A Christmas Gift to RememberDec 21, 2022
One Christmas morning several years ago, in Argentina, I saved the life of an armadillo. I thought of it as a Christmas gift for that weird-looking animal. Little did I know how this Christmas gift would come back to find me…
Here’s how the story started one sunny morning in the Argentine pampas (fragment from my book “A Horse Called Bicycle”):
I wake up with that unexplainable feeling of joy that always hits me when I open my eyes and hear the sounds of the campo in the morning. I don’t even mind the concert of birds, all going insane in the early hours of the morning, just around sunrise. The noise usually dies down after a while and I love this second-morning sleep that I fall into, just after the birds settle, when I know there’s still plenty of time until I need to get out of bed.
A couple of hours later I emerge from the guest room in my friends’ house, the same room where I sweated with fever and worried about dying after surgery. It seems like centuries ago. I go straight to the kitchen in search of a coffee. The best part of their lifestyle is that they mix perfectly the latest joys of civilisation with the roughness of the campo. And one needs civilisation—an espresso machine in this case, like the one on the kitchen counter.
With my cup of coffee in one hand I leave the house and decide to pay a visit to my old acquaintance, the quinoto tree. Just to check if it’s still got some of those delicious little orange-like fruits, and also because it might be some time before my friends wake up. I haven’t heard a single movement inside the house.
But I’m wrong. Just around the corner I spot Patricio some twenty meters away, fully dressed in rubber boots and all, holding a rifle, which is pointed towards a hole in the ground. Under his feet, a hose pours water into the hole.
“Good morning! What on earth are you doing there?” I shout.
“The bastard will come out! And this time I’ll kill him!” he shouts back.
“What?” I’m now suddenly alarmed. “Who do you want to kill?”
“The armadillo. It’s been digging holes in my backyard for a few days now and this time I’m not going to miss him. When the water inundates his den he’ll come up and I’ll shoot the bastard.”
“Stop!” I’m not sure what’s going on but the thought of starting Christmas Day with the killing of an innocent animal fills me with horror.
But he doesn’t look like he’s heard me.
“Stop, please. Please don’t!” I scream, with my hands over my eyes. I can’t bear to watch. If he does, at least I shouldn’t see it. I know I’m screaming like a hysterical woman, but I can’t stop it. The life of a poor armadillo is at stake.
“Please don’t! Spare him. Please!”
Patricio lifts his head and looks at me. “Roxy, are you crazy? This bastard is digging holes in my yard. I have to get him.”
“OK, calm down.”
The rifle comes down. I’m hardly breathing.
“All right, I won’t kill it. But come on, you have to help me out. Hold this.” He hands me the rifle.
I run and take the rifle from his hand. If he has no rifle, he can’t kill.
“Take care, it’s loaded,” he says, and I freak out. I hold it gingerly, trying to keep it pointing towards the ground.
“I’ll catch it and put it in the car and we’ll throw it in the fields far away from here. Are you happy now?”
“Yes, yes. Thank you.” I whisper.
Exile is a much better option.
“The bastard should thank you.” Patricio throws me a smile. “You’re saving his life. Now go back and turn the tap on completely. I’ll wait here to catch him when he comes out.”
I run back to the pump and turn on the tap, keeping the rifle still pointed down. Behind me, I hear a victorious shout and when I turn around I see Patricio’s hands reach inside the den and come back out, holding the tail of what appears to be a mini-version of a crocodile mixed with a hedgehog.
It doesn’t bite, though. I remember Rosario had told me that when I saw one at her farm. She also told me that this animal can be found only in the Argentine pampas and that it’s a distant cousin of I don’t remember which prehistoric animal.
“Turn the tap fully on,” Patricio shouts.
He’s holding the animal by the tail but can’t get him out. The armadillo is less than half a meter long but it weighs quite a lot and is holding on with all his might to the walls of his den.
“Once his hole is full of water, he’ll let go,” Patricio says.
I stay there by the tap awaiting further instructions, with the rifle in my hand, watching my friend holding the bum of an armadillo. I’m not quite sure how we got into this situation.
A few more minutes and Patricio’s prediction comes true. The den fills with water, the animal stops grabbing hold with its front legs, and my friend emerges victorious from the fight, carrying the animal tail up.
“Look at the bastard. He has no idea how close he was to dying this morning. Switch the tap off, we’re done.”
I do as I’m told and then walk over with him towards his pickup truck. He throws the animal in the back of it and the armadillo starts running around, wildly trying to escape. But there’s no way, the sides of the pickup are too high. He’s trapped. Eventually, he gives up and freezes in one corner.
Patricio tells me to hold the rifle a little bit longer while he gets rid of the mud from his fight with the armadillo, then tells me I’m crazy to intervene in what is a normal farm-life scene, and he’s even crazier to listen to me.
“It’s Christmas Day. Maybe we shouldn’t start it with a killing,” I say in my defence.
Gabriela emerges from the house with a cup of coffee in her hand and jumps into the discussion in support of the armadillo’s life. Outnumbered, Patricio gives up arguing, takes his rifle from my hand, unloads it, and takes it back into the house.
“Only Mali understands me,” he says.
Gabriela’s small terrier has gone insane, barking at the car, sensing there’s an animal inside. I bet she wants to kill the armadillo, too.
I finish my cup of coffee, thinking there’s a lot more to life in the campo than just waking up to the sound of the birds.
We leave for the big farm to have a proper breakfast there with the rest of the family. Just before we go, Patricio goes to check on the sheep. He says a new lamb was born yesterday. I go with him, hoping to see the lamb. We search for it everywhere, but the sheep all huddle together in one corner of their enclosure and there’s no trace of a newly born lamb.
“Maybe the foxes took it last night,” Patricio says. “There’s nothing we can do about it.”
That’s one life saved and one life gone. The campo likes even numbers.
We get in the car, the three of us and the dog, with the armadillo still unsuccessfully trying to escape from the back of the pickup. We drive straight across the fields, leaving the dirt road to one side. It has rained in the night—not enough to turn everything into mud, but just enough to bring up the smell of the earth. The same smell of grass and clay that I remember so well.
We drive amongst the cows, all watching us with their immobile eyes, and we reach the horses. They come towards the car. They’re always curious, the horses. Patricio holds his hand out and the horses come over to touch him. On my open window on the back seat, I try to do the same, but they don’t come over to touch me. Maybe they know who’s the boss.
We drive away from the horses and when Patricio decides we’re at a safe distance from their house he stops, picks up the armadillo by the tail, and throws it out of the car. The dog locked inside barks like crazy.
“Shall I let Mali out now? We can see who’s faster, Mali or this bastard.”
“No, don’t!” Gabriela and I scream with one voice, united in defence of the armadillo.
As if sensing his life is at stake, the animal quickly regains his bearings after being unceremoniously dumped in the bushes and starts running away as fast as the short legs under his long crocodile-like body allow him.
Run, mate. Today is your lucky day.
“Lucky him.” Patricio echoes my thought. “If it wasn’t for you, Roxy, he wouldn’t have lived.”
I’m feeling good about myself.
But later, as we’re having breakfast at the farm, I don’t feel that good any longer. The rest of the family can’t believe I’ve prevented the killing of that terrible animal who digs up holes in the lawns.
“Roxy, life in the campo is like this. You can’t afford to let your feelings get in the way.”
I detect a hint of reproach in their eyes. But Patricio laughs and the kids laugh too, all finding it very funny that I felt compelled to save the life of that armadillo.
I think of it for the remainder of the day—that weird, long animal with scales all over his body as if he were a crocodile. I’m happy for him. He’ll still carry on living here, hiding in the bushes of the pampas and digging other holes, hopefully far away from Patricio’s backyard and his loaded rifle. He’ll still be here, even when I’m gone. The campo likes even numbers.
I thought the story ended there. But it didn’t.
Six months later, I had gone through a major life transformation. I had left Argentina and spent some time in India and Thailand where I got introduced to shamanism. I continued my energy medicine studies in Europe and decided to settle in Mallorca, Spain. It was a new beginning for me. I rented a flat. I set up my home. Following years of hectic travels all over the world, it was the first time I felt at home in a long, long time.
In my shamanic training, I learned about power animals. These are animal spirits that come to visit a person to remind them about an instinct they have lost. Shamans go into trance where they encounter these animals and bring them and their message back into this world. I thought this was only a metaphor.
I had a session with a fellow shaman. She went into trance searching for a power animal. I was expecting to hear she found a dear or an eagle or some other animal more common in Europe, where we both lived.
But no. She saw an armadillo she said when she came out of the trance.
“A what?” I hardly breathed. She knew nothing about my Argentine adventures and my encounter with the armadillo in my friends’ backyard.
“An armadillo” she repeated. It’s an animal from South America it looks like half crocodile half hedgehog.”
The image of the armadillo from the campo came dancing in front of my eyes. I didn’t tell her about it. “Why did he come?” I asked instead.
“To help you settle into your new home”, she said. “It brings you the instinct to be settled, to enjoy your home.”
I had tears in my eyes. I felt the power of her words and I knew they were right. The spirit of the armadillo came back to say thank you. And to return my gift.
What you give, you will get back. And more. I get it now. The armadillo has taught me that lesson.
And from that day on I never thought power animals were only a metaphor.
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