Saturday, 30 January 2016

in the company of prey

 All my life I have spent time with animals: dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, lovebirds, budgies, chickens, ducks, lizards, frogs, fish. But I have never really been in the position to spend time as I do now, and it has been so rewarding. With pets we take on the responsibility of feeding, cleaning, caring. We do chores around them, we pet them, we interact with them. We are predators making predatory gestures and actions in their environment. While we are not being aggressive, we are in authority and controling the lives of our animals. And the animals I have spent most time with have been dogs and cats: other predators. 

Predators have a gloriously relaxed relaxation: we lounge, we are lazy (with full bellies), we snooze. If something catches our attention we spring into predator style behaviours: we confront, we appear aggressive or at least appear strong and confident. When the moment passes we relax back into our unconcious selves.

Not so prey. I've taken to sitting on the steps by the chicken run while the chooks free range - they don't go far staying within about 40 feet of the run in all directions. So I can see them and them me. We like each other and chooks will come by for some lap time or just to sit beside me on a step. The run sits in an orchard with several varieties of fruit trees around and normally something is in season, so there is fruit on the ground. We have a good population of agoutis and so an agouti or two will arrive to eat the fallen fruit. Agoutis sit on their haunches to eat, holding the fruit with their front paws like squirrels. They come close to within about 15 feet of me. There are wild birds that come close too. (Sometimes I feel like Snow White in the Disney version sitting with all the forest animals - if only I could sing . . .   )

It was sitting like this one day when I realized how very different it felt. Everyone was relaxed, eating or haven eaten, but the relaxation was full of presence. Not fear, not anxiety, but presence. If a branch fell or a bird higher in the trees dropped some fruit or a vulture passed overhead - everyone noted and reacted, but no one squawked or bolted. There was an instant of awareness and a split second of decision then they went back to resting or relaxing. It was never lazy, or confident or indulgent. It was acute awareness within calmness. And it was really wonderful. It was like those moments in meditation that meditators get really excited about. (Of course not really because then it wouldn't be meditation :) ) Except it wasn't just a moment. 

We have a couple of hawks with regular perches close by: the chickens are all too big I think, but the smallest silkie is just a little smaller than the hawk and bright white. The hawks are really vocal and call back and forth to each other, so there's no secret to their whereabouts. One day someone gave a warning cry and the smallest white silkie - Madame Twankey - took off straight into the long grass and crouched down. She was the only one to do so. It was a false alarm and everyone returned to their business, though Madame Twankey had to be called back out of her hiding spot. Was the alarm call addressed to her, or does she actually really know she's the only one in possible danger (her attitude in the coop seems to indicate she thinks she's just as big as the rest)? 

More sitting on the steps, I mean study, needed.

Tuesday, 26 January 2016


I like to talk with trees. It's not necessarily a verbal communication, though quite often conversations do begin with an uttered word or sound, it's more of a moment of shared consciousness. Some trees catch my attention, others are regular conversationalists, right now the nispero, the largest tree on the farm, is dropping fruit. It's a beautiful thing to see a tree in fruit; primal; abundant: there will be . . . 

And the forest celebrates: great lolloping morpho butterflies arc and stagger through the air; green and brown butterflies lazily open and close their wings as though doing so helped pump the juice into their bodies; bees and wasps collide and collude on heaps of the salmon brown fruit; clouds of fruit flies rise as I walk through: ants order, dissect, remove; black beetles dive below sticky peels. The insects are the most obvious, but wait a moment, stand still (if you can bear those clouds of fruit flies); there's a dozen lizards, frogs, spiders here to feed on the feasters. Birds perch on branches looking sharp and full on the banquet below. Squirrels and agoutis dash in and out, gorging between.  Look more closely and another layer will appear: grubs, larvae, maggots move through the pulp, stirring it up, breaking it down, spreading it out. Tonight raccoons, skunks, armadillos, rats and martillos will snuffle through enjoying sweet and meat together. Bats and moths will step in to butterflies' footsteps. Tomorrow a new world will arrive - molds, yeasts, fungi, bacteria feeding off the sugars and the debris. These new folk will bring a different wave of insects and worms. Gently the leftovers - sugars, acids, exoskeletons, poop and pee will enter the earth and the nispero and all her neighbors will inch rootlets and mycelium forward into the nutrient stew. 

And there she is in the center of the feast, the hostess. How could one not appreciate her generosity? A simple thanks is not enough. Awe and wonder and sheer delight in the magical coherence of nature, the exuberance of communal forest life. I feel nurtured. I honor and appreciate. And she answers, as almost always the trees do, 

"that's ok, it's all ok".

Sometimes I worry if a tree limb cracks in a storm, that thought stopping noise which raises the shoulders and the pulse. The tear looks always ragged and sore, the heartwood exposed so pale in contrast. I have felt pain and sorrow, offered my condolences. 

"That's ok, it's all ok" 

and always comes new growth, opportunity, change. The opened space becomes a hive of activity with sun and air bringing different species of plant and insect, creating a new and dynamic micro-environment. Seeds sprout, tendrils reach, leaves unfurl. A spider casts her web across the open space and lizards bask in the dappled glow beneath. Meanwhile the fallen limb becomes home then food for others, before finally turning back into rich dark soil. The forest gains. 

Wise teachers, trees.