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

 

River Muses

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As the river rises with spring melt from the mountains, Abiquiu dam opens flooding the river to overflowing. The men come to clean the acequias or ditches that will bring life bringing water into the fields to irrigate the crops. All the farmers share this precious water, and having “water rights” determines whether crops will thrive or perish…

Every morning a shimmering golden orb mirrors the river whose serpentine shape and echoing voice welcomes me as I walk out to feed the birds and walk my dogs. I respond to her rumbling roar of water on stone with a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of water, the rising sun, and a new day spent in this place of unimaginable beauty.

I have fallen in love with a river.

What Spirits decreed that I might live here for a time?

For months I climbed to the ruin of Poshuouinge to glimpse the serpentine path of water meandering below wondering what stories the river held close to her heart. Generations of Tewa speaking Pueblo peoples lived here along the river’s banks, women digging mud, shaping pots out of wet clay, creating art with agave brushes, men carving swiftly flying arrows, clearing the acequias, planting, harvesting, hunting giving thanks for the river’s generosity…people struggling to live in harmony with the land they called “Mother.”

Yet there was much suffering too. Too much blood was shed. Children and women were stolen by those who believed they had more “rights” than others, people who used other people and earthscapes for personal gain. Yet the People endured and some live on today in Pueblos scattered along the river.

Is this why the river tells me that I too must be steadfast, make peace with a troubled past, leave land that I love deeply, come to live here as a child would, trusting the river’s ebb and flow?

Is this why I have met such generous hearted people, people I could come to love?

Did the river draw them to her just as she calls to me now?

These questions haunt me because Place has a kind of Power that works invisibly through Fate and body/mind pulling a person into relationship with a particular element – like the water of this river – but this power never uses words to communicate. Instead, Nature calls her red winged blackbirds to sing their hearts out as I listen fervently for confirmation.

These black robed muses are answering my call.

It is up to me to make the choice to believe these birds whose Presence I see and hear, but whose message I cannot as yet feel.

The Seed Moon – A Time for Ritual and Reflection

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Guardians…

Early Sunday morning the moon will be full and if I am fortunate I will be able to watch her rise over Red Willow River… a river that I have fallen in love with… (I did)

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I think of the Indigenous peoples who have marched in Washington in protest of a pipeline that if completed will pollute their drinking water. The political situation has never seemed more frightening than it is today.

Water is Life – simple and profound.

Every spring I honor the rising waters… and the importance of this element to all living beings. All sentient beings including humans are made of water.

In Maine where I come from, the dreaded white gaze of a March sun is reflected on heaps of snow. The noonday star hurts my eyes and brings on another round of depression because of the ongoing drought… every single year.

Here in Abiquiu I feel joy and I think about water because there is so little rainfall over all. Even desert plants need water to thrive. Each day I see that at the base of many plants there is new growth. I have already seen diminutive wildflowers in bloom. At the monastery big sage has 4 inches of new growth and the scent of this plant is intoxicating.

Two of these big sage plants sit outside my door listening to the river’s song.

Last weekend I saw an Indian man rub the sage onto his hands and body like a prayer. I repeat the gesture with big sage, giving thanks for the changing seasons.

This is the month to celebrate the rising of the waters. This is the month to pray for rain… Here in the southwest I don’t feel alone because the Pueblo peoples have ceremonies that call down the rain gods every year beginning with the Katchinas that arrive around the Winter Solstice, but remain invisible until First Light, when they appear as part of the purification process…In March the night dances dominate, and these are secret ceremonies that no doubt have everything to do with water. Next month the dam will open, and the acequias will be cleaned, so that the precious river water can flow into the ditches to irrigate the fields in this valley. How can I not be aware of how critical water is to all life…?

The Redwing blackbirds have just arrived. Robins are singing from the cottonwoods as talkative and clown-like magpies in black and white coats swoop down from those same branches. I don’t know if the redwing blackbirds will move on, but I hope not. I long to hear the songs of these black robed women with wings… The desert floor is covered with tiny bird prints – bird hieroglyphics – towhees, sparrows, juncos, nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, cactus wrens, scurry around drinking water, swallowing seeds, pecking fat, seeking temporary safety and shelter in the prickly shrubs and vines. The shining rust colored feathers of the relentless redtails soar overhead hoping to spot an unwary avian relative. Yesterday a kestrel flew into the thickly branched tree (whose name I don’t know) scattering well hidden white crowned sparrows. Interesting technique!

I am happier here than I have ever been…I have a life with Nature, with her flowing river waters, her white moon, her wild birds and with her people – I am not alone – even the politics of this place seem to suit me.

 

  • So let the desert and the moon and stars know than I feel gratitude flowing through me on this Watery Full Moon. I give thanks for my beloved dogs, for Lily B who is napping on his perch in our bedroom, for finding good and generous friends…I call out greetings to a white moon who rises in the east and brings the birds home…

 

  • I ask to stay with the process I am in… to be present for myself.

 

Keep me honest with myself… to keep listening to the truth of my body…

 

I honor Grandmother Moon and her grandsons. remembering my own beloved grandmother, thanking her for loving me fiercely.

 

I bless each of us with water from Red Willow river and thank her for bringing us to this place.

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Big Sagebrush

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Recently a friend and I took a trip to the monastery on a cold gray March day. Without the sun’s glare I was struck by the myriad of greens and grays that dominated the landscape. When I first noticed that the sage I was looking at had new leaves I felt puzzled because I didn’t expect to be seeing new growth on three foot tall plants this early in the year, although new growth is present in wild plants that are huddled close to the ground. I had already glimpsed two flowers, a dandelion and a deep magenta heron’s bill elsewhere, both of which were practically hidden in between sun warmed stones.

Happily, I gathered some sprigs of the sweet pungent sage, and climbed back into the car with the fragrant camphor and other volatile oils wafting through the air. Looking around the steppe I noted that a sea of sagebrush stretched out in front of me until the shrubs met red willows that lined the bank of the river. This protected riparian area was completely surrounded by cliffs, and I wondered if that was why the sage had sprouted new leaves so early in the year.

When I looked up big sagebrush I discovered that it was classified as an evergreen shrub because it keeps some of its leaves all year round. With leaves remaining on the plant during the winter big sage can photosynthesize later in the year and earlier in the spring than many other plants. Sagebrush takes advantage of the long growing season photosynthesizing even when temperatures are close to freezing. This information answered my query as to why the plants seemed to be in an (early) active growth cycle.

The size of these plants indicated to me that this land was arable, suitable for cultivation, and indeed the monks had an extensive garden not far from the field of sage. This coarse, many – branched shrub has pale yellow flowers, and silvery gray leaves. A deep taproot coupled with laterally spreading roots near the surface allows sagebrush to gather water from both surface precipitation and from the water table several meters down. It prefers deep basic soils. This sage is very long lived once it makes it through the seedling stage. A hundred year old shrub is not uncommon. Big sages’ pale yellow flowers appear in the late summer or fall. Its fruits are seed –like. This plant also reproduces through sprouts that shoot up from the underground rhizome. These daughter plants have a much better chance of surviving because they are attached to the mother plant that has adequate moisture, no matter how dry the season. Of the two strategies for survival daughter sprouts have the edge. A seedling has to find its way alone and will die without enough moisture.

Sagebrush is not a desert plant but is a resident in areas that get 7 to 14 inches of rain a year. Big sage and other Artemisia species are dominant plants of the Great Basin covering some 422,000 square miles in eleven western and Canadian provinces. The shrubs are found from 4000 to 10,000 feet in elevation. Sagebrush ecosystems have the largest habitat range in the United States. Big sage often grows in areas like the cold desert shrub or in juniper and pinion pine woodlands. The perennial shrub (that often looks like a small tree) grows from 2 -7 feet tall. The young stems are smooth and silvery but as the plant matures the stems turn gray and the bark starts to grow in long strips. The plant provides food and habitat for a variety of animals like the sage grouse, pronghorn, birds, the pygmy rabbit and mule deer. It also creates habitat for many species of grasses and herbs. Besides providing shade and shelter from the wind, the long taproot of sagebrush draws water up from deep in the soil, some of which becomes available to these surrounding shallow rooted plants.

Damage to sagebrush plants by grazing herbivores results in the release of volatile chemicals that are used to signal a warning to nearby plants, so others can protect themselves by increasing the production of repellent chemical compounds. This plant to plant communication extends over long distances, and is probably not the only way these plants converse. It has been argued by some that the actual “brain” of the plant is in its underground root system where most exchanges take place (see Stephen Buhner’s work). What I find so fascinating is that sagebrush and many other plants appear to behave altruistically putting the lives of the whole community of plants before that of the individual.

Some Native peoples grind the seeds of big sage into flour but ordinarily the plant is considered toxic for human consumption because of its oils that are toxic to the liver and digestive systems. Many Indigenous peoples use big sage as a medicinal herb, most notably for smudging. Zuni use the plant vapors for body aches. Navajo use big sage to cure headaches. I collect a couple of different types of sages and use them to help with headaches or to clear a room of stale winter air. I also put sprigs in vases in the late fall.

As previously noted big sage is part of the extensive Artemisia family and has been associated with humans for a very long time. In every state in the U.S. some form of the plant can be found in most flower gardens  and can easily be identified by its pungent odor (although the scent differs from one species to another), as well as its lovely blue gray foliage.IMG_1165.JPG

Above: a few sprigs of Big Sagebrush

 

Baba’s Tapestry

 

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Above: Huichol String Painting of the Tree of Life – Thanks to Bruce Nelson for the image

This morning the first email I read was written by a male friend of mine who reminded me that today, International Women’s Day, was “my day.” How delightful to be reminded of this moment by a good man I thought to myself.

An article in Return to MAGO about the biological miracle of female mitochondrial DNA captured my attention immediately afterwards. It had been a while since I had thought about the unbroken line of genes passed down from mother to daughter that allowed geneticists to trace woman’s heritage back to the “first mother.” I reflected for a minute on “her- story” that I share with all women including my own mother and grandmother.

In the same piece of writing (excerpts from Blood and Honey by Danica Anderson) references were made to scholar Marija Gimbutas’s research which highlights the importance of spinning and weaving, and how these two creative acts were carried out by women in sacred temples long ago. In ancient times flint blades were used as scissors by the women who cut the threads and cords – umbilical and otherwise. (Neolithic Europe).

These references swamped me with memories driving me to write, today, before I lost the precious threads.

First, I thought of my grandmother who I named “Baba” because she sang a song to me about three lost sheep that cried bah, bah, bah. The word “Baba,” I later learned, was a name used to denote grandmother.

My maternal grandmother took care of me as a child. She let me bake cookies and help her put up food that she had grown in her vegetable garden. She taught me how to grow flowers, and together we watched birds for hours. She cooked special foods for me when I was sick and washed my face with warm water every single night. She awakened me so that we could watch the deer grazing in a circle around the golden apple tree under a blossoming white moon. But what I remember best is sitting with her as she sewed…

My grandmother was a professional seamstress who crafted all my grandfather’s suits, shirts, ties, and silk handkerchiefs from bolts of cloth that she chose with great care. I also have many poignant memories of her sitting at the sewing machine stitching together dresses, shorts, shirts, for her only granddaughter who she loved fiercely. She taught me to sew delicate little stitches, and I have a clear memory of her working on a huge tapestry of the Tree of Life that was filled with colorful birds that I loved. That she never finished this particular piece of embroidery always upset me whenever I thought about it. At the time of her death my grandmother had embroidered so many pillow shams, and wall hangings that were so exquisitely executed that I was left to wonder about the significance behind the fact that she abandoned my favorite tapestry of all. I still have the silver heron scissors that she used to cut the threads while working on that piece of embroidery …

Today of all days seems like an appropriate time to honor my very creative and loving grandmother who nurtured me as a child, adolescent, and young woman. When I lost her not long after my brother’s death I lost the only adult I had ever come near to trusting…

According to Andersom, women’s aprons had pockets that often held precious family heirlooms like rings and necklaces, as well as scissors that were passed down from mother to daughter (or as in my case from grandmother to granddaughter).

(I stopped writing at this point to get a cup of coffee and to water my plants. I was stunned to discover a small pair of (child’s) scissors in the center of one of my passionflower pots that had been hidden there for months. Sometimes synchronistic experiences like this reinforce the powers of interconnection like nothing else can)

My grandmother also wore aprons that always had pockets in them.

My mother was an artist that worked in a number of mediums. At one point she was silk screening pictures that my brother and I had drawn onto linen napkins. My brother drew a bird’s nest with three eggs in it. The picture that my mother selected for me was a self-portrait of a small child who wore an apron with a single pocket in the left hand side. I was also wearing one of my grandfather’s berets. Oddly I had drawn myself with only one arm. As an adult, I wondered about why my mother had chosen this particular picture for her napkins because it seemed to indicate that her daughter saw herself in a distorted way.

The embroidered Tree of Life tapestry that my grandmother never finished and the picture of myself with one arm leads me to believe that something was broken in my grandmother and in me on an archetypal level (tree of life) and the personal (a child with one arm). But I think that the intergenerational woman thread endured and eventually triumphed, because the child had a pocket and inside that pocket was a woman who developed into a creative writer, one who continues today to re-weave the threads of her broken woman line.

Spring on the Wing

 

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Northern Flicker

 

Three long- necked Sand -hill cranes fly over the house.

V shaped flocks of geese sound a collective cry.

Woodpeckers drum.

 

Magical flying dragons are stirring….

 

All who listen hear that that the skies are shifting, avian travelers are underway.

Juncos, cactus wrens, sparrows, doves, towhees, peep and scratch

in a tangle of vines, rosy willows, and old papery leaves that tumble around under bare –leafed trees.

 

Magpie replies to inquiries made about his health,

a study in black and white, he mimics Katchinas

who have been biding their time in volcanic hills and calderas, conversing with deer…

 

I leap out of bed to glimpse an orange globe rising

Lily, my house dove, Lily rings in the hour.

 

Delicate sea green rosettes appear, mandalas spiraling on the desert floor.

Tufts of fury gray blue sage emerge – still wrinkled from sleep.

 

Red Willow River sings her love song of life bringing water

to the fierce white heat of a morning sun.

 

3/4/17

 

Working notes:

I wrote this prose after seeing the Sand –hill cranes flying over sand colored earth and the blue – green river while I fed my birds yesterday morning. Birds always usher in spring before anyone else seems to notice with their songs and also because many of our bird species migrate. This year I just learned that the northern flicker that migrates from here in the Mountains of Northern Mexico is not the same one that comes to Maine! Northern flickers that fly east have bright yellow underwings, while those that go west are painted a brilliant orange.

After too many long Maine winters I am delighted to be experiencing spring –like temperatures in early March. Here in New Mexico the first buds are swelling and desert perennials (some with spikes!) are greening up from red, buff, or sand colored earth. As an earth person, by which I mean a woman whose body/mind is exquisitely tuned to the nuances of each season, I am particularly grateful to be experiencing a warming sun, buds swelling, a river flowing, and birds singing during this “Month of the Mothers” without a thick white crusty blanket of snow covering the ground.

March is the month when the waters begin to rise… In ancient times The first Mother’s Day was celebrated March 25th, just after the spring equinox when longer days and increasingly intense light awakens plants and animals from their winter sleep.

 

Below: Artist Iren Schio’s partial rendering of a dragon… his long body is hidden from sight.

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