My connection to non-human things started, perhaps, when I swam in Lake Michigan as a little girl. I knew, long before I studied the life-cycles of plants and animals, that this lake, this bounteous resource, not only provided our drinking water, but had a spirit of its own. When I would dive into its chilly waters, after my initial shivering settled into calm, I became enveloped in its grandeur. As I grew older, I came to understand that my emersion in Lake Michigan’s waters was tantamount to taking a bath in the amniotic warmth of Mother Earth’s largesse.
Swimming there, my spirit would expand out past my ego’s self-absorption into a magnanimous empathy for all of creation. I’d fall in love with the seagulls soaring overhead, thrill at the tiny smelt darting below, get dizzy peering into the clouds above me. Refreshed and renewed, I’d be uplifted all day.
But non-human beings lift me up, too. Take dogs. Looking into their eyes is like looking into the liquid warmth of God’s. Maybe you’ve felt this. I had a deep connection with my cock-a-poo puppy, especially when we sang together. Yes, we sang. I’d get down on the floor, look into her eyes and begin singing in my deepest voice. Suddenly, she’d cock her head and return my gaze, as if to ask, “Say what?” But then something atavistic would rise in her. She’d start to quiver, make raggedy noises, then tilt her head back. Soon she’d be pursing her little doggy lips into an “O” and bust out like Lon Chaney in The Wolf Man. “Ah-ooooh…” But she wasn’t the only who felt something. When we sang together, something primeval would overtake me, too. Maybe because we were sharing. Yeah. We were a part of the pack.
My love for non-human beings expanded to include what a biology book would tell you are non-living things: things like fire, clouds and stones. Look at stones, for example, which are thousands, maybe millions, of years old. That’s a long time. Maybe since fishes crawled onto dry land. What sights had they beheld? What climate shifts had they witnessed? I learned from a book about Japanese culture, that stones are the bones of a garden, that their spirits lend both beauty and slant to provide harmony and well-being. A few years ago, however, I experienced the spirit of a stone for myself. That summer day, a large oval stone—after being heated in a fire to a glowing orange—was pulled into our makeshift sweat lodge. Dragged on the tines of a pitchfork, the carrier announced its arrival: “Welcome, Grandmother.” And there was silence. Then Grandmother was sprinkled with creek water, and she emitted whispering clouds of steam that filled me with her ancestral voice, a sound so deeply moving I felt I was a member of her ancient tribe—thousands, maybe millions of years old.
Seeing other beings—whether human or non-human—as a part of this organic, planetary whole knocks us off our hierarchical throne and aligns us with the earth’s other co-habitants. Each a member of the tribe. Each a part of the pack. Each respectful of the other’s right to exist in harmony and well-being.