Intrusive Emissary

November 18, 2022

I encounter deer on the road with disturbing frequency. It’s hard to predict when and where they’ll appear.

A week ago, a deer ran in front of my car on a busy road in town next to the hardware store and the pharmacy. It wasn’t a place where I would have expected to see a deer, though it wasn’t exactly odd either.

What was unusual is that my car’s electronic eyesight, which is often oversensitive, didn’t react. What was downright bizarre is that I slammed on the brakes without seeing the deer. I looked around afterward to see why I had stopped the car.

Deer are embassidors from the spirit realm. They are fairy creatures. In this case, the deer was telling me that my psychic senses were more active than I realized.

One of the best ways to hone psychic skills is to make space for “down time.” Daydreaming is important to intuition and creativity. I struggle with a world where constant work and productivity are valorized and even coerced. Sometimes I envy people who can work long hours and who need little sleep, but I realize I would not be the person I am if I had those talents.

Batting a Thousand

October 22, 2022

The playoffs are happening, and the World Series is around the corner, but the bats I’m writing about, celebrated this coming international Bat Week, October 24th through the 31st, are the fluttery Halloween kind.

We have at least nine species of bats in the Adirondacks, making field identification difficult or impossible during nighttime encounters. The only thing to go on is size (and sometimes numbers). I was speeding down the Blue Ridge Road before dawn this week when a huge bat flew across my windshield. Well, comparatively huge, since the most common bat I encounter is the Little Brown Bat.

With echolocation and flight agility, there is little danger of a healthy bat becoming roadkill. I’ve found they are very curious creatures, so this encounter may not have been entirely coincidental. They zero in on anything that piques their interest.

The encounter made me curious about White Nose Syndrome, the fungus that has devastated North American colonizing bats. It’s still around, though you don’t hear as much about it. Biologists are hopeful a vaccine can be developed, but right now the only solution is disinfecting the mine shafts where colonies hibernate. That sounds like a losing battle to me in the long run, since some bats will inevitably reintroduce the fungus.

I see a lot of bats, especially in the spring when they emerge from hibernation and hunt during daylight hours. It’s not because the disease hasn’t spread here yet. The Adirondacks were one of the first places where White Nose Syndrome was documented, probably having much to do with the number of biologists studying wildlife here. The American bat population, overall, has declined 90%. I think what will happen is that some bats will develop resistance to the disease and populations will then recover overall, although we will likely lose some species entirely.

In my book Invoking Animal Magic, I have an entire chapter on bats. From the book:

The term “blind as a bat” is not strictly correct, since bats do have limited vision, but obviously they are not dependent on sight to navigate a dim cave. Blindness is associated with internal vision, and it was once believed that bats used psychic powers to fly at night. Even knowing they use echolocation to get a sense of their surroundings does not make their perception less mysterious. What would it feel like to map the environment with your ears?

The bat I encountered could have been a Big Brown Bat, since this is late October and these bats are late hibernators. Photo: Ann Froschauer/USFWS
I might also have seen a Hoary Bat, since I was driving through a conifer forest and the Hoary has an atypical flight pattern. I thought for a split second this bat was a bird. Photo: Dan Clark/USFWS

The Owl’s Heads I have known

August 19, 2022

The other night a huge owl flew across my windshield.

I didn’t know what it was at first, just a streak of brown, like a darting deer, swooping a few feet above the ground. A flying deer?

I usually don’t drive at night because I’m worried about deer. Most longtime Adirondack residents share this concern, and it’s one of the reasons you don’t see many cars on the road after sundown. Although my last motorized encounter with a deer was in the middle of a hot humid day, so go figure.

Anyway, the owl got me thinking about the many Owl’s Heads I have known. There’s Owl’s Head Keene, a short popular hike with views of the High Peaks. It looks like something out of Middle Earth from below.

The Owl’s Head in Elizabethtown is referred to as Owl Head Lookout. It’s in the Giant Wilderness Area, a large tract of state land that it’s best not to get lost in.

In Hamilton County there’s an Owl’s Head with a fire tower. Considered one of the “easier” peaks, it’s still not easy, and I climbed it one afternoon with people who were fit and people who were suffering.

Photo: Marc Wanner

The goddess Ishtar was worshipped at one time as an owl goddess. (Her sister Inanna probably started out as some sort of water bird, now extinct.) To me, the sign of the owl is a scintillating reminder of the presence of the Goddess.

Another Goshawk

July 9, 2022

I’ve blogged a few times about my encounters with the Northern Goshawk, a denizen of the mature forests in northern latitudes across North America and Eurasia. For some reason, the Goshawks of North America are particularly aggressive, threatening those who come in vicinity of their nests with screams, dive bombing, and occasional outright attacks.

Photo: Karen Laubenstein, USFWS

I was threatened in 2018 while walking through a popular wooded shortcut, and it was the most frightening experience I’ve had in the woods, my encounters with Mountain Lions and mama bears notwithstanding. I was not attacked, but that mama Goshawk came veerrryy close. I felt traumatized.

I’ve always wondered what I would do if a Goshawk threatened me on a trail where there was no escape route. If I was coming in from the parking lot, I could just retreat immediately. Goshawks are not predators of humans; they’re just hysterically overprotective of their nests. But what if I was on the way out? And there wasn’t a back trail?

They like open places in the deep dark woods.

A week ago, I asked myself this question after hearing what sounded to me like a Goshawk while I was relaxing at Moose Mountian Pond, a place I’ve blogged about before. I thought the sound came from across the pond, but I forgot how tricky sound can be around hills. Also, I had already hiked in, so I would have expected the Goshawk to threaten me earlier. Anyway, I thought of the perfect escape: I could just wait until dark, and then walk out unmolested. I had a headlight, and hawks cannot see in the dark. Perfect.

Photo: Kirill Lapin

To my surprise, a Goshawk did threaten me going out. I dug in my backpack for sunglasses, because then, as in the previous encounter, I was concerned about my eyes. The Goshawk came at me screaming, repeatedly flying closer and closer to my head. Despite my earlier resolution, I didn’t turn back.

In fact, I got a bit angry. I thought to myself: I’m am NOT sitting in the buggy woods next to a buggy pond for the next six hours with nothing to do because of this overreactive feathered bully. I pressed on. I prayed. I began flailing my hiking poles above my head and in front of my face. I walked quickly. The Goshawk continued darting toward me, but she couldn’t or wouldn’t break through the moving poles.

I was surprised at her persistence. It seemed like she followed me for a few hundred yards. Anyway, I scurried a long ways before she desisted. I kept moving quickly, but I didn’t see or hear any other Goshawks on the three miles out. It was the fastest hike out I’ve ever done.

Moose Mountain Pond

But this time I wasn’t traumatized. I won’t say I wasn’t frightened, but I felt okay. I didn’t feel anxious by the time I got to the car. I didn’t have nightmares or flashbacks. I didn’t play the tapes over and over again in my head. I was able to think about other things. There has been no thought of staying indoors, though I have chosen popular trails and will avoid isolated trails in the High Peaks for a few more weeks, until goslings have left the nest.

I have seen and heard probably a half dozen Goshawks in the woods, and most have not threatened me. A few weeks ago, I heard one screaming in the parking lot to the east trail to Giant Mountain, and I saw her flying around, below the canopy, but she didn’t get in my face. A friend of mine said, when I related my story, “Well, you were encroaching on their territory.” No. That’s the kind of thing a city person will say. Just no. I wasn’t bothering the Goshawk in any way, and no other human is bothering their nests, which are high up in the tallest tree. I was on public land, there for all creatures. I stood my ground.

And you follow ’till your sense of which direction completely disappears…

July 2, 2022

Regular readers of my blog may recall that a few weeks ago I mentioned that I had come upon Bobcat scent in the woods – so strong that I postulated I was near a den.

The Bobcat theme remains omnipresent in my life. A few days after that post, I came upon a dead Bobcat in the road as I was off to another hike. Never seen that before. It was a melanistic Bobcat, like many animals in the Adirondacks.

Then, earlier this week, another sign. I hiked to a secluded spot on Lake Champlain, with a beautiful view of Camel’s Hump Mountain in Vermont. A small boat trundled by, and as it passed me the sounds of the music the people were playing drifted back to me: Al Stewart’s “Year of the Cat.”

As I explain in Divining with Animal Guides, animal signs come in a variety of ways, not just the physical sighting of the animal. Still, I probably would have thought nothing of the Al Stewart song, though I’ve always liked it, if I hadn’t been getting other signs of Bobcat. Multiple signs, especially close together, are a strong indicator that the animal sign is an important one to consider carefully.

Taking the signs one-by-one, I note that the first has to do with scent: picking up scent, ascertaining that something is close by. Then, my own conjecture that I was near the place where the mother Bobcat lived. Scent is a very primal form of communication. Humans use scent to signal sexual availability (perfume) and for camouflage (the scents that mask odors). In a Bocat’s world, scents announce presence, most of all.

The second Bobcat was dead in the road. Death is about moving beyond physical limits into the spirit world. The mysterious seldom-seen Bobcat is considered to move between worlds anyway, so this accentuated this aspect. The body was in the road – my road – so the intimation was that this encounter with Bobcat energy is a part of the direction my life is taking.

“The Year of the Cat.” This song is about a man who allows the allure of a place and a woman to distract him to the point that he has lost his exit route. He is not a prisoner, exactly: he knows someday he’s “bound to leave her,” but he’s content with the situation for now. This underlines the idea of the Bobcat I saw in the road being about encounters that are unavoidable. And the song came from a boat, another means of travel. Furthermore, the sweet refrain “Year of the Cat” came across water. The Bobcat is one of the felines that likes water, swims well, and even hunts creatures around water holes. Water is symbolic of travel to the spirit world.

Photo: Steve Hillebrand, USFWS

Multiple signs can give information that make interpretation easier. This is why I believe that the best response to an ambiguous sign is to wait for another sign, rather than looking up the meaning in a book. I mean, go ahead and do that, but keep your mind open to other interpretations and be ready to readjust your conclusions.

What are these three Bobcat signs, taken together, telling you?

Clear Skies and Quiet Water

June 24, 2022

Happy Solstice everyone!

A wonderfully cool summer is upon us in the Adirondacks. We’ve had some hot ones in recent years. Yeah, I know: every place is like that now. But this is an area with long very cold winters, so we deal poorly with the hot weather. I encountered the opposite problem when I lived in Tucson: houses were not properly heated for the few months of cold weather.

Hammond Pond seems to be a place I visit a lot, mostly because it’s a short easy trail on the way to Vermont. It was conceived as an accessible trail that disabled people could access via ATV. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been maintained to those standards. It remains a popular trail, however. On this last visit Red-Winged Blackbirds and Pine Warblers filled the air.

My favorite birdsong is the Winter Wren, which is active where I live at the Summer Solstice.

An energetic Winter Wren kept us company on a hike yesterday near Whiteface Mountain. He wouldn’t stop for a minute.

If you’re planning to visit the Adirondacks this summer, the place I recommend is Wilmington, the village at the base of Whiteface Mountain. They have lots of outdoor athletic events, mostly foot racing and cycling. It’s a great place for mountain biking. Trout fishing is popular here, which I don’t partake in, being a vegan. The Adirondack Wildlife Refuge is here, which I find more interesting. Whiteface is the only “high peak” in the Adirondacks that can be accessed by car, although I won’t wear out my brakes on the steep route. I prefer the trail.

Whiteface Mountain

Bobcat Way

June 17, 2022

I lived for a time in the Sonora Desert with a friend who had a swimming pool. It was a great outdoor pool, Olympic size, and it didn’t get the use it probably deserved. One dedicated fan was a bobcat who regularly jumped the concrete walls to drink from the green-blue water. We didn’t think that was good for the cat, so we started replenishing daily the tap water that collected under the outdoor faucet. The honeybees (Africanized, this was southern Arizona) would also drink from this standing water.

Photo: Larry Pace, USFWS

The bobcat seemed to understand doors and windows, and was content to drink with one eye peeled at us while we stared at him through the glass screen door only a few cat lengths away. Doubtless he would have scampered away if we had opened the door. My pet kittycat Misha also liked to watch the bobcat, her tail swishing furiously back and forth as she stood behind the glass door. The bobcat disdainfully ignored her.

I have seen only a few bobcats since moving to the Adirondacks. They are shy creatures, and the cover is better here than in the desert. This week, I was walking through some woods when I caught a familiar and instantly identifiable odor. You see, bobcats really really stink. They spray to mark territory like a domestic cat. The odor was so strong that I wondered if I was near a den or if the area had been marked recently. Perhaps the animal herself was nearby. I wish I’d investigated now, but there were black flies swarming around me, and I was not wearing protective clothing, so I moved on.

Bobcat urine is sold as a rodent repellant and used around farm buildings. I have no idea if it’s ethically sourced, although I would guess it’s not toxic to the environment. The chemical in the urine that rodents avoid has been isolated. I imagine eau d’bobcat pee is not the most appealing of fragrances to anyone.

Photo: Grayson Smith, USFWS

I have become adept in discerning animal scents and can usually distinguish skunk vs. fox vs. coyote vs. wildcat odors. A little known fact about people born in the sign of Aries is that we have a rather developed sense of smell. Ask an Aries about the smells encountered on a recent trip and wait for a detailed response. I’ve known Aries who brag continually about their sense of smell, something people born under other astrological signs think is a strange thing to boast about. One of my favorite books is Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez because of the rich descriptions of smells.

As I explain in Divining with Animal Guides, an animal omen does not necessarily have be a physical sighting. Tracks, sounds, scat, pellets, and scent markings also count, as does an encounter with the name itself, such as finding yourself lost on a road called Bobcat Way. I might begin calling the trail where I met that unmistakable odor Bobcat Way. It’s a sign to begin working magically with the wildcat again.

Peeper Patrol

April 15, 2022

I had been wondering where the Spring Peepers were – those tiny frogs with a sometimes deafening chorus that emerge about this time of year. Then one day this week they were all out in force. The clip below doesn’t sound nearly loud or full enough.

Audio from Paul Smith’s College VIC

Prowling the marshes, I ran across this beauty. I’m guessing these are frog eggs, possibly Spring Peepers.

Puddles in fields and at the edge of marshes are important to amphibian reproduction. Since these puddles will dry up as the season progresses, they are not frequented by fish who would eat the eggs. The young hatchlings have a chance to develop in the water and are ready to survive on land as the puddles disappear.

Salamanders are out again. Here are Northern Two-Lined Salamanders mating.

Hamster Apocalypse

January 28, 2022

Dealing with COVID-19 sometimes feels like being on a hamster wheel. We’re in the middle of another wave, and doesn’t it feel like we’ve been here before? And before…and before…

You may or may not have heard about the hamster culling going on in Hong Kong. COVID was detected in a hamster on the island, leading authorities to demand people relinquish all their pet hamsters for testing and extermination.

COVID brings to the forefront many truths about human behavior.

  1. Humans have a tendency to over-correct. After initially ignoring the threat of COVID, China has pursued a zero tolerance policy, that has had some success, albeit with costs.
  2. When a policy works, humans tend to employ it until it doesn’t work, ignoring signs that the environment is changing. Zero COVID is unlikely to be possible without allowing the more infectious variants to run their course. But governments will be slow to recognize this.

To the children of Hong Kong who have lost their furry little buddies: So sorry for your loss. I agree, adults can be mean.