Last year, quite unexpectedly, I found myself becoming just a little bit envious of the animals. In the autumn, the large congregation of deer in the neighbor’s cornfield stubble at dusk, heads bowed in unison, worshipping forgotten scraps of corn, everyone grazing and gossiping together. The gaggle of geese gathering and flying in formation, constantly sharing updates with each other with their loud honks. Summers small swallows swooping and sweeping, ascending and descending, so tightly together that I feared they might crash into one another. Even the whooping pack of hungry coyotes at night enjoyed companionship and teamwork together.
All around me was wild and free. All were still able to assembly freely. Everywhere I looked, it seemed like everyone else could enjoy the company of others. The string of horses at the nearby farm, the cloud of insects congregating by my porch light at night, the hover of trout flitting in my stream. The veritable army of ants traipsing through my kitchen one summer’s day, making straight for my honey pot.
Meanwhile, we humans found ourselves bereft of all our usual descriptors: A class of students, a company of actors, a crowd of people, a party of friends. Our collective nouns had to be retired, put on the shelf and left to gather dust.
Even my own flock of sheep could stand as close as they liked with one another. It felt as if all the animals were giving us humans the side eye: “Hmmm, how do you like it now, oh great humans? Not quite so all-powerful now, are you?” It was as if all of humankind had been given a big telling off by Mother Nature, and she had sent us to our bedrooms to “think about what you’ve done.”
With the coming of winter it’s a little easier, because we humans in these parts have always become a bit more hermit-like according to this season. The animals around us do, too. The lone crow piercing the silence of a recent snowfall, the reclusive possum on the road at night, the solitary hawk on a quest for carrion. We all wend our way through winter on solo journeys.
And so I wonder, what will spring bring? The usual flurry of new life and abundance: baby chicks, lambs, fresh green shoots. What will our human gatherings look like by then? Will we be able to fling our arms around one another again when we greet our much-missed friends? Will crowds of people congregate in community again? And if so, will we be changed by the temporary banishment we endured? Will we be more mindful about our innate need for connection with one another? Perhaps, we will have learned that our need for socialization is no more superior to nor different from that of any of the animals we find ourselves in community with. For are we not all here simply to be stewards of the soil and the sky, together?
Etienne White lives where the land meets the sky on a farm in Iowa County where she raises grass-fed, Old English Babydoll sheep, as well as pastured chickens, a happy farm dog, a wily barn cat and her two spirited children. She works at the intersection of marketing and sustainability, leading efforts to create mass consumer behavior change, for the greater good of both people and planet.