Animals as Teachers: Tending to Sacred Space

The past few weeks I have witnessed and marveled at a pair of Juncos, a ground nesting bird, who built a nest a foot away from my house in an overgrown strawberry bed.   I was impressed at the bravery of these birds to build in such a busy yard with kids, dogs and the constant coming and goings so close to them.  I only became aware of the nest when I was determined to weed out the bed and when I began two birds flew out and sat above me berating me and twittering with great irritation.  I ceased what I was doing and sat back to observe.  Reluctantly after an age of waiting, they darted in among the strawberries to nestle down. The next morning when they were off feeding I was able to get a look at the nest a beautifully woven nest of grass.  In an effort to protect them I put up a wire fence to keep the dog from foraging for strawberries, for it is truly his strawberry bed.  The spigot was directly over the nest and when I had to turn on the water I would approach slowly, announcing myself gently and sharing my intentions.  The bird would fly up and observe me – chirping away at me.  Watering became a chance to see the development of the three little chicks that hatched.  These three never peeped – often their mouths would be open bright red chicks with a bright yellow rim around the beak it looked like a target of where to deposit the food.

For me when juncos appear in my garden it is a marker of late Autumn for that is when they return to the urban yards from their summers in the woods and forests. So I was curious why they had decided to nest in my yard?   Leaning back into being open and receptive to the teaching of these birds  I understood that they were given me a beautiful template of how to tend to sacred space for myself amid chaos.  This was valuable for me since I am navigating many milestones in my life right now as my parenting role is shifting with my son graduating from high school and my daughter is entering her teen years as well as my recent divorce and I am converting my basement to an Air BnB space.

Photo credit: fossils&fauna via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

The nest was the sacred space they had created within a busy yard right outside of a ground level window where all the construction was taking place.  Yet, they tended that sacred space and those three chicks diligently.  Delivering food,  snuggling down on them when it was cool and hiding in the strawberries when it was too hot to be on the nest.  I understood that through all this upheaval I could tend to self and my needs as beautifully as these juncos were tending to their chicks.  That when I felt overwhelmed by so much at once I could take a few moments to regroup, seek refuge and give myself a little distance like the juncos did in by being near the nest but not on the nest.  Even though their ground nest was vulnerable this pair had chosen a great yard to create a nest since my dog makes sure cats dare not enter.   Another lesson of choosing when I and where I wanted to share my vulnerabilities and making sure I am that I am tending and protecting my heart.   Also, when the crows were sitting on the wires watching the yard the juncos did not go to their nest and their chicks did not make a peep all to protect the whereabouts of the nest.  Another lesson for me about honoring the sacred space – holding it with reverence and care for the place for me where I can feel safe, loved and free to be myself.

In my ongoing quest to understand animals as teachers, I turned to the internet to see what others have learned about Junco as a totem animal.  According to Shamanic Journey Juncos as totems:

The Junco will bring with it increased activity and opportunity, creating movement and change in one or more aspects of your life. You will be pushed into new avenues, with your strengths enhanced, as well as your shortcomings – it will be revealed how to blend everything together in a balanced harmonious style.

The junco’s preferred habitat is mixed or coniferous forests, though they are often spotted in fields, thickets and cities. Perky and sometimes bold, the junco can hold its own against many kinds of predators. If this is your power animal, adaptability and survival will be taught.

The three chicks represented for me the three areas of my life that I was praying for help in bringing balance and harmony and the parents were showing me the way.  As I came back from a walk where I had been pondering sacred space and how I could apply the lessons from the juncos to my life, I eagerly went to turn on the water so I could see the chicks.  My breath caught in my throat the nest was empty the chicks had fledged, they were in the tree above me – cheeping away.

This was a good reminder for me that when I create that sacred space for myself and tenderly and compassionately nurture what is vulnerable at some point it will grow and take on a life of its own and blend harmoniously into my life.

Photo credit: BriarCraft via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC


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