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.