Saturday, July 2, 2011


      Driving in to work in the morning, I pass through the salt marsh at sunrise.  The water is glassy and still, reflecting the green Spartina grass.  Pelicans occasionally swoop down, scooping up fish, stirring up ripples on the glassy surface.  It's peaceful and beautiful and a little bit magical.  And every time I see those pelicans, I think of my grandpa.

      My grandpa was an amazing man who lived an amazing life.  I was always close to him growing up.  He joined the RAF and Royal Canadian Air Force in WWII in order to be involved before the US joined the war.  Once the US was in, he was in the US Air Force.  He was a skilled and talented artist in many mediums.  His marble sculptures are unbelievable.  He was an inventor.  And he painted pelicans.  He painted all kind of nature, all beautifully, but if an animal appeared in his work, it was often a pelican.  My mom has a beautiful pelican painted on an old chunk of wood that he did by her back door.  To me, pelicans represent my grandpa.  Pelicans, to me, are his Totem.

      Many, many people in my life have animal totems, whether they recognize them or not.  My mom loves moose and alligators.  She loves them so much that people have given her tons of moose and alligator things - artwork, tchotchkes, clothes, magnets, household items - all moose or alligator themes.  Why moose and alligator?  They are personifications of large parts of her life.  My mom is Canadian.  Even though she's lived in the US for most of her adult life, she will always be Canadian through and through.  Hockey, french fries and gravy, and, of course, moose.

      When she was 17, my mom moved to Florida with two of her friends (wonder where I got my adventurous spirit from?).  She lived in Florida for years.  She loved Florida.  She still does.  She became and adult in Florida.  She met my dad, got married, had me (well, she had me in Canada, but she went back to Florida when my dad got back from his deployment).  I suspect that her years in Florida were the big adventure of her life.

      Whether she knows it or not, her Totems are Moose and Alligators.
My mom has 2 of these in her house.
Every member of my family has stubbed
a toes on it many times.


      When MacGyver was growing up, his whole family had animal nicknames.  He was Hippo (related to his impressive swimming abilities).  His mom was Duck.  Often, when Punky picks out gifts for her grandma (MacGyver's mom, my mom is her "Nan," just like I called my mom's mom my Nan), she often chooses ducks.  We had to go all over hell to find a duck Christmas ornament in December.

      Now, in his adulthood, MacGyver's totem is clearly the squirrel.  MacGyver loves squirrels, and he relates to their boundless, eccentric energy.  MacGyver is fast friends with the squirrels that live in our back yard.  His favorite is Montey:

This is Montey chilling on the wall next to our driveway.
         Punky hasn't grown into her totem yet, but I've assured her that it is only a matter of time.  I suspect her totem might be some sort of tropical fish.

      NotDonna's Totem is elephants.

      And my Totem?  Well, there have been many.  I've mentioned before that when I was growing up, there was a painting of owls that hung next to the back door (which was the main entrance) of our house.  It was always like those owls were watching over us.  That same painting has watched over the doors to every home MacGyver and I have moved to.  My favorite Winnie the Pooh character was the Owl.  I revere wisdom, which owls are said to represent.  Owls will always be one of my Totems.

The Owls that gaurd our home.

      What sucks is that suddenly owls are super popular in everything, so what was once just a treasured symbol in my life is now a cutesy image that every other person sticks all over everything they own.  And when the owl fad ends, I'll still love owls, but it will look like I'm just clinging to an old trend.  Whatever.  At the very least, I like owls that are a little more natural looking than the pink and green cartoony things that most people seem to like.

      Flintsone also loves owls.  His mobile is owls, and those owls were his very first friends.  He used to coo and gurgle at them all the time.  He would get sad when the mobile wasn't on.  Now, he lights up every time he sees the owl calander hanging in our kitchen.  He waves at it, he giggles at it.  I wouldn't call owls his real Totem,  but they're certainly a good start.

      When I was in 2nd grade, I decided I was going to be a wildlife biologist.  Over the next year or two, this became more specific as I became obsessively interested in Australia.  I decided I wanted to study marsupials, especially Koalas.  Koalas became my Totem as a kid.  I had tons of stuffed koalas, posters, books and books and books, puzzles, etc.  I still sleep with a very sad bedraggled looking stuffed koala (and another that MacGyver gave me to try to "replace" my childhood koala).

      As an adult, I've lost interest in koalas.  They don't carry much depth for me.  But I've had many Totems.  Tropical lizards in keeping with my mom's alligators.  Black widow spiders - we used to have an infestation of them when I was in my late teens and they always interested me far more than they scared me.  And I was more than a little amused by the whole killing their mates thing.  Others have come and gone.  Owls have been constant.

      For well more than 10 years, one of my major, if not my main, Totems has been the Praying Mantis.  I love insects.  I always have.  I specialized in Entomology at Purdue (1 class away from earning a minor).  Praying Mantis appeals not only based on the fact that females are known to eat the male's head during copulation (which has interestingly been shown to happen predominantly in captivity - another appealing metaphor in my life), but also because of the air of spirituality, the sleek grace (not that I have an ounce of grace, personally), the patient pursuit of goals.  And mantids are beautiful.  For years I have toyed with the idea of getting a praying mantis tattoo.

       The Ant is another insect totem I've looked to.  Not as much as the praying matis, but maybe on a deeper level, or for a more specific purpose.  One of the most touted facts about Ants is that many of them can carry over 100 times their own body weight.  Symbols of the ant have always appeared during times of stress in my life (and there have been many - abusive relationships, homelessness, debilitating illness, muggings - that is all just the beginning).  My friends took me to a Tarot card reader for my birthday early in Law School.  I didn't take it very seriously until she turned over the significator card.  It was an Ant.  She told me I would get married and have two kids by the time I turned 28.  Right . . .  (Ahem, I turned 28 2 months after Flintstone was born).

      Lately, though, a new Totem has appeared in my life.  A new symbol that I find holds deep meaning for me.  From the moment MacGvyer gave me a necklace with this symbol on it, I knew it had a place in my life.  It felt right around my neck, and, honestly I've been drawn to it all along I just didn't really realize it.  As I grow - physically, emotionally, and spiritually - I feel pulled to this image.  As I discover my place in the wheel, I find myself part of the symbol.

      My new Totem is not an animal.

      It is the Tree of Life.
This is very similar to the pandent MacGyver
got me, though mine is bronze.
      Deep, expansive roots; strong trunk with rough, strong bark and tender, conductive flesh below; branches that continually stretch up and out - reaching without straining, always growing, always cycling.  Sometimes covered in lush, green leaves.  Sometimes dormant and still, a stark figure in a snowy, windswept landscape.  A different kind of wisdom.  An older form of life.  A tree sustains life; it provides shelter, sustainance, and oxygen. 

      I am not letting go of owls or praying mantids or ants.  All of these creatures can be found in the tree.  But I have a new Totem.  The Tree of Life.
      Now watch it explode in popularity and soon everyone will have these freaking trees adorning their homes, tee-shirts, and blogs.  Just watch.

This is made of recycled Haitian Steel.  We have two of them in our house.
Both came from The Rainforest Site store.




Jo said...

We have that same round steel Tree of Life hanging above our bed. I don't think Tony has an animal that he's particularly drawn to (at least nothing that springs to mind immediately), but if a tree can be a totem, his certainly is. He's obsessed with trees. When he walks past one, he can't help but touch it. He spends his free time reading books about them. His idea of a great afternoon is a stroll through the park examining and identifying the various species. I keep trying to convince him to become an arborist or go to Forestry school, but he's not yet convinced :)

I'm more like you; I've probably had several animals totems over my lifetime. I have a collection of stuffed Mooses that I adore, but when I was a kid, I was in looooove with tigers. Whenever I had the opportunity to focus on them in school (book reports, whatever), I went straight to that. As an adult, I don't feel particularly drawn to any one animal. The tiger still gets me; I still love my meese (as a college roommate so lovingly pluralized my Moose collection ;)), but I don't know that I have one creature that says YES.

I'll have to think about this a bit more... :)

Meg said...

I was wondering where you found the image/work of the tree made up of two people. I can't seem to find it anywhere else and I really like the piece.


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