Have you ever looked at the animals in the forest and noticed how their personalities sometimes seem similar to people you know? Some of the connections are simple to make. The busy beaver would be associated with people who have a big work ethic and are always on the go. A large bear could be for someone with a lot of strength but who could also be dangerous.
Sometimes the associations are not as easy to make or the connections may seem to appear out of place until you look at little deeper into the personalities of people and the natural lives of different animals.
I sat down with a friend of mine the other day to figure out what animals would be connected to the people in our lives. In one instance, I compared someone to a raven. In the non-Native world a raven is considered a scavenger, a nuisance and basically a garbage bird that is more connected to negative things rather than anything positive.
My friend was a little offended at comparing a garbage bird to someone in real life. However, I explained that in the Native world, the raven is considered a very skilful and intelligent creature. A raven can home in on available food sources in just about any given location. When it senses humans in the area, these birds will wander nearby in search of any opportunity for a quick meal from stored food sources. Hunters know that if they are not careful, a raven will steal away about any edible bit of food.
In addition, ravens are powerfully adaptable creatures that can survive the coldest winters. In the dead of winter, when no other birds are in sight or can be heard, there is always a raven cawing in the forest making plans for its next meal. I explained to my friend that to me a raven is an adaptable, powerful and intelligent creature.
I also discovered that comparing forest creatures and people works both ways. People names suit the personalities of animals in the wilderness. I discovered this fact one day while I took a walk in the woods. At the bottom of a hill on a bright sunny afternoon, a furry groundhog ambled along on the ground, feasting on greens in a patch of clover. He was aware of my presence and he gave me quick glances to see that I did not come too close. I let him enjoy his meal in the warm sunny patch of green grass he had staked for himself.
I talked to him as I walked back and forth on the trail near his dinner field to let him know where I was and what I was doing. However, it just didn’t seem right to refer to him as “hey you‚” so I decided to give him a name. I watched him from a distance all afternoon and then for some reason an appropriate name came to me – I called him Morris. To me the name seemed to suit him. So I spent the rest of the afternoon with Morris and I felt a little better referring my new friend by name.
Naming animals and recognizing their personalities as being similar to ours is something very familiar to my background. As children, our parents and grandparents passed down stories to us about the animals, birds and people from the past. In every story, animals were more or less the same as people and the narrations included characters who could not get along as well as stories that featured individuals who could work together. The animals in these stories had personalities and they could communicate with people.
My friendship with Morris was a bit short lived. He seemed to prefer being alone and disappeared into the forest. After my meeting with Morris I continued my little game of name giving. I began to imagine all sorts of new titles for the regular creatures I saw in my day. The crow in the backyard became Jacob. A family of loons on the lake were John and Colleen and their two offspring became Makwa, the Cree word for loon, and Meenish, the Cree word for berry. A lone seagull that regularly visited the lake became Agatha in honour of my friend Mike’s ancestor. A woodpecker that had been knocking on my roof was called Joe as he reminded me of my witty and energetic brother. The list grew until just about every creature I normally come into contact with had a name.
Of course, there is also a practical basis for my little game. Now when I see the various animals and birds that live around me I can point them out by name so things are less confusing. It also makes me feel good to know that my family and friends are around me in all types of shapes and forms.
Try this little game yourself with familyand friends next time you are in the forest, camping or at the cottage. It makes the wilderness a lot more friendly.