All Creatures Great and Small

I didn’t significantly connect to my mother’s lineage. Her family was Germanic, stoic, unfeeling – rarely, if ever, expressing anything from the heart. Maybe they were my “shadow” lineage. On the other hand, my father’s people were from the countryside of England. They were fun loving, passionate and expressive – lovers of all creatures, both great and small. Every Sunday morning, outfitted in jodhpurs, they would mount their horses – tobacco in pocket and whiskey in flask – for their Sunday morning ride in the countryside. This was their church. Old, sepia photographs reveal picnic tables full of family and friends toasting life and feasting under the trees of their modest country home – a Quonset hut purchased from the government after the war. Smiles and laughter, love and affection, music and dance – these were their trademark. And, love for the animals.

 

As a child, I remember my Grandma Ruth adopting every stray cat that appeared on her doorstep while my great Auntie Evelyn was caring for old, retired Tennessee Walking horses that were out to pasture. Both Ruth and Evelyn spent their later years caring for their animals and tending to their flowers. Their spirits were large and full of light, their hearts open and flowing with love and passion for life. They lived long lives into their mid-nineties, their gardens and flowers still blooming on the days that they died.

 

I remember receiving a letter from Auntie Evelyn – she was in her eighties at that time – describing her favorite Tennessee Walker, Pride of Midnight, from the lineage of the Grand Champion, Ebony’s Pride. He was her “black satin stallion with white blaze and pink velvet nose.” Every day, Auntie Evelyn would attend to Pride’s needs – cleaning his stall, combing his mane, feeding and watering him. Every morning she would leave him to his oats and kiss him “goodbye” on his blaze, his head still lowered and in his bucket. She would return in the afternoon to tend to his needs, once again, before retiring for the day. One morning, after completing her tasks, she once again kneeled down to kiss Pride on his blaze. That morning, though, Pride raised his head from his bucket and followed her to the stall gate. She turned and said, “Pride, honey – what’s wrong?” Pride stood majestically, looking into Auntie Evelyn’s eyes. “Pride, honey – I’ll be back in a few hours. Remember – you’re my Pride and I love you.” That afternoon, Auntie Evelyn returned to the stable to be met by Pride’s owner, Helen. She stopped Auntie Evelyn at the gate. “Evelyn – I’m sorry, but, Pride is dead.” Auntie Evelyn entered Pride’s stall to find him lying, motionless in the hay. She knelt down, said goodbye to her Pride and, one last time, kissed him on his blaze. She described him as being just as beautiful and majestic in death as he was in life.

 

Years after Auntie Evelyn died, I adopted a quarter horse, BJ. Every week, I would go to the barn to groom, saddle, mount, and earn the right to ride and lead BJ through the beautiful, wooded trails of the Natchez Trace. After many months of this ritual, I found myself riding BJ, full-gait and full-speed through the woods. My body was one with his. In the ecstasy of that moment, I was aware of Auntie Evelyn’s presence, her fragile voice saying, “Now you know.” Auntie Evelyn, like Francis of Assisi, was gifted with animal medicine. I can still hear her fragile laugh – a cross between the coo of a dove and the whinny of a horse. It is through my father’s lineage that my sister, Wise Bear, and I now live by and carry on the traditional gifts of animal medicine.

 

Several years ago, I sent a prayer to Great Spirit for a four-legged companion. Three days later – on a cold and rainy January night – I found my Little Guy, a two-week-old kitten, separated from its litter, nearly dead. For the next several weeks, I nursed Little Guy back to health. For the next several years, she would be my little soul mate – teaching me the gifts of animal love. Being called by Spirit to travel to the ancient, indigenous cultures to study indigenous cures and healing, I began to prepare my Little Guy for my departure as I would not be able to bring her with me on this journey. From her heart, through her eyes, she communicated to me that all was well and that she understood. One month before I departed, she died – mysteriously and before her time – releasing me, unencumbered, to follow my vocation to Mexico. On that cool and rainy day in March, my partner and I gave her a Native American burial under the majestic oaks, cedars and pines that overlooked the pure waters of the Little Piney River. I mourned the loss of my four-legged teacher of love and, in a native shamanic ritual, gave her little spirit over to the care of one of my spirit guides. A month later, I arrived in San Miguel for the next phase of my vocation.

 

Five months later, I moved into my new sanctuary of a home, complete with large jardin full of old, beautiful trees. Bags in hand, I passed through the gate to see a yellow tabby cat run the distance of the jardin to greet me. He ran right up to me, lay down before me and rolled over, exposing his belly. Curious, flattered and humbled by his vulnerability, I stroked his little belly and welcomed his presence. Sebastian was the cat of the jardin – fed, loved and honored by the handful of residents in this beautiful sanctuary. Adopted by him on that first day, I would become his main caregiver, treating him to the nightly bowl of milk or raw egg. He would manage the birds, mice and scorpions of the jardin by day, retiring at the foot of my bed by night. He enjoyed the daily massage and energy work that I provided him and became a favorite to my visiting friends. I thanked Spirit every day for Sebastian’s presence – he was my new, little four-legged friend. A few nights later, instead of retiring at my feet, he nestled in to fall fast asleep, curled up against my heart. Unbeknownst to me, this would be our last night together. The following evening, after lapping up a little milk, he began crying in pain – paralyzed within minutes. I rushed him to the pet clinic where he received loving attention before dying twenty-four hours later. The next morning, I learned Sebastian’s story from the owner of the property. Sebastian had been the cat of a gringa who lived just two blocks away. A few years later, Sebastian – like myself – had discovered this sanctuary and decided, on his own and against the wishes of his owner, to make a permanent move – adopting this new jardin and its loving residents as his home and family. One day, I noticed Sebastian chasing away a younger, gray tiger kitten who, like Sebastian, was attempting to make a new home of our jardin. The evening after Sebastian died, I lit my altar and began prayers for Sebastian before, once again, entering into shamanic ritual in order to give his spirit over to the care of another of my spirit guides. Having completed the ritual, I arose and turned on the light to find the little gray tiger kitten peering in the windows at me. I went to the kitchen and poured a small bowl of milk that I placed outside the door. A few moments later, the little gray was quickly lapping up the milk. And so, the cycle began again with Little Gray. And, once again, my family tradition of animal love, care and medicine continued.

 

Thank you, Spirit, for your four-leggeds, for your wingeds, for your creepy-crawlies. Thank you, Spirit, for all creatures great and small. Through them, I am significantly and humbly blessed with your love.

 

Gray Wolf is initiated in Lakota tradition and practices holistic therapy while studying indigenous cures and healing.