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Totems: Roadrunner

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman


It’s time to step up the pace, mi amigos. I will help you focus on your goal and follow through to achievement. Along the way, we will share the camaraderie that makes all efforts more enjoyable. Can you feel the warmth and lightheartedness? Don’t you want more of that in your life? Then roll up your sleeves, offer your assistance to others; asking for theirs as well, so that what used to take a long time to accomplish and felt hard to do, may be easily dispatched.

In case you ever wonder if we really have the mystical connection to the animal kingdom that we call TOTEMS, let me assure you that each time a totem picks me (even when I think that I am the one picking them to write about), I am surprised anew by how the energy of the totem rules during the period in which I am researching them and writing. Such has been the case with ROADRUNNER. I had begun working with coyote, and as is frequently the case with coyote, I got coyote’d! Turns out, coyotes and roadrunners have quite an intimate connection (next article will be Coyote). After a few days of working on coyote, I began to feel I was to work on a different totem first. Roadrunner whizzed into view. Hmmm. How was Roadrunner Medicine manifesting?

Here’s how: a few month’s ago, the back room to my apartment got renovated. To prepare for the demo, I had to take out every single thing and find places to temporarily store. I also had to stay somewhere else for a month. Lots of prep! Very busy! Okay, well you know how when you fix one thing up, you then have to spruce up everything, even basement storage? Thank goodness, roadrunner’s speedy energy, accompanied by the entrance of the spring equinox provided me with so much more energy than I was feeling all winter. During the renovation, I had to employ roadrunner’s ability to shift to Plan B (and often C as well), because the job took a lot longer, and was more involved than expected. It got done “With A Little Help From My Friends.” That’s Roadrunner Medicine. Working night and day, until everything was finished, sparkling, and reorganized, I finally got to sit on that chaise longue I brought into my new sitting room.

As a Power Animal, roadrunner can help you have a foot in each world. You may be a deep meditator, and at the same time, an effective facilitator administering a program that affects many. You are probably one who often checks their cell phone, texting and working the internet, because of the many and varied interests or responsibilities you have. The thing to learn is when to turn it all off and rest, with no outside stimuli.

During our six months in the hills above Oceanside in southern California in 2005, Thunder and I walked the sagebrush hills every day. It was perfect terrain for rattlesnakes, coyotes, and on one miraculous day, a Greater Roadrunner (Geococcyx californianus). Although neither this roadrunner nor any other makes the “beep, beep” sound that the cartoon character jousting daily with Wile E. Coyote made, its calls are distinctive - distinctive enough to catch my attention, so that I looked up sharply, just in time to see the famed speedster with the moussed-like crest cross the wide path before me, leaving behind a precious tail feather - smoky brown edged with white. In sunlight, it shines with a greenish-purple iridescence. Thank you Roadrunner! While mating, the male coos like a softly whimpering dog, then jumps on her back making a whirring sound. Young have high-pitched begging squeaks. Females have a kind of bark like “bk, bk, bk.” Sound can surround, pierce through, or blast things open, depending on how it is used, for what purpose, and by whom. It is a powerful tool for a shaman or healer.

Though it has colorful names like Chapparal, Snake-Eater, Medicine Bird, and my personal favorite, Paisano (means friend in Italian and Spanish) the Greater Roadrunner is actually a terrestrial cuckoo; however, a most unusual cuckoo that crows, chuckles and when it rolls its mandibles together, it clacks. The distinctive patch of orange and blue behind the eye is a spot of color in otherwise muted tones of grey and brown. A fringe of spiky eyelashes rims the eyelids. It is roadrunner’s streaked pattern and shape that makes them stand out, and at the same time creates perfect camouflage. Predominantly a bird of the American Southwest, Texas, and southern California, it lives in deserts, grasslands, and woodlands in nests 3-15 feet above the ground in trees, shrubs, or cactus clumps. Nests are made of sticks lined with grasses, feathers, snakeskin, and dried manure. Roadrunner rarely flies for more than a few seconds, preferring to spend much of its time on the ground, and running at speeds up to 18 miles per hour.

Do you have a life where you have to juggle many things at once, and have to think quickly on your feet? Do you need help coping with change? If so, roadrunner is the totem to turn to. In those cartoons, coyote is always trying to figure out a way to catch roadrunner, but is always outsmarted and outrun. Built for speed, roadrunner leaves him in a cloud of dust, while holding its head and tail flat, parallel to the ground to beat wind resistance. Combined with their mental capabilities, roadrunner folks can usually out-think or out-smart any rival or competitor. The Tarahumara endurance runners of the Sierra Madre eat roadrunners for their speed and vigor. The Tohono Oodham People say that Tadai (their name for roadrunner) raced all over the world trying to map it, so the People would be able to pick the best places to live.

Rattlesnakes are a favorite food. Picture this: using its wings like a matador’s cape, roadrunner catches its prey by the tail, whips it around, and smashes it’s head on the ground until the rattlesnake is dead. Then roadrunner proceeds to swallow as much of the snake as it can. Going about its business, with the rattlesnake hanging out of its mouth, it eventually swallows a bit more, then more, until the snake is digested whole. They don’t have teeth; their potent stomach juices utilize the venom without harm. The really amazing thing about this is roadrunner’s size compared to the snake – maybe 24 inches from the tip of the head to the tip of the tail.

In a remarkable physiological adaptation to arid habitats, New Mexico’s state bird has glands near its eyes used to excrete excess salt, like seawater-drinking birds. It can survive without drinking water, as long as it consumes prey with high water content; however, it will drink water when available. Besides swallowing snakes, roadrunner will zigzag all about preying on scorpions and tarantulas, insects, birds, lizards, small mammals, and a variety of fruit. They are so fast, they can even snatch dragonflies and hummingbirds from the air. Occasionally, two birds will hunt cooperatively to bring down large snakes. It is an opportunistic bird, sometimes seen waiting near birdfeeders for prey to arrive. They in turn, as part of the desert food chain are sometimes eaten by foxes, ring-tailed cats, and occasionally by coyotes, if they can catch them.

Another adaptation is that after night hypothermia, roadrunners re-raise body temperatures as the sun rises, rays beating down on black, back and neck skin (the original solar panels) while feathers are fluffed up. What an incredible design by Nature, eh? To do this, they may climb to the highest branch of a mesquite or chaparral, catching the warmth as soon as the sun appears.

In addition to speed, agility is part of the essence of this totem. If it is your power animal or you are in its timeframe, you are physically lithe, and have good balance (roadrunners use their tails like rudders for balance). You are mentally agile as well, represented by the crest on roadrunner’s head. The crest is bushy and rough, indicating that the person with this totem has unusual ideas. They may be difficult to follow at first, but they always have brilliance behind their quick-witted delivery. Hear them out; their ideas could benefit you. Roadrunners have a bold curiosity. They don’t seem very put-off by humans, except at nesting time. Old-timers tell tales of roadrunners running alongside them by the road. Very often, they will linger to get a good look at the object of their observation, before scampering off into the brush.

In Mexico, it is roadrunner that is said to be responsible for bringing babies, not storks! Each spring (and summer if enough rain), the bond of a monogamous pair of roadrunners is renewed with great flourish on the part of the male. He bows and prances like a dandy, wags his tail, and offers delicacies and nest materials to his mate. The female averages 2 to 6 eggs, which incubate up to 18 days and are tended by both parents. Hatchlings emerge featherless, with black skin crinkled like old paper, and egg-toothed - a tiny prong on the tip of their bill. The egg-tooth later disappears. They fledge after 17 to 19 days, but stick around for 40. Sometimes, one of the young adults from the year before stays in the area, helping the parents gather food for the new nestlings. It takes both parents to fulfill the food needs of a nest of young as well as themselves, until the fledglings can find their own food. The father especially runs himself ragged, pursuing prey all day long. Roadrunners live 7 to 8 years. If the nest is in danger, the parent will bring attention to itself, simulating a broken wing or leg to distract or disorient the predator away from young. Don’t romanticize them though. They also eat weak young, or feed them to the stronger chicks. Life in the desert has slim margins. Roadrunners are loners, except during courting, mating and raising young. If this is your totem, beware getting too isolated and reclusive.

Some names for roadrunner mean compatriot, or fellow countryman, though they were persecuted through bounties, sport hunting and drives, by hunters fearing competition for quail. Roadrunners do require a lot of food for their quick metabolism; however, while they are not above taking the occasional quail egg, they eat far more insects and reptiles considered “pests” by humans, especially grasshoppers. In one roadrunner’s gizzard a number of large grasshoppers, caterpillar skins, a large cricket, a 6” long centipede, beetles, and a garter snake were found. They are now protected under state and federal law.

If you look at a roadrunner tracks, you can’t tell whether it is going forward or going backward, which is a caution to those with this totem, not to act so quickly that they end up acting hastily. The phenomenon of the tracks, called zygodactylism, is when two toes face forward and two backward, forming a “k” or “x”. There are fossils of roadrunner tracks that are 270 million years old. Hopi used this ceremonial design to confuse evil spirits. The Zuni have been known to put roadrunner feathers in their moccasins in order to fool pursuing enemies. They also believe that roadrunners guide spirits to the world beyond, using their two-way tracks to prevent spirits who have evil intent from following. With this totem’s energy, you are able to shift priorities and plans back and forth, easily and swiftly. You will exhibit the qualities of bravery, strength, curiosity, and tenacity - and you are often quite ingenious.

Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been a healer and writer for almost 40 years. Her work is to bring forward and disseminate the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through writing, teaching, and healing, facilitating the mystical reunion of humans with Source and Nature, in all directions, allied with the Elements, acknowledging the divine within all. For 13 years, she has been a contributing writer for Wisdom Magazine. For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to bring her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" to your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com


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