Another animal totem

Yesterday afternoon, as I was driving south on I-5 to Eugene with a friend, I noticed ahead of us a very large bird flying low in the same direction–low as in just above the cars and trucks in the northbound lanes.  I was doing 70, and it took us several moments to catch up with this bird, which turned out to be a swan.  Yes, there was a swan now flying alongside and just higher than my car, right down the median, at almost 70 mph.  I was terrified it was going to be hit head-on by a northbound vehicle, but miraculously it knew just where to fly to avoid being hit.

Mute swan
Mute Swan

If you know anything about Oregon bird species, you’ll know that the Mute Swan is considered invasive by the Department of Fish & Wildlife.  That being said, Oregon is also host to both trumpeter and tundra swans.  Since I didn’t have my field glasses handy at the time, and my avian identification skills would probably be rather limited at 70 mph, I have absolutely no idea which of the three my swan was.  Anyway, that’s not the point.

Tundra swan
Tundra Swan

I have never seen a swan in flight, and, on top of that, quite frankly I can’t remember the last time I’ve even seen one in the wild.  And honestly, what is the likelihood of a swan flying alongside your car at 70 mph on a November afternoon as you’re cruising down I-5 on your way to the semi-annual Gem Faire at the Lane County Fairgrounds?  The odds are, to be conservative, astoundingly low.

The swan flew along with us for a short period, then gradually dropped behind as I passed it.  As I watched in my rearview mirror, it drifted over to the southbound lanes so it was almost directly behind us for a while.  Finally, I lost sight of it.

I couldn’t wait to get home and see what Medicine Cards had to say about it.  You may recall how delightfully accurate Bat’s message was back in August.  There was no doubt in my mind that Swan had appeared just for me yesterday, and s/he had a message:

So it is that we learn to surrender to the grace of the rhythm of the universe, and slip from our physical bodies into the Dreamtime.  Swan medicine teaches us to be at one with all planes of consciousness, and to trust in Great Spirit’s protection.

. . . Swan . . . ushers in a time of altered states of awareness and of development of your intuitive abilities.  Swan medicine people have the ability to see the future, to surrender to the power of Great Spirit, and to accept the healing and transformation of their lives.

. . . Swan . . . is telling you to accept your ability to know what lies ahead.  If you are resisting your self-transformation, relax; it will be easier if you go with the flow.  Stop denying that you know who is calling when the phone rings.  Pay attention to your hunches and your gut knowledge, and honor your female intuitive side.

Again, Sams & Carson’s interpretation of animal medicine is comfortingly accurate.  Blessed, blessed Universe, sending me these eye-opening, life-affirming messages.  I’ve been vacillating between accepting and resisting that healing and self-transformation for a long time. I’d like to start heading towards the Accepting side of that spectrum.  It’s tough, though, being the control freak I am, trying not to let my panties get in a bunch.

Why do we resist that which is transformative and evolutionary?  Why is it preferable to stay stuck in a rut?  How come doing the self-work seems so hard?  (Said in whiny, little kid voice.)  Truthfully, it isn’t.  I think it’s the resistance itself that makes it feel that way.

Mute Swan photo courtesy
Tundra Swan photo courtesy

Another day, another … whatever.

It occurred to me yesterday morning that it may appear to some that I overreacted to last week’s yogurt scarcity.


Recall, however, that I did identify the event as “another one of those Final Straws,” and that this sort of thing happens to me with “disturbing and irritating frequency.”  Also please note that I am fully aware my favorite yogurt has not been discontinued altogether; it’s just that our local Safeway no longer stocks it, either temporarily or permanently.  Just wanted to get that straight.

To illustrate this disturbing trend, following is an abbreviated list of products upon which I–and, to a lesser extent, my husband–had become very dependent, only to experience the repeated pain of their disappearance from the marketplace one by one:

• Aziza eyeliner pencils (the earliest product discontinuation trauma I can remember)
• Simply Organic Grilling Seasons marinade mix (the best marinades we’ve ever tasted–what the hell happened, Simply Organic?)
• Trader Joe’s unsweetened powdered chai mix (some people like to control the amount of sugar in their beverages)
• Burt’s Bees Bay Rum After Shave Balm (made hubby smell delicious and gave him a soft face–what’s so wrong about that?)
• Lily of the Desert Aloe 80 Clarifying Facial Scrub (are we the only ones who like scrubby facial cleansers?)
• Safeway’s O brand organic peach/mango fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt (seriously, am I the only person in the country that thought this was the best flavor ever?)
• Patagonia stainless steel travel mug (husband temporarily “lost” his [read “left at friend’s house in Seattle”], so loving wife tried in vain to find him a new one online)
• Star fruit (I haven’t seen one in the produce section in years–have they gone extinct?)
• OXO Good Grips Soap-Dispensing Stemware and Glass Wand threaded refills (who knew our dish wand would far outlast the availability of the exact sponge refills needed to make it work?)
Look–here are refills available for purchase online:


Don’t be fooled:  these refills are NOT THREADED.  They snap in to an OXO Good Grips Soap-Dispensing Stemware and Glass Wand identical to ours in every way but one.

And don’t even get me started on my favorite TV series that have gone by the wayside in (relatively) recent years:

Queer Eye For the Straight Guy
Most Haunted
UFO Hunters
30 Rock

At least The Simpsons is still going strong after 24 seasons.  Yaaaaaaay Matt Groening!  Yaay … uh … FOX? … Er, never mind.

Anyway, you may be wondering what kind of profound truths I have gleaned over the years from these recurring disappointments.  I’m one of those people who reads meaning into literally every seemingly coincidental object or event with which I come into contact.  For example, puppy and I were walking this morning, and I saw a squirrel use a crosswalk.  Really.  It was absolutely extraordinary, and I had to stop and take a moment to ponder the meaning of our timing such that we were privy to this singular phenomenon.

I interpret all these seemingly random product discontinuations as a message to be more


See how I made the word look like what it means?  I don’t care what those snooty graphic designers say:  it’s amazing what you can do with Microsoft Publisher.

The sad (and odd) thing is that the older I get, the less flexible I feel.  Yoga definitely helps with the physical flexibility, but I need to do some real work on the other kind.  A former yoga instructor used to say, “Flexible spine, flexible mind.”  Does physical flexibility, then, lead to mental flexibility?  Not necessarily.

What does it mean to be flexible?  I find that I sometimes learn more about the meaning of a word if I take a look at its antonyms.  So, what’s the opposite of flexible?

• rigid
• obstinate
• unaccommodating
• unadaptable
• unbendable
• stern

Ew.  That was easy.  I don’t want to be any of those words.  These words sound much nicer:

• soft
• springy
• stretchy
• adjustable
• limber
• willowy


I’ve been sitting here trying to come up with a nice, neat conclusion to wrap up this post, but I just realized that through the process of writing it, I’ve come to understand another small part of my life–which is the whole point of this blog anyway–and I don’t really feel like I need to provide a nice, neat conclusion to wrap it up.  I hope you’re okay with that.

This blog is like my online mat space and yoga practice:  it’s by, for and about me.  If, by chance, there are others of you who spend an enormous amount of mental and spiritual energy questioning
E    V    E    R    Y    T    H    I    N    G  ,
maybe you’ll identify with these posts.  I hope so, anyway.

[Afterword:  I just Googled “starfruit” in an attempt to find out why I haven’t seen them in the produce section for quite some time.  Look what has to say about a 2008 e-mail warning about the fruit:

The item quoted above, typically titled “Star Fruit Can Kill,” has been circulating on the Internet since at least May 2008. The original author is unknown to us, but the piece draws its information from April 2008 news reports surrounding the death of Tang Gon Sean, a 66-year-old Malaysian man Star fruit who on 29 March 2008 passed out after eating star fruits, was taken to Shenzhen General Hospital, and subsequently expired there after falling into a coma. Ten other patients at that same hospital experienced symptoms similar to his, and two died, said Tan Si-Yen, the doctor quoted in those news reports. All had eaten star fruit.

Relatively little known in North America, star fruit is popular in China, Taiwan, India, Philippines, Australia, Central America, Africa, and Brazil. While this foodstuff’s proper name is carambola, it is more commonly called “star fruit” because of its shape, which causes slices taken from it to resemble stars. It has a sweet, mild taste somewhat akin to a cross between apple and lime, and is rich in antioxidants and vitamin C. It also has the potential to harm kidney patients.

Star fruit contains a neurotoxin that affects the brain and nerves but which people with healthy kidneys are able to filter out; it therefore poses no danger to those whose kidneys function normally. However, those with renal problems lack protection from that neurotoxin and thus risk “star fruit intoxication,” a condition that manifests with insomnia, hiccups, vomiting, numbness of limbs, decreased muscle power, twitching of muscles, confusion, and convulsions, with the time between ingestion and onset of symptoms varying from thirty minutes to fourteen hours. Intractable hiccups are often the first symptom to present itself.

While the majority of those hospitalized for star fruit intoxication do recover, some deaths have been associated with this condition. Star fruit-exacerbated complications in kidney patients are rare, but they are potentially fatal, and thus this fruit is best avoided by those with kidney problems, including those on dialysis. Indeed, dialysis is the only treatment known to be effective in treating this illness, yet it must be both daily and intensive to have the desired effect, and continuous dialysis has been recommended for severe cases.

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) advises in its Dietary Guidelines for Adults Starting on Hemodialysis: “Always AVOID star fruit (carambola).”

Information about the interaction of renal patients and star fruit did not first surface in April 2008; medical literature has been documenting reports of and studies about the star fruit’s effect on kidney patients at least since 2000, with such findings subsequently reported by the general media.

Barbara “star report” Mikkelson
Last updated:   11 June 2009

WTF?  Intractable hiccups?  Convulsions?  DEATH???!!!  I’ve never been so thankful to have a perfectly-functioning set of kidneys in my life.

star fruit

Bats in our belfry.

Last night I got up to let our dog out around 3 a.m.  I stayed outside for another 15 minutes to catch a few more Perseids (since I was up anyway), and, leaving puppy outside asleep on her bed, went back in and upstairs to bed.

It was then I noticed our two cats acting very oddly.  Now, that in and of itself is not really cause for alarm.  I mean, they are cats.  And it was nighttime.  And I had just gone outside in the middle of the night, which, obviously, is a little out of the ordinary.  Yes.  I’m sure that’s it.

But why are they looking up at the ceiling?  AND WHAT IS THAT THING FLITTING AROUND?


There was a bat flying around the ceiling!  WHAT THE WHAT?!  How could I have let a bat in without noticing?  The patio door was only open for a matter of moments!

*Sidebar:  My husband and I absolutely love bats, and spend a lot of time watching them at dusk.  We plan to install a bat house in our yard.  We used to go to Custer State Park’s annual BatFest in August.  We’ve even used bat detectors to listen to their echolocation ultrasound signals.  It’s pretty cool.

That being said, I can’t think of too many batophiles who love them enough to want one flying around inside their house at 3 a.m.  Or any other time, for that matter.

Being who I am, I immediately freaked out, shrieking, “Oh shit!  Shit!  SHIT!  There’s a BAT in the house!  THERE’S A BAT IN THE HOUSE!  SHIT!  SHIT!”  Upon which, my husband woke up and said, “There is not.”  To which I (of course) replied, “YES THERE IS!”  More expletives, more hyperventilating, etc. etc.

Said husband then leaped out of bed to see for himself, and I had to suggest that it might be prudent to meet our new winged indoor/outdoor pet wearing something more than his birthday suit.

I wish I could report that I was the cool, calm, collected one in this scenario.  I was not.  Despite my above-mentioned love for these tiny, furry, flying predators, I continued to swear, hyperventilate, and ask repeatedly, “How do we get it out?  How do we get it out?  HOW DO WE GET IT OUT?”

Brilliant, loving, husband.  Smart, thoughtful, mechanical engineer husband.  Johnny-on-the-freaking-spot husband.  Though his initial, very short-lived idea was to try and trap it with a laundry basket (?), he had a more realistic procedure in place within moments.

Step 1:  Shut cats in bedroom.
Step 2:  Try to calm wife.
Step 3:  Kennel dog.
Step 4:  Turn off indoor lights.
Step 5:  Turn on outdoor lights.
Step 6:  Open front door and patio doors.
Step 7:  Wait for bat to fly out of house.
Step 8:  Reassure wife that plan would work.

Not surprisingly, husband’s cooler head prevailed, and within five minutes, the bat had flown out the patio door, and we quickly closed the doors and turned off the outdoor lights.  HURRAY FOR HUSBAND!  NO MORE BAT IN HOUSE!

It was 3:45, give or take, by the time we made our way back to bed.  Not surprisingly, I couldn’t go back to sleep.  (The extra-loud, intrusive sounds coming from the nearby train yard were only part of the reason.)

Why had a bat flown into the house?  Why was I the one who let it in?  What could this possibly mean?  Was it a sign? Was I meant to learn something from our new little friend?

This morning I consulted Medicine Cards, by Jamie Sams & David Carson (St. Martin’s Press, 1999).

Medicine Cards Deck/Book Set

According to them, Bat symbolizes powerful shamanistic juju:

Steeped in the mystery of Mesoamerican tribal ritual is the legend of Bat.  Akin to the ancient Buddhist belief in reincarnation, in Central America, Bat is the symbol of rebirth.  The Bat has for centuries been a treasured medicine of the Aztec, Toltec, Tolucan, and Mayan peoples.

. . . Hanging upside-down is a symbol for learning to transpose your former self into a newborn being.  This is also the position that babies assume when they enter the world from the womb of woman.

If Bat has appeared in your cards today [read “in your house last night”], it symbolizes the need for a ritualistic death of some way of life that no longer suits your new growth pattern.  This can mean a time of letting go of old habits, and of assuming the position in life that prepares your for rebirth, or in some cases initiation.  In every case, Bat signals rebirth of some part of yourself or the death of old patterns.  If you resist your destiny, it can be a long, drawn out, or painful death.  The universe is always asking you to grow and become your future.  To do so you must die the shaman’s death.

Way cool, right?  I believe that everything happens for a reason and that I can learn something from everything all the time.

So, here’s my step-by-step retrospective on the events of the past few days:

Step 1:  I receive e-mail informing me someone else has been offered a job for which I assumed I was a shoo-in.
Step 2:  I overreact; vent to family, husband, friends–basically anyone who will listen.
Step 3:  I decide to start a blog–a new creative outlet for all the silly, deep, random, questioning thoughts flying around in my head.
Step 4:  Bat flies into house at 3 a.m., flitting about the ceiling in a manner similar to said thoughts flying around in my head.
Step 5:  I discover symbolic meaning of Bat in my house at 3 a.m.

I love when the Universe speaks to me in a way that cannot be ignored.

Bat photo courtesy Discovery magazine online.