Saint of Creatures

On remembering each creature as its own message.

You offered, in your daily practice, some reminders, such as: each creature carries its own message, its own metaphor, and how to recognize the animal soul.

If you have men who will exclude creatures from the shelter of compassion, you said, so will they do with other men.

You would speak with birds, who stayed with you until you said goodbye. You called after a cicada, saying Sister, sing, and she did.

Even worms, moving close to your path, were moved by you. Be safe, you would tell them, setting them back from the approaching feet.

Flash of ferret, oriole oracle, what you remembered with the rabbit; insect insight, iguana inspiration; the vision of vipers; signs and symbols you shared with the swallows.

Wonder of wolf, its terror transcended to peace in your presence; how did you know?

Had you a microscope, I wonder, what might you have made of the tardigrade, its ability to live in what others would call hell. What epiphanies would you have seen in these; about the limits we imagine for the living?

And I wonder what you would have made of the yeti crab, who appears like a child’s pet monster, hovering near the ocean’s hydrothermal vents? The mineral level is poisonous, but she carries colonies of bacteria in her pincers to null what would kill. What songs could you hear in her patient waiting in those depths?

And I’d love to know what you’d make of the sea creature that reverts to infancy after maturity, who renews herself again and again, body without a seeming end. What would you say to her, and how would you learn to listen, over time, to the bass-beat of her endlessly whispered devotion?

Notes:

Inspired by the coming feast of St Francis, as illuminated by Richard Rohr’s Every Creature is an Epiphany, from his Daily Meditations series at the Center for Action and Contemplation (CAC.org).

and also by Mihei Andrei’s article Meet the World’s Only Immortal Animal on ZME Science

Listening to Lepidoptera

We appreciate the beauty of butterflies, but what else? What of the moths disguised as tree bark, and what do they say with those wings?

For most, a typical response to a tray of specimens can be a ranking in order of beauty. This because, what else? Butterflies and moths cause no marked aversion; they do not sting or make terrible pests. We do not eat them.

What, then? Initially, we have no other means, beyond the appeal of their colors, to appreciate them. 

In North America, there are more species of butterfly on the endangered list than any other insect. Not everyone gets field experience, so look.

Why are the wings so large? They speak with them.

Consider these canvases, painted differently on each side, according to audience.

Where are the moths in daytime? In the day, they become tree bark, lichen, twigs.

Consider one hundred caterpillars, wrapped or naked; cylindrical or bulging, immaculate or marked. See the chrysalis, head down, unclothed, posing as a leaf.

Some ride mice to safety, to lay eggs in an underground den.

One makes no sound, but what about a chorus of millions?

Here is a waterfall.

Patience now. A more complete discussion will be possible after secrets are revealed.

Notes:

This morning’s post is assembled from found phrases in the opening chapter of 100 Butterflies and Moths: Portraits From the Tropical Forests of Costa Rica, by Jeffrey C. Miller, Daniel H. Janzen, and Winifred Hallwachs. I came across it in the used bookstore adjacent to the library in the year before the pandemic, and was taken by the color images. It seemed like the sort of book to keep on hand for future inspiration.  Waking especially groggily this Wednesday morning, I pulled it from the shelf to see what I could find. 

Flight Paths

Considering the migration patterns of birds, and the instincts that teach a body when and how to move.

As weather cools and light shifts, I am remembering the late summer geese. They were molting, apparently, which is why spent several weeks doing nothing but walk around and honk. They were regarded as pests, but I admired their swagger.

Later I learned that they had been hunted to near extinction around the turn of the century. Some measures were taken to protect them. Meanwhile the geese got wise to the fact that hunting didn’t happen in the cities and the suburbs. They liked the lawns. 

When did they fly south for the winter? Many stayed put, but some would have started this month. This is what you learn to do. You can either adapt when things change or fly elsewhere.

The arctic tern goes farthest. At just under fifty-thousand miles per migration year, one of their journeys, tallied over thirty years, is the distance of three trips to the moon and back.

They store fat for the journey. Some birds will nearly double their weight. 

I wonder about those times when they get it wrong, about the ones that think they are adapting while miscalculating either the food or the poison in it. I wonder if there is a sudden moment of collective consciousness that makes some groups suddenly move, and about those times when the impulse comes just a little too late. Consider the flocks falling whole from the sky, researchers scratching their heads the next day. Often no known event can explain these falls––not directly, anyway. How often we want to blame the knowns. This is why we give children books with monsters in them, for the comfort of the danger with a face. That isn’t what gets you in the end, though, is it? It’s almost always what you can’t or won’t see, until it’s too late.

Sometimes the young ones will get confused. I don’t mean just the geese here. I’m thinking of snowy owls, wrens, wheateaters, hummingbirds, godwits, ducks, raptors, and countless species I can’t name. 

When the little ones get lost, or read the signs wrong, they can sometimes start migrating in reverse. These renegades live alone, belong to no known group of birds, and have to rely on their own instincts afterwards. They may struggle in mating season. 

Not all of the ones flying in reverse are lost. Some know exactly where they are, and how, and they know they haven’t stored enough fat to make it. But what internal gauge is telling them when they don’t have enough to make it all the way? How did they learn to hear it, and what happens when two impulses, both related to survival, demand opposite actions? How does it know? I wonder if the most necessary of the two somehow manages to be so loud that it drowns the other one out, the way it is possible–– for the hungry body on another species on edge of exhaustion, to forget food in favor of sleep’s relief.  

Notes

The Migration of Birds – from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB) website