Someone, Give me a Sign! Part 1

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The other day I ran into a bear. Literally, I was running along  and flushed a little bear out of the nearby underbrush and up a tree. It was very exhilarating, and I deeply appreciate the experience. However, someone later told me it must be a sign, it must be “good bear medicine”. Is it?

I did a little research and found a huge industry based on animal spirits and signs. {note: all are actual quotes from the internet.} Apparently any animal “calling” to us is a sign. “Every animal has significance.” “We all have animal guides.”

Apparently “we are drawn to an animal because they are drawn to us.” “There are no coincidences.” “Many times animals enter your life to help you overcome difficult transitions.”

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“Dogs stand near the road to get my attention.” “If you’ve had more than one [animal] bite, consider this a Spirit sign.” “When birds fly into my glass door there’s something I need to look at.”

“Every single feather that you find is a sign.”

OK. I want to believe in signs. Theoretically, I want to believe animals are dropping dead in order to give me what I need. I want to believe that everything that attracts me is due to vibrations that all conspire to support me.

But HOLY HELL is that a human-centric, egocentric and delusional model.

Seeing a bird in your yard might mean that you have bought a bird feeder and filled it with bird food. It might mean that you have grown a lot of plants that attract birds, such as Asters, or live near a lot of habitat that birds like, such as water, birdhouses, or little safe areas that they can hang out in. Seeing a dead bird might mean that you have a cat or live near one, or that the bird had a disease. Are the flies on the dead bird a sign? The maggots? The vultures? The bacteria that breaks it down?

Seeing a feather might mean that you keep chickens, or a neighbor does.

Seeing a bear in your yard might mean that you have some very juicy garbage and the bear is hungry. Or maybe he’s going to provide his spiritual signage to another person, and your yard is a handy shortcut.

I believe there could be some confirmation bias involved in this process. We choose what to see as signs and what to ignore. A hawk is a spirit guide, a pigeon is a nuisance. A bear is blessing us, a mosquito is ruining our evening.

We can’t take every darn beaver as a sign from the Universe while failing to see every plastic shopping bag stuck in a tree as such.

And yes, I saw a bear on Friday, but then I saw an empty can of Chef Boyardee ravioli and a pair of rumpled underpants while hiking on Sunday.

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But honestly, I believe it IS a sign. All of it. It is a sign of engagement. A sign of curiousity. A sign that I went outside!

It is a sign that the world is terrible and beautiful, dangerous and nutritive, raw and confusing and complex, and that we are in it, we are of it, not just observers.

Sandor Katz says “Sustainability is participation” and perhaps it applies to signs, too.

Intuition is participation. Signs are participation.

Relating to animals, plants, minerals, this could be a sign that you are participating in the world around you. Interpreting the world around you. Devoting your time and attention to observation. And this could potentially be a beautiful process, a way to feel supported.

And humans have been using animals in our stories since memory began, observing them, using animals to inspire our movements, our identity, our sexuality, our ideas about power and art and spirituality, and that is a sign of our amazing imagination.

Or it could be a sign that you are shockingly egocentric, extremely careless, unable to apply critical thinking or so caught up in wishing for a sign that you can’t see that we are animals too, that our power animal just might be the bacteria that really wears the pants in this relationship and that we can’t just pendulum our way to liberation….

Ultimately, of course, we can choose to interpret everything we see through any lens we choose, consciously or not. If choosing a power animal gives one good feelings, what is the harm? I honestly don’t know, and I feel like I have more questions than answers. But for now, I am going to laugh to myself about my vision of the bear I saw telling all of her friends about how I was a sign, a sign that humans are running around in yoga pants and OMG you shoulda seen her face when I ran up the tree.

You’re welcome, MS. Bear.

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Let it happen.

Meet my foster dog, Meo. He grew up in Jersey and one day his family just dumped him in the shelter. “Do. Not. Want.” He hadn’t been well cared for and he was suffering from depression and poor muscle tone in a North Jersey animal shelter. A kind rescue representative noticed his sorry state and, long story short, I ended up with him in my foster care.
Depressed and/or anxious dogs have a lot to teach us about ourselves and the world. Walking this weird line between domestication and wildness they are clearly animals yet submit to wearing idiotic outfits to gain our affection. Sometimes they end up slumped in cement cages with no opposable thumbs, dependent on us to see their inner light and help it emerge.
And we do–but sometimes it is not just about humans “doing everything right”–we also need to get outside of our thinking, processing humanity and let things happen.
When I was a kid the wise characters I knew would say “If it don’t fit, force it.” Slightly more crafty types changed that to “If it don’t fit, fabricate it.” And you know, that is great advice in many ways. It is a motto of those who refuse to depend on having all the “right” parts, those working class alchemists who get very old cars running, who suit up and dig out, make a pie from wild apples and pantry dust, who stick it all together with gum and screwdrivers and heat and hope. There is so much value in those skills, but it is only half the story.
Because mechanics are nothing without the spark.
Sometimes we just need to get out of the way and let nature itself heal our selves, our animals and our world. We can use force and fabrication to jump our ’54 Cadillac or to understand our foot’s best mechanical position and that is some gooooood shit. Important. But we can’t force our way into a healed heart or a whole body.
Humans, other animals and the earth all have both mechanics AND emotions and sometimes we need to just allow it. If it don’t fit, LET it fit. Let it expand, let it contract. Give it all space and get out of the damn way. Gently file it, feed it or lube it up and just wait, just observe, just see what happens. Watch for patterns. Breathe deeply and un-attach yourself from the outcome.
There is something about just being outside, just letting the force of nature imbue the body, putting our body parts into wild water, letting wind into our hair and taking a crap miles away from any man-made structure. Something about running with the pack, digging a hole, our spotty fur flying by like a vital flash of reality.
Add some oil and some fresh air and you just may see things turn around without much meddling. A run through the wild woods, a piece of meat, a hug and suddenly we see a re-vitalization. Because Vitality WAS there–no matter who you are or what you’ve done since, vitality, the vital force, underlies everything and it merely needs space and support to re-appear.
So Meo. I met this dog in a hotel parking lot in Southern NY and my first thought was “Oh, dear God”. He looked like crap and there was a certain desperation surrounding him, a pattern which I recognize from so many beings before. But he’s turned it around!
I have, over and over, seen those who were knocked down get up. I have seen plants spring back to life, animals re-inhabit themselves, humans regain vital force like a rebirth, like wild things, like a sunrise, like NEVER. GIVE. UP. And this awesome dog is just one more on a continuum of lifeforce which had gone un-shiny, flabby and weak and confused. He is a force of nature embodied and I am in awe of watching this process yet again, I am filled with hope and proud to take my place in this wacky-ass circle of life.

Meo
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Meo with Aster
Meo with Aster

the family that forages together, stays together.

IMG_1831IMG_1824IMG_1841IMG_1822IMG_1840“kids these days”! or so i’ve heard. we can’t connect. but are we, ourselves, connected? to anything? why do we wonder that we can’t connect to our children when we can’t connect to ourselves. they are imitating our own dumbass behaviors, and we are not showing them our best side.
can foraging bridge that emptiness, the hole in our hearts? the hole in our families? does a family-either a blood family or a chosen family-build bonds by watching television? by playing farmville, by catalog shopping or by microwaving burritos? or does a family build a strong foundation by roaming the woods and neighborhoods together, searching for plants or fungi, identifying insects and birdsongs?
i want to be open-minded and say-oh, hell a family can build bonds around reality tv. but my heart says no. because, my friends, out there in the woods it is a holy sacrament. eucharist means thanksgiving, and tasting the forest is a sacrament we can all share. flesh of my flesh? fungi IS the actual fruit of the actual soil, no leaps of faith needed. making or own medicine is a connection you will never find at the store. growing our own food feeds both body AND mind.
have we humans somehow evolved, in only 2 or 3 generations, out of our foundational need, our desire, our instinct, to forage for or own food? have we somehow evolved into a technological mindset which does not value touching, smelling, feeling the source? NO, we have not. the need is still inside of us. even with our brains held captive by modernity the communion is still valid.
becasue why would god, however you view them, not be in the fungi, in the insects, in the soil and muck and plants and stone? why would spirit not be found in a forgotten piece of woods where old TVs, underpants, loising lottery tickets and beer bottles snuggle with wild goldenseal, beautiful trilliums and rotting logs? why would the earth’s energy suddenly become unavailable to all people?
answer: it has not. the earth and its gifts are all around us and we CAN return at any time. we CAN choose to see what is all around us. we can choose to celebrate what is under this pavement. we can, right now, get off our asses and look behind the strip malls and dumpsters and see the spirit of renewal in action, pollination, turning of the wheel, rejuvenation, plants protecting soil, earth breaking down someone’s discarded undies, dogs eating dropped doritos, bees on “invasive” knotweed and pigeons bathing in puddles. it’s a clusterfuck celebration and it’s the foundation we can build our lives upon.
we can go to the taco bell drive-thru-again!–or we can finally choose to participate in the animal-vegetable-mineral magic that spends all day trying desperately to get our attention, taking moments away from safety and away from antibacterial panic hell to let reality in.
and, friends, reality tastes good.

my canine personal trainer

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This new year a big thank you is due to my personal trainer. she has motivated me to walk every single day for over 2 years now. Well, ok i missed one day. It was a hailstorm!
But truly, every single other day we have taken a walk together. I’m sick? walk. It’s hot? Walk. It’s cold? Walk. Hell it’s zero degrees out today and we took a walk. Yesterday we took two!
And, sure, my ass is getting a workout. But the awesomeness goes deeper for me. I get to see my land in every season. I learn to push past my default snuggle-under-the-covers behavior and get out there, and I never regret it. Our walks are brain food where I think and write. My lungs like it.
I would never get myself outside during a hurricane or in shockingly cold weather if it weren’t for her intensely pleading looks and her tendency to chew up my house if she doesn’t get a walk. I don’t put it on my to-do list, it’s just a given. every day. it’s a constant.
So let Aster be an example to you, to get off your ass and take a hike. Or to stop chewing up the house and go leap the creek. Perhaps you are already hiking but need motivatoin to do something else? Well, Catahoulas don’t discriminate. Aster would like you to do that too…follow your nose, babe, all the way to the stinky rotting animal carcass. And roll, roll, roll!

dog-dog communication in action

It has been gratifying to see Aster, my catahoula leopard dog, come into her own as a dog communicator. After we adopted her we traveled to New Orleans where she ran with a little pack for 6 weeks or so.She was the youngest of 5 balanced dogs sharing space and they taught her a lot about communication, dog packs, and when to stop driving the old-lady-dog nuts! Helpful for a dog who’d been abandoned, then adopted twice and returned to the shelter before we found her at about 4 months.

She has gained further communication experience in our household showing foster dogs the ropes. I am a strong believer in socializing dogs and also in giving dogs a job if possible, and those 2 pieces, combined with my setting boundaries and giving her a lot of exercise, have helped Aster deal with life as a very intelligent working dog stuck  living in a house.

Aster also thrives on the opportunity to hang with the elements and just be a dog-running, jumping, swimming, mucking about, enjoying wild water and laying near the fire. climbing trees. sniffing poop. ah, yes, that’s the life.

So I present this series of photos of Aster communicating with foster dog Acorn, an intelligent 5-month old mixed-breed puppy who is living with us right now. He is a very fast learner and watch as he gets what he wants by communicating properly with Aster. I would not try this with 2 highly reactive dogs, but keep in mind that I have built a lot of trust with my primary dog and was on standby to intervene IF NECESARRY. Presented in order:

 

acorn!

Acorn has already finished his breakfast. He sees that Aster has not.

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Aster asks him what the heck he thinks he’s looking at.

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Aster stands between Acorn and her bowl of food, giving him “the look”.

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Aster goes back to eating, keeping one eye on Acorn. Acorn continues to look longingly at her.

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Acorn advances, submitting toAster. Aster accepts his puppy behavior.

 

Further dance of communication behaviors.
 

“But, Aster! Look at me! I’m wasting away! And hey-I am asking nicely, eh? eh?”

(He knows that she is open to this behavior.)

She checks him out again. Is he really asking politely? Is he really wasting away? (don’t worry, he is not.)

He is obviously doing something here that she likes and accepts.

 

Because here he is, eating from her bowl of food!

Aster is fine with it, she has made her decision.

Hey, kid, you can thank me someday when you are big and healthy and have a wonderful home of your own!

manuka honey ain’t all that

dear friends,

boy, honey sure has become trendy lately, eh? and it should–it is a miraculous substance. i am  a beekeeper, i keep 3 top bar  hives which are completely and utterly treatment free–not “organic”, beyond organic. and i love it. i use the propolis, the beeswax and some of their  honey for myself, my family and herbal clients.

hungry little honeybee

 

i use propolis to support the immune system, to promote healing, to soothe sore throats, to deal with mold exposure and some other nasal allergy issues, to banish nasty bad bacteria in wounds, to fix up tooth and gum issues. amongst other things.

apis something-or-other

i use honey to flavor elixirs, to support immune system, to address some seasonal allergies, on burns and some types of wounds, to soothe sore throats and other cold-and-flu related illness. amongst other things.

and beeswax is a main ingredient in the majority of the salves and balms that i make.

manuka, my buttocks.

however, i do not use or recommend manuka honey. i am not alleging that manuka honey is “bad”–more that it is promoted as a cure-all and as an “exotic” which is somehow better than what we ourselves can make. bullshit.  local raw honey contains the local pollen, supports small local beekeepers and doesn’t need to be shipped from new zealand. which, for me, is far. beware of marketing, my friends.

honeycomb, baby!

 

ultimately, i suggest  that all households keep their own treatment-free bees and watch them make their own honey, and use that when appropriate-though not as a substitute for actual medical care when needed.

swarm!

 

honeybees give more than just honey. they pollinate a large amount of our flowering plants. and they are fascinating. sometimes i like to stand near my hives and just feel the buzz that emanates, smell the warm resinous hivey smell, watch the ladies going from flower to flower on my ground-ivy-yarrow-prunella “lawn”. hands on, baby–it is part of the medicine!!! ordering a jar of WAY overpriced manuka honey from halfway around the world does not come close to sticking your nose into the top bar hive and inhaling…finding the queen…watching the colors of their legborne pollen change with the seasons….hanging out in the sun with a couple of snuggly drones…the honey dance…oh, and then there is the swarm–a force to behold.

plant things that bees like!

 

thoughts on a holistic approcah to fearful dogs

recently i picked up a new dog to foster. it was an urgent situation, the adopters claimed a 5-month-old collie/bully mix “hates men”, “hates kids” is unsocialized and is not trained. and the dog was indeed fearful, shaking like a quaking aspen and very confused. however, after a few days with a balanced older dog and a compassionate family, she is thriving. yes, thriving. luckily, at just 5 months the dog has not completely shut down yet, and it is easier to reach her.  but truly some principles can apply to dealing with all fear, in dogs, in people and –hell– even in chickens!

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the first and most important premise is, dogs do not hate. hate is a human emotion. dogs can have fear, and a certain person, energy, object or situation can TRIGGER their fear. they can respond to a visual trigger, a scent, a sound, or most importantly an energy. the trigger can set off a full-on  fear epsisode, or we can help them move through the fear and move on. it is good to know the dog’s triggers, but to not let those become OUR triggers. for example, i had a foster who was scared of bicycles. rather than avoid bicycles, i would spot them coming and take a deep breath, keep walking. if the dog tried to bark at them, i said NO. and keep walking. do not allow your fear of the dog’s reaction to a person, object, or place reinforce the dog’s state. balance the dog’s fear with your love and calm leadership. avoidance is not training.

apple hates men.

use tools. if you are walking a fearful dog on a flat collar, and the dog is triggered to fear, the dog can easily get loose. the fearful dog needs to be in a prong collar, a collar that tightens in some way, or a type of harness. the leash should be heavy, and not retractable. i use a locking carabiner if necessary. if you lose a fearful dog before forming a bond, you are screwed. the fearful dog could bite in the fear state, or get run over.

apple embraces a new experience

dogs love treats and petting. however, be sure to use these to reinforce the calm state, and DO NOT give dogs treats/affection when they are in a high state of fear. they do not need babytalk. they need YOU to remain calm and model the behavior for the dog. using a dog without fear issues is a huge help here. the balanced dog can model the desired behavior. treats can be used to reward the dog when they make progress and walk past their former triggers. some trainers do not use treats at all, but send loving beams of light or whatever at the dog when it is in the calm state. that works too, i use both.

apple hates kids

there is a place for unconditional love here. an underlying love and respect for all creatures really helps us get positive outcomes. you do not have to like all creatures of course, but a respect for their alive-ness. and the dog will do well with the idea that fear must be replaced by something else. that something else should be a feeling of stability and calm. nature abhors a vacuum.

apple and aster

ok, kids. yes, kids can be a major trigger for some dogs. is it hteir small size? their zany outfits? no. all kids should be taught how to approach dogs. yes, kids have run up to my dog, pulled her tail, stepped on her, tempted her with snacks, screamed at her. many kids, like many adults in this society, are unbalanced sugared-up out of touch freaks. people say their dog doesn’t like the chaos of kids running around screaming while repressing their own anger at the out-of-control scene. dogs can read us like a book. while there are dogs who truly should never be around kids, i would say that many just need the kids to relax. take that hyper behavior outside. or better yet, chuck the sugar and tv and teach kids how to meditate. i am not talking about natural exuberance, which is beautiful. but the wacko-repressed-blue-lake-high-fructose-cable-tv-bieber-fever-screamo-ritalin-freak show has no place in the life of a fearful dog.

puppy love

exercise. please! please! walk the dog. all dogs need exercise. puppies especially need exercise. fearful dogs need to burn off that nervous energy. take walks. play ball. make friends. socialize. give the dogs something to chew, a safe space to run, and watch the dog’s behavior improve. being cooped up in a crate or animal shelter all day is actually a cause of some anxiety–in dogs, yes but in people too. nothing improves my mood more than going outside. physical activity is vital to life. that may look different depending on your ability, but it has to happen to keep a dog well.

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finally, do not use the dog’s fear as an excuse to shower him with un-grounded affection. show boundaries and leadership to the dog on a practical and an energetic level. do not be afraid to say no. sre, the dog got dumped off in a shelter, or was mistreated, and you loooove him, but don’t be a wuss. combine the loving touch and energy with a strong presence that says “everything’s cool. i’ve got your back. i am in charge here.  fear is not an excuse to be an asshole. you still must follow the basic rules of the household. ”

lydia

ultimately it is you who will be leading the dog into a new emotional state. it can be a beautiful process. a puppy deos not come trained. it is easy to let the cuteness override the knowledge that it is a LOT of work, and a huge commitment to get a dog. millions of people are giving u dogs every year, and fear is one of the reasons why. think it through before you commit to a dog–and call in help if needed. find a great trainer, a dogbuddy or walker who has experience with this type of thing. only you can know your limits, and this is not for everyone. but saving dogs is possible, and important work to do. a better world is possible for us, our families and our animals.

little leader

**NOTE: this is my opinion, and ONLY my opinion. i am NOT a proffesional dog trainer or handler. please consult one if needed. this reflects my personal experience and nothing more. thanks for understanding that.**