Retreat at the Earthfire Institute

Just a little shy of a year ago I had the good fortune of being invited to participate in a retreat at the Earthfire Institute, a wildlife sanctuary and retreat center located in rural Teton Valley Idaho on the southern slope of the Grand Teton mountain range. The vision of Earthfire Institute, to quote its mission statement, is to forge a new way of living together with nature and wildlife. It’s a simple mission statement with profound implications.

The retreat that I participated in was a gathering of a dozen or so remarkable individuals, all leaders in their respective fields, together with the co-founders and directors of Earthfire, Susan Eirich and Jean Simpson. The participants included a wildlife biologist specializing in the interpretation of animal vocalization; A Buddhist master, a Zen meditation teacher; a best selling writer on the subject of leadership, an award winning documentary film maker; a founder of an innovation oriented consulting service; a Native American healer, clinical social worker and animal communicator and myself, listed in the prospectus as a “visual artist and musician”.

The main objective of the four-day council was, in the most general terms, to approach a re-examination of our accepted model for conservation with an emphasis on wildlife as active and sentient participants in the dialogue. It would be an understatement to say the experience for me was nothing less than transformative.

Now, a year later, I am still contemplating that experience – re-examining what goals were set forth, what was accomplished and what the future could be for this small but willful effort to make a real and lasting impact on the environment.

As a long time supporter of conservation, in a general and regional way, I have focused my attention primarily on the part of the world where I live in Texas. I strongly believe that the most effective way to achieve change is to act locally in the communities we live in. Seeing what Earthfire Institute is doing, independently and without government aid, in the way of connecting people and other environmental efforts, has given me a glimpse of a possible future with a master plan that could affect the entire North American continent and make room for the wild animals we share the land with.

I’m hoping to encourage connections between people in my life who share my passion for nature. I feel strongly about what Earthfire is doing. While I am inclined to feel that it may already be too late (in terms of environmental time) to influence the kinds of changes in thinking that Earthfire is fostering I also feel compelled not to give up the idea that change and redirection of energy and resources is still possible.

I think it is up to individuals to forge change. The conservation organizations and institutions that I’ve personally worked with here in Texas all have very defined regional agendas – a good thing, for sure, for those of us that live here but by definition are not holistic in scope. I think Earthfire is looking at the bigger picture.

For more information on Earthfire Institute please visit:

Until next time,
Billy Hassell

October 2016


Playing mandolin for a grizzly bear named Teton Totem


Teton Totem


Native American healer Ramona Sierra with sibling wolf pups at Earthfire, Fall 2015


Watercolor inspired by my visit to Earthfire (giclees available from Earthfire Institute Etsy store: