And Other Sentient Beings...More of My Story, with Prompts for More of Yours (revised 12 Mar 2010)

Updated 16 April 2010

For Your Journal, Creative Writing, or To Discuss:

Tell about a time you were in unfamiliar territory, whether geographically or emotionally. What was it like? Describe what you perceived and how you felt -- your reactions to others, and theirs to you. What happened? (Below, as an example, is an exerpt from a memoir in progress.)

Tell about a time when you were “talking” to an animal…when one may have been trying to “communicate” with you.

Your car, your home, the place where you work, the clothes you wear, even the things you eat: How do these symbolize who you are? Are your “things,” is your “stuff,” in sync with who you’re becoming?

What can you say about “the wisdom of wilderness,” ecologically…spiritually…socially?

Tell about “the other side of grief,” after a great loss, divorce, even death of one kind or another.

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LESSONS IN PERSPECTIVE, An Anecdotal Course Notebook
Mount San Antonio College

It’s the first class meeting at a nearby junior college. Following a map to the farm area, I drive through tall gates from the parking lot to a narrow paved road that leads to the Vivarium, a classroom in an old tin bungalow at the edge of a pasture.  A number of farm animals and exotics appear to be watching me... (Emu by Nonie)

I am safely ensconced in the snug-fitting bucket seat of my black cocoon, an Infinity J30, circa 1993, in mint condition. I’ve just gotten it back, after the divorce, and had it washed, waxed, and detailed. The dust cloud in my side- and rearview-mirrors feels like a soft if menacing reproach, billowing in my wake. “What are you doing here, in that car no less? What are you doing with your life?”

I pace softly, like a Buddhist imagining the lotus blossoming under each heel as I raise it. As gentle as I think I am, many of the creatures back up and rear away when I come within a few feet. Boundaries. Am I not as gentle as I think? Comfort zones, theirs and mine.

Over through the open doors of the large horse barn, people wrangling horses with sweeping moves and confident loud voices have perhaps noticed me but don’t seem to care that I’ve approached the Shetland pony or the exotic mini-cow and her calf. In a pasture to the left of the barn, about a hundred yards away someone rides a noisy tractor, kicking up a huge cloud of dust. He’s watching me. I wave. He waves and continues across a dirt road to an open field, cutting a dusty trail at a diagonal as he goes.

I try approaching the animals nearby again, saying in a voice even I can barely hear, “Hi…hi, guys. What’s happening?” I guess they haven’t decided about me, though some seem curious about someone new. Others appear to be feigning insouciance or are already truly bored with whatever I’m up to. I imagine them thinking, “Another student. Oh blah.” I suspect all will be well, as long as I stay on my side of the fences. I don’t know how on-the-nose I am about that, but I’ll learn. In a few moments, some are, sort of playing with me. They pretend to let me get close, then flick their tails and turn away. Cute. Silly. A sheep let’s me scratch his cheek but moves away, tousling his wool and tamping his feet when I approach three smaller sheep that I guess are his girls. They are all so enshrouded in wool that it’s hard to tell their sexes except from the smaller size of the girls, his horns, and his dominance. They move away from me in response to his warnings. I back away too.

He returns, clearly a leader showing off. I speak again and a number of animals, their ears, if not their heads, turn towards me. The ram pushes his girls several feet away. But some progress is being made. Even the giant emu is watching, his thick cape of feathers ruffling, his pretty lashes unblinking, his avian toes on enormous feet turned towards me when I say to the sheep, “You don’t want to talk to me? Fine.” Echoes of my college roommate make me smile. Maria, sometimes pestered while I tried to study. (Lotus by Peripitus)

I turn sideways from the animals and hunker down, but don’t quite sit in the dust.  My black jeans are clean, after all, nicely creased, and I don’t want to get them dirty. Yes, I’m an old-school geek who irons and creases my jeans. The sartorialist in me hasn’t quite come of age, if she ever will. Yes, yes, I have much evolving to do in this class and in this life. I start to read aloud yet quietly from my course text.

First the sheep, one by one, gravitate back towards me, even the ram, turning their bodies to face me. Then the pony and the mini-calf across the aisle do the same. I glance over my shoulder. The llamas are watching and heading this way too. I am like the middle of a pie and all these odd curious critters in their paddocks and pens are fat wooly, short stocky, tall lanky wedges pointing towards me.

(Llama and her Cria, by Nick Boesen)

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So the journey begins as it continues. Thank you, Dear Reader, for voyaging with me.