Owls and Wombats

September 27, 2010

One day, as I stood under a great chestnut tree deep in the center of the woods, I heard some rustling in the branches. I looked up and saw a family of owls, a mother and four fledglings, all on one branch. The moment I moved, they frantically whisked off.
I vowed I would become a friend of theirs, and realized I must not disturb them in any way. I learned if I approached very quietly, advancing just a few steps, then standing still, then advancing a little more, the owls were not intimidated. And then I would reach the chestnut tree and stand under it absolutely motionless for as long as I could, fifteen minutes, half and hour or so.
After doing this day after day for several weeks, I could tell the owls had gained confidence in my presence. Gradually, I dared to raise my arm and lift one of the four babies off its perch and place it on my shoulder for a few minutes and then return it safely. I did that with all of them over a period of weeks and finally made the great maneuver — I extended my arm and lifted them one by one, all five of them, on to my arm. I started with the most familiar one, the mother owl. And then once she was perched there, the others were happy to join. By then they were familiar with my touch. There was no sense of separation; I was part of their life process.
My encounter with this family of owls was one of the most intimate of all my experiences with the animal world, a world I consider to be part of our own world, too.

Stanley Kunitz

I have started with this shortened version of some prose writing by poet Stanley Kunitz, not because I have an owl story myself to tell, because I don’t, but in his story Kunitz reveals what it takes to gain acceptance or, equally, insight or wisdom in the “animal” world — I would also say “sensate” world. And I favour the implications such experiences have on our ability to connect to the more-than-human world.

The key is patience. Doing something day after day for several weeks or longer; much longer.

wombat with joey in pouch

Nearly everyday I do a sort of slow walking meditation around the two kilometer track on my property. By walking thus, with an unhurried focus, I tend not to “come crashing through the forest” so to speak and, therefore, don’t scare off the wild life before my arrival. This past week, as I rounded a corner just past the Drop Stone bench, I came upon a wombat with a very distended stomach that hinted at something I had never before seen. I stopped and, like Kunitz with the owls, remained motionless for a very long time. The wombat continued to munch on sagg roots and, eventually, slowly, walked off up the hill stopping every now and then to munch some more.

This was amazing for two reasons. The first was the time of day because wombats are normally nocturnal and generally don’t exit from their tunneled den until dusk. This wombat must have been extra hungry and this explained the big belly.

When the wombat turned her back to me and with her left hind leg scratched her rear, I noticed a small paw coming from a circular opening on her rump. Yes!! Wow!! Fantastic!!! I was witness to a baby wombat curled up inside the pouch of the marsupial wombat. Never in the 18 years of being on the land at Windgrove had I been fortunate enough to have such an encounter.

Again, like Kunitz, I held my patience and only moved very slowly toward Mother wombat and Little wombat when they ambled off together further up the hill.

baby wombat

How marvelous, I thought, to be in a womb that opened to the world and allowed one to peek out and test its safety slowly. No sense of physical or emotional abandonment to plague the future of this little one.

baby wombatHow endearing, I thought, as I closed my eyes and felt the snugness of a leathery pouch all round me that included an aperture “window” on the world to view from; sort of like looking out the rear window of a car as a kid as we drove up north to the cottage in northern Michigan.

baby wombatWith little pink ears, Baby Wombat took a sampling of grass. How different was this to the warm milk from his mother’s teat? What new taste sensations is this little guy/gal experiencing daily?

And like all children who eventually tire of the “outside” world, we just wrap ourselves in something snuggly and shut out this “too big” world.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

sally January 11, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Oh … wow! And I love your thoughts about the womb with a window, I’d never quite thought of marsupials like this before, and it’s so true. Our use of slings and backpacks doesn’t even come close to the perfection of this evolutionary loveliness (and the plain good sense of it!).

Zani September 27, 2010 at 8:43 pm

What precious pictures Peter – brought a welling to the eyes… thanks for sharing these, as with all of your posts…

xoxox Zanni

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