ImageBy Keith M. Cowley
Re-posted from September 23, 2012 at 5:43pm

    The first Day of Autumn, I led a small eager group silently up the sacred Pequot hill to its eastern overlook. As we broke through the treeline, a weathered and sunlit silicate contrasted the presence of Black Vulture, lingering at cliff’s edge. Our dialogue began immediately…

    “Ha!” I scoffed. “What are you doing here?”

    He tilted his scrawny black head in our direction. “What are you doing here?”

    “I am simply surprised and humbled to see you joining us this morning. Your Black-Headed kind are not the usual characters gracing us. Have you come from the south?”

    “I am here, does it matter?” A guttural caw resounds from over the treeline. I used to confuse the sound for the vulture until I observed its escape from the beak of Crow. Black Vulture remained, beady eye wandering. The rest of my group set themselves to meditate in his presence. Pleased with their respect, I also nestled into a comfortable space in the mineral scepter.

    “I find myself excited with you here. I came to be open, and I am distracted by you. Such contrast…”

    “I distract you? Careful with whom you aim your blame.”

    “Thank you, I am distracted by myself. I desire to commune with you, since we are here in this moment.” I felt such a neediness.

    “Are we not already? Even if silent we are, even if I pay you no mind, we are One.”

    I found the chill of the morning dissipate as his dark warmth vibrated within my pores. My body loosened and I experienced the filtering of the wind as if through feathers… I wanted to be more than One. I could feel Black Vulture’s head emerge from my own, my cavities hollow and strengthen.

    “You haven’t forgotten,” he prodded. “What do you really desire?”

    Without a beat, “To bring back Walking Otter…”

    In my youth I was given this name by a close friend of my Grandfather’s, a Native American he called Red. It would later be validated by another mentor Timid Hawk, who would incite its sarcastic jest in the aftermath of my numerous youthful runaways. In the face of Black Vulture, I have lived many lives, and this would not be the first time he would remind me that he needn’t be responsible for carrying me helplessly out of Death.

    “You still need. You project your need for validation, even in the presence of Great Spirit. The Red Road is a solitary road, but it needn’t be a lonely walk.”

    Another member of our group arrived and without observance to Black Vulture approached the closest. Black Vulture gauged the scenario dispassionately and remained even still. It wasn’t until everyone was well adjusted to meditation that he considered taking wing.

    I continued to patiently await his dialogue, and not overwhelm with questioning. Just before disappearing over the cliffside he reminded me once again. “When you can learn to breathe the Four Directions as One, you can transcend every Death.” His charcoal flight feathers shook in the wind as he hit the current and banked into a soaring rise. The heat of the sun shared his ascendance in silhouette. Other vultures emerged and circled the tunnels with him until he was indiscernible.

    Not long after, a Native American joined us in prayer, observing the four directions with an offering of feathers and earthly ash. I allowed myself to join him from a distance, sharing in his loss of self and identifying with his peacemaking. We are never alone on the Red Road. The vulture symbolizes the safe passage of the dying soul from the realm of life to the underworld. Death is a part of life and we rejoice in its nature, as it is the wellworn earthen path to Presence.

Keith M. Cowley, “Walking Otter” (Equinox 9/23/12)


We only observe that which we are ready to see. Are Nature’s rarest residents truly elusive, or is it only the overactivity of the mind…the anticipation? Last year the WLT was graced an image from one of the tree cams in Grills Preserve of the areas largest wild feline, the Bobcat. I was determined to seek her out. Since the end of June and the beginning of this project, I’ve entered Grills Preserve with a single focus. Until today, I hadn’t realized how much emphasis I had put on the Bobcat tracking, and how much else I may have missed as a result. Time with the otter family haven’t seemed to disconnect me from the rest of my time in other preserves. Perhaps my uncertainty and lack of confidence in the potential of the same kind of relationship with the Bobcats has led me to intensify my excitement. In the winter, I had glimpsed her twice from afar, both times very much a surprise and separate from my tracking attempts. This time was different.

This time the air was warm. The ground was wet enough for subtle markings and traces to be obvious. This time the scat was fresh. The timing was right. I was open, moving slowly, hands and knees trying to determine the next twist in her trail. I took a few minutes to relax and get my bearings. I was right upon her. I had to be. I tried to let go of the doubts, the concerns that I had been scented a very long time ago, and the light breeze was blowing my excitement right in her direction. I inhaled my environment deeply, reminding myself of the acceptance the preserves and its inhabitants have granted me. As I exhaled smoothly, only a few feet from me she stood, coat glistening from the underbrush. I almost laughed aloud, since when she returned from an itch with one eye open, one lip stayed lifted for a moment longer against the friction of a dry mouth. She shook her head and yawned, stretching tail to giant ears and continued her jaunt in away from me. I considered following, but today I decided to stay and observe. I eased my excitement, the feelings that come with thinking you’ve caught a glimpse of something special for the last time, and the overthoughts that make you think you should have done something different… I settled into my earthy seat.

Perhaps there will be another near-future encounter…

Most seek shelter in the coldest of temperatures. In the animal kingdom, “shelter” tends to only equate to a covering deterring the airborne elements, wind, precipitation. Adaptation has outfitted many species with body coverings, and even still they must endure the unpredictability of Nature’s cleansing seasons.

So what is my excuse?

Efficiency is the key to conserving energy and controlling stress in the cold. The body must remain relaxed to keep the flow moving. The breath is slow and strong, and the expansion and contraction pumps the heat exchange through the personal shelter beneath the skin. It’s the coldest morning of the year, and I was determined to experience the sunrise, amongst my stirring otter friends, literally upon the frozen river. When the reeds would creak I would slowly turn to see if they would join me, but even they were waiting for the sunrise.

Another embodiable transition in Nature, the sun blazing into view lifts the dormant spirit and vibrates the freeze. Its energy can be exchanged, and its symbolism can aid in the warmth. Like the Taoist monks, I utilize a breathing technique to amp the body temperature just to a point before perspiring. Even in the zero degree cold, I can endure. Perhaps it is my acclimation from my daily visits, or a strong will. Though, the elements will always prove to test. It is hard to not be challenged by the birds that surround and observe my technique, content in their minimal movements. The otter mother is at the edge of the bank, watching, now outside the reeds and exposed. She yawns and the steam that rises justifies her comfort. She relaxes onto her side and slides her face in the powder. Regulating the salt keeps her coat free. Will she slide out onto the ice to join me? Some of these moments I keep for myself…

All life is sustained with the elements of water. As it crystallizes, it contracts and takes hold of its surroundings. The cold snap makes itself known as it shakes hands with the drawn essence of the Earth. The moisture releases the gases that simulate liquid’s physicality and in turn surrenders to the inevitable freeze.

Likewise, in contact with our skin, there is a chemical exchange. Our heat, salts and other toxins leave a microscopic footprint, an imprint of our state of being. No different is it when compared to the physical imprint such as the track or the trail. No matter how subtle we are, we exchange with our environment and our environment remembers. With respect, we only make contact with what is needed. We are aware of each step me make. When we can achieve this, we are able to sense the subtlety of Nature. We become aware of Nature’s imprint upon us, as we are brushed by its leaves, painted by its minerals, and drawn by its characters. Every day is another story. The cold can’t tear me away…

Almost silent. The dull hum of the warm rain on the canopy leaves the forest floor feeling hollow. Like myself, the fauna has gorged itself for the last time before rations must be used sparingly through the coming months. All species are sluggish in wait. The field mouse pushes through the wet leaves with little energy and effort. Its coat streaked with moisture and debris, it takes a moment to casually scratch it away and wash. The squirrels remain in the trees, under cover. There is little left to do, as the majority of the collecting and packing away has been done. The rest will proceed as needed given the voracity of the weather to come. I tend to wonder in observation, how much intuition is in play during this time and if the different species share an innate memory of the trends of seasons passed. We tend to believe we have some degree of knowledge in prediction, but only those close to Nature, like the native spiritualists, the farmers and the fisherman truly have the awareness. Can we know what is to come? Do we know through our natural tendency towards environmental connection? Consistent interaction with Nature seems to yield access to Nature’s wisdom. Though we cannot forget that we are one and that such wisdom is part of our physical constitution. Nature reminds us when we need to remember.

All the leaves have fallen, beds been laid. It is time to be only what we are, what I am. It is a time for efficiency and camaraderie. I know these days are only getting colder from herein.

Upon spending such intimate time within the preserve lands, an intuitive awareness binds my emotions to the constant state of change inside the boundaries of my exploration. Like a chill upon a lover, every wisp of weather has become a touching reminder of my compassionate role and relationship.  I know that as I maintain a capacity for warmth, other residents do the same. The crinkling of my step this time shatters a delicate webbing of frozen moisture upon the leafy blanket. The pressure builds and the frosty white network becomes transparent and looses structural integrity at the apex. I step even softer than I ever have. Traces of my breach are subtle wet prints inside crisp containments, barely noticeable to the eye.

Internal movement warms my outsides, even as I crouch quietly observing the doe, yet again scouting the perimeter. She gruffly vibrates her nares and shakes briskly her head, grinding side-to-side a morning graze. The steam rises from her acknowledgement, and I allow a breath to seep evenly into the air. The heat of a recent leaving also catches my eye, and nose. My blood moves faster with a mild excitement as I know it to be a trace of the bobcat… I can almost see her tracks. Almost.

As the greens have yellowed, oranged and reddened, the forest floor has become a crunchy maze of runs. The dampness beneath comes to the surface as three deer pass by me cautiously in close proximity. Their movements had been becoming predictable through constant observation and minimal tracking. Now, no creature can hide. It would seem however that after the first inklings of cold, the camaraderie which was prefaced in bonding has now moved into a mode of prepatory teamwork. Some work in the canopy amongst the falling leaves, physically jostling the futurefoods free. Acorns and other nuts are precariously scatter-hoarded. Chipmunk, grey and the red squirrels click and clack and keep their respectful distances, holding rambunctious stances and displays. Mouthfuls of bounty are buried shallowly, and the trailings of their capers glisten as wet bunches over a minefield of holes like that of giant earthworms after a good rain.

As the afternoon sun begins its set, the warmth dwindles with it, reminding the inhabitants of the purpose of their dutiful bustle. Densely packed drays and dens tempt the little ones, and they expend the remainder of their energies spiraling after one another until their roosts are claimed. They lie within the crux of branches as flat as their structures will allow and eject a vibratory trill that reverberates to the end of their bushy tails and throughout the forest. It is time to move on, to catch the doe in her return path, wet nose aware surely long before. It will still be a few weeks more of foraging and preparation. I step as quietly as I can and keep a positive head about my shoulders, scanning, listening, smitten. Such a sight of color and drama… Though the leaves fall, it is not for death, but for the sustainment of life. For beneath the crinkly blanket incubates the germinations of a hearty Spring, and the sustenance for those who seek to see it through.

Integration is a natural process and cannot be predicted. I anticipated that along the way in this study I would eventually begin to take Nature into my own self-segregated world. Over the past 2 weeks of early morning hikes through the preserves, I began to feel a sense of alertness and sensitivity for hours beyond my time in. This is not unusual for myself, as a mind/body practice tends to culture this. However, the subtlety of Nature’s attributes peered from the shadows and cracks in the pavement. This man-made world presented itself to me as a gargantuan art project, like the complex developments of termites. Again, these are not atypical thoughts. Though, to feel it, to feel more of an extension of the Natural world as opposed to the human ecosystem; that is an embodiment that only comes through immersion.

And then, the craving of the connection comes. Returning to the preserves, such revelations build a continuously evolving and subtle humbleness that surely is felt amongst the environment’s inhabitants. We are no longer definitively divisible. The fauna draws nearer. The flora, more revealing. The camaraderie is just in time for the coming cold.

Stillness overcomes within these recent dawns. The preserves are cast with an eerie mist that confuses the inexperienced into believing that the day will warm. However those days have begun to transition out to reveal a new cold standard. A hollowness surrounded my presence and permeated my bones… I questioned any creatures potential preparation for such an abrupt change in weather, which through my human observation appeared to creep in abruptly overnight.  Surely, the local fauna is far more aware and adaptable to the New England tendency. I dug deep into my bones to feel the subtle heat of my body’s natural function. Keeping relaxed I allowed it to flow throughout once again. The barred owl pair twisted their heads in my direction and ground their hooked beaks. Even their sentry movements creaked off the forest floor. The brittleness beneath my feet only reminded me how much quieter I would have to be when the real cold makes its way here. A small branch set free from the talons of the female resounded through the perimeter as gravity pulled it to a firmer ground. Imaginably discouraged in such lack of tact, she sprung from the roost, re-positioning  just out of direct vision of her mate.

The first songbirds lacked enthusiasm in their morning conversation, and as I made my way to the water I found many congregating unusually amongst the scenery. Something worth squawking about, I thought. My arrival to their table seemed not to excite them nor disrupt their banter and for once I felt privileged to engage in the throes of environmental inevitability amongst them. Catbirds that would sound their dangercall without fail in my proximity only hunkered closely with beady black eyes peering. The environment seemed to grant some leeway in the adaptation of these changes. Perhaps in a weeks time, they will all be back to keeping me in my place as an outsider. Or, have they embraced my frequency and given me my sought chance to prove my genuinity within their lands? Only time will tell.

It has been over 6 weeks into the consistent immersion studies at the WLT Preserves. The environments and I have shared many moments of unification, but we are still breathing two breaths. Its residents do as they do and allow me into their world based upon the level of my awareness. Some days, my analytical mind only sees the tracks and traces. Putting the pieces together requires an intuitive connectedness that comes strongly with me, but still takes time and overthought. As this immersion continues, I foresee a refinement in this process, and an improved quickness within the moment in interpreting the subtlest of details evidencing the signs of life at these preserves.

Each time the rains come, prints left behind from the fauna are washed away, leaving a fresh new marking ground. I have cataloged many sets of tracks from different species and have now begun to measure the repeat visitors to determine frequency and numbers of visitors. From the water I try to keep a constant record of my otter friends, coming and going from the alcoves and tunnels in the riverbanks. Their playful visits have been a treat above all for my spirit.

In the forest, the search has begun to track the existence of bobcat on the property. Photographed by a tree-mounted night cam, we know for certain that at minimum one bobcat has staked its territory there. Each visit I attempt to scour for the boundaries, mapping its movements. I have yet to spot her, but I know it is only a matter of time. More evenings spent listening quietly surely will yield a chance encounter. The thought excites me.

In the meantime, the flora keeps me guessing, as it has never been my strongest subject. Seeking patterns in their growth and locations interest me more than the identification, though the labeling naturally becomes applicable. It is early for Hen of the Woods, but large blooms of the edible mushroom have been easily spotted this week. In a days time, they double their size. The grey variety are not seen yet. As a piece of training, meditation, and observation, I took the time to sit and watch one culture of Hen of the Woods grow over a four-hour period in and out of a morning rain. Focusing on the mushroom and the mushroom alone was an obvious challenge of patience and intention. The payoff is wide-open peripheral awareness of the woods and all its scents and sounds, far beyond anything one could hear in motion. To watch something grow in Nature is a unique experience that is extremely limited in opportunity. The fast rate in which the mushroom can grow allowed for such embodiment. It, like many experiences in Nature I will never forget.

There is still some summer left,  I am sure of it, despite the recent cold weather. Some leaves have begun to change their colors. It is intriguing to be inside and aware of the subtle changes in effect everyday as the world around me keeps the flow. How much we forget when we separate ourselves. We only see the great changes and never truly understand the process. It takes very personal experiences in environmental connection to respect the will and flow of Nature’s oneness.