Life Lessons from a Skunk: to love and live and celebrate life…even at the brink of endings

In addition to her EAL practice which helped me and my brother’s family through the passing of my sister-in-law, Jess Campmans of Guided by Equus and her husband run a dairy operation and Morgan horse breeding and training facility. They also keep chickens, turkeys, and other farm animals.

This past month, their brood of chickens received devastating losses. On many mornings as frost and snow became more frequent and light came later and later on their Alberta, Canada land, half-eaten corpses littered the frozen ground. The losses soon amounted to 15 chickens and 2 turkeys. Something had to be done.

Investigation showed that the predators were skunks. Now, many of us might not have had much interaction with skunks. All we may know, other than the obvious, is that skunks, omnivorous creatures, don’t tend to be aggressive (except around their prey, and chickens are easy targets), relying on their sprayed stink rather than violence. They don’t see well and don’t move quickly, and even have a warning ritual before they will spray; it takes 10 days to replenish the chemical in their scent glands and they can spray only 5-6 times with the fluid their glands can hold.

Years ago, on my way to a Barbara Rector Adventures in Awareness Facilitator Training, I went to Sedona for the first time. I brought camping gear, and when I found no cheap hotel or easy to access open space, I found myself in a busy campground that, miraculously, had one camping spot open.

I soon discovered why. It was hot and I never used tents back then anyway. So I lay on the ground with only a ground tarp, Therm-a-rest, and open sleeping bag. I was dead tirskunk-1ed, but even so, before I could pass out into the deep rest I get when sleeping outside, I discovered the reason this site had been open. I heard a shuffling of sticks and dirt, and looked up to see, in the light of the moon and stars, a skunk. Oh. Dear.

I considered sleeping in the rental car. Nope. Considered setting my Therm-a-rest and bag on the nearby picnic table, and ruled that out as I watched the skunk saunter over to the table and snuffle about underneath.

I decided that I’d be best off where I was. Now, understand, I’ve slept like this in many campsites, some of which were raided by bears in the night. All sites but mine have been scavenged (the key is to have nothing to take), and I alone have slept through a number of nights of banging and clanging as bears raided locked cars and Igloos. Bears and wildlife don’t scare me; the only thing that has made me pack up in the middle of the night is the human species.

So I decided to trust my seemingly blessed state and stay put, committing to making no sudden moves if awakened in the night.

As I said, I was supremely tired. So it took a while for a warm sensation to wake me. When I did, I jerked slightly, but then lay still.

Yes, there it was again. Undeniably, my hand, palm up as I lay on my stomach, was being licked by a small, warm, soft tongue. It felt like the size of a cat tongue, but was as soft as a dog lick.

What on earth? I stayed still long enough for the tongue to move from my hand up my wrist and forearm…and finally I made a sound. The licking stopped. Slowly I lifted and turned…to see an adult skunk looking at me at eye level. She turned and walked away, tail politely down, seemingly unconcerned but for the occasional look back. She joined a crowd of much smaller faces peaking at me from behind a big ponderosa maybe 10 feet away.skunk-family

I have to say, I was caught in the wonder of the moment. How many humans in this day and age, or any other for that matter, can say they were licked and groomed by a skunk? And…who knew they did this? It was so careful, and felt so caring. It struck me as an honoring. And this is why I rarely feel fear around wild animals. When I feel into their energy, it is so beautiful, all I feel is wonder and an honoring that they would trust me. We humans, after all, are the big bad bears in their world.

But as I looked at the small faces, I knew this couldn’t go on. I said—yes, aloud—“I know I’m in your home space, but…is there a chance you could please not touch me? I promise not to jerk or move much, or give you any reason or need to spray, if you promise to give me a wide berth in your nighttime perambulating” (and yes, that is how I talk to animals, because with them I get to use the words humans would make fun of and often not understand).

It seemed they were considering this. Certainly their gazes shifted to each other for a moment. Then, slowly, they backed behind the tree to a point where I couldn’t see them.

“I know you’re still there,” I eventually said, unable to go back to sleep. Can you please show your intention to share the space by walking away until I go back to sleep?”

And, of course, they did.

So, back in Alberta and Jess’s family farm, there was a less negotiable problem. The number of skunks this year is high, perhaps explaining why the little animals had turned to the chicken coop. Jess and her husband finally had to take action; after much consideration and self reflection on their roles as co-inhabitors with other animals’ lives in their hands, they put out traps. Some skunks were caught and killed, the traps reset.

One night this past week, the temperatures plunged, and Jess felt rather than heard the call of an animal in distress. The next day, in spite of the cold, she went out to check the traps. Sure enough, another skunk had been caught. It seemed frozen. But soon she saw it was still alive.

This skunk would have the same fate as those before, Jess knew. But she got a horse blanket to comfort it and warm it up. Her husband wouldn’t be around to shoot until nightfall. As I had in 2008, Jess talked to the skunk, telling it not to be afraid and to please not spray. The blanket would keep it warm, and provide comfort.

And then, as the temperature and snow began to fall and the blanket was successfully laid over the trap, she stayed with the skunk. The blanket’s darkness and protection did seem to ease the skunk’s distress. Jess breathed with the skunk and shifted her energy to match the small animal’s vibration. And that’s when it happened. Things went quiet, slowed down, even as her awareness of the physical surroundings intensified to a hyper-real state. A presence could be felt–the soul of the little trapped animal–and she glimpsed images and sounds from its perspective. She became aware of a knowing that there was a soul message in this interaction.

Jess stood in the dropping temperature for 15 minutes, 20, and more. Being caught in this trap, the skunk conveyed, was the only way to get her attention so that ultimately, this telepathic soul connection could occur. It wasn’t bad, it was just a way for a soul connection. The vision that morphed from the glimpses of sight and feeling was of the skunk being held in Jess’s arms, like a kitten, snuggling and cuddling.

More minutes went by, and a wave of complete unconditional love and joy came over both the human and skunk as they shared the vision. This devolved into a vision of the two of them skipping and leaping for joy, cartoon character-like, while traveling down a road. And the last part of the encounter came with felt words, something like, “Do not grieve for me, for we are in this together. This is all bigger than you and I. This is ALL there is.”

Jess felt that literally, her heart was overflowing with a feeling that can only be described as complete unconditional love, so strong she could only handle such intensity for a short time. She sank into wonder at the skunk’s precious, luminous, delicately exquisite sense of life and its environment, and its knowing. Because the skunk, too, knew it would be leaving all that.

And.

As the vision faded and the world took on it’s normal luminosity, Jess stood next to the blanket-covered trap, beginning to shake, beginning to sob.

There she stood, still in the falling snow, the horse blanket’s colors fading under white, texture disappearing under gathering flakes. And in spite of the words she had sensed, she cried for what the skunk would lose, and what the world would lose, and what she would lose. That preciousness that was life, snuffed. Gone forever. The specificity of that life, that way of seeing, of feeling into the amazing tapestry of living and coexisting, would never exist again in just that way. Yes, other lives will replace that one lost, and yes, consciousness will transform, meld, and become again. All is exquisitely unique, and all is a wondrously expressing part of all love. And this skunk’s expression will never exist again in time or place, ever. The human in her cried.

If you’ve felt the preciousness of another’s connection, their uniqueness, wildness, even beyond the attachment we feel to a loved one who dies, you would know the desperate awfulness of the loss–that human sense even in the beauty of the truth that nothing is ever lost.

Jess cried and cried, her body wracked by grief for that which would never exist again, for an hour and a half. There is an undeniable humanness to our experience of this world, and that humanness, among many feelings, can miss, so much, those who can no longer be seen and touched.

Then, after almost three hours with the skunk, she went back to her to-do list.

For me, with 10 significant, sometimes nightmare-inducing violent deaths of loved ones since 2012, and with the death of a marriage, of a home, community, and business, and with my experience in thousands of EAP/L sessions with hundreds of clients and their experiences, I have learned a thing or two about death, and life. My work with horses has led me to explore most every equine training available for a period of years, then when the questions I had were not yet being seen, because the interactions that led to them had not yet occurred for others to experience, I moved beyond equine-related trainings to learn more about consciousness and sentience in general.  Carl Jung and depth psychology, somatic work, gestalt therapy, and constellations work all served as conceptual frameworks for what I was seeing in my EAL/P practice. What I sought was always guided by the questions I held…and what I dismissed was also guided by what I could see and know was not true no matter what controlled study was done. Controlled and so not universal, flawed in the assumption that control, or objectivity, exist as ways of knowing beyond our subjectivity. Each of us will have a completely unique journey in this work, will follow paths that lead us deeper into ourselves and into life and Love itself.

And so I plan to have a different sort of celebration this Halloween. All that I have experienced since beginning this journey with Horse–a journey which amplifies the intensity of my experiences and emotions rather than allowing me to bypass some in favor of others–has shown me how precious each being’s existence is even as we travel well-grooved archetypal narratives, how inevitable and unexpected death can be, and how every death contains the learning for a resurrection.

And so as I let it all in–the awful, the killing, the reborn, and the energy of a different beingness just the other side of an unseen veil, I hope to have a moment of wonder with each precious and precise embodied being I still believe I’ve lost. And if it wants, I will allow the burning inconsolable choking hopelessness in, if only for a moment, again, if only for one day. I know now I can survive it, my human focus on loss of that which I could once hold and see and snuggle–or some core part of me can–and the experience as well as the knowing make me better able to serve others–not only because I have learned the mechanics of grief and other journeys, but because I have resided there so deeply I thought I couldn’t possibly survive. Parts of me didn’t. But what was burned away was dross, no matter how precious it was to my conscious identity. And it builds again, these structures we call self, this belief in here and in not here. And will be removed someday, again. That is life. There are many ways to die, to be resurrected.

As I feel the spirits of my beloveds dance and sway and sift, I will join them in my physicalness, in the celebration of all those who were once, who are no longer touchable, who now only, and remarkably, dance in the breath of the Day of the Dead.

I hope you have a special Hallow’s Eve, too.

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3 thoughts on “Life Lessons from a Skunk: to love and live and celebrate life…even at the brink of endings

  1. My own sacred stories and stream of consciousness experiences and communication with all of creation are embedded in your beautiful sharing here. We are all connected in Love. My eyes filled with tears at the embodied remembrance of the little daily deaths and the bigger, final yet eternally resurrected deaths of beloved humans and critters- and the random roadkill who never had a chance. Thank you for listening for and to all God’s creatures! And a little skunk shall lead them….

    1. I love this, Beckie! I love the description of such connections and communications as “stream of consciousness,” because that is just what it comes in like.

      Thank you for your words!

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