BARE GRACE

My intention when I began this blog was to create a place to share reflections, essays, prose, poems and photos of the creatures that I have met or may yet encounter in the forest here in the western mountains of Maine or elsewhere.

As an cognitive ethologist and psychologist (Jungian therapist) when I observe animal behavior in the wild I am always asking myself what the animal might be thinking. I pay particular attention to the relationship that develops between an animal and myself over time. I also question the role of projection on my part when I am pulled into an animal’s field of influence without understanding why. Most important I follow gut feelings and any nudges when observing any animal. I am a woman with Native American roots – is that why I make the assumption that every creature has something to teach me? I think of the natural world as being a place of deep learning and wonder.

It is my experience that intention and attention on the part of the observer opens a magic door, and once over the threshold inter-species communication becomes possible. I would like to invite others to cross that threshold with me.

As a feminist, ritual artist, and a writer I am Her advocate, that is, Nature’s advocate. I believe that when I write about the animals and plants I am giving voice to their truths as well as my own.

I developed an intimate relationship with the black bear in the above photo for a number of years while I was engaged in an independent, trust based study of his kinship group (15 years). Little Bee interacted with me on a regular basis but always preferred to “hide” behind a screen of leaves and saplings while doing so. Whenever I was around him I felt touched by “Bare Grace”.

Please feel free to comment. I would love to communicate with anyone who wants to share experiences they have had in Nature or simply make observations about what I have written.

If you would like more information about me, please read the essay on how I became a Naturalist…

Unfortunately, I am dyslexic with numbers and directions and have a difficult time with the computer in general and with WordPress in particular so I ask the reader to forgive me for the errors I will surely continue to make.

Sara Wright

12/29/16

I am spending the winter in Abiquiu New Mexico and am currently using my blog as a journal of my experiences in this mysteriously beautiful place. I ask that the reader bear with me as I continue this process… some entries will, of course, be about my relationship with animals, but others will not.

With deep appreciation,

Sara

 

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After the Fall

 

 

Blood red dawn

bleeds through bare branches –

Where is night Owl sleeping ?

A mad raven swoops low.

 

Too far away the river’s flow

sinuous jade serpentine

speaks a language

I do not know.

 

Unshed tears block my vision.

I am floundering in snow.

A pile of Magpie feathers tells one tale…

Loss of Trust murmurs truths I do not want to know.

 

Too far away the river’s flow

sinuous jade serpentine

speaks a language

I do not know.

Passionflower Muses

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When I pulled the shorn Passionlower out of her pot I winced, experiencing the familiar anxiety and grief because I have known for a long time that plants feel pain. I had already traumatized the Passionflower once the week before when I had clipped the plant’s graceful spiraling vines with their three lobed leaves close to the plant’s central stalk leaving only one vine and a few tendrils intact. By cutting her back I have made it possible for her to make the long distance trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico safely (She has to be covered in order not to freeze).

 

For the second time in a week I apologized to the plant profusely for the trauma explaining that I had to re-pot her in the same size pot because I couldn’t lift anything heavier. In order to create enough space for new soil, I had to rip away tender roots. The plant responded almost instantly with drooping leaves and wilted tendrils. My plant was in shock. I silently begged her to forgive me as I quickly packed new soil around the remaining ragged roots, watered, fed, and placed her back in her window, noting how similar her bent posture was to my own when I am grieving… I told her I loved her.

 

Four hours later I returned to see that my Passionflower leaves were spread out plump and evenly, shimmering emerald in the late afternoon sun. A few tendrils were climbing through the air searching for purchase. I tenderly turned them towards the center trunk in a spiral fashion knowing that this would keep them safe during the trip but also aware that these vines had minds of their own and would try to thwart my attempts to control them even for a brief moment in time!

 

When my impossible bird, Lily b. ripped off a tasty leaf to eat I hid the new growth behind two cactus plants that I hoped would deter him from creating further damage. With two days to go until we leave, I hope my bird continues to behave himself.

 

Now every time I inspect my Passionflower I feel gratitude that she seems to be thriving and relief that the trauma is over for both of us.

 

Most folks find my relationship with plants very strange, and yet plants grow for me in ways that are sometimes astonishing even to me! I treat plants with the same respect I accord to animals, believing them to be wise ones, teachers, and guides. After all, plants have existed in some form on this planet for 450,000 thousand years, animals for 350,000 years and in my way of thinking, they are literally our “elders.”

 

For most of my life my “anthropomorphizing,” that is attributing human characteristics and feelings to non – human beings, has brought me skepticism and ridicule, but my feeling/sensing body has not lied.

 

Recently, groundbreaking research informs us that trees in an untouched forest experience pain, have memories, communicate extensively with each other, develop close relationships between parents and children, and in some cases when the elders are cut down children continue to send the stumps sugar nutrients and water to keep the remnant of a once proud and stately tree alive for generations. In a natural forest community trees and plants need each other. The prestigious science journal Nature has coined this interdependence of forest species the “wood wide web.”

 

I feel vindicated at last.

 

My intimate relationship with plants stems back to my earliest childhood years. Plants and trees seemed to speak to me through my senses without the use of words. As I matured I never lost that sense that plants/trees and I were engaged in relationship even though I didn’t know the specifics. Eventually it became clear to me that they thrived on being loved. I trusted plants, much the way I trusted animals and unlike humans, they have never let me down.

The Abuser was someone I loved

Dedication: I dedicate this writing to all animals, women, children who have been violated, brutalized or murdered by men.

 

The Abuser was someone I loved.

 

I will never forget

the look in her eyes

when he kicked her

the ugly brown shoe

smashing the domed

brown skull –

the daze – vacant

uncomprehending

falling to the floor

her eyes glazed

still find mine

“What did I do?”

 

Is death stalking us both

Will she die?

 

I scoop her in

my arms

and flee

slamming a door

to get away

from him –

my terror – her fright

a matrix of confusion

 

Is death stalking us both

Will she die?

 

I cannot comfort her

or me

shock waves

pass through this animal body

rocking her in my arms

keening,

I beg her for forgiveness.

 

Is death stalking us both

Will she die?

 

I scream into the silence

He will never

touch her again.

My thundering heart

replays the scene in my mind

how could he?

In seconds he shattered

the bond between us.

I believed.

I’ll never trust him again.

 

Is death stalking us both

will she die?

 

I cradle six

pounds of silky fur

and fragile bones

in equally fragile arms,

 

she growls

shaking convulsively

shivering with fear

tears of white anguish

fall on soft skin.

“I’m sorry

I didn’t protect you”

The fault was mine.

 

Is death stalking us both

Will she die?

 

Carved out of stone

raging with fury

I spit out words

a fiery forked tongue

“If you touch her again

I am gone”

Her life is my life…

(And this he doesn’t yet know)

“I would rather

you murder me than harm her

DO you understand?

don’t get near her again”

In a frenzy

Truths tumble incoherently

filling a dead room

(that moments ago seemed to be filled

with peace)

But the promise I make

to us both,

this dog I love

more than my life

is one

that I will not break,

this much I know.

 

Is death stalking us both

Will she die?

 

And meanwhile

concussions take time

To resolve – or not

I can’t wait

I must get her into the

Night, let her walk beside me

feel her body

moving against mine

let the air calm my

racing, rabid heart

let the stars return me

to the woman

I was before

I witnessed this threat

to her life.

 

Is death stalking us both

Will she die?

 

When I look up

at the stars

I see the Great Bear

circumnavigating the sky

feel Nature’s arms

close around me,

the only real comfort

I have ever known.

 

When I return to the house

she jumps up next to him – the man

who could have killed her

with a single blow –

circling back to her abuser.

I know, I once did this too.

 

Is there a concussion still waiting

to strike in the wings?

 

The Sphinx is silent.

 

My god I am sickened by the specter

of bullying, violence, abuse.

 

But I will not live with it.

This I know.

 

 

Working Notes:

 

Veterans Day Weekend 2017 – the weekend we celebrate having “almighty power over” at the cost of human lives.

“Plant Your Gun”

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Working Notes:

When I first saw this powerful image I thought “That’s exactly what we have to do.” There is something about containing a lethal weapon under glass and earthing it that speaks to the need to bury these guns once and for all before they destroy  us.

A deeply moving memorial to the death of gun violence and war.

My companion Bruce notes that bullets are made of lead and even if the gun is discharged, lead is being returned to its source.

Thank you Iren for creating images that speak to us from the depths of our hopeful hearts.

 

 

Endings and Beginnings: Re -membering my Father

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It’s cold – 18 degrees – the coldest it’s been all fall, and the sky is clear, the air bone dry. I awaken remembering that today my father died on another Thursday many years ago at age 74, only two years older than I am now. I imagine the ice closing around the beavers’ den whose members have flooded the field with water below my house.

 

The morning of my father’s death, moments before I got the call, I awakened from a dream that told me that my father had become a beaver. That Thanksgiving, the first of oh so many that I would spend alone over the next twenty some years, I opened a hole in the ice, cut some poplar branches and sank them under water for the beaver family I had befriended the previous summer, who in my mind now bore my father’s name and were intimately associated with him. I wondered then about death and transformation.

 

I spent that first winter after my dad’s death learning everything I could about beavers.

 

It was uncanny that the dream picked the beaver of all animals to transmute my father’s energy (and perhaps information too), because although my father was a man who lived his life in the fast lane in a concrete world, paradoxically he was also caught under water. Rarely did he surface as the deeply compassionate family man he was. His young children experienced continuous uncontrollable bursts of rage and terminal impatience. We learned to fear him. My father’s uncontrollable temper remained a lifetime nemesis.

 

I buried my father’s ashes twice. Now they lie beneath the house under Trillium rock, near those of his only son, a child he adored, a child whose death he never recovered from. Fortunately, I gave him two grandsons to love.

 

During most of my father life I did not believe he loved me, so I was stunned to experience a profound rush of his love for me after his death. Memory re –surfaced from the deep (Did the beavers help me?). The times my father comforted and held me when I was a small child, holding my head tenderly and cleaning up the mess when I threw up, rushed trips to the hospital without my mother, tucking me into bed, reading nightly stories, teaching me about the stars, and later as an adult, appreciating the way my father provided financially for his distant wife and family, the weekly visits to see his own mother that continued for ten years although she no longer knew him…

 

I think it was piecing together these memories that taught me that actions always speak louder than words, that fiery tongues of anger, anguish, disappointment do not make the man (or woman). What made my father so special was that he was capable of deep feeling and acted on that feeling in concrete ways to care for those around him, especially the members of his own family.

 

My father spent his life as a caregiver.

 

This was a revelation to me as was the insight that followed; that I too have lived my life as a caregiver, a woman who not only loves her family fiercely but also one who loves each tree, bear, dog, and bird caring deeply for all. I am my father’s daughter, after all.

A New Dawn?

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Lily B my dove sings up November’s ominous orange sun peering out his window that overlooks over the mountain soon to be marred by machines that will create chaos in the skies. Dead bats and birds will be the invisible collateral damage. Whirling blades create noise that “hums” creating electrical impulses that are registered in human/animal bodies perhaps below the threshold of awareness but these waves of electricity are capable of disrupting bodily integrity and creating illness in ways that have not yet been studied.

 

I just read yesterday that my most beloved twenty – six year old collared dove is also avidly hunted as a game bird in New Mexico, (although New Mexico it must be noted, has much stricter hunting laws than Maine does). How can Lily B not know that others of his kind will be slaughtered while he lives on as a free flying house bird, protected and loved? Is there no escape from this “harvesting” of animals and birds for sport (fun) and trophies, and the addictive high that comes with each new kill?

 

When Europeans first came to this country they brought their guns introducing their profoundly “nature hating” way of life to the Native peoples and animals that already inhabited this continent. These men killed because they could. They bragged about shooting any animal that moved, collected pelts, heads, teeth, gall bladders, horns as evidence of their superior skill. When wounded grizzly bears responded to attacks by retaliating in self- defense, these poor animals were simply extirpated.

 

In the process of the violent takeover of this continent and its peoples the myth of “the killer bear” was birthed, soon becoming an American “truth.” It didn’t matter that Indigenous peoples had lived in peace with polar, grizzly and black bears for millennium, naming her/him Healer, Guardian, Guide and Protector. All bears were demonized and became the enemy, destined to fall to the hunter’s gun. As the settlers moved west and north black bears, grizzly, buffalo, antelope, deer, polar bears and birds disappeared, some species becoming extinct. Europeans shot everything that moved as the vicious and soul destroying “hunting tradition” became their new dawn.

 

I just finished reading a book about a man who lived with polar bears for a number of years and found them to be highly intelligent and shy animals that co- existed with him in peace. This biologist never carried a gun and the only near attack situation he found himself in was one that he deliberately provoked.

 

Charles Russell has lived around grizzly bears all his life (he’s in his late seventies now). He did an in depth study of grizzlies in Russia over a period of ten years to answer the question of whether or not it was possible to live with these animals in peace in a wilderness area where these animals had not yet learned to fear humans. The answer, of course, was yes. The only protection Charlie ever carried was pepper spray, and the only time he ever used it was to protect his rescued grizzly cubs from adult male grizzlies before they were old enough to be returned to the wilderness.

Dr. Lynn Rogers 55 plus years as a bear biologist and the most extensive researcher of black bears on the planet attests to the peaceful nature of black bears. His educational facility and many academic research papers can easily be accessed on his website www.bear.org.

 

If the myth of the killer bear is false, then how many other lies are being told about other animals?

 

Yesterday I heard one man say “we have to keep on hunting because if we don’t the animals will take over and threaten our way of life. We have to keep them under our control.” This is the standard response of most people I know. How this logic could possibly apply to deer, doves, elk, bison, prairie dogs or moose is beyond my comprehension. Bears are a different matter because men project their darkest fears onto these poor animals and then slaughter them without mercy.

 

Aside from projection, the question that is never addressed is why Americans continue to hunt in the first place, since most folks no longer “need” to put meat on the table. After all, we have grocery stores and programs (at least for now) that assist those in financial need.

 

What we refuse to acknowledge is that Americans hunt because they love the addictive high, and the sense of power they experience that comes with the kill. Is it any wonder that murdering innocent people is now so commonplace that we are immune to hearing it on the evening news? I would argue that there is a direct relationship between slaughtering animals and killing humans.

 

We also keep violence in the foreground in this country with our obsessive need to celebrate heroes of war through “holidays” like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day when we venerate the fallen “heroes” of war, never acknowledging the deadly context in which these deaths occurred. We never hear about the thousands/millions of innocent people that died for absolutely no good reason. Going to war is an ideal that Americans hold dear. Think about it. We are the only country in the world that has no rituals to honor people in death that are not soldiers of war.

 

According to many American sources, men who have “served their country” develop bonds in war that they are unable to duplicate in daily life (if this doesn’t reveal addiction what does?). What this says about the state of human relationships in this country is terrifying to contemplate. In order to feel men (and now some brainwashed women) have to place themselves in a situation in which they wound and kill others or are wounded or killed themselves. Power over at any cost defines the structure of Patriarchy. This is where it is easy to see that the hunting tradition is an extension of a patriarchal perspective that Europeans brought with them when they invaded this country with their guns, and their need to slaughter innocent animals and Indigenous peoples who simply wanted to live out their lives in peace.

 

In these dark times where once again we are threatened by war on a global scale, most Americans are hell bent on keeping their destructive war rituals intact. When they get out there on Veterans Day this year to wave their flags and honor their heroes in death maybe they need to take a moment to pause and reflect upon who it is that they are really serving.

 

It certainly isn’t Life or Love.

If Not Winter

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“… Imagine a different world…

create a time when the impossible

becomes possible.” (Sappho)

 

These words are like a spark that catches fire in the ashes of what is, or was… here my imagination roams free and unencumbered by a monstrous daily cultural reality .

 

I inhabit the spaces in between for survival.

 

Trees do talk.

Bears do sleep and dream.

 

This is a month that hovers like a specter, the austere bones of granite mountains stretch out to touch bare branches spiraling through an untouched forest of fallen birch, maple, poplar, elm, ash, and beech. Brown oaks fill in the empty spaces with tenacious rust colored rustling leaves. Spruce and balsam spires tower overhead. The sky is sketched in graphite.

 

Trees communicate in a myriad of ways science confirms for those that need proof. Trees converse as electrical impulses pass through their roots/tissues at a third of an inch per second (before you think how slow this is remember that trees are literally our “elders” living for hundreds even thousands of years). In addition, trees use their senses of smell and taste for communication. They also use visual cues for reproduction. But perhaps most astonishing, trees in a forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients. Not all stumps are so nourished and it is speculated that these stumps are the parents of trees that make up the forest today. A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a phrase coined by science as the “wood wide web.” Soil fungi connect trees and other vegetation to each other allowing them to share an enormous amount of information and nutrients. Trees and plants need each other.

 

In my mind trees are sending messages to the black bears that co –evolved with them. “Come dig your den.”

 

I watch the bear as he digs a hole under a glacial slab on the southern side of the mountain. Tree roots surround him inviting him in as he rakes leaves and forest detritus inside to soften sleeping ground. The scent of sweet earth is overpowering, as his curved claws pull in more shredded leaf bedding. The bear is re arranging the forest floor to his satisfaction inside his den. Cave walls deaden sound, create space for dreaming.

 

Drowsy now and well pleased, the bear enters his winter abode, stretches out with his back to cool stone. With his head positioned at the entrance he sniffs with a nose that is 2100 times more efficient than the human nose. He opens his mouth to read the air for unfriendly scents one last time before his eyes grow heavy. Though even in slumber, a snapping twig will instantly alert him to potential danger.

 

The bear chose this spot two months ago returning to it occasionally on his travels, but up until now he’s been busy foraging the bountiful fall acorn mast and growing his wavy winter coat complete with furry insulation. He has recently become less hungry. He moves less, listening to his body’s instructions to slow down. He still drinks water but soon his heartbeat will slow… When white flakes fall or even before, if cold sharpens the night air into cracked ice, the bear will enter and close the entrance of his den for the last time until spring, and no one but the trees who love him will know he’s even there…

 

The trees stand sentry, staying awake even after leaves and pine needles fall. Perhaps they warn the bear of impending danger through their roots and help him to awaken instantly, even after he has fallen into a deep winter sleep.

 

Anything is possible Sappho reminds me.

 

With these words I intentionally create sacred space where bears and trees commune and all but cyclic time ceases as the seasons have their way.