Lupa’s Den: Scrub Jays in the Garden

Lupa's Den: Scrub Jays in the Garden

When I moved to Portland, OR in 2007, one of the first locals to greet me wasn’t human. Instead, I found the trees outside my first apartment to be full of scrub jays. These gray and blue corvids have a similar place in the urban ecosystem here that their cousins, the blue jays, did back East. I got a kick out of watching them in their territorial squabbles, raising their young, and making their harsh “VWEET! VWEET!” call. (I admit that I looked up a recording of a scrub jay call online, set my laptop up in the window, and drove one pair nuts for a couple of minutes looking for the invisible intruder.)

Now, I’m very much not the kind of person who, upon seeing a particular animal on a regular basis, automatically assumes there’s some significance. And given that both my old apartment and the one I presently live in are located within the territories of several pairs of scrub jays, I had an easy answer to why I kept seeing the birds all over the place. But as I got settled into Portland, I found myself continuing to get “pings” every time I saw them, especially as I put out more effort to connect to the Land here. I saw even more crows, and plenty of insects of various sorts, but no other animals provoked the same reaction.

It was last year, when I put in my first container garden up on the downstairs apartment’s roof, that Scrub Jay started getting bolder in trying to get my attention. As late summer came around, I found that some critter had been digging in the pots, uprooting plants and occasionally nabbing strawberries. Since we had a nest of fox squirrels in the attic who had already raised my ire, I assumed it was them, and took measures to try to scare them off. Unfortunately, the digging continued. It wasn’t until shortly before we moved to the new apartment this past December that I caught a scrub jay in the act, poking around in a pot of carrots. I never saw what, exactly, s/he was up to, but I knew I had my culprit.

After the move, Scrub Jay mostly left my mind, replaced by my getting used to the new area and starting up the new semester of grad school. I did see scrub jays — as well as more elusive Stellar’s jays — out in the new yard, getting by just fine in the rainy winter. I noticed them more as it warmed up enough for me to start putting in this year’s garden.

Scrub Jay did show up in my journeying in my shamanic practice as one of my guides in the Middle world. S/he informed me that, among other things, s/he could help me find resources in the Middle world (which includes the physical plane of reality we live in).

But I didn’t really think about what all this might have meant until a couple of weeks ago when a fellow shamanic practitioner, Ravenari, posted her own interpretation of what Scrub Jay has to teach . One of the main themes dealt with survival, doing what one needs to do to get by and making the most use of the resources available. And, as with animal sightings, although I generally don’t automatically take other people’s interpretations of totems to heart, this one resonated with me pretty strongly.

It makes a good deal of sense. I first started gardening as a way to create a more sustainable lifestyle from a primarily environmental perspective. However, as the economy slumped more and more, I began to shift my focus more towards economic issues. Sustainability is still very much about survival, but it’s mostly in the long-term. Economic realities are more apparent to most people, and too often even I will have to choose to buy something that’s not as sustainable because I can’t afford anything more expensive. But the garden is both better for the environment and for my food budget.

Scrub Jay reminds me that survival takes work, effort that’s often taken for granted in a largely automated economy, or in social strata where the hard manual labor is done by Someone Else. Additionally, the occasional jay digging in the garden helps me keep in mind that nothing is certain or runs perfectly every time, and additionally that my garden doesn’t exist in a bubble. Other living beings rely on and compete with me for the resources of nature, and while it’s easy for me to be offended when “my” vegetables get pilfered by wildlife, I also have to admit that my presence in the ecosystem reduces the available natural resources on many levels, food being one.

This is especially important as I continue to explore my place in the local ecosystem, including humans as well as “nature.” One of the benefits of having a local totem to show the ropes, so to speak, is that the totem can point out details on how to better integrate into the ecosystem. If I am going to have a harmonious relationship to my ecosystem and, later on as an ecopsychologist, teach other people how to do the same, I need to accept that not everything is going to go exactly the way I want — but that it’s not all about me, either.

So I’ve accepted that the scrub jays in the garden are a reminder to me of the survival and interconnections that Scrub Jay has taught me. Scrub Jay is really the first totem I’ve had whose physical children I’ve interacted with on a regular basis, and so it’ll be interesting to see how the relationship develops compared to those with other totems. In the meantime, I’ll keep being patient when I occasionally find the product of little beaks digging in the garden, and enjoy the sound of the raucous “VWEET!” as I go through my day.

Lupa is the author of Fang and Fur, Blood and Bone: A Primal Guide to Animal Magic, A Field Guide to Otherkin, and co-author of Kink Magic, among other works. You can read her blog at and see her website at

©2009 Lupa
Edited by Sheta Kaey

Rending the Veil is seeking serious volunteers to help kick off next summer with new features and new staff. Also, we now welcome submissions anytime, so send in your best pieces today! Volunteer application (.docx).


Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge

49 queries. 1.313 seconds