by Carmen Accetta
I know a woman who talks to animals. “So?” you say, “I do that.” Well, she also talks to birds, frogs, insects, and plants. “I’ve done that,” you say? Yes, but when they answer, she knows what they’re saying, and sometimes they initiate the conversation. She is a professional advocate for all forms of non-human life. As a priest is an intermediary between heaven and earth, she is the same between humankind and non-humankind.
“Oh, all right then, what about the battles-with-the-robins thing?” Well, first let me give you some background. I was so impressed by the kindness and compassion in this woman towards all living things—including me—and by her transparency, that I was driven to “come clean” about my less-than-exemplary relationships with non-humans. I started with the robins….
Every spring, robins build nests under my deck despite my best efforts to thwart them. If I immediately knock them down, they immediately build them back up. They must know that once they lay their eggs I will grudgingly leave them alone. Usually, we end up with at least two nests, so my moments of weakness condemn my wife and me to a summer of being startled out our wits as Mom and Pop robin blast out of their nests when we appear. Once they have babies, we get squawked at and occasionally buzzed when they’re really ticked. All summer long, our exasperation produces a litany of “Why, with hundreds of trees around, do they have to nest by our basement door?” I won’t even mention the three different bird species who attack their reflections in our windows leaving behind collateral damage—if you know what I mean.
Yes, I confessed to her about the groundhogs, too. Like the Ancient Mariner, I had to keep telling my own albatross story, apparently needing my own form of “shriving” from this holy woman. I built a fence around our vegetable garden and even took the time and effort to sink it below ground level to keep those rotund rodents out. . . they climbed over it and ate every single vegetable we planted. Then, I’m certain as a way of mocking us, they came up on our deck and ate all my wife’s herbs. The situation became so personal that, even though the damage was done, I took to chasing them, just hoping to upset their digestion.
With my seamy side now fully in view of this paragon, who must be in Mother Nature’s address book, I went ahead and told her about “the dog below” and “the dog next door.” You’d think I’d never heard of the Fifth Amendment. The dog below barks loudly, usually signing in between two and three a.m., and is on for about half to three-quarters of an hour. Its owner does not take it indoors, apparently believing it’s better to disturb my sleep than his. The dog next door does not like being outside any longer than necessary and, if ignored, begins to howl in a manner I have never heard. I try to describe it as “the dog is being boiled in oil.” The woman who is an intermediary for animals advised me to “do the meditation we had recently learned and then send calming thoughts its way.”
I don’t know what exact power this woman has, but she has definitely gotten into my head. I have only heard the dog bellow once in about the last month. Although I tried the meditation thing with the dog next door, the neighbors take it in so quickly now that I don’t have time to send the calming thoughts. She has my attention to the point where I bought AND READ her book Kinship with Animals (www.katesolisti.com) and I was further impressed, although I’m not yet ready to have a pet rat sit on my head like one woman in the book.
OK, I’ve come this far, so I might as well do the final self-incrimination. What I’m about to reveal, I have just realized, was probably the initial goad that led me to becoming a stool pigeon against myself. Here goes: I’m an activist, at least of sorts. I belong to the Pachamama Alliance and The Climate Reality Project. As I write, I am two days from beginning a Conscious Elders Network webinar “The Empowered Elder.” I am daily immersed in the language of making a better world for all beings, not just humans. I listen to indigenous speakers talk about their close relationship to the natural world and how they thank the animals who give their lives that they and their families will have food. I hear about the impact on biosystems by the loss of just one species and how all the species are interconnected—including us. I hear about what the natural world has to teach us and how much we need that teaching, with so many of us living in concrete jungles, cut off from the wisdom of nature. I began to question whether I might need an attitude adjustment if I didn’t want to be a hypocrite.
I’m proud and relieved to announce that the animal lady has hope for me. She was very pleased with my reactions to her book. Also, I think I scored some major points when I told her about standing in the yard and getting a kick out of watching the stiff, officious way the robins hopped around and cocked their heads. I think the clincher was when I told her about noticing that I had inadvertently trapped a small flying insect between the glass and window screen when I cranked a window shut and had gone back to release it.
Baby steps, I know, but I’m beginning to learn some important lessons about interconnectedness. Who knows, perhaps the next time I’m washing our deck and a robin yells, “Hey, bud, you’re getting my babies wet,” I’ll respond, “Sorry man,” and shut off the hose.
Carmen Accetta is a recently retired psychotherapist from Pittsburgh where he and his wife Carol have been lifelong residents. They have seven adult daughters and sixteen grandchildren. Concern for the future welfare of the grandchildren has motivated Carmen’s involvement in both the Pachamama Alliance and the Climate Reality Project. He also promotes living vital elder years by conducting personal growth groups on the Second Half of Life, and he authors a blog which can be accessed here. Carmen enjoys learning to keep his self-built wooden sea kayak upright and learning the saxophone. Although a lifetime tennis player, he has recently developed a playing interest in Pickleball.