If you want to get to know a place, the first thing you have to do is get out of your house and out of your car. Remove the barriers between yourself and the world around you. Take walks and then sit still.
No matter how well you think you know a place, you can’t really know it until you’ve spent a long time sitting quietly in one little spot. Every time you move around you send signals to all the creatures around you to run and hide. The sound of your footsteps, your breath, your voice and your jangling keys send all of natures guards into a flurry of emergency calls and alarms as they warn their loved ones and neighbors to avoid the oncoming danger. As you walk along, if you notice it at all, you may think that this is just the beautiful song of the birds, but you’d be missing the real story.
If you sit still for an hour, you’ll discover a whole other world of wildlife in exactly the place you thought you knew so well. For the first ten minutes, there won’t be much change. In fact, things might get even quieter than normal as the alarmed birds and rodents hide quietly from you. But then, somewhere between ten and twenty minutes in, they’ll decide that you aren’t such a threat after all, and you’ll begin to see who really lives here.
At first there will be a few very brave animals who pop into view and then away. When you haven’t eaten anyone, a few more will come out and get back to their ordinary work. At last you’ll get to see your neighbors finding food and making their homes, and if it’s the right season you might find them searching for mates. As you sit quietly, breathing deeply, allowing yourself to find a meditative space of expanded awareness, you may become aware of neighbors you didn’t even know you had. I have met mice and hedgehogs this way. I read a story once about someone in the Pacific Northwest discovering a family of weasels on his land after 20 years of living there.
To really meet the Land and your neighbors takes a big commitment. Just sitting for an hour one time may show you enough to teach you that you didn’t know as much about your garden or the local park as you thought you did, but the real gold comes when you pick a sit spot and visit it a couple of times a week for a year or more. After a while, you learn just how still you have to sit to make sure that the animals ignore you. You’ll get a feel for how long it takes for the guardians to stop their alarms and for the first adventurers to come out and get back to work in your presence. Pretty soon you’ll recognize a few species, not just by general appearance but by the details of its life and even by name. You’ll start to develop a kinship with animals that you see again and again. You’ll know that this squirrel sitting on the branch above you isn’t just “a squirrel” but rather the exact same squirrel that you saw fighting with another squirrel last week just there on the other side of that tree.
That relationship may surprise you. It’s not the relationship of a pet and a human. It’s not the same as two humans who pass on the street and never speak. The relationship you develop with animals that you begin to know in your sit spot is something all its own. Whatever you may learn of animal correspondences from books and folklore will shift. As you let go of what you think you know and simply become acquainted with these actual animals in your midst, you will find them functioning in your mystical cosmology in new ways.