Urban Shaman

A small thing darted across the road in front of us, whipping swiftly over the curb and into the weeds just alongside the road. Being accustomed to the behavior of local wildlife, I took a break from walking the dog and hunkered down close to the ground, peering into a likely crevice between curb and asphalt. Two little eyes looked curiously back. Soothingly I spoke to what I now knew was a baby lizard, saying nonsensical things you might say to a child that cannot yet speak. My walking companion stood away at a slight distance, surveying this exchange quizzically, no doubt wondering what had come over me … perhaps this time I had completely lost my senses because clearly, talking to a crack in the curb is not exactly normal for a woman of my age.

After a few minutes of companionable exchange the lizard poked his head out a little ways and I saluted, knowing my walking companion and the dog would be eager to move along. Explaining my need to commune with creatures, great and small is sometimes difficult to do … as many people just don’t ‘get it’. But then, most people can’t talk to animals like I can. For as long as I can remember I’ve had the ability to call the animals and I have always had an affection for all things nonhuman. The first significant event that brought my animal calling ‘talent’ to the forefront happened when I was perhaps 12 years old.

Growing up, my family was big on weekend outings … and I do mean every weekend. This particular weekend, perhaps a bit rebellious, I felt like staying behind at camp while the rest of the tribe went off hiking through the hills, heavy canteens slung low on wide belts, pick-axe in hand. Although I don’t remember exactly where we were living at the time (we moved around a lot) I suspect it was somewhere in the Southwest. My parents had set up camp in the wilderness under some trees, near a stream. I remember the family tent being army green, huge and conical-shaped. It was set up to one side of a central fire pit. Several aluminum mesh chairs were scattered around the camp area, and after everyone left, I settled down in the most comfortable.

I remember feeling lucky for having convinced my parents to leave me behind and how nice it was to be all alone in this peaceful place. As I sat there absorbing my surroundings, staring up into the canopy of trees above me, a big yellow swallowtail butterfly darted across my field of vision.

I watched the butterfly as it drifted gracefully overhead then sailed lazily through the flowering brush below. For some reason, perhaps because was alone, I felt prompted to call out to the butterfly, commenting soothingly on its beauty and grace. I asked if it might be thirsty, not seriously expecting an answer, and decided to strike a deal with the bug on the spot. I suggested aloud that if it would just hang around for a few seconds I would get up and find the stash of Tang I knew my mother had packed away after lunch, and mix up a spoonful of the sugary stuff for the sipping pleasure of this graceful bug. Which I did.

The butterfly hovered overhead as though watching, perhaps amused at my proposal but clearly not flying away. I was encouraged.

Once I had the perfect ratio of the concoction mixed up in a plastic spoon (of what was essentially orange flavored sugar-water) I settled back into my comfy chair indicating to my new flying friend that now would be a good time to take a sip. I promised to cause no harm.

I watched entranced as the butterfly rose high into the canopy of green overhead, then slowly lowered itself in a lazy spiral ending squarely on the aluminum arm of the chair I was sitting in … exactly at the tip of the spoon which I held expectantly in my hand.

Continuing to praise the creature for its beauty and grace (and bravery), I encouraged it to take a drink, which it did, unrolling its long proboscis, drinking long and slow. After a few minutes it began to get ready to fly way and I thanked the little creature profusely (though quietly) for visiting me and for making this moment so magical (and quite unbelievable).

As many times as I’ve told friends this story, I doubt that many actually believed it for true. But, who can blame them. Most people can’t call the animals, and few have an appreciation for actually speaking to bugs.

Pondering that experience brought back to mind the many other times I’ve called animals with surprising success; a dragonfly over a waterfall, a squirrel down from a tree, a snake to return to me after darting across the path (that surprised me too!). Sitting on a rock in the desert calling one lizard only to have an entire colony pop out for a visit. And, countless times at the zoo, speaking panther, miming ostrich, speaking fish at the aquarium. Like I said, most people just wouldn’t understand.

So, as I returned home from walking with my companions; human and dog, I was thinking about this story now nearly four decades gone and I marveled that I haven’t yet written it down. But then, it is seldom that I venture to share these kinds of extraordinary and humbling experiences with people, as these events though true are very difficult for most folks to rationalize. But experiences like this do continue to happen to me … Even I can’t explain how it was that there on my front porch step, seeming to wait for me to come home was a baby lizard exactly like the one I just passed on the street more than six blocks away, eyes shining up at me from the ground.

Update:

Although I have studied shamanism for more than a couple of decades now, it hadn’t occurred to me until recently that the ability to call animals falls under the purview of shamanism. And, now that I understand that, it makes sense that I would have experienced other shamanic talents such as calling sunbeams, making still water flow in circular patterns, holding off rainstorms, manifesting treasures in unexpected places, distance healing, etc. It’s funny how the most obvious answers are so illusive sometimes, but now that I do know this I feel more empowered to explore my latent shamanic talents, and it certainly helps to confirm to me experiences that seemed only oddball before.

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