Perhaps the mole lying unconscious in the deep grass was a messenger.
I have finished my memoir about my 14-year journey with a beautiful Samoyed named Cassie. I have decided not to publish it, but there are passages I will want to share. The first I offer today.
Cassie, short for Cassiopoeia, and I walked thousands of miles together in beautiful settings in Tennessee, Virginia, Michigan, Alabama, and New Mexico. She introduced me to a natural world that I found ensouled, animated, even convivial; and there was one day that I will always remember as an initiation into that world.
Cassie was not yet a year old, and we were coming to the end of our morning ramble in a nature preserve outside of Nashville. Heading back to my Jeep in the parking lot, Cassie suddenly leapt for the tall grass along a wire fence. I had already learned that such eagerness could mean trouble, so I grabbed her by the collar and pulled her away from whatever had aroused her interest.
What a sight! Pale belly exposed, a mole lay on its back, possibly in shock, a long earthworm coiling out of its mouth. My imagination took flight. Had Cassie injured the mole and did I need to rescue it? Was the mole eating the worm and should I save it? Was the worm actually attacking the mole?
I quickly loaded Cassie up in the Jeep and opened a window for her. The blood of the hunter was up, and she panted excitedly, eyes riveted on the place where we had left her prey.
Thinking I had some responsibility to intervene, I returned to the site. When I reached down to right the mole, it flipped over of its own accord and disappeared into the deep grass. The worm was nowhere to be seen.
If I were an accomplished artist, I could paint today the vivid image of that beleaguered mole and the ambiguous worm, and I’m sure that anyone who saw it would pause and wonder. The vision seemed susceptible to analysis and interpretation, and I proceeded to do some research when we got home.
In a book called Animal Wise by naturalist and mystic Ted Andrews, I learned that moles can lead shamans into the underworld to find treasures of insight and guidance. The mole digs and tunnels and feeds on the earthworm, which also digs and tunnels. As a result, the dramatic dual appearance could be taken as general guidance to study, explore, and analyze the teachings of the earth itself.
The moment suggested that such vivid encounters in nature are significant, could even be a form of communication. Over the ensuing years of walking with Cassie, there would be many such dramatic sightings; and I collected a library of books on symbolism, shamanism, and indigenous teachings that would help me ascertain the potential meaning of an extraordinary moment.
I’m not suggesting that the young dog panting excitedly at my Jeep window had a sense of mission in this regard. One would naturally question how much she had to do with these discoveries and the heightened sensibilities they produced. She typically led the way at the end of a very long leash, and where she paused, I paused. I might take a look at what intrigued her, but something else might also catch my eye. A great teacher sometimes simply opens the door to a roomful of wonders that an apt student will excitedly explore alone.
I would later be amused to learn that the Roman naturalist Pliny, who died in AD 79, reported that magicians preferred to use the intestines of moles to divine fate. As I review my memories of Cassie, it now seems that divination was afoot from the very beginning. Perhaps the mole lying unconscious in the deep grass was a messenger.