I've been thinking about 'aumakua and animal spirit guides, ever since an unusual encounter a few weeks ago. I was stopped at a traffic light at a busy intersection on my way to work, running late as usual. Seconds before the light turned green, a tiny sparrow suddenly appeared on the hood of my car. It gazed at me through the windshield and then, to my surprise, it hopped toward me and perched on a windshield wiper, still staring at me.
"Fly away, silly, before you get hurt," I implored aloud. The bird just cocked its head and continued its staredown. When the car in front of us began to move, I inched forward, thinking the little guy would be startled into flight. Instead, it hunkered down and glared at me, standing its ground even as we picked up our pace. Through the intersection and a left turn onto Kaahumanu Avenue, feathers ruffling in the wind, the bird held on, never once taking its beady eyes off me. I was on the verge of mild panic, but my tiny hitchhiker was amazingly calm, considering its precarious situation.
I managed to cross two lanes of morning rush hour traffic to pull into a gas station, convinced by now that my feathered friend's feet had somehow gotten stuck in the wiper blade. I parked the car, got out and slammed the door shut; the bird just sat and watched me. Not wanting to touch it, and not knowing what else to do, I decided to get a cup of coffee. "Please be gone when I get back!"
And he was.
I'm not very comfortable around birds, big or small. I appreciate their beauty and admire their abilities, but I'm never completely at ease around them. I blame Alfred Hitchcock for that. "The Birds" was the first horror film I remember seeing, and it gave me not just nightmares, but frightening daydreams as well. All through childhood, and even after getting my driver's license, I would get nervous every time I rode or drove past the Wailuku fire station on Wells Street, under the huge tree with the chattering mynahs.
Years later, living on Oahu with my young son, we had a couple of Hitchcock moments during our frequent visits to the Honolulu Zoo. It was in the early '80s, when the feral pigeon population was already a major nuisance. (By 1991, there were 10,000 of them!) Just the motion of tossing something out would bring a hundred flapping birds to your feet before the morsel even hit the ground. Once, we were sitting on the grass with our picnic lunch, with 20 or 30 pigeons at bay, watching us intently. Jimmy put his plate down to reach for a drink, and one brave bird swooped in and started dragging away his hot dog in its beak. We surrendered the hot dog and our picnic space, as the rest of the flock swarmed in for their share.
According to the Chinese zodiac, I'm a Rooster, and I do seem to match the attributes of that sign. So you'd think I'd be more of a bird lover rather than the cat person I am. I love cats. I can relate to cats. I think I may have been a cat in a previous life. And I aspire to be one in a future life. Make that nine future lives.
My late husband was not a bird lover either. He tolerated cats and liked dogs; he felt his spirit animal was the wolf. His Chinese zodiac sign was the Dragon. So it surprised me when, soon after his death in 2007, several intuitive people told me that Barry's spirit would stay in touch through birds; that I could look forward to signs like a stray feather in my path or an unexpected songbird serenade. Sure enough, I've had a number of chicken skin moments like those, at times when I needed them most.
There are at least a dozen Internet quizzes you can take to find your spirit animal. Mine is indeed the cat or tiger, according to the personality test I took. OK, actually, that was the third quiz I tried. The first two assigned me the hawk and the wolf. Hmm. Hawk, Rooster . . . maybe I'm a bird person after all.
Still, I feel much more in tune with my feline than my feathered self. But that hitchhiking sparrow was pretty cool. As a friend suggested, it may have been Barry reminding me to slow down. And it didn't leave tracks all over my windshield and hood the way the neighborhood cat does.
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o " column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.