“Baeaa”. Clem’s bleating was pretty much like that of any new born lamb. He too wanted his mothers milk. And, like generations of sheep before him, once fed Clem would go gambolling around the field… full of the joys of spring. He was the ‘new life’, the miracle of birth, the sign of a new time of joy and hope.
Unlike the play of his parents and grandparents before him however, Clem’s skipping and jumping was a bit more purposeful. Yeah, he was enjoying himself, finding out what his legs could do, bouncing around like any bundle of energy just released into the world. The difference was that Clem knew all this.
As he grew and developed Clem was always the first to the gate or pen when Shep the dog or Farmer Trelawny, on his strange roaring, rolling, shiny, ‘quad’ came to round up the flock. He soon knew what other animals lived in the surrounding fields… and knew to be wary of the ‘big quads’ that sped along the hard black tracks alongside the fields.
One day Clem, leading the flock to the food trough as usual, saw that Farmer Trelawny wasn’t alone. With him was a shorter, slighter, human – who smiled and laughed. They seemed very close these two humans. He called her ‘Janice’ and she called him “Dad”… as she helped her father with their straw and feed. After a few days of this, Janice noticed Clem too:
“How come this one’s always out in front?” she asked her father.
“Beats me. He seems well, just more intelligent than the others”
Janice stroked Clem on the back. Mmm that was nice! Maybe there was more to these humans than feed when the grass stopped growing!
Cleo was listening. Listening hard but contentedly to her Aunt’s stories. As always fascinating… full of intrigue and action. Often they seemed, at first, to make no sense… but then, these were true tales… about humans… and if Cleo had learned anything in her first few months it was that human beings were strange creatures. Sure, like her own feline species, they’d fight to control territory and to get the best mate… but they did so with strange sticks that spat fire… or they’d snarl and roar, in their own way, at those they were in dispute with.
Not that different she supposed… except that once her father had won or lost a fight, that was it. Honour satisfied… he’d get back to hunting and enjoying the feast afterwards! This humans, by contrast, never seemed to stop snarling at each other. Cleo made up her mind to learn from these upright animals… life was too short to spend it arguing!
Her aunt had satisfied her thirst from the nearby pool and restarted her latest tale of African mystery: she told of their fellow rulers in the land of scrub – the towering, the wise, elephants. Long ago they’d begun to suffer at the hands of the humans: nobody quite understood why, but the uprights seemed to want the tusks of the massive grey beasts… and they did all sorts of barbarous things to get them. As with many stories about man, it seemed to make no sense to little Cleo… but she was beginning to understand her aunt’s message… that there was no point getting annoyed by it all. It’s just the way things were. All would be well… in time.
And so the centuries went by and young elephants too heard the story of how their parents had been killed at the hands of the uprights. Deep within they knew that so long as they had ivory in their heads they’d be prey. It was time to change. Tusks became shorter: no longer a sign of ‘the fittest’ but of the one most likely to be shot. It took many generations, but the elephants that Cleo saw around her were tuskless… and allowed to roam the plains, without attack from men. Cleo smiled at her aunt and snuggled up against her to sleep. This world did make sense after all!
As she grew and developed, Cleo noticed that it wasn’t just men who came with their shooting sticks: a softer sort of human also visited their lairs and savannahs… and they came in hard, shiny things that seemed to roll along the ground… yet could move as fast as their cousins the cheetahs. She noticed that they’d point strange objects at them that would glint in the sun… and that if they happened to see her, Cleo, as they did this they’d smile and sometimes cheer.
This, thought Cleo, was a different side to mankind. She watched and listened, taking it all in. Soon she learnt that she could really make these new ‘light’ hunters happy by getting closer to them. She found that they’d stop and watch her for hours if she’d lie and preen herself… and it all felt so safe!
Over the next few days Clem and Janice got to know each other. They may have been different species, with very different day-to-day lives, but both felt an affinity for the other… a deep connection and understanding than transcended labels. Farmer Trelawny would turn around to see his daughter knelt next to his ‘wiser than usual’ sheep… as if talking to it. He shook his head and smiled bemusedly… it wasn’t the first time his special daughter had done strange things!
And then one day Janice gave Clem an extra long and intense hug. He’d heard her and her dad talk about a ‘safari’ – whatever one of those was – but knew she wouldn’t be around for a while. Oh well, the attention was nice whilst it lasted.
The Landrover lurched forward through the tufts and mounds of the savannah. Janice held on tight to the roof opening. It was all rather different from the Yorkshire dales she was used to! Or was it? Some of the animals seemed… well, to know her! She’d expected that ‘wild animals’ would somehow be different from those on her dads farm, but saw the same sort of grazing behaviour amongst these various breeds of deer as in the Frisians back home… and a mother lion has the same concerns as a mother sheep! The thoughts took her mind back to Clem. She smiled as their vehicle came to a halt and her guide pointed 30 yards ahead of them.
Talk of parental concern! A lioness lay with her two quite large cubs. The lions looked at the humans… and the humans looked at the lions. The larger of the two cubs seemed to not just look at Janice but into her. A tingle ran up her spine and she had to swallow hard to keep her heart from her throat.
“Almost human, that one” volunteered the guide, seeing her fascination. But Janice didn’t hear him. She’d got out of the 4 wheel drive and was walking calmly towards the small family group of lions. They didn’t stir; the mother licking behind the ears of her 2nd cub. Cleo edged away from the couple, slowly standing… all the time facing Janice. She was aware of a hand waving in front of her face. The guide cleared his throat and smiled broadly: “Time for some elephants?” They moved on.
It was a few years later. Janice was well into her veterinary training and deciding which research project to join. She was spending a few days on the family farm whilst she collected her thoughts: would she join the genetic research team, helping the development of Dolly into the perfect sheep? As she approached the gate to the top field she spied a familiar woolly mass… and cringed. How could she even consider such a job! Here was Clem… how much more perfect could any animal be?!
As she stepped over the gate and started walking towards the now impressive ram, so Clem started towards her. Her mind flashed back to the safari and her walk towards Cleo… yes! here she was again. They reached each other and Cleo let the young vet stroke her.
“Baeaa”. Clem brought her back to the Yorkshire Dales, and she found her hand deep in his shaggy coat. They looked at each other and she nodded, sharing her decision with her sheep friend.
“Yes! That’s it! I’ll take that post at Bramfield! When it comes to assessing the intelligence of animals I reckon I know a thing or two!”
Over the next few weeks, as she settled into her research role, Janice realised that there were two schools of thought in this line of work: the ‘animals are like us, aren’t they clever’ variety and the ‘we’ve got a lot to learn about ourselves by observing animal’ sort. She was relieved to find that most in her team were of the latter persuasion!
It wasn’t long before she felt sufficiently at home to share her experiences with Clem and her ‘dreams’ of the young lion. Pat, her supervisor beamed. “You too!” He’d also been sensing a particular connection with certain animals. “I wasn’t going to mention it, but I have had some ideas on what we could do with our latest grant. We’ll probably be labelled wacky but…” he looked at Janice who was nodding eagerly at him. “OK! We’ll do it!”.
Mr Trelawny had been more than happy for Clem to join the research project, though had raised his eyebrows slightly higher than usual as Janice had asked him “You don’t mind if we take him abroad, do you?… Africa?” What could he say! He knew better, by now, than to argue with his astute, if eccentric offspring.
Using the contacts she’d made during her earlier safari, Jan had had no problems finding a Kenya guide and team to join their project. These people living amongst the lions and knew that things were changing. Just as the American Indians had their while buffalo as omens, so too did the locals here see the wildlife around them as a sign. The world was changing and the animals in their part of Africa were leading the shift.
Pat and Jan, with Clem curled around her ankles, sat with their Kenyan guides at the end of their first full day together. The plans were going well: they’d been keeping an eye on Cleo since her actions the previous years and, last week, she’d been spotted only a few miles away.
“She knows we’ve come for her” said Janice. The others nodded in agreement and they all fell silent, minds reaching into the darkening sky with the smoke from their camp fire. One of the scouts began an ancient tribal chant. Quickly that picked up the strange words and joined in, even Clem deeply connected to the sound.
A gentle rustle behind them alerted Jan to an approaching guest. As they all carried on singing Cleo joined them, completing the circle around the fire. Pat, like Jan, opened his eyes long enough to see it and smile, but said nothing. There was nothing to said. Words would only spoil the experience.
Eventually the chanting stopped and Cleo quietly disappeared into the night. Pat shivered and threw a large log onto the fire. “Tell me” he enquired of the guide “what does that chant translate as?”
The answer didn’t really surprise him: “the lion shall lie down with the lamb.”
This spiritual short story written by Keith Beasley shows how beautiful life becomes when we are are true to our selves, and that as we become one with that inner-most self, those who observe us become more respectful while expanding their own boundaries, and sometimes even thier expanding their consciousness. If you enjoyed this spiritual short story, then you might also like the book The Fifth Sacred Thing.