There was a time in the not so distant past when during the winter months the old growth forests with trees, some of whom might be a thousand years old, would form a canopy with their upper branches and greenery, protecting the forest floor from snow fall. Of course when the sun shone in the morning and definitely in the spring time the snow that had been caught by the upper boughs of the trees would melt and the forest floor would receive this moisture in a gentle way.
Can you imagine what it must have been like for the animals then, who knew the forest as their home? For one thing, they were kept much more dry than they are today. The small animals, who do not hibernate during the winter, like bunnies, mice and squirrels, would find it not that difficult to wake in the morning and go forage for food for themselves and their families. Nowadays with deep snow it can be difficult to find enough food. More than 97% of the old growth forest in the United States has been cut down. Still more is being cut each day. Perhaps in a few years this country, once so abundant with ancient forests will have none left. Even in the tropical rainforest of Brazil with all the clear cutting and damage that is going on, the Amazon still retains 75% of its old growth forest; it is called jungle there. The United States has barely 3% left.
When we look out of our windows here in Woodstock, NY, we can see mountains. These Catskill mountains have no old tress left having lost them to tanners, loggers and farmers fifty to a hundred years ago or more. The mountainsides during winter look like a man who hasn’t shaved in a couple of days, fine hairs. It is so stark that you can see the floor of the forest, because the trees are so thin and thinned that they can’t hide much. Even so, I am grateful for those trees that are there, hemlocks, pine and oaks. It is wondrous to walk through the forest of these trees. But they are all very young trees and so when it snows or rains the forest floor gets covered, and when the winds are strong it lashes right through the corridors between trees and sometimes takes some trees with it. If the trees grew more densely they would be safer from the winds.
Having moved here from NYC several years ago I would see horses standing out in the cold, rain, wind and snow, with no barn or tree to stand under. I would wonder about that and feel bad for them. Local people would tell me, “they’re animals, and they’re used to it, look at the deer.” I would see the wild deer and know that they at least could go into the forest to get some shelter from the elements, but now I realize the forest isn’t what it used to be and doesn’t provide animals with the type of shelter it once did. It is likely that the deer suffer hardships in the winter and greatly appreciate charitable donations from human beings. It seems to me that we owe something to these indigenous people. We keep encroaching upon their homes more and more each year.
We built a house for the few deer who walk through our yard, made from fallen tree branches. It looks kind of like a gazebo with a thatched roof. They appear to like it in winter and in summer. We can see them outside our window sleeping in it. During the spring and summer some of the does feel safe enough to give birth to their babies under that roof, made by humans.
Of course deer are still not safe from hunters. The trees are so thinly spaced that it is easy for hunters to spot deer in these forests of the Catskills, I don’t think it was always so. We humans have taken the once lush forest homes from so many animals and forced them to survive as best they can. Some haven’t been able to make it. In the Pacific Northwest the spotted owl and the salmon are just about extinct. They needed those dense ancient forests to live in; they can’t survive in a young forest.
I realize that for many people who haven’t spent that much time in the country it looks like we have a lot of trees here, but compared to what it could have been like if the trees that were here, or at least some of them, were still here. I am told I live in the country, but knowing what it could have been like when I look out my window and see the Catskill forests, it looks almost suburban.
Most human beings live in cities. Many wild animals, like squirrels, foxes, pigeons and other birds, as well as feral cats, live in cities now also and struggle to find shelter and food in the midst of busy human beings. It is easy for us to ignore them and to assume that they are wild animals and know how to survive. But especially in the cold of the winter months those fellow beings do find it very difficult to survive and would greatly appreciate some charitable donations from us. There are many simple, easy ways to help. For instance: always leaving your apartment or house with some seeds and nuts in your pocket for the birds and squirrels you may meet on your way to work. Or taking care of a feral community of cats by trapping the cats and taking them to a vet for medical care and/or to be spayed or neutered and then returning them to their feral communities; then maintaining those communities by providing nourishing food as well as shelter, in the form of boxes insulated with straw. When we can extend our kindness to include the needs of others, including other animals, we insure our own prosperity, as our actions will eventually but inevitably come back to us.
Providing for others: Integrating the Practice into Life off the Mat
The Sheltering Roof (February, 2011)
The most in need homeless people that you will most likely encounter will be the animals who have migrated into cities from the country because of human encroachment and animals who are trying their best to live in a rural situation which is rapidly being paved over for roads, shopping malls and or housing developments.
By feeding others and providing shelter, you assure that in your own future, you will never be hungry or homeless– karma works that way. It is important that you do your best to treat others as you would like to be treated, but also paying attention to the needs of the particular species you are trying to help. For instance don’t try forcing feral cats to eat bird seed (they most likely would rather eat a bird).
How this might play out is that you make a concerted effort to provide the best, most nourishing food possible for the animals that you are going to feed.
It is a sad thing for us to feed junk food to wild creatures who are hungry. We should instead feed them the best quality organic food.
Often people will take their kids to the park with a bag of white Wonder bread and watch the poor hungry birds enthusiastically eating. What are they thinking? Probably they are thinking that those animals really don’t matter–they’re just animals. If they didn’t give them something they wouldn’t have anything anyway–so the birds should be glad that they are receiving this charity–not feeling obliged or responsible to give them anything.
So here are some tips: Organic raw seeds and nuts are best for birds and squirrels Peanuts are not the best option for squirrels as they are usually loaded with toxins, because often industrial farms plant peanuts as a crops to clean the soil–so the peanuts themselves can contain high levels of toxic herbicides and pesticides. Raw walnuts and hazelnuts are good, as are sunflower seeds–in the shells are best, as then the squirrels can choose to bury the nuts for eating at another time.
For birds: you can buy bags of “wild bird seed mix” just make sure that if those mixes contain corn that the corn is non-GMO corn; when in doubt buy the bag that doesn?t contain corn. Often times I run out of Bird Seed Mix and instead, I just pour some uncooked grains (millet, rice, oats, etc.) from my kitchen cabinet into a bag to take with me as I leave my apartment in the morning. Oatmeal is an excellent food for pigeons and other birds. Of course if you have left over bread or other food in the fridge it might also be good for birds; rather than throwing it into the garbage, you could put it on a window-sill.
If you live in a rural setting, you may want to set up a feeding station in your yard and keep a store of sunflower seeds, cracked corn, steel cut oats, and other varieties of seeds and nuts on hand and regularly provide meals for the wild vegetarian animals.
As for feeding feral cats, I would suggest stocking up on organic canned cat-food, as it is easier to distribute.
Many Animal Rights organizations have programs for helping animals in need. You may want to check out www.PETA.org for some ideas and ways you can help. I know that PETA has developed a very successful program of going around to places (especially in the cold winter months) to look for dogs who may be chained up in a yard somewhere with no shelter. They provide dog-houses and straw to keep warm as well as food for those dogs. You may want to send a monetary contribute to help support their efforts.
You can do something. It is the simple, thoughtful acts of kindness that will be so much appreciated. You don’t have to get all complicated and start building dog- houses and trapping stray cats and creating clinics to care for them etc. Start with simple doable things that you can do now: like carrying a few seeds in your pocket and sharing them with a bird you might meet on the street.