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Rare

“Benjamin, there’s something moving under that plastic bag!”

We were standing on the water’s edge of Tarrytown Lake. Wedged between the rocks was a crumpled, black plastic bag and something was poking its head against it, over and over.

Before Benjamin could take a look, I concluded that it was a turtle in need of rescue. Grabbing a nearby stick, I was just about to lift the bag to free the poor thing, when Benjamin said, “Love, that’s not a turtle.”

Suddenly, a beautiful, reddish-brown snake wiggled from the rocks, disappearing into the water as I giggled with delight.

I love snakes. Every time we’re on a bike ride or a walk, I make a silent wish to see one. I love everything about them- their intense eyes, long bodies, hundreds of vertebrae, soft scales, shine and color, how they shed their skin, and most of all, how they move, flying over dirt or through water, connected to the elements, moving with speed and flexibility.

Consulting our Peterson’s Field Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians, we learned that our lovely creature was a Northern Water Snake. Because of her cross bands, she can be misidentified as a Cotton Mouth or a Copperhead, but she is longer, more slender, with a flatter head the same width as her body. Gorgeous.

I also like to research the symbolism of different animal encounters. Seeing a snake can be interpreted as: a need to balance your energies between impulsivity and calm, a call to practice diplomacy in speech and writing and a reminder that you are dynamically intuitive.

Thank you, Lady Snake. I am constantly trying to stay in one place while dreaming of jumping on a train to anywhere. I always feel like I need to be careful, thoughtful with what I say and especially with what I write, and I often wish I could temporarily “turn of” my intuition, because it gets crowded inside. My friend Kate would tell me not to wish this for a second. She firmly defines intuition as a collection of the senses, something we should never lose, so Kate, I don’t really mean this. It’s just that sometimes a little mental space, without humans, helps me recharge. Thankfully, I always find quiet in the mornings.

I work on my posts at 5 am, looking out my studio window. For the past couple of mornings, I’ve seen a bat flitting above the grass, in and out of the light, close enough to my window to make out the shape of his little hand-wings before he goes swift into the woods.

I am lucky for this view. The list of creatures with whom I have shared this space grows and grows. It has included: song birds, crows, vultures, ospreys, hawks, swallowtails, monarchs, wild bees, a groundhog mama and baby, bucks, does, fawns, a turtle, a husky dog, cats, and recently, two rare sights, a red fox and a mink.

I first saw the pretty red fox emerge from the creek bed to the right or Northwest of my window. At first I couldn’t believe what I was witnessing. It’s not every day you see a fox in your backyard. It’s not every day that you see them at all. In fact, I can count the total number of times I’ve had the privilege:

1. In Wisconsin, at my friend’s cabin, one sashayed across the yard with a snake in her mouth.

2. In Delaware, at Cape Henlopen State Park, a pup skirted along the trail, found a safe spot in the scrub pines, sat down and scratched his ear with his back leg.

3. Running along a ridge near Rockefeller State Park, I saw the silhouette of a fox. This sweetie was way too close to the highway, so I closed my eyes and willed her to be safe.

4. From my car window along a back road between Delaware and Maryland, I saw a pup jauntily walking a straight row of corn, looking so peppy, I wanted to jump out and play with him.

5. And in my backyard, foxy jumped from the creek bed onto the rock wall, using it like a tight rope, tip toeing deftly, making her way past my window and up the hill into the woods.

Symbolically, a fox sighting can ask you to: think creatively, seeking different approaches to a problem, be aware of your habits, utilize all of your resources for your goals, avoid making waves, adapt, be mindful of your surroundings and be still for the teachings.

Thank you, Lovely Fox. As I explore the business part of being a writer, I need to remember all of the above. I have written several query letters that will hopefully catch the attention of agents. I have been meta-writing, describing my work, drafting several ways to pitch it. I have researched publications that might be a good fit for my blended genre and conferences where I might have opportunities to speak face-to-face with people in the industry. And I’ve been checking myself, trying to be more patient, balanced and vigilant.

Perhaps when you practice learning from nature, more nature shows up. It could be luck, being in the right place at the right time, but I like symbols and signs, making connections, philosophizing. I have a humanoid brain after all, and spotting a mink did feel extra-ordinary.

I was standing at my kitchen window when I saw a black animal, low in the grass along the chain link fence that divides our backyard with the neighbor’s. At first I thought it was a cat (I always think ‘cat’), but he was almost slithering, shuffling too smooth and swift for a cat’s hunting crouch. Then I thought maybe he was a skunk, but he was thinner, with no white stripe, and his fur was more sleek than fuzzy. Finally, he lifted his head, and I swear for a second I thought he was a meerkat, because he turned his head side-to-side like a periscope. Adorable!

I looked him up, and sure enough, he was an American mink. They burrow near creek beds, so the little brook that runs along the edge of the woods must be his water source. It’s reassuring to think that that small amount of water can support so many species.

To see a mink can mean you are: drawn to deep study of complex concepts, capable of holding multiple, contrasting opinions, willing to go to painful places for knowledge, desirable for what you produce not necessarily for who you are, in constant need of seclusion to find nourishment, and aware of your need for a reserve of surplus, internal energy.

Yes! Thank you, Sir Mink. I do like to study ideas, and I can’t help but think critically, seeing things from many points of view. I have used physical pain as a teacher of my limits of movement. Solitude is an absolute craving, and I am constantly aware of preserving my energy, especially when social events are near.

The one that confuses me is being desirable for what you produce, not who you are. This could refer to the killing of minks for their coats and not recognizing their value to the ecosystem (many humans are slow in understanding this), but maybe for me this refers to my careers. I was a good teacher, but it wasn’t all of me, and while students needed me, I needed quiet more. When I finally put my books out into the world, I know there will be the promotional, social part, and I’ll do this, because it’s part of the process.

But I’ll be thinking about biking on a trail or being alone in my studio, writing my next book, waiting for the next fable of animals to teach me, just outside my window.

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