Venery And Other Lost Literary Arts

In 1971, I started college at Auburn University.  It was not my first choice. I felt very much out of my element, having grown up in small rural communities and graduating in a class of 22.  I felt very lost on the large campus environment in spite of the small town atmosphere in which it is nestled- “Auburn- The Loveliest Village of the Plains.”   It was difficult for me there.  I found myself gaining a considerable amount of weight, engaged in demands upon me that were uncomfortable and often felt beyond my abilities.  I worked at Ralph Draughon Library as part of work-study financial aid that year. It was named in honor of Dr. Ralph Brown Draughon, president of Auburn University from 1947 to 1965 who was the moving force behind the construction of the original portion of the Library. It is listed in a Reader’s Digest selection of “Most Impressive Libraries in Every State” as THE standout library in Alabama both for its design and its extensive collections.

Although I went through the sorority “rush” activities and was accepted into Delta Zeta, I only participated actively for a year and never fully felt that I really got connected there even though I was voted the Pledge of the Year, surprisingly.  None of those sorority friendships except one has journeyed through the years beyond on my life’s path.  One of the things that was given to me as a pledge was a handmade pink and green felt turtle pillow with “DZ” on its back.  I kept it for years.  I think it finally found its way into a box with other stuffed animals and toys bound for a thrift store as Bill and I moved about after our kids grew up.

Today I was thinking about that pink and green felt turtle as I wrote about 2020  being the Year of the Turtle, inspired by a young friend, Bryson Campbell, who, along with his mother, has discovered the joy of slower living in the midst of post-Hurricane Michael recovery and more recently, the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown.  Many a day I have picked up or delivered Bryson and his twin sisters to the Bay County Public Library.  That is one thing I have had in common with Bryson.  I spent a lot of time in the library of my small town, Cuthbert, Georgia.  Many summer days I spent there reading and enjoying the soft noises of people coming and going.  Later, when I lived ten miles away in Shellman, I looked forward to the weekly trips of the library’s bookmobile as it delivered treasures to me when it was no longer possible for me to ride my bicycle to the library.

Bryson and his mother have been engaging with Florida “cooter” turtles in the pond at the apartment complex where they have been living while awaiting the renovation of their family’s home following Hurricane Michael. There are so many things that look like coincidences in life.  But sooner or later we begin to realize that God has been bringing certain people, situations, and themes into our lives for a reason.  If one is attentive, many lessons may be learned from what God allows to come our way, even hurricanes and viral pandemics.

Turtles have been an ongoing part of my life.  In some ways, at some times, I have identified with “turtle-ish-ness”.  At other times, I have identified with characteristics of other animals…. elephants, bumblebees, cardinals, eagles, giraffes, even zebras.  I guess if I carved each one on a stick, I would have my own “totem” pole….. representing the animals in my life whose characteristics have resonated with me as I grew and looked around me for my identity.

God has shown us many ways of the animals in The Bible and has commended the ways of nature to us for lessons in life.  “Observe the ways of the ant”….”consider the lilies”…. “see how our Enemy prowls about like a roaring lion”…. “like a tree by a river”…. God reveals aspects of Himself and of our own selves to us through His Creation. He is pleased when we observe it and enjoy it.  In fact, as I sang along with Christian praise songs, worshipped God and enjoyed the early morning sunrise and the variety of flora and fauna I observed one March morning in 1997, I exclaimed, “Surely, God, you have created the beauty of this world for your glory and my delight!”  In that split moment, as my joy over the beauty of that spring morning spilled from my heart and tongue, the Lord spoke to me and said simply, “Tell others.”

I have a collection of small turtle figures and other marine-life mementoes given to me by various people or that have simply found their way into my life one way or another.  They are gathered in a round, flat-bottomed woven basket and sit on a table in our living room.  I am divvying up some of that collection to share with my young friend, inducting him, as it were, into the Turtle Herd.  There are quite a few of us in the Herd, I have come to see.

I like to discover the names used to refer to gathered groups. One birding enthusiast, Nicholas Lund, notes in an Audubon Society article from December 1, 2015, “As familiar as they are, these little nicknames for groups of animals—terms of venery, if you want to get fancy with it—are supposedly delightful quirks of the English language.”  We do have some strange collective nouns for such things in the English language!  Some of the collective nouns appear to reflect the character or reveal something about the habitat of the animal.

After a number of inquiries, Lund wrote, “Scientists do not use terms of venery. These things exist in a world of their own, where bar trivia is king. …… Maybe an investigation into the origins of the terms is warranted. After all, these dumb names must have come from somewhere, right?  They did—the Middle Ages. The earliest known collection of terms of venery (an archaic term for “hunting”) is in the Book of Saint Albans, a kind of handbook on manliness first published in 1486. Included among chapters on “hawking” and “the blasing of arms” was a list of “the Compaynys of Beestys and Fowlys,” where many of our common terms of venery made their first appearances. “Pride of lions” is in there, along with a “flock of sheep” and “herd of deer.” I’ll admit that it makes sense for hunters to employ these terms. They’re out looking for groups of different kinds of animals…….
Terms of venery are, and always have been, whimsy. They’re a lark (and a whole list of such terms is, therefore, an exaltation of larks), applied at one time to groups of commonly-hunted animals but then extended for fun to groups of people.”

Some terms reflect the tendency of certain animals to naturally live in small groups, like “pod” or “troop” or “colony” or “gang”.   Others reflect characteristics observed about the particular species, like “cackle” or “prickle” or “nest”.   Still others reveal behaviors common to a species, like “tower” or “skulk” or “prowl” or “pride”.

Here are a few:

  • a murder of crows
  • a bed of sloths
  • a troop of monkeys
  • a colony of bats
  • a gang of buffalo
  • a caravan or train of camels
  • a clowder of cats
  • a mob of cattle
  • a litter of puppies
  • a pack of wolves
  • a pod of dolphins
  • a pace of donkeys
  • a parade or memory of elephants
  • a skulk or earth of foxes
  • a tower of giraffes
  • a drove of goats
  • an array of hedgehogs
  • a cackle or clan of hyenas
  • a shadow or prowl of jaguars
  • a troop of kangaroos
  • a kindle of kittens
  • a pride of lions
  • a smack of jellyfish
  • a pack of mules
  • a raft of otters
  • a drove of oxen
  • a passel of pigs
  • a prickle of porcupines
  • a colony of prairie dogs
  • a nest or down or rabbits
  • a gaze of raccoons
  • a crash of rhinos
  • a harem of seals
  • a scurry of squirrels
  • a pod of whales
  • a dazzle or zeal of zebras

Recently, social media has begun to label certain types of dysfunctional, quirky, or weird women as “Karens”.  When challenged to come up with a collective noun to describe a group of “Karens” one interesting word put forth was cavalcade.  That collective noun made me laugh.  It sounded like a traveling dance troupe.  I could just hear the announcer, with the voice of Ed McMahon announcing the next act on the Johnny Carson “Tonight Show” …..Please welcome  “The Captivating Cavalvade of Quirky Karens!”

As I have thought about the individuals and  groups with which I have been associated through my life, the collectives of people and the descriptions one might apply to them, I can see that I myself am an eclectic mix of the characteristics that one might observe among the people from those groups.  It is an odd concoction.  Some characteristics have arisen of late.  Others long ago faded into the distance as I became the person observed by most today.  But even so, they are still part of who I am, hidden or bidden, because they are part of what has made me “me.”  I am grateful for the patchworked pattern of my life and the people, places, and things,….  and even the perplexities, paradoxes, and problems that have marked my journey.

“Birds of a feather flock together.”  We seek out others like ourselves.  Or we find them.  Or they find us.  If we are blessed, we recognize that God has placed us among them, or them among us, for His own special purposes… to be salt and light in one another’s worlds.

And all of this just further affirms another ancient observation, we gather among those like ourselves.  Or is it that we become like those among whom we gather?   Either way, I know that God has a reason for the “divine appointments” He makes in our lives’ appointment books. If not for us, perhaps for the other person.  Some we keep.  Some we miss.  Some are permanent and recurring.  Some we simply quit attending.  When we are too busy to consult with God to ask which conflicting appointments He wants us to attend, we may find ourselves at the wrong huddle, asking ourselves, “Now, remind me, Why am I here?”   The answer to that question needs to come from the Divine Appointment Maker.  And if we cannot hear His voice in our ear reminding us whose we are, whom we are representing, and why we are there we may need to retreat to a place of quiet, like a library, and start reading again until we begin to have the mind of Christ restored to us so that we can be fully present to the day given to us by God!  Beginning my day reading the Bible or reading the revelations of God around us in His Creation is a wonderful way to start the day.