Ekunyi's Embers

Hunting, Habituating and Hibernating

When it comes to my work with animal-based guides, I have mostly found myself drawn to predators. Great-horned owl, red wolf, western green mamba, polar bear, orca… the list goes on. Until recently, my gods have reflected this association: they’re both warriors with predatory theophanies. They are the hunter, not the hunted.

To some extent I think this fascination is cultural: for all that human population seem to feel threatened by predators, there simultaneously tends to be a glorification of predatory species in art and literature that overlooks prey animals. On the other hand, I think there is also a matter of personal compensation. I am not as strong as I would like to be, I have had to teach myself to be independent, to fight, to hunt down the things I need rather than constantly providing for the needs of others as is my first instinct. I look to predators to teach me these things.

So when my Keystones e-course asked me to study a predator: this was easy. Not two days before that lesson arrived I’d been reading about the local coyote population in the newspaper. I could easily admire the adaptable, cunning canines that have worked their way into Pittsburgh city limits, living well off of young deer, rabbits, squirrel, and yes, the occasional small cat or dog left outside during the dark hours. I enjoyed reading more about their flexibility, their ability to hunt as a temporary pack or function alone in equal measure. I found it interesting that the article actually took into account that they were helping with the over population of deer in the area, while also acknowledging that they were proving a threat to the domesticated animals of the city.

Less easy was picking a prey species. After several days of disgruntled failure to choose, I wound up stepping into the patch of woods behind my apartment and sending a silent request for some clue of who would like me to work with them. Over the next three days, I saw three groundhogs in three separate locations, and subsequently became very aware of certain biases.

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Memories reared up of my father complaining about groundhogs tearing up the backyard, my mother twisting her ankle when a tunnel collapsed beneath her. Simultaneously, I recognized that I had never shifted anything remotely like a groundhog in meditation: and the prospect of transforming into something so small and, well, rotund… didn’t sit well. I’d be lunch!

More days passed with little progress made at convincing myself to give it a try. Finally, at Meeting, as I settled myself into quiet meditation and began to visualize the temple in the woods, I was met with an immediate request from Heqat, “You have two visitors.”

Coyote and Groundhog stood at the end of the long temple hall, waiting just beyond the edge of the marble flooring. I followed them hesitantly as they led me deeper and deeper into the winding maze of trees and brush. We finally settled by a small hole in the ground, and I sat, crosslegged, waiting for what was to come next.

In the blink of an eye I *was* groundhog, and could not seem to shift myself to anything else. I panicked, feeling very small, and very aware that a predator was now staring down at me hungrily. I ran instinctively toward the hole, right on the tail of the groundhog who’d led me there. We clambered down, but a sharp pain from one of my hindfeet held me in place and I began to be dragged back out. The groundhog in front of me whirled around, rushing past me, and sunk his very long teeth directly into the coyote’s snout. The predator let go of me, and we both rushed deeper into the den, down into the cool darkness and safety.

The tunnel went on for far longer than I expected, past a small side chamber with some grass-like material, and eventually back up again some indeterminate amount of time later. My guide reared up ahead of me, sniffing cautiously, before wandering out. I was all nerves, body full to brimming with scents and awareness. It was kind of amazing, how much I recognized from the tiniest of vibrations in the earth around me, how much I could smell. We rushed across forest, finding another den to explore. This one was structured the same way, but held a small group of wild rabbits, who’d taken advantage of another groundhog’s efforts. I marveled slightly at how the den could be passed on from one species to the next.

Continuing on to the third den, we were nearly taken by a hawk but made it below ground in time courtesy of the warning cry of another of our kind. It struck me then how skilled my guide was, how challenging he made it for his predators to find him. I was reminded also of how fiercely he fought for me, how much damage those long marmot teeth could do when necessary.

I apologized, and I thanked him.

He stopped his running and turned, amusement in his small eyes.

So I’m not “just a rodent”?

“No, though I may be just a fool.”

Hmm. Perhaps! But this can change, given time, thought, and effort.

“What should I do?”

Dance me. Learn my motions. Read of me. Bring your new knowledge to my dance. Then, once you have done this, rest. Learn of the significance of hibernation, and hibernate yourself. You need time to consider, time just to be, before you will be ready to run to your next destination without being consumed. Rest, and you will make it. Do not rest, and what you fear will eat you. You cannot forever be the hunter.

This will be a difficult lesson for me, having solely defined myself for so long as someone who must constantly be on the hunt for new work to be living a worthwhile life, constantly chasing the next challenge to prove myself worthy. But, having made the realization that this is not healthy, I think I can take the first step towards hibernating for awhile, habituating myself within a new environment, and finally, when ready, emerging and beginning the hunt once again.

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