I have never been a true animal lover. My childhood goldfish jumped out of his bowl. Our guinea pig ate his way out of his cage. His bedraggled corpse discovered months later under the dripping hedge in our neighbours garden. The family wild cat Bilbo was given to a farm where it was rumoured he devoured seagulls. A year after my father died, I the level headed eleven year old calmly buried the dead hamster in the humid soil in our urban garden while my blond mother and curly haired sister were incapacitated with hysterics and grief.
Many, many years later I visited a friend in San Francisco and reluctantly announced, “I am thinking of going back to Australia to sell our house.” “I can get you a ticket on air miles. When do you want to go?” Rob enthusiastically replied reaching for his laptop. My mind spun, a free ticket. I was hesitant. I was not at all convinced I wanted to give up my lifeline to Australia and commit to Canada’s frozen prairie. To help me cope with the rigors of Canadian winters, I had been dabbling in New Age philosophy. The belief that everything is interconnected and the premise is that invisible forces or spirits that affect our lives pervades the visible world. Animals act as omens and message-bearers and each of us have animal spirit guides. I had long given up on the God of my childhood coming to my rescue. In my indecision I asked the universe for a sign. Early in the morning, the dew hung on the long grass, as the water tinkled in the pond I walked in my friends small waterfront garden suffused with the smell of eucalyptus, there on the grass was a perfect white egret feather, its long spidery tendrils waving in the breeze.
Back in Canada the February weekend before I flew reluctantly to Australia my husband Clive and I skied up to Skogan Pass in minus twenty weather. A golden eagle flew out of the tall pine tree. Eagle was my totem animal and according to Native Americans symbolized vision, the ability to see hidden spiritual truths, strength, connection to spirit, courage, intuition, and creativity.
Four year previously when I came to Canada in 1990 I constantly wore some thunderbird earrings. I was apprehensive around my stepping into teaching Conflict Resolution and Parenting, putting myself out there as an expert. The Scottish patriarchs had ensured I was a child who was seen and not heard. Their loud voice resonated in my head assuring me it was absolute audacity to think that I knew a better way of raising children, using strategies that treated them with dignity and respect and sought to understand their behaviours in terms of what they were feeling, thinking and deciding. Those dangling pewter thunderbirds brought me courage. There on the snows of Kananaskis, the eagle reassured me my trip to Australia to sell up was the best decision for me. Still the patriarch in my mind laughed outright that I should believe such nonsense that birds were messengers.
A few years later I facilitated a course called Mountain Madness to help women connect with the environment and their individual spirituality. Nine of us sat around in a circle meditating under the flanks of Mount Kidd in Kananaskis, a humming bird flew out of the forest as straight as an arrow and almost hit my back. Later that summer humming birds came to me twice. I looked up my animal medicine cards and read that humming birds meant joy. Their visitations felt like a miracle.
My life moved on busy with teenagers, work and city life. In the spring of 1999 I phoned my sister Ruth, in Scotland and was distraught to find out that she was sick. My family never wanted to disturb me my telling me the bad stuff. A week later, her sickness was diagnosed as kidney and lung cancer. The weekend before I left Canada to visit her I walked toward Vermillion Lakes, five minutes into the forest twenty feet above my head there was a screech owl. It chattered away to me for at least ten minutes. Then in Scotland driving to my sisters home I caught a glimpse of an owl flying away from a telegraph pole. A few weeks later my sister left us, her body buried under the gargoyle in the ancient churchyard. Owls represent the messenger between the worlds, wisdom, shape shifting, and reincarnation. The screech owl in particular gave me the wisdom to see beyond a mask worn and have the ability to share this insight with the person for whom the information had been gleaned. Owls are associated with the transformation of the soul’s journey and the recurring cycle of life. It is believed that the soul as an eternal spark of energy chooses to inhabit a body to learn life lessons, once these have been learned and absorbed, and then the soul transitions out of this physical plane as pure energy. Trust was the word that jumped off the page at me at this very difficult time in my life when I was confronted with terminal illness. That spring I discovered how painful it was to witness my beloved sister’s physical disintegration.
A couple of years later my niece Jane phoned, “My mother, Dorothy is in hospital, has had an blood clot in her leg and she has pancreatic cancer.” I was once again confronted with life and death. I sought support from my friend Lesley- Anne. We walked through the comforting trees in the Weaselhead, a Calgary wild area. She listened and helped me decide to return to Scotland as soon as possible. Under the wide blue Alberta sky we sat on a bench by the still waters of the river, much to my amazement I was surrounded by a flock of Chickadees. Although we were sitting side by side they twittered around me and kept their distance from Lesley. That night I read in my medicine card book that chickadees “appear to us when we need help telling the truth from fiction. If you witness a Chickadee when listening to advice, or sharing from your heart know the truth was spoken. Let Chickadee show the truth within your heart, so that you can trust your actions in life.” I felt comforted as once again I with a heavy heart boarded a plane to Scotland. A couple of months later my second sister was buried under the huge beech tree in the cemetery at bottom of her garden and I experienced profound loss and grief.
My relationship with animals has come a long way from my distant association with my childhood pets. Life has provided many challenges. Last year in my new home in Canmore with its majestic views of the mountains I was visited by a green iridescent humming bird. Many mornings I sat on my cedar deck waiting for this delicate creature that has the unbelievable ability to migrate thousands of miles. As I watched it suck nectar from my purple beebalm I felt irrepressible joy and gratitude for the magic of being alive.