This image of Eleanor O’Hanlon in Dartmouth Castle Tearoom is my personal favorite; the photo speaks volumes to me. It was made in 2003 after a long walk along the English coast and through the castle on a mizzly day. This coffee lover will admit there is nothing quite like a pot of tea, scones, clotted cream, and jam shared over a fantastic ocean view on a rainy day.
But there is also the incredible Eleanor whom I met at Devon’s Schumacher College in a course called Animal Magic taught by the likes of Jane Goodall, Rupert Sheldrake, Francoise Wemelsfelder, and Colin Tudge. Although the course opened my eyes wider, late nights in the library with Eleanor were even more informative.
It was there three of us would meet long after everyone else was abed—Eleanor (an Irish nature writer and conservationist living in London), Ursula (a belly dancing Viennese psychiatrist), and me (an American park ranger)—along with whomever else could match our late-night habit —occasionally a Danish veterinarian, a Polish zookeeper, a Belgian dairy farmer. We retrieved the wine bottle from behind the woodpile; lit a fire in the immense, dressed-stone fireplace (parts of the building dated to the 1300s); wove human-sized nests of multitudinous cushions; and settled in for a wine-fueled chat. My favorite part was when Eleanor told Irish folktales.
And my favorite tales were of Ireland’s boy warrior, Cú Chulainn and his training with its greatest warrior Scáthach, because Scáthach was a woman, and Eleanor was, and is, a Storyteller. How I wish I had recorded those nights in front of the fire! Eleanor’s magical voice! If truth be told—and this is between you and me—I think Eleanor is Scáthach!
And now we get the next best thing—a book from Eleanor, and a fabulous one it is. In Eyes of the Wild Eleanor not only describes her encounters with whales and bears, wild horses and wolves, and the scientists and wardens who watch and watch over their dwindling numbers, but she goes further. I told you the story of Eleanor of Schumacher because during those moments I was not a 40-something, grieving, orphaned (I had lost, the year before, both parents to the Great Beyond and a boyfriend to what? indifference?), anyway, I was not a somewhat lost soul, I was a warrior learning to fight with a barbed spear on a fierce North Sea island—such were, and are, the power of Eleanor’s words. Eleanor takes us beyond an animal in an environment and beyond even ourselves to the one thing that binds us all. And she takes us there by telling stories of things that are, and things that are not. I cannot do her book justice. I have loaned two copies to friends, and the books have yet to come home. Hopefully, they are on their own warriors’ journeys.
When the mother surfaces next she comes close enough for me to reach out and touch. I run my hands along the skin of her side, which feels indescribably smooth, as though the texture has been endlessly refined by the washing of the sea. Her flesh is firm and cool beneath my hands. Through the physical contact with her body a sense of the expansive dimensions of her being opens inside me like soundings from some vast interior sea. As the depth of the meeting grows, it becomes an opening through which something entirely new keeps pouring—a wordless sense of connection with a greater life.
Turning onto one side, the whale gazes up at me through the water; looking down into her dark eye, ringed with folds of skin, I meet the lucid and tranquil gaze of an ancestor, one of the ancient ones of the earth. I feel her taking me out, far out, of thought and linear time, beyond the limited concerns of my ordinary mind, into a profound sense of meeting with another being, whose consciousness is not separate from my own…
Eden, I think, is not simply a mythical place, or a metaphor for original innocence, or an outworn and divisive religious symbol. Eden is a state of being, and we are free to return every time we know ourselves again in deep communion with the rest of life.
Eyes of the Wild is also on Facebook at Eyes of the Wild Journeys of Transformation with the Animal Powers