Many cultures believe that we share a cosmic affinity with a totem or spirit animal. In some communities, the coming of age ritual involved a journey into the wilderness to await some vision of their spirit animal. I always imagined mine would be something noble or beautiful, like a lion or a deer.
My majestic spirit animal finally did come to me in one of my direst moments on the ledge of a cliff. You might be asking yourself how it was that I found myself on a cliff in the first place. Well, over the course of my impetuous youth, one of my activities of choice was rock climbing. In all honesty, it started out as a way to impress my esteemed and nearly un-impressible older sibling who was an avid climber. But I grew to enjoy the feel of the rock and how my fingers thought their way over its surface, the fatigue and exhilaration I felt at achieving something I thought I couldn't and, of course...the view from the top.
One year my brother and I travelled to Tahoe to visit my friends and do some rock climbing. This is an image of the cliff. It's called Lover's leap. I have no memory of which route it was (Pop Bottle?) on the cliff. Below is a picture of Blicky climbing there. See those tiny things that appear if you really, really squint. Yes, waaayyy down there at the bottom? Those are trees. Tall ones. At this altitude the wind blows pretty hard and it's hard to hear your older brother/climbing sensei guiding you up the face of the cliff.
We were on our last pitch and my brother was at the summit belaying me. There was a slight overhang on the first part of the climb that was beyond my pathetic skill level and I just couldn't start up. My legs were shaking from a combination of fatigue and fear that I think some refer to as "the sewing machine effect." Did I mention how far down the treetops were?See?? I think falls from this height have been scientifically shown to make the Coyote and Roadrunner whistling plummet noise, followed by a thump and a cloud of dust at the bottom. I kept shouting up to my brother that I couldn't do the move but most of his responses were inaudible. I'm not quite sure what my options would have been if I hadn't made it. Maybe I would've just stayed there and subsisted on rattlesnake and cliff bars stolen from hapless climbers. I think my brother would've figured something out, but then I would've had to endure the shame of having been hefted up that last pitch and the resulting ignominy.
At some point we resolved that I would just have to try my hardest while he tried to pull me over that first ledge. I was completely paralyzed by fear. But all of a sudden my fear washed away and my spirit animal appeared to me -- that noble creature that best represents my inherent dignity and stately sense of gravitas.
Yep and here he is (he stopped in to help us string some lights this afternoon). That day on the ledge, all I could picture was the MetLife commercial where Snoopy struggles up a cliff, making these cute little grunts of exertion. Ultimately, there was nothing impressive about the move; my sorry, sorry arse had to be mostly hauled through it, and it's not like it was a super difficult climb (5.6, 5.7). But after I thought of Snoopy my fear literally vanished. These days I no longer climb and I do not permit kittens of mine to scale anything bigger than a breadbox. Maybe this will prevent them from ever encountering their own animal totems. But you know what? The cartoons they watch would just make matters worse. SpongeBob (OK they're not really allowed to watch at home) would just cry until his eyeballs bulged out and My Little Ponies (again, not really allowed) would just sing a song and encourage them to apply sparkly fruit flavored lip gloss.