By Hank Edson /
The laws of nature are ecological and they govern everything. We have a long history as a species of falling prey to a dualism that mistakenly excludes ourselves from the rest of nature as though we exist apart and above its governing laws. We have a long history of thinking of human culture as “civilized,” meaning superior to nature and often somehow antagonistic to nature’s perceived cruelties and baseness. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that this history is deeply in error.
The domain of nature from which we have been separating ourselves is far, far less cruel and base than the self-exiled humanity that churns feverishly under the deluded dualistic worldview that strips everything but human beings (and only certain human beings at that) of the dignity, majesty and wisdom that are the birthright of all nature. The domain of nature from which we have been separating ourselves is far, far less cruel and base than the self-exiled humanity that treats the surrounding world as alien and composed of objects whose only value is defined by the use to which they may be put in satisfying humanity’s misconstrued understanding of its needs.
The nature of reality is that there is only unity, unity under nature’s ecological laws in which everything co-evolves together and is part of a dance of balance and grace that are not of human invention and that are beyond our complete understanding and about the source of which there is almost no understanding in the world of humankind.
"We have a long history as a species of falling prey to a dualism that mistakenly excludes ourselves from the rest of nature as though we exist apart and above its governing laws. We have a long history of thinking of human culture as 'civilized,' meaning superior to nature and often somehow antagonistic to nature’s perceived cruelties and baseness. But it is becoming increasingly apparent that this history is deeply in error."
Given this reality, it follows that the measure of a society and its culture depends upon its awareness and understanding of the unity of being and the ecological laws of nature that universally govern its existence. In recent years, as the mistaken dualistic worldview has pushed every aspect of human and planetary experience to the breaking point, modern people have been rediscovering and developing a unitary, ecological worldview that has given birth to a new culture that is empowered by the wisdom of nature’s ecological laws. In fact, there are many different expressions of this re-emergence of a unitary, ecological worldview, just as in pre-industrial times, all over the globe there were many nature-based societies with cultures rooted in ecological wisdom thousands of years old.
One example of these newer cultures is called Permaculture. Another is Holistic Management. There are many others. Both Permaculture and Holistic Management seek to learn from nature how to develop systems of behavior that are aligned with the laws of ecology so that the life and energy that are the gifts of existence organically create abundance, health, peace, wisdom, prosperity and joy. A narrower view of these cultures defines them in utilitarian terms that regards them only as ways to manage land and food production in an environmentally sustainable way, but in fact these cultures extend to everything in experience and, because the dominant culture in society is erroneously dualistic and materialistic, these ecological, unitarian cultures are completely transformative and revolutionary in their ability to redefine and improve every aspect of our currently very dysfunctional society.
This is the context with which I want readers to be able to approach Doniga Markegard’s new memoire, Dawn Again. Dawn Again is, among many other things, a contribution to a transformative, revolutionary cultural awakening that extends far beyond ranching or the knowledge and tracking of wild animals. It is a very easy read, swiftly paced, jam packed with a diversity of knowledge and information, that more than anything takes the reader up into a story of personal development and self-awareness that completely succeeds as an adventure, a love story, a family saga, and a manifesto. Permaculturists try to establish in the ecosystems in which they live elements that serve a multiplicity of function. A plant, for example, may give shade to a dwelling to decrease the need for energy consuming cooling systems. At the same time, that tree may give a harvest of fruit and serve as a dwelling to a dozen animal species integral to the ecological web of life. Kids may build their fun in the form of a treehouse there too. Meanwhile, the tree contributes significantly to the fertility of the soil and well-being of other trees in the area through its root and mycorhizzal network and further builds soil fertility and an ecosystem of decomposing insects and organisms through the contribution of its leaves to the ground litter. On a breezy night, the tree offers music from its leaves and a buffer against the wind. In this same way, Dawn Again succeeds very well as a literary work of permaculture that is multi-functional in its contributions to our cultural ecosystem.
One aspect of the book I particularly enjoy is this book’s family tree. Doniga’s memoire introduces us to a number of impressive mentors who have shaped her life and worldview and are thus grandparents to this volume. As a tracker, Doniga received her training from the Wilderness Awareness School created by John Young, author of What the Robin Knows and Coyote’s Guide to Connecting with Nature, who was himself mentored as a youth by Tom Brown, Jr., a famous tracker, teacher, and author of dozens of books and guides on tracking, who was in turn trained by a Lipan Apache scout and shaman named Stalking Wolf. There are skeptics who question the reliability of Tom Brown’s claims and the existence of Stalking Wolf, but setting aside these questions for the moment and regarding this lineage from within the narrative offered, I can’t help but think that this recent volume by Doniga is a natural unfolding of Stalking Wolf’s efforts to play his role in destiny according to the laws of nature in the fostering of a culture among human beings that was ecological and wise. Doniga’s memoire brings a woman’s leadership and voice to the fore and unites tracking with food production, parenting, relationship, spirituality, and activism in a way that is well integrated into our modern experience.
Dawn Again begins, as does Doniga’s quest, with an out-of-body, spiritual experience during a coma resulting from a fall from a horse that shows her an energized peace and well-being that is so much larger than what she has known within her day-to-day bodily perception. The understated handling of this experience avoids conjecture and creates a backdrop to her story with deep implications. Awakening from this experience, she resolves to live life on her own terms, according to the standard of the experience she had in her coma, and at age 13 or 14, she ceases to follow the patterns society has set out for us. The adventure that ensues has many highs and lows. She makes mistakes, unintentionally causing grief for her mother that she is then too young to appreciate. She finds herself stranded as a teen out on the road no-longer relating to the free-spirits she has been traveling among. And encounters violence no one should ever have to suffer. But her spirit and her quest are stronger than the adversity she faces, and they lead her to a series of mentors who instill in her a diverse array of wisdom and knowledge.
Among her mentors are Macki Ruka, “an elder medicine man from the Waitaha Maoris, a matriarchal culture in New Zealand; Jon Young, a tracker and naturalist trained by Tom Brown, Jr. who ran the Wilderness Awareness School that provided Doniga with her first wisdom skillset and her training in tracking; Chief Jacke Swamp, “sub-chief of the Wolf Clan of the Mohawk Nation, who taught her the Mohawk practice of Thanksgiving, Gilbert Walking Bull, who became her adoptive Lakota father, helping to fulfill the place left by her father who was killed before Doniga was born; Starhawk, a well-known novelist, wiccan, and permaculturist; Penny Livingston, a renowned permaculturist and co-founder of the Regenerative Design Institute; Allan Savory, the founder of the field of Holistic Management, and Joe Salatin, a farmer, author and spokesperson for family-friendly farming.
"Doniga’s memoire brings a woman’s leadership and voice to the fore and unites tracking with food production, parenting, relationship, spirituality, and activism in a way that is well integrated into our modern experience."
As she follows her path, Doniga achieves a level of mastery as a tracker confirmed by her experience sharing the breath of a deer, is humbled by a nightmare that leaves her without shelter out in the night forest, is guided by a white wolf to embrace family and community as the direction of her journey, and is left naked in the wilderness after struggling to create a fire to survive that ends up burning her clothes, which teaches her that her purpose is to do more than survive, but to create health and abundance.
As the reader turns page after page, intent upon following Doniga’s tracks, Doniga shares the teachings she has received on her journey, offering an outline of the awareness necessary to track animals successfully, sharing the seven principles of Lakota life and ordered prayer, offering research into everything from the role of mycelium in soil biology to the relationship between neuroplasticity and the organic networks of our watersheds to the role of the peasant farmer in preserving what she powerfully asserts is the “most basic human right,” which is control over our own food system.
My review grows long and as a result it shorts the second half of the narrative as Doniga meets her life-partner and together they embark on the adventure of raising a family and creating a ranch that earns its keep while following the regenerative dynamics of ecology. I fear that my discussion of the first half of Dawn Again may have given away too much; therefore, I will leave the second half to be discovered by you.
"After reading Dawn Again, I placed it as a highly valued equal on the shelf where I keep my especially beloved books on nature, ecology, permaculture and the like. This book earns its place in the “cannon” and excels there and I recommend it highly to all"
I happened to buy this book from Doniga, herself. I was walking with my son through our local farmers market and there was a stand selling grass-fed beef and poultry with a passel of kids in attendance. Out front there was a display with the book. At one time about ten years ago, I devoured all of Tom Brown, Jr.’s books, and thus when this particular Sunday I saw the reference to tracking on the cover of Dawn Again, I stopped to buy it. To me, this is the kind of organic folk product that is what the emerging ecological culture will thrive on. But to call it folk because it is local and a direct encounter is only to highlight its quality, not to disparage it. After reading Dawn Again, I placed it as a highly valued equal on the shelf where I keep my especially beloved books on nature, ecology, permaculture and the like. This book earns its place in the “cannon” and excels there and I recommend it highly to all.
Here is a link to Doniga’s Family’s Ranch, The Markegard Ranch, where you can buy her book and a great dinner too.BLOG COMMENTS POWERED BY DISQUS