On frozen Ahtanum Creek caked snow melts from my pant cuffs around my ankles and down into my boots. Shep stations himself where the ice thins. “Far enough.” I understand him as clearly as if he spoke in words. I trust him, my best friend, playmate, protector. I’m five years old and on the farm a week or more can pass without my seeing a human being other than my parents. 

We weren’t a churched family, but at Christmas the story of a baby born in a stable and laid in a manger made sense to me. The animals sheltered there would have been the first witnesses of the child’s birth. The barn my father had built was warmed by cows’ steaming bodies and breath at milking time. Kittens nursed and kneaded against the mother cat’s fur in their cozy nest among grain sacks and clean straw. On a cold day, the barn was a good, safe place to be.

Animals, wild and domestic, were my first teachers of caution, adventure, impermanence, sacrifice, birth, death –– a tall philosophical order. Is it any wonder that dogs, cats, horses, snakes, even kangaroos and other exotics I met later, push themselves into the stories I write? They create their own roles by being who they are in the world, and by helping us humans learn how to be.

I was asked about those animals in an interview for KPOV community radio a few days ago. The interview will be broadcast at 9am on December 19th, and available on the KPOV website during the following week. I’ll try to have it up on my website afterwards.

Meanwhile, I wish you joy in bonds with your companion animals, and in the presence of the wild creatures with whom we share the earth.