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Every now and then I catch a NATURE special featuring the weird mating rituals of some animal, like the koala in “Cracking the Koala Code” or mountain lions or prairie voles. I’ve already written plenty (far too much) about prairie voles, and that whole chemistry topic is nothing new. What I’m interested in is this topic of “dating down” that I keep seeing in blogs, or *gasp* crappy dating advice from over-eager dating coaches, who even encourage this twirpy and negative spin on dating. We all know what “dating down” means…in the usual context, it makes me think of some line from “Dirty Dancing” when the arrogant waiter tells Baby it’s okay if she’s “slummin’ it. We all do that sometimes, Baby.” (She was in love, dammit! And Johnny Castle aka Patrick Swayze was a stand-up guy.)

Osprey at Wolf’s Neck Farm. Terry Chick photo.

But I got thinking of another way to read the “dating down” concept:  what if it’s down to the bones of the dating rituals, or more accurately, the mating rituals. What it’s really about is dating down to the animal within us. When I was a kid, I was pretty sure that I was part fish and part otter, full of fur and snout and salt water. (My mother affectionately referred to me as her little raccoon, or otter, because I washed my seafood before eating it.) My dad’s a Grizzly Adams-Dirty Harry cross, and in my dreams, he sometimes appeared beside a bear, or AS a bear himself. I realized I was raised by some kind of bear-man, who identified himself as a lone wolf, and now I see him as part-wolf, part-bear, and still part Dirty Harry. My mother always said that the osprey was her totem animal, and she was always a bird-mom, in the best and worst possible ways, feeding us hors d’oeuvres and making nests for us, wherever we moved, which was often, circling in the same general territory, never straying too far from the Sheepscot River in midcoast Maine.  Our family land, now a Chewonki Preserve, has had an eagle’s nest for many years, along with osprey nests, and I grew up with a strong sense of responsibility in protecting our heritage and the wild things that depended on our land ethic.

One day when I was a teen-ager, a mountain lion showed up in our backyard, close to the Sheepscot River. I made sure that my cat was inside the house and together, my cat and I watched the mountain lion creep over the stone wall terraces like a duchess descending a grand staircase. She was well-camouflaged against a meadow of lilies, a strong tawny blonde, and purposeful in her movements. I never forgot her. Over the years, I have grown to accept that I transformed, at puberty, from part-otter part-fish girl into a part-otter part-mountain-lioness and as daughter of an osprey-woman and a wolf-man, I have those animal traits, too. (If you’ve seen “LadyHawke,” then you can picture what I’m talking about.) I am protective and territorial of the land that I nurture and call home; I move through each day with purpose but I don’t show off, surrounded by the lakes and natural beauty. Yet I am still playful and never lose my sense of wonder, or love for the water.  

A female mountain lioness stakes out her territory, and then allows some males to approach. Most of the males are chased away, mauled and intimidated into submission, but a couple will remain, to tough it out. They compete for her affections, but it’s really more about chemistry—as she picks the mate no matter who wins the battle for dominance between the toms. It’s up to her, ultimately. Then after she mates with the tom, he’s allowed to stick around. This is a pretty big deal since mountain lions are not like lions in Africa—with a whole pride. And dare I mention kinky otter sex? That’s probably better left up to the imagination. Otter sex is not for the faint-of-heart, lemme tell you. Only Scorpios could really even imagine going there as it’s worse than shark BDSM. Ask a marine biologist. I’m not at liberty to say.

So what’s the take-away from this post? Date down, you might be disappointed. Date down to the animal, you might find the right mate, someone who echoes your instincts and brand of wildness. Or you might get mauled.

Leah

Poet. Artist. Ecoheroine. Human ecologist. Spiritual mermaid and Mystic. I write about literary ecology, wetlands, water, Romantic ecology, and quirky adventures with my dog.

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