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mountain lakeWhat is the West? Is it just a portion of land to the left of the Mississippi, right of the Pacific? To many, the West is an idea, a notion of open spaces and freedom. A place infused with wildness. Some say that wildness comes not only from mountains and deserts, but from the animals that have always called the West home. Predator Legends explores the heart of wildness in the West.

Cougars, grizzly bears and wolves are at home here. Author Rick Bass often writes about these animals. "I think I started writing about grizzlies and wolves and lions, lynx, the big carnivores, the big animals because they're the dominant species in this landscape that I've fallen in love with. But from a more writerly standpoint they're just so full of metaphor and hence meaning."

CougarBass lives in the remote Yaak Valley, way up in the northwest corner of Montana, not too far from the Canadian border. It is a leftover part of the West. "That's one of the great things about this landscape, its one of the few valleys in the hemisphere that still has all of the species present here that were here since the last ice age, nothings gone extinct." He says these predators help define the place.

Doug Peacock wrote Grizzly Years after seeking solace in wild places. He returned from Vietnam a broken man. "I mean I came back from Vietnam after serving a couple tours as a Green Beret medic in the Central Highlands. And like a lot of other Vietnam vets I was really out of sorts and the only place I've always been comfortable in my life is in the wilderness, in the woods. I grew up in the woods in Michigan and I've lived in the Rocky Mountains for 40 years. I like being out and I just happened to run into these animals, these grizzlies when I was camped in Yellowstone. I didn't know anything about bears, they just happened to be there and I had to deal with 'em. And you know, they saved my life."

Wolves howlingLevi Holt of the Nez Perce says Peacock was healed in an ancient way. "It's my belief that there is a medicine, that there is a healing power and ability that exists with an animal around. An animal such as a grizzly bear, a wolf, a mountain lion, a coyote. And it's said, in many ways, that these animals represent much of this to us. As Indian people we feel a gift if you will, that is given as we might encounter an animal if we have lost a life, a loved one within the family. And we're venturing out into the wild and we're looking for signs that might help us understand how our loss might help us appreciate the change, the moving forward into the places of spirit other than our physical world. It's the animal that we look to oftentimes."

Horace Axtell is the spiritual leader of the Nez Perce. He believes it is no coincidence that brought Peacock to the bears and the wild places. Rather, he tapped in to a source Native Americans have felt for centuries. "I don't say that only Indians can do this, that's what I'm saying. I rarely talk about this, but there is a connection in us through what we call the Vision Quest. That's when we go up to seek…it don't really happen anymore…but the old people used to go up into the high mountains or wherever they wanted to and then wait and sleep. Then this animal, a certain animal, would come and give them their power and their song so that they can have their abilities, what that certain animal gives you. And some of them had it from the cougar or any animal. A lot of them had grizzly bear."

BearTo these men who call the West home, there is no separating the place from these animals that shaped it. All form another part of the circle of life. There would be no West without these creatures, there would be no creatures without the West.

Bass sees a deep connection. "I don't think we'll ever know how much they're intertwined with the place. It's something that's been on my mind a lot. That wholeness, that sphere of connectedness does yield, I submit, what we would call magic. I mean you can't put it in a bottle, you can't measure it, but you sense that its there, I believe its there."

Thoreau wrote, "In wildness is the preservation of the world." His emphasis was on wild. It's a point that rings true for Peacock. "Of course most people think he said in wilderness, but he didn't say wilderness, he said wildness. You know wilderness is today is the official kind that we designate, but wildness is a quality that's best personified in grizzly and wolves, cougars, but actually it exists in all of us yeah it's here."

Watch Predator Legends and see the wild heart of the West for yourself.

Predator Legends is made possible by a grant from the James & Barbara Cimino Foundation

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