Animal Guides: The Unusual, Outlandish, and Zany
Animal guides, as with human guides appear along our life’s path to help and teach us. We may not even recognize them as guides, especially when the circumstances around their appearance are outlandish and unexpected. We’re likely to think of animal guides as of deer, bear, eagle, raven, or even jaguar, but they can be anything.
The walking pilgrimage I’ve undertaken for much for the past year is typically quiet, contemplative, and regenerative. There’s a sensory connection with fellow nature beings and it’s common to come away with new perspectives and insights. Always there’s a sense of sanctity, peacefulness, and wellbeing.
Once in a while a close friend joins me on a section of the Bruce Trail. And so it was that my cousin/sister Judy Willems (Jude) and I planned to meet at Kinsmen Park in Beamsville last week for a short hike east and back. It would be a delightful diversion on my route to visit my mom in Long Term Care.
Our destination was the farmstead our grandparents bought in 1949. This was their first land purchase after arriving in Canada as refugees in 1924. It’s still in the family and now stewarded by our cousins, something my grandparents would be proud of.
Jude and I had allowed plenty of time to walk, pop in at the farm and say hi. We’d then return to our starting point in time for me to get to Mom’s in time for her 4:30 dinner. It’s peak farm season after all with no time for impromptu visits.
The day’s energy already felt chaotic as I blasted down the highway for an hour and a half at 130kph/80mph to get to our meeting spot. I knew exactly where to find Kinsmen Park in a rural area above the escarpment in Beamsville, Ontario. Except what I pictured was actually Beamsville Lion’s Park. Flummoxed, I needed to find someone to ask for directions. Finally, I spotted a man mowing in the distance, parked Trudy (my motorcycle) on the gravel shoulder, and walked over. It still took a few minutes to get his attention over the sound of the mower and through his ear muffs. Kinsmen Park wasn’t far off and he didn’t know the names of the roads but he gave me landmarks to follow.
Trudy had a protector when I returned. A rooster had wandered over from across the road and strutted back and forth, barring my access. As I tried to reason with him, he startled me by cock-a-doodle-doing. Meanwhile, the clock ticked and the cock crowed. When he decided it was time, he sashayed off on his terms.
Kinsmen Park, where Jude waited, was less than five minutes away. Finding the Bruce Trail trailhead was less straightforward. The park and escarpment for miles around is a warren of walking and bicycle paths. The handful of walkers we asked for directions either admitted they didn’t know or sent us off course. We didn’t mind because the whole idea was to get out walking in nature and have rare precious time together. We’d been looking forward to this for weeks. On the other hand, I’d planned to be at Mom’s for dinner. Defeated after twenty minutes on wrong, albeit scenic paths, I pulled out my App which led us to the trail. It was close to where we’d parked.
That section of trail tracks through rocky, gnarly, and uneven Carolinian forest. You need to pay attention to your footing so there’s not a lot of opportunity to look around unless you stop. We slowed momentarily a few times to take in the surroundings but we both would have liked more. The trees were at their spring finest, humming with green energy.
It was a wonderful walk and I loved that we could be out there together but I was beginning to feel time pressured. We didn’t look at our clocks but I knew it was taking longer than planned.
At our designated point we got off the trail and walked the bit of road to the farmstead. Before walking down the driveway, we stood at frontage reminiscing. The same tall pines of our childhood stand at the side of the yard but the red chair-swing they held is long gone. Our uncle used to push us it on until we screeched. Jude remembered the circle of Adirondack chairs that used to sit in the yard. Family and strangers alike were always welcomed in that home, and still are. Across the road, a metal pipe protrudes from the rock face of the escarpment. The spring it tapped into dried up long ago, but not the memories of an endless supply of cold refreshing water with a distinct mineral taste.
The energy of family and the ancestral memories they brought with them to this country are grounded in that farm. It was where one line of our family finally put down roots after decades of upheaval and migration.
As expected, everyone was working. Jane, who lives there, popped out to say hi when her meeting ended. Checking the time, we weighed our options and realized we weren’t likely going to make it back to our vehicles in time for me to feed Mom her dinner. I kicked myself for not allowing more time. We could hurry back on the path and might make it but given the terrain and our common history of falls and broken bones, we ruled it out.
While we were mulling our choices, our cousin Robin pulled on the yard in his pickup. Even before we finished explaining our dilemma he offered us a lift, in spite of his farm duties. Caught up in the energy of that special place and day, we laughed and cavorted like children. Jude jumped in the cab with Robin and I hopped in the back with Caesar the giant German Shepherd farm dog. As I bounced along beside Caesar I couldn’t help but think of the saying about motorcycle riders knowing why a dog hangs his head out the window!
I got to Mom’s in time to feed her her dinner. I told her how I’d spent the afternoon and about the animal guides. Jude and I made plans to meet at Kinsmen park again and this time walk west and cover a different section of trail. It may not be so gnarly, but we never know what the path will bring, It’s always a different journey
This is the thing about a pilgrimage. You never know what lessons or what stories the land wants you to hear or in what format those stories are delivered. Or which animal guides will appear. Except for the drive down, everything that day had taken longer than planned. The wrong park, the rooster, the false start, the rocky path, had all eaten time. I had fretted about not having the “path” experience I’d envisioned or getting to Mom’s on time. In fact, the day had exceeded my expectations in ways I couldn’t have imagined.
I should have known when that rooster showed up that things were going sideways. Caesar capped it off! Clearly, although I didn’t recognize it at the time, these zany animal guides were reminding me to lighten up, laugh, and have fun! Go with the chaos of the day. Accept the beautiful gift of family and memories when they appear. Embrace my wild and wonderful life however it appears.
And if I’m going to expect anything, expect the unexpected!