My Spirit Animal is a Dung Beetle

by tobias crabtree

“Any time when I lay awake at night and heard the wind in the screens and saw the moon ride up the sky, or sat reading in the shade of the shack and heard the wind moan and mourn around the corners, or slept out under the wagon and felt it searching among the spokes of the wheels, I knew well enough who, or what, I was, even if I didn’t matter. “

                                                                                        Wallace Stegner

Just in case you might’a thought different. Just in case that it matters to you, one way or the other. And, come to think of it, it probably doesn’t. But if it does I have to say that there’s a possibility that I’m writing right smack dab in the middle of my own personal junkyard. Every time I decide to tap out words I reason with myself about the good it does — whether it’s a waste of time. It’s all observation from a single mind that has been shaped by my experience, jaded by my prejudices and affected by my opinions. I am the same as you and we are all stones set in a field; one side is weathered and visible, but lift the stone to it’s rooty underneath and see the things that pinch and bite as they skitter for darkness. See the dangling fibers and the subterraneans. When I think of the man that I am, I can’t escape what I was. It took that to get to here. And where is here? I refer humbly to Stegner’s quote at the start of this piece. He says it in a way I can’t. I don’t need to complicate things at all, I’m what I am as I am told what I am by the blowing wind, the blinking stars, the chattering creek. When I can be a listener, I can be a learner. Seems the wild world is always willing to teach, I’m just a naughty student. When I was a kid, I loved wildlife. I collected books that gave me the names in latin. I loved the wild things so much that I wanted to have them. Not so long ago I was with my friends Gus and Amy. They have a little boy named Santiago. Little Santi found a salamander in the back yard and I felt myself going back and back in time until I was a little boy. I remembered fishing a young snake from my coat pocket over and over until it’s jaw went slack, it’s mouth hung open. I remember the feeling, I knew I killed it from simply “over-having” it. I took it out to the creek and set if free. It didn’t move, white belly to the sky. I ran away. Santi was having a similar experience. He wanted the salamander and his Ma was explaining that there was a time limit to holding it. He let it go, but with tears. Some things are so beautiful that it hurts not to own them and it’s difficult to see that the beauty would die with ownership.

I catch myself imagining what the wildlife is thinking. Usually the thoughts I give them are cynical and disdainful (in other words, I make them be me). When I do this I’m no different than the modern-day shaman assigning spirit-animals to adoring disciples (for a small/not so small fee) while taking them on a poncho-clad vision quest that, if you’re lucky and cute, might land you in said shaman’s sacred teepee. It’s amazing to me how many people have the wolf, or the eagle as their “spirit-animal”. I’ve never heard anyone say they were linked at the soul to weasel or a mosquito. Some animals/insects must be kept from the ol’ spirit animal list. Wouldn’t wanna lose a client by giving them a bunk critter. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are men and women connected to the earth in a way that is deeply spiritual, I just don’t think they’re advertising it and popping it up on facebook.  —-  Whoops, there I went. I do tend to run on once I start being cynical. I’ll try to get back on track.

The orioles and the grossbeaks and the tanagers are on their migratory paths. The mulberry tree in front of Chris and E’s is full of them. The colors are ridiculous: oranges and yellows and whites all cased in black. They are brilliant. They are upside down and right side up. They are quick and skittish. Along with them, the hummingbirds are buzzing about. Birds really are gems of the animal kingdom. Now and then a cooper’s hawk will slash through the yard and take a song bird out. It puts a hush in the trees, then they start again, minus one. This is where it’s easy to put my thoughts into the heads of the animals. I wonder if they miss the one that’s gone. And what of the hawk? What about the Red-tailed hawk that is looping in circles through the thick brown smog over the I-10/I-15 interchange? Does she wish the world was like the world before the ribbons of concrete and asphalt scarred the country from sea to shining sea? Do the polar bears remember, through their DNA, a time when icebergs were loaded with bearded seals and the North was an expanse of connected ice? Do the whales tell stories of a time when their songs were by far the loudest things in all the fathoms? We can’t know what the wild ones are thinking, I’m sure they aren’t as ornery as I am. They probably think more like the stars and the trees. And maybe, because they are busy living and surviving, they don’t have a worry in the world! I’m not so sure about the human measure of intelligence. Perhaps our mental wagons are so full that we cannot travel to where the hawks and whales play. While I’m dragging awkward profundities toward my ol’ buckboard, the herds of elk are moving through the quaking aspen, ruminating in the moment and speaking the language of the mountains.

Being a thoughtful human is a pain in the ass. There’s always something to distract us and it’s comfortable to stay inside our zones.  Awareness can change everything but there’s some discomfort involved with it. I am slightly encouraged when I remember that I too, am an animal. I’m included, we all are, even the ones that don’t give a damn. Line me up with the weasels and the cockroaches and put me under the big old yellow sun. There’s trails to run and rivers to swim. Give me a handful of flat rocks to skip across a river that still flows to the sea. Allow me the presence of my friends to keep me from falling down too hard over things that don’t matter. Some coffee. A bit of cream. A glass of whiskey now and then.

Yep. That. So anyway, back to school for this old grump.