Spirit Animals

Over this past year and a half of pandemic and lockdown, it was a blessing that so many of my family, friends, and acquaintances remained healthy and free of the virus.  No one I know (that I’m aware of) succumbed to COVID 19.  However, over the course of this past decade, I have lost four people whom I was very close to, two of them dying at relatively young ages. 

My heart went out to the millions of people who were missing children and grandchildren and other close relations, but I also felt great sadness because it reminded me:  the people I miss are already gone.

It’s been a strange time post-vaccination.  Things are not re-setting to the old “normal” and I doubt they ever will.  I’m feeling a bit unmoored.  One day last week I was feeling particularly sad, slept little, got up early and went for a walk along the river behind my house.  Usually I climb down from the levee and walk along a trail closer to the water.  But on this day, I saw another hiker on the lower trail, a woman who seemed to be going at about my same pace.  I wanted to be alone, and I knew if I went down to my usual route, I would be continually conscious of her presence, walking either faster or slower than I usually do, disturbing my mood even more than it already was.  So I stayed on top of the levee as I started out.

Then I saw them, down on the trail below:  four jack rabbits—four of them!!  Running, rolling in the dirt, bouncing off each other!  Of course I stopped.  I pulled out my phone to photograph them but they were too far off.  I put it back in my pocket.   This was a time for simple rapt attention.

I wondered if this were a mating ritual of some kind.  Were two or three males vying for the heart of a female?  But none seemed to be seeking dominance.  They were playing like children, leaping over each other, chasing each other in circles, pausing to glance at each other as if smirking in delight, then they’d start moving again.

Growing up next to the river, I’ve seen my share of jack rabbits.  Back in the days when we used to have a healthy rainfall, after a heavy storm had washed them out of their hutches, we’d see them in the neighborhood, away from their native haunts.  But it would always be a solitary rabbit, his long thin ears a brown exclamation point, careening from lawn to sidewalk to street, looking frantic and confused.  I always worried about those poor rabbits.  I imagine they felt as I do now:  out of place.

But now I was witnessing the flip side.  These rabbits in their familial grouping were the embodiment of joy.

I glanced back on the trail and saw the other woman had stopped a distance away to watch the rabbits too.  I saw her take out her camera phone as I had.  I realized if she had not been on the lower trail, I would not have remained on top where I got a much better view of the rabbits.  It was a gift.

I watched them for what seemed a deliciously long time, but was probably only a few minutes.  Eventually they darted into the bushes between the trail and the river.  I continued on my way.  When I looped back toward home, I saw the other hiker coming toward me.  Typically shy, I wanted to say something but didn’t know if I’d have the nerve.  As we were passing, I blurted out, “Did you get any photos of those rabbits?”

“Wasn’t that amazing?” she gushed.  No, she had no photos, but she was just as excited to share the wonder of what we had witnessed as I was.  Our words tumbled out as we told each other of other animal sightings on other mornings—coyotes, deer, turkeys, hawks.  Our parkway is a treasure.  But neither of us had ever seen more than a single jack rabbit at a time.  And now to see four?!!  “It was a gift,” she said.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking,” I echoed.  “A gift.”

We wished each other well, then headed off in our separate directions.  A human connection—it was the cherry on the sundae, the coda to my small morning story.

I came home knowing this happy episode did not solve any of my problems, but I felt the Universe was taking care of me.  Despite my sadness, I feel protected.

For all who are lonely, confused, and sad, please say a prayer for those who are feeling exactly as you are.  There are many of us.  May your spirit animals find you.  May they bring you joy.  

Photo by Mike Lewinski on Unsplash

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