Wild Things

I read a story this morning about a man who had developed a close relationship with a wild eagle that could not fly. One day the man was in despair because of his failing health. The eagle stretched out his wings and enclosed the man within them. He then bent forward and touched his beak to the man’s forehead. It shouldn’t be a surprise to learn that the cancer went into remission and the man was healed.

Tear came to my eyes as I read the story – not for the man’s healing or the happy ending – but for the image of the eagle enfolding the man within his wings. What is it within us that resonates so deeply to the bond between animal and human? Is it because they are as we were? That they are as we still are but do not want to acknowledge?

We are all animals under the skin, the primitive brain still pumping away, not defeated but more in exile and ready to return at the slightest provocation – the slight, the slur, the insult – with energy and rage. But animals do not respond to these intellectual promptings. Animals deal with the tangible – the transgression of territory, the taking of food, the challenge for supremacy.

What is it that stirs within when we hold the bird fallen from the nest in our hand? What makes it hard to tear our eyes from deer standing in the woods? What attracts us to the big cat, the towering bear, the wild horse in full gallop?

I think it calls up an ancient memory, a time when animals were not servants, nor prey, nor predators but rather cousins on this earth. A time when there was an unspoken, silent understanding between the species, a dance of life in which we changed partners and roles, shape shifted our essence.

Today, when we encounter a wild animal, be it the fallen bird, feral cat or mustang, there is within us a desire to reach us and touch that wildness, to tame the fear with which the animal wisely holds us at a distance.

We have the desire to be trusted – and to trust. If only for a moment, to feel that now foreign heart of nature beat close to ours. To put our forehead to theirs and let the familial love of cousins pass silently between us. To be trusted by the wild things is to be blessed. Have we not been told we are the caretakers, not the rulers, of this garden which we share?