Animals’ advice for surviving trying times

Are you the political equivalent of an armadillo, ant or tiger?

 

Pepper Trail is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a writer and retired forensic biologist in Oregon.


How are you doing? I confess that I’m having a rough time. Everything I care about is under attack by the regime in power. Whether it’s wilderness preservation, endangered species protection, action on climate change, the integrity of science, corporate accountability, separation of church and state, access to health care, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, immigrant rights — all, all are in danger of being torn to shreds. Trying to keep up with the litany of horrible news is like drinking from a fire hose spewing toxic waste. 

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and hopeless, which is exactly what those in power are counting on. So, how to move past that trap?

For our friends who are struggling, we need to be supportive and understanding — and also offer encouragement that resistance is helpful. I don’t try to deny my depression when it comes, but I try not to feed it. Usually after a few days or a week, outrage cuts through the fog, and I’m awake again. But then what?

Looking around me, I see three basic coping strategies. I call them after the species that best exemplify them: armadillos, the tigers and the ants.

The armadillo is famously covered with an armor of tough scales, and when attacked it tucks its head under and rolls up into a protective ball. This is, of course, the strategy of denial, and lots of people I know have shut down and become armadillos. I’m lucky to live in a beautiful small town, where it’s easy to feel insulated from unpleasant reality. If you never pay any attention to the news, you can live here very happily, tending your garden, going out for coffee, taking a nice hike.

Political tigers gather in Portland for a May Day protest in 2012.

There are a couple of problems with being an armadillo, however. First of all, there are some very strong-jawed monsters out there, and I submit that the current administration in Washington, D.C., is such a monster. Second, sooner or later, every armadillo has to uncurl and go about its life. Like me, a lot of my armadillo friends are in their 60s, and I think they’re betting, consciously or not, that they won’t be around when the worst comes to pass. Perhaps that’s what counts as optimism these days.

Then there are the tigers. Tigers are fierce and uncompromising. Some fearless people — my wife, for one — have become tigers. A pediatrician with a demanding practice, she still spends hours every day telephoning not just our own worthless representative but also leaders in Congress like Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell. She goes to rallies and makes sure I come, too. She donates money to an ever-lengthening list of activist groups and promising candidates. She gets, on a good night, four hours of sleep. I am in awe of her passion and that of the other tigers I know. But not everyone can be a tiger, burning so brightly without burning out.

That leaves the ones like me, the ants. Like our totem animal, we may be small, but we are single-minded and we are legion. The most encouraging discovery of this terrible year has been how many of us there are, working in local networks to form a national resistance. Every week, I take at least three or four actions — I write a letter, make a call, go to a meeting. That’s a level of activity I know I can sustain. I focus on environmental defense, while my friends and allies swarm into action on health care, racial justice, immigrant rights, and all the other issues under threat. In the long run, I believe it’s the collective work of these people, some of whom have never been politically active before, that will save our country from its present nightmare. 

So, I say: Join us. Shoulder your small burden, one that is not so heavy that it will leave you broken, and make a path that works toward change. Don’t forget to thank the mighty tigers who inspire the rest of us, and as you pass the armadillos, give them a little kick to wake them up.

We have nothing to lose but our despair.

High Country News Classifieds
  • DISTRICT MANAGER
    The San Juan Islands Conservation District is seeking applicants for the District Manager position. The position is open until filled and application plus cover letter...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Mountain Time Arts, a Bozeman-based nonprofit, is seeking an Executive Director. MTA advocates for and produces public artworks that advance social & environmental justice in...
  • BEND AREA HOME WITH AMAZING CASCADE PEAKS VIEW
    Enjoy rural peacefulness and privacy with one of the most magnificent Cascade Mountain views in sunny Central Oregon! Convenient location only eight miles from Bend's...
  • MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks a Marketing Communications Manager to join our...
  • EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
    High Country News, an award-winning media organization covering the communities and environment of the Western United States, seeks an Editor-In-Chief to join our senior team...
  • RESEARCH FELLOW (SOUTHWESTERN U.S. ENERGY TRANSITION)
    The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA) in partnership with the Grand Canyon Trust is seeking a full-time Fellow to conduct topical research...
  • LENDER OWNED FIX & FLIP
    2 houses on 37+ acres. Gated subdivision, Penrose Colorado. $400k. Possible lender financing. Bob Kunkler Brokers Welcome.
  • ONCE OR TWICE
    A short historical novel set in central Oregon based on the the WWII Japanese high altitude ballon that exploded causing civilian casualties. A riveting look...
  • HISTORIC LODGE AND RESTAURANT - FULLY EQUIPPED
    Built in 1901, The Crazy Mountain Inn has 11 guest rooms in a town-center building on 7 city lots (.58 acres). The inn and restaurant...
  • HOUSE FOR SALE
    Rare mountain property, borders National Forest, stream nearby. Pumicecrete, solar net metering, radiant heat, fine cabinets, attic space to expand, patio, garden, wildlife, insulated garage,...
  • COMMUNITY ORGANIZER- NORTHERN PLAINS RESOURCE COUNCIL
    Want to organize people to protect Montana's water quality, family farms and ranches, & unique quality of life with Northern Plains Resource Council? Apply now-...
  • CONSERVATION MANAGER
    The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust (RiGHT) is hiring an energetic and motivated Conservation Manager to develop and complete new conservation projects and work within...
  • POLLINATOR OASIS
    Seeking an experienced, hardworking partner to help restore a desert watershed/wetland while also creating a pollinator oasis at the mouth of an upland canyon. Compensation:...
  • ELLIE SAYS IT'S SAFE! A GUIDE DOG'S JOURNEY THROUGH LIFE
    by Don Hagedorn. A story of how lives of the visually impaired are improved through the love and courage of guide dogs. Available on Amazon.
  • COMING TO TUCSON?
    Popular vacation house, furnished, 2 bed/1 bath, yard, dog-friendly. Lee at [email protected] or 520-791-9246.
  • NORTHEASTERN UNIVERSITY
    All positions available: Sales Representative, Accountant and Administrative Assistant. As part of our expansion program, our University is looking for part time work from home...
  • RUBY, ARIZONA CARETAKER
    S. Az ghost town seeking full-time caretaker. Contact [email protected] for details.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Powder River Basin Resource Council, a progressive non-profit conservation organization based in Sheridan, Wyoming, seeks an Executive Director, preferably with grassroots organizing experience, excellent communication...
  • ADOBE HOME
    Passive solar adobe home in high desert of central New Mexico. Located on a 10,000 acre cattle ranch.
  • STEVE HARRIS, EXPERIENCED PUBLIC LANDS/ENVIRONMENTAL ATTORNEY
    Comment Letters - Admin Appeals - Federal & State Litigation - FOIA -