I learned a lot about disorganization, chaos and finding my own true north this past summer, and the month of June was especially a butt kicker.
On our way leaving Butte Pride for home this year in mid-June, an out of control driver going well over 50 miles an hour bounced off a curb in the opposite lane, suddenly now careening in our direction. Somehow, the driver magically corrected and missed hitting us head on, then sped several more blocks in the opposite lane before hitting a curb, sailing into the air, and clipping several recently planted trees before smashing into two parked cars.
We pulled over, and sprinted back up the hilly street as emergency and medical teams were already en route. The lone driver’s airbag had deployed, the car was crunched in on three sides, and the driver was being comforted by a nurse who had also witnessed what had happened.
Erik and I shuddered to think what might have happened had the driver done the same thing the day before, when hundreds of people were gathering downtown to celebrate Pride in Montana, or what might have happened had they struck us head on that day.
It also happened to be Father’s Day, which since 2011 has become especially bittersweet, given that my father lives with Alzheimer’s, and can no longer care for his formerly quite independent yet still feisty self.
The following day I still felt rattled and unsettled by the near-miss with the erratic driver. Early that morning, I dropped off my car for fairly extensive and expensive repairs, wondering and worrying over how that would impact our late June break camping and hiking in the Big Snowy Mountains of central Montana, and other plans and projects envisioned for the summer.
While walking home from the mechanic’s to start the work week, I careened from a somber to a sullen mood after learning that my email account had been hacked. The hacker had told people I was detained in The Philippines and needed a few thousand dollars in order to return home, and lots of friends and colleagues called and contacted me to let me know what had happened. Flo-Jo the cat sensed my steaming mood-she quietly left the house, and bedded down outside in some tall grass while I continued to stew, and simmer and swear.
I became even more enraged as I realized that the hacker had stolen and deleted nearly all of my contacts (plus she or he had somehow managed to steal the youtube video from my website) that people had been deluged with spam from my address, and that the hacker had set up a yahoo email address that looked very similar to mine.
Furious, vengeful ideas reigned for a few hours, coupled with the anger and annoyance at what this meant to my work day, my work week, and everything else on my plate. I also felt vulnerable and violated, and wondered what else the hacker may have gotten his hands on.
So what does any of this have to do with an urban squirrel?
I had hit a boiling point with the scope and scale of the hacking, and as I walked outside to take a break I saw a large squirrel devouring ripening cherries from our lone cherry tree.
Instinctively I picked up a heavy, corrugated empty cereal box, and with perfect aim and anger sailed it at the squirrel ten yards away, grazing his skin, startling him, causing him to run up a nearby apricot tree. He sat there panting, still, blinking his eyes repeatedly, while I continued to yell and swear and explode at him. Now really pissed off, I stomped into the kitchen, having totally lost my shit and sense of connection to anything. Come to think of it, the squirrel seemed to be mirroring physically what I was experiencing!
Suddenly I was aware of how crazy this all looked, seemed and felt, and how I was choosing to respond to what was happening.
Here I am, someone skilled at mentoring others to consistently deepen their connection with nature and their own lives, having a major meltdown and exploding at a squirrel that just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time on a bad day for poor Hobie. “Wow. How pathetic!” was my first reaction, but then I started thinking, “How funny, too!”
What if this were all happening in the right place, at the right time, for the right reason? What if this were indeed a good day, and the squirrel was a messenger for me to reconnect with nature and my own true nature?
I sat out on the front steps for several minutes, focusing on bringing my breath into balance, and envisioning myself grounded with the earth’s healing, peaceful energies. I decided to act calmly, and to communicate in the spirit of forgiveness towards the squirrel, myself and everything else that I had conjured up to be a threat and a problem these two days, and to shift the spiraling, unproductive energies that had surfaced.
So I approached to where the squirrel was still resting and breathing hard on a high branch of the apricot tree, and stopped once I was within 20 feet of him.He blinked his eyes once while acknowledging my presence, and it seemed that his breathing slowed down to a more restful, calm and natural rhythm.
Then I shared the nature of how and why I was feeling and acting toward him:
“Mr. Squirrel, I am really sorry I exploded at you like that. You don’t deserve to be treated that way, in fact, no one or nothing deserves to be treated that way just because something bad, unpleasant or awful happened to me. I am really sorry for how I have acted, and I give thanks for your understanding and forgiveness. But please, it was a real bummer last year when you ate all of our cherries and didn’t leave us any to enjoy. Can you please this year leave us some, and instead enjoy some of the apricots and other fruits?”
Flo-Jo had woken up from her feline nap in the grass, rubbing up against my foot as I talked to the squirrel-she was likely thinking that one of her owners was now certifiable, given that he was bantering with the enemy. I gave her some extra food for putting up with my rants that morning, and proceeded to make the most of the rest of the day in a focused, calm manner.
Looking back at this past summer, the squirrel didn’t touch the cherry tree again. Instead we saw him lunging into the apricot and box elder trees and traversing the garage roof en route to feast in the neighbor’s garden, but he left everything alone in our garden this season.
Out of all this chaos and shit came much-needed order and clarity, and from an encounter with a squirrel returned discarded and disregarded humility, respect and wisdom. This course correction also brought me back into my own natural orbit again, one where I work in harmony with (and not against) the universe in being and doing my best, and in mentoring people to have a deeper, more consistent connection with nature, no matter where their feet are.
I wonder what animal will be my next teacher, and what my next lesson will be in life, yet I also hope that next time I don’t have to totally lose my cool in order to become more enlightened. Stay tuned!