Category Archives: animals

Dreamtime

Up earlier than dawn on a cool, crisp Autumn morning, I quickly pull on my breeches and a long sleeved ‘T’, eagerly anticipating a ride into the richness of another morning. I can hear Morgan whinnying in the barn — music to my ears. She knows I’m on my way. Always, at my first sighting of her, I feel a thrill at her beauty. Dark brown coat with a striking black mane and tail, well-toned muscles rippling at her slightest move, head held high, she is a perfect portrait of magnificence.

My first task is to brush her velvety smooth coat. It’s a way of silent connection and conversation between us. Morgan’s soft, brown eyes emanate kindness – unless, or course, someone takes her by surprise. Then the iris periscopes in and her look might start you thinking that it’s time to leave and quickly. We’ve been buddies for a quite a stretch of time and long ago I made the decision that I would set her free from harness and collar and ride bareback.

We exit the smell of hay in the stalwart old barn and start slowly down a steep, rocky hill to the forest path. A multi-colored collage of autumn leaves covers the trail and muffles the sound of rhythmic hooves. The smell of sweet earth rises as the day begins to warm and time dissolves into mist. As we trot along in silence, my body begins to respond synchronously with Morgan’s movements. I become conscious of a symphony of birdsong, of the silent rhythms of the forest surrounding us and of the wind whispering through the leaves. Everything in the forest seems to respond to our movement with song and sound at surprisingly appropriate and syncopated moments.

A horse is an amazing creature. Discipline along with freedom brings out their magnificence and their loyalty. I give her boundaries but don’t imprison her spirit. In such an environment, her unique and complex character has space to unfold at the same time that she learns to be responsive and dependable. That’s the reason I threw out her harness. It’s a sign of gut level cooperation between us. She is a faithful friend now, willing and happy to be a partner in any enterprise whether it be work or play.

We exit the forest into a softly rolling, flowered meadow. A sense of exhilaration begins the flow of adrenalin and Morgan’s pace quickens. I feel a cool river of wind flow over us as I braid my hands into her mane. I’m hunkered down on her back, legs gripping her sides, as if I were part of her skin and feel thrilled with the sense of both of us, now as one, flying effortlessly through the air. We rise together. Like Shamans riding the flying horse, Pegasus, Morgan and I enter into the mystery of worlds beyond worlds. I know where that myth comes from. I live it every morning.

Bye Bye Birdie!

People don’t often think of animals as making conscious decisions. But they do. Last month I wrote about a chicken that had been injured and who was under the coop that night waiting for her death by predator or freezing. Ignorant of the Natural Laws, and loving the old hen, I coaxed her out from under the coop and helped her inside. The next day she seemed to be alive and well although still injured. She had two more days of being relatively active, considering her state, and appearing to enjoy her life out in the field with the flock.  I was happy for her. So for two more nights I helped her back into the coop. But by the third day, she had obviously declined steeply. That night I once again helped her back into the coop. As I placed her in the coop, she turned to look at me as if saying, but not unkindly, “Insane human!”

The next day, my co-workers spotted her early in the day, partially hidden, way over in the bushes. I knew by that time that it was truly her time to go. So, although it was a difficult decision, I decided I wouldn’t look for her that night. I knew that she had made a conscious decision to go where I wouldn’t find her and that she had purposely hidden from me in order to die her own natural way. The next morning I found her there, in the bushes, frozen, finally having left her body in peace to move on to Happy Hen Heaven.

 

Time to Go?

It was dusk, close to dark, the time of deepening shadows. The chicken yard was empty. I went out to close the chicken coop and was about to return to the house when for some reason I decided to look under the coop. There in the obscurity of darkness was a form. It didn’t look quite like a chicken, it looked like an upright lump. I couldn’t distinguish a head or tail and it wasn’t moving. But I knew it was one of the hens. I called to her to come in but she didn’t move so I knew something was wrong. I called to her a couple more times, and then finally I found a long branch and gently herded her back into the coop. It would have been sure death by some hungry predator for her to stay out all night.

The next morning I could see clearly that she had injured her neck. She couldn’t pick up her head to get to the feeder so was pecking along the floor for spilled pieces of grain. Having seen chickens with injured necks before, I knew this could be terminal. Later in the day, when all the birds were outside, I gave the injured hen, who was standing stark still, alone in the middle of the chicken yard, a handful of grain. Immediately the other chickens came over and gradually sidled her out of the way. Then, as I tried to prevent the healthy group from eating it all, Big Bird, the turkey rooster, flew at me. I realized immediately that I was interfering in the natural order and that I needed to let go so they could take care of the situation. They knew she had to go. An animal has to be able to take care of itself or it becomes a burden to the group. Big Bird was letting me know.

The rules of Mother Nature are imbedded into all animals. The hen instinctively knew the scheme of things and that was why she had objected to coming into the coop the night before. It was her time to go. The law of Nature says that the sick and injured must go and I had interfered. The hen was ready to die. That evening when I went to close up the coop, she was not under the coop waiting for the salvation of death. I went inside. She was under the heat light, in labored breathing. I felt sad for my ignorance — maybe It would have been an easier death for her to have been taken by a predator. I looked at her and thought, “She will be dead by the time I come to feed them in the morning.”

Morning came. As I walked toward the coop, I felt angst at the thought of carrying out the body of my little friend. I stepped tentatively into the coop and there she was in the corner – alive and with her head up! She scarfed up a healthy meal from the feeder and I knew she was going to make it. Not time to go!

Fear

Teddy Roosevelt once said, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” But, in these times, it seems reasonable to be fearful doesn’t it? Everyday brings news of another mass killing; men of all ethnicities going out and randomly killing off everyone in their vicinity. And then there is climate change. The world has been assailed by increasingly frequent and violent storms that kill off masses of people in the blink of an eye. If it isn’t quick death, then from Love Canal to Flint, it is a slow, debilitating process of death that is caused by the invisible poisoning of our Earth — air, water, soil, food. If that’s not enough, then there is the looming threat of financial collapse causing misery or death by poverty. It seems like everywhere we turn, Death is looking us in the eye. It is frightening! It’s a wonder we don’t all wake up in the morning and just run out of our houses screaming in terror!

Why would Roosevelt, a reasonable and intelligent human, say that fear is the only thing to fear? I was once face to face with a Rottweiler that lunged, completely unexpectedly, from the corner of a porch toward me. Because I had been a regular Yoga/meditation practitioner, I had cultivated a state of internal calm and centeredness. When I saw the dog out of the corner of my eye coming for me, fear did not arise in me. Because the gaping abyss of fear was not there, the dog stopped, almost in mid air, turned and went back to its corner.

It has to do with being whole inside. Fear eats you up. The state of constant, subliminal fear breaks down your inner integrity. Fear can save your life in emergencies, but, with a persistent presence, it can also be like a leprotic disease, creating holes in the fabric of your being. In Nature, healthy plants aren’t attacked by disease, only plants that are already sick — same with animals. Predators have mechanisms that tell them when something is weak or sick and they go for it. It’s a green light for annihilation!

When calm is your abiding state, when you are able to stand back from the melee and get quiet inside, a whole new world comes into play. Peace is an unassailable ‘defense’ system. It doesn’t allow fear to exist.

Barn Phantoms

You can walk into the barn through the spaces between the weathered grey boards or you can walk in through the doorway. Either way, stepping onto the cool concrete floor you will be faced with stacks of hay bales in the room ahead and perhaps see a cow on the outside, gazing  complacently through the wide open barn window. There is just enough light coming in that shadow does not own the place, only a misty greyness, a sense of subtle expectancy. On the far wall, opposite the hay bales, dangles a row of solid iron hooks.

Once, not too long ago, a young, freshly killed deer, roped at the hind feet, hung from one of them. The owner took great pride in his first kill. He was not aware of the youth of the deer when he shot it, nor that he had broken taboo in taking it. For months, long after his departure, the deer hung there, a bloodless, gutted carcass. The coolness and solitude of the barn held the deer in quiet suspension.

Daily, the cows munched their way through the pasture, content in their meanderings. Just downhill from the barn, out in the fields, planting activities continued as usual. The market garden sprouted generously in spring rains and quickly filled the space between the rows then began to reach upward until the farmer could disappear into the vibrant lushness. Occasionally he would stop, suddenly feeling called by the whispers of spirits in the old barn looming up the hill. As time revolved through the days, the boy and the deer began to weigh heavily on his mind. The boy did not come back to clean and skin the deer. It was way past time.

There is a pile behind the barn in the shadows of the orchard. If you were to dig through that mass, not too far down you would find the bleached skull of a young deer. As a matter of fact, you would find an intact skeleton, the phantom of a young boys journey into a future he did not intend.

Chicken Rebels

Do you ever wonder what drives animals to do what they do? Or wonder if and what they are thinking? Here on the farm, chickens reign. Chickens are complex, fascinating and gregarious creatures. They hang out together in the coop, under the coop, out in the tall grass. The group will often, at the behest of the rooster or one of the hens, suddenly take off running toward a definite destination and clearly with great purpose, but for reasons not obvious to humans – at least not to this human. Maybe they sense an insect convocation somewhere up the hill; or maybe the time of day, the scent on the wind, the position of the sun calls them to a certain spot. Sometimes they run off together to hang out in collusion under a tree, possibly planning for . . . . . do chickens plan? Do they have issues that they have to work out among themselves?

Despite their gregariousness there is, occasionally, almost predictably, a lone chicken who goes off to live her own sovereign life: to roost and sleep and lay her eggs out in the field, or in the greenhouse, or under a pine tree, instead of hanging out with the group at the coop. Against great dangers she goes because there is an abundance of predators out there who feast on chickens: hawks, raccoons, foxes, big cats. Just this November Nate, the farmer, found at various locations in the field, the remains of four noble younger hens who had been living independent of the coop. These rebels would all have their independence despite the dangers.

Recently one has taken to laying eggs under a huge Blue Spruce tree quite a ways from the coop, not far from the road. It is winter. Cold. Temperatures hover around 6 degrees. We have at least a foot of snow. Nate found the autonomous hen under the Spruce one day, sitting on her eggs, so cold that she could hardly move. He carried her back to the coop. But next day she goes back to the tree. I watched her yesterday returning from her hideaway under the spruce walking toward the coop. She moved through the snow like a monk in meditation. One foot at a time, with boundless patience and determination, she would place one in front of the other. Occasionally she would fall into a snow drift and stop. Then, after a momentary pause in her journey, flap her wings and go on moving, dignified, proud.

The distance from the spruce to the coop is probably around 300’. That’s a long way for a relatively small critter to go so ponderously through snow and in such frigid weather. Remember? Six degrees. I marvel at what spirit, what passion or calling possesses her to choose the road less travelled while the group in the coop remains in warmth, camaraderie and in evident contentment. Animals are complex creatures. Is this one called to a contemplative life? Or maybe, more adventurously, she has dreams of starting her own roadside egg stand some day? What is she thinking? What goes on in the minds of animals?

Yo Turkeys!

Sometimes when I’m with an animal, I see a light in their eyes that stuns me. It is magnetic. Something surprising and numinous. In the first few moments of connection, I am entranced; free-falling into an inner galaxy of kindness and peace.

Most people know turkeys as a mound of meat wrapped in plastic that they eat on special occasions. But Turkeys are far more than a heap of meat. Turkeys hold a spirit inside as magnificent as Mt. Everest. They are joyous, elegant, proud, curious, intelligent, loving, beautiful creatures. I’ve seen it. I live on a farm. I have had the privilege of getting to know them.

Turkeys are not just a homogenized group of personality-less non-entities like packages of meat. Turkeys love their lives: they love each other. They have their separate lives of friends and seeming partnerships among themselves. These friends and/or partners are very affectionate toward each other. But they are not exclusive relationships. Turkeys are quite distinct individuals, yet they all take care of each other, care for each other and quite often move together as a group. Turkeys are peaceful, cooperative and strong.

I will say only this. I have seen the Light coming from their deep inner wells of being. If ever you have the opportunity, get to know a bevy of turkeys — in person in as close to a natural environment as possible. Spend some time with them every day without intruding into their lives. It may be a blessing, and in many unexpected ways, a profoundly unsettling lesson. But beware, if you see through the eyes of materialism, you will never enter the realm of the numinous – the Spirit and essence of the animal.

 

Animal Frolicking

As I continue to study and practice the wisdom of the Eastern healing arts, I am impressed at how they so ingeniously connect humans with Nature in multidimensional ways. This includes not only healing arts like Acupuncture but also movement disciplines from China like Qi Gong in the Five Animal Frolics, and from India, Yoga through nature-based and animal Asanas. Movement is expressive of qualities, characteristics and emotion. The treasure filled Nature symbology embedded in Eastern arts is rich with meaning based in a profound understanding of humans and Nature. By practicing and understanding any of these movement disciplines, you can connect to Mother Nature and your own essence at a deeper and more intricate level. Since I am a Yoga practitioner, I’ll talk about Yoga – but you don’t have to be a practitioner of anything to get this.

Let’s take ‘Hatha’ Yoga. The word ‘Hatha’ is about duality. Ha means Sun: Tha means moon. The practice of Hatha Yoga is about balance through uniting opposites as represented by the sun and moon. The friction of opposites is part of our everyday life: warm-cool, male-female, good-evil. Understanding the metaphors of Yoga asanas and practicing them can facilitate harmonizing your physical and psychological opposites and bring you into greater inner balance.

Yoga asanas (postures, movements) are named for animals, plants, birds and even geometrical and geological structures. Each Yoga posture is like a hieroglyph. It contains nuggets of meaning related to its named entity. As with any movement, it can express associated qualities, characteristics and emotions. When you embody a particular Asana, you open yourself to change and challenge in that constellation of your nature. You deepen your understanding of yourself and even change how you express your life and being. Choose a posture and notice how you feel in that position. What comes up for you as you hold and breathe?

Try the Asana called “Cobra.” (If you aren’t familiar with Cobra, see: http://www.cnyhealingarts.com/2010/12/24/the-health-benefits-of-bhujangasana-cobra-pose/). What do snakes represent? Snakes bring up and symbolize many issues, especially fear. The Cobra opens the chest, which can hold many feelings and emotions including love, grief and fear. As you slip into the posture and hold for some time, you might begin to experience physical and/or emotional discomfort. If so, you are beginning to catalyze change in your inner status quo.

Whatever comes up, allow yourself to be with it, especially your fears, without denial or aversion. Instead of being a slave to fears, accept them as allies or teachers. “To stay alert and act wisely in the face of fear is to force that fear into the service of wisdom and power (Penny Kelly).” The practice of holding with awareness will take you on the path of renewal and resurrection, which is symbolized by the snake shedding its skin. Snakes are the essence of transformation and fluidity.

Study the movements of Yoga or Qigong. Think about the qualities and characteristics that you would like to strengthen, expand or have take root in yourself. Choose an animal movement that represents them; or create and explore movements that would embody these characteristics and qualities. Notice how you are affected. Feel yourself beginning to embrace Mother Nature at fresh and uncharted levels or your being.