We made it! We made it all the way through to the very end of the Mayan long-count calendar, and I’m hoping you are—like me—still here. In Camas, the winter solstice slipped in between raindrops and a slicker of cold. The last apples are still clinging to the tree outside my bedroom window, but they are pecked to pieces and look more like rounds of Swiss cheese than apples. All day, a small tribe of varied thrushes hops from apple to apple on ground and tree and gobbles up what remains of the sweet bounty. If anybody comes for the apple windfall at night, they come under the deep cover of cloud-drenched blackness, and I could not hope to see them. Amazing how such a pile of fallen fruit disappears so quickly, all of it put to good use. Also put to good use this year is an old heating pad and an empty cardboard box. These items now make a very nifty, thrifty heated bed for Darter, who is feeling her age—over twenty now—this winter.
Drifting between solstice and Christmas, I am feeling terribly befuddled. My brain—no longer sharp under the best of circumstances, seems to have blown yet more circuits. I can’t remember the day or the date, or juggle more than one very small thought at a time without feeling utterly overwhelmed. I feel as though I am underwater, or underground. Everything confuses me. Searching for answers to all this mental muddle, I wonder if the horrid energy of the shocking deaths on both coasts has grabbed ahold of me and thrown me hard against my own mental walls. And I read that there are many, many people who are shocked silly that the Mayan solstice passed and nothing happened. Many had planned for months—years—for this event, and it came and went quietly. Business as usual. Bury the dead, buy the gifts, plan for New Years and make your list of resolutions.
Yet I sense that it is not quite business as usual anymore. I want to believe I have sensed a shift, and that this shift is the reason for my mental static—but perhaps it’s just early dementia. Certainly living in these times would make anyone feel demented after enough years. Still, though, there have been these “visitations.” Only two, mind you, but it is something. It is something. The first was Hawk.
Camas is a small town, with small and friendly businesses, but if you want a hospital, a big box store, or an organic market, you need to drive just a few miles down an easy highway to Vancouver. I have been seeing hawks, now, all along that highway. They perch high on light poles and fences. They swoop across the highway in front of our car like they are leading a parade. They sit with their faces to me, every one of them. I notice these hawks because when I first came to Camas, I remember being surprised by the utter lack of birds of prey. They were nowhere to be seen. Then, suddenly, there they were. I never leave town now without seeing “my hawk,” as I’ve come to call them all.
Oh, yes, then there is also that hawk whom I rarely see, but hear nearly daily at the back of the property. Last week, I stepped outside just in time to see him dance in the air with another hawk. It was a stunning weightless ballet of touching wings and playful feet. It did not feel like any kind of a battle, but perhaps some sort of play or mating dance. Had I stepped outside just ten seconds later, I would have missed it all.
I’m never far from my Animal Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams and David Carson. I’ve been toting this book and the deck of cards around with me for about 20 years now, and I’ve read and reread the entry about Hawk—the messenger of the gods—many times.
Hawk tells me to look at my life, and look closely for a message there. “Life is sending you signals,” the book says, and I choose to believe it, especially now when I am needing a sense of grounding from outside myself. So I am looking closely at my days and nights, and it is hard to do because my doddering brain isn’t processing something as refined as spirit signals and signs very well right now. I hope Hawk will be patient with me.
Each morning, I step outside and throw tennis balls across the pasture for Mazel Tov. While he fetches, I toss out a small bucket of sunflower seeds for the gathering of birds that are showing up regularly now: juncos, sparrows, nuthatches and jays. Some days, the thrushes join them, and the squirrels visit, too. Together, they are a symphony of browns, siennas, buffs, and grays. I watch the birds jump and dash and scurry and if I let my eyes soften, I can imagine that it is the very ground coming to life and dancing about in front of my eyes. I remember, then, that it only takes a tiny shift in perception or consciousness to change everything. Is Hawk saying its not so much what I see but how I see it?
My granddaughter, Taylor, came to spend the night at our house a few days ago. She is three years old and transfixed by my tiny little Christmas tree and the small family of stuffed animals gathered around its base. These are very old Steiff toys from my childhood days that I still treasure now as I did many decades ago. As soon as Taylor charges into the house, she shouts to me, “Grandma Susan, can we sit with your animals and hold them and make them talk?” She loves to have me wrap them up in Christmas “ribbon dresses,” and hold pretend conversations on the floor by the tree. “Hi Squirrel,” Taylor speaks for the stuffed deer that looks like Bambi, “Hi!”
“Hi Bambi,” I answer, bouncing the small squirrel in my palm, “Oooh, you have such a beautiful dress on! Where did you get it?”
“Grandma Susan made it, Squirrel. Now we are ready to go out and dance!” And so we carry on, chattering as we crawl under the sewing machine where the animals nap in their secret cave covered by a towel. She never wants it to stop. Sometimes it strikes me, these conversations have more intimacy, intelligence, and delight than most of the conversations I hear between people these days. I call what I do with my granddaughter “play,” but play assumes that what is happening between us all pretend. Yet if I squint my eyes for a moment, I can almost BE that generous and adventuresome squirrel, and Taylor is most certainly a big-eyed, loving, spotted fawn.
I tell myself most days that I am getting very old and very forgetful very fast, but what if all of the sharp-witted braininess of my younger self is being gently whittled away so that I can more easily slip between the veil that separates this world from spirit world? Maybe I am becoming a squirrel, and maybe the ground outside is beginning to do a jig? Maybe I’m being made more round around my edges to prepare my heart and soul for deeper magic. I’m listening as hard and as softly as I can, Hawk.
On solstice night, I did such a tiny ceremony. Nothing elaborate. Almost embarrassingly small, in fact, for a night carrying the dark weight of so many expectations. I lit a candle in my window, and I whispered, “Here is some light for the darkness.” And then I went to bed. That night, I dreamed of a large snake rising up in front of me like a cobra. I knew, though, that it was no cobra but a copperhead from my Indiana days. In my dream, I remembered that copperheads can be aggressive. In my dream, I told myself that they would even chase people sometimes. And so my dream copperhead did just that: He chased me and bit me on the leg before slithering away back into a mound of brown leaves. I stood there watching the blood run down my calf and said to myself, Now what? And then the dream was over and dawn was spilling its pearl light beyond the apple tree.
I forgot the dream the moment I woke up, recalling it only hours later. This is what the Medicine Card book has to say about Snake: “…[snake] is the knowledge that…those things that might be experienced as poison can be eaten, ingested, integrated, and transmuted if one has the proper state of mind…This is heavy magic, but remember that magic is no more than a change in consciousness…”
Tomorrow begins the miracle of Christmas. And a few days after that, the miracle of New Year—a chance to start fresh, and to start seeing with different eyes. I am hoping that all of humankind might have a Squirrel or a Bambi moment this year. All it takes is a shift in perception.