Wildlife Wednesday: September 2015


I was at a Greenpeace workshop where the ice breaker was: What is your spirit animal?

One guy said: “An elephant, for sure.”

And I laughingly thought: “That’s an animal few women would claim. Gray. Wrinkles. Large in size. A circus slave.”

Of course, a lot of people can put aside their personal vanity and connect to creatures like elephants for all the right reasons. And the world needs all kinds of people; I bet someone out there quite reasonably thinks dung beetles are mighty fine beasts. I kept my amusement to myself though. Unlike him I did not have a ready answer so I didn’t want to draw any attention.

In fact, I probably stopped breathing as I sank into that YOU ARE NOT PREPARED nightmare most of us have from time to time. I considered lying — grabbing hold of the name of any handy animal or choosing something ridiculous. I even looked to the shelf above for inspiration where irony of ironies I saw a dusty Ganesha statue looking down at me.

Do you have a spirit animal? An animal that inspires you or one that reminds you of some key aspect of your personality? Is it ok to objectify creatures in this way? Do we make animals more human and less themselves when we do this kind of thing?

These questions kept circling around my head all night long. The next day they continued to whisper. Since I had some business to take care of downtown I decided to take them for a walk through the Capitol grounds and then down to Lady Bird Lake.

In order of appearance I saw four blue jays in a tree, a momma mockingbird feeding her demanding baby and a beat up tail-less grackle fearlessly foraging. And while I do yearn for freedom, appreciate the difficulties of being an attentive mom and feel like I am a survivor I knew these answers weren’t quite right.

At the lake I stopped to watch a green heron. It stood on an old pallet that might have washed down into the water during the spring flood. Every so often I could see ripples where tiny fish (presumably) kissed the surface of the perfectly still water. That such a light touch could sometimes cause a ripple strong enough to extend all the way to the furthest shore was a wonder. But the green heron did not share my wonder; it seemed completely disinterested in those fish.

A healthier grackle than the one I saw earlier also watched the green heron from a tree. Every so often it would swoop down to bully a group of mourning doves but mostly it kept that heron in view. Maybe it was hoping the heron would catch a fish it could snatch. A nice silver mouthful of protein would probably taste better than the seeds the doves were scrounging up in the dried up grasses.

Eventually the green heron disappointed both the grackle and myself as it left the pallet without even trying to get a fish. Ever so slowly it placed first one foot then the other into the water. And here’s the miracle — it didn’t make a single ripple. Through muck. Through pebbles. No ripple. It walked the shore line without one single error.

And in that moment as the heron’s foot pierced the water I could see myself reflected in that heron. No, I certainly cannot walk on water. On the contrary. The message was far more humbling than that.

I had this clear vision of myself as a kind of ghost gliding through life without leaving even a ripple behind. And the edges of that mirror shard offered both a rebuke and a glint of hope. Do I have the wisdom to know when to stir up the muck? Do I know when or even how to have a delicate touch? Is there still time to pass through life with some grace? Could I aspire (dare?) to leave no trace at all behind?

I don’t have any of the answers but at least now I have a list of questions. Thank you, Green Heron.

Looking for more wildlife?

Wildlife Wednesday is hosted by Tina at My Gardener Says.

Rambling Woods‘ hosts Nature Notes series each week.


30 thoughts on “Wildlife Wednesday: September 2015

  1. Loved the post. My spirit animal is the kingfisher. A few years ago, I was fortunate enough to stay on an island off the coast of Mozambique. It was pretty much the most beautiful paradise that I have ever witnesses. My wife and I stayed in a hut that was close to the edge of the Mozambique Channel. The waters were translucent and endless in its shades of turquoise. between our hut and the beach was a nice secluded pool with an space to sit and contemplate. I spent hours there besides that pool in quiet rapture. All sorts of birds came to drink or play in the fresh water pool next to my hut. A dozen stately ibis would drop by, dressed, it appeared to me, in formal wear, on their way to a cocktail party. But the bird that stole my heart was the little stout kingfisher. These playful guys would dive bomb our pool and jump out just as quickly. They were having fun and seemed to be seeming every ounce of fun that a spot in paradise could offer them.
    I have been reading all of the Greek myths recently. Just before reading this post, I read the Greek myth of Halcyon and Ceyx. A short romantic myth of love death and beyond. Here is one of the better versions of the myth: http://www.dl.ket.org/latin/mythology/3fables/love/ceyx.htm
    I would delighted to spend all of eternity as a kingfisher.


    1. Oh! Kingfishers are a lot of fun. I wonder what kinds of kingfisher would live there. With your appreciation of all things mellow that makes perfect sense to me. Thanks for the link; that was a good re-telling of the story.


  2. Hey, are you open to guest posts? I wrote a thing last February about the birds I saw from the train on a trip to Kansas City. It’s written as the notes to a setlist of bird-themed songs (I could even put the playlist together via youtube or something). Anyway, herons are magical! I still remember the yellow-banded night heron I met at Willowbrook three years ago.


  3. hmm, but Debra the heron did make ripples it sent ripples through the air and captivated you and the grackle, it just did it quietly, we all make ripples we can’t not, writing our blogs we send ripples out, if we have children then we live on in them and future generations, herons are quiet birds but touch all who see them, a nice spirit to be,

    for me a cat, I just adore cats, large or small, wild or homely. I adore and admire their independence, they are never 2 faced, if they like you it is genuine,


    1. Yeah. Even breathing the air causes some kind of ripple somewhere. Aren’t cats magnificent beings! And have you ever noticed how everyone always thinks they happen to have the best cat in the world? I do believe they have some kind of supernatural ability to cast charm person spells.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A lovely post and very inspirational, deep thoughts. Is it important that we leave a ripple behind? All ripples aren’t positive in nature, more often than not they’re just the opposite. I think we just have to do the best we can to not leave behind the negative, and aspire to the positive whether those positives are noticed or not when we leave this earth behind. Thanks for a thought-provoking and very well written post.


    1. Thank you. I totally agree. Leaving not even a footprint behind is a worthy thing. As a person that is how I’d like it to be. Except … what if we are too polite and not creating a ruckus where we ought to. The health of our planet keeps getting worse using any measure available even though there are so many people who care. So many people contributing to causes.


    1. We all leave traces I suppose. That is just in the nature of things. When I was a girl and would go backpacking I remember being told, “Leave nothing but footprints; take only photos.” And I knew that was kind of impossible but I liked the spirit of the thing. It seemed a bit revolutionary in a culture where we are told all the time to seek fame or fortune or a big pile of stuff. I’m sorry I didn’t respond sooner — for some reason WordPress decided this comment was spam. I told it in no uncertain terms that they were wrong to make that assumption.


  5. A beautifully written post as usual. Lovely to think of you as a heron, graceful and leaving no ripples. Sadly, I think I am a shabby, brown hen , clucking over my children and digging around in the dirt. Thank goodness I don’ t have to lay eggs.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh gosh. Let me clear that misconception up immediately. I in no way resemble a heron physically. hahahhahhaha Graceful will never be my adjective. If you could see the mess of scraped knees plus the sprained ankle in front of the keyboard I am certain we would both have a good laugh. I have recently come to know hens in person. I think they are beautiful creatures. Just beautiful. I love their feathers and their personalities.


  6. Debra: Thank for this most beautifully provocative piece. I maintain it stirs things up in all the best ways. The ripples you make here are mostly unseen to the naked eye perhaps but the effects are definitely felt. Shore to shore.

    Do you suppose animals ever project their emotions onto humans? We see all sorts of examples of how animals bond with and are compassionate towards other species of animals. People claim to have bonded with animals in all sorts of circumstances and we typically hold those people as fortunate and at times, specially gifted. Would I consider it demeaning if an animal felt or displayed kinship with me? I believe I would feel honored and privileged.

    I’d like to think, at least in the case of we humans identifying with an animal, that other than demeaning the animal in any way we are rather acknowledging our kinship, and our very reasonable need to make room for and support each other. What the animal would make of it, I truly cannot say.


    1. Yeah. Personally, I think that people connecting with animals and finding love and compassion for them in any way is a good thing. I have seen cross species compassion. I once had a cat that had a blocked something or other. It was lying on the floor in total agony only I didn’t know. My dog pulled a Lassie to let me know about her plight. Once she had my attention she curled up with the cat to comfort it. It makes me cry just remembering.


    1. Thank you. That wandering around to see what the world is showing me is the whole purpose of my blog. Every so often I get lucky. haha.


  7. Oh Debra, that was a sad ending for me, I think because I can really identify with how you felt. Why were you at the Greenpeace workshop? Yes to everything Tina said, she writes so well.


    1. Thanks, Julie. I think we are not at all alone in that feeling. ((hugs))
      Greenpeace is one of the few groups that does more than take people’s money. They offer all kinds of free workshops, permissions and resources to their base supporters to help them be more effective at working for change. So many other groups just want your money. They always have a lot of issues on the go but I think right now the priority is stopping Shell’s drilling in the Arctic.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I enjoyed this thought-provoking post..It got me to thinking that I should tell the hawk story and the crow story. I thought my totem was a hawk until my Mother died…now I think it is a crow and I can tell the story.. Michelle


  9. You have left ripples of your actions, though probably not the kind that you fear leaving. You’re a parent–that’s a thing right there: heart-breaking, joyful, and awesome–in the original sense of the word. You were (are) a teacher: there are few professional endeavors more important, or far-reaching. You write this beautiful blog: each week or so, you share thoughts and experiences that touch many, many people–and you do it with no ulterior motive other than engagement of conversion and gentle reminders of our place in the world and the responsibilities we owe that world.

    I’m glad you’re not a ghost, leaving no trace–yours is a voice that more need to hear.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Ah. Thanks, Tina. I am ok with being a ghost. Better to leave no trace than a mess behind. But I am feeling quite upset that environmentalists in general are leaving no trace. There are so many groups out there and so many well meaning people contributing to them but nothing is getting better. Nothing. We get little temporary wins but the losses are great and permanent. That is a muck that needs to be stirred up maybe.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I love your analogy with the heron, Debra. It makes me think of native peoples who used to be able to live in a place temporarily and move on without leaving a trace. I have thought of elephants as my spirit animal for many years, and I don’t know exactly why. I saw a documentary once in which the matriarch somehow sensed that there was a turtle right beneath where her next step would be. Ever so gently, she nudged it out of the way. I would like to think of myself as someone who makes way for other creatures.


    1. I have heard that elephants are one of the most popular animals. And for many good reasons as you point out. To be honest I felt a bit bad about joking about them. So many suffer unreasonably. And personally, I am proud of my gray hairs. I’ve earned every one of them. I love your connection about making way for other creatures. Gently. And I think I see a bit of Ganesha in you too who is invoked as a patron of writing and letters. You are a real writer, fearless, intelligent and actively breaking down ugly barriers.


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