Synchronous Wisdom: Face-to-face with a Fisher by Kate Common

Kate Common headshotLast month I came face-to-face with a fisher.

It happened while writing my first published essay, a project that triggered fears within me about writing in more public venues. The essay pushed me out of the comfort zone of my typical academic voice. This both energized and terrified me, so I went to the woods for invigoration and clarity. The trails were empty that afternoon. I breathed in solitude and soft winter light and decided to speak, voicing statements of boldness and courage: “Be bold. Create despite fear. You can do this.“ And then I saw it, an unfamiliar creature, about the size of a medium dog, moving quickly into my periphery. It leapt onto the trail, landing fifteen yards ahead, midway up a low hill.

fisher_photoThe elevation difference brought us face-to-face. I found myself staring into a fierce, furry-brown, teddy bear face. It exuded a stout confidence and an instinctual danger thumped. Eye-to-eye, neither of us moved. What was this thing? Suddenly from the reservoir of memory a recognition emerged—it looked like a wolverine. But wolverines aren’t in these woods, right? Fifteen unflinching seconds passed and then it leapt back into the woods. I stood mesmerized by the beauty and surprise of it—this was not something ordinary.

Later, I learned it was a fisher. My connection to the wolverine was correct—it is the wolverine’s smaller cousin and looks quite similar. It is rare—only the second one spotted in those woods that year.

wolverine fisher compare copy

I classify my fisher encounter as a synchronicity,  a concept psychoanalyst Carl Jung developed that’s described as “a significant coincidence of physical and psychological phenomena that are acausal connected.” [1] For Jung, meaningful coincidences are those uncanny ones that stop us in our tracks, seemingly bending the neat Cartesian divide between our psychological and physical reality and bearing deep meaning. In his book, Synchronicity, Jung tells the story of working with an overly rational client who could not interpret the metaphoric meanings of symbols in her dreams. One day she reported dreaming of a golden scarab, a type of beetle. Just as she spoke Jung heard a strange rap at the window. He opened it, and in flew a golden colored beetle. Jung caught it and handed it to her saying: “Here is your scarab.” He later described that “[t]his experience punctured the desired hole in her rationalism and broke the ice of her intellectual resistance.”[2] This experience enabled her to move beyond her rational interpretive impasse.

The fisher was my golden scarab. It came precisely at the moment I decided to speak with courage. The fisher symbolically (as an image of the wolverine) contained a deeper meaning that resonantly connected current fear patterns to ones in my past. In doing so it clearly illustrated to me the underside of letting fear control my actions.

As a child I developed a paralyzing fear of wolverines. For many years my family vacationed in Michigan’s upper peninsula, a wild and remote part of the country. I loved it. Hiking through pine forests, I felt untamed and alive. But one year that changed—I learned about the wolverine. It was the fiercest of animals, more aggressive than a bear with razor sharp teeth and claws. It was unpredictable, a master predator that could attack unprovoked—and it lived in Michigan! Suddenly, my Michigan became filled with this monster, and I became very afraid. During the next trip, the family Trans Van, (God love the 80’s), blew-out a tire on a remote road. The jack broke, stranding us until another car drove past. Dark pine forest lined both sides of the road, and I froze, refusing to leave the Trans Van. I screamed in terror when I saw my dad go into the forest for a bathroom break—would I ever see him again? Wolverines lurked everywhere.

Dad returned safely from the woods and the tire eventually got fixed, but inside me a wildness got tamed. My fear of the wolverine kept me from something I loved—the magic of the Michigan woods.

When I came face-to-face with the fisher—I came face-to-face with one of my most primal fears at the exact moment I voiced boldness in the face of fear. This felt synchronously significant. I looked up metaphoric interpretations of the wolverine to discover if I could discover another level of meaning. More meaning emerged. The wolverine has been interpreted as a symbol of courage, and the strength encouraging one to not back down: “When it appears in your life it is time to actively pursue your goals and objectives with boldness and persistence.”[3]  It was the perfect metaphoric affirmation I needed to empower the next phase of my creative work—speaking out. The fisher taught me that the danger did not lie in meeting a wolverine in the woods, but rather locking myself away from what I love.

It’s not just the deep forest of Michigan that I love, but writing, making art and sharing it. I love the growth that happens through support and feedback that occurs when sharing creations with a wider community. I used to love blogging, especially as a means to reflect and share on synchronous encounters. However, as my theological studies unfolded, and I began to envision a career in academic theology, I stopped blogging. Fear stopped me. Fear of looking like an amateur, facing ridicule and rejection, saying the wrong thing that could effect a potential career. I let fear keep me from expressing myself in ways I loved. Fear kept me from writing about synchronicities. They did not seem like something one could ‘seriously’ reflect on within academic theology.

And all of this self-silencing occurred even as I catapulted headlong into feminist theology, which not only acknowledges but privileges epistemologies or ways of knowing often oppressed under the hegemony of western imperialism and rationalism. So, why not synchronicities? Why not blogging? I no longer want to silence myself for fear of saying the wrong thing. I don’t want to ignore synchronicities by placing them outside the bounds of acceptable epistemological sites. I don’t want to stay in this self-imposed silence of the past few years. The fisher helped me see that.

The Trans Van is cramped and the big, magical world beckons.

transvan-brochure1 copy


[1] “What is Synchronicity?” Carl Jung Resources. (retrieved February 16, 2016).

[2] Jung, C.G. (1969). Synchronicity: An Acausal Connecting Principle. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. pp. 109–110.

[3] Lily-Therese. “Power Animals and their Messages.” Lily-Therese’s Angelic Spiritual Specialties. (retrieved February 16, 2016).

Kate Common is a designer and theologian working towards the common good—and feels quite lucky to have her last name. A doctoral student at BU in Practical Theology, Kate works at the disciplinary intersections of graphic design, feminist practical theology, and biblical studies with an interest in theopoetics. Her current projects include explorations in film and feminist pedagogy as well experimenting with graphic design practices as a hermeneutical partner in biblical interpretation. Kate is a current editor of the Theopoetics Journal and part of the planning committee for the upcoming Theopoetics Conference as well as serving on the leadership committee of the Women’s Caucus of the AAR/SBL. Kate is the proud mom of two cats, one blind-pug and multiple house plants.


Categories: Academy, General, Nature, Women's Voices

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20 replies

  1. A wonderful story/experience Kate thank you for sharing it. Those synchronicities surely help us feel in synch with ourselves and our world. They cannot be ignored. I think it was ML von Franz who said this was a topic worthy of a lot more study because of its importance.


  2. Love the story, love the fisher.


  3. “I no longer want to silence myself for fear of saying the wrong thing. I don’t want to ignore synchronicities by placing them outside the bounds of acceptable epistemological sites.”

    Thanks, Kate. Who are your judges in terms of writing? You have one judge, your heart, and if what you are saying rings true there, your thoughts will resound, and that’s all that matters. If you are simply tempted to impress an audience with fancy ideology, you will never truly share what would move them most deeply, that too can only come from the heart, not from the head. I think that’s the meaning of the cuddly fisher, as opposed to the wolverine, at least in terms of your work as a writer.


    • Thanks, Sarah. I appreciate your insight and engagement with my piece. You are right–we must write for ourselves, our heart. Thanks for the reminder and for emphasizing the idea of the cuddly fisher. For me I think there is something in keeping in tension both the cuddly fisher and the wolverine in writing–a warmth, a vulnerability and a fierceness maybe? Somethings for me to consider. Thanks for you comment!


    • The fisher may LOOK cuddly, but they are just as fierce as a wolverine, just not as large. Looking one in the face was brave.


  4. Kate, I loved this story, which had a literal and immediate impact on me. I never knew about fishers till someone who lives in Canada (where they are numerous) told me that they mew like kittens to lure neighborhood cats to their death. Since I live in the mountains and had indoor-outdoor cats, in my mind fishers looked hideous. It was good to see a picture of one. I was surprised by how appealing I found it. My hunter-neighbor assures me we have fishers in our area. Nevertheless, I did not want to deprive my cats of their joy in the outdoors. One cat may have been taken by coyotes (or simply taken herself off to die of thyroid disease). Another cat died of congestive heart failure. My remaining cat, the one who most loves the outdoors, is still with us and still goes out.

    Until I moved to the Shawangunk Mountains, I never lived in an area where bears are numerous. I love to walk in the woods. My first close encounter with a bear was in a wood by a creek where I walk several times a week. I was sitting on a rock in the middle of the creek and the bear came down for a drink. Very politely the bear moved on, but it was a shocking encounter none-the-less. To overcome fear, I decided I had to go back to this beloved spot sooner rather than later. When I enter the wood, I sing to let the bear know I am there. Also when I sing, I don’t feel afraid.

    To get back to your beautiful post, hurrah for you for lifting your voice and seeing the fisher as a synchronous ally!


    • I found this article during an image (and associative totem meaning) search for an animal I came face to face with while walking from my cabin to my studio last night. I am Artist in Residence at Sitka Center for Art & Ecology in Oregon and from Vancouver Canada, so while this area is new to me, it is not completely unfamiliar. I believe the animal was a Fisher Cat, mostly because of the high pitched scream it emitted while it charged me. It was a strange experience all together and reading your thoughtful article about your experience furthered my own thoughts on what the meaning of the event could possibly be.
      So, thank you for sharing!!
      Best of all good things for you & your writing. Onward!
      Cheers, Siobhan


  5. Very interesting story, and I admire your courage and your ability to recognize your own synchronicity. I don’t go into the woods. The wilderness doesn’t need my footprints in it, but I send money to Tree People and I admire people who do go into the woods.


  6. I loved this piece. Keep writing!!!! A great woman’s tale I’ll forward to many friends both in and outside my theological/feminist world. Thanks.


  7. Great story Kate. I’m glad you put a link to the NG article about fishers. I didn’t know about them before. ( I live in the Pacific N.W. of British Columbia. “Fishers” is the word we use to include male and female people who fish for fish!)

    Fear can keep us from so much joy and growth and life. Sing loud and keep walking dear sister! But do hang on to your head!


  8. I love this story. Thank you, Kate. I wrote elsewhere — and it applies very nicely here — “When a coincidence occurs that is too unlikely to be a mere chance event, such a synchronicity feels like an exclamation mark at the end of a sentence, as if the universe is saying “Yes!”

    I’m about to have my book _The World is Your Oracle_ published (April 2017). I believe that synchronicities and oracles are two sides of the same coin. Divination is a means of actively soliciting a synchronicity, a “coincidence,” an “aha experience,” that conveys something significant and, as a result, illuminates an oracular question. Synchronicity clarifies in the same way, but it usually arrives unannounced. When either one of these meaningful coincidences happen, they can provide a clue from the universe about where you’re headed, an affirmation that you’re on the right path or a warning that it’s time to take a detour. In your case, you’re clearly on the right path. Step right out there and let your words (or your songs) ring for all of us to hear. YAY!


  9. Herre’s a synchronicity for all of you: Immediately after responding to this post, I found an email from my niece that directed me to a recent article in the NYTimes entitled “Why Do We Teach Girls That It’s Cute to Be Scared?” URL: It’s related to the courage side of this post.


  10. Gulp and gulp again. This was just the message I needed this morning: courage.

    Sometimes that fisher is just as curious and wanting to stay away from trouble as you, sometimes that wolverine in the woods is just the play of tree shadows, and sometimes that lump in your breast is just one more harmless cyst.
    Thank you.
    Courage in writing and courage in life.


  11. What a great post! I encountered a fisher once in the woods behind my house in Maine. I wasn’t sure what it was but with those big claws it looked scary. I called a trapper who lives nearby and he said it was a fisher. He’d been watching it on a critter cam. Anyway, I think it is cool that you made the connection between it and your childhood fear of wolverines and your recent decision to claim your own voice in your writing.


  12. Thank you for this synchronous post, I’m just writing my first public paper on an archaeological find and your words have inspired me to be brave.


  13. If you have a fear of an animal that was most likely extinct or nearly extinct in MI you might want to stay out of the dark woods. And really, don’t come out here to WY/ID where the grizzlies roam.


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