Tikkun Winter 2019 (34.1) - Page 121

selves. These are animals they have only seen in zoos or on television. Yet there is a profound identification, an ease of inhabiting another species that portends great hope for our own species survival. Not because nature is “out there” to be saved or sanctioned, but because nature is in them. The ancient, green world has never left us though we have long ago left the forest. As we told our Amazon stories over the next week, the rainforest thrived in that sterile classroom. Lights low, surrounded by serpents, the jaguar clan, the elephants, I’d as often hear growls, hisses, and howls as words. They may be young, but kids’ memories and alliances with the animals are very old. By tell- ing their own animal stories they are practicing ecology at its most profound and healing level. Story as ecology—it’s so simple, something we’ve forgotten. In our environmental wars the emphasis has been on saving species, not becoming them. It is our own spiritual relation- ship to animals that must evolve. Any change begins with imagining ourselves in a new way. But children, like some adults, know that the real world stretches farther than what we can see. That’s why they shift easily between vi- sions of our tribal past and our future worlds. The limits of the adult world are there for these teenagers, but they still have a foot in the vast inner magic of childhood. It is this magi- cal connection I called upon when I asked the kids on the last day of our class to perform the Dance of the Animals. Slowly, in rhythm to the deep, bell-like beat of my Northwest Native drum, each animal entered the circle and soon the dance sounded like this: Boom, step, twirl, and slither and stalk and snarl and chirp and caw, caw. Glide, glow, growl, and whistle and howl and shriek and trill and hiss, hiss. We danced as the hu- mid, lush jungle filled the room. VOL. 34, NO. 1 In that story stretching between us and the Amazon, we connected with those animals and their spirits. In return, we were complete— with animals as soul mirrors. We remembered who we were, by allowing the animals inside us to survive. Children’s imagination is a primal force, just as strong as lobbying efforts and boycotts and endangered species acts. When children claim another species as not only their imaginary friends, but also as the animal within them— an ally—doesn’t that change the outer world? The dance is not over as long as we have our animal partners. When the kids left our last class, they still fiercely wore their masks. I was told that even on the bus they stayed deep in their animal character. I like to imagine those strong, young animals out there now in this wider jungle. I believe that Rat will survive the inner-city gangs; that Chimp will find his characteristic comedy even as his parents deal with divorce; I hope that Unicorn will always remember her mystical truth-telling horn. And as for Sarah, she joined the Jaguar clan, elected as the first girl-leader over much boy- growling. As Sarah left our jungle, she remind- ed me, “Like jaguar . . . . I can still see in the dark.” BRENDA PETERSON’S over 20 books include Duck and Cover, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, and the recent memoir, I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth, selected as a “Top Ten Best Non- Fiction Book” by Christian Science Monitor and “Great Read/Indie Next” by independent booksellers. “Animal Allies” originally appeared in Peterson’s essay collection, Nature and Other Mothers. Her new books just out for kids are WILD ORCA and LOBOS: A Wolf Family Returns Home, which has just been long-listed for the Green Earth Book Award for children’s literature. BrendaPetersonBooks.com © 2019 TIKKUN MAGAZINE 121