We probably all play with our domesticated animals. Dogs, cats, there are a lot of opportunities for playfulness there. But what about playing with the undomesticated critters? The “wild” ones?
I’ve had the great good fortune to find myself in play with the furry and the feathered. Let me tell you some of those stories.
Last year when I was in Southern India, I made a habit of climbing the long spiral staircase to the rooftop each morning so I could meditate in solitude. After about the 3rd day, I was visited by a curious crow. He just watched me at first, but soon he hopped down onto the rooftop floor where I was sitting. He circled me, hopping around, looking at me then quickly not looking, as if he didn’t want me to really know he was there.
I began to talk to him. “Hi buddy, isn’t this a beautiful morning? Caaaww Caawww.” He would answer with short, staccato caws, and then some longer ones. We quickly became friends and then he decided he wanted to play. He found a stick that he would place securely in his beak, then he’d hop over to me and drop it. I would pick it up and toss it away from me. He would retrieve, hop over and drop it again. I would toss it away. I was playing fetch with a crow!! He loved this game and it went on almost every day for the 4 weeks I was there.
We’ve probably all read about how intelligent and playful crows are. I got to experience this first hand. It was a thrill.
My time spent on mountain bike trails provided me many opportunities to interact with the natural world, and gave me lots of chances to play with some magnificent creatures.
One day I was out on the trail by myself, cycling in a canyon of 1500 acres of wilderness. The canyon was populated with many coyotes and I’d always see one or two from afar as they were hunting and I was riding. But on this day something magical happened. Three of them came to play with me.
I was riding up a long, slow hill, pedaling slowly in a low gear. Push, push, pushing the pedals to propel myself slowly up the hill. To my surprise, a big, beautiful coyote came up to my left to run alongside me. And within seconds, 2 smaller ones were on my right. They had taken me, momentarily, as a part of their pack and we were running up the hill together. We glanced back and forth to one another and it was clear to me that they were enjoying this as much as I was. As we reached the pinnacle of the hill, the two on the right sprinted out in front of my bike, crossed the trail to join their buddy on the left, then as one yipped a little, as if to say, “goodbye friend”, they all sprinted down the side of the hill and out of sight.
On another day, I was riding a different trail. I was on a flat part of the canyon, sprinting as fast as I could. I noticed a beautiful red tailed hawk circling high overhead. She flew in circles, spiraling closer and closer to me until she was right above me, then she swooped out to my right and flew alongside me, at eye level. We both kept our speed as if we were in a playful race with one another. We glanced toward one another locking in eye contact, and then we each looked back ahead to negotiate this fast-paced race. She stayed with me for quite a few yards, then swooped around my head once more and off into the sky. I ran home to look up “hawk medicine” in my Native American resource books. I knew I had been blessed by this encounter. I wonder if she thought the same?
And then there was the roadrunner. What a funny guy he was. My husband and I had climbed a challenging hill and were taking a brief rest at the top, standing astride our bikes to catch our breath. On our left, about 30 yards away, we see a road runner. He clearly didn’t want us to see him. He locked his eyes onto us and ran to the nearest bush he could hide behind. We moved a little to the left so we could see him behind the bush. At that, he ran quickly to the next bush to hide again. We moved another bit so we could see him, and he ran again. He kept at this game of hide and seek until he made his way across the wide trail and off onto another path he had his sights on. The whole episode seemed like a game to him as though he was delighting in outsmarting us.
One of my favorite encounters of play is with the Box Springs Burros. I live at the foot of the Box Springs Mountain range and there are herds of wild burro living in those mountains. I first met them when I was cycling in the Box Springs. They were shy at first, and reticent to come near, but soon they began to recognize that I was not a threat. I offered them apples and carrots. No dice. Little by little, however, they began to take the fruit out of my hands. They began to gather around me and nuzzle. Then we played a little chase game together. I would run one way, they would run to follow. I would run another way, they would turn to follow. Some felt so much joy in this game that they would shout out with their resounding “eeeahhhh eeeahhhh”.
As you read this you might think, “How lucky is she that she’s had all these experiences”, and I agree, I am fortunate, I am blessed. But I hope my stories will encourage you to get out in nature, wander around, keep your eyes and your heart open and just maybe a critter will seek you out to play with.
Kathy is a Yogasana (physical yoga) and Nada Yoga (Yoga of Sound) teacher. She facilitates Women's Wisdom Circles, is skilled at storytelling and loves leading heartfelt discussions. She is certified in teaching Sanskrit, Vedic Mantra and other sound based practices.