Tall Tail

Helen Weaver believes everyone can talk to the animals

Woodstock Times
November 30, 2000


Helen Weaver talks to her dog. The dog answers. And the dog isn’t even alive.

In her new book, The Daisy Sutra: Conversations with my Dog (Buddha Rock Press), the longtime Woodstock personality/astrologer/translator began conversing with the dog through animal communicators as she was faced with the decision whether to help her suffering dog die or let her do it on her own. The conversations took the animal rights activist through the grief process and to a belief that we can all speak with the animals. The animals, in turn, can not only speak back but are eager to do so, Weaver believes. There’s more. The late Jack Kerouac, author of On the Road and father of the “Beat Generation,” is underwriting Weaver’s self-publishing venture. The money Weaver received recently from the sale of her love letters from Kerouac in the 1950s was used to pay her printing bill. “Jack was a great lover of animals,” says Weaver. “It comes out in many of his books.”

Helen in Woodstock 2000 © Dion Ougst

(Helen in Woodstock 2000 © Dion Ougst)

If you believe all of this….but believe it. Everything but the part about the animals talking back can be validated, and Weaver insists that it’s true as well. You can ask her about that and other things at a book signing in Woodstock sponsored by the Golden Notebook at the Golden Bough on Friday, December 1, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. during the Woodstock Chamber of Commerce’s open house.

Born in Wisconsin in 1931, Helen Weaver moved to Scarsdale when her father, Warren Weaver, an eminent scientist and mathematician, became vice-president of the Rockefeller Foundation. He ultimately distributed billions of dollars for scientific purposes. Warren Weaver Hall at New York University was named for the expert on probability and communication theory.

In other circles, Warren Weaver is known for having one of the largest collections of Lewis Carroll translations of Alice in Wonderland. The late anthropologist Margaret Meade told Helen in the 1960s that several decades before she had translated the story into Swahili to cheer the elder Weaver up at a time when he was depressed.

Several weeks ago, Weaver turned her father’s papers over to the Rockefeller Archive to make room in her Zena home for the 5,000 copies of The Daisy Sutra that she hopes to sell. Helen and her father were not the only writers in the family. Her brother, Warren Weaver Jr., was a political reporter for The New York Times from the 1960s to the 1980s, earning a front page obituary in the paper at his death in 1997.

Scarsdale and the rebellious Weaver were a bad mix from the start. “It never felt like home” to Weaver, who had just one date through all of high school. “I’m still not ready to talk about it,” she sighs. “It was worse than root canal.”

After majoring in English literature with a minor in French at Oberlin College, she marryied and then divorced an art historian in just three years. She says she didn’t know what else she wanted to do, Moving to New York City’s Greenwich Village, she took a job with Farrar Straus. It was there, living in 1956 on the top floor of a brHelen Weaver and Jack Kerouac, 1960sownstone on West 11th Street, doing the dishes in the bathtub, wearing “shades” at night, speaking the hip jargon of the Fifties, and considering herself as having come up in the world from Scarsdale, that Weaver met Jack Kerouac.

Her roommate had encountered Kerouac and poet Allen Ginsberg while she had been at Barnard and they had been at Columbia. So it was not surprising, given the time and the personalities, that Kerouac, Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky, Ginsberg’s long-time companion, appeared below their window one snowy morning in late November. Kerouac was coming from San Francisco by way of Mexico. After eight years of revisions, On the Road, his tribute to a new breed of American vagabond, was about to be published and destined to become a classic.

Weaver was 25 and Kerouac was 34. They argued about Thomas Wolfe and Henry James, falling madly, and instantly, in love, recalls Weaver in a 1983 piece she wrote for Woodstock Times.

“I fell in love with Allen, too, the way you fall in love with friends,” wrote Weaver in that piece. “I loved the way he and Jack talked very gentle, often quiet, but fast, with such a rush of energy, noticing everything, excited about everything, so loving of each other and their friends: “You’ve got to come to Frisco and meet Neal! Wait till you see Gregory! You would really dig Burroughs!,” etc. They had this tremendous childlike faith in each other as writers and in the power of words themselves, as if being writers meant they had a sacred mission to wake up America.

“This kind of love and belief among men was something new to me. I looked at Jack and Allen, and I knew instantly that they were going to be famous. Looking back, I think maybe it was this mutual belief, this spiritual vitality they shared, rushing headlong into the vacuum of the utter faithlessness and joylessness of that time, that account for the ease with which they captured the public imagination and ultimately changed the spirit of their age.”

Living with a legend isn’t easy. Weaver soon came to know the “dark underside of all this enthusiasm.” Kerouac was a heavy drinker and partygoer. He was erratic and unpredictable. While Kerouac and his friends reveled late into the night, Weaver worked a nine-to-five job.

She started seeing a shrink and ultimately asked Kerouac to move out. After a brief period during which he nursed his bruised ego, they remained friends. Nonetheless, she always kept her distance.

“The abyss in his eyes was familiar, but that didn’t make me want to climb back into it with him, she wrote in 1983. “I watched at a safe distance as, unable to live up to the heroic legend he had created for himself in his books, he continued his spiral descent into illness and death.” Kerouac died in 1969 at the age of 47.

The daytime schedule was taking its toll on Weaver. She turned to translating books as a way of working from home. Many of the books were boring. She kept herself focused by burying the lyrics of rock songs within the translations.

In The Man with the Miraculous Hands, a book about Heinrich Himmler’s physician, who reportedly saved numerous Jews from death during World War II, she translated a part where someone chided him for daydreaming as, “You’re a thousand miles away…” Weaver was nominated for a National Book Award for her translation of The Selected Writings of Antonin Artaud and is also co-author and general editor of The Laroussse Encyclopedia of Astrology.

In 1963, Weaver jumped to the defense of the late comic Lenny Bruce, with whom she also had a brief romantic relationship. Bruce had been arrested on obscenity charges, and Weaver wrote a petition in his support that she circulated in New York’s literary circles. She is amused to find the petition is still frequently quoted on the jackets of contemporary books about Bruce.

In the 1960s Weaver left the city’s literary milieu to surround herself with artists. “It was sex, drugs, and rock and roll,” she says. “You can’t beat it.” Politics was the one cornerstone of the sixties she disregarded. “The first demonstration I marched in was for animal rights in the Eighties,” she notes.

Weaver arrived in Woodstock in 1972 after climbing Mount Marcy in the Adirondacks. Smoking pot and looking down to the valley below, she saw a path taking her out of New York City.

Woodstock was a very different town then, she recalls. There was virtually no traffic, and so many people in their “long robes” meandered so slowly about the streets chatting with each other that she could barely get her errands done. “Everyone wore purple,” Weaver says. She remembers Woodstock Times publisher Geddy Sveikauskas standing in the middle of the street near the Village Green one Thursday after the paper had just come off the press, hawking it and yelling, “Gold discovered in the Sawkill!” . . .

In 1981, after the death of her father, she visited her elderly mother in New Milford, Connecticut..Her mother was ill and wouldn’t consider moving. Weaver converted a cabin on the property and moved in, remaining there “in exile” until her mother’s death 13 years later.

It was here that Daisy, a beagle/shepherd/collie mix, came into her life. A medium-sized black dog with white socks and belly, Daisy began a series of adventures. Weaver started documenting as The Daisy Sutra two years before the animal’s death because “the thought of losing my memories of her was unbearable.”

Following her mother’s death, Weaver returned to Woodstock in 1997. She knew she was home when the moving man told her not to worry that the timing on her rental was rapidly expiring and to “trust the Universe” instead. The characters she weaves through the book are, in many cases, your neighbors. And by the end of the book, you will know Daisy as well.

What began as a memoir became a tale of the bond between animal and human in life and beyond. Weaver was faced with the sad reality of Daisy’s suffering in old age and ultimately her death. In Buddhism or Hinduism, the word ‘sutra’ refers to a collection of aphorisms or teachings. The Daisy Sutra, says Weaver, is a “string of pearls” that came “as a gift” from her dog.

“Was I being selfish in keeping her alive because I couldn’t bear to let her go?” writes Weaver. “Or would I be putting her down for my own sake, because her care had become so difficult? How could I be sure I would do the right thing? What would Daisy have to say about this, if she could speak?” Weaver’s mother had had a living will. She knew what her mother’s wishes were. She desperately wanted to make the right decision for Daisy.

Weaver had had a few spontaneous experiences in animal communication. One occurring shortly after moving to Woodstock involved a raccoon that was tHelen Weaver in her Zen garden, 2000rying to break into her cabin at night. Weaver finally looked him right in the eye and told him in no uncertain terms it was her cabin and her territory. She made a deal with him and put leftover food on a nearby tree stump after that. Every morning the food would be gone and he never bothered her again.

Weaver hopes the book will “open people’s minds and hearts that animals are not lesser beings and that communication with them is natural.” Humans often consider themselves “above nature,” feeling free to treat animals in ways that are inhumane at worst and insensitive at best.

“What is happening to animals is so upsetting people can’t even take it in,” she believes. “If they did, they would have to change their lifestyles. I just wanted to tell a story to help people see animals are not that different from us and that they really do have much to teach us about love.”

Weaver’s communications with Daisy through three different animal communicators comprise the second half of the book. She believes animal communication is something everyone can accomplish themselves if they learn to center themselves properly. From her experience, communication can be especially beneficial in enabling people to work through the grief process after losing an animal. Weaver provides the titles of books and tapes and the names of animal communicators in an appendix.

“A story is more effective than a sermon,” says Weaver. “Tell people a story, and they will know this creature is an intelligent, sensitive individual with complex emotions. Then, they may change their behavior.”

The Daisy Sutra is available for $14.95 from Buddha Rock Press, P.O. Box 736, Woodstock, NY, 12498; by calling Weaver at 679-0049.

-Andrea Barrist Stern

This article appeared November 30, 2000, and is reprinted courtesy of Woodstock Times.