The Witch of Białowieża Forest

Hans Hoffmann (c.1530, Nuremberg – 1591/92, Prague)

 

By Janusz R. Kowalczyk

Simona Kossak: they called her a witch, because she chatted with animals and owned a crow who stole gold.

She spent more than 30 years in a wooden hut in the Białowieża Forest, without electricity or access to running water.
A lynx slept in her bed, and a tamed boar lived under the same roof.
She was a scientist, an ecologist and the author of award-winning films and radio broadcasts.
She was also an activist who fought for the protection of Europe’s oldest forest.

Simona believed that one ought to live simply, and close to nature. Among animals she found what she could never find with humans.

“Simona first saw Dziedzinka in moonlight,” a relative remembers. “We decided we would go there at night time. The four of us went down the road with torches: my husband, a hired carter, myself, and Simona.
Suddenly, an aurochs stepped out onto the Browska Road. The horse jibbed, we got scared, but we got there.
Simona was enchanted with Dziedzinka straight away.” Years later, she described the expedition and the encounter with the king of the forest:

“It was the first aurochs that I ever saw in my life, I am not counting the ones in the zoo.  And this greeting right at the entry into the forest – this monumental aurochs, the whiteness, the snow, the full moon, white everywhere, pretty, and the little hut hidden in the little clearing all covered with snow, an abandoned house that no one had lived in for two years. In the middle room, there were no floors, it was generally a ruin. And I looked at this house, all silvered by the moon as it was, romantic, and I said ‘it’s finished, it’s here or nowhere else!’”

Before Simona went to live in Dziedzinka, the house had to be renovated. The employees of the Białowieża National Park repaired the roof, changed the joists, got rid of the fungus, and said that that ought to suffice for five years (and indeed it did).
After the renovations, Simona did her part. She papered the walls, washed the windows, added a bench, and upholstered the armchairs that were brought from her family home.
She brought clocks, as well as a Turkish dagger, lace tablecloth and window curtains, books, oil lamps, an antique iron, a collection of weapons, ebony jewellery chests, as well as glassware, porcelain, cupboards and an oak bed.
She hung a shotgun from the Kossaks’ collection right by the door.  A large tile stove in the old style stood in the corner of the room, and a large table in the middle – her workshop and study, where she worked by an oil lamp.

Simona rode a motorbike, sometimes a tractor, and she also swept through the landscape on cross-country skis.
A hunter recalled, “Once I saw this phenomenon advancing on a komar – wind in the hair, a pilot-cap, rabbit pants, and eye goggles. It passed me by and I had to turn around, because I didn’t know what it was”.

Professor Kajetan Perzowski, a colleague of Simona’s from her university years in Kraków says, “We were once going across the Białowieża Forest with a friend in a small truck. We suddenly see someone pushing through the snowdrifts carrying a motorbike on the back. It was Simona. We packed her together with this motorbike onto our truck. She made us a big pot of stew at Dziedzinka.”

The forester of Białowieża National Park, Lech Wilczek, was her housemate, and one day brought home a newborn wild boar piglet. The humans grew close to each other, and the female boar, eventually immense, lived with them for 17 years.
“She stood vigilantly at the door like a dog, she went out on walks, and more and more often she cuddled up to her people and demanded to be caressed.”

The crow. He stole cigarette cases, hair brushes, scissors, and the lumberjacks’ sausages. He tore up bicycle seats and made holes in grocery bags.
Said a forest worker, “He would even steal the workers’ pay. But once I was walking around the reserve without a permit, and the guard saw me and started to fill in a penalty slip. While he was handing it to me, the crow appeared. He took the paper in his beak, flew to the roof of Dziedzinka, and tore it up with his leg. The guard didn’t know what to do, and finally just shrugged his shoulders at the whole thing.”
“He loved to attack people who rode bicycles, especially girls. It was very impressive, he would attack the rider’s head with his beak, the person would fall off, and he then would on the seat triumphantly, looking the at the spinning wheel.”
People thought that Korasek – because that’s what he was called – was some kind of a punishment for their sins.

Simona’s friend: “Once he stole my car keys. And Lech said “Don’t worry, he’ll bring them back.” He  told the bird that if he returned the keys he would get an egg, and if he didin’t he would be punished. And the crow perhaps understood this, because after a moment, he flew up to me, furious, with the keys in his beak and threw them onto a table!”

With time, more animals appeared: a doe who approached the window and ate sugar, a black stork for whom Simona created a nest in a drawer, a dachshund and a female lynx who slept in Simona’s bed, and peacocks. She loved, healed, and observed them all, while Wilczek photographed them. Here, as a mother she raised moose twins, Pepsi and Cola, washed the neck of the black stork, kept the female rat Kanalia in her sleeve (as the animal panicked in open spaces). She would let the befriended doe give birth on the patio, took in lambs with their mother, and sheltered the rats Alfa and Omega. She checked on weather by observing bats in the basement.
The menagerie grew with each year.

Simona raised several deer by bottle-feeding orphaned fawns, and followed them around the woods for many years.
“One day, my pack of deer showed signs of fright, and did not want to go out onto the forest field to graze. And I started to approach the young forest, because this was the direction in which the deer startled, their ears raised, and the hair standing up on their rumps: apparently something very threatening was in the woods.
I crossed about half of this open space, but I stopped, because I heard a choir of terrified barking behind me. When I turned around, what I saw was five of my deer standing stiffly on tense legs, looking at me, and calling with this bark: don’t go there, don’t go there, there’s death over there!
I must admit, I was dumbstruck, and then finally I did go. And what did I find? It turned out that there were fresh traces of a lynx that had crossed the young forest. I went in deeper, and I found lynx droppings, still warm.
What did that mean? It meant that a carnivore had approached the farm, the deer noticed, were frightened and ran, and then what did they see?
They saw their mother going toward death, completely unaware, and knew she had to be warned. And for me, I will honestly admit, this day was a breakthrough. I crossed the border that divides the human world from that of the animals. If there was an impermeable barrier, they would not have taken action–they would probably not have noticed what I was preparing to do. That they noticed, anticipated what might happen to me, and responded, meant one thing and one thing only: you are a member of our pack, we don’t want you to get hurt.
I admit that I relived this event in my mind for many days, and in fact today, when I think about it, my heart warms.”

In the winter of 1993, Simona commenced her war to save the lynxes and wolves of Białowieża.
A group of scientists planned to collar the animals for data-collection, but Simona came across traps in the form of metal jaws, so she took them with her and refused to give them back.
There was a hearing during which she pointed out that there were 12  lowland lynxes left, in danger of being poached—and now in danger of being mortally wounded by the traps.
“It is a disgrace for the world of science to have contributed to this.”

[Now the entire Białowieża Forest, which includes some of Europe’s last primeval woodland, is under threat.

Białowieża was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1979, but Poland’s environment minister, who has allowed large-scale logging for years, has called for the woodland to be stripped of Unesco’s natural heritage status.

The forest is–for now–home to 20,000 animal species, including 250 types of bird and hundreds of European bison, plus firs towering 50 metres (160ft) high and old oaks and ashes.]

http://culture.pl/en/article/the-extraordinary-life-of-simona-kossak
[wonderful photographs of  Simona Kossak and her menagerie at Dziedzinka in the Białowieża Forest,]

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/25/poland-starts-logging-primeval-bialowieza-forest-despite-protests

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/22/primeval-forest-bialowieza-must-lose-unesco-protection-says-poland

http://www.poranny.pl/magazyn/art/5423022,simona-kossak-puszcza-bialowieska-i-lech-wilczek-dziedzinka-stala-sie-ich-domem,id,t.html

 

 

Baby Tortoise

juvenile-ornate-slider-illustrated-by-james-de-carle-sowerbyJames De Carle Sowerby (1787–1871)

 


Baby Tortoise

You know what it is to be born alone,
Baby tortoise!

The first day to heave your feet little by little from
the shell,
Not yet awake,
And remain lapsed on earth,
Not quite alive.

A tiny, fragile, half-animate bean.

To open your tiny beak-mouth, that looks as if it would
never open
Like some iron door;
To lift the upper hawk-beak from the lower base
And reach your skinny neck
And take your first bite at some dim bit of herbage,
Alone, small insect,
Tiny bright-eye,
Slow one.

To take your first solitary bite
And move on your slow, solitary hunt.
Your bright, dark little eye,
Your eye of a dark disturbed night,
Under its slow lid, tiny baby tortoise,
So indomitable.

No one ever heard you complain.

You draw your head forward, slowly, from your little
wimple
And set forward, slow-dragging, on your four-pinned toes,
Rowing slowly forward.
Wither away, small bird?
Rather like a baby working its limbs,
Except that you make slow, ageless progress
And a baby makes none.

The touch of sun excites you,
And the long ages, and the lingering chill
Make you pause to yawn,
Opening your impervious mouth,
Suddenly beak-shaped, and very wide, like some suddenly
gaping pincers;
Soft red tongue, and hard thin gums,
Then close the wedge of your little mountain front,
Your face, baby tortoise.

Do you wonder at the world, as slowly you turn your head
in its wimple
And look with laconic, black eyes?
Or is sleep coming over you again,
The non-life?

You are so hard to wake.

Are you able to wonder?
Or is it just your indomitable will and pride of the
first life
Looking round
And slowly pitching itself against the inertia
Which had seemed invincible?

The vast inanimate,
And the fine brilliance of your so tiny eye,
Challenger.

Nay, tiny shell-bird.
What a huge vast inanimate it is, that you must row
against,
What an incalculable inertia.

Challenger,
Little Ulysses, fore-runner,
No bigger than my thumb-nail,
Buon viaggio.

All animate creation on your shoulder,
Set forth, little Titan, under your battle-shield.
The ponderous, preponderate,
Inanimate universe;
And you are slowly moving, pioneer, you alone.

How vivid your travelling seems now, in the troubled
sunshine,
Stoic, Ulyssean atom;
Suddenly hasty, reckless, on high toes.

Voiceless little bird,
Resting your head half out of your wimple
In the slow dignity of your eternal pause.
Alone, with no sense of being alone,
And hence six times more solitary;
Fulfilled of the slow passion of pitching through
immemorial ages
Your little round house in the midst of chaos.

Over the garden earth,
Small bird,
Over the edge of all things.

Traveller,
With your tail tucked a little on one side
Like a gentleman in a long-skirted coat.

All life carried on your shoulder,
Invincible fore-runner

 

D. H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930)

The Hedgehog

hh-learEdward Lear (1812 – 1888)

 

Letter from Ted Hughes to Edna Wholey, 1950

Last night as I was coming down the field I heard a commotion in the hedge, and after a while, out trundled a hedgehog, merry as you like, and obviously out for a good time. I thought he might make a jolly companion for an evening so I brought him in.
After a while I noticed he had disappeared and later heard a noise just like the sobbing of a little child, but very faint, and it continued for long enough. I traced it to a pile of boxes, and there was my comrade, with his nose pressed in a corner in a pool of tears, and his face all wet, and snivelling and snuffling his heart out. I could have kissed him for compassion.
I don’t know why I’m so sympathetic towards hedgehogs. Once when John & I threw one in the pond, it nearly broke my heart to see it swimming to the shore. It must be that they’re something my affection can’t touch, and as through all my life the things I’ve loved best have been prickles towards that love, hedgehogs have become a symbol of such unrequiteable desire, and move me so nostalgically.
I carried sad Harry outside and let him go—he wouldn’t even roll up he was so sad.

 

Published in: on December 18, 2016 at 9:37 pm  Comments (1)  
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Pediculus cervi

fauna_germanica_diptera_1793_vol-1_p10_pediculus_cervi_fabrJacob Sturm (1771–1848)
Faunae insectorum germanicae initia Sturm

American Buffalo

buff catlinGeorge Catlin
(1796, Wilkes-Barre, PA – 1872
Jersey City, NJ)

 

 

What is life?
It is the flash of a firefly in the night.
It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.
It is the little shadow which runs across the grass
and loses itself in the sunset.

— Isapo-Muxika (1830 – 1890), chief of the Siksika First Nation

 

When the earth is sick and dying,
There will come a tribe of people
From all races . . .
Who will put their faith in deeds,
Not words, and make the planet
Green again . . .

— Cree prophecy

 
The idea of land being preserved for everyone to enjoy was first expressed in 1832 (that’s just 56 years after the birth of United States of America in 1776) and is credited to artist George Catlin. During a trip to the Dakota region in 1832, Catlin, best known for his paintings of Native Americans, pondered the impact the western expansion would have upon these civilizations, the wildlife and the wilderness. He wrote that they might be preserved “by some great protecting policy of government…in a magnificent park…a nation’s park, containing man and beast, in all the wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty.”

Though Catlin’s idea was seemingly impractical at the time and “had no immediate effect,” just 32 years later the “national park idea came to partial fruition in 1864” when President Abraham Lincoln signed an act of Congress to transfer the federally-owned Yosemite Valley and nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove to the State of California on condition that they would “be held for public use, resort, and recreation . . . inalienable for all time.”

 

A Marmoset Taking Sweets on a Painted Commode

marmoset-teacupLouis Tessier (c.1719 – 1781)

 

“Virtually every ‘uniquely human’ characteristic has turned out not to be so”, Matthew Cobb, The Guardian


by

It used to happen every day at the London Zoo: Out came the dainty table and chairs, the china cups and saucers — ­afternoon tea, set out for the inhabitants of the ape enclosure to throw and smash. It was supposed to be amusing — a ­comic, reckless collision of beasts and high ­culture. But, as Frans de Waal explains in “Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are?”,  apes are actually innovative, agile tool-users.
Not surprisingly — to de Waal, at least — the apes in London quickly mastered the teacups and teapot too. They sat there civilly, having tea.
“When the public tea parties began to threaten the human ego, something had to be done,” de Waal writes. “The apes were retrained to spill the tea, throw food around, drink from the teapot’s spout,” and so on.
The animals had to be taught to be as stupid as we assumed they were. But, of course, the fact that they could be taught to be stupid is only more perverse evidence of their intelligence.

For centuries, our understanding of animal intelligence has been obscured in just this kind of cloud of false assumptions and human egotism.
De Waal painstakingly untangles the confusion, then walks us through research revealing what a wide range of animal species are actually capable of.
Tool use, cooperation, awareness of individual identity, theory of mind, planning, metacognition and perceptions of time — we now know that all these archetypically human, cognitive feats are performed by some animals as well.
And not just primates: By the middle of ­Chapter 6, we’re reading about cooperation among leopard coral trout.

There are many different forms of intelligence; each should be valuated only relative to its environment. And yet, there’s apparently a long history of scientists ignoring this truth.
They’ve investigated chimpanzees’ ability to recognize faces by testing whether the chimps can recognize human faces, instead of faces of other chimps. (They do the former poorly and the latter quite well.)
They’ve performed the ­famous mirror test — to gauge whether an animal recognizes the figure in a mirror as itself — on elephants using a too-small, human-size mirror.
Such blind spots are, ultimately, a failure of empathy — a failure to imagine the experiment, or the form of intelligence it’s testing for, through the animal’s eyes. De Waal compares it to “throwing both fish and cats into a swimming pool” and seeing who can swim.

We sometimes fall into what de Waal calls “neo-creationist” thinking: We accept evolution but assume “evolution stopped at the human head” — believing our bodies may have evolved from monkeys, but that our brains are their own miraculous and discrete inventions.
But cognition must be understood as an evolutionary product, like any other biological phenomenon; it exists on a spectrum, de Waal argues, with familiar forms shading into absolutely alien-looking ones. He introduces what he calls the rule of “cognitive ripples”:
We tend to notice intelligence in primates because it’s most conspicuous, it looks the most like our intelligence.
“After the apes break down the dam between the humans and the rest of the animal kingdom, the floodgates often open to include species after species.”

 

 

All the Strange Hours

deer-mori-sosenMori Sosen  (1747 – 1821)

 

I am treading deeper and deeper into leaves and silence. I see more faces watching, non-human faces.
Ironically, I who profess no religion find the whole of my life a religious pilgrimage.

Loren Eiseley (1907 – 1977)

 

It Could Take a Century to Recover

elephant5Portrait of an Elephant, Indian, c.1620-30

Study finds extremely slow reproduction rate unable to keep pace with deaths

African forest elephants have experienced serious poaching, driving an estimated population decline of 65% between 2002 and 2013.
Their low birth rates mean that it will take forest elephants at least 90 years to recover from these losses, according to researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society, the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Elephant Listening Project, Colorado State University, and Save the Elephants.

These findings are from the first-ever study of forest elephant demography just published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

“Female forest elephants in the Dzanga population typically breed for the first time after 23 years of age, a markedly late age of maturity relative to other mammals. In contrast, savannah elephants typically begin breeding at age 12.
In addition, breeding female forest elephants only produced a calf once every five to six years, relative to the three to four-year interval found for savannah elephants.”
Andrea Turkalo, a Wildlife Conservation Society scientist, collected the detailed data on the elephants over several decades, in spite of tough logistical challenges and political instability.
“This work provides another critical piece of understanding regarding the dire conservation status of forest elephants.”

George Wittemyer, a professor in Wildlife Conservation at Colorado State University said, “Legislation regarding ivory trade must consider the collateral effects on forest elephants and the difficulties of protecting them. Trade in ivory in one nation can influence the pressures on elephants in other nations.”
And the forest elephant is particularly susceptible to poaching.

Forest elephants also have critical ecological roles in Central African forests, and many tree species rely on the elephants to disperse their seeds.
Those forests are vitally important for absorbing climate change gases.


http://us2.campaign-archive2.com/?u=b35ddb671faf4a16c0ce32406&id=8dfd2ac2f4&e=d327cdd2ca

Ours Blanc

polar ours bJacques de Sève (fl. 1742 – 1788)
from quadruped illustrations for Histoire naturelle, générale et particulière avec la description du Cabinet du Roi
Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707 – 1788) French naturalistmathematiciancosmologist, and encyclopédiste

 

Chat Roux Assis

cat fLéonard Tsuguharu Foujita — 藤田 嗣治 — (1886 – 1968)