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Two Encounters

Posted on Sunday, July 16, 2006 at 07:11PM by Registered CommenterMarshall Massey in , | Comments6 Comments

Here’s a story:

I was teaching a class in English as a second language to migrant workers in California. One woman told me about a man from her village in Mexico who had become mentally deranged as a result of a hunting incident. While hunting in the forest, he had come across a monkey in a tree. When he aimed his rifle at the monkey, it saw him, screamed, and pointed to its lower abdomen. The man shot and killed the monkey. He found that it was pregnant. (Mitchell Hall, “Some Animal Tales”, Orion, Spring 1990, p. 63)

One of our stronger testimonies, here in the Society of Friends, is our recognition that God can speak through anyone to us — anyone, anytime, anywhere — and our insistence on listening accordingly. That doesn’t mean that God is doing so. And it doesn’t follow from this premise that if a Hindu guru or Baptist preacher makes holy-sounding statements, this proves that God is saying those things through him to us. No. But the possibility exists that God might be speaking through the guru or the preacher to us, and we have no right to rule out that possibility until we’ve given it some reasonable degree of consideration.

The teller of the Orion story informs us that the hunter became mentally deranged as a result of his experience with the monkey. And why would he have become so deranged? A person who kills a fellow human being may become deranged if the fact sinks into his consciousness that he has extinguished a being and a consciousness as real and significant as his own. Think of Lady Macbeth, trying to wash out the bloodstains in her sleep. Or Hamlet’s uncle Claudius, crying for lights after the play-within-a-play. Did something similar happen to the monkey-killer?

In my entries to this blog, I’ve been quite heavy-handed in conveying the sufferings of the creatures, as they have spoken to me. I won’t apologize for that, because I’ve simply been reporting what I’ve actually been experiencing. The corn has cried out to me from the fields, the road-killed creatures from their rotting carcasses, and that shy baby raccoon near Covington from the roadside.

Last night I was encamped at a commercial RV park and campground on the eastern edge of Ohio. (I’ll report on how I got there in some future posting. For now, I just want to talk about what happened.)

Like all the other campers there, I parked my car on one side of the service drive, and set up my portable habitation (in their case, their trailers, in mine, my little tent) on the other side of the drive.

baby robin 4web.jpgWhen I had finished setting up my tent, I turned back to my car, and saw that a baby robin, just coming into its adult feathers, had fallen out of its nest in the tree overhanging my car, onto the grass below. There it was in front of my car, looking feeble and unlikely to survive and altogether miserable in the grass.

The parent birds were nowhere to be seen.

Now, I’m not an expert, but I’m under a delusion that I know a little tiny bit about such matters. I “know” (meaning: somebody told me) that you do not handle a fallen birdling unless you’re willing to take full responsibility for it, because once a human has handled it, the parents will no longer feed it. I also know that one can do a fair job of raising a baby magpie by stuffing little balls of dog food down its tiny gullet whenever it cries for food. I’d presume one can do the same with a baby robin.

But as a traveler passing through, I wouldn’t be able to properly care for this particular little one. Not unless I abandoned everything else to stay right here in this campground for the next few weeks while I raised the little guy! — which would be a breach of my responsibility to Friends. It would not work to try to take it with me in the car, chasing and recapturing it whenever I opened a door and it got out, and bringing it with me into motels and the like.

I went in search of the campground’s owners. They knew a lot less than I did about proper bird care (they wanted me to pick it up and put it on a woodpile, which would have doomed it), and they declined to take charge of the chick.

Well, I felt helpless. I watched the little being for a time, and lo, an adult robin came along and stuffed its beak down the baby’s throat. I didn’t see that it put any food in, and I didn’t see it, or any other adult bird, repeat the action during the remainder of the evening — though I was only watching a fraction of the time, so I could have easily missed something.

In the morning the little guy was still around, and actually seemed the tiniest bit perkier than the previous evening.

I don’t know what happened after that. I went and did my day’s walk and my day’s drive, and when I returned the little one was no longer anywhere where I could spot it.

Many things have passed through my head since then, regarding that situation. The parable of the good Samaritan, for example. (Right now I’m feeling quite sure that the Pharisee who passed the wounded traveler by was walking to Harrisonburg, Virginia, to deliver a speech.)

I’ve also been thinking of a particular disease that afflicts us human types from time to time — the disease of seeing the beauty contained in the natural world, while failing to see that it also contains creatures suffering and in need. A healthy spirituality will of course be able to see both things — even to hold them in the mind’s eye simultaneously.

But above all, I’ve been thinking about the fact that the little one never peeped to me for help. Nestlings fallen from their tree will sometimes do so, when they know no other help is forthcoming. But this little one peeped instead to the adult bird that came and made a feeding gesture. Tiny and young though it was, it knew perfectly well where its best chances lay.

When I set out on my walk this morning, I surprised a black snake by the side of the road, not half a mile from the campground. It might have been two and a half feet long, from what I saw of it. It slithered a couple of feet away from me into the grass, as rapidly as it could, and then paused, and reared up its handsome head to look at me. And then, having seen whatever it was that it was looking for, it tossed its head away from me with cool ophidian aplomb, paused another split second, then dove further into the grass.

Communication between the creatures and ourselves comes in all sorts of flavors. In the presence of that black snake, I knew that I’d been sized up and casually dismissed.

Query: What creatures has God spoken through to me this day? And what has He said through them?

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Reader Comments (6)

explain the quote below is [their word]”hogwash.”

Reality is just a click away

“Now, I’m not an expert, but I’m under a delusion that I know a little tiny bit about such matters. I “know” (meaning: somebody told me) that you do not handle a fallen birdling unless you’re willing to take full responsibility for it, because once a human has handled it, the parents will no longer feed it.”

-- comment posted by Michael Cronin
July 17th, 2006 at 1:04 a.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:02AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
I have been very moved reading about your journey. And this entry really struck me, because I agree that other creatures do communicate with us — we just need to pay attention. I laughed when you wrote about the snake, because I have had similar experiences, even though I want to think that animals can pick up on my benevolence and would appreciate it and affirm it. Maybe that is why many people don’t want to acknowledge that animals communicate with us: too often they size us up and then dismiss us as unimportant. It takes humility to face the natural world with this kind of honesty. Humans may be the the primary focus of attention in our own lives, but we are not the center of attention in the lives of other creatures (despite all the ways that our doings impact their lives).

But, having said this, I also need to add that many of the moments of communication with animals are moving, enlightening, comforting, or affirming. I have noticed that when I am down, human strangers tend to turn sour and mean, but animals usually react with kind interest. So when I am down, I walk in the woods instead of the town.

-- comment posted by Contemplative Scholar, http://contemplative-scholar.blogspot.com/
July 17th, 2006 at 8:07 a.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:03AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Michael, thanks for the data. As my phrasing indicated, I was a little suspicious of the received wisdom — though I didn’t want to take chances. The clarification you’ve given may save a bird life or two some day!

And, “Contemplative Scholar”, thank you for your amplifying comments. It sounds as if this is an area in which you and I are on much the same wavelength.

-- comment posted by Marshall
July 17th, 2006 at 8:55 a.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:04AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Well, Marshall, someday when we are able to grab a few minutes with each other, I would be happy to tell you how I helped raise two baby robins who still had their eyes closed, who had no feathers, and whose nest had been blown down by a storm. A biology teacher suggested I bring them in and feed them to the class’s snake.

I didn’t.

But I am glad you were seemingly “released” from carrying the worry for that baby robin in your heart, let alone carrying it in your car. (Though it would have made a good story.)

Glad Snopes affirmed what I had also heard over the years.

Liz, The Good Raised Up

-- comment posted by Liz Opp, http://thegoodraisedup.blogspot.com/
July 17th, 2006 at 7:41 p.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:05AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
Marshall, This has nothing to do with any of the above. But I had the thought that if while you are in West Virginia you are anywhere near the kind of mining that removes the tops of mountains (”topping”), I recommend that you see this even if you have to ask questions to find same and go a little bit out of your way. It is something to behold indeed. “Could not believe my eyes” ceased to be just an hyperbolic expression for me when I saw it. Given where you live, this might be a once in a lifetime experience and something you could carry back home and elsewhere for the rest of your life. Of course, all this assumes you have not already seen this. —- Peace, Alan

-- comment posted by Alan Palmer
July 18th, 2006 at 12:29 p.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:07AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey
My wife has a t-shirt with the following quote from R. Buckminster Fuller:

“Nature is trying very hard to make us succeed, but nature does not depend on us. We are not the only experiment.”


-- comment posted by Ken Lawrence
July 18th, 2006 at 12:57 p.m.
Sep 4, 2006 at 10:08AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

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