One of the things I enjoy most about nature is that it generates within me a sense of wonder. There are so many beautiful questions in nature- who? what? where? when? why? and so many magnificent creatures and places to discover, that the quite natural naturalist within each of us might never satiate their desire to know this immense physical world entirely. And thus, born of desire, born of respect for exquisite beauty and phenomenally intelligent design in every inter-woven aspect and all detail, our great love affair with Earth/Orga begins and continues….
One of the things I enjoy most about winter, and look forward to all throughout the year, are moments like these (pictured above)- stories preserved in the snow. I spend a lot of time in the woods, wondering: what kinds of creatures live here? What do they look like? What do they eat? When do they come out? How many of them are there? etc., etc. And in winter I always receive some juicy clues to the mystery, nature taking a picture for me so that I can study and understand more. Not that I don’t find tracks in spring mud or wait and watch to see who nests in trees. But winter’s images often tell a deeper story. Something happened here.
The beautiful swoosh of birdwing on freshly fallen snow. But no footprints with that movement, something must have remained in flight. The dance or chase of two birds, or two creatures. The snaking pattern of a small two-footed hop-hopping along. I may not have seen the creatures, but by looking closely I can “hear” them, I can imagine a bit about their activities at that place: the distance of these impressions reveals a sound and rhythm to their movements, the depth of the impression reveals the intensity of their landing, a meandering movement suggests an inner tone.
For many moons I lived at the base of Harriman State Park in NY and had the pleasure of exploring that wild place everyday. My favorite explorations were always after a snowfall, following the tracks of coyotes. For hours and hours I would follow their lead and read the stories they left behind- where they came from, where they were going, if they traveled solo or in groups, what they moved toward, what they unearthed, who they ate, etc. One of the things I marveled at was how “jumpy” these creatures were. I would see 4 tracks crisscross and weave in and out of each other’s path and then sometimes follow in a line or two by two and then sometimes all separate again. Sometimes they would all circle around a tree, or just two of them running off, chasing something, but often just chasing each other. You could tell by the depth of their tracks whether they were walking or jumping.
And it made me wonder- what was really happening here? In all this movement, this animal group movement over a large distance- there must have been communication. So how was it done? Of course coyotes make sounds and communicate that way. But what happened when the two coyotes broke off from the group of four to explore the sound in the treetop? or when they rejoined the group, or walking single file? How were these formations formed? How were these things communicated?
I’ve always been an observer of and believer in the intelligence of the natural world, both expressed as a unified collective living field containing all life forms (i.e. planetary ecosystem) or expressed as the individual cell or organism or species, plant, animal or element. You might feel comfortable with the use of the word “intelligence” as that seems like a human quality. Similarly you might not like my use of the word “communication” when I speak of my observation of the coyotes. So let’s soften and expand our definitions of those terms and allow them to be inclusive of all life forms, not just exclusive qualities reserved for humankind. Also let’s imagine new ways of communicating, ways that are even “beyond” our human capacities, and let the other creatures of the world teach us something about that. We might call it telepathy and think of it as extraordinary for us, but for many life forms these non-verbal, non-audible ways of communicating are the norm.
Oh an just a little bit more about that… One of the most remarkable things I witnessed following the coyote stories (which still has me pondering ever since as you can tell) was this: in the midst of this wild weaving of animal tracks over obstacles and natural formations there presented a long but thin felled tree that was perpendicular to the path of the coyotes. Just one of the coyotes decided to walk the whole length of the tree and then rejoin the others. Hmmmmmm. Curious. When I noticed that coyote track I was immediately reminded of many a child I’ve taken into the woods, the playful spirit, walking the whole length of a balance beam of a tree “just because”. I’m not anthropomorphizing here. I’m merely noticing. And wondering.
Scientists and naturalists- people that spend time in nature and observe things- have long pondered whether animals “play” or if every action is biologically driven or environmentally/externally dictated. Do animals even have the luxury of time for play? For me, the story of the coyote tracks revealed new possibilities.
Get out into nature and see for yourself.