Talking to Animals



Photo by Noel Zia Lee

Sometimes we choose special animals–including birds and insects–and sometimes they choose us.

“But Mommy,” my older daughter protested, “animals can’t talk!”

Okay, so my response to her question about animal totems had failed and failed miserably. As I explained how animals have different spiritual meanings and how what they represent can “speak” to us, she began to understand.

“What animal speaks to me, Mommy? Do I pick one or does one pick me?”

“Both,” I told her. At her age she liked fuzzy bunnies and terrarium turtles, so I knew we’d have to go deeper for her to connect with an animal with substantial meaning.

That evening, we found a quiet spot where she could lie down while I led her on a search for her animal. I had her close her eyes and relax her whole body–not an easy task for an elementary school student. I began by talking about a walk amidst Nature and finding a cave.

“This cave doesn’t frighten you,” I told her. I saw her eyes moving, looking, behind closed eyelids. “It’s a safe place with torches on the walls for light. Lots of light.”

I was careful to make the cave as not-scary as possible because, unlike her sister, she was afraid of the dark and of being alone. I continued to describe the cave with all its sculpted formations, cathedral ceilings, underground lakes, and hundreds of rooms. Slowly, I walked her through room after room until she came to the cave’s exit.

“As you step out of the cave,” I said, “you’ll notice that you are in a large forest so thick with trees that sunlight can only trickle down to the thick carpet of brown leaves.” I described the trees and plants and the way the sky looked through the canopy of green leaves above.

“In the woods, you feel something watching you. A good something. It’s an animal of some sort, and you feel very good about it being there. It won’t hurt you. It’s your friend, your protector. Can you feel it?”

Eyes still closed, she nodded. Nothing on her face showed fear, so I continued. I described the woods as she walked along a narrow path toward a bright light. All the while, the “something” was with her, keeping her safe, and she knew in her heart what it was though she was not yet to say.

“Now you’ve come to the end of the path through the wood. Something is still following you, still watching over you. You step out of the woods and into a beautiful field of sunlight and wildflowers.” Then I described the feel of the grass under her bare feet, the colors of the wildflowers, the warmth of sunshine on her face.

“What was following you in the woods, keeping you safe, has followed you into the field. Turn now, very slowly, and greet what has been watching over you. When you’re done, open your eyes.”

It took her a few seconds. Then she smiled and blinked up at me.

“What did you see?” I asked.

“A deer! In the woods where it was kinda dark, it was a stag deer with antlers. It was really fierce and wouldn’t let anyone hurt me. But in the sunshine, it turned into a fawn deer and it just wanted to play. It was all new and gentle. What does it mean?”

I told her of several meanings of the deer and we discussed which interpretation felt right to her. Yes, the deer can be a symbol of new adventure, but in this case, it almost seemed to have two sides to it: the fierce protectiveness and the gentle playfulness. We discussed what was happening in her life and how the deer’s meaning applied to her.

She was happy.

Then she seemed troubled.

“Mommy, how will I know if a deer is really my animal? What if I just imagined it?”

“Confirmation,” I said with a laugh. “If the deer really is your animal, you’ll see a deer within the next three days.”

Then I kissed her goodnight. I worried a little about whether I should have told her that. Spotting a deer on the outskirts of our town isn’t unheard of, but it is rare. What were the chances of a deer showing up in the next three days?

The very next day, she woke expecting to see a deer at her bedroom window. I warned her that it might be a picture of a deer or a stuffed animal even, rather than the real thing. We packed quickly and headed to my parents’ farm to see my ailing dad.

The drive is only a few hours and most of it is Interstate and small towns. Miraculously, the girls didn’t nap on the trip and were staring straight ahead when they spotted not one, but four, deer crossing the highway in front of us. We stopped the car on the highway to watch those beautiful, sleek creatures prance across in front of us. Not another car was on that road. The quartet walked slowly into the roadside grasses, looked over their shoulders at us, and dashed into a forest of pines.

I glanced back at my older daughter, who by now was absolutely giddy. We exchanged knowing looks. She’d found her totem, or at least, the one she needs for now.


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