An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of June 13, 2004
issued   from the woods east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA

SYCAMORE TOTEM

I know several people who identify strongly with certain animals -- their "totem" animals. With men usually the animal is an eagle, hawk or wolf. A couple of women friends have designated turtles as their totems, confirming their fondness for curling up at home and just lying low. One of my closest friends from college days assures me that she was a Sea Otter in a former life. When on the northeast coast of Ireland one day I watched some otters offshore, I had to admit that their quick, playful mischievousness matched perfectly the nature of my friend.

If I had to choose my own totem, I think it would be the Sycamore. Sycamores are big-bodied and love to be next to water. Their trunks lack the rough, corky ridges that protect the trunks of most trees, so the Sycamore, despite its size, is somewhat vulnerable. Still, Sycamores have a wonderful staying power. Along Sandy Creek it's something to see how the recent flooding rode down some of them. However, now most are coming back, reissuing leaves and resprouting twigs as occasional rain washes mud off the old leaf-tatters, step by step -- coming to life again just like me after this or that of my own disasters.

Sycamore flowers are tiny things jammed together into small balls. Over summer the balls grow as closely packed fruits mature, and then the balls break open in the cold months, releasing the fruits. Once a winter storm caught me walking in a bayou and as the big Sycamores around me heaved and snapped their branches, fruit balls exploded one after another and the individual parachuted fruits launched into the storm and wafted skyward as if carried by the very hounds of Hell. I like that. I identify with the Sycamore's subdued approach, waiting for the right moment, maybe waiting so long, Buddhistically, that the right moment never comes, but, if it does come, willingly and with panache launching blindly into a perfect storm of hope.

I wonder if any Newsletter readers identify with a particular plant or animal? I'd enjoy hearing about it, and passing it on to others.

My interest is more than casual or literary. Sometimes I toy with the notion that an unknown number of "themes" (for want of a better word) flow through space and time. I visualize these "themes" as like long, variously-colored, streaming ribbons in a perpetual wind. There's the "conservative theme," the "liberal theme," the themes of femininity and masculinity, and themes of aggression and peace, themes of parsimony and generosity, simplicity and ostentation... These themes sometimes "snap" the way a flag snaps in the wind and when there's a snap something is born, maybe a flower, maybe a song, maybe a romance or maybe a personality trait in a human. And the newborn thing always sings the song, in its own way, of its parent theme.

When we identify our totems, we are saying: "So, the theme from which I sprang created this animal, too... " Facebook Icon.