Over the solstice, Carter’s daughter, Jessica, married a wonderful young man, David, in an informal, sweet ceremony. Southern California is about as different as it gets from my little town in Washington. I had forgotten what real traffic looked like. And wall-to-wall buildings and houses that go on forever. I was surprised to see an empty lot there, a bit of weedy wild amongst all the pavement and tamed plants.
In the course of six days there, Nature granted me two miraculous moments, unseen by anyone else in my company. The first was a hawk that catapulted down right next to our car as we were stopped at a red light. Its target was a large pigeon, who exploded in a mass of feathers as he was struck and knocked over. The whole thing happened so fast I only had a chance to blurt out “Did you see….?” before the hawk noticed the traffic and lurched back into the sky on muscle and wing. The pigeon leapt to its feet, fluffed itself, and flew off in the other direction. Lucky pigeon, I said to myself. Lucky, lucky pigeon.
The other wonder occurred at my step-daughter’s wedding reception. The affair was held in the tree-covered yard of Jessica’s grandparents, and a DJ was doing his best with music and colored blinking lights to get us all onto the dance patio. In the tree canopy above, the DJ never noticed the mockingbird on a branch just over his head glistening in the purple lights, bobbing and singing along with the music. But I did, and I drank up that vision like an elixir.
Our first two nights here, we stayed with an old friend of Carter’s. In a corner of his large house, I was stunned to come upon a beautiful wolf pelt stashed on a high shelf. It was unexpected and incongruous in that setting, and I told Carter’s friend, “This is very powerful medicine.” He nodded. Later in our stay, his brother, a photographer, wanted to take our photo with the wolf, and we complied. I was disoriented by it all—the wolf, the L.A. hills, the medicine spirit in such an odd place.
My friend, Jamie Reaser, writes nature poetry that is beautiful and deep. Her poetry blog is here, and I encourage you to go their often, or friend her—she posts new poems often, each one a spiritual meditation. She tackles the light and the dark of our relationship with the wild, and one of her poems that has alway stayed with me has been brought in sharp relief during this time here L.A. She writes:
…”This question is what you left me with.
This question: What is human medicine to a bear?
This question that has stilled me in the dark silence of mySelf,
Seeking the wisdom of thoughts
I’ve never before known.
Since reading these words, I’ve never been able to shake that notion: What kind of medicine do animals see when they look at us? Combined, we are bad medicine for Earth and every living thing, save rats and roaches, who probably celebrate us with feasting and jubilation. But many creatures—from orchids to auks—have stood by grief-stricken as our medicine annihilated them.
I think of the concept of Medicine as being the entirety of the body, soul, and mystery of a creature. There is a certain visible Medicine that a creature physically embodies. A certain grace, bearing, skill, and perfection. Then, there is the symbology or mythology of a being that transcends its physicality. And then there is the deeper aspect of the mystery of a being that invites us into reflection and contemplation. These three aspects combine, in my mind, to create the Medicine Power of an animal.
I can’t get far enough away to get an honest view of humankind’s Medicine. What are we in symbol and myth? What virtues or evils do we embody? What kind of grace or bumbling treachery is in our gait, and what sort of perfection or wounds do we carry in our physicality? Do we walk in Beauty, as the Navajo speak that term? Are we perceived as beings of light or dark by our other-than-human relatives? What power do we bring, and I don’t mean corporate power.
I think too much of our quest for spirituality is self-centered, as we strive to purify from the inside out: Have we become still enough, centered enough, peaceful enough? I think I’m becoming more interested in how we are reflected to the world around us. Do we radiate good Medicine in this world? Can I remain a bit broken and battered and self-conscious and jealous and cranky, but still pour out something good into this world? Can we be good-enough Medicine?
I ask myself now, “Am I good Medicine this day?” Am I good Medicine to the hawk circling my house, to the raccoon who sees me peering at him from my back porch window? Am I good Medicine to the slugs I pick out of my tomato beds and feed to Ruby, the bullfrog? I want to be good Medicine, wise and gentle Medicine, powerful Medicine, like the wolf and the owl and the butterfly and the bee. I want to be a good relative on this Earth. I want to earn my right to be here, because I think living on Earth is a gift that ought to be earned. I do not want to be a waste of skin and space on this precious planet. Granted, God and Jesus love me no matter what, but I want to be worth the Earth’s love, even more.
Each morning—well, okay, most mornings—I say prayer as part of my meditation, repeating it over and over. It goes like this:
May you be blessed
May you be restored to your original
Health, vitality, and beauty.
May you dwell in balance and harmony
With your sacred surroundings
Bringing your light to all you touch.
May you be joyful and
Free from suffering and impurity.
May you live!
I say this prayer for each and all of you, and for every living thing, every element, and for the angels, the helping spirits, and the ancestors. I say it for Stone and Fire and the Seven Sacred Directions. I’ve added a line to this prayer recently. I pray, to my human friends and relations, “May you be good Medicine in this World.” I pray, to my other-than-human relations, “Thank you for being such good and beautiful Medicine in this World.” May this be so. May it all be so.