Shapeshifter

Do the mountains touch the stars?

Tell me, child of the skylands,
how to balance on the glittering surface of time—

awakening the stillness,
transforming the silence
into answered prayer.

The snow leopard is found only in the mountains of Central Asia. Expanding populations in this harsh habitat compete for the same food sources. Although they are one of the least aggressive big cats, snow leopards kill livestock and are trapped in retaliation. They are also killed by poachers for their pelts and bones, which are used in traditional Chinese medicine. Only 5000-7000 remain in the wild.

Traditional cultures of their habitats consider the snow leopard to be a shapeshifter, a mountain spirit that serves as a guide between worlds. In Tibet they are sacred, existing as vessels to remove the sins of past lives. Anyone who kills one of these creatures is forced to take on the burden of those sins as their own.

They have huge paws and tails, which help them to balance on the snow in the rugged terrain of the mountains.

For earthweal, where Sherry has asked us to consider the earth’s dwindling populations of big cats.

25 thoughts on “Shapeshifter

    1. Thanks John. It’s already too late for far too many plants and animals, entire ecosystems. I don’t understand why people want to actively destroy what supports life. I too hope we can reverse directions and save what remains.

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  1. Your words capture the sacred in these animals. They are too big to cohabit with us, require too much space and we are frightened of beauty and power. Such a shame.
    Whenever I hear ‘traditional Chinese medicine’ I wonder how the Chinese ever acquired their reputation for wisdom.

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    1. Thanks Jane. Chinese medicine is a huge factor in the depletion of many species, and is probably responsible for spreading Covid-19. They don’t seem to understand where the magic of these creatures actually resides…

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      1. One of my sisters often works in the Himalayan countries restoring ancient wall paintings and she has often got sick from accidents on scaffolding or just the insanitary conditions on the sites. Each time except for once, though China has been closer, she’s been carted, shipped and flown to India for treatment. China, she says is the pits. The hospital doctors despise and distrust ‘western’ medical science and prefer to use the ‘traditional’ junk that either has no effect or makes the condition worse. The one time she had no choice was when she was actually working in China and ended up having to be airlifted back to the UK after she was given a veterinary antibiotic and some herbal paste for a broken arm and an infection that almost killed her.

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        1. I believe that. I have a relative who has been sucked into “natural” Chinese medicine. She has a long list of food she is not supposed to eat, but is perfectly willing to take potions made from endangered species.

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  2. How I love the snow leopards……..endangered even more as the snow melts on the Himalayan peaks. We are watching so much being lost before our eyes. I love your poem which goes right to my heart with “Tell me, child of the skylands, / how to balance on the glittering surface of time—”
    Sigh. I am so glad you wrote this beautiful poem for the prompt. The big cats have inspired some heartfelt poems this week.

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  3. The poem could have been found as a prayer on an ancient landscape painting, scrolled with truth lost long ago. I loved the tiger paintings. Almost all wild animals are gone, become landscape paintings … Brendan

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  4. very informative post Kerfe …

    I’ve seen two when I lived in the Himalayas … one big beautiful white one that ventured into the fields behind me when they were picking the tea in the plantation above, guessed he lived there. The other a very emaciated sick one, shot thru the head … so sad 😦

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