I did a brave and interesting thing this morning: I got myself up and out and drove to a place I’ve never been for a 10:00 am Indiana Department of Natural Resources Commission Meeting to speak up for saving the bobcat from open hunting. I had almost no idea of what I was getting into and could hardly sleep last night feeling called to do this but very scared to do it. Public speaking is not my favorite sport.
I’ve attended one other government committee meeting: an Indiana Senate subcommittee about the proposal to cut down the several-hundred-year-old trees in Crown Hill Cemetery. From that equally scary and interesting experience I knew a few helpful things. Probably there will be some “experts” there to speak with facts about the subject. Anyone can speak: you sign a card as you come in if you want to speak. They’ll ask first for the people who have titles after their names like “PhD”, or “Professor of__”. And bodies matter: I felt both times that at the very least I could be a body showing support for this cause.
But what could I say if I had to speak? Some sweet silly thing like “Please don’t kill off the bobcats. They’re beautiful beings!” I had read enough to know that they are no threat to humans at all: they never attack humans nor pets. And they’ve been on the endangered list for awhile, recently downgraded to the “watch” list. They’re actually helpful because they eat rodents and rabbits. And there are no current counts in Indiana about how many bobcats we now have. Are there lots and hunting them is needed, or are their numbers still few?
After a restless night, I awoke feeling fairly brave and definitely committed to going. I called to my mind all the great images of famous people bravely speaking up that I could remember: I’m a Quaker! We speak truth to power, even when we quake and shake! Lucretia Mott! Elizabeth Cady Stanton! Even Susan B. Anthony had been a Quaker for awhile! Had they not spoken up, women might still not have the vote. I remembered that Jesus had said something to the apostles like, “Don’t worry about what you are to say. The Spirit whom I will send will tell you what to say.” How many famous people have had to just stand up and trust that the words will come to them. It’s just first essential for us to stand up, to get our bodies there. And I always refer back to a man who is a template for me, Jacques Lusseyran, a young blind Frenchman who led 500 young men in resistance to the Nazis occupation; he said he always felt safe, in touch with his Inner Guidance, as long as he avoided three things; anger, fear, and feeling in competition. He survived 18 months in Buchenwald Concentration Camp, blind! That is what it looks like to stay centered and listen inwardly in a stressful situation.
So, with much emotion I prepared to go to a government committee meeting. A surprisingly happy song came into my head from somewhere: “I saw the light! I saw the light! No more darkness, no more night. Now I’m so happy, no sorrow in sight. Praise the Lord! I saw the light.” Why was this song coming to me now, I wondered? I knew perhaps all the drama inside me might not be necessary: maybe this would be a piece of cake. Experts would be there and I’d never have to speak at all. But I had the impression that there had been other hearings on this in different parts of the state. Perhaps the experts had already spoken and wouldn’t be here today! I felt determined to speak if it seemed necessary, to say whatever I could find inside me to help save the beautiful little bobcats.
So I dressed “seriously” – wore my large gold earrings because I feel stronger wearing them. I took care with my clothes and hair, got my stuff altogether, knew the route and gave myself plenty of time to get there. All I knew was that it was somewhere at Fort Harrison State Park, where I’ve never been. The park is gigantic. At the park entrance I was told the large conference building I needed to find and headed there. Outside stood a small circle of five women with signs: “Save the bobcat!” OK! Right place and I won’t be alone. I took from them my bobcat sticker for my shirt and headed into the very fancy hotel, was directed to the large ballroom where this committee would meet. The Senate committee I’d gone to before had been in a very small crowded room; this was large, coffee and water available, many rows of seats. I signed in and hesitated about filling out the little card which would say that I wanted to speak. I still didn’t know if there were “experts” here ready to speak my mind, or just the enthusiastic little circle of women outside. I was told that I had to fill it out before the meeting began, but if I changed my mind and didn’t want to speak I could just decline when my name was called. So I filled out the form.
Because I use hearing aids I had to sit up as close as possible. I didn’t want to sit in the very first row, looked over the second row. I wished I could sit by someone with a bobcat sticker but I didn’t see any. I sat on an end where I knew I’d see the committee chairperson so hopefully I could follow what was happening. An empty seat beside me was filled by a tall strong-looking man; a “hunter?” Not a clue, but during the meeting I had to get clear about what was happening so I had no choice but to ask him “What’s being decided?” He clarified it for me.
The 12 committee members sat at a large U-shaped table with white cloths over them. None of the committee ever had or used a microphone, and because of the largeness of the room, I still could only catch part of what was going on. I did understand that the issue of the bobcat had been moved from the last item on the agenda to the first! Evidently, it was clear that many people were here to express themselves on this issue and if they left it till last they’d be here forever. Also, as it turned out, the committee had informally already decided to cancel the proposal! They had received enough protest before, saw the crowd here and knew it was useless to try to push this through. So before they ever heard anything from us, one of the committee members officially asked that this proposal be withdrawn, and then he had to go on about changing line X, change line Y, change line Z. That’s where I had to ask my neighbor what exactly was happening. When they announced that the proposal for open hunting on the bobcats was cancelled, a great and happy applause broke out throughout all of the seated crowd; I could see that we certainly had the bodies present.
A few more items were read related to this and then the chairman offered a break so “If anyone would like to leave, feel free”. All the bobcat fans happily got up and moved toward the door, gathering noisily in the lobby.
I waited as others came out, watching for someone specifically with a bobcat sticker to get more details, not having heard it all well. A tall man explained to me that bobcat hunting had been cancelled “for now”, meaning it could be proposed again and we should watch the papers. Plus, there had been another proposal which was now also cancelled to allow the euthanizing of raccoons, opposums, coyotes, bats, “nuisance animals”, when they’re trapped in people’s houses or yards. Till now, these animals are trapped and then released in remote areas. I didn’t have quite as clear a feeling about this: I understand the constant problems these animals can be to people, and that catch and release is time-taking, maybe ends up being repeated. But – what will our lives be like when we no longer have animals around us? The one proposal that did pass in this committee was to allow the shooting of squirrels from moving cars! Yes! Incredible to me. Some people just have to kill something for fun! So, not bobcats, then get the squirrels.
When we’ve logged all the giant old trees and killed off all the animals in the wild, when we have all the land to ourselves on which to build our houses and stay inside, warm or cool, what will we be like? We need animals around us. Their presence keeps us grounded and present in the Now, aware of the seasons and how to live in synch with the earth. Without animals, we could drift off into our imaginations and mental activities, forgetting the whole world of our bodies and the energies of the earth. Indiana has already long ago lost most of its original forests and wildlife. For our grandchildren, we will be a flat empty state with lots of human houses with lots of space between them. Beauty will be gone, beauty that relaxes us and affirms living. When we no longer have animals around to show us how to just “be” and play and sing and rejoice in ordinary activities, how will we remember these parts of ourselves? Long live the bobcats and the squirrels, and the coyotes and the cute opossums and the dear little bats at night. May we never “get rid of” all mosquitos so we can still have the birds! Oh, someone please save us from ourselves!