Stacey Couch celebrates Wild Gratitude's 10th Anniversary

Celebrating Wild Gratitude’s 10th Anniversary!

Time to Celebrate! TEN Years of Wild Gratitude!

Big milestones! Ten years ago on November 1st, I officially registered Wild Gratitude LLC as a business, AND ten years ago on November 3rd, my memoir Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks was published.

Let me catch you up… in that time I’ve:

  • Built a part-time practice into a full-time business encompassing spirituality, archetypes, and shamanism.
  • Worked with clients in over 30 countries worldwide and 48 states in the US
  • Helped connect 1000s of readers, clients, and students to the Divine and nature in a deeper way through writing, services, and workshops
  • Conducted over 60 talks, radio and podcast interviews
  • Written over 170 articles for my blog
  • Sold over 1,400 copies and counting of my book
  • And this is just the short list!

It’s been a long, tiring and wild ride of highs and lows with gobs of uncertainty, no shortage of stress, and some tough lessons learned. 

And it’s all been TOTALLY worth it! I love this business, this work, and the people I get to work with more every day. I am excited to continue on and see what the next decade has in store.

For starters, there are FOUR big changes in the works:

  1. Logo Makeover – Check out below to see the old and new colors for my logo. The new logo will start popping up everywhere I am.
  2. New Professional Portraits – A couple are included in this newsletter. Watch for more on my website and social media.
  3. Totally New Website – Tentatively set for launch in December 2023. With a whole new feel and faster functionality.
  4. New Newsletter – A subscription based service to support my writing is set to launch by January 2024.

Thank you, as always, for all of your feedback and support over the years. I’m so grateful to be a part of this beautiful, global community.

With Gratitude,

stacey couch spiritual advisor

new and old wild gratitude spiritual advisor services logo

Introducing… My New Logo!

Did you know that I designed my original logo with paper, a ruler, and permanent markers (see below)? I’ve always loved the digital translation of that original idea, and the colors were a quick pick based on the permanent marker colors I had at the time. With the new website on the way, I figured I might as well play with the color palate of the logo and get more intentional.

The deep red color of the new logo (see above) speaks of the Philosopher’s Stone in alchemy, the vital, multiplying life force that delights in the beauty of the world. This color is also of the earth, bringing grounding.The red and fuchsia feather are a nod to our feathered friends, especially the Northern Flicker woodpecker. The light blue star and whirls speak to the air element and Spirit. The turquoise flame / leaf speaks to the connection to both fire and nature.

And here is the original sketch I drew of my logo…

wild gratitude original logo sketch

gracious wild book

Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawk’s Birthday!

My memoir, Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks was written between 2006-2007. It wasn’t until 2013 that I found a publisher and got to see it in print in autumn of that year. Some projects take a very long time and a lot of patience. Now that the book is out there, it’s had great staying power and a steady readership for ten years. If you haven’t read it yet, it’s available at all major booksellers.


Buy Gracious Wild


Want to celebrate with me and share your appreciation for Wild Gratitude and what it’s brought to your life? Your gifts will help support Wild Gratitude make this big transition into the next phase and decade of service.

You can mail a physical card or gift to: Wild Gratitude, Attn: Stacey Couch, P.O. Box 2919, Pagosa Springs, CO 81147, USA
Monetary gifts can go to…
Venmo – @wildgratitude 
Paypal –

Thank you for all of the ways, big and small, you’ve supported Wild Gratitude over the years.



gretchen gracious wild

In Memory: Gretchen the Shamanic Cat

It has taken me days to get to a space where I can share some very, very sad news. We laid our beloved black cat Gretchen to rest recently at the ripe old age of 18. Many of you know her as the black kitty I found under the trailer at a wildlife rescue I worked at because you’ve read my memoir Gracious Wild.

She’s Always Been There

Even though few people have had the benefit of meeting her in person, her elegant and gorgeous spirit changed many lives, mine especially. She was there at the very start of my spiritual awakening and was my rock during the confusion, fear and uncertainty that venturing into the mystery brings. I can’t begin to explain all she contributed to my transformation and, thus, the work I now do for others.

She traveled with me cross country to pursue my dream of becoming a shamanic practitioner. She rode in my lap through the writing, publishing and promotion of my book and sat patiently with me through the nervous first years of starting a new business. Many of you heard her voice over the phone as we sat in session. She strode by my side as I wandered through a dark night of the soul. She knew how to be a true soul companion. Of all the souls I’ve befriended in my life, she was one of the most impactful.

Gretchen’s Legacy

From Gretchen I learned about outrageous strength, immense courage, unyielding companionship, and a miraculous survival instinct. That girl wanted to live and live she did through at least three near death experiences. If ever there was a shamanic cat it was her. She entered the land of the dead and came back again, endured the initiations of intense pain and starvation, and seamlessly navigated into the spirit world. And she was a darn good cuddler, ridiculously affectionate and overwhelmingly demonstrative. I always knew how much she loved me and it was a lot. No door could remain closed to her including any door in our hearts.

The last couple years with her have been tough. I’ve waited on her hand and foot, knowing my second job to be her butler. When she wanted to eat for the sixth time a day I fed her. When she demanded my lap, she got it. When she made a mess on the floor, I cleaned it. When she stood purring in my face too early in the morning, even on weekends, I got up and fed her before doing anything else. I have never been so selflessly immersed for so long in the servitude of anyone. It was humbling and taxing, but nothing compared to what she persevered through to survive and stay with us. That cat wanted to live because she loved her life. What a compliment it was.

Oh how badly I miss her melodic voice, her pushy but irresistible nature, and her huge presence. She only weighed ten pounds but she took up the whole house. She was a black panther spirit animal born as a house cat. She was the queen overseeing it all, the bully demanding access into our hearts even though it was a given she had it, the shaman moving between worlds, our savior in so many ways, and the goddess channeling the divine feminine with more sass than anyone I know.

Each animal I’ve been the caregiver for in my life has been special, but this one takes the cake. She rules supreme. I love them all infinitely. This gal just looms largest. It was in her nature.

The New Initiation

Of course I know our relationship will continue on in spirit. You don’t need to reassure me of that. I know she will live on in my heart and all of those things we say to the grieving.

For now I am allowing myself to be with the grief, to not sugar coat it or gloss over it, to not refuse its entry into my heart. Gretchen is worth grieving over, ten times over. She is worth memorializing and remembering for a long time to come. She would ask nothing less of me then to face this death head on and not shy away from the pain, knowing that the only way out is through. So I am allowing this initiation of the pain of her loss to be her last gift to me, tempering my heart and my soul to the forces of life and death, reminding me of the preciousness and invaluable gift of my life and my loves. To endure pain like this and still love and still embrace life with vigor is the example she set for me that I intend to follow to the letter.

She is buried under oak brush facing east in the same valley as my white mare Legend. Her beautiful, sleek black body is wrapped in a soft white blanket with the very first copy of Gracious Wild I ever held. I have a picture of me holding her and the book five years ago realizing what we had created together.

gretchen gracious wild

Over her I scattered rose petals from a bouquet a client sent as a thank you. All of the gratitude from my clients belongs to Gretchen too because without her I wouldn’t be what I am today. She passed with my husband’s and my hands on her. Once upon a time it was just the three of us. She’s been our guiding light, the glue that’s held us together with a shared history. We wept and wept some more. Gosh how much she is missed. The mornings are the hardest. This one will take awhile.

Please do both she and I a favor… instead of saying that you’re sorry and saying you hope I feel better, use this as a reminder to dive headlong into your life and into your love. Don’t take no for an answer. Be ferociously loving and incredibly tough. Commit to persevering against the odds. Keep going. Don’t give up. Don’t let the unknown, the mystery of what lies ahead, frighten you. Be bold. Be the brilliance you know yourself to be during the hardship. Know courage and soak up every last drop of what this life has to give you. Gretchen wouldn’t have it any other way and neither would I.


An Excerpt from Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks –
Meeting Gretchen

At the end of October when the rains and gloom of fall were upon us I stood in the clinic kitchen, preparing Graccia’s [the red-tailed hawk] meal. I heard a faint meowing from outside. Among the many creature voices at a wildlife rehabilitation center, this one was unheard. Wildlife rehabbers, as a rule, despise outdoor cats. Willow Brook admitted hundreds of wild animals a year, particularly birds and rabbits, that perished from bacterial infections as a direct result of cat bites or scratches. When a cat ventured to step onto the property, she usually heeded the general sentiment at the center and remained unseen.

I could only take about five minutes of the incessant whining from underneath the kitchen window before I opened the back door and wandered out into the mist to discover the source. The clinic was actually a mobile home trailer turned into a medical center, and one of the panels that closed off the space underneath the trailer had fallen off. I followed the meowing to the hole below and found a skinny black cat timidly staring out at me. Her coat was as black as the great void and her yellow eyes were bright enough to pierce any darkness. She crouched and meowed and begged. I saw that someone had put a blanket and bowls of food and water in her makeshift home. I didn’t understand how she could still be so upset. I figured she’d either been abandoned or lost. I knelt down and gently reached to pet her. She met my hand and burst into a melody of purring. My heart was instantly enthralled…

My heart beamed. I understood. This was the second gift my beloved friend [the harrier hawk named “Thalia”] from the other side had for me. It was not enough that Thalia sent me her power animal, the black panther, to work with me in spirit. Apparently, she felt I deserved the assistance of an incarnate being.

I walked out of the raptor barn with Graccia on my glove to see the bold, talkative black cat meet eyes with the red-tail. The few moments they stood staring into each other’s eyes inextricably linked their souls together. Neither broke their stare until I turned to walk off with Graccia…

For a number of months before I met the black cat, I actually had an unexplained yearning to bring a cat into our family. I had adopted a newfound fascination with the beasts. As a child, I was hopelessly allergic to cats, so much so that I couldn’t even visit the houses of cat owners. But now, somehow, I knew that my affliction was healed and it was time.

I asked my husband, Chris, to join me on a trip out to the wildlife center to meet the cat and hopefully help me bring her home. We made our way through the pitch black, rainy night down the path to the clinic. He couldn’t really get a good look or feel for her because she blended into the darkness so flawlessly, so I brought her inside. She proceeded to wander around the clinic crying. Chris could see that I was already in love with the cat and, although he didn’t find her particularly charming as she yowled aimlessly, he agreed to bring her home.

We tried to shove her in a kennel, but she fought us, fiercely pushing against the kennel and squirming. Eventually, Chris picked her up, tucked her into his coat, and carried her home that way… As we took her into our family and brought her back to full health she returned the favor two-fold.

I had a companion in my home that shared a slice of this new world I was entering. She came as a gift from my dear friend Thalia and had been face to face with my beloved sister Graccia. Every time I buried my fingers in the feline’s black fur or glimpsed into her moonlit eyes, I was linking back up with the wild ones. For this reason, I decided to name her in the spirit of one of the hawks. We called her Gretchen.


stacey couch red-tailed hawk

10th Anniversary: Remembering Graccia the Red-Tailed Hawk

Since the red-tailed hawk Graccia’s passing on September 17, 2005, I have noticed the coming and going of this date. It always causes me to stop and look at what is moving in my life. I am reminded to find meaning in the now like I did on that day.

On the 10th anniversary of her crossing over, the date has astrological significance. Mercury is going retrograde. This means a time for reflection is coming upon us. We’ll be challenged to look at our lives symbolically and turn inwards for a time. My friend Saturn is moving out of secretive Scorpio and into optimistic Sagittarius that day as well. I personally have found myself held tightly to reconciling old shadows from the past and am glad to move into a more upward facing perspective, albeit the tension between realist Saturn and idealist Sagittarius may prove interesting.

That aside, anniversaries are significant events that carry meaning in our lives. Passing the ten year mark puts life in perspective. So much has transpired since then. I’ve written and published a book about Graccia and my story for one. During the process it felt like forever, but now looking back I can’t believe it came to pass in such a short time.

It is hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since I last held Graccia. I still miss being with her in the flesh. She visits me in spirit every now and then which is a gift.

It is absolutely amazing to me how many people Graccia’s spirit has put me in touch with. To date, my article about Red-tailed Hawk Spirit Animal that features Graccia has over 80 comments from people around the world that have had their own encounters with red-tails. There are thousands of website visits a month to that page, more than any other page on my website. I feel the tangible results of her support in this very visible and magical way.

In memory of this special red-tail, I am sharing one of my favorite, simple memories of our time together. When in an intimate relationship with an animal, it is often the small moments that bring us closest. [ct_separator title=”From the chapter ‘On Healing Wounds'” icon=”” style=”normal” color=”” top=”” ][/ct_separator]When Graccia first entered into the raptor education program, I started habituating her to my touch. I did this by softly laying the tips of my fingers on the tops of her toes. She would only tolerate a moment or two of this before moving her foot out from under my fingers and fussing. I would quietly move my hand away. It was important that I never flinch or startle when in such close contact with her. To do so could have meant talons stuck through my skin or losing the trust Graccia had afforded me. Every day I made a point of putting my skin in contact with hers. In a steady way we made progress to the point where she eventually didn’t mind me laying my entire palm over her foot for extended periods. This also meant that she trusted me enough to allow me to pick up and manipulate her toes. This was a great exercise in confidence building. We both came to believe that one wouldn’t harm the other.

The more captive raptors allow their handlers to examine them with touch, the safer they are. If a handler  can freely examine and move the raptor’s feet, she can regularly check for sores. This means that foot sores are caught early on before they become a serious problem… Raptor trainers also like to be able to feel a bird’s keel, otherwise known as their breastbone. This is [a] good place to get a hint of the bird’s body temperature, and an even better place to check the bird’s body mass and condition. I found that Graccia easily accepted my fingers along her keel once she was accustomed to me working with her feet (see picture above where I’m feeling Graccia’s keel).

All of this groundwork was complete by the time Graccia’s foot sores appeared, so I hoped she would be relatively nonchalant about me applying the tincture to her feet… it was hard to predict what would happen…

The pouch I carried on my hip typically held a sandwich bag of Graccia’s daily meal, a leash or two, a hand cloth, and some small hardware. Now I had a collection of cotton swabs and a bottle of tincture shoved in there too. This didn’t sound like much until I had to manage it all with one hand.

First I had to sort through the pouch to pull out Graccia’s leash and swivel to leash her up and get her out. Then I weighed her and walked her outside… She settled in as I walked her down the path to a waist-high platform. I fished out the bottle and a few cotton swabs and set them out on the platform. The liquid remedy was really sticky, which made the lid hard to pry off with both hands. With only one hand to do so, I was critically challenged. Graccia stood with a puzzled look in her eye as she watched me bite my lip and contort my right arm around the bottle. I laughed at myself with relief when the lid finally twisted loose.

The first time I lifted a white stick tipped with brown goo to her feet, she was unfazed and even curious. She turned her head sideways and bent down, saying, “What’s that?” with her body language. Instead of acting like I was tearing her leg off, she made a sort of comedy act out of the whole thing. Sure, she flinched when I rubbed or pressed on the sores, but she remedied the discomfort by casually moving her foot away from my hand. When I lifted my hand back up to treat another sore, she reached down and grabbed a hold of the cotton swab with her beak. I chuckled, let go of the cotton swab, and watched her stand there with it in her mouth. She got this ridiculous look on her face as if she forgot why she wanted it so badly. It reminded me of a puppy that finally wins a tug of war. The toy never looks so great when no one else wants it. In disgust, she dropped the cotton swab and I started all over with a new one.

Sometimes she bent down to nibble my fingers as I worked. The tickle of her beak on my skin made me giggle. I had no problem getting plenty of the tincture on each of her sores and had loads of entertainment in  the process. Graccia had managed, once again, to offer humor as healing. With steady treatments over a course of a couple months the sores on her toes disappeared completely and my utter distaste for treating wounds vanished with them.

“We love you, we are you, thank you, Gracious One.”


gracious wild book by stacey couch

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

fox tracks

The Last Wild Fox: A Lost & Found Story

In every book that’s been written some pieces of the story don’t make the printed page. I kept what was cut from the manuscript of Gracious Wild knowing that someday I could post these bits for loyal fans to enjoy. I am delighted to say, that day has come. How amazing is that?

In this unpublished excerpt, I share the story of a mysterious wild fox that appeared and disappeared seemingly at will from the island I lived on. The there she is and now she’s gone again saga only covers a few hundred words in this telling, but it was a main thread running throughout my contemplations on the island over the course of my time there. My mind and my soul wandered the island like she did still awake to the wild, still unkept by captivity.

It also seems quite a premonition that I named her “Mustang” seeing that now I own two actual mustangs. I couldn’t have even articulated so long ago that there was a desire within my heart to come into contact with wild horses. It was a dream I dare not know because it seemed far to fanciful. So too was the dream to take up shamanism. I am overwhelmed with gratitude that both dreams were, with time, allowed into form.

This little wild fox was those dreams in me, a ghost, a flicker out of the corner of my eye. Thank the heavens she was there and then she wasn’t and then she was to help keep my hope alive.

The Last Wild Fox

I frequently doubted if this genetic line of foxes would ever run free on the island again, but I had one reason to hope. Among the biologists that ran the captive breeding program there was a myth about a female fox that eluded all attempts to trap and track her.

fox tracks

Photo: Mysterious tracks found in the sand high up on a hill on the island. I imagined they were tracks of the last wild fox no one could see or capture.

Early on, while exploring the island I found evidence of her existence. I found a series of tracks in the sand that ended in a pounce and were followed by a pile of scat. In my excitement at finding proof of the ghost fox I decided to name her. It made the story more interesting. I named her Mustang. My heart ran free in the moments I had to dream about her roaming the untamable, open landscape.

My fiancé and I liked to spend our limited time on the phone weaving intricate tales about Mustang’s exploits on the island. These sagas would typically close in silence. In the end, she was walled off from her kind, sentenced to a life of solitude. We didn’t know if we preferred freedom and solitude over captivity and company, but Mustang had made her choice.

Sometime in the spring while I was hiking out to the northwest point of the island I nearly stepped on a disheartening omen on the trail. The bones that lay in the bare sand were the picked clean spine, pelvis, and femur of a fox. Was this my darling Mustang? Had she finally succumbed to her mortality and left the realm of legends? I combed the area for more information, maybe a skull or tuft of fur or ID tag. There was nothing. I sent the incomplete carcass back to the mainland for analysis and a few days later they published a story in the local newspaper speculating that the last wild fox of the island was no more. I largely forgot about the roaming mistress and focused on downy harrier chicks and fluffy fox pups, but in the depths of my heart I still held out hope.

We had monitoring devices set up on the trails that counted everything that passed through them including ravens and hikers and, when they were wild, foxes. The trigger on the devices was linked to a camera. I would regularly check the statistics on the counters and replenish the film in the cameras when needed.

One afternoon when I was off the island, I went to pick up a roll of film I’d gotten developed. I flipped through the empty frames quickly scanning for anything of interest and then to my absolute delight saw fox hind legs and tail lit by the camera’s flash. Mustang had not been alone. This opened the door to the possibility that she was still alive and if there were two foxes we couldn’t catch, there could be others. My ability to dream up fantastic stories had free license to roam.

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

horse gracious wild

In Memory: Caruso’s Puer Spirit

There is one character in my book Gracious Wild that I didn’t have enough pages to share about. That is the small, sweet chestnut Arabian horse named “Caruso”. The only mention he gets in the book is a brief telling of our least glamorous moment together when he tripped and I came off of him. Then in the epilogue, I touch on the heartache of saying goodbye to my friend. I am coming back around full circle to remember my time with him as he passed away recently.

Caruso was not the first horse I ever rode. I actually learned to ride on a sweet Morgan/Arab cross bay mare named Kami. She took fantastic care of me and helped me build my confidence because, I have to admit, for as much as I wanted to be with and ride horses, I was intimidated by them. They were big and unpredictable and I was old enough to know I wasn’t invincible.

Part of being a gentle, quiet horse meant that to some degree Kami ignored a lot of her rider’s cues and was on the slower side. After a couple of months of riding lessons it became clear that I was ready for a horse with more “go”. I understood how to give more subtle cues and had developed a better seat. My riding instructor Jamie, who reminded me of a sweet fairy godmother, was already cooking up a plan.

Getting to Know Caruso

Jamie had once owned Caruso and had him as part of her herd of lesson horses. When her health began to suffer she had to pare down her herd and one of her students, a teenage girl suffering with depression, was in love with him. The girl’s parents purchased Caruso for her and at first all went well. Eventually though, her life got overwhelming or some such thing and she had less time for her horse. Caruso was still at the same stable, stalled right next to his friends. It tore away at Jamie to see him stand in a 10×10 stall all day long with nothing to do.

She had permission to employ Caruso in her lesson program and was also searching for a person to lease him to help with his expenses. I was willing to get to know the friendly guy and was tenuously interested in having more “ownership” of a horse. Immediately, I was challenged to up my horsemanship in his company. With Caruso’s sensitivity, cleverness and high energy, I had to know what I was asking, ask clearly, and stick to my word. If I was uncertain or unclear he, in his quick-witted way, would simply do something else and fast. Caruso, like many Arabs, was very busy.

Caruso’s adrenaline could elevate at a moment’s notice. I got very nervous when he got excited and, just like when the hawks Thalia or Graccia got agitated, I was pushed to go past the point of freezing and find confident action. When Caruso got excited during a lesson all was well and good. Jamie would coach me through it and her voice alone would help me find my footing. The trial began when I started leasing him and taking him out alone. This was a huge accomplishment for me to have the permission to take a horse out, tack him up, and ride him all by myself. It was also really scary.

The “what if’s” plagued me endlessly. What if he got away from me? What if he got hurt? What if I got hurt? What if other people saw me unable to control him? Caruso didn’t worry. He was who he was. Years later now looking back, I plainly see that Jamie knew what she was doing. Caruso was a bit excitable and could sometimes be mischievous, but after knowing over a hundred other horses, I can say that he was a safe horse for me to learn with because he genuinely cared about my well-being.

Caruso’s Gift and Reward

I had to learn self-assurance and I wasn’t going to unless it was tested. After many independent outings, I was an exceptionally better horse handler than I ever could have imagined. Caruso gave that to me. I would not have had the confidence to apply to work at a horse rescue had it not been for what he taught me. There are dozens upon dozens of frightened horses that I was hands-on in rescuing from starvation, abuse and neglect. I had to draw from that Caruso’s teaching and offer the horses what he once gave me, confidence and compassion.

Shortly after Gracious Wild ended and I moved away from Caruso, he was bought by a dear friend of mine for both herself and her son. Her family took him in and showered him with attention. He so deserved that forever home. He had many great years in their company with the utmost in care. I couldn’t have imagined anything better for him. I feel there was so much of that horse I didn’t get to know in the short time we had together, and my friend had the awesome opportunity to take in the greatness of his being. My heart and prayers go out to my friend for her heart-breaking loss.

For me I find a tenderness in his passing and a reassurance in him already showing up in spirit to help in my work. Reflecting back on my time with Caruso reminds me that every life that touches ours matters.

The Puer Spirit

The name “Caruso” means “close-cropped” in Italian and years ago came to generally mean “boy” because younger men tended to wear their hair shorter. Caruso had long hair, but he did have that puer spirit. According to Thomas Moore, “Puer is the face of the soul that is boyish,” and Caroline Myss says of the puer eternis spirit manifest that it is “a determination to remain young in mind, body and spirit.” Peter Pan is a perfect depiction of the puer spirit. The puer spirit wishes to fly about the labyrinth of adult life and into the unfettered playground of the Gods.

We don’t often think of teachers as young and boyish, but this one of mine was. When Caruso was excited he was a puer spirit flying like a kite at the end of my rope. I was worried because I didn’t have control. He was elated because he had space to run. There was a teasing part of Caruso’s nature that reminds me still not to take life so seriously, to let go and have fun.

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

Angel of Fiery Red Trees

This excerpt from Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks is near the end of the book and shares some of my most intimate and beautiful moments with the red-tailed hawk named “Graccia”. Graccia is an ambassador bird trained to work with people and go on public speaking occasions to help raise awareness about the value of raptors and wildlife. She went on an average of one presentation a month, but I trained her daily which meant that many of our times together were actually spent alone walking outdoors.

Around sunset a couple days later, everything was cast in a shade of autumn. I shot a few photos of Graccia in her mews. The loud manual shutter of my thirty-year old camera seemed to startle her as the click bounced off the walls in her small room. Once she was outside on her post the shutter was easily absorbed by the landscape. Graccia paid it no mind. I spent about a half an hour standing at various angles to the gracious hawk, aiming to catch both her mood and the feel of the amber sunlight moving through the trees onto her lovely adult coat. I wanted to remember every inch of her: her sweet little toes, her multi-colored leopard skin cape, her soft cream and russet breast, her daring stare, her divinely red tail. By now she only had one baby brown feather left in that sweeping fan of a tail. This was her at her finest, a radiating, blinding light of joy, love, and gratitude. She was ablaze. She was the goddess of autumn, the angel of fiery red trees and deep golden grasses.

I took off my glove and laid it on the ground for a time. I’m not sure Graccia had ever gotten a chance to see my bare left hand. She was curious to watch how and where it moved. I used this opportunity to snap photos of her turning her head just so as she watched my left hand dance at my side. A flighted red-tail called from above. Graccia cocked her ear towards the voice. I clicked another shot. I turned the lens upward to focus on the dot of a hawk against the clear, blue sky and pressed down on the shutter. The wild hawk drifted up and out of sight. I circled Graccia and captured the last rays of sunlight basking on her tail.

On occasion I asked Graccia to hop to my glove. She chirped and cried over the beloved bits of quail. While she stood on my glove I leaned over and touched my nose to her right wing to draw in her smell. I adored her scent and did this as often as I could think to during our last times together. She smelled like a soft bed, a late summer wind, like leaves crunching under your feet. In those breaths of hawk I’d see mountains from above. The story of the world is told in the aroma of red-tail.

I felt along her smooth toes and ebony talons. I ran my fingers up her keel, dancing them through her thick down. She adoringly nibbled back on my hand. The daylight began to fade and I felt the eyes of the ominous wild great horned owls wandering our way. I went to take her in before her baby cries for food brought the owl’s talons to us.

On our next outing together, Graccia and I walked through many of the tasks she had learned during our year together. I asked her to the glove without food and she thought nothing of it. I set her on the scale and she stood there quietly while I read the numbers. I backed her into her travel box and she calmly stepped inside. She did all of these tasks skillfully without food reward. This was the measure of an accomplished ambassador bird. I was pleased. Serving me was apparently reward enough for Graccia. Her weight was surprisingly low and she was very hungry despite the glut of food we’d been serving her. I surmised that she was using a lot of calories trying to generate half a set of primary feathers on one wing. I took her into the clinic kitchen to prepare a mouse to chase the quail she’d already eaten. Her usual apprehension over the clinic was absent. She waited patiently as I thawed and prepped the mouse with my one free hand.

We walked out to the fencepost perch in the dim blue light fading from the day. Usually Graccia was fidgety this time of the evening. I often teased her when she’d get edgy in this light—“we need to get you inside before you turn into a pumpkin.” Now it was pumpkin season and Graccia was unconcerned. We stood for a short time, her on the post and me at her side. We faced the three-quarter moon rising over the harvest season. There was a chorus of great horned owl voices carrying from the woods nearby. We listened to the haunting hoots. I kept my eyes sharp for the ghostly owls. I could easily sense that we were walking a razor’s edge between the worlds. The remaining refracted sunlight held us in one world and the voices of ghosts beckoned us towards another. I was at once comforted and uneasy. The landscape and moonlight were enchanting. The nearby nighttime predators were disconcerting. I hurriedly called Graccia back and forth from the perch to the glove until her meal was finished, and hastily turned from the dark woods to carry her back to her mews.

Read more excerpts from Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks

“Split in the Canvas” from Gracious Wild

In this excerpt from my book Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I share the story of the first time that the northern harrier hawk named Thalia came flying to land on my glove. Thalia lived at a wildlife rehabilitation center where she’d been trained to work with humans to do bird of prey education programs. I was learning how to work with her to become her caretaker. Annie was Thalia’s current custodian who was handing the reins over to me… 

One afternoon in warm spring weather, I met Annie out at Willow Brook. This was to be our last day together with Thalia because Annie was leaving to do field research for the summer. I had asked her to meet with me not only because I wanted a chance to say goodbye, but also because I wanted hands-on instruction on how to fly Thalia.

I walked with Annie as she carried Thalia down the road to the corridor lawn and A-frame perch. She walked me through the procedure for hooking the flying line up to Thalia’s jesses and narrated as she called Thalia to her glove a handful of times. Thalia was focused and obedient, hitting the mark every time. I watched and listened, diligently trying to pick up every nuance of Annie’s methods. I’d seen this all before, but would now have to put it to use.

Annie set the brunette hawk on the perch and walked over to hand me the pouch of food and flying line. I made sure to get everything set up as I needed it. We watched the harrier out of the corner of our eyes to make sure she was still. Thalia sat nonchalantly, facing straight ahead.

I walked in an arch to a point twenty to twenty-five feet away and turned my back to the bird. I kept my hands in front of me and out of her view while stuffing a large chunk of meat into my gloved hand. I double-checked the line to make sure it was firmly under my left foot. Both of my feet were firmly planted in the grass, shoulder width apart. There was little room for doubt here. Thalia wouldn’t think of flying towards a shred of fear. I took a breath in and let it out, feeling my energy sink into the ground. If I’m going to be a raptor perch, I need to stand rooted like a tree, I thought to myself. I raised my left hand out parallel to the ground, held steady, looked over my left shoulder, and whistled.

Thalia crouched, her body tense but lithe. Every feather on her body lay smooth in the instant before her wings extended and legs pushed off. Now she was five times the size I’d ever seen her before. I stood from the perspective of a mouse, surprised to a standstill. Her wings drew in and out with my breath. One beat and a quick glide. Two beats and I could feel her stare penetrate my soul. Stretched across my entire line of vision was this fabulous creature. Just as I was sure she was coming straight at my head, she rotated a fingertip. The sound of her feet hitting the leather of my glove was deafening. The clutch she had on my hand was crushing. I reminded my lungs to draw in air while the huntress devoured her prey.

This was a split in the canvas where the world around was no more and I stood with both feet in another. Here was the infinite spirit I knew lived within this crippled body. Through this vision she’d offered me a direct link to the vastness beyond the mundane. A sense of hope, which I hadn’t felt since I couldn’t remember how long, welled into the beaming smile on my face. I now held in my heart a true vision of my own soul along with that of my dear friend. She had leapt over that last gap between my true promptings and myself. What a miraculous gift. I carefully slipped back through the veil and turned to face Annie. She was smiling.

I repeated this profound exercise a handful more times until Thalia and I both lost our focus. It was exhausting to hold such sacredness amidst the weight of the reality we were bound to. She flew past my glove and landed in the grass beyond.

About Author, Stacey L. L. Couch

Stacey Couch shamanic practitionerStacey L. L. Couch, Certified Shamanic Practitioner, works as a publicist and journalist for Mother Nature and is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life’s big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing. With her deeply rooted experience in the field of shamanism and passion for working with wildlife and rescue animals, Stacey has a unique blend of rational and mystical perspective that makes the world of shamanism easily accessible to others. She values mindfulness, wonder, and compassion in her daily spiritual practice. Learn More about Stacey.

“Journey Circle” from Gracious Wild

In this excerpt from my book Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I share the story of the first time I ever taught a group to go on a shamanic journey. This was an incredibly frightening thing because the women I was teaching were of such high intellect and integrity. I was humbled by the fact that I could have anything of value to teach them and that they, these gorgeous, empowered women, would trust me with this piece of their process. For all of us, opening up to talk about matters of the soul was a rare and vulnerable experience. To this day, I have the same experience with every group that I teach. I am awestruck by everyone’s brilliance. I couldn’t be any more fortunate and it is amazing to think back ten years and see the amazing gift this seed planted on the evening of this story grew into. 

Five days before the meeting with my friends, to my complete shock and horror I came home to a full-blown construction site. My house sat on blocks with a three-foot trench dug around all sides. Parts of the foundation had already been jack-hammered away. There was a huge mound of dirt circling our home and the yard was littered with tools, supplies, trailers, and wood. I had left that morning to a quiet neighborhood, my house fully intact, with no warning that this was coming. The owners of the house we were renting had decided that three quarters of the house’s foundation should be torn out and replaced. I had no phone for twenty-four hours and no rest for days. The workers would come at 7 a.m., turn on their stereo, and start slamming away at the foundation underneath our bed where we slept. The noise upset our dog so much that I had to take him to work. Everything was thrown on its head.

Clearly, to create a sincere environment to house my new soul family, I needed to tear down my outdated foundation. All the beliefs I held true and dear in the world needed to go. I couldn’t guide a group into other worlds if I was fearfully holding on to this one. This message was coming through so plainly that it was manifesting everywhere I turned—physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.

My soul sister was also showing me how to release my roots. Graccia had moulted (shed) two of her old tail feathers in the center of her tail. By the time the three women I’d invited made it to my doorstep, I was down to bedrock. I had no idea what to expect and with no ground to stand on I placed my fate entirely in Spirit’s hands.

Like the beaver felling the tree, we began construction on the dam that would serve as the base of our new lodge. We gathered in my living room around a small candle on the wool sun deity blanket I’d spread out. My old yellow lab plopped down in the middle of the group,lavishing in lengthy belly rubs and occasional hugs.His fur collected in handfuls on the dark wool blanket.Everyone remarked on how soft his coat was and settled into comfortable conversation. We talked about the simplicities of the day and each woman, not knowing the other, settled into fresh relationships. Among the four of us we covered over twenty years, but in this room we regarded each other on level ground. My black cat Gretchen joined us, sauntering in from the bedroom on her long legs. She stretched out on the sofa overlooking the circle.

I began the evening by inviting each woman to talk about a place of honoring, meditation, or contemplation she may already have set up in her home. Quickly we learned that each one of us had, even if by happenstance, assembled an altar—a sacred space—in our homes. It was good to give voice to these places and to honor them in the circle. These spaces were quiet manifestations of our inner knowing, physical representations of life outside the mundane. Each woman spoke lovingly of these places and the support they’d received while being there.

I had a new set of animal cards that I unwrapped as we talked. I’m typically very superstitious with these decks of cards. The first card I see by mistake or on purpose is always the one I go with. While unwrapping the deck I carelessly turned it over and caught a glimpse of the bottom card. It was horse. This was perfect. I had journeyed the night before for instruction on how to advise my friends. One piece of guidance was to suggest each woman call in a horse to accompany her on her journey.

I pulled the card from the deck, and before I could lay it in the center of the circle, one friend, then the next, asked to see the picture on the card. As the card passed hands around the circle, we each shared about our relationship with horses. The room was split right down the middle between those who loved and those who wrote off horses. It was refreshing to hear the varied perspectives because in the mosaic of stories sat each woman in her truth. One friend asked me to give instructions on how to go on a shamanic journey. I hesitantly entered into lecture. These were my colleagues and mentors, and I found it hard to take a position of authority in the group. I quickly realized that I had information to offer that they couldn’t find many other places, and my friends valued it as much as I did.

I started by explaining the basic shamanic perspective of the cosmos. “There are generally believed to be three worlds,” I described, “lower world, middle world, and upper world. Lower world is generally of the earth and tangibles. Middle world is where we currently sit but free of time and space. Upper world is commonly of the ethers and subtleties.” We talked about power animals and helping spirits. I gave them a series of phrases to clarify the idea of helping spirits—“ancestors, angels, spirit guides, and archetypes.”

Each woman shared that she was already in a relationship with a power animal or helping spirit. None of them had visited a shaman or done a traditional shamanic journey. My friends had found their own ways to connect with Spirit. These women had vivid imaginations, which I explained was the key to the shamanic journey. They had already been journeying in their daytime and nighttime dreams, and it was my job to teach

them how to visit these spirits and places intentionally. I gave them the ground rules for safety, explained how to travel to these other worlds, and instructed them to ask their guides for help. “I will drum for about ten to fifteen minutes,” I told them, “and then I will give the callback beat, which sounds like this.” I played seven beats in three sets followed by a fast rumble beat, and ended with seven more beats in three sets. They all lay down, one around my yellow lab, another on the yellow lab’s bed, and another in between. I dimmed the lights and began playing my drum.

I was immediately enraptured by the sounds that rose out of each beat. The drum filled the room with twenty tones and moved the floor beneath us. Looking back, I jokingly feel fortunate that the vibrations didn’t send the house off the blocks. In all honesty, I did not play that drum. She played me for the twelve or so minutes my arm could keep up. All the hesitancy, fear, and anxiety I felt over holding a group of such high caliber was completely overwhelmed by the music of the beats. Whenever I’d start to get self-conscious, my drum would pull me right out or in, depending on where I needed to be.

Before befriending horses, people could only travel so far. Through the beat of my drum, our allegorical horse, my friends and I traveled into other worlds. We had experiences that spoke of light, letting go, finding balance, and moving forward. The metaphors in their journeys wove a natural web through the circle. Two saw a yellow light in the northwest. Another pair had the experience of being hollow and full, being split between left and right, being heavy and weightless. Three of us never made it onto our horse’s backs. We were all bewildered to one degree or another over our journey experiences, but  the compassion we extended into the circle held us all in a good way. It was no coincidence that on my journey that night I followed a spirit red-tailed hawk into another world. The magic Graccia brought into my life was apparently at work again.

gracious wild review

SageWoman Magazine Review of Gracious Wild

Gracious Wild Book Review by Paola Suarez in SageWoman Magazine Issue #86: Renewal & Rebirth

We are blessed to have red-tailed hawks nest in our local park. They share the rawness of nature when you see the remains of pigeons they have eaten or watch them swoop down to capture a squirrel. As I admire their beauty and strength, I also hold my six-pound dog close to me and shiver. Our red-tailed hawks are unapologetic about their roles as death bringers, as predators.

Death is a central theme to Stacey Couch’s Gracious Wild. Death of loved ones as a door into discovering one’s hidden potential. Death of expectations we have held for ourselves. Death of fears and ways of being that no longer serve us. Stacey weaves the spiritual lessons of death into its importance in the natural cycle. Nature comes alive for you in her descriptions. You feel her frustration and pain being a wildlife biologist out of touch with her own wild self. Her experience seemed foreign to me at first. I have never been isolated in nature as she has. I have not interacted with wild animals as she has. Yet I easily connected with Stacey as a narrator and woman the more I read the book. Her story encouraged me to look to the animals in my life, wild and captive, for the wisdom they are ready to share.

Stacey shares the doors to her wild self in her book in an authentic manner. This is not a guidebook to shamanism, though she does provide a brief introduction and helpful resources. Instead, Gracious Wild is a woman’s story of her spiritual journey. Stacey Couch has connected to her wild self and is now living her life as a shamanic practitioner. Her story is an inspiration for those of us looking to connect to our wild selves as well. It is told with love and honesty. I can see women coming together to read Stacey’s book, discussing all the doors it opens for exploration. I can see how once you have read her book you won’t see the wild animals around you in the same way.

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“A Barn Owl’s Help” from Gracious Wild

In this section of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks, I share the story of meeting and caring for a potential candidate for the raptor education program I was volunteering in. The program took in and rehabilitated injured raptors. If the birds were handicapped for life, and we had space available, we trained them to work with humans so they could be “ambassador birds” that traveled to schools and clubs to raise awareness about the value of these incredible birds of prey. This is the story of how a barn owl ambassador bird helped with this red tailed hawk rehabilitation.

On my walk into the wildlife center one morning, the director [of the wildlife rehabilitation center], met me on his front porch. In his arms he held a box with a juvenile red-tail standing inside. My heart skipped and I confessed to myself that it was hard not to let the thought of “education bird” slip into my mind. Ian asked me to take the bird down to the clinic, but my arms were full with the carrier of the northern flicker (a woodpecker) chick I was raising. I continued down to the clinic and began my rounds for the day. Soon thereafter, I was standing with Ian in the treatment room as he pulled the gorgeous beast out of the cardboard box. The hawk looked at us through her clear, bright eyes, calmly accepting our restraint. We held her on the table merely as a formality, as she didn’t resist our hands for even a moment. Sometimes an animal’s sheer volume of pain, hunger, and thirst sends them into an eerie shock. This hawk was obviously separated from the experience in some way—she didn’t fight for her life, but the stare in her eyes told of an abysmal strength and knowing. Her stare held a powerful life force like that of a courageous warrior entering into the battle of his fateful undoing.

Inspection of the hawk’s injuries pointed to electrocution. She was missing five or so flight feathers from her left wingtip. A fairly large, crusty wound was where feathers once were. She likely flew into a power line with her left wing and the electricity arched out of her left foot, which was now badly swollen. Ian predicted that there would be a die-off of tissue, but also a good chance that the hawk would recover from her injuries and be able to live comfortably in captivity. We moved her into a small wooden cage in the ICU and left her with some food. Ian was leaving on vacation in a few hours, so I took instructions on when and how to start hand-feeding the hawk. Already, I was struggling with the aching feeling in my heart, and how badly I wanted to love this courageous bird. I felt powerless to hold back the love that was streaming from my being. I wished I could remain detached. I wished I could let myself flow through my heart.

When I returned to the wildlife center to care for the red-tail that evening I found her sitting quietly in her cage with two mice at her feet. My heart sank. If she wouldn’t eat, the prognosis was dreadful. I realized she might be too far gone. She could be in the core of a battle, with the only way out being death. I decided to ask my dear friend Papa Rhett [a barn owl in the raptor education program] for help.

I didn’t know what Rhett could or would do, but he was the only one I knew to turn to. I thawed and packed up three mice for the owl and headed outside in the last light of day. As I approached Rhett’s mews I saw his white underside against the wall. He was hanging to the cage by his talons, wings partly outstretched, staring in my direction. I was completely stunned. Rhett rarely anticipated my approach and he had never been so anxious to meet me. When I walked into his mews it became plainly obvious that Rhett was looking for food. In our few months of working together he’d never requested or eaten food from my hands. He would take food occasionally from a couple of his other handlers while they worked with him, but he always refused food from me. I had tried enough times that I’d actually given up on the idea that he’d ever dine on my glove.

This time, he practically leapt onto my glove and leaned towards the pouch of food on my hip while I put on his leash. I resisted his plea for food until we were outside of his mews. He snatched the mouse from my fingers like he hadn’t eaten in days, even though I knew he’d had a meal every day leading up to this one. I watched him snap the mouse’s neck, and surgically sever the head from the body. He threw his head back and gulped down the mouse head. Next he carefully opened the body cavity and delicately removed his favorite organs, one by one.

Raptor’s beaks are commonly viewed as tearing and grabbing utensils. This barn owl used his beak like a scalpel and tweezers. His precision was remarkable. He proceeded to disconnect the torso from the hindquarters of the mouse and finish his meal in those two last bites. I stood captivated, relieved to watch him eat. The experience was truly cathartic. Halfway up to the clinic, we stopped and I fed Rhett a second mouse. He took even more time to consume this mouse. I did my best to remain patient. My friend seemed to have a plan.

Once in the door of the clinic, Rhett took to staring towards the ICU. I did my best to hurry and prepare another mouse for the hungry owl. His gaze, in typical Rhett fashion, was locked. I carried him into the ICU, reached over with my free hand, and lifted the sheet off of the door to the red-tail’s cage. To my amazement, the hawk stood leaned over a mouse of her own, eating to her heart’s content. She did not pause to look up at us. I was comforted to know our presence was not an intrusion. Once she finished her meal she looked up at us and calmly returned to an upright posture. I stood there with the barn owl on my glove staring into the eyes of this lovely bird. Tears welled in my eyes and I thanked both my feathered companions for the healing they had enacted… I had taken the leap of faith and now the magic in my world was in their talons.