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A Lesson from the Animals

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A Lesson from the Animals

A doe with twins and the reminder of gentleness, photo by Ernie Hawks

A doe and her twins cautiously step out of the safety of the dense forest. Fresh moist shoots of brush and new stalks on the low growing grass in the clearing are inviting delicacies after a long winter.

Knowing the danger of not having a stand for cover, she is wary, and looks vigilantly to her right. In her periphery a cougar leaps from the shadows. The mother makes a swift turn to escape; her twins, white tails erect, shining an alarm, scatter into the shadows just as the cat grabs at the doe’s back. The deer’s speed and the low branches of fir trees in the dimness of thick woods and brush keep the big cat from getting a grasp of more than superficial flesh and the Mountain lion is scraped to the ground. The doe continues its dash, running under branches and cutting sharply around undergrowth. The cougar has only a short sprint in the nearly impenetrable vegetation before it tires.

I sit quietly on my porch listening into the silence that so often fills our woods. It’s one of those early spring days when industry seems to be everywhere—except in me. I watch the swallows winging about, bringing nesting material into a nearby box on a tree. Two juncos have discovered the remains from the last brushing of the dog and excitedly gather it for a nest. The light of a fresh new day is making its way through the nearly impenetrable timber that surrounds the opening where we have our home.

Hooves pounding on the earth, branches breaking and wood snapping, brush whipping and slapping, an animal breaks the silence with panic. My senses—sound, sight, and smell—come to complete attention as the aural discord of the morning approaches.

Near the edge of our meadow the doe appears, breathless, adrenaline pumping. Still wild eyed, she stops; I have a filtered view of her through trees and leafless bushes, as she looks around, keeping in the protection until she feels the safety of our place. With binoculars, I watch the terror fade as she surveys the opening, a familiar spot where she and the twins often drink from the wooden barrel and bed down under the trees.

I recognize her by a small mark on her face when she steps into the clearing, giving room to reach around and clean the fresh wound on her back.

Deep, but not mortal; she takes care of it. I know the cleaning will avoid infection and help eliminate odor that would expose her vulnerability; she simply knows to tend to it.

It appeared she knew Spirit would let her offspring know where she had stopped and shortly, one bounced onto the work road to the west. The other came down a trail and moved in and out of view through the brush until it could start nursing.

The scene of the attack I imagined based on the shape and location of the wound, the panic and the need to rush through an extremely dense stand - are all consistent with a cougar encounter.

Native Americans believe each animal species has its own medicine. This is not medicine as we traditionally define it, not a product that will heal or cover symptoms, but a life enhancement to help us understand the great mystery. Deer medicine is gentleness.    

As I watch life in the wild, I struggle to be the observer without human emotion and judgment, taking away the story, leaving only the now. Even so, I have watched this animal for years; I first saw those twins when they stood on shaky legs, I felt her fear and the fear of the babies, worried that the injury might become infected, even held anger for the cougar; put my judgment on it.

Watching her I’m reminded deer medicine is gentleness.

A slight breeze causes the bamboo wind chime on the corner of the porch to start its clink-clinking, music.  Obsidian crystals hanging from the roof start to chinkel. There is a call to connect with Earth while pondering the lesson of Deer. I look at her and ask, “Teach me your lesson.”

Wanting to leave but not disturb the doe and fawns, I take a path in the opposite direction; Nikki, our dog, follows and we enter the forest. The breeze picks up a bit and sings a song of peace in the crowns of the trees.  I’m listening but not really at peace; there is a haunting concern about the deer, fear she may not be able to protect herself and the babies, and there is that anger for the cougar flowing in me.

Finally, sitting cross-legged under a large Ponderosa, Nikki stretches out in a Hemlock’s shade; I begin to calm my thoughts.

The leaves are budding on the ocean spray bush; the blossoms that give it its name will be appearing soon. The odor of last year’s leaves and needles composting on the forest floor is all around. The tang of animals shedding their winter coats helps me center. Smells from aged stumps and logs torn open in the search of a meal, grounds me.  

Asking for understanding I hear the gentle wind rustle the tops of the trees and experience the energy of the earth, it helps slow my conflicted mind.

I listen to the flow of the wind interrupted by the branches; I feel the power of the earth under me as I ask Great Spirit, “What is my lesson?”  

Since Cougar came into my mind it is as present to me as the deer. I know in my heart not to be angry. Cougar medicine is leadership; the ability to focus, hold an intention, to act at just the right time, the ability to look quickly at other options and to be flexible enough to change course with confidence. The lion of our woods is about balance; I admire all its characteristics and strive to practice them. The big cat is not a terrorist, but part of a greater design that can’t be faulted.

I hear “look, observe without judgment, be only present.”

Spirit speaks again into my consciousness, “The lesson is not about the lives of the animals involved, or their conflicts. The fear and anger are my story.” The story of the encounter is not Deer’s story. She has told me her story; a mother with twins and a wound, that’s it- the whole story.

How would I react if I had been hit like that? I’m afraid I would be boring anyone who would listen to the drama as often as I could.

Or, could I be Cougar and change my focus; not relive the story? Could I be Deer, caring for myself by being vigilant with my thoughts in each moment, allowing me to be present, my fullest expression of my God self?

As an old snag moans while it rubs against a large tamarack I hear “Am I boring people with wounds that are deep inside, hurts, gossips, ridicules and judgments about others which are, in truth, about me?”

I struggle to focus on my story, to see the wounds I am carrying.

Now it is late summer around our piece of the woods, the kind of day we like to call “another brutal day in paradise.”  The grass is starting to dry and the blossoms of spring have turned into fruit. The twins are much bigger and in a few weeks their dappled, fawn coloring will give way to a brown-gray winter coat. The wound closed on Deer’s back and fur is starting to fill in where the flesh was once torn.  She now steps away as the youngsters reach for a teat, gently forcing them to browse on the fruits of the forest, to find the wealth around them on their own.

With Nikki stretched beside me, I am cross-legged under the Ponderosa observing the early autumn woods. Once again Cougar appears in my consciousness, a reminder to be aware of the course I’m on. Is it still serving me or am I charging in the wrong direction? I see Deer in my mind as she browses to sustain strength for life, hers and her twins, her only work.  I thank them both for the lessons and for the reminder of the value of presence.

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

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