“Leave your feelings alone,” the black sheep bleated, “and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.” And then she kicked up some dust with her back hooves, and might have done a bit of a gambol around, if Red Fox had not switched his tail back and forth, which was his way of indicating that the previous remark could not be allowed to stand unqualified.
“And where did you say your lost feelings are wagging?” he asked, as he slightly declined his head to one side, while peering out of the tops of his eyes.
“Behind them,” the sheep responded, relieved that she had an answer.
“Where else would they be wagging?” Billy Goat inquired, looking up from the dirt where he had been digging a trench in the sand and a puddle of water had begun to collect.
“What’s your point?” the sheep asked, a bit put off, having been the target on previous occasions of Billy pointing out flaws in her behavior.
“My point is that tails can only wag behind us because that is where they are located. Nothing is added by specifying that location.”
The black sheep, suddenly feeling the humiliation of how the other animals so often pointed at her as the odd-one out, the one who behaved and spoke inappropriately, now fell silent and started walking around in circles.
Red Fox, possibly sensing Black Sheep’s distress, cleared his throat and said,
“Well, Billy, let me remind you that Blackie’s statement was not actually about tails, but about lost feelings. It was a metaphor. I don’t expect someone who spends an hour digging for water a few feet from a flowing river to know what a metaphor is, but I have to say that her wish to find the location of lost feelings is a perfectly sensible way of beginning to look for them.”
Encouraged by the attention that the other animals were giving him, Red Fox continued,
“Indeed, where should we look for lost feelings? Do we look behind us into the vanished past? Although we often look there, we can’t find feelings in the past. Do we look ahead of us at the yet-to-come future? Of course not. We may have new feelings in the future, but the feelings we are feeling now can’t be in the future. Can they?”
Red Fox looked from face to face, and only when he had received a hesitant affirmation, did he continue,
“Do we look inside ourselves to find the feelings we have lost, and which may have been there all along? Yes! That’s where we need to look!”
Red Fox looked around and felt disappointed at the lack of acclaim that he felt his cogent remarks deserved. Then, in the space between one thought and another, he noticed that a mouse, at the edge of the river, who had seemed interested in the gathering of larger animals a moment before, suddenly had somewhere else to be. And a moment later, a white owl, its powerful wings extended, alighted on a tree stump a few feet away.
When all eyes turned to him, the snow owl settled in and, pointing toward the river with a slight toss of his beak, said,
“Here we are, congregated by the river, a river swollen with spring rain and snow melt from the mountains to the north, breathing in the mild breezes that herald a change of season, standing on the solid ground, and feeling the warmth of the sun on our coats; do not our feelings also swell as we breathe deeply? And well they should. We are born of the earth and are made of the very water, air, dirt and light from which our world is built. I heard you talking about feelings and you wondered where they might be found. Well, a good way to start looking for those feelings is to notice our kinship with this world. We too have a river flowing within our bodies; we too have elements of the earth collected in our bones. Do we not breathe the air and harness the light of awareness to think and feel and be alive?”
If Red’s soliloquy was too much for Billy and Blackie, Owl’s reflections passed far over their heads, like a hawk glimpsed in the sunlight is lost to sight by a browsing rabbit. But Billy, feeling that Owl’s penetrating gaze was directed at him and wanting to come across as one of the intelligent ones of the group, said “I bet that’s a metaphor too.”
Without a glance at Billy, and pausing now and then to preen himself, Owl continued:
“Oh, River of Life, from far-off mountains have you come. River of Life, back to whence you came are you even now returning . . .”
Suddenly the owl lifted off his perch, crossed the river without seeming to flap his wings, and a moment later was back on his perch with a mouse in his beak. After making short work of his snack, he continued, as if he had not stirred from the tree stump.
“When we aren’t aware of our feelings, we are like brute animals, scrounging for dinner while ignoring that the world has opened its larder to beauty and joy.”
Owl then burped and lifted away on a gust of wind, for all the world like a preacher wrapping up his sermon, who is confident that the collection plate would be overflowing that morning.