“I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” ~ John Burroughs
When you were a child, did you ever imagine that you had magic powers that would enable you to change yourself into an animal?
I did. Since before I could speak, I have been drawn to animals in any shape or form. I’ve been told my first word was ‘bow wow’. There are plenty of old memories and photos of me with my face pressed up against a fence looking at goats, or with someone’s cat in my lap, or with my friend’s pet rat on the edge of my cereal bowl. My favorite superhero was Aqua Man, because he could telepathically communicate with sea creatures.
I did not discriminate in my affection—even earthworms were deemed worthy enough to be given safe passage out of harm’s way on the palm of my hand.
As an adult, I have felt an affinity for the peregrine falcon. A fierce bird of prey, I envy their flight, and imagine how amazing it must be to feel the rush of wind as they fly at record-breaking speeds. I asked two close friends of mine what animal they would be if they could, and their answers were surprising on some levels, yet made perfect sense. One friend said she would love to be an otter. She grew up swimming the ocean in southern California, and as an adult, has swam from Alcatraz to Aquatic Park many times. She relates to the feeling of gliding through the water and feeling that buoyancy. My other friend said she would love to be an elephant. At first, the connection was less clear to me, since she is petite and quick. But she explained to me that elephants are wise and can hold their ground, and those are characteristics she admires.
I have wondered if the animals we admire could be like our totem animals—perhaps we feel we have something in common with them, or they have traits and abilities we would like to emulate. “In modern times, some single individuals, not otherwise involved in the practice of a tribal religion, have chosen to adopt a personal spirit animal helper, which has special meaning to them, and may refer to this as a totem. The word totem comes from the Ojibway word dodaem and means ‘brother/sister kin’.”
I love the idea of having animal kin. Being outside and spending time with animals has always allowed me to let go and be present.
When I’ve been lucky enough to be gifted with a glimpse of a wild animal, it was at those moments I’ve felt utterly connected to the Universe: I’d catch my breath and watch in wonder, trying to memorize the details of the experience.
In that moment, the adult, cerebral outer layers fall away and I am like a child again; any tension or worries that had been occupying space inside of me cease to exist. I feel like the core of who I am is simply an observer of a wondrous moment in time. As the experience wanes, I can feel the layers come back, as if I were slowly getting redressed. But there is still a residual aura of happiness. There is no doubt that getting out of the city gives us greater opportunity for these glimpses, but if we are open to them, they can happen anywhere, even in the middle of our urban settings.
On a New Year’s Day walk through Inspiration Point in Tilden Park, my otter friend and I glimpsed a bobcat as it ran across the trail right in front of us. On that same walk, we witnessed two packs of coyotes coming together in a field, after vocalizing to each other for some time. We watched them greet each other with yips and yelps, jostling playfully, before all plopping down in the grass. It seemed to us like the two groups were greeting each other after a long absence, catching up on all the latest happenings.White-tailed kite
At this same park a couple of years later, I was walking in the rain with a dear childhood friend. I wanted to show him my ‘hawk tree’ —a dead, leafless tree in the middle of a clearing that seemed to be the favorite scanning perch of a red-tailed hawk. Instead of the hawk, we saw a gorgeous white and grey bird that had the curved beak and talons of a bird of prey, but one I’d never seen before. It was beautiful! Once we got home, we searched online and found it was a white-tailed kite.
I treasured the gift of his appearance in that tree as something very special, made even more special because of who I was with.
These glimpses of nature bring about a childlike sort of awe, something that often seems to slowly disappear as we journey into adulthood. I think those moments of awe—no matter what spurs them—can help us survive the very real stresses we each face on a regular basis. I believe they help us tap into our own true Nature.
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Assistant Ed: Renee Picard/Ed: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Kris Lord