Although I didn’t believe in angels, one came to me in a dream on a December night. I was a passenger in a car when I saw the red-tailed hawk perched on bare ground on the right side of the road, a giant of his kind, sixteen feet tall. Chestnut and cream-striped feathers covered his frame, the powerful barred wings hung at rest on each side. His magnificent hooked beak seemed to direct the rest of his head as he swiveled it back and forth before his coppery gold eyes bored into mine. Awestruck, my breath caught in my throat; but within seconds, doubts flooded my rational mind. I turned to my companion for validation, but she had seen nothing and so we drove on.
The dream has not faded like so many others; I can still see the hawk perched there in all his stupendous beauty, his yellow talons rooting him to bare ground. Twenty years later I still wonder if my dream companion had been able to see the hawk, whether we might have been able to shift our dream perception, creating a space for invisible beings. I’m not sure just when I started to feel that if angels existed I would see them as birds or animals; it may have come about because of the dream, or because I sense that when I am with certain plants, trees, animals and birds I have entered a Field of Grace or the Great Void of space.
Hawks, according to Native American, Egyptian and Greek mythology, are messengers traversing both the unseen spirit and the material realms; these are not separate worlds but different aspects of one whole, perhaps at a cosmic level, and the birds move through at will. On a personal level, Hawk first appeared to me in the flesh as a kind of teacher and guardian; he heralded the moment my first grandson’s birth, and materializes every year on the anniversary of the day I buried my brother.
While I was in the Amazon working with a female shaman, I saw a translucent ball of light that first exploded in my face, then floated before me in a darkened room during ceremony. I was told that the white orb was a plant spirit who was acting as my guide. The plant spirit was garlic, and evidently, I had some relationship with this plant that needed tending to. I slept and awakened each morning to a continuous “high” that I attributed to the power of plants. I experienced the spirit of the plants that watched over the Amazon as a force field. When I returned, I hung a braid of home grown garlic in my window. Last summer I had a dream in which my whole body was encircled by some kind of lime green plant light; I felt loved and protected. In the dream I also realized that something was trying to dismiss my feeling even as I was struck down by amazement. I’m starting to believe that my dreams have been trying to help me see angelic forms for what they are for a long time, but that some powerful force is blocking these experiences, dismissing them as unreal.
The other night I was listening to a talk about angels between Rupert Sheldrake and Matthew Fox. Matt Fox mentioned floating white orbs of light as one of the shapes an angel could take. Suddenly I recalled that in addition to my experience on the Amazon, about thirty years ago I dreamed of translucent balls of light floating in a field full of apple trees and was deeply moved by their presence. I had never before considered them to be angels.
What I am starting to grasp is that I have held a very narrow Christianized view of what an angel might look like, which is not surprising, really, since I have Judeo- Christian roots. I think all the above experiences involved angelic beings and I didn’t recognize them. I see now that I love the idea of winged creatures, which is probably why the hawk vision stuck and why birds seem to carry such a strong charge.
Last spring I was visited by a young female bear who arrived without her siblings or her mother. Knowing that she had been orphaned, her trusting presence moved me in a way that only a few others of her kind have done. I was in love again.
The song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” kept running through my mind and I decided to name ‘my bear’ Lucy. The root of the word Lucy is light, and I also had in mind the constellation of the Great Bear in the sky. I hoped invoking this constellation might activate a kind of guardian for the orphaned bear. What I didn’t see until this writing was that I was literally invoking an angel to protect Lucy.
The bear’s presence defined the spring for me. Her visits and the long spring greening awakened my sleeping self to joy. I never wanted to leave home because Lucy seemed to enjoy my company almost as much as I did hers. She extended her visiting time, coming in for a snack whenever she felt like it. She kept me in the present, just where I needed to be.
One morning in June, two months after Lucy first meandered up the hill, she ate and left by a trail that she rarely used and which led away from the safety of my property. I felt uneasy because this was bear-hating country. When I heard the single gunshot my body went rigid. No! But the knowledge of what had happened sank in. My Lucy had been shot. Illegally. I never saw her again. That night I dreamed that Lucy had gone far away and that I wouldn’t see her for a very long time. It was then that I began to think of her as “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” hoping that like Calisto, she had finally found a celestial home.
Yesterday morning my dogs and I were awakened by three impossibly loud whippoorwill calls that seemed to have materialized in the air around dawn. Wrong season and these calls came from within the house itself. All three of us jumped out of bed to discover the source. Nothing. Still groggy, the word “death” rose unbidden in my mind. Chilled, I sensed that the whippoorwill was a messenger from the other side.
Just the night before, I learned that a story about my experiences with bears was going to be printed in a large paper. I was so happy, believing that at the very least, this publication might sway folks who were uncertain about voting against the bear referendum* to embrace the humane bill that would end mindless animal cruelty. When I opened my computer I learned that indeed death had come. The story would not be published. Too controversial, I was told. This morning I am finishing this writing about angelic presences after hearing directly from an Angel of Death. That angels are real and can take any shape that is meaningful to the individual is no longer a question I will be asking. But I wonder if I could invoke my Lucy, the little bear that found her home in the sky, to come and advocate for her bear people? I must try.
*The Maine referendum question (number 1) asks voters whether they want to end the practices of trapping hounding and baiting bears. “Yes” means we do want to end the cruelty, a “No” vote means we keep all the practices. Maine is the only state in this country that still allows trapping bears using steel snare traps. It is up to the integrity of the hunter to check traps daily; many do not. Hounding uses dogs to track bears and chase them up a tree; when the hunter arrives he shoots the helpless bear. Practice-hounding begins a month before the three-month killing season begins. During this time hunters practice chasing bears although they are not supposed to kill them. These animals are terrified out of their minds, and will run across highways to escape the tracking hounds. In reality our three-month-long killing season is four months long. I have witnessed terrorized bears racing across the road. Mothers with cubs are at the most serious risk… god knows how many cubs are killed during this month of pre- hunting torture. Baiting also begins a month before the actual season that begins in August and doesn’t end until the last day of November. Hunters dig pits/ put cameras in blinds and stuff the sites with huge amounts of unhealthy but fatty foods – old donuts etc. In order to survive hibernation bears MUST put on enough fat and at this time of year they are particularly vulnerable. Hunters simply wait in a blind and shoot the bear as he or she is eating. This isn’t hunting; it’s slaughter. All three practices involve cruel and abusive treatment of these shy, intelligent animals.
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About the Author
Sara Wright is a naturalist and a writer. She lives in a little log cabin in the woods by a brook with two small dogs and two doves. She writes stories about the animals and plants that live here on her property in the western mountains of Maine and publishes them regularly in local paper’s nature column. She is also an independent black bear researcher who uses “trust- based” research to study the bears that have visited there. Since 2000, she has been exploring interspecies communication in collaboration with Rupert Sheldrake. She has Passamaquoddy roots, which may or may not be why she has dedicated her life to speaking out on behalf of the slaughtered trees, dying plants and disappearing animals. This is the only work that matters to her.