Human and Animal Time: Getting Into the Swing of Things
During the past few weeks, my life has been dominated by time-related issues of one sort or another. My trusty watch no longer wants to keep accurate time; I spent a harrowing period lost in the woefully unmarked Toronto airport surrounded by clocks and schedules that used military time. I knew I had to catch a flight that left at 3:15 pm, but had trouble getting my already frazzled mind to accept how that related to the 14:35 on the clocks overhead. And then daylight savings time ended with all its usual attendant timepiece-changing rituals and confusion. Like many others, my life is so often ruled by the clock that it's easy to forget just how unnatural human time is compared to that of the natural world...until a flock of migrating Canada geese flies overhead.
The first geese started flying over my house in September. Not only were they much earlier than usual, there were also a lot more of them. What did they know about current or potential environmental conditions that I didn't that caused them to make these changes, I wondered. As I prepared for the Limited Editions seminar the end of October, I thought further about all the different clocks that affect animal life. The research done by Belyaev, Trut, and others who studied or study the process of domestication make it clear that the differences in biology and behavior that separate wild from domestic animals owe more to timing than any other factor. Delays in one process may trigger a domino effect that results in dramatic physiological and behavior changes farther down the line.
Within an individual animal, hormones and all their related effects may wax and wane on hourly, daily, monthly, seasonal, semi-annual, or annual cycles and each of these may vary in response to other cycles in the natural world that impinge on them. Yet even as I use the words "hourly," "daily," "monthly," "seasonal," "semi-annual," and "annual," I know these artificial human measures of time don't begin to describe the true nature of these events. The natural "day" doesn't consist of 24-hours. The cycles of sun and moon, not the calendar, trigger the waxing and waning that characterizes the natural pulse. Rather than being a slave of one time as I am, the animals (and plants) around me respond to a symphony of clocks that not only coordinate the activities of every cell, organ, and system in their respective bodies, but also seamlessly integrate them into the greater whole of the world around them. Whereas I look at the clock, they are the clock, a series of interacting gears from the tiniest cellular ones to those that mesh animal and environment, environment and planet, and planet and solar system with galaxies, even those beyond human knowledge.
This sense of dynamic connectedness came up again during the seminar when one of the participants, who has an interest in animal healing, became involved in a discussion with another participant with a background in animal symbolism and shamanism. The former mentioned how she could sense a difference in animals with problems, but found it difficult to describe this sensation. The latter noted that shamans talk about individuals having an inner harmony that becomes disrupted when problems arise, and that it's this discordance which they detect.
Granted those steeped in linear Western technological science would dismiss this as so much voodoo, but I always come back to the same point when I consider such phenomena: Even the most domesticated pet living in the most strictly controlled human environment concurrently dwells in a species-specific perceptual reality that is "para" normal to ours. What's paranormal, extrasensory, or even impossible to us, is perfectly normal to them. The animals' enhanced sensory perception surely links them to their natural clocks far more strongly than they're linked to our manmade ones, no matter how much they may badger us when feeding time rolls around. Add the fact that co-evolution with us is the hallmark of domestication, it seems logical to me that some lines of humans may have been lucky enough to retain this perception, just as others possess visual acuity, hearing, or other sensory faculties the majority of us will never experience. I don't question the skills of such people. I envy them.
Out of habit I glance at the clock as I write this. Then I look at the pup snoozing at my feet, the hound stretched out in his bed, and the last of the leaves falling outside my window. I hear yet another flock of geese flying over the house, and think of the resident bear stocking up for a comfy winter's hibernation. Much as I am doomed by society to march to tick of the clock on the wall or the watch on my wrist, my heart and soul, like that of my pets and the natural world around us, will always dance to the interlocking reels of nature.
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