When you go outside every day, every single day, and you observe the world around you every day you might begin to notice that animals and their detritus are all around us all the time. It is where they live. We are in their home.
Our world is built atop the bones of everything that has ever been, all that has ever lived has been incorporated into the soil and sand. The beach sand in your buttcrack is as much a sign as the blue heron you are gazing out at.
We don’t have to view these things as separate. There aren’t isolated messages coming in with each bird feather. We are a blip in the continuum of the multiverse, and so is the “sign”.
I see something alive every day. Every single day. Outside, inside, mammals, insects, birds, snakes, larvae, lichen. The constancy of the “signs” is overwhelming. I lean into the lifeforce, the search, I enter the spaces where life lives.
It’s not mystical to me.
To me, observation is a grounded, everyday devotional practice. It feeds me to feel a part of my world. Observation is a meditation and a mediation, the layer that lives between humans and other animals. It is the way I feel connected.
Calling each interaction a sign may actually block our ability to snuggle into our relationship with the world, with other beings. It might block our ability to be present with the life around us. Perhaps it works to de-normalize interactions between ourselves and the natural world.
Maybe we can stop asking what it all means.
Maybe it just IS.
We may come at our relationships to animals via our culture, which infantilizes them, focuses on their juvenile phase, presents them as helpless and in need of “saving” or the opposite, presents animals as symbols of evil or darkness, killers who are out to get us. We see animals in commercials acting silly, speaking, wearing pants. We may see animals as products, see our “power animal” as something we can buy to represent our deepest selves, to wear around our necks.
We easily overlook their rights, their wildness, their instinctual indifference to our personal needs.
Our interpretations are clearly influenced by factors such as our religion, our modernity, our life experience and various aspects of who we are and where we come from. A rhino means something different depending on where you live.
And sometimes we label things as spiritual, mystical, magical when they are just a part of reality, just a different layer that isn’t often discussed or acknowledged. It may be the only way some of us know how to talk about the ways we are experiencing nature right now.
Ultimately I want to be very clear that I am not saying “you are doing it wrong”. We all have the right to interpret our world in the way that we see fit. I speak only for myself. But I hope that by raising these questions, it inspires conversation around signs, both opening those that are closed to the possibility of signs and opening those that believe in signs to critical thinking. Symbols have been a vital part of what makes us human for a very long time, and our interest in symbols isn’t going away.
Nor should it.
But examining our interpretations is rarely a bad idea.