I Grant You Change
Scientists have named and classified more than one million animals thus far—over half of which are insects—and thousands of new species are discovered each year. Experts believe there may be as many as fifty million different kinds of animals alive today—and that’s just here on Earth. Now multiply that number by the four hundred and eighty stars that have been identified with Earth-like planets and you’ll see just how much life might potentially exist throughout the Universe.
—The Fourth Korus of the Emerald Tree
Sitting back on her haunches, NightFire lifted her muzzle and relaxed her breathing. It took a moment—the stretching of one muscle, the relaxing of another follicle—but in time she became absolutely still. Her brilliant green lynx-eyes took in the forest a final time, marking its boundaries, noting its activity, all part of a necessary ritual she practiced while traveling between forms. It was then that she was at her most vulnerable. Given her paralytic state during transformation, if an attack came before she had assumed a new skin, she would be defenseless.
The boreal was quiet. Even the rain had dissipated, escaping into the night after the Skaarsgard’s exit. With a final, satisfied flick of her whiskers, NightFire closed her eyes and repeated the Ticking’s liturgy: The rain gives birth to rivers, that gives birth to oceans, that gives birth to land, that gives birth to sky, that gives birth to rain…
NightFire focused her mind’s eye inward as she continued her mental journey. Inward, toward the center of her being, the home of her spirit. Inward, where visions of the long grass of Life grew waist deep in starlight. Inward, where all the creatures of the skies, seas, and fields gathered. Inward, where as one, the world’s Tokas—the spirits of all animalia—gathered together in one joyous, thunderous migration towards the center of Creation.
The rain gives birth to rivers, that gives birth to oceans, that gives birth to land, that gives birth to sky, that gives birth to rain…
In her mind, NightFire launched herself and took flight. From the air, she searched the massive migration. Elk, Buffalo, and Polar Bear were spread out beneath her. Albatross, Peregrine, and Bat joined her on the wing. From the rushing silver waters woven through the long, green grass, Marlin, Dolphin, and Ray leaped in competition. She searched amongst them for a solitary animal, a single Toka among millions, one that only she could connect with.
It didn’t take long.
Running across the open plain, keeping pace with the Antelope and the Mustang, NightFire saw a vision of herself, her human form, leaping with joy. From her aerial perspective, she could see how happy she was to be free among this vision of creation. To run with the spirits of all wildlife, to be one and belong to all…
It wasn’t hard to imagine her Lynx-self smiling.
Rarely had she known this kind of release, this sense of belonging. But she knew it couldn’t last. The allure to remain in this spiritual form would become too strong, as would the desire to remain Toka animalia in the real world. She had to return to what she was—human—or she wouldn’t come back. She had to exchange spirits with her Lynx-self or her human skin would be lost to her forever.
In her mind’s eye, she swept down on her Toka, calling her human form by name. NightFire’s human spirit turned. Extending her Lynx-self paw, she offered a furry invitation. As her human Toka accepted the offer with an outstretched hand, NightFire announced to the universe:
Earth and Water, Fire and Air.
Breath life into these skins I share.
When I change, may I still learn,
To care, protect, and always yearn.
In the time it takes a molecule to breathe or an eon to pass, NightFire’s Lynx-self changed places with her Human-self. And as her mind’s eye once again took flight, she left behind the Toka of a beautiful wildcat, now hurrying to catch up with the throngs of other animals, each trying to keep pace with the migration of renewal that would only end when the stars ceased to shine.