Moseying: Exploring the Natural World
Council of animals on the Llano Estacado
April 13, 2005
Imagine a campfire, if you will, burning brightly. A small fire, with just the right amount of heat and light, easily prodded with a stick to rearrange and strengthen every few minutes with just one branch two feet long. A companionable fire, you might say, perfect for a gathering of friends.
And there are companions at the fire little Kangaroo Rat, nibbling constantly, her nose twitching, long tail switching and twitching to the rhythm of the conversation. Right outside of the firelight, his back to the fire is old Horned Owl, his upright ear feathers alert.
It is a jolly gathering, with droll little Uncle Ground Owl, wry Roadrunner, and cynical big brother Raven. At the edge of the firelight, mother Spider quietly tends her knitting and the beautiful Mountain Lion curls her tail around her nose, a secret smile on her lips. Little sister Butterfly slowly flutters her wings, their iridescence shimmering. And of course, Coyote was there, too, joking and clowning. Big sister Swallow tends some fluttering young ones, the babies soft chittering is a soft domestic murmur. Poorwill sleeps soundly, nestled in her soft quilt of feathers. Mockingbird provides musical interludes.
The campfire is where culture has been created, maintained, and celebrated for centuries that stretch back to the dawn of mankind. Rural cultures around the world have created such Council of the Animals. Anansi the spider stories from Africa, Coyote stories in the American Southwest, Raven stories from Siberia, Brer Rabbit of the American South, Reynard the Fox stories from Europe the list is exhaustive. Stories featuring animals with iconic personalities taught human young the social and ethical mores of every society. Such stories are rooted in the landscape, filled with the animals of one ecosystem, familiar to all that live there.
I love the genre, and I recently got to imagining what such a Council of the Animals would be like on the Llano Estacado. It is fun to make up such stories! Daytripping about, I have the chance to see all the animals of this story, and by watching, I can learn from their habits ways to describe their quirks of personality.
Iconography, or symbology, is a way to conceptualize a sense of place, a way to become more connected to la tierra, the earth. Mountain Lion spoke gravely. Her grace and dignity added substance to her words. Some of us, like Packrat and Canyon Wren collect items for their homes.
Perky Canyon Wren hopped up on Mountain Lions shoulder. At my nest, I have a down feather, to represent all of us birds. I have a porcupine quill as well, to represent hair, and therefore all mammals. My nest is decorated with sprigs of sage, to symbolize the medicine found in plants. To indicate how plants give food, I have several acorns. There is a snakeskin there, too, to give honor to the ectothermic vertebrates. Canyon Wrens voice was like his song, bubbly and melodically descending during each sentence.
Nestled among the pebbles of the patio around my nest is the claw of a vinegaroon, acknowledging the small hardshelled boneless ones. Also present are the large red seeds of the mountain laurel to represent the future, because it often takes a decade or more for their seeds to germinate. One of the pebbles of the patio is a fossilized snail shell, giving remembrance to the past. Another is quartz, in honor of the sun. I also have a manuport, a rock from far away, to represent the people who brought it here. It is obsidian, so it also symbolizes the night, dreams, and the subconscious. Finished with his recitation, the Wren hopped up and inspected each of Mountain Lions ears. Wrens are dutiful quality control officers of the wild.
Another way to create deeper connections with ones home bioregion is to create plays that celebrate various seasons. For example, think of Spring, as the world greens-up with unfurling leaves, and dresses in every color of flower. Mountain Lion inhaled deeply for several seconds, and as the sweet smell of the Chocolate Daisies, Phlox, and Creek Plum permeated her lungs, she smiled blissfully, her eyelids lowering. Spider, you sit on your web, and let the world come to you. How would you create such a celebration?
It would begin with Badger. Gruff, myopic, growling old Badger would enter the scene, grumpily mumbling to himself. Im sorry, Badger, but you would be a comedic character unaware of your role. Badger pulled his lips back, his teeth revealed in a fatuous indignant grimace. The first butterfly of the year, the Mourning Cloak, all sable and gold, would come flitting by Badger. He would get mad, and start growling and biting and slapping at her, and she would keep flitting out of reach. He would do some awkward physical pratfalls.
The little Ground Owl pontificated a bit. I like that death, or the cold of winter, would be symbolized by Badger, in juxtaposition to Butterfly, who is life and warmth. Its got potential, Id say.
What would the music be? Mockingbird cocked his head. Do we do the obvious, a deep sonorous bass line, teased by a high soprano? A didgerido for Badger, and steel calypso pans for butterfly?
Hold it! Those are not instruments of the people of this bioregion. Raven shook his head.
Mockingbird began pacing, flicking his wings, their white patches flashing. But the music is the unifying thread between a celebration of this place and a similar celebration in the next bioregion over the rock and juniper hills, and all other bioregions. Music is what binds humans together it is one of the most marvelous things about humans. It is an expression of their souls.. No, no, the music should draw on all the traditions of the world!
For a minute, everybody in the gathering talked at once, giving his or her opinions. Spider refocused the group with a question. How should the celebration be staged?
I like the idea of the audience as being in a circle. The characters come out of the audience, and then return, to be part of the whole. After the introductory act of Badger and Butterfly, the next act should be a dance by everyone, a joyous dance with leaps and hops and lots of twirling. And after it ends, I believe it should be a solo song by the artist that brings Spring to life let us have Cassins Sparrow sing his ethereal lilt for a few minutes, with everybody else standing quietly. When everybody has regained their breath from dancing, let all the males of every species sing, and be answered by the females. Old Horned Owl had fluffed out his feathers, and tilted his head back and was peering at everyone down his beak. All of the others recognized his authority and nodded.
The Council of Animals continued to plan their spring celebration for hours. Celebrations are done when they are needed not every year at the same time. And celebrations are for the moment, not tradition bound fossils of the past. Celebrations are expressions of gratitude for all the glories of being alive, and all the beauty given to us and that surrounds us. (And this has been a Spring of such great glory that it deserves Celebration!)