Atolls

In the Animal Totem Tarot, the World card is represented by an Atoll.

“Do you know what conditions are necessary to create a thriving new world?  There is a special ingredient list and everything has to come together at the exact same time.  It is not easy to complete and sustain a thriving ecosystem.  But with time, patience, and perseverance it can be done.  Miss any one step or any one ingredient, and you will not get that which can sustain life.”
– Animal Totem Tarot

The animal totem tarot quote essentially wraps up the essential message here – it’s about creating the right conditions for creation.

An atoll@ An oval white shape in the midst of a dark blue ocean

But what is an atoll?

“An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef, island, or series of islets. The atoll surrounds a body of water called a lagoon.”National Geographic

In further info, they are found in warmer seas and the majority are in the Pacific Ocean. There are about 440 atolls and they tend not to breach 5 metres in elevation and a lot of the reef hides below the surface.

Atolls develop over epic timescales and can take up to 30 million years to come into being. Some work is just like that, a long long haul where you think you’ll never get there but some things are worth the work and perseverance, just maybe don’t commit to anything more than say half a million years! You are human after all (I assume?).

The creation process starts with underground volcanos (called seamounts) which spill larva onto the floor. This hardens and over time, and many volcanic eruptions later, the larva tower break the surface of the sea in the form of a small island. At some point the volcano becomes dormant. This is when creatures, including coral arrive. The corals build a reef around the island. The kind of coral that creates these reefs are hard corals and they create an exoskeleton of limestone. It is billions of these exoskeletons that make up the reef.

Over time the volcanic island starts to sink but the corals remain, and grow up until a lagoon is formed between the coral reef and the land. The ringing or fringing ring is now a barrier reef with the corals breaking the surface and dying as they do so. The lagoon is warm and shallow water which is great for many animals and the barrier reef also protects the lagoon from harsh winds and waves, making it more of a safe space. And yes, I’m going to ask you to think about your safe spaces, or how you create safe spaces! In a lot of ways, this reminds me of the safety of the Wild Unknown Animal Spirit Sea Serpent card.

In the final stage of the formation, waves break the limestone reef, beating the coral into sand. This sand and other material is then swept onto the reef forming a ring shaped island, or islets, known as an atoll.

I think it’s clear that to create new land, everything must come together at exactly the right time and in the right order. Personally, this is a poignant reminder that I need to think more about the conditions I need to live and thrive in. It can also be a prompt to ponder what your ideal world looks like? What energy and people would you surround yourself with if you were to create space for the life you want to live?

It’s also important to note that destruction was one of the elements of the process and sometimes we need to undo things to make space for new things, a lesson that the Tower in the tarot is good at highlighting.

That being said, atolls also remind us that the cycle of creation is one that happens over long, deep time. Whether that’s literally creating a child which goes far beyond the months of pregnancy and reaches out into their toddler years, their teen years and beyond, or whether it’s an artistic creation that needs seeing from inception stage to completion. Some creations have much clearer start and end points than others as I think the two examples show. If your creation has a clear end point, how do you know when you’ve reached that? Alternatively, if it’s something that will always be a work in progress, how do you know when you can feel good about it, satisfied with its progress?

The kind of coral that creates atolls, lives in warm water which thus dictates where atolls are found; the right place, the right conditions in the right order and with enough time given. Our world can be very fast paced so this might be a nudge to slow down. Things get done when they get done and also ensure you’ve got the right conditions in order to create.

If we think about how humans and atolls have interacted, we don’t necessarily find positive news… They lay low and this has been disastrous. Think of boats travelling the sea and the atoll obscured from view by the waves… Many atolls are uninhabited by humans as they are often remote and unfortunately this has made them good for testing nuclear weapons… The first hydrogen bomb was tested at Bikini Atoll by the Americans but it isn’t the only atoll used for this purpose.

Unlike other islands, atolls tend to be short of natural resources, although are enticing to tourists if they are easily enough accessed. This means things like food and fuel have to be brought to the atoll. Atolls struggle to earn money because they don’t have much to offer beyond tourism. However, some, such as the nation of Tuvalu (a series of isolated atolls in the Pacific) receives millions of dollars every year for use of its “.tv” Internet domain name.

Atolls are also at risk from climate change. As low lying land, rising sea levels are a very real threat and in the Maldives, reclamation projects have started, and the government has looked at land in other countries to repatriate residents should it be necessary. On a more positive note, it seems like natural processes on coral reef atolls may result in better resistance to sea level rise than should be the case given their low elevation. It appears that most coral atoll islands remain stable but of course, the future will determine what happens.

It does feel like atolls show the completed cycle of creation, and highlight that even if it seems complete, it is still changing, that endings are just beginnings and we’re never going to reach a state of perfection where all is done. I know for me, if I feel overwhelmed by day to day things, I sometimes think that if I just get them all done right now, that’ll be it. And of course that’s not the case. I send one email and get another I need to respond to. This puts me in mind of pacing, a concept familiar to many disabled people. It’s a way of getting out of the boom and bust cycle; you don’t wait until you feel ready to face everything you need to do, instead if you have energy to do one thing, you do that. If you wait till you think you can face it all, you’ll most likely hit 75% of it, and then spend the next week in bed recovering. Doing it in a more gentle, intentionally paced way, means you do a thing, you rest a little, you do another thing.

In case this is helpful, the explanation that helped me really understand was about knitting. Say you want to knit a blanket. You could sit and do ten rows and then need to rest for two hours. Or, you do a single row, stretch and wiggle and grab a coffee and then do another. Repeat and repeat (but maybe not the coffee part!) and you’ll find instead of getting ten rows done in two and a bit hours, you get 30 rows done in the same time.

Similar to the atoll, we are not a constant, we’re always being shaped by our relationships and the world around us. Murray Ford, in the article about the Maldives, said:

“The key thing to understand is that these islands aren’t static. They don’t sit passively as if they were in a bathtub and slowly drowning. They are constantly being reshaped by oceanographic and sedimentary processes.”

Isn’t this so true?

If we turn to mythology, we find that in the islands of Tuvalu, it’s believed in some of their mythology that the atolls were created by Te Ali, or the flounder, with the flounder’s body becoming the island.

One website shares the creation myth, saying that they were created by Te Ali and Te Pusi (the eel):

“Carrying home a heavy rock, a friendly competition of strength turned into a fight and Te Pusi used his magic powers to turn Te Ali flat, like the islands of Tuvalu, and made himself round like the coconut trees. Te Pusi threw the black, white and blue rock into the air – and there it stayed. With a magic spell it fell down, but a blue part remained above to form the sky. Te Pusi threw it up again, and its black side faced down, forming night. With another spell, the rock fell down on its white side and formed day. Te Pusi broke the rest of the rock into eight pieces, forming the eight islands of Tuvalu. With a final spell, he threw the remaining pieces of blue stone and formed the sea.”

If we rely on Wikipedia, we learn that the word atoll comes from the Dhivehi word atholhu from an Indo-Aryan language spoken in the Maldives. Darwin took this and used it as atoll, referring to the word’s indigenous origin, meaning a lagoon island.

Sometimes I reflect upon literature in these posts, but for atolls, my findings were limited… I did find a poem entitled Atoll by Robert William Service which looks at the romantic ideal of visiting an island or atoll and being away from the rest of the world. A concept I’m sure we can agree is idealised.

So, in conclusion, we have themes of time, perseverance and long, deep time, as well as the cycle of creation.

Grasshoppers

“There is something liberating about not knowing exactly how things will turn out.  The smell of a fresh new adventure tickles the tips of my antennae.  It sends shivers down my body and before I know it, I turn and land in its direction.  As its vibration gets stronger, I trust my inner compass more and more until eventually that which was once unknown now becomes the known.”
– Message from the Grasshopper, Animal Totem Tarot

It’s a bit of an aside but grasshoppers are eaten by Roadrunners which are another of the Animal Totem Tarot cards so you may want to spend some time reflecting on what that means, especially if you’ve pulled both cards.

But back to the main post, the grasshopper, the first card in the Animal Totem Tarot deck; the fool. Something I didn’t know about grasshoppers and locusts until a few years ago is that they are (sort of) the same.  A locust is a short-horned grasshopper but not all grasshoppers are locusts. Got that?! Safe Haven Pest Control describe locusts as grasshoppers that have “superior social characteristics”! Given the right environmental conditions, a short horned grasshopper can transform into a locust. When conditions are right for that transformation, they get bigger, their wings become stronger, their colour changes and they swarm.

Scientists have identified an increase in serotonin in certain parts of their nervous system initiates the changes in behaviour which leads to the swarming. Serotonin, when it comes to humans, is mostly known for its role in depression but it’s a chemical that carries messages between nerve cells in your brain and body. In addition to its role in mood, it affects sleep, digestion and healing.

This Jekyll and Hyde transformation is something I want to consider in relation to this insect along with the two sides.  We have here a being with two very different personas depending on the situation or environment it finds itself in. It makes me think of someone who is quiet and unassuming in their day job but then comes alive and vibrant at night, in the karaoke bar or on stage as a drag queen. Or an extrovert in one aspect of the life but introvert in another. Then there’s the trigger that changes one into the other. Perhaps you’re an introverted performer who can relate to the idea that a certain routine helps you get into the right mindset, or a writer who has a certain environment where they are better able to get into the flow.

Whilst I am going to touch on locusts, as this card is primarily about the grasshopper, let’s start their first. They are ancient creatures which were around about 250 million years ago and key to understanding them, is their powerful hind legs.  These allow them to escape from danger and according to Canal and River Trust:

“These all-singing, all-dancing creatures truly are the gymnasts of the insect world, being able to leap distances of up to 20 times the length of their own body.”

Whilst they don’t actually ‘jump’, they catapult themselves instead, it’s not surprising that we see the grasshopper in the place of the Fool as this Major Arcana card is epitomised by leaps of faith.

In addition to catapulting themselves out of danger, they have a hard shell and some species eat toxic plants and then keep the toxins in their body for protection. They advertise this danger with bright colours. Further to this, when picked up, they spit out a brown liquid known as ‘tobacco juice’. This is actually a mix of saliva and other stomach enzymes and is acidic, smells bad and can stain. In China and Japan this fluid was sold for medicinal uses (Clausen).

They also disappear from predators by hiding in the vegetation that they enjoy, sometimes staying still is wiser than making dramatic moves. Their strong jaw is used for chewing plants, and in locust form especially, can cause serious damage to crops, causing devastation and famine which has a huge impact on their reputation.

Moving through their senses; they have a pair of compound eyes and three simple eyes which detect light and dark. Instead of ‘traditional’ ears, they have an organ called a tympana; a circular membrane on their abdomen which they use to hear. They also have a covering of fine hairs (called setae) which help them detect touch and wind. This makes me want to stand outside, arms outstretched and just feel the air and the weather on my skin!

Some species make the well known stridulation sounds by rubbing together a row of pegs on their hind legs and edges of their forewings.  Often the noise is made by the males and is to attract females or compete with rivals. Sadly, urban grasshoppers are having to make their song louder in order to compete with human noise.

Of course, grasshoppers come together to mate even though they live mostly solitary lives. Females are larger than males and have a sharp point at the end of their abdomen, this helps them lay their eggs under the ground. After hatching as nymphs, they undergo an incomplete metamorphosis; at each stage their look a lot like adults but each time they shed their skin there are a few changes. These gradual changes (5 or 6 moults) end with them in an adult form where they’re able to reproduce and most species have wings by this point.

We all change as we go through life and sometimes it’s harder and more painful than others, but (full) metamorphosis involves fully rearranging your body and even incomplete metamorphosis involves breaking out of your former self. Give yourself the space to grow, the credit when you do and the time to say goodbye to that version of you. There may be the need to grieve old versions of yourself or the people who were there when that was who you were. Not everyone is supposed to be with you for life, sometimes people come into your life, make their mark and for whatever reason then go a different way.

Healing, symbolism and mythology

Taking a quick look at healing and insects in a more physical, less emotional, way, Wikipedia tells us that the femurs of grasshoppers were used to treat liver issues by the indigenous people of Mexico, and further afield, they’ve been used to cure migraines and headaches and are eaten as a source of protein.

We can also find historical sources which refer to the use of the grasshopper. According to Entomotherapy or the Medicinal Use of Insects, classical authors including Pliny the Elder noted that locusts of grasshoppers could be used for fumigation against anuresis of women and for scorpion stings. NB, anuresis refers to lack of urination and I’m unclear why it’s specific to women…

In Tibetan medicine, grasshoppers were considered medicinal, with their spit used for a head injury called ‘dripping brain’ and to neutralise the poison of a particular beetle. We also find that in Tibet, synonyms for the grasshopper include “the lion cub that jumps in the sky” which I wanted to include because it’s a gorgeous image!

And that feels like a great point to step into symbolism and mythology…

The story of how the first grasshopper was created is told in a Greek myth. It tells of Aurura, Goddess of the Morning who fell in love with a hunter, a mortal called Tithonus. In turn, he fell madly in love with her. So much so that he agreed to forsake the land of mortals to live with her in the land of the gods. They were happy for a while, until Aurora become overcome with the idea that he, being mortal, would die. She approached her father, conveniently the King of the Gods, and persuaded hum to make Tithonus immortal. She forgot to specify he would remain youthful and so, whilst she remained young and beautiful, he grew older. And as he grew older, he got sadder until he asked Aurora to be allowed to return to the realm of mortals. She did release him but as she did, she said: “From now on you shall be a grasshopper so that whenever I hear the grasshopper’s clear, merry song, I shall be reminded of the many happy days we spent together.” (Clausen)

Aside from that particular myth, Athenians held the grasshopper high esteem and hence it was unlucky to kill one. In China they are also considered lucky and are associated with fertility. Grasshoppers were used in ancient Egypt as a hieroglyph, a seal, an amulet, a symbol of beauty and an illustration of life along with Nile. But it’s not all good news for our symbolic grasshopper… It seems like their reputation is fickle…

The Aztec view of the grasshopper returns us to our earlier Jekyll and Hyde analogy with their ability to change overnight from grasshopper, a symbol of fertility, to a locust more associated with destruction.

If we turn to Aesop, we find that the grasshopper in the fable is recklessly living for today, where the ant is planning for tomorrow. Perhaps a sign to look up the ant card as the moral is that the grasshopper perishes and ant survives.

This perspective continues and in Shakespeare’s day, they were figures of careless improvidence and hedonism, focused on the joy of today without a care for tomorrow. And in some western cultures they were seen as irresponsible, because of their seemingly sporadic leaping (Insect Mythology, Kritsky and Cherry).

As a result of their link with locusts, they are associated with plagues and famine and so are linked to bad luck. Native Languages explains how tribes dependant on agriculture felt strongly against them whereas tribes that focused more on hunting and gathering were less affected.

They further say “In some tribes, it was said that grasshoppers could predict the weather and even had power over changes in the weather (especially drought and rain)” which makes a lot of sense when we consider how weather affects food supply and food supply affects certain kinds of grasshoppers. If they become locusts then a famine and reduced food supply would ensue.

We see the link with weather in amulets; farmers would sometimes carry a grasshopper amulet with them to protect from poor harvests (Bodyguards, Desmond Morris).

In India, the Sumi Nagas have used animal behaviour as a weather predictor. Grasshoppers are seen during the hot and dry weather so indicate the hot season has arrived or is coming and will be a dry period. A large increase in the number of grasshoppers leads to concern about a pending drought.

Other stories detailed on Native Languages link grasshoppers with tobacco. This Abenaki tale sees the grasshopper hoarding tobacco and refusing to share it, selfishly keeping it on an island. The hero of the tale, Gluskabe, is able to retrieve the tobacco and when grasshopper comes looking to claim it back, Gluskabe declares that grasshopper cannot be trusted with it. However, he does give grasshopper enough tobacco to enjoy for the rest of its life. The tale also explains that grasshopper couldn’t be trusted with the magical canoe to return to the island so Gluskabe split the back of it’s coat and gave it wings. To this day, grasshopper flies with these wings and chews his mouthful of tobacco, and if you ever pick up a grasshopper, it will immediately spit it out, “as if to say, “See, I am willing to share.””, “I am no longer selfishly hoarding tobacco.”

The Fool

Thinking about the grasshopper as the fool in the tarot deck, we can reflect on the cultural concept of the grasshopper as a student, never the master, as we all are. No matter how much we know or learn, we will never master all knowledge. This is not meant to be a defeatist kind of energy, but rather to encourage you to accept where you are, and still keep seeking and learning. Keep growing and keep moving through the phases of your life.

We have a creature here that has a lot of energy, taking leaps of faith, but who is also attuned to the world; they can literally feel the wind by the hairs on their back.

Finally on grasshoppers, because I have to share this:

What’s the craziest grasshopper fact you know?

“Grasshopper brains can be controlled by a worm! While eating vegetation, grasshoppers may ingest eggs of the parasitic horsehair worm. This worm hatches and feeds on the innards of the insects, changes their behavior, and ultimately drives them to seek water. The adult worm emerges from the drowned grasshopper, finds a mate, and lays eggs. A passing mammal (usually a cow, in Arizona) drinking from the water source will swallow worm eggs. After the eggs pass through the cow’s digestive system, they end up in poop on the grass, which is then eaten by a grasshopper, repeating the cycle.”

Locust

Where the grasshopper is seem in a positive light, the locust is seen as chaotic and destructive, and one of the key turning factors is the environment, and those we surround ourselves with. If you feel you aren’t acting the way you’d like to or showing up in the world in the form you’d want to, then have a look around you – it could be the friends, your workplace or even your social media that’s adding toxic energy to your life.

It’s important to note that a plague of locust is not sustainable; if they devour all the available food, there will be a mass die off due to starvation. This naturally limits populations through boom and bust cycles.

A final note on locusts, is just their power to disrupt ecosystems much larger than themselves; a power for good or for not?

Reading

Shoebill

“Depending on your perspective, a shoebill either has the same goofy charm as the long-lost dodo or it looks like it might go on the attack any moment.”
National Geographic

The shoebill is a bird of various names including such incredible titles as The Whale Headed King and King of the Swamps, but also the less prestigious Boat Bill or Bog Bird. It’s scientific name, Balaeniceps Rex, deconstructs to ballaena (whale), caput (head), rex (king). The extremes in their names, and the take on them from National Geographic suggests a divise nature akin to marmite; you love it or you hate it.

A coloured sketch of a shoebill's head

With their prehistoric appearance, they are often described as living dinosaurs. More so that other birds which are less obviously descended from dinosaurs. They stand at an impressive 5 foot, with an 8 foot wingspan and their bill is thought to have the biggest circumference of all birds. The centring of their bill in their name is not surprising when you see a shoebill – the clog shaped, razor edged bill can be up to 9 inches long and is so big that babies have trouble standing because of the imbalance.

In addition to being tall, with a long wingspan, they have comically long legs and long toes (their middle toe can be up to 18cm long!). As they live in marshy wetlands, having longer limbs helps to spread weight and enables them to walk more steadily on unpredictable territory. The shoebill could be suggesting that you too spread your weight when facing unpredictability.

Accompanying their large bill is a large head with large eyes that come with a piercing stare. Blinking infrequently gives them an unnerving appearance, combined with their ancient appearance. Their stare actually serves an important function, helping them to catch their prey with about a 60% success rate. They eat lungfish, catfish and even baby crocodiles and, standing perfectly still for hours until prey appears, they attack with speed and ferocity, using their sharp hooked bill as a weapon. The bill holds the fish, allowing no escape.

The wetlands they inhabit are in Eastern Africa and tend to be areas of flood plain with papyrus and reedbeds. As they need fish to come close to the surface, they also frequent areas of poorly oxygenated water; lungfish can breathe through lungs (hence the name!) so will head up to take a breath (Animal Diversity).

Before we move onto mating and raising chicks, there’s just a few other things it’s good to know about the shoebill;

  • They can take off near vertically and their long wings means they don’t have to flap them as often as many birds
  • They aren’t very vocal, but when they do greet other shoebills, they use bill clattering which has been described as sounding like a machine gun or a jackhammer
  • Shoebills are in a taxonomic family of their own and are not, as some people assume, storks; in fact their closest relatives are pelicans
  • They defecate on their legs to keep themselves cool; heat from the warm blood in their legs works to evaporate the liquid poo and the result is that cooler blood circulates back through the bird

They are generally solitary, with the exception of when they are breeding, and even then, the male and female prefer to occupy opposite ends of their shared territory. This feels like sharing is a stretch; even when they want or need to share an area, it is done with a sort of resentment and reluctance. Despite that, they do form pair bonds for the breeding season (although no longer than they have to!), a reminder that sometimes, you do need to engage in team work, even if your tendency is to march on alone.

Strangely, given their seeming distaste for company, both parents participate in every aspect of nest building, incubation and parenting. This includes something called egg-watering, where adults pour a mouthful of water of the nest, this helps to keep the eggs cool. They also place wet grass around the eggs, rolling and turning the eggs over. This all feels very caring and resourceful of the parents, and yet, we shall now see, the offspring are somewhat more viscious…

There are between one and three eggs and once hatched, the chicks start life highly reliant on their parents for food and water. This is likely a key factor in the extreme sibling rivalry between the chicks. The dominating chick (generally the one born first) will bully and torment the submissive chick. This leads to the dominant chick getting more food and water, so they grow faster and are healthier. This can result in a parent making a “choice” to neglect one of their chicks. This is very hard to hear about but if we think about resource management it makes sense; if you haven’t got enough to keep two chicks alive and healthy then neglecting one means the other is more likely to make it to adulthood and to breeding, that is to say, to continue the genetic line.

They have been considered a bad omen with beliefs such as if you see one when fishing, you’ll not catch much and yet this assumption led to protection; because they were seen as bad luck, people were afraid to kill them.

This contrariness is seen again when we consider that despite being terrifying and bad luck, they have also been beloved and appeared in ancient Egyptian artwork; again a bit like marmite…!

Resources

Birds: What’s in a name? Peter Barry

National Geographic

Audubon

Animal Diversity

https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Balaeniceps_rex/

Encyclopedia

Animalogic: Shoebills are metal

BBC Earth: The dark side of shoebill chicks

Animal Educate: Dinosaur bird

Kinkajou: Animal Spirit

The kinkajou: relative of the raccoon, that is easily mistaken for a primate and is sometimes called honey bears despite not being ursine.

Ok, I’m guessing you don’t know what a Kinkajou is, so let’s start there. I didn’t either until very recently and since that first encounter, they’ve cropped up a few times in my life so I felt drawn to find out more. That, and they are rather cute (which sadly means there is a horrific pet trade issue around them). They have short, woolly hair that’s golden brown on their backs and creamy yellow on their tummy’s.

A kinkajou on a branch

According to A-Z Animals, the name kinkajou comes from a native Algonquian word meaning wolverine that was taken by the French and applied to the kinkajou. A reminder to us that words aren’t neutral and can have their own, important history, in this case a history that feels like it’s probably linked to colonialism. Other names suggested by the A-Z Animals website include night ape and night walker as well as la Llorona which means crying woman and refers to their loud call.

A long, prehensile tail is probably the Kinkajou’s most defining feature but perhaps their second eye catching feature is their large eyes. As nocturnal creatures living in tropical forests in Central and South America, large eyes are beneficial. Often, nocturnal animals either have very small eyes or very large eyes depending on how much they use sight vs other senses.

During the day, they are often found sleeping in dens created in the hole of a tree with their social group, apparently using their tail as a snuggly blanket! Come dusk, time is spent grooming each other and socialising before heading out alone to search for food.

Their prehensile tail acts a lot like another arm, aiding their balance and they often hang from it, incredibly it can take the entire weight of the kinkajou! This is a unassumingly powerful creature with hidden skills. They are deliberate in their movement, carefully placing their legs and tail for good balance and their tail allows for reaching and grasping branches, or ideas if you’re thinking symbolically or metaphorically.

Incredibly, they are able to turn their feet backwards to run easily in either direction along branches which puts me in mind of moving forward and backwards through time or journeys. This flexibility and manoeuvrability is enhanced by an extremely flexible spine and is perhaps a reminder that life is not always about moving forward. Sometimes you need to revisit the past or perhaps if you’re grieving, it’s a reminder that the so called stages of grief aren’t steps, they are a process and you may, will, move around within that process.

Their nimble claws are dexterous as as we’ve seen with the racoon, it helps them to manipulate food. They can feel more nuance than perhaps the average creature and that might be an encouragement to lean into nuance. Whilst we tend to view the world in very black and white terms, there is so so much greyscale that’s really worth looking into. So often two things can be true at once even if they seem like competeing ideas.

As we’ve seen from the opening statement, the kinkajou doesn’t have a solid image or identity as seen by others. But then nor do we, how people view us or define us depends partly on the lens that they are seeing us through and partly on how we are presenting at a particular point. This doesn’t mean you aren’t a fully integrated whole person, just that the self we show more of in the workplace is different to the self we show more of when we’re catching up with our best friend or on a night out.

Whilst originally thought to be solitary, they actually have complex social interactions with a social group often comprising of two males, one female and offspring. Dominant males mate with the females of their home group as well as females on the edge of the territory. Like with so many animals, scent marking is important for communication, including sexual communication, and kinkajous use scent glands to mark tree branches. They also communicate through grunting and growling, chattering and screaming and when they’re happy, they make a kissing noise! Maybe your communication could be clearer to others?

When it comes to parenting, it’s down to the mums but, as Animal Diversity said whilst “males do not provide any direct care [they] are not aggressive toward young and have been found to regularly share fruiting trees and day dens, and will occasionally play with the pups.” This seems like a key nudge around gender roles in your life – if the kinkajou has shown up for you, what might need rebalancing it terms of gendered work. Are you always the one in the relationship who’s keeping a mental track of upcoming birthdays? Do you wait until the night before the kids run out of clothes to do a wash? None of these are judgements, but if you are in a relationship, you may need to take some time to consider the roles that you’ve fallen into. If you’ve consciously chosen a role that fits your skills and interests (maybe you love to cook) does that mean that your partner is picking up a role that they don’t want (like taking out the bins).

As they eat a lot of seeds and pollinate when they feed on nectar, they are carrying out the role of forest gardener which is an important role to play in an environment. Further, they are food for predators such as birds of prey, jaguars and other predators. Both their roles as food and creating food are vital for the local environment they live in – how are you being benefited and benefiting the place you live?

Superstitions and beliefs

There is a Colombian superstition that if a kinkajou barks during the day, a family member will die. This is often the case with nocturnal animals.

There’s a really interesting link between the kinkajou and tobacco and I’m thinking perhaps I’ll dig into tobacco itself more separately. But for now, the kinkajou are seen by Yanomami people as the animal-person responsible for discovering tobacco and celebrating it.

With the South American Yanamomo people, there was a man who was crying as he walked through a forest. He was crying because there was something he needed, he dodn’t know what it was but his craving for it made him emotionally numb. He came across the ancestral tobacco god, kinkajou. Kinkajou knew just what the man needed – it was tobacco. Kinkajou gave it to the man who started chewing it and wherever he spat it’s juice, tobacco plants grew and flowered and hummingbirds came and sucked the nectar and this resulted in tobacco becoming widely spread.

Other myths expand on the addictiveness of tobacco and there are various versions of these myths, some involve the kinkajou spreading tobacco and some where an agouti was involved who taught the kinkajou how to cultivate the crop. In another version, it was Caterpillar who gave Kinkajou tobacco and there are various versions of man turning into Kinkajou and Kinkajou turning into man.

Regardless of which myth you lean towards, there are clear themes around intoxicating substances, addiction and transformation. How do these apply to where you are right now? Are you in need of a deeper, spiritual awakening through substances? Are you overdoing that use? Or are you in need of a personal transformation? Certain substances can change our perception of our realities, but it feels important to say that we can’t change our realities though our perceptions can make a huge difference.

Sources

Nature, Framed

So yesterday was my birthday and I spent it in a way that was very much me but sounds a bit weird to some people…!

I started the day by co-hosting a nature writing workshop with the wonderful Amanda Tuke. She had invited me to be part of a series of workshops she was co-hosting over a year and this one was the last in the series.

If you’ve been here long, you’ll be fully aware I’m disabled and for me that was a key way I wanted to approach the workshop. A lot of my nature is experienced through and from my flat and this naturally shapes my writing.

A couple of incredible writers, Polly Atkin and Josie George, have similar ways of approaching nature and their nature writing. Indeed, Atkin has said:

“We dwell in our bodies; our bodies in the world. Everything we experience of the world we experience in and through and with our bodies. Our relationship with our body informs our relationship with the world. For some people this is easier to forget than for others”.

There are many reasons why it may be easier to forget for some people than others, in my case it’s around my disability but for others it might be around gender or race. I wanted the workshop to reflect that and to start from a place that was hopefully accessible to everyone, or almost everyone; their home.

A warm up exercise focused on what is through the window and I was pleased to be able to write a little whilst the participants did their own writing.

Through the window a car alarm pierces through my nature writing, cuts my reflections, brutally shatters my snail trail of thought.


Settling into my windowside chair, with it’s tarmacked street view, eyes flit over a discarded Double Decker wrapper caught on the winter bare bush. Eyes resolve image, releasing an iris, crocus, iris where the chocolate litter was. Spring crept by, left paint splatters in her hasty retreat. Dots of white on mud, tufts of lime on wet-black twigs. A season on the cusp of committing.


Out the window, nettles leaves wave, so fresh they’re more lemon than lime, but same tang. Browned grass stems drift wearily, remnants from last year, planted by overly zealous starlings as they squabbled for the feeder.

Inside the window, a snail hibernates, stuck itself to the apex of the frame. A gamble with it’s glue, a fall will shatter. I think it’s a male, self confidence borders on arrogance.


My birthday wasn’t just about nature writing though! There was wine and word games and friends and takeaway. That being said, starting it with a nature writing workshop was a great way to kick off the day!

Honey Badger

The honey badger, also known as a ratel, is not as sweet as the name suggests! It also isn’t that closely related to a badger, and is more akin to a weasel. So we’re already getting off to a deceptive start although it’s probably not fair to blame the honey badger for that, we are the ones who named it after all!

One explanation for it’s name comes from a relationship it allegedly has with the honeyguide bird. It is said that the birds can find honey and not get into the hive, so they fly close to the honey badger, calling and inviting it to follow. The bird then leads the honey badger to the hive where it uses it’s sharp claws to break in, eat the larva and leave the honey for the honeyguide. However, there is no evidence of this and the honey badger is nocturnal where the honeyguide is diurnal…

Now, let’s get a bit more familiar with this creature. You probably don’t know much about the honey badger, beyond it’s reputation on the internet…

They are about 60-70cm long, about 25cm tall and weigh between 8 and 12kg and are quite stocky. They have a large skull, a muscular neck and tend to be part black, part grey or white. Strong front feet feature large claws and they have a strange skin feature; it’s thick and loose which means when a predator gets hold of them, they can squirm and twist and bite the attacker. The skin is so tough that it is impervious to arrows and spears and even tough enough to resist a machete. The honey badger has definitely mastered it’s armour and whilst the honey badger does need this extreme version, do you? Of course, we don’t walk round in chain metal but we all have emotional armoury.

In terms of how they sense the world, they have poor eyesight but a very powerful sense of smell. To be fair, they are nocturnal so would have to have really good eyesight to make it a useful sense.

They are solitary and generally only come together to mate. Once mated, the male goes on his way, leaving the female to raise the cubs. Cubs are born blind and hairless, staying in the den for the first few months of life. Every few days the mum moves the cubs to a new den, which feels like a defensive and protective action. At about three months old, they start to forage with their mum and will move burrow every night. At about a year, year and a half, they go their own way.

As already hinted at, they are nomadic, self reliant creatures, not relying on anyone and not getting attached to anywhere. Does this sound familiar? If it does, maybe it’s time to reflect on that a little.

They sleep in burrows and are able to dig tunnels in hard ground quickly with those sharp, large claws but will also appropriate them from other animals. Being able to dig quickly helps them find food as well, uprooting it from a supposedly safe space… They are foragers with a broad diet including eggs and chicks but a lot of their diet is venomous snakes, which they are immune to, giving it a good supply of food as most animals can’t eat them.

However, snake venom is complex and they don’t get away without some effect. It is this that earns them the name nature’s zombies. They attack the snake, and in doing so can get bitten leading to venom getting into the honey badger’s veins. The snake dies and so, it appears, does the honey badger but a couple of hours later they ‘come back to life’ and eat the snake.

If you’ve pulled the honey badger card, perhaps you should be asking yourself if something is worth it, do you want it enough to take the hit that comes with it?

An array of offensive and defensive weapons mean they don’t really have many predators. Their thick skin is hard to grasp, their sharp claws strike a painful blow and then there is their reversible anal pouch… When threatened they can push it out their anus and it emits a foul smell (they are related to skunks). The honey badger is not afraid to attack though and appears to take a fearless approach to facing opponents. Do you need to follow suit? Or are you creating battles when they aren’t needed? If you go into a situation ready to attack, then everything becomes a war. Perhaps this card has appeared to remind you that you don’t need to fight, or that you should ensure you are fighting for the right cause.

Their vulnerable points, the eyes, ears and tail are small which reduces the vulnerability. This is an animal that really sets it’s boundaries. This, combined with all their attack and defence options, makes me ask, what are they afraid to show? In terms of the tarot card or oracle card, what are you guarding or hiding from the world? There’s a huge difference between being appropriately private or cautious about sharing something, and being so private and closed off that it is you that is hurting yourself. Many of us wonder how people will react when we share a facet of ourselves but if the other person is not accepting of it, you learn something about that relationship.

Recently on an episode of Queer Eye, one of the presenters rephrased ‘coming out’ as ‘letting someone in’, do you need to do more work on letting people in?

As well as being physically well adapted for their life, honey badgers are highly intelligent. Their brain is comparatively large and they are ingenious problem solvers, using flexible thinking and tools to break into hen houses, and out of zoos. If there’s something they want, they will get it.

Having an attitude as being scrappy and tenacious is great for keeping predators at bay, except when those predators are humans who want the honey badger for use in traditional medicine. It is believed that their fearlessness and bravery will be transferred to the human. Another human made danger for honey badgers are traps as farmers and bee keepers try to protect their livelihoods, in fact conflict between beekeepers and honey badgers has been documented since the early 1800s (International Journal of Avian & Wildlife Biology).

Being well adapted and also adaptable means honey badgers can cope with a lot of uncomfortable situations but being able to cope with something doesn’t always mean you should. When negative things come into our lives gradually, we can turn around and find ourselves in terrible scenarios that we don’t have the keep coping with, think of the boiling frog metaphor

Sources

Thumbnail Nature; Winter

I recently attended a nature writing workshop with Amanda Tuke and Rebecca Gibson; Song of ice and footprints. I’ve attended a couple of Amanda’s workshops now and I love that they get me writing, right there and then.

As the name suggests, we were looking at winter! As the last exercise is about thumbnail nature writing (40 to 50 words), I came out of it with something short and hopefully consise…!

Between barcode poplars, rose gold sun showcases seedhead’s architecture, glimmers the spider woven lace and glints off frost licked grass.

Cold air bites flesh; a price must be paid to witness Winter’s magic. A test is always required to enter a fairytale forest.

New Networks for Nature

A few years ago the New Networks for Nature meeting was held in York which was an incredible opportunity and I really enjoyed the whole event.

This year it’s being held in Bath which isn’t quite as convienient but streaming tickets have now been made available! You can get them for Saturday or Sunday, or a combined ticket, through the Eventbrite page. Click on Tickets and scroll to the bottom of the list for the online ones.

You’ll then be able to access an exclusive live video and audio feed of the event in Bath. Note this is not an interactive attendance, so you will not be able to ask questions or comment live, but the social media around the event was very active when it was in York. If you do get involved in social media use #NatureMatters21 to join in.

Saturday will kick off with an exciting sounding panal about art and environmental awareness. Other Saturday panals include the topic of plastics, young people and climate activism and the future of natural-history tv.

Sunday includes discussion around Nature and Spirituality, nature, health and wellbeing and ecotourism.

A full programme is available for you to find out more about the different panals and the many great speakers.

Whilst my life has been taken over by fighting for basic disability access to York city centre, I am very much looking forward to having a weekend to think about nature instead!

Despite the gushing of love about the event, I haven’t been sponsored in anyway. I just really enjoyed it when it was in York and am very pleased to be able to attend virtually!

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Six year old girl, blonde hair, green eyes, hovers over a dead body. Her first dead body. There is no rule book for this situation, there was no picture book to tell her what to do or prepare her for this.

My sister, two years younger, had run away at the sight of the rusted fur but something tied me to the fox. Its body lay sprawled at the base of a horse chestnut tree. One of many that made up our wood; the envy of classmates who dreamt of tree houses and conkers.

Above, in the protective canopy, white and pink candles proudly declared Spring’s presence. I remember the man we found in our driveway staring at the waxy peach cones, amazed, full of questions about this abnormality. Questions we had no answers for, this was just how they grew, with their darker, smaller leaves and empty spiny shells that disappointed our friends. They had expected the rich smooth gift of a conker.

A glassy eye blinked. A muscle reaction I would later find out.

I stood watch over the body; chestnut tail, russet body, milky ruff and charcoal tipped ears.

There was no blood. The small creature lay seemingly as peaceful as a cat basking in the sun. It was not the fox I feared, it was not the death I feared, but I did fear leaving it alone. It felt wrong to witness death and walk away.

We buried it, my Dad and I, under a beech tree. Near the family pets but not so close that the fox would terrorise the guinea pigs, the chickens or the cats in the afterlife.

Boxing Day Floods

One of the tasks from the Wild Words course I did was to write about flooding. In York, in 2015, there were awful floods which affected many people and areas that aren’t usually flooded. York does flood regularly but this was the worst I’ve seen in.

Boxing Day Floods, York

Source: York Flood Inquiry

December 2015
wettest month
since records began
Ouse and Foss catchment
saturated

Boxing Day:
unprecedented situation on the Foss

                       weekend Bank Holiday
                       middle of Christmas

challenge escalates

27th BT exchange
flooded

loss of landlines internet
mobile phones
no electronic communication
                        misinformation can take hold

four hundred and fifty three
residential properties
one hundred and seventy four
businesses
flooded

remarkable efforts
generosity community spirit
assistance offered quickly
unstintingly. Donations
                       local, national
                       international

spontaneous volunteers
‘unwavering response from responders’
praised for dedication and contribution

thirteen thousand sandbags
                       builders’ merchants very helpful
                       opened depots on request

voluntary sector:
                        evacuation-meals-shelter-warmth-assisting with clean up-warehousing and distributing donated goods-practical emotional recovery support

disruption
evacuated
no warning
upheaval
traumatic

‘Recovery from flooding does not simply end
when people move back into their homes.’

problems with insurance claims
managing builders
living in a state of disrepair

long-term issues identified:
                       respiratory problems made worse- mental health problems exacerbated-disruption to home-lost personal possessions-strain of moving in with family-strain of being separated from family-breakdown of relationships-financial pressures-lost ability to earn-went out of business

problems do not recede as quickly as water

York will flood again
an inevitability

‘York as a community would benefit from becoming more resilient
and better prepared for an emergency situation.’