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.

The Brindled Fairy Beast

October 8, 2021

A brindle is streaked pattern, too vague to be called a stripe, found on dogs, horses, cattle, wolves, cats, guinea pigs, and moths. Note that these are usually domestic animals. The most prized brindle pattern is orange and black, but brindled animals can also be black, white, and gray.

Brindle Moth. Photo: Ben Sale

The brindled animal is ascribed as fairy animal, with the ability to move between worlds. The Book of Taliesin mentions a brindled ox.

I shall not deserve much from those with long shields.
They know not what day, who the causer,
What hour in the serene day Cwy was born.
Who caused that he should not go to the dales of Devwy.
They know not the brindled ox, thick his head-band.
Seven score knobs in his collar.
And when we went with Arthur of anxious memory,
Except seven, none returned from Caer Vandwy.

A brindled cat is more commonly called a tortoiseshell. The First Witch in Shakespeare’s Macbeth declares “Thrice the brinded cat hath mewed,” signifying it is time to begin her magic. (“Brinded” is an older form of brindled.)

The following anecdote, which I shared in Invoking Animal Magic (found in Patrick W. Gainer’s Witches Ghosts and Signs), features a brindled dog.

Brindled dog. Photo: Peter Theakston

In the year 1880, in Peach Tree, West Virginia, a large brindled dog appeared that frightened even the meanest dogs. The mean dogs would hide under their houses with their tails between their legs. The brindled dog only appeared at night, never in the daytime. People did not like the dog and began throwing stones to discourage the dog from hanging around. The stones would pass completely through the body. The intervention of the preacher was sought, and he shot the dog five times from five feet away— but each bullet passed through the dog’s body as if it were air. Finally, after three weeks of harassment, the brindled dog went away, never to return.

This incident may or may not have occurred at this time and place. The mention of the year suggests that it really happened, while the “brindle” in the dog supports the idea that this is an old fairy story that came over to the Western Hemisphere from the British Isles. Perhaps both.

Brindle guinea pig. Photo: fokusnatur

Further reading:

Invoking Animal Magic: A guide for the pagan priestess by Hearth Moon Rising. https://www.amazon.com/Invoking-Animal-Magic-Guide-Priestess/dp/1780999291

Raid on the Otherword from the Book of Taliesin https://web.archive.org/web/20080411103302/http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t30.html

The Dog Ghost of Peach Tree in Witches Ghosts and Signs by Patrick W. Gainer. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1283594.Witches_Ghosts_and_Signs?from_search=true&from_srp=true&qid=OeXkGIXolk&rank=1

Brindled steer. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith

Batting around the Rings of Saturn

August 20, 2021

Last week I indulged in one of my favorite activities: going to the cemetery at night to watch bats. I’m happy to report that the Little Brown Bat population in my corner of the world appears to be healthy.

Isn’t he adorable? Photo: Ann Froschauer/USFWS

I caught the end of the Perseid shower and saw a stunning meteor with a long tail just after dusk. A man named Kevin was there with his telescope and I saw the rings of Saturn and four moons of Jupiter. On this evening, Jupiter appeared brighter in the sky than Venus. It has to do with Jupiter being opposite the Sun right now.

I just finished a piece for Return to Mago for next month that will begin looking at defensive magic. In this context, I am interested in the Mesopotamian giant Huwawa and the story of how Gilgamesh and Enkidu killed him. The three appeared to me in a recent meditative journey. Huwawa looked like he does in the frescoes. Enkidu was thin and gray, in his death form.

Huwawa from second millennium, B.C.E. Photo: Rama

Gilgamesh surprised me. There is a popular theory right now that the Sumerians were a black-skinned people, based on the name for themselves ,”the black-headed people.” Since the Sumerians also say that they came by boat from a land to the south, this is plausible. However, Gilgamesh looked as if he could be a typical man from present-day Iraq, only hairier and more buff. He had dark hair mixed with gray and a very long full beard. Only a little of his face showed in all that black-gray beard, and it was a good-natured face.

Gilgamesh killing the Bull of Heaven, another really bad thing he did. Second millennium, B.C.E.

Mesopotamian culture was multi-ethnic, before and after the arrival of the Sumerians, so this appearance of Gilgamesh doesn’t really contradict the theory that the Sumerians came from an island off the coast of India. And Gilgamesh may have appeared to me in a later, Akkadian guise. I don’t think this was the first time I’d seen Gilgamesh either; only the first time that I recognized him.

I’m not sure how to feel about Gilgamesh. He does some bad things, some cowardly things, and some bone-headed things in his “epic,” and the narrative doesn’t attempt to put a positive spin on his actions. I think about him a lot, however, and I’m looking forward to writing about him and his adventures.

Fox!

August 6, 2021

I saw a fox under the Champlain Bridge this week.

Photo: Krista Lundgren/USFWS

This was a Red Fox, which is unusual where I live. Most of the foxes in the Adirondack High Peaks are Gray Foxes, which seem to crowd out the Red in wooded places. Gray Foxes can climb trees! Their claws are partially retracting, like cat claws. They tend to be mostly red, the name notwithstanding.

Gray Fox. Photo: USFWS

The easiest way to tell the two apart is by the white tip on the tail of the Red. The Red Fox can be all red and white, red with gray, or all gray.

Melanistic Red Fox. Photo: Lisa Hupp/USFWS