So I was following a link from a favorite blog, to another blog that happened to be talking about the blogger’s relationship with animals. I’m not linking because these things are so common and so frequent that you can probably cite your own examples.
Usually the style is soulful. The subject matter: how the author encounters animals, or recounts a story or myth about them, or ponders their existence and nature, and has Deep And Profound Things To Say About Them.
Except it’s not about the animals at all. It’s all about the author. The animal is a mirror, reflecting a human face.
I used to have a recurring not-quite-nightmare when I was a kid–five years old or so. I was playing with my brothers, and we were riding horses. But every time, as the dream went on, the horses would change. They’d turn into the stick horses we actually “rode” in our waking playtime. Then I’d wake up, and the disappointment stayed with me for hours.
I didn’t want stick horses. I wanted real ones. I didn’t care much for talking animals, either, or, as I grew, cartoons with animals that acted out human preoccupations. Humans in animal costumes seemed horrible to me, like clowns. I wanted humans to be humans, and animals to be animals.
Somewhat oddly in context, shapeshifters didn’t bother me, then or afterward. A real human turning into an actual animal, or the reverse? Bring it on. (Team Jacob, oh yes. And Emma Bull’s Pooka and Dun Lady’s Jess and…)
There’s something about an animal being an animal. There will be points of similarity with humans–including emotions and motivations (human objections thereto notwithstanding). But always, the animal is its own thing. It has its own biology, psychology, and agenda. It’s evolved in certain ways for certain purposes–and if it’s been domesticated, that evolution has been altered by human needs and biases. But it’s still, at base, an animal. Not a human, or a mirror of one.
And that’s what tripped my circuit when I read the blog I mentioned at the beginning. I realized that the author saw animals entirely as a reflection of himself. Whatever state of mind he was in, he imposed that on the creatures he met, threw on an overlay of myth, some natural history, and a whole lot of projection, et voila. Magic Mystic Spirit Animals.
I get a fair bit of that here on the farm. Horses are a mythic creature in human lore, and my horses being a Rare Breed with Magical Overtones makes the whole thing just a little bit more intense. Every so often someone comes along who wants to do some sort of “spiritual” thing with them–the Way of the Horse, often with a Native American angle. I’m polite, but that’s not why I’m here.
What gets to stay, and continue, and grow, is the approach that begins with the horses rather than the humans. That sets human prejudices aside and does its best (because we all see the world through the lens of our own biology and psychology) to approach the horse as a horse. As a separate, and distinct, entity.
That’s hard. We always want it to be about us. Stopping, stepping back, examining our assumptions, takes work. It’s not always comfortable. We make mistakes, or we misread. With large animals, that can have bruising consequences.
The reward isn’t always warm or fuzzy. I may find myself relegated well to the background when it comes to the herd’s priorities–unless I’m bringing food, in which case I’m the first thing any of them wants to see. But then, because I’m in the herd, too, from the horses’ perspective, and do what I can within the limits of my physical structure, I’m very much a part of their world. They’ll accommodate me as they can. They come to riding and training willingly, even eagerly. They show every sign of being on board with it.
This interaction, day after day, expands to other animals around the farm–including the wild ones. Those have good reason not to want much if anything to do with the human, but they live in this world and this space, and to a point, they let me be in it, too.
There’s no need for a mirror. They’re all real, and every one has its own reasons for doing the things it does. If I pay attention, I learn a great deal not just about the individual animals, but about how the world works–and how to shut off all my human white noise, all the words and thoughts and biases and projections, and just let it be.