Companions and Guides

unexpected guest

A hawk paid me a visit this week. On Thursday when I went down to feed the horses I heard a disturbance in my chicken coup. When I investigated I found a young male Cooper’s hawk trapped inside. I imagine he flew down in pursuit of a rat and was so intently focused on his prey he followed it right through the door and got trapped. When I found the hawk he looked dazed and injured. At first I tried to coax him out but he responded to every move I made with an aggressive threatening stance. He was a very small and very young hawk, not even up to my knee, but he made it clear that he was going down fighting. I have chuckled a few times since them remembering the cartoon character of Henery, the chicken hawk, and his interactions with Foghorn Leghorn. I didn’t want to get into a scrap with a raptor so I slipped on gloves and a denim jacket, wrapped a towel around the young hawks objecting shoulders, and carried him out of the coup and towards my house in my arms.  It has been a big week for experiences with animal guides and teachers.

Last Sunday I did not take a walk into the park when I finished writing. Instead I saddled my mare and went for a ride. I have not been ridding for 3 years but lately I have found myself thinking about it a lot. My horses live a good life in a huge pasture. They have not been ridden much recently but they are not neglected. Lately I have been thinking that I want to make more time for them. I spent Sunday morning brushing them, cleaning their saddles and bridles and looking at which lather straps the rats had eaten this winter.  I had a fantasy of taking a long relaxing ride through a remote meadow in the state park not far from my house. My mare is old and I feel as if my time with her will soon be over. I imagined an easy harmonious walk with her like I would take with a delicate aging much-loved friend. I forgot that my horse was a horse. I forgot that what I wanted was only half of the equation. I neglected to pay attention to what was going on with her and what was happening between us, and instead much like the hawk, moved with focus and purpose toward my plan.

From the start my horse was excited and “hot”. We spent a long time exploring our dynamic as leader and follower. Our ride was not relaxing. It was challenging for both of us. On our way home something spooked Rae, my horse (short for Rhiannon, a Celtic goddess of horses believed to be another aspect of Apona) and she began backing up on the trail. To make a long story shorter let me simply say that in the process of stopping her, but not forcing her forward towards what had frightened her, she slipped on the trail and fell across it like a tree.

From this moment on my week has unfolded like a dream that ended when I held the hawk in my arms.  Rae was caste. He legs were tangled in branches and she could not move them to get them under herself so that she could stand. I was alone and felt helpless. Rae’s nose began to bleed as though someone had turned on the kitchen faucet. Three miss matched strangers came up the path. They could not pass but mirrored my overwhelm and stood speechless in a line with their hands clasped in front of them. I watched Rae resign herself to her situation and give up. A man and women my age came up the trail. She was European and took charge in a firm but flexible way. He began cutting down the saplings under Rae’s leg with his buck knife. Sometimes he listened to his companion’s directions sometimes he did not. They ran their ideas by me but more out of courtesy than collaboration as they were clearly in charge. The man eventually went shoulder to shoulder with Rae and provided the leverage she needed to stand. Once she was up and it was clear that her legs were ok, as if it had been any interrupted walk in the park, we all went our separate ways on the trail.

A few days later I was helping a friend get ready for her Equine Transformational Living Workshop. I had been to her workshops before but after my fall I experienced the work she does differently. I stood and watched her horses for a long time. We all studied the interactions and dynamics within the heard. I watched a young gelding keep after the other horses and for a minute thought he was in charge. The leader however was actually very quiet. She did not have to do much to project her authority. She knew she was in charge. As the lead mare her responsibility was to hold the place of groundedness and centeredness for her group. It seems to me that I have been behaving more like the gelding but want to lead more like that mare

My friend asked us to focus our energy and ground ourselves to see if we could draw the horse’s attention energetically. We used the same energy to invite a horse to walk along beside us shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart while we held a lead rope loosely across our open palms. The experience was a strong contrast to my ride a few days before. I was partnering with these horses, not asserting my authority.

I took myself for the ride in celebration of my decision to slow my life down. I consider riding to be a concrete expression of slowing down yet I approached it with my familiar push, plan, and focus on a goal. I did not actually slow down enough with my horse on that ride to experience the moment we shared with openness and curiosity. I did not actually slow down enough to stop pushing my experience in my desired direction.

It has been a powerful week.  The experiences are still settling and soaking in. I have been reading about hawks and horses; I have been reading Celtic myths about the goddess Rhiannon. I am trying not to constrict around the experience and squeeze the meaning out of it. I am trying to hold the lead rope with flat open palms and walk with it where I need to go – heart to heart. It is hard to know how long to follow a meaningful thread like this. My reading about Rhiannon led me back to the Doris Lessing novel: Canopus in Argos: The Marriage Between Zones Three, Four, and Five.  Is that too far? Do I need to read that series now?

It is difficult to find the balance between honoring the experience, paying attention and using hawk like focus that overlooks the entrance to the confines of the chicken coup. I cleaned my coup yesterday, moved out the most recent resident rats, and gave the chickens new shavings in their laying boxes. They said thank you with 5 eggs. I have not seen eggs in months. Thank you chickens. Thank you to all my animal guides and companions. I can still feel the hawk against my chest and in my arms as if I had carried something with weight and heat instead of a light cool bird of prey.  I can still feel his eyes on mine inviting me into the mystery just before he flew away.

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