I start most days racewalking the Creek trail. In late Fall and Winter my headlamp illuminates a few feet ahead, until dawn finally lights the path. Raccoons scurry by; egrets perch quietly. Though skunk smell often hangs in the air, I have never seen one.
This morning my mind produced a disturbing thought/image… what if I got sprayed by a skunk? How would I remove the smell? With no answer in mind, I continued enjoying the special feeling of a Winter Solstice sickle moon hanging low in the sky.
A little more than halfway through my walk, the trail dips closer to the creek and I hear familiar bubbling waters and duck calls. It is too dark to see any of this. Suddenly I detect a faint movement of white close to the ground on my left. My mind races to determine what it is.
As my head turns, the headlamp illuminates a beautiful skunk, white tail straight up in the air. I startle and chuckle quietly… synchronicity? Power of mind? Intuitive foreshadowing? Please don’t fear me and spray! My body speeds up to avert the very image mind conjured up only a short while ago.
We are such strange creatures—so at the ready to connect dots, create meaning, assign deterministic frames to what are probabilistic random events. Randomness does not sit well in a meaning-making animal that spins tales of thought’s power and intentionality. We believe as we think, so life occurs. The grandeur we accord to our inner thought world is astounding. And we use this exceptionalism to distinguish ourselves from all other mammalian brothers and sisters. Want to hear how much we actually share with these animals? Listen to the Groundless Ground episode I recorded several years ago with Professor Kristen Andrews author of “Animal Minds”. It will blow your mind.
I finished my walk musing on my own penchant for meaning-making. How pattern recognition and superstition marry in my brain fooling me into believing I somehow made that skunk appear! Silly human.