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

 

Black -chinned Hummingbird

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One of the joyous aspects of coming to the desert is that I know that I will be seeing Black –chinned hummingbirds again. This small emerald green-backed hummingbird of the west with no brilliant colors on his throat except a thin strip of iridescent purple bordering his black chin has to be one of my favorites. Because it is so difficult to see the rich deep purple band on the males I am always on the look out for it. I have a feeder just outside my east window and in the morning when the light is right I can usually glimpse a brilliant flash of deep purple.

This year the hummingbirds arrived in Abiquiu during the middle of April from Mexico, (or the Gulf coast) just a few days too early because we had a cold spell with temperatures in the low twenties, and one morning a blanket of snow covered the desert floor.

My neighbor found a dead male Black chinned hummingbird on his feeder early that winter morning. As soon as I heard this news I requested that the bird be brought to me, because I knew that hummingbirds have developed an ability to survive cold temperatures by drastically lowering their heartbeats and going into a state of torpor. Unfortunately this bird was dead having already been placed in a freezer.

Frequently, these birds can be revived if held in the palm of one’s hand; once movement is detected it is possible to feed them sugar water with an eye dropper by forcing open the birds’ beak and dribbling drops into the side of the hummingbird’s mouth. Be very careful if you do decide to do this because hummingbirds, like all birds, run the risk of choking. The fluid can kill them. Afterwards the bird can be placed in a small softly lined box to recover completely and then set free.

It is a good idea to put hummingbird feeders out about a week before the first Ruby  throated and Black –chinned hummingbirds arrive because there are so few natural sources for food available. Here in Abiquiu, I will be placing a feeder out by the beginning of the second week in April. Most folks are aware that hummingbird populations have been stabilized because so many people love to feed them.

These birds are strictly migratory wintering in Mexico or along the Gulf coast.

Female Black- chinned hummingbirds are larger than males and have brilliant green backs and pale whitish gray throats. Most females arrive later than the males.

Courtship displays begin soon afterwards with the males sky-diving around the females, flashing their neon throats, or hovering in front of their potential mates and flying back and forth in front of them. These behaviors are always accompanied by whirring sounds.

Hummingbird nests are extraordinary structures that are built by the females. They are shaped like tiny cups and made of grasses, plant fibers, spider webs, and lined with plant down. The outside of the nest is camouflaged with lichens, dead leaves or other debris. The female lays two tiny eggs that are incubated by her for two weeks. She feeds the nestlings by sticking her bill into their mouths and regurgitating tiny insects, nectar, and sugar water. The nestlings fledge at three weeks. The female has two broods a year.

Watching a Black- chinned hummingbird feed in natural surroundings is fun. To catch small insects the hummers may grab them in mid –air and sometimes take them from spider webs!

Black – chinned hummingbirds can be found in semi – arid country, river groves, suburbs, mountains and hills throughout the west. Unfortunately they are at risk because of climate change, so lets appreciate them while we still have them.

Postscript:

This will be my last entry before returning to Maine. I will be leaving on the Summer Solstice and be making a 4 -5 day trip. Just this month a hummingbird sat under the Fire Moon as I took the picture. It seems fitting that my last article would be about these wondrous little birds that I love so much….

Dancing for the Dakota Access Pipeline

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Last week we attended dances at Ohkay Owingeh, formally known as the Pueblo of Santa Clara. These Tewa speaking peoples are located on the Rio Grande River, nestled in the hills on tribal owned land in Northern New Mexico.

 

Because it is the time of the year that most dances are held to encourage the crops to grow the first dance we witnessed, not surprisingly, was a Basket dance. The women dancers were dressed in bright shawls of every conceivable color and carried baskets with ribbons, symbolizing the containers for the harvest to come. All wore moccasins. Curiously, some women had what looked like three dimensional moons with rays attached to their backs. These sculptures were quite original and certainly spectacular and once again the corn maiden symbol, the round red dot, adorned the cheek of each woman. Very small girls were also dressed in traditional regalia. Drumming accompanied the dance and corn pollen was dusted on the earth before the dance began.

 

Many pounding drums alerted us to the next dance that immediately followed the first. Drummers and singers entered the plaza from the kiva (the best drummers I have heard so far). The lead dancer was dressed in a war bonnet made of brilliant orange feathers, His arms were covered in purple clay and he had wings made of feathers, bells, scarlet knee bands. He didn’t dance he flew, his feet barely touching the ground. I was mesmerized and for a while couldn’t pay attention anything but the sound of the drumming and this dancer’s whirling body and footwork. He became the dance. Gradually the other dancers entered my awareness, all men with bodies covered in ochre, red, and gray clay.

 

The whole tone of this dance was different. Angry. War cries. Yells. I could feel a fiery intensity that I have never experienced at any of the former dances. I didn’t understand. Some men wore buffalo horn headdresses and other men wore other fantastic war bonnets along with bells, kilts, red ties on their legs. The drumming pulled me into the earth with its awe – inspiring beat.

 

Then I saw the lead dancer wearing an apron with the letters DAPL – the Dakota Access Pipeline – and I finally understood what my body was experiencing. This dance was being held to support all Indigenous peoples in their fight for their brothers and sisters, the right to reclaim their lands. They were dancing for clean waters for all Indigenous peoples, all people, and for the Earth. I wept.

 

Recently the Trump administration failed to follow proper environmental procedures when it granted approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline according to the Federal Judge’s ruling. This action does not stop the oil from flowing but The People took this ruling as a sign of hope because it opens the door to the possibility that this outrageous law might be rescinded.

 

Currently the pipeline can carry 520,000 barrels of oil daily. It is sobering to know that thousands of gallons of oil have already been spilled in dozens of industrial accidents over the past two years. In early April the DAPL leaked oil before it was fully operational.

 

I came away from the dance with a sense of renewed hope and a grateful heart. I have been experiencing so much grief and anger towards this most hostile government that is destroying all hope for planetary survival. Being privileged to witness this active prayer dance for life helped me deal with my own ongoing rage and sense of powerlessness.

 

Thank you People of Ohkay Owingeh for reminding me that I am not alone. My heart goes with you…

A Day in the Forest

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A couple of days ago my friend Iren took me up to Santa Barbara to the San Pedro wilderness. There were so many tall stately conifers – pine, spruce, too many evergreens to mention. Walking through the pale sage gray trunks of the tall aspen forest with their flat edged rustling leaves was only marred by the people that seemed to be obsessed by carving their names into these beautiful smooth ridged trees (which are members of the poplar family as are cottonwoods) creating a vulnerability for disease and untimely death for each thoughtlessly wounded tree. Amber resin weeps tree tears. Whole mountains were covered with every shade of green. White stone. A few peaks with snow could still be seen in the distance. Astonishing tall craggy cliffs and narrow gorges with clear streams running through the low places kept Iren and I close to the rushing water that tumbled over smooth stone.

 

“Water Women” love the lowlands, though Iren is also “Mountain Woman” scaling peaks (with ease) that make me cringe!

 

Iren says this place reminds her of Switzerland, her original homeland. She was sure she smelled mushrooms! I thought of Maine. I was entranced by all the lovely woodland flowers, the bright red wild columbine, delicate lavender bell shaped flowers of the clematis vines, bluebells, violets both white and deep purple, solomon’s seal, valerian, red clover, alpine lupine, water hemlock – I could go on and on here.

 

The medicine woman in me was astonished/astounded by the plethora of natural remedies this forest had to offer. I was delighted to have found such an abundant source for so many of the tinctures/creams I make up and use.

 

Spongy green sphagnum moss and a number of gray green and orange lichens covered some granite rocks. A cacophony of birds sang from the tops of trees and a hummingbird joined us for lunch at the water’s edge.

Black bear sign was in evidence. Fallen logs that housed millions of ants and grubs were raked into shreds. Insects make up most of the Black bears’ omnivore diet in the spring, along with new grass and sedges, all of which were in abundance here (although Black bears are considered omnivores 93 – 95 percent of their diet is made up of sedges, tubers, insects and berries). Some aspen were bent over in that peculiar angle that Black bears use when they are marking territory for mating season in the late spring/early summer. I decided that most of the 3000 bears of New Mexico must be hiding out in this forest, the trees of which were allowed to sprout, grow, decay and die naturally returning to the earth – from death to life – the forest, (left to her own devices), is in a continuous state of becoming.

 

Iren put her hand in the pebble strewn rushing water and quickly withdrew it. This mountain stream was too cold for her to take a quick dip!

 

When we returned to the car I felt so happy, so satisfied, so grateful to Iren. Thanks to my friend, I spent another wondrous day in yet another part of New Mexico, a state that has stolen my heart

Doves and More Doves

IMG_2852.JPGEurasian Collared Doves

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Lily B came to me almost 25 years ago. I had always wanted a bird but my ambivalence about caging had prevented me from acquiring an avian companion. My personal bias underwent a radical change when I read that African collared doves were imported into this country to parent exotic birds because they were such good parents, and after they grew too old they were set free to fend for themselves. A few small flocks survived this harsh treatment. The fact that they were considered to be “trash birds” distressed me deeply and when I discovered it was possible to acquire one of these doves for $5.00, I ordered one.

 

Lily B is a cream colored dove with an unusual pale lavender tint to his plump body. With penetrating red eyes and a throaty triple coo, Lily loves to sun bathe in the early morning sun, and is keenly interesting in cooking. He spends a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and prefers Havarti cheese as his daily snack. He roosts in hanging baskets.

 

When I came to Abiquiu Lily accompanied me (he has never been caged) and his melodious singing brought a close relative of his, the Eurasian Collared dove, to our bird feeding station.

 

The two are almost impossible to distinguish unless one listens carefully to their calls. African collared doves have a deep throated song, while Eurasian doves have a similar triple coo that lacks the rich tone. African collared doves can also occasionally be spotted in this area but sightings are quite rare, and it is usually the Eurasian collared doves that we see this time of year in pairs.

 

Like Lily, the Eurasian doves have buff colored, robust bodies, startling red eyes that look black from a distance, red legs, and a black ring that circles their necks in a horseshow shape leaving a gap at the throat. If you think that you have spotted an African collared dove listen to the call. If the triple coo is soft it is a Eurasian collared dove and if it is deep and resonant then you are listening to an African collared dove.

 

The Eurasian dove is native to Asia and was introduced into North America in the 1980’s. Presently this bird is found throughout the U.S. except (oddly) in the northeast. They forage on the ground for seeds and insects, and sometimes eat berries. Collared doves typically breed close to human habitation wherever food resources are abundant and there are trees for nesting. The males have a harsh two syllable territorial warning call. Both males and females sing and the female adopts the mating song of her mate. The male chooses the nesting area, the female decides upon the exact site. The male builds the nest. The female lays two white eggs in the casual stick – laden structure, and both parents sit on the eggs. Fledglings become independent within a month. Both parents feed the young regurgitated pigeon milk. Four to six broods a year are common in southern areas.

 

I have at least half a dozen pairs living here in the cottonwoods along the river and early in the morning there is a cacophony of musical coo- COO –coos and fluttering of wings as the birds land on the ground both inside and outside my house!

Next Month I Will Be Gone

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Next Month I will be Gone

 

I called her the Fire Moon

rising burnt orange

over cottonwoods

whose heart shaped leaves

rustled in  harmony.

 

Next month I will be gone.

 

Subdued, I watched

the moon in silence,

feeling my body

pulling me earthward

heaving with sorrow.

 

Next month I will be gone.

 

I watched her

become a luminous white pearl

As she climbed

high in the sky.

I bow to her will:

The cycles of change.

 

Next month I will be gone.

 

A single hummingbird

landed on a tree branch

under our white moon blossom

marking the moment.

 

Next month I will be gone.

Serpents Who Slip Through Desert Sands

 

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Yesterday I went with a friend to the Wildlife Center to attend a safe snake releasing presentation. In the southwest pit vipers/venomous snakes are routinely slaughtered whenever they are encountered. Many people have an irrational fear of snakes that drives snake extinction, even when it’s totally unnecessary.

The best part of the program for me was having the opportunity to learn how to safely pick up a rattlesnake with a snake-stick made with a simple metal hook at one end that easily slips under the upper third of the snake’s body. After completing the first step, lifting the snake off the ground and depositing it in an enclosure is a relatively simple procedure, probably because the snake is surprised to be airborne. I noted that even when the rattlesnakes were agitated, once off the ground they calmed down. The trick of course is to hook the snake in question without being bitten! It is important to wear high boots and to cover your legs with clothing that is heavy enough to repel a strike. But if the snake is hooked properly it won’t bite. I personally would like to practice this maneuver with a garter or gopher snake (like the one I saw this morning) before attempting to move a rattlesnake, but after my experience I feel reasonably confident that I could perfect this technique in time, and I like knowing that I might be able to save a snake from an unnecessary death.

Snakes are beneficial because they kill rodents that carry disease. Without the help of snakes we would be overrun by mice, rats etc. They also consume noxious insects and scorpions.

It is so important to remember that snakes are not remotely interested in making contact with humans. They are easily frightened by our presence, and of course, if a snake is cornered it will coil up, rattle its tail as a warning and prepare to strike in self –defense. We humans would do exactly the same thing if the situation were reversed.

Here in New Mexico we have a number of poisonous snakes including Diamondbacks, Western, and Mojave rattlesnakes. At this presentation I was amazed at the variations in color for all snakes (venomous or not) that reside in this area.

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Above: diamondback rattlesnake

A perfect example is the Coach – whip snake that happens to be my favorite local serpent. He is fast! And he has a velvet snakeskin that can be pink, red, or a magnificent burnt copper color and sometimes he is sometimes striped. All snakes feel like smooth velvet in when touched.

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Above: My favorite local serpent, the Coach -whip. Look at his beautiful eye!

Once again, I was reminded that what I needed to focus on for identification was not the variable patterns but the triangular head and the presence of a rattle.

I disagreed with the presenter on two points.

One was that snakes can’t hear. It is true that snakes don’t have ears but they are keenly aware of vibrations of any kind and react to them. Everything in nature is made up of vibrations that most of us cannot hear. Snakes do react to our voices because they create vibrations.

The second point that upset me was the presenter’s remark that snakes have poor eyesight. In my experience this simply isn’t true. It may be that snakes can’t see objects at a great distance but paying close attention to a snake’s behavior will dissolve the myth of poor eyesight. I recently had a very close encounter with a Coach -whip who was hanging upside down in a tangle of willows. I made eye contact with this animal repeatedly who watched me intently as he slipped from one twig onto another while I spoke quietly to him. It seemed to me that he was interested in looking at me from different perspectives!

If you do not want to have snakes in your yard, do not leave birdseed on the ground for mice. Remove all water sources, and keep the area around your house free of rocks or bushes under which a snake might hide.

In closing I would like to reiterate that all snakes simply want to live out their lives in peace. Snakes are not out to get us. They are benevolent creatures that keep rodents in check. Let us create space in our lives to allow them to survive.

Photos (except Coach -whip) Jeff Beeman

White Lily

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An oriental lily

wafts sweet scent

through thin air.

Speaking clearly

her spicy perfume

captures

my attention,

clouding

the white haze

of my grief.

 

White, the color

of death –

a dying flower

wrinkled,

paper thin,

yellowed,

her edges shrivel.

Only an emerald

pistil still

stands tall.

Brown pollen

Drifts aimlessly,

stains the luminous

pearl moon flower

that once was.

whole.

 

 

Working Notes:

I was given a bouquet of these most beautiful flowers a couple of days ago.

That same morning I dreamed that hope was dead.

The Fire moon was full this morning.

I am in mourning – for I must let go of a vision I held, perhaps, too close to my heart.

Grief has no boundaries, it swallows one whole.

I have disappeared down a rabbit hole

in the void of dark space.

 

Postscript 2

The male parts of a flower are called stamens and they usually surround the female pistil that contains an ovary at its base. The pollen from the stamens is carried by the wind and sticks to the sticky top of the pistil fertilizing the flower as it’s dying.

It interests me that the female parts of the flower dies last.