Saturday, September 18, 2010

Strange encounters with familiar animals

Do we take for granted the animals we share our world with? Are they so familiar to us that we forget to observe them? ("Don't just look at something, to truly know it you need to observe every detail" said Albert Williams, the headmaster of my first school.) Of course, we observe our domestic pets, our dogs and cats, but what about the doves that land on the pond every evening at dusk or the hawks that circle overhead at mid-day, or the squirrels that leap Tarzan-like from eucalyptus to olive to fig branch? What about the lizards that we absentmindedly shoo outside when they fall asleep under the sofa or the hummingbird that hovers outside the office window?

In Native American lore, the coyote is a dichotomy; both a trickster and a wise being. He has supernatural powers and is connected to the divine. According to an animal shamanism site, the wisdom of the coyote teaches us "understanding that all things are sacred--yet nothing is sacred."

The little coyote I spotted this morning was feeling rather sorry for herself. One ear hung at a right angle to her head and the tail was carried close to her body.  She watched the dogs and I for a few minutes, trotted off a few steps, stopped, looked at us again.  The dogs were transfixed by her. I felt just a little bit sad for the poor creature. 

Earlier this week, we came across a rattlesnake on the Sullivan Canyon fire trail, coiled up, and rattling its tail furiously at us.  I was too astonished to take a picture.  It was a warm morning and still, and we'd been out too long. The dogs dropped under every shady bush or tree along the way, and scratched away at the sand to make a cool bed for themselves.  As we finally approached the rest area by Nike Tower the dogs were panting.  Kindly walkers have left dog bowls outside, which we filled with cool, fresh water.  The water fountain was covered with thirsty honey bees, who had burrowed down so far into the pipe that the fountain didn't work.  I poured water from the taps inside into the metal bowl so that they could drink.  My friend E thought me quite mad.

"Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission - to be of service to them whenever they require it. If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men."
-- St Francis of Assisi

M, who lives in the hills overlooking the ocean, has a visiting party of little orange crickets in her house and on her terrace. "Oh don't mind them," she says.

Another friend, who recently lost his father, sees yellow butterflies wherever he goes. The first one flew out of the ground into which his father's coffin was lowered.  He fervently believes that his father is communicating with him. I see no reason to doubt him.  And now I see them too. Sometimes, they're right in front of me and sometimes they're in the corner of my eye, just a periphery flutter of yellow, just enough to remember to pay attention.

Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) – one of the earliest and greatest of the Taoist philosophers – wrote about a dream he had, in which he was a yellow butterfly. And then he woke, to discover that he was a man. But then he wondered: now am I a man who just dreamt he was a butterfly; or a butterfly who is now dreaming that he is a man? In this story we find, again, elements of the shamanic experience: dream-time, shape-shifting, flying, communication with non-human realms of being. (From: About Taoism)

1 comment:

Lorraine Thompson said...

Thank you for this lovely post.

Our lives are richer for all the creatures--great and tiny--around us.

Neighbors think me eccentric for letting spiders live in my home--they eat "bad bugs" for heaven's sake!--and because I carefully relocate other insects outdoors with a paper-covered cup.

While I haven't gone so far, I can't help but admire some Jain women I saw recently: They wore little masks over their mouths to keep from inadvertently inhaling--and killing--microscopic fauna!

Minding creatures reminds us of our creatureliness. And our connection to the earth, seasons, the cosmos.