Ask the Animals – They Will Teach You


Guest Blog Post
Pat Hoerth
23 January 2015

Seven years ago when I moved
back into the old farmhouse
that was the home of my birth,
a family of skunks was already living
under the front porch. I tried
cohabitation for awhile
but the middle-of-the-night pungency
that wafted up from under my bedroom floor
sometimes not only woke me from my sleep
but brought me to tears and nausea. Trapping
them, one by one, took weeks and brought me to tears
in another way. Strolling across the porch
in daylight, they were truly beautiful. My cousin
shot these beautiful ones the mornings we would find one
in the trap. It was a most disagreeable experience; indeed,
tragic for the six members of the skunk family!
Skunks still wander the neighborhood,
but none nest under the porch.

Animals—natives and domestics—are central
to life here. Raccoons, possums, Red-tailed Hawks,
coyotes, Barn Owls, the skunks all are interested
in the chickens and guineas. There are also beavers, turtles, snakes,
squirrels, rabbits (native and domestic), mice; meadowlarks,

woodpeckers, doves, goldfinches, chickadees, cardinals,
killdeer, Eastern Blue Birds, Red-Winged Blackbirds, sparrows, mockingbirds, robins, pheasants, road runners, Great Blue Herons, seasonal flocks of Cedar Waxwings and Yellow-Headed Blackbirds, winter’s Canada Geese
and Snow Geese, (this year) pelicans in autumn, summer’s hummingbirds,
great white egrets, Scissor-tailed Flycatchers and barn swallows. Three
alpacas, two pygmy goats, dogs, cats live here. Bald Eagles visit occasionally.

There are challenging moments: when most of the chickens
and/or guineas are massacred; keets or chicks gobbled up. Skunks
assassinated. Beavers, who lived contentedly for twenty years
in Doe Creek, which has dried up in this long drought, have
moved to the Big Pond, blocked the ducts that allow water to flow
into the pond and are now being trapped and murdered. Mice invade
our household pantries and devour tender green sprouts in the greenhouse.
They are trapped and moved down the road, or killed. Snakes sneakily try to winter indoors and sometimes succeed. One spring morning, I found a very long
snake skin wrapped around my wooden dish drainer! Never saw the snake.

Recently, I discovered a dead coyote in a pile of loose hay inside our big
round-topped barn. This has never happened before. It had mange and
may have crossed the line into human territory looking for some comfort,
or to protect its den mates. It was a most unsettling discovery for me. I have never been afraid of coyotes, since, as a young girl, I believed my dad who said
that coyotes are afraid of people. They always kept their distance and I loved
the yip and howl of their twilight serenades. Coyotes have been coming closer—into our yards mid-afternoon to grab a chicken. Some say it’s because
they’re thirsty, as this drought drags on.
“Ask the animals, they will teach you,” Job says.

The lines have blurred these last seven years living with the animals.
It is challenging, heart-breaking at times.
They are exquisitely beautiful at times.
They amaze and amuse.
They tolerate and engage.
I’m not sure I can explain what they’re teaching me,
for it is deeply profound,
They are showing me
that we are all, each one,
a valuable part of one—
they are teaching me
who I am.

Pat earned her BS in journalism from Oklahoma State University and her MTS and MDiv degrees at Phillips Theological Seminary in Tulsa. A United Methodist Deaconess, her appointment is at Turtle Rock farm to do the work of ecospirituality and promote environmental justice. She also spends part of her time in Oklahoma City, where she has begun the work of helping others in the work of sustainable living in an urban setting. A trained spiritual director and former journalist, she does spiritual direction, teaches and leads retreats both on and off the farm and continues to write, including a daily blog at

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