Summer arrives the day I pull into St. Rita’s Retreat in Gold Hill. A blue, cloudless sky. 72 degrees. Bees swarm the pink flowers of the Manzanita’s. The last thing I considered packing, shorts, tee shirts and sunscreen, are the things I need the most. That’s how it is here in Southern Oregon, seasons change as if they’ve been shoved off a cliff by the season coming on, not willing to wait one more day to take center stage.
After a dozen years I’m still not used to this. Where I grew up in Iowa, there was a long slope between the times of year, they came and went in tedious increments, giving a person a while to get used to the change. Amidst the flat, treeless landscape of the Midwest, nothing (except for tornadoes) sneaks up on you.
St. Rita of Cascia was canonized in 1800, I learn from an interpretive sign in front of a white marble statue of her. She had a tough life. Married at either 12 or 16, depending on the source (let’s hope it was 16), Rita put up with a grouchy husband and raised twin boys, rather than joining the convent as she’d desired. Her options were limited. In the 1400’s, in Italy, kids did as their parents said. Her husband was murdered due to some political mess he was involved in and her sons died soon after, although I don’t know how they met their end. Devoid of her earthly family, Rita joined the convent and lived the rest of her life in peace.
Not much of Rita’s life relates to mine or to those I know. But because her seemingly impossible requests were eventually granted and because she was an advocate for others whose wishes seemed as out of reach as her own, Rita is know as the Saint of Impossibilities. This I find inspiring.
I hike the trails that meander the 60 acres of St. Rita’s, and I write, read, sleep and eat. I keep my meal simple, canned soup, string cheese, tuna. There’s a sense of austerity here and I like this. The rolling hills, open green fields and deciduous trees remind me of Iowa. The branches of the oaks and Madronnes are so covered by filmy, pale-green lichen that it looks as if a massive flocking operation has just occurred, in preparation for a green Christmas.
I don’t see evidence of logging or fire but something interrupted the natural successional cycles of this land. As in Iowa, once over 90% tall grass prairie, now nearly all farmland, city or suburbia, it’s difficult to imagine the original look of the land. I see squirrels, towhees, a ruby-throated hummingbird dipping in the spring by where I sit, white butterflies, yellow daffodils, a solitary hen turkey, and several dark two-inch long lizards scurrying beneath rocks to escape my big feet.
Predators, including wolves, once roamed here. I brought a Rick Bass book called; “The New Wolves” to the retreat. Focusing on the reintroduction efforts of the Mexican gray wolf, the book includes maps of the original range of all wolves in North America. In the 1800’s, the entire map is dark, the shaded portions denoting wolf range. The 1930 map is nearly white below Canada. And the 1990’s map is even more white, with tiny black dots indicating the newly introduced wolves in the Northern Rockies. While I knew that wolves were exterminated from nearly the entire country by the mid 1900’s, the visual is still shocking.
While it has been proven that wolves can be reintroduced and their populations thrive, is it possible to do so and not have them eliminated by hunters, trappers, the government, once their numbers reach a certain level? Not just problem wolves are being killed in the Northern Rockies, but entire packs, lactating females, cubs in the den. The frustration at achieving the first goal, as with all of the wolf reintroduction so far, then having the fruits of the labor destroyed is despairing at best. I doubt the people who worked so hard to make the reintroductions happen are happy with the results.
My former teacher, acclaimed writer Jon Rember, who grew up and lives in the Sawtooth Valley where his father was a hunting guide and trapper, told me once that the problem with bringing wolves back to Idaho is that people will only want to kill them. Naïve at the time, I doubted this. But Jon’s been proven right. What, if anything, can be done to reconcile with the fact that a legal and bountiful hunting preserve has been created in the Northern Rockies, one in which hunters and trappers have been granted the liberty to kill over 500 wolves so far this season? And will this be the ultimate fate of Oregon wolves as well, once their population’s rise to the number deemed acceptable to allow them to fall prey to trophy hunters? Perhaps the efforts made to appease hunters and livestock owners aren’t working so well after all, it appears they have become the ruling factor in charge of the wolves fate.
There’s a trail to a waterfall here at St. Rita’s. I walk the quarter mile and sit on the grass and stare at the water rushing over a broad granite outcropping. It’s a good time to be here, I decide. Faith, if you will, not only restores the soul to a place of quiet and acceptance, it also allows one to find hope in what is seemingly impossible.