Sunday, September 5, 2010

Animal Totem

In many Native American cultures, there is a concept of a totem, or symbol that represents a person, a tribe, or a family. This totem is usually an animal, and this animal is a guide or a guardian spirit. This Legends of America website does a nice job explaining the idea. I also like how it explains how you can discover what your animal totem is. I like thinking of different animals that fascinate or resonate with me.

The second time I went to Alaska, just weeks after my mom died, I became fascinated with the salmon. I went with my cousin Kathy and her kids to her husband's family's homestead. You had to hike in to it a couple of miles. It was the beginning of September, and the berries were fermenting on the vine in the forest, and the whole place smelled like fruity wine. The bears were fat and sleepy, getting ready to hibernate for the winter. I saw the exact place where they would sit in the stream and fish. And the salmon were on the very last leg of their journeys home. They were literally dying from the outside in. I went canoeing for the very first time, and they would swim by us in the stream, barely able to move, but still struggling on. I'm sure it sounds gross to think of their flesh basically falling off of them as they swam, but it wasn't gross to me at all. It completely mesmerized me... that these fish had an instinct so strong and a job so important to do, that they would not stop doing it until their bodies literally fell apart. Even when they are mostly dead, they go on. There was something very beautiful in that to me. When you look at what the animal totem of a salmon means, it stands for determination and persistence. That this animal came into my life when I was at the bottom of the pit of despair is pretty amazing and wonderful.

When my friend Cate would invite me to her island in Ontario, there were many things I fell in love with, but one above all others was the loon. The first summer I went to her cottage, a loon pair had babies, and the babies rode on the back of the parent. It was seriously the cutest thing I had ever seen. At night, we would fall asleep to the loon's song. During the day, we would watch them hunt and swim and dive, wondering where they would surface again. Last summer, when I went to Alaska again (I never noticed this Alaska/animal totem connection until right now), I mentioned on my last day that the next time I visited, I hoped to go canoeing. My Aunt Darlene, Uncle Bob, and my cousins tried to think of a way to make it happen before I left. We went to a little lake on base called Otter Lake, and it was magic. My cousin Ahnna was with me in the canoe, and we saw some loons in the distance. We paddled over to them, because I wanted to get closer. They had told me the loons nested on the far edge of the lake, and we probably wouldn't be able to get close because of how protective the loon pairs would be. Ahnna and I quietly got about 30 feet away from a pair. We put our paddles up, and just watched. It was beautiful. They finally dove under, and we let out the breath we'd been holding in, smiling at our fortune. Suddenly, the loons surfaced about 10 feet from us, not scared at all. They swam around our canoe, and one dove under and swam right under our canoe! It absolutely took my breath away. Beautiful. Today, I discovered the Native American symbolism for a loon. It symbolizes hope, dreams, wishes, creativity, music, and imagination.

I think anyone who knows me would say I'm a perfect balance of persistence, determination, hope, and creativity. The salmon and the loon make complete sense for me.

Which brings me to today...

Today I met with my Centering Prayer group because our Judy was back in town from Washington State. Aside from one other person I can think of, my Centering Prayer ladies are the only other women I allow to mother me in any sort of way. They are very dear to me. Our Centering Prayer times on Friday afternoons fill me up like nothing else really does.

Judy brought these wonderful little charms with her from Washington. They each had animal totems on them. She brought little cards that explained what each totem meant. At the top of the card, leading the two columns, were the salmon and the loon. I smiled... there they were! My animals! Judy had a handful of little charms that she spread out on the table. We were to choose, but maybe more than that, we were to let the charms choose us. There wasn't a loon, but I saw the salmon. I knew it was mine.

We all gathered around, and before I knew it, my salmon had been snatched. And not by me! Hey! I'm the salmon! Hm. I looked at the others left, and Judy scolded me for examining them so closely. I felt them all in my hand and chose the one that had the "right" feel. It was the moon. Not an animal at all. And on the back, it said "guidance."

Before Judy brought out the animal totems, we'd had 3 1/2 hours of wonderful catching up. We'd all shared things about our lives. We'd laughed and commiserated with each other. I'd shared some upcoming huge, life-altering decisions I have ahead with life, love, work, and my future. This year could bring some big changes my way.

Guidance. When I thought about it, it's what I'm going to need most this year. I didn't even see it at the time my salmon went into the hand of another.


Thank you, Judy, for your beautiful gift. I'll keep it with me as I continually seek guidance in my life this year.

Gotta love those God moments. Keep them coming, Big Guy.

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