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.

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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!