The terms anthropomorphizing and anthropocentric are the dirty words for the natural historian. They are important concepts to understand and to steer away from, especially when it comes to non-human others. However, for the ecospiritualist, the fear of being mocked for attributing too many “human” attributes to an animal serves to silence those voices that are needed in our collective healing from the Cartesian world view. (Woah, three sentences and I just dumped a bunch of big words on you). To put it more simply, 20th century science drew a divide between human and animal, with favor on human exceptionalism. Let’s not forget that we are the pinnacle of evolution is an underlying message in much of the natural sciences, and I think it is this concept that makes folks push their spiritual connection to nature under the radar of skeptical eyes.
Well, let me offer an antidote. In this guest post from Heather, the finesse of tracking one’s psyche as it entwines with the surrounding wilderness is beautifully illustrated. Witnessing our inter-relatedness with nature is not the same as anthropomorphizing. I think the most egregious anthropomorphizing happens when we attribute experience to a Being without understanding their language. And by language, I mean their life cycle, the movements of their body, habitat preferences, etc. The plot line of this story is like watching a dance, a dance between self, animal and the wild. We understand the experience of all players because of the resonance of the moment. Heather holds her own heart with tenderness and allows this to open her to the movements of Life on Earth, and to all beings…including a very special Other. It is clear from the way that Heather tells her story, that what she sees reflected in her encounter is springing from her own process and not from an anthropomorphizing misunderstanding.
If you’ve never visited Heather at Moonshine Junkyard, I encourage you to do so. Go ahead and click on over…this post will be here when you get back. Spend a while with her. Explore her world and just try to not feel a little giddy and exuberant by the time you’re done. I have learned a lot from Heather…the goodness of embracing the wild, passionate self. The deep joy to be found in familial roots. Just how to “suck the marrow out of life“. A noticeable trait amongst all my blog sisters is this ability to reflect generously the beauty we see in each other. Heather is a master at this, and her heartfelt and authentic words often move me to tears.
Heather, I totally just stole this off your blog! I hope you don’t mind…you are so radiant and I want everyone to see it!
In my life, I’ve had so many encounters with animals, both wild and domestic, both surreal and ordinary, that I can hardly begin to describe their effects on my life, they are so omnipresent. Just today on a nap-drive with Lucy I saw pigs, squirrels, deer, cows, goats, a redwing blackbird, a woodpecker. Just the other night, we hit and killed a skunk crossing the road and it had a profound and shuddering effect on my soul. Went back to move him and pay respects the next day and that skunk’s beautiful and haunting face and poise will remain in my memory forever. I have a profound respect for all life, and I believe that our relationships with non human animals provide a place of connection so powerful and vivid that it is unparalleled in human experience. Children inherently know this. I recently read that in children under the age of five, 80% of their dreams are of animals. They are our most primal and primitive brothers and sisters, so much more than reflections of ourselves; they lead lives complicated by great and mysterious universal secrets with which we are occasionally lucky enough to come into contact. I have so many stories I could share, experiences I’ve had with animals that have moved me and tangled or smoothed the very fabric of my life. For now, in my mothering time, I reflect back on an encounter I had six years ago, the summer of 2007, on a night hike up Mount Timpanogos with my three brothers, Matt, Mikie, and Joey and my sister-in-law, Amy.
It was quite the adventure: we started out around midnight and hiked through the dark to the summit 11,749 feet in the sky, in time to watch the sunrise, a 15 miles round trip. This included the crossing of a gravelly saddle not far from the summit followed by a steep switch-backing incline. I thought I was going to die! Amy and my three brothers are all in excellent shape and hiked like, well, mountain goats.
Toward the end, my brother Mikie stayed by my side and coached me up that difficult terrain at 11,000 feet, telling me to concentrate on one foot at a time, each step at a time, free my mind from anything else, and just move forward. My legs were burning, my lungs were burning, the sky was lightening. I pressed forward. As we moved through the night, all five of us, after a rollicking verbal game of truth and innumerable hilarious, embarrassing and vulnerable stories, we also heard the constant quiet stirrings in the night around us of animal life. I experienced some moments of fear, I will admit, hiking in the pitch dark with no real knowledge of the terrain or the wildlife of the area. Mountain lions? Bears? What was I hearing sniffing and moving across those rocks so close to us in the dark? Who dwelt and ate and hunted and roamed here? Mostly I found that I trusted my family around me and the strangely comforting sense of night and closeness of the wild. I was part of it all, and as we climbed, my heart soared.
A couple words of context: Darin and I had gotten married just two months before, and we had also been trying to conceive a child for about a year already. I have always been very family oriented, and am incredibly close to my siblings, including my sister who was not with us in Utah but whose songs I was listening to on the headphones as I ascended the summit and tears fell down my helpless face. I was thinking about becoming a mother, about my own mother (who was home babysitting Matt and Amy’s kids that night) and Amy, the most adventurous, playful, energetic and loving mother to her own three little ones. I was thinking about my brothers, in their strength and laughter and heartbreaking kindnesses, how lucky I am to know them. I was thinking about love, and the mountain, and the energy and spirit that curls its way through those old rocks and snowfields. The breath of those night animals so near us in the night. Of death and the vacancies of energy it leaves behind, the way that light must live on, the way the light was opening up all around me. I wept as I climbed those last few ascending steps alone and joined my siblings in their jubilant arrival at the tiny old stargazing shack at the top. The valley so far below us shone with sunlight and stirring life.
And in the wakening light, we could finally see who had been stepping and foraging so lightly and naturally over the alpine landscape around us. Mountain goats. One in particular so close we could almost reach out and touch her, with the sweetest peaceful gaze of a wise mother. A mother who has raised her babes to climb mountains, to seek the treasures of the alpine rocks and ice, to stay close to her herd. I felt incredibly close to this being as we gazed at each other. She was even comfortable with my camera. I will never forget her face and the peace she brought my wild heart at dawn.
Now, six and a half years later, finally a mother myself and in absolute awe at the natural processes of life creation and parenting, I think back on that mountain goat and her family up there on the mountain and I am grateful to have met them. When you cross paths in such a way, whether with a human being in a faraway city or a non human animal on a mountain, you never forget how it moved you. How grateful I am to share the planet with such creatures, how connected we all feel, and how I hope that my daughters can have relationships with the wild world around them and know that generous and euphoric sense of kinship with all life.