Five weeks ago my brother in law passed unexpectedly, leaving me and our extended families raw. Everyone who’s experienced such loss can relate to the strange space you’re dropped into during such a time. Maybe after one’s heart has been broken open our awareness is heightened a bit. Or maybe we feel more acutely and can attune to more refined sensations of other beings that we normally ignore...
It’s hard not to wonder if somehow, in concert with the stretching of our emotional capacity during grief, other capacities expand, as if our invisible antennae pick up (and send out) a more subtle radar. Just as I have felt a bit more fragile in my interactions with humans, I also catch myself noticing subtle things among non-human beings. The industry of spiders, the blossoming and fading of flowers, the conversations among the crows, the hawks “singing”…
There was the deer that approached my porch late at night as I wrote Scott’s obituary. Even as I wiped my tears, rose and walked down two flights of steps onto the sidewalk, it stood looking, as if unsure whether to bound away—like it had sensed me sobbing and was checking on me. It didn’t want to leave.
There are the bats that follow me as I float — yes gobbling bugs but something about their flight patterns and willingness to veer so close to me makes me smile.
And the wrens that flit onto the porch rails in the evening, chattering away, glancing at me in between their rapid-fire gossip, as if to say “are you listening?” then departing.
I planted a potted tree on my return from the funeral services intentionally reflecting on my brother in law as I did, and sure enough in digging the hole uncovered two worm snakes. Last week on the job a black snake was keeping cool under some of my house painting equipment and if not for my redirection, would have continued slithering right up my ladder.
On an inner tube float following heavy rains, as I approached some falls I noticed a stick was swiftly passing before me in the murky water— but strangely it was moving cross-current?! I then realized it was a snake (garter or water snake I’m not sure) headed to the opposite bank. That same excursion I happened upon a great grandpa of a snapping turtle. I see it about once a year, with its enormous shell as big as two flattened basketballs. It lay unmoving (except for its eye watching me) merging perfectly with the boulder on which it was warming.
Yesterday, again looking to settle my heart after work, as dusk was approaching I went for a float. I passed a quartet of happy friends singing a cappella under the bridge where I put in. Their joyful harmonies rang in my ears as I hurried past hoping to beat the coming dark. Their voices echoing in the concrete arches made me pause intentionally for just a second before popping my tube in the river at the water’s edge. As I took a breath and gazed at the river, another leg-less critter swam up from the shallows just in front of me! I snapped some pix and watched it move along up the bank.
While in the water floating, I came upon three types of herons (Yellow-crowned Night Heron; Great Blue; and Green). The night heron just watched me approach — literally hand paddling toward it, I came within ten feet. Further along I was lost in thought and almost floated right past the great blue, which, most unusually, never took flight. And lastly, a normally very shy green heron stood its ground on a bank while I spun nonchalantly past.
Does all this have any significance? IDK. Does anything in our lives have “significance”? It’s all part of the story we tell ourselves, so it seems to me, sure — as much significance as we choose to assign to each experience. It’s my impression there are vast worlds of communication happening among other species (and between species). Other cultures have long recognized this — ours is just barely beginning to accept there’s a constant dialogue. Similarly we’re finally acknowledging “communication” among the plant and fungi realms. So it seems to me as valid to claim our interactions with other beings are laden with meaning as to say they are random occurrences. Why not tell tales that reinforce our connection to other life forms? What if our belief in separateness is really the “fictional story” obscuring a more true view.
I DO know that I dearly miss and am working to come to terms with the loss of my good friend Scott. He loved the natural world: caring for it, being immersed within it, and interacting with animals in particular (incidentally, he used to volunteer at the Indy Zoo in the reptile and snake center). So for me, of late, I’m perfectly happy to accept all these encounters as sweet vital affirmations: nonverbal meet-ups, connections with supportive non-human friends checking in on me, implying I (we all) also ought to pay more attention to them, since while we are here, we’re so very much all in this together.