“Like night cracked open by the shout of day,” epiphanies change me from one state to another. When I was six or seven, I learned I was an animal.
I’ll tell the story after I tell you about the author of that quote above. Striking isn’t it? We experience night cracked open by day everyday of our lives but rarely notice it as dramatic poetry. The author’s name is Carolyn Hillyer, a musician, storyteller and writer who lives in Dartmoor. Learn about her here!
Though I’ve listened to her music countless times, only this morning did that particular line grab my ears. From a song called “the degna’s dream of fire,” ( non capitalization is Hillyer’s ) in a CD called Ice. These are cold songs that “ tell a very old story of lives and lands long hidden, of memories that lay frozen and wrapped within 25,000 years of time. The cold songs speak of…the embodiment of the most ancient relationship between human people and the deep spirits of these northern lands.”
We all have that ancient relationship with the land, an aspect of our global indigenousness, but most of us have currently and thoroughly forgotten this relationship, anesthetized by homogenized urbanity and an uppity sense of being other than everything else. As a young one in the mid 1940’s, rolling around on the recently mowed suburban backyard grass, I know I belong to this green bladed tickly stuff, the cut emerald perfume inhaling me deeply. A few clover still stand with a week’s reprieve from the hand pushed guillotine. Honey bees buzz among them, flitting quickly to my mother’s more blossom abundant, perennial garden. I roll over on my back carefully so as not to smash a stray bee. I face the startling blue of deepsky, not yet dulled by pollution, a word I know not. Cupping my hands to screen out everything but sky, I plunge into it at the same time my shoulder blades dive out the other side of earth arriving in the country of China that I’ve been told lies opposite me.
I lie there wondering at it all, wondering about property lines and my backyard. Where does our property end? Does it go six inches down, six feet up? Sixty feet down, 6 miles up? Where do I really belong? What can I call mine? Why is there a fence bordering my yard with a gate that opens to a trail made by me into the woodland? I love that wood which promises both mystery and discovery. But I know it doesn’t belong to me.
I wonder if kids today even ask these questions, so habituated are we now to domestication.
Despite my immersion in the world around me at this tender age, my mother shocks me one afternoon by telling me I am an animal. Maybe she’s admonished me for being an animal because I am getting grass stains on my shirt. I fight her, she fights back. Maybe the dialogue goes something like this:
“Deb, stop acting like an animal.”
“ I’m NOT acting like an animal.”
“Oh yes, you are, “she might have said. “ You know, Deb, humans actually are animals.”
“We are NOT,” I shout in horror.
“But we are. We’re animals, really.”
“We are not,” I say. My “not” is not quite as vociferous, but I am still clinging tightly to my belief system, so I repeat, “I’m not an animal. I can’t be. I talk.”
“But, honey,” she’s softening a little, too, now, getting into her teacherly mode, “The scientists have figured it out. Biologists know. There are all kinds of animals…birds, reptiles, fish, spiders, bees, horses, elephants, all kinds… The humans are the kind called mammals.”
“But I can’t be an animal,” I remember my panic rising again. “I can’t be. I walk on two legs.” I begin to whimper as I feel my world view inside changing. I’m scared.
“So do birds,” she says.
I begin to wail.
That memory rivets me.
At a time on our planet when we human animals need to remember our total dependency on nature’s largesse, born to this planet, indigenous whether urban or not, why do we fight our nature so intensely?