Awareness of our deep connection to wild animals is a great gift we receive from spending time in the outdoors. I have long been interested in animal archetypes and symbolism as part of my spiritual and psychological development.
I grew up hearing my mother and grandmother talk about meanings they assigned to animals, some purely superstitious such as a black cat crossing the road being a bad omen, or a bird flying into the house being a harbinger of death. They also spoke of the spiritual symbolism of different animals. My mother always collected owls and elephants. My mother and grandmother tended to fear the natural world more than they deeply loved it, whereas my children and I deeply love it more than we fear it. The new generations of my maternal line are returning to a more unified vision of our part in the play of nature, whereas the prior couple of generations saw themselves as mostly separate from it (from what I witnessed). My father's family had more farmers in it, as well as the influence of Native American spirituality from one of his grandparents; they were the gardeners and canners I knew growing up, celebrating the advent of each new season in an earthier way than my Mom's side did.
With my husband and two male children, I have immensely enjoyed spending time outdoors getting to know the wildlife and plants in our immediate surroundings: bugs, birds, and all manner of critters! We like to anthropomorphize everything and give it a voice, speculating as to what the crows might really be saying to us as they greet us in our comings and goings. Did you know how social and intelligent crows are? Something else to read about.
This week and over the next few weeks I am driving my boys up to an outdoor adventure camp at the Agatha A. Durland Scout Reservation, which spans 1,400 acres and borders Fahnestock National Park in New York State. I am loving making the half hour drive with them, not only for the scenery but also for our conversations.
My kids tend to talk about their interests and relationships while we drive. Just this morning we were discussing varying approaches to friendships and the values each individual places on socializing. My older son was upset about another boy having told him he hated him and found him annoying. We discussed the relative importance of certain people not finding us to their liking, and agreed on the triviality of being liked by others. My younger son was not so sure he agreed. Like one of my sisters and my sister-in-law, he wishes to have and keep a lot of friends. While I can appreciate that attitude, I have never shared it. One opinion we all shared was the importance of family over friends, and of our own happiness over pleasing others. We easily agreed that family comes first and family relationships are more rewarding for us than friendships have been. I told them that it has taken me most of my life up until now to realize that I am happiest on my own and with my family, with little to no friends, cultivating what is truly important to me rather than spending my energy on developing and maintaining social bonds. I can be a bit of a misanthrope, in spite of my anthropomorphizing tendencies. My eldest son already recognizes that he is also quite independent and feels lukewarm about the idea of having many friends. My youngest son enjoys being well liked by others. We are happy to have him around to liven things up at our house!
No sooner had I dropped the boys off and started back down the hilly dirt road to the exit than I saw an impressive flutter of movement out the right side of my car. I turned to look at the magnificent wingspan of none other than a great horned owl. It stopped and perched on a tree branch very close to the car. I gleefully parked for a moment. The owl looked right at me, and it was the closest I have ever been to a great horned owl in the wild. I rolled down the window and it looked away, then looked back at me. I said, "aren't you beautiful? May I take your picture?", and it turned its head away, then back for one more look at me, then opened its wings and departed further into the woods and away from the trail. My day was made (maybe even my week).
I immediately reflected on the preceding conversation with my sons and connected the owl sighting with what had been expressed: embracing being a loner, strength in individualism, loyalty to family, confidence in one's own choices and values. I projected onto the owl beauty, strength, confidence and poise. I felt that as I looked at her. As I drove home, I thought about the predatory life of the owl with no apologies given, the loyalty of the great horned owl to her lifelong mate, and the solitary nature of these creatures. I felt my soul stir as I identified with my image of the owl.
When I got home I typed "great horned owl symbolism" into Google, and found this:
"The warrior archetype is not only known for ferocity, but loyalty. Great horned owl spiritual meaning relates to fiercely defending what you believe in as well as staying strictly loyal to where you are most at home. You’ll be able to avoid conflicts by avoiding the busyness of the tribe and retreating into the quiet and less active areas of your life. Do not fear the medicine of great horned owl, she will not lead you into mindlessly injuring others. Instead, she will teach you about the wise use of warrior power and the amazing gifts of strength and courage." (great horned owl symbolism, from Wild Gratitude)
Now, more than ever in my life, I am embracing the loner aspect of my personality. As a female growing up with a mother who valued friends and social status, I felt so much pressure to make friends and be "friendly" and "nice." Often this felt unnatural to me. I genuinely like some people but I dislike having to pretend that I like everyone. I want to be pleasant but neutral, instead of "nice." I enjoy solo pursuits, such as writing. I like to be alone in nature as much as being in nature with my family. Just this morning my younger son had also said, "I keep working on my personality. It keeps changing and I am finding what I like. I change my personality when I am around different people." I told him that in recent years I finally feel like I have settled into myself and he will feel like that, too, at some point.