John Guerra sig

I keep hearing the phrase “spirit animal” and thought I’d take a look at just what that means.

Recent psychology/cocktail party talk tells us that each of us has an animal with characteristics we either admire or see in ourselves. The spirit animal is supposed to provide guidance, lessons, protection, power, and wisdom for its owner.

So, if you ask someone to name his or her spirit animal, the response will probably be something like, “Eagle! My spirit animal is an eagle!”

The second most popular spirit animal has to be the wolf. (that’s a real website) says: “The wolf spirit animal meaning in Native American mythology conveys strength and courage. A symbol of freedom and wisdom, the wolf often appears to guide one’s journey of self-discovery.”

Here are other popular spirit animals and what they mean:

• Bear: Sacred time alone and healing (hibernating)

• Eagle: Ability to see the big picture and imagine what can be

• Fox: Clever and quick-thinking

• Owl: Wisdom and intuition

• Rabbit: Stays alert and moves quickly

How does one determine one’s spirit animal?

“Pay attention to your dreams,” a spiritual website says. “Think about when you’ve come across them in the past, consider why these animals interest you.”

If that’s the case, then my spiritual animal is the Tyrannosaurus Rex.

They have been appearing in my dreams since I was a child, some six decades ago.

Sometimes, I’m in a stone village and people in dusty streets warn each other that one has been spotted in the district — not within hearing or smelling distance of town — but people are worried that it could come this way.

T-rex is deep in my subconscious

At other times, I’m on a grassy hill, and see one far off, moving away. I worry that it will see me or hear me.

In other dreams, I’ve been in a house and looked outside and seen one a few blocks away, its shape just above the trees. I’ve seen them in vast landscapes, small against mountains, but I’ve never had one stare down at me from above or lean over and snap me up.

I drew dinosaurs all day long from elementary school through high school. The brontosaurs, the stegosaurus, and the rest would be hanging by a pencil creek, just eating grass. But then I’d draw a T-rex entering from stage right onto the paper, blood dripping from its jaws and little hands (who really knew what those were for. Signaling perhaps). The other dinosaurs were done, finished, no sense even trying to swing that spiked tail, Mr. Steg.

Ask Dr. David Horne, a paleontologist with the Royal Institution of Great Britain, just why these terrible tyrants were something to worry about. I recommend you listen to his podcast on YouTube, “How the Tyrannosaurs Ruled the World.”

A prehistoric William Munny

The paleontologist believes the creatures would still walk the hills of Montana — human beings having never evolved — had the great extinction not occurred. In the words of William Munny, Clint Eastwood’s character in the movie, “Unforgiven,” T-Rexes “killed everything that walked or crawled at one time or another” for 100 million years. They would have continued their slaughtering lifestyle except for the Chicxulub meteor, which hit the Yucatan 66 million years ago, across the Gulf of Mexico from Clearwater.

In his hour-long YouTube lecture from the institution, Dr. Horne describes the technical aspects of the creatures — its size, its visual acuity, and its specially constructed legs that allowed it to chase prey like an Olympic sprinter.

First, meditate on their size: 40 feet long, 14 feet tall, and in the case of Sue in the Field Museum in Chicago, weighed about 7 or 8 tons. Their forehead, jaws, teeth, and the muscle system connecting it all provided a combination vise/slicer that could grab 50 pound chunks of meat at a bite. By the way, Horne believes they could strip flesh from bone in the same manner we use our teeth to scrape the filling off an open Oreo cookie.

Look! Something to chase down and kill

The way their eyes work could stop the beating heart of its prey. (I made that sentence up).

“Their eyes are absolutely enormous, absolutely huge, but they don’t look very big on the head because the T-rex head is so out-sized,” Horne says. “The bigger the eye, the better your vision. It had the largest eye, we know of, of any terrestrial animal, ever. They had superb eyesight.”

Birds have eyes on opposite sides of their head, so they turn their heads sideways to stare at their prey. The T-rex has eyes on the front of his head, allowing it to look straight down its ample nose at another animal. Its forward-leaning eye sockets also gave it advanced depth perception and stereoscopic vision, wherein two separate images from two eyes are successfully combined into one image in the brain. It pegs an object accurately in space and time.

“Its forward-facing eyes are looking at things — the T-rex is judging distances and it wants to know how far away it is from something it’s very interesting in,” Horne says.

Somehow the idea of it staring right at me terrifies me.

Freezing in place won’t work

Freezing in place so the Rex can’t see me? It won’t work. “Sitting still is not a good defense,” Horne said.

What about running to a ditch or maybe a tall tree? Any chance of surviving that way?

Horne points to the three shin bones on a T-rex, the middle one of which is thin. According to the paleontologist, that means the terrifying animal walked on its toes, with its heel raised, which gave it spring and economical use of its massive leg muscles. With its ability to take on a lot of fuel (food) the animal was a locomotion on full steam.

“You’ll never outrun this thing,” he says.

There is some debate here: Some paleontologists believe T-rex did not run fast because of its weight, because to stumble would be to break a leg or other bone (its small arms could not break a fall). Some put them running at 17 mph, which would let them outrun a squirrel (12 mph) but not Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, who won the World Championships in Berlin on August 16, 2009, when he hit 27.8 mph.

Dr. Horne, however, says the carnivore’s legs, the muscles of which resemble bundles of thick cabling, allows this freight train on two legs to keep coming, long after most humans would tire and collapse.

Who hears, who nose

How about its hearing? This satanic animal can hear the snap of a twig or the scraping of a smaller animal trying to dig its way to safety inside a fallen log. Make a whimper and it snaps its powerful head around, turns on its toes, lowers its head below its shoulders, and with eyes wide and pupils tiny, stares directly at you, sizing you up.

That image gives me the chills. The hopelessness, the water in the veins, the heart hammering in my chest. It can hear, and smell, it all. Large olfactory spaces in its skull means it could smell prey across a plain.

This is why this thing is my spirit animal: Not because it is so powerful; not for its bite power, or destructive abilities. I like to live a gentle life, quiet, not bothering anyone. What makes this my spirit animal is its habit of showing up in my subconscious, my dreams. I cannot control its presence.

I believe it represents an upcoming event for which I should prepare. It reminds me to repair, adjust, or fix something before it gets worse.

If that’s the case, then my spirit animal’s benevolent purpose is to open my eyes to avoid disastrous pitfalls. I’ll take that.