Drawing Out Poison

animal spirit dance family story

We already knew how to lay down together, wrap our tails around each other…

This whole thing – the pandemic, quarantine, the presidential election, the insurrection, it all began for me with a giant throbbing insect bite. I never knew when the actual bite happened, my wrist itched a little one night when I laid down to bed. I looked at it and saw four or five tiny brown marks. They were clustered but still so small and scattered, they didn’t look like a classic vampiric bite. I dusted at my wrist and went back to talking my two rowdy kids into calming down after we’d had our first family talk about the pandemic.

This was all frighteningly new, and oddly familiar to us. We were used to feeling separate from people while their Mother died slowly of cancer over 14 months. We already knew how to lay down together, wrap our tails around each other and be comforted by the sound of each others breath. Quarentine was like that but without the hovering terror of losing Terry.

My early talks with the kids went something like:

“We just have to be careful, we should be OK but it affects old people especially bad and we don’t want to spread anything to them.”
“But you’re old.”
“I know, not like me old, more like grandma old.”
“Oh. So we just stay at home and never go out?”
“No, we get to go out, especially if we run out of toilet paper. Everyone wants toilet paper.”
“Why, is Covid a butt sickness?”
“BMWWAAAAHHHAAAA, Tadg has Covid butt, Tadg has Covid butt!”
{wrestling ensues then sleep follows}

You get the idea.

The next day, a little swelling at the site on my wrist but not too bad, the third day I awoke to a red bloated golf ball welded to my arm. This was getting serious, but I knew it wasn’t life threatening. If it were a Black Widow bite I’d be dead or hospitalized already. If it were a Brown Recluse the flesh at the wound site would be rotting. Also I probably would not be able to write this with body parts rotting off.

As we immersed ourselves in the new art of quarantining, the nightly tending of my wound became major entertainment. Would we drain it again tonight? Can we still wrestle with Papa with his arm bandaged? Do I get to help change the dressing? Eventually our collective attention to the wound left me with with a fully drained quarter sized scab. End of entertainment.

I had the strongest feeling that my mystery bite was an inoculation, preparing me for everything to come.

That was when we were just learning about homeschooling, how we would make distance learning work for us. I was discovering just how stressed I could get trying to work and support my then 1st grader in finishing up her year. And of course the turmoil of the world continued to escalate. First the BLM protests, then riots in Portland, and the massive West Coast fires eventually buried us in smoke for several weeks. Our air quality outdid the worst Beijing had to offer. We dug in deeper.

I spiced things up by rotating who got to choose dinner and a movie each night. I’m really tired of True’s chicken nuggets, pasta and cucumber salad, but Tadg always switches things up so its not too bad. It has meant a lot to both of them. We started making our own ice cream and rotated flavor choices. Eventually we all came to the conclusion that mint chocolate chip with Oreo’s was the best ice cream we could possibly make, even better than organic mango gelato. Yes, we reached the end of all possible ice creams. The existential crisis of that is still with us.

The summer passed. We were blessed by quaran-teams camping out or passing through. 1st grade became second grade, 6th grade became 7th grade. They grew a lot taller, I expect I grew a little shorter and broad around the middle. Miraculously Covid didn’t slow beer production here or anywhere else. That time turned out to be a kind of antidote to some of the time of Terry’s illness. It didn’t change what happened or who we had become, a family without a Mother, but it washed away some of the sorrow, drawing it out like a poison. It was enough like the time of her illness to bring up feelings, but now we could transmute those feelings into painting my room to look like a forest, hanging garden lights and camping out together.

As ever, we are all made more whole by nesting within each other.

Looking back I can see that I’m much stronger now than when the pandemic began. Early on in quarantine I started doing yoga every morning. Eventually I moved a padded eight foot diameter circle I built inside and my morning practice dropped back into place. The darkness of winter has made this a delicious cauldron for me to work in. With the help of a creative mentor I call weekly, I’ve been able to unhook my core processes from the traditions I’ve trained in. Spiritual practices I’ve been working with for years are distilling down. I feel like I’m moving in the liquidity of possibilities.

Whats emerging feels so natural, it is just like breathing.

I start well before sunrise, with candles lit to give me warm, gentle light. After my yoga practice wakes me up I slip the headband holding back my hair over my eyes. The fabric is sheer enough that I can make out the faint glow of candles if I need to orient. My feet also tell me where the edge of my circle is. I’ve selected animals I have a history of working with in my shamanic practice. I engage one with each new lunar cycle. At the dark moon I move on to a new animal. This month I’m working with the first animal given to me in a healing, Fox. I move around my circle to the sound of a recorded drum beat. It’s not hard for me to find my way into the lower world as I dance. Quickly I find myself beside the animal spirit amidst a pile of autumn leaves near a stream. As I move in a spiral I become more present there, leaving my home in the middle world almost completely behind. Crouching beside him I call Fox forth from my own spirit. The spirits have been encouraging me to pray, to work with poetry as a root of prayer.

How does a Fox pray? With words? With his gate?

This prayer is beneath my paws on this path,
this prayer is the rhythm of my breath,
as I taste the air for my prey.
This prayer is the dry crunch of fall,
its dirt still holding dampness,
the promise of food before winter comes.
This prayer follows me into the warren
down into my den
where my tail knows me
curls around me
to warm me
in the belly of our Great Mother.

This morning the moon was large and high when I finished my yoga. The back yard has about 5 inches of snow, it looked so beautiful I had to be outside. I’ve been waiting for my practice to develop enough so that I can move in the woods, this felt like the right time. I put on two hoodies and stepped outside wearing thick wool socks. The snow felt so soft as it crunched and shaped itself to my feet, like I was being welcomed into the world by the elder arms of snow. Dancing Fox in the moonlight was such a gift. I felt my body receive energy deeply up from the Earth. Moving in a circle my feet could have been Fox footprints peppering the yard. Though it was 20 degrees I barely felt cold as a song welled up from my heart. What joy!

When I came back inside, Bella was wagging her tail as if to celebrate with me. We hugged and nuzzled in the darkness of the kitchen. The cuffs of my pj bottoms were frozen solid with snow along with my socks. I changed into some warm night clothes and headed back to bed to rest a little and wake with the kids before making breakfast. Having my solo time in the morning for self care and spiritual practice, then having a second dose of sleep to wake up with the puppies of my pack has been deeply nourishing. I linger with True before the day really begins, her love of cuddling is still boundless.

Our rhythm is changing. Yesterday morning Truly had her first orientation for starting back at school. She was so excited she could barely stay in her skin. Next week she’ll be back at school for 4 days a week, if all goes well. In about a month Tadg will have 2 days on site as well, time to see old friends faces, masks and all. I think I will be able to preserve my morning practice. I know we’ll continue our meal and ice cream rotation (even though ice cream rotation is really only one flavor.) It’s looking like the time to let go of this chapter is coming up fast.

Something new will arise. Renwal is always with us.

This red, matted scar on my wrist will always be there to remind me of how we were all bound up together for a year in a beautiful mess. How it was our love for each other and life that got us through this time and made us a stronger family with more to offer each other and the world. We are so blessed to have each other. I hope this time has offered you a way to dig deeper and revitalize your life. May we all bring our gifts to the world with renewed joy and passion as our new future unfolds.

Blessings to you and yours during this time of great change.

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