Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The Animals

There is something going on between the animals and me, something that I want to understand but don't. It was held in check for a while, but now it's returned with a bit of a vengeance. I thought that perhaps by explaining the situation in writing I could reach some kind of conclusion about it and find some kind of solace. More likely than not I will just sound like a complete nut, but I am desperate so here goes.

Late last year and earlier this year, I was tormented by dreams about animals, particularly dogs. In my dreams, the animals were injured, frightened, or dying. In the early dreams I was powerless to help them, but in the later dreams I found myself being able to provide some amount of assistance. In one dream a caravan of vehicles with animals had wrecked on I-395 in DC, and wounded and frightened animals were all over the place. I was able to rescue either a sheep or a rabbit, I can't remember which, but I felt bad because I wanted to rescue more but couldn't. In another dream I reunited some lost dogs with their owners, but in that same dream I also flushed my own dogs down a giant toilet and watched them come out, safe and sound, on the other side of a river in the middle of a campground. Weird!

While these dreams were occurring, I also was having some real-life animal experiences that were very disturbing. I was driving east down I-40/I-85 through Burlington, NC during rush hour one morning, returning from a visit to my parents. The road is 4 or 5 lanes in each direction at that point, separated by a barrier in the median, and there is a wide left-hand break-down lane. I was in the far left-hand lane and saw a beautiful but very frightened shepherd mix trotting in the break-down lane to my left. He was trotting against the direction of oncoming traffic, and I experienced a sharp jolt of adrenaline as I realized that I was seeing a live animal on the interstate and locked eyes with him for the briefest of moments. I told him not to panic and not to cross the road before it was clear. I drove for about another mile before I decided to turn around and go back for the dog. I went back at least two miles past where I'd seen him before turning around again to retrace my east-bound path. I'm still not sure how I was planning to accomplish an interstate rescue without spooking the already-scared dog or getting creamed myself, or both, but I felt a compelling need to at least try to find this dog again. However, I didn't see any sign of the shepherd, dead or alive, on or near the road, so I tried to tell myself that he'd made it across the traffic lanes safely and now would be in a position to find help from someone else.

About 60 miles later during this same trip, after the road had narrowed to two lanes, I saw two puppies approaching the highway. This time I didn't hesitate and stopped as quickly as I could (not easy when you're doing 75 mph), but the puppies ignored my call and crossed safely to the other side of the road. I didn't worry about the puppies so much because they looked as if they were out having fun, and they were together, but the vision of my frightened shepherd friend haunted me for a long time. I had dreams at night about him, and I frequently found myself pondering why he was in the road in the first place and wondering what ever happened to him. I was frustrated at not having concrete answers to those questions, but eventually I worked through the list of possibilities and got comfortable with the idea that no matter which (if any) of my possible scenarios was correct, whatever in fact happened was the right thing.

The NC-to-DC trip was followed by several short trips to take my dogs sheep-herding in northwest Virginia, during which I saw an extraordinary number of dead dear in the road. Not just one or two per trip, as one might expect, but lots. They were nearly everywhere I looked. Each one of them grabbed a heart string and held on for days.

These animal dreams and experiences subsided for a bit, but now that particular wound feels as if it has been reopened. I finished a book called The Story of Edgar Sawtelle a couple days ago. It is an exceptionally well-crafted book. It's essentially Hamlet set on a Wisconsin dog-breeding farm in the 1950s/1960s. The author amazingly manages to make the old Hamlet story different and fresh, I think largely because of the dog angle (this book features the best inside-the-dog's-mind view I've gotten since reading Jack London). It's Hamlet, so of course it's tragic, but for me the usual tragedy of Hamlet was compounded because there were dogs that experienced adverse conditions and died prematurely under especially heartbreaking circumstances. The main character is a 14-year old boy, and midway through the book the dog that is his soul mate dies -- essentially she commits suicide -- just as the boy, who has run away from home, is returning because he can't stand being separated from her any longer. Although the dog's soul visits the boy later in the book and they resolve their unfinished business, I have been upset about this scene since I read it. I just cannot seem to let it go.

As I was in the midst of reading this book, I saw my friend H's dog, who clearly is dying. Dying at age 14 under the careful watch of someone who loves him and will not let him suffer needlessly, but clearly dying nonetheless. I gave the dog some reiki the first time I saw him in his weakened state, and now he slowly seeks me out whenever we are in the dog park at the same time. I have not been able to let that vision go, either.

To top all this off, I was reading one of my favorite blogs yesterday, and the most recent post involved a dying antelope. He was chasing girls one day and then dying the next because there was a food shortage and he resorted to eating a poisonous vine. The post was absolutely beautiful. However, when considered in combination with my reaction to The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and my friend's dying dog, the story of the dying antelope left no doubt that my animal angst has returned in full force.

What is it with the animals and me? From earliest memory I have always been especially tender-hearted when it comes to animals and deeply troubled by their troubles. It's difficult to admit and I'm not sure what this says about me as person, but I frequently am more unsettled by stories of animal distress than of human distress. My ability to cope with animal strife and death has never been good, but I feel that, unlike most of my troublesome issues, this one is getting worse over time instead of better. And I really would like to know why. Am I indulging in (over-)sentimentality? Am I trying to feel emotions on behalf of these creatures and take on their strife and, if so, is there any way in which this might possibly benefit them or me? Are the animals symbolic of me, or of someone I love, and if so what's the best interpretation of the symbolism? I acknowledge that sickness and death are part of life and my conscious mind says that I am OK with that reality, but maybe the animals are telling me that deep down I really am not yet at peace with those ideas? Am I needlessly giving meaning to things that I should just let be? Am I merely being silly?

If anyone out there has any theories that might shed light on this subject I would be pleased to hear them (even if they are not particularly flattering to yours truly), because I am at a total loss.


Virtual Voyage said...

Certainly doesn't sound like you're off the rails but does sound like you may be experiencing some anxiety which has found it's focus in a concern about animals. Hope talking it through with someone (or blogging about it) helps.

willow said...

Take a look at "dog" in this dream dictionary. It may shed some light on the subject. I am very much into interpreting my dreams and posted on it some time back. It's very helpful in sorting through our emotions.

Hope this helps!

Adrianne said...

Many thanks to both of you. I think that blogging about it has helped, and the dream dictionary was very interesting.

Reya Mellicker said...

Life is definitely a dream. You know I believe that this pattern is really important in your life's mythology.

I like Virtual Voyage's take on this. I hope the mighty women of Africa read this. I have no doubt they would have some really helpful things to say.

I'm so sorry this is "in your face" again. Sending much love in your direction.

Steve said...

Hmmm...I'm not sure what might be going on. But I will point out that our minds often try to organize essentially unorganized events -- looking for commonality and bringing them together. Maybe you've merely had several animal-related occurrences that seem somehow related but really aren't.

I'll have to look for that book -- it sounds phenomenal!

tam said...

wow. Such an insistent repeat of this, feels like you simply must take notice! For years I dreamed of elephants, regularly, as much as 3 times a week. When I gradually started to understand what elephants were about for me,and I worked with their 'medicine' the dreams became less frequent. Now I know when I have those dreams its because I'm losing sight of those elephant lessons. Different animals have different content, or messages, and you seem to predominantly have dogs.
and you say "I frequently am more unsettled by stories of animal distress than of human distress."
I immediately thought 'well animals cannot speak for themselves' and that made me think that was the chord struck in you - the helplessness, but hey - I don't know you!!
Do you know Ted Andrews' book on totem animals? I think dog energy is usually about loyalty, compassion, protection, comfort. If the dog keeps knocking on yr door it could be about you needing to focus on those things. Or perhaps - playfulness? Crudely put - your inner puppy needs rescuing??? Compassion for self??

Here's my post on spider medicine, for what its worth.

I hope you find out what it means for you!

Reya Mellicker said...

I knew one of those mighty women in Africa would tell you something you needed to hear. They rock!!

Pam said...

I found your post beautiful and compassionate.Like you,I don't know the meaning, but I wish there were more people around like you.I don't think you're silly at all.Quite the opposite in fact. Best wishes.