Discovery of Primal Ethics through an Encounter with Mystical Avatars of Four Birds

  1. Mourning Dove – As a modern adult, my first reconnection with nature was a two week period in a plains juniper forest near a lake. While other camp counselors went home for a two week break, I decided to remain in the forest alone. Each day I grew progressively primitive. With no talk, my thinking lessened as the natural world drew my attention. Every morning I woke to the call of a mourning dove perched in a branch just above, which I noticed more each day, and which became part of me in those days of wild. I began reading skies instead of books. Barefooting instead of shoeing. Nuding instead of clothing. Swimming instead of showering. Sunning instead of toweling. Squatting instead of toileting. Foraging instead of cooking. Relaxing instead of distressing. I was content to remain in my refound self forever, but one day civilization returned to this wilderness camp, invaded this wilderness refuge.Years later the familiar coo called out from my front porch. In that moment my primitive self returned as I discovered a juvenile mourning dove, apparently unable to fly. I stepped into protector mode, but soon her momma came to look over & care for her. Days later they were both gone. This renewed my interest. Why do I feel so compelled by this bird? Her sound is so mournful (Is this how she earned her name?), but makes me feel so true. I desolately returned to my civilized life, with no thought of going feral again. Decades later I relocated to Cascadian evergreen forests where I came to learn many new birds, but no more mourning dove coos. When I need to announce my arrival or call out to find friends, I croon the coo of the mourning dove. She’s my wild embodiment.
  2. Stellar’s Jay – As a hominid born into the Anthropocene, I have no recollection of spiritual experience. But the death of my brother left me longing to connect with him in this only way possible, going against my reasoning that connecting with the dead is scientifically undoable. Despairing longing to reconnect with him on a primitive spiritual level led me to experiment with wilderness awareness. I was fortunate to have moved to the Pacific Northwest where there were ample opportunities and guides for such an endeavor. Ambling a spiritual path for the first time, I found my spirit animal, Stellar’s jay. Falling back on my modern ways, I began by studying the animal, the anatomy, the call, the behavior. I thought to begin to become one with the bird first through observing, second through mimicking the call (which I was never able to master, and which prevented me from taking my planned third step), third through interacting with them, joining their community. In hindsight I was glad for my inability to call out as a Stellar’s jay, for I learned it is not my role to become one, but to accept the limits of my hominid form and only become their companion. Since adopting a new forest area to steward, Stellar’s jays frequently fly in to screech at me for disturbing their home. I talk back to them trying to explain that I am trying to improve their habitat by undoing some of the damage we humans have brashly done.
  3. Crows – Stepping back into the milieu of nature, I learned that the first animals to observe and heed are birds. They give the first indications of what’s happening in a natural area, and especially corvids, particularly crows, are the brashest indicators. Crows are commonly around in human’s ‘civilized’ world, making them easy to study, at least in scavenger mode. As is true with their fellow corvids Stellar’s jays, in nature they are loudest in their role as raptor enemy, protector of many, calling out warning to all. Crows brazenly manifest their intelligence in a myriad of manners. I have evolved to live as a crow, scavenger in modern milieus who retreats to wilderness to serve as protector.
  4. Cooper’s Hawk – As my beloved nephew John was being sentenced for my brother’s murder 2,000 miles away, I sat on a bench looking to the Olympic Mountain horizon, strongly longing to somehow escape him out of his situation, to have him sitting next to me in sun and wind. In this moment I had my first sighting of a Cooper’s hawk, flying parallel to the water’s surface, then lifting into a higher soar. I had previously studied him in books, memorized his tail pattern, but didn’t categorize him in my brain as a shorebird. Ever since opening myself up to spiritual sensing, I wonder the mystical meanings of peculiar events such as this. I wrote John: “…while you were at your sentencing today and I was sitting on that bench looking out over the Puget Sound wishing so hard that you were with me, the bird that flew into view was a Cooper’s Hawk. Maybe he’s your animal spirit?”

After John pled guilty, we exchanged a flurry of letters on one level going through a process of understanding, forgiving and reconciliation; on another level reliving the trauma in a hard way that was necessary for some healing. As John sat in dreadful conditions at Stateville Prison awaiting permanent placement, one early morning I walked down the steep residential community toward the forest I steward. As I approached a corner a Stellar’s jay called out. I felt an odd feeling – normally they hang out in the forest. I have learned to heed mystical meanings in events that give me this odd feeling. My ears picked up the clamor of crows as I rounded the corner. My eyes searched for the victim of their mobbing, but they weren’t chasing or treeing a raptor above, they were perched on a telephone line cawing low toward ground. As I quietly neared the parkway a Cooper’s hawk flared its tail enabling easy identification. I didn’t know how to feel as he ravenously plucked feathers of his capture. I neared too close, causing the hawk to fly off. Half the crow brood followed suit, the other half stayed cawing toward the bird half turned into a meal. My brain could not believe what my eyes clearly saw. A mourning dove, appearing unconscious, breathing short but hard, surrounded by her blood and feathers. My eyes focused in to her face. How I wished I had not interfered, prolonging her suffering.

In that moment I knew I had crossed a line, a primal ethic. A hominid in primitive form would have known to not interfere. This ethic is something that cannot be extrapolated convincingly in words. It’s something that can only be learned through experiencing. I wonder, do all animal species have a primal ethic? Plant species? Others still?

Now my civilized senses returned me to my civilized space and time. I had a commitment to lead a reforestation work party. I walked away from my foremost animal spirit not knowing how to feel or think, but could not forget her lying there. I shared the story. One person has seen mourning doves on a nearby island, but no one has seen them in our area. I left early to return to the primal scene. She was gone. I was relieved her suffering was over, and envisioned the hawk returning to finish his meal and carry her away.

This left me wondering the mystical meaning of this event of these four birds, all with special connections to John and me. Several theories emerged. 1. Not only did John kill my brother, through this trauma he also killed me (but that feels too obvious, and too simple), 2. Through reliving this trauma John is healing me through killing my mourning, my grief, and 3. This trauma has challenged me to explore my spiritual connections, which is killing my former being, leaving only my new being, symbolizing how I’ve crossed the threshold from civilized to wild.

I’m left with an additional question to ponder, Are mystical meanings primal, modern, or perhaps a bridge between?

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