRAY-WOLF. His True Character—A Challenge
[Excerpt from Vol. I of Lives of Game Animals (1925), pg. 336-337]

“Thus have I offered evidence of the courage, the chivalry, the strength, the playfulness, the love loyalty, the fidelity, the friendliness, the kindliness, the heroism, the goodness of the Wolf—completing my attempt to set before you the faithful and fearless portrait of a creature so long maligned; to piece together the little scraps of truth I have found in countless hunter-tales, like gold raked out of garbage bins; to make you know the wild one’s true character and his way of life as it really is.

Now with all the evidence before me and much more of the same available, and with the story of Lobo in mind (for it is true in the main), can anyone wonder that I love the Gary-wolf and credit him with true nobility of character—with the attributes of a splendid animal hero?”

Monday, January 26, 2015

Seton's Stories #10

Seton Castle, Through the Window Looking East

This is the tenth and final in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1937-1945.


The Biography of an Arctic Fox

(New York: D. Appleton-Century Company)

Quote: “This is the story of the cache, and many they made that harvest time, without clear thought of the motive indeed, but with the persistent urge of opportunity, and the blind helpful instinct that I chose to personify as Mother Carey, the Spirit of Nature, the Keeper of the Wild Things.”

This biography is about fox natural history in day-in-a-life form, no plot, nor does individual character play much of a role. Unlike other animal stories, in this one people play no role until the end until a starving innocent wild creature is killed by dogs after coming too close to human habitation and its smelly trash. Perhaps it was meant as a metaphor for our distressing civilization.

Great Historic Animals, Mainly About Wolves

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)

Quote: “There is no such danger. Wild Animals, in America at least, let you alone, if you let them alone. I would undertake, if it were made worth while, to walk from Maine to California, and sleep in the woods alone every night, and never need a gun, so far as wild animals are concerned. A gun may be needed for my own species, but I have never yet been in serious danger from a native wild animal.”

“Wosca and Her Valiant Cub.” A tragic beginning, a dedicated mother, and quality time with Buffalo Bill Cody gives a North Dakota wolf an interesting life. Years later he cares for his old mother, but they can’t escape the prairie’s worst killers.

“The Chillingham Bull.” Confronted by a charging bull, Seton stands his ground until the animal leaves.

“Little Marie and the Wolves.” A little girl wanders into the forest and disappears for two months. She becomes wild and snarly like a wolf, but after she is found and reunited with her mother, it appears she will recover.

“The Wolf on the Running-Board.” A wolf-dog hybrid appears out of nowhere while Seton is being driven through the Mojave Desert. Appearing to be well practiced, it jumps onto the running board of the car to catch a ride.

“The Wild Ways of Tame Beasts.” An essay on animal behavior, especially the importance of dog ancestry as well as the use of markings, color, and sense of smell. Other domestic animals and birds are also considered.

“Padraic and the Last of the Irish Wolves.” In the dark decades of the 17th century two men manage to kill the last two wolves in Ireland.

“Rincon, Or the Call in the Night.” A domestic dog mates with a female wolf, bringing the pups back to live at the ranch following the apparent disappearance of the mother.

“The Wolf and the Primal Law.” A young man communes with the wolves, but for some reason moves the buried prey of one of them. When the wolf returns with the pack and they find the prey  missing, the wolves turn on the one who lied to them killing the innocent wolf and leaving the man heartbroken.

“The Story of Carrots.” A brave Airedale rescues his owner and faces down mountain lions.

“Chicaree, an Adventure in the Life of a Red Squirrel.” A little rodent goes to considerable trouble to get a mushroom as a present for his mate.

“The Woman Bear.” A poetic description of a mother’s love for her cubs.

“The Lovers and the Shining One, A Rede by the Singing Woodsman.” The pleasures of watching foraging raccoons in the moonlight.

“The Rat and the Rattlers.” A rat is thrown into a cage with two rattlesnakes. A cornered rat is as dangerous as rumored and kills both of the reptiles.

“Dipo: Sprite of the Desert.” A natural history of Mojave Desert kangaroo-rat.

“Hank and Jeff.” A hunter gives his beloved dog away, but then regrets it. Both man and dog die of grief.

“La Bête, The Beast Wolf of Gevaudan.” Hunters kill a litter of pups in 18th century France. One survives to become a Loup Garou, taking revenge on men, dogs and sheep, killing hundreds of humans before an army is organized to track him down and end his reign of terror.

“Courtaud, The King Wolf of France.” War torn France is terrorized by man-eating wolves. The wolves lay siege to Paris but are eventually defeated.

“The Leopard Lover.” Inspired by the Balzac story “Passion in the Desert,” a lost soldier is befriended in the wilderness by a great cat. The cat’s devotion grows into cruel jealousy and he must kill her to escape.

“Who Were the Heroes?” Seton presents a defense of Darwin’s Origin of Species in three parts.


The Buffalo Wind

(Santa Fe: The Seton Village Press.)

Quote: “I heard the Voices, and I heard the Strain again. It sang or moaned: “The Buffalo Wind! The Buffalo Wind!”

An essay published for Seton’s 78th birthday by the Seton Village Press, Seton describes several ecstatic experiences that guided (or forced) his life path. This is Seton’s only direct statement about his deep spiritual life, albeit a very short one.


Trail on an Artist Naturalist, the Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton

(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)

Quote: “The way had been legally cleared, so that, when I came West, she came too. She is now Mrs. Ernest Thompson Seton, the chatelaine of Seton Castle, in Seton Village, on the last rampart of the Rockies, in the land where still the Indian lives unchanged, and where the Buffalo Wind is blowing; where the Rio Grande rolls as it always has, through unchanged mountains and realms of snow, to its rest in the far-off sea.”

This is a romanticized account of a romantic life. Seton made no attempt to cover everything he did, nor was he particularly concerned about accuracy and truthfulness. There are few great reckonings or much in the way of personal insights. Seton instead concentrates on telling good yarns about selected episodes from his life, especially from his younger years. Included are sections on Lobo, the Arctic Prairies and the origins of the Boy Scouts.


Santana, the Hero Dog of France

(Los Angeles: The Phoenix Press)

Quote: “Countless generations of household life have developed in the dog love and loyalty to those of his home. As a result, the trustworthiness of the dog is not simply good, or variant, or measurable—it is perfect. It is the standard of all loyalty. The dog is the symbol of absolute fidelity. There is none other to compare with it.”

This single short story is a departure from earlier ones for focusing on an animal’s happy life. The bond between Santana is spiritual and psychic, a deep love that transcends even death after the two of them gives their lives to stop the German advance on Paris during the bleak days of World War I.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Seton's Stories #9

Seton Castle Bell, October 21, 2014

This is the ninth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1922-1936.

Bannertail, The Story of a Graysquirrel
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)
Quote: “And foolish man, who slays the Graysquirrel in his reckless lust for killing, is also destroying the precious hickory-trees, whose timber is a mainstay of the nation-feeding agriculture of the world. He is like the fool on a tree o’erhanging
the abyss, who saws the very limb on which depends his life.”

The usual start: the pointless murder of his family. The orphan Bannertail is raised by a friendly housecat. Thereafter follows natural history accounts about the travails and triumphs of the arboreal rodent. In this story Seton has changed emphasis, making his animal hero act less from its own decision making ability and more from instinct. This was a distinct retreat (in the face of much criticism) from his earlier position of giving more credit to the learning ability of animals. 

Ernest Thompson Seton, A Biographical Sketch Done By Various Hands, To Which Is Attached A Complete Bibliography Of The Works Of This Author
(Doubleday, Page & Co. printed at the Country Life Press)
Quote: “Those who have known his longest tell that from his earliest days he has been possessed of a craze to be with the things of wild life, living it with the animals, as far as possible.”

Put together by unattributed writers, in its 47 pages this pamphlet starts with a few stories about the author before listing the scores of books and articles Seton wrote and published between 1880 and 1924. The range of subjects he considered reads like an encyclopedia. This remarkable output slowed after 1918 when he gave increasing focus to Lives of Game Animals originally titled Game Animals and the Lives They Live.

Lives of Game Animals
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)
Quote: “These Hundred Lives, then, are my attempt at fitting the parts of the mosaic that have come to hand. They will, I hope, prove a starting point for other workers in the field; those with larger gifts and opportunity. At any rate, I have had the joy of making the attempt.”

Seton’s four volume magnum opus about one hundred North American large mammal species. Part natural history, part lyrical essay, a showcase for scientific and editorializing drawings, this is Seton’s most unique work. It is more a work of natural history than scientific field biology, but in so doing is meant to capture both the character and meaning of the animal, something missed in much contemporary writing.

The Gospel of the Redman, An Indian Bible
“Compiled by Ernest Thompson Seton and Julia M. Seton”
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)
Quote: “The culture and civilization of the Whiteman are essentially material; his measure of success is ‘How much property have I acquired for myself?’  The culture of the Redman is fundamentally spiritual; his measure of success is, ‘How much service have I rendered to my people?’  His mode of life, his thought, his every act are given spiritual significance, approached and coloured with complete realization of the spirit world.”

The Seton’s included two main themes in this little book. The first is an idealized view of traditional Native American/First Nations tribal socialism. The second is a denunciation of greed and “money madness” in Western civilization. Highly race conscious and occasionally (if unintentionally) patronizing, it was intended as a message to the “Whiteman” to change his ways before it is too late.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Seton's Stories #8

Sunset photographer, Seton Castle, October 21, 2014

This is the eighth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1917-1921.

The Preacher of Cedar Mountain
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)
Quote: “There were women who boldly proclaimed that sex and mind had little bearing on each other; that woman should train herself to be herself, and to stand on her own feet; that when woman had the business training of men, the widow and the unmarried woman – half of all women – would no longer be the easy prey of every kind of sharper.  These new teachers were, of course, made social martyrs, but they sowed the seed and the crop was coming one.  That every woman should prepare herself to stand alone in the world was the first article in their creed.”

This book, Seton’s only attempt at publishing a conventional, character driven novel, reflects political attitudes of the late Progressive Era, including emerging feminism. The “preacher” Jim Hartigan is almost more pagan than Christian, more interested in the spiritual than the doctrinaire. Like Seton animal heroes, Jim overcomes his adversaries by wit and strength. He hates cruelty to animals, admires traditional Indians and is enamored of the shear dynamism of his region: “Hope never dies in the West.”

Sign Talk, A Universal Signal Code, Without Apparatus, for Use in the Army, the Navy, Camping, Hunting, and Daily Life
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)
Quote: “My attention was first directed to the Sign Language in 1882 when I went to live in Western Manitoba. There I found it used among the various Indian tribes as a common language, whenever they were unable to understand each other’s speech.”

This is a scholarly work once again showing the breath of Seton’s interests. It includes a 200 plus page glossary of the signs.

Woodland Tales
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)
Quote: “I never forgot the exact timbre of the woodland call; so when at length, long after, I traced it to what is known in books as the ‘Red-shouldered hawk,’ it was a little triumph and a little disappointment. The books made it all so commonplace. They say it has a loud call like ‘kee-o’; but they do not say that it has a bugle note that can stir your very soul if you love the wild things, and voices more than any other thing on wings the glory of flight, the blessedness of being alive.”

This is a compilation of previously published stories combined with new ones. Part fanciful mythological stories of his own creation, part Woodcraft stories, all demonstrate the pleasures of natural history observation and activities. Focus on plants, insects and birds. The book is meant to inspire both children and their guides (their parents or others) to get outside for the purpose of learning and enjoyment.  The seven sections are divided into 107 Tales.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Seton's Stories #7

More magical sunset light, October 21, 2014

This is the seventh in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1913-1916.

Wild Animals At Home
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.)
Quote: “Had I asked them to join me killing a man, shooting up the town, or otherwise taking their lives in their hands, I would doubtless have had half a dozen cheerful volunteers; but to carry a box in which was a wild skunk – ‘not for a hundred dollars,’ and the warriors melted into the background.”

This is a work on non-fiction covering many of the same animals featured in Life Histories of Northern Animals, but in a more popular format. All of these creatures were wild citizens of Yellowstone National Park. Seton loved the park because the relative tameness of its animals allowed a close approach and thus a chance to observe and understand them in a way not possible elsewhere. Seton takes the opportunity to editorialize on many subjects from his dislike of high powered hunting weapons to the importance of bats. He continued to ramp up his message of wildlife conservation, including describing himself as an assassin for his complicity in the killing of a moose.

Manual of the Woodcraft Indians, The Fourteenth Birchbark Roll, Containing Their Constitution, Laws, and Deeds, and Much Additional Matter
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.)
Quote: “It maintains that true religion fits all days as well as Sunday. That justice and retribution are our certain lot here on earth. That all men are born children of the Great Spirit and may retain their birthright if they have the courage and strength for the fight.”

At the time of publication, Seton was finishing his losing fight for control of the Boy Scouts. He set forward the organizational scheme for his own organization; later in 1915 it was incorporated and renamed The Woodcraft League of America.

Wild Animal Ways
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Company)
Quote: “If he [the raccoon] has a message, we know it not in formal phrase, but this perhaps: He is symbol of the things that certain kindly natures love; and if the nation’s purblind councilors win their evil way, so his hollow tree with himself should met its doom, it means the final conquest of the final corner of our land by the dollar and its devotees. Grant I may long be stricken down before it comes.”

“Coaly-Bay, the Outlaw Horse.” The life history of in Idaho starts with his unkind treatment by his owners. Eventually he escapes joining a wild band: Live free or die!

“Foam, or The Life and Adventures of a Razor-Backed Hog.” A brave and faithful wild pig overcomes all odds during his challenging life, including his friendship with a human girl and a climatic confrontation with a bear. Courage, Seton writes, is “not to be without fear, but to overcome it.”

“Way-Atcha, the Coon-Raccoon of Kilder Creek.” A lost baby raccoon is adopted by a human family after being removed from a trap, mistreated by others, and finally escapes back to the wild life.

“Billy, the Dog That Made Good.” A brave dog saves his master from a grizzly bear caught in a trap.

“Atalapha, a Winged Brownie.” A year in the life, bat natural history with poetic passages and praise for bat insect predation. The Great Northern Bat is captured by humans who test his flying ability. Nature tests its as well during a long migration. 

“The Wild Geese of Wyndygoul.” Seton’s pinioned mother and father geese cannot join the annual migration; they and their brood spend the winter together.  Another brood comes the following summer; the mother’s flight feathers have grown back. She and her children take off, leaving the anguished father to spend the winter alone.  But his family returns in the spring, setting a pattern for the loving couple’s years together.

“Jinny. The Taming of a Bad Monkey.” Treated with respect and affection by a zoo keeper, an abused monkey goes from vicious to tame before being murdered by an evil man.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Seton's Stories #6

Seton Castle Library Exterior at Sunset, October 21, 2014

This is the sixth in a series, an annotated listing of Ernest Thompson Seton books covering the years 1910-1912.

Boy Scouts of America, A Handbook of Woodcraft, Scouting, and Life-Craft
(New York: Doubleday, Page & Company.)
Quote: “The Woodcraft and Scouting movement that I aimed to foster began to take shape in America some ten years ago. Because the idealized Indian of Hiawatha has always stood as the model for outdoor life, woodcraft and scouting, I called its brotherhood the “Woodcraft Indians.” In 1904 I went to England to carry on the work there, and, knowing General R.S.S. Bade-Powell as the chief advocate of scouting in the British Army, invited him to cooperate in making the movement popular.”

This book created a model for all the Boy Scout Handbooks that have followed, making the series one of the largest (other than the Holy Bible) printed in the English language. It incorporated parts of Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys which itself had been greatly influenced by Seton’s Birch Bark Roll series which premiered in Ladies Home Journal in 1902.

Rolf in the Woods, The Adventures of a Boy Scout With Indian Quonab and Little Dog Skookum
(New York: Grosset & Dunlap)
Quote: “I have especially dwelt in detail on the woodland and peace scouting in the hope that I may thus help other boys to follow the hard-climbing trail that leads to the higher uplands.”

This young adult novel is a values-driven story: self-reliance (both in woodcraft and in personal courage), religious tolerance, and love of nature. By being good at these a scout can overcome any obstacle. This also is a story of heroism based on physical ability, personal integrity, and loyalty. It combines elements of Seton’s own early life with James Fenimore Cooper stories.

The Arctic Prairies, A Canoe-Journey of 2,000 Miles In Search Of The Caribou; Being An Account Of A Voyage To The Region North Of Aylmer Lake
(New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons)
Quote: “In 1907 I set out to journey by canoe down the Athabaska and adjoining waters to the sole remaining forest wilds—the far north-west of Canada—and the yet more desert Arctic Plains, where still, it is said, were to be seen the Caribou in their primitive condition.”

Part travelogue, part natural history, part adventure story, the Arctic equivalent of Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia, this was Seton’s only full account of any of his major trips. Accompanied by field biologist Edward A. Preble and First Nations Guides, Seton explored the Northwest Territories above Great Slave Lake over six months. He gave descriptions of the landscape with its human and animal inhabitants. This was the first in-depth account of an area that was at the time almost entirely unknown to outsiders. 

The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore
(Garden City, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co.)
Quote: “By Woodcraft I mean outdoor life its broadest sense and the plan has been with me since boyhood. Woodcraft is the first of all the sciences. It was Woodcraft that made man out of brutish material, and Woodcraft in its highest form may save him from decay.

Seton considered this the Eleventh Edition of the Birch Bark Roll; it was the largest of the entire series, combining a large selection of his many interests. It was meant to serve as the guide to outdoor education from ethics to American Indian history to how to organize local groups. It pushed the radical notion that cooperation was of greater moral value than competition. Woodcraft included honoring (or appropriation) if indigenous folkways, practical outdoor skills, games, first aid, herbal healing, general natural history, and forestry. Issued under various titles over the years, it remains in print today. This was the Boy Scout manual as it would have been written without Baden-Powell influence. (There were later revisions not shown on this list.)