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.

As it turns out I am presently a “snowbird” having returned to Abiquiu for the winter and spring of 2017 and 2018.

With deep appreciation,

Sara

 

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The Gate

I walk through the creaking gate

under a pre dawn sky

Ice cracks,

splits still air.

Ducks rise up

over serpentine waters.

Geese gather in v formations.

Every tree

spreads her crown of bare branches.

The sky begins to shiver.

I breath in golden

crystals of New Born Light.

 

Every morning finds me at the river’s edge in the inky darkness of a pre dawn sky giving thanks for the return of my joy and the gift of living in such a hallowed place.

Desert Snow

 

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Shark gray clouds

swim across the sky

before daybreak.

Is the river holding her breath?

Prickly cholla is gesoed

pearl white.

Desert sage and scrub wear

tender winter coats.

Raccoon ‘s midnight identity is

revealed through

sharply etched foot prints

circling the Russian Olive.

Bird hieroglyphics

create patterns – a new language

written in wonder

on wet ground.

In the distance higher mesas

accumulate thick layers

of silver light.

I sweep away an inch of fluff

from my door –

no backbreaking shoveling here,

just my joyful heart singing…

High desert

soaks up sweet moisture

plumping out withered limbs,

her thirst quenched for a moment

as cottony clouds slide by.

A few star filled snowflakes drift

by my window…

Even the patches of blue

breaking through

a thick gray dome

cannot dim my enthusiasm

for this watery gift at dawn:

 

Blessed, Desert Snow.

 

Working notes: It is hard to believe that I would long for snow as much as I have coming from Maine where snow is never welcome, especially now with climate change and the perennial freeze -thaw that makes walking and driving a nightmare, not to mention the amount of daily shoveling required to simply get out of my house and up my hill!

But here in Abiquiu, New Mexico we are in a drought and all moisture has virtually been absent for months. To wake up this morning to paths painted white and drifting snowflakes was pure joy!

Hector

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There is nothing like first hand observation to provide a naturalist with new astonishing information. In my last column for another publication I wrote about gophers in the abstract, and two days later Hector made his first appearance. I noted the hole that appeared one morning with some curiosity but I never expected to meet its owner. While standing at the window one morning (I lose amazing amounts of time here watching birds, the river, soaking in the subtlety of the winter scrub, red willows, flying geese, ducks, egrets, and soaring eagles) a small russet brown head popped out of a hole in a cleared area. The rodent perused his immediate surroundings and then disappeared. I have just met my immediate neighbor, a gopher, I thought excitedly, as the name Hector flashed through my mind. I didn’t know then that friend Iren loved the name Hector! Of course, I have no idea whether Hector is a male or female but I trust the part of me that might know…

 

Hector is a most fascinating neighbor. Soon after I put seed and cracked corn out in the early sometimes pre-dawn hours he appears. Every morning he re -opens the hole he closes at the end of each feeding day (which here ends around noon because by then the birds and Hector have devoured the day’s ration of food). Just why he feels the need to close his door after the food is gone remains a mystery to me, unless he is irritated by the sparrows who sometimes peer down into his abode, no doubt looking for food too! Yesterday I noticed that a couple of birds actually snuggled into the orifice Hector had created – maybe for warmth? I recalled that gophers are very territorial.

 

This morning I didn’t awaken until after dawn. When I went outdoors to scatter seed there were five new holes in the same area. Hector had obviously opened one door and when he found nothing edible he descended into his cavern of tunnels and created new doors to the surface to scout around for seed! At least that’s my theory.

 

As soon as I came in around 7:30 AM I went to the window and there was Hector pulling down sunflower seed and cracked corn into his favored tunnel as fast as he could! Today is a bonus day because in addition to bird food I also sprinkle my dove’s food outdoors recycling Lily b’s left overs. Hector has been busy storing goodies all morning!

 

After the flock of blackbirds arrived things took a turn for the worse because now the ground is picked clean and it’s only 11AM. Hector has already closed down one of his entrances (his favorite), and I am anxious to see what he does with the others. I still try to imagine what it must be like to have a burrow that snakes its way through the earth six feet deep and can extend up to 5000 feet in length. I would like to believe that Hector sleeps under the Trailercita snuggled into his gopher nest somewhere below us.

 

(We need to be mindful that all gophers do so much good because they keep the desert soil aerated allowing precious moisture to be absorbed)

 

Clearly, living with a gopher is a source of ongoing amazement to me. I am always wondering what Hector might do next!

Coyote fences, gourds, and Canis latrans

 

My friend Iren has erected a beautiful coyote fence for privacy. Each day when I look at this wooden structure I find myself admiring it more.

 

Coyote fences can be made of a number of materials often spruce – fur latillas and this one appeals to me the most. The uneven wooden poles fit the surrounding desert like they rise out of the ground like willows will in wet places…

 

In the morning light the poles shimmer.

 

Naturally, I also think about coyotes being able to jump these fences if they actually surround an enclosed structure (this one does not).

 

Coyotes are brilliant and can eye immediately the difficulties presented when assessing the viability of jumping such an uneven barrier. A coyote could easily break a leg, or worse. However, coyotes are amazingly adaptable wild animals and rarely make stupid mistakes.

 

I have read that if they choose coyotes might be able to clear a fourteen-foot fence. This information seems a bit far – fetched. Even a starving coyote probably would not make this choice.

 

When Iren gave me a coyote gourd I was simply amazed. When halved these beauties reveal Nature’s superb packaging and intricate handiwork. According to Iren, Santa Fe has coyote gourds all over the place so I had to look them up. They grow wild and although unpalatable to humans, coyotes like them very much, because their scat is full of the flat seeds, three of which I just planted in one of my pots. The vine is to my mind quite beautiful to look at with it’s star –like variegated leaves. The smooth spherical fruits ripen from green to pale yellow gourds that are still used by Pueblo peoples as rattles in ceremony and the seeds were also once ground and eaten. These wild plants grow in sandy places and I am anxious to see if I can germinate a vine. Perhaps one day I will have a coyote fence on which the vines could grow…

 

A few weeks ago I met a coyote wandering across Owl Canyon. I had my two five pound Chihuahuas with me on leashes. Because I am a naturalist, my dogs have been taught that they can bark at people but not wild animals, and during this encounter we were able to approach this coyote close enough so that I could see his golden amber eyes. The coyote seemed quite curious and regarded us with intense concentration, especially after I called out a greeting of welcome. We all stood there quietly in the still afternoon sun until the coyote decided to continue along his way.

 

Wild animals are busy living their own lives and this brief interlude was a gift from the Mistress of the Desert. Had we met a pack of wild dogs I would have been alarmed because these animals can be dangerous but it is my experience that coyotes rarely, if ever bother humans. Of course, anyone who has cats, chickens, and unleashed small/medium dogs leaves their animals at risk to become an opportunist’s next meal if left free to roam at will, but it is our responsibility as pet owners to care for our two or four legged friends, and not blame an offending coyote for passing up a free meal. Coyotes do not have supermarkets to shop in like people do.

 

One fascinating fact about coyotes is that every attempt to extirpate them has failed, and in fact, coyotes have now extended their range throughout all of North America into Mexico and Panama. Killing them simply encourages the remaining coyotes to reproduce more of their kind, so these wily animals are successful in outwitting human cruelty. As a naturalist I am almost always writing about the loss of species so I am especially happy to write about the highly creative coyotes who have learned to thrive along side man, their primary enemy.

 

I have never understood why so many people fear and hate these beautiful animals who are excellent meso – predators who sing up the stars and fill an ecological niche without which the desert would be a poorer rodent ridden place.

 

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halved coyote gourd

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Coyote fence

Morning Prayer

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In the magical pre –dawn space in between the worlds I am compelled to visit Red Willow River to begin each day. As I open the creaking gate quietly I gaze down at the island scanning for the silhouettes of roosting waterfowl as I listen to the hypnotic sound of rippling water carving stones into smooth round flat shapes. A crescent moon glows overhead – a sliver of pearl perched in deep midnight blue sky. I look for the crack between the bare deciduous trees checking to see if the Sangre de Christo mountain range is shifting from deep undulating shadow to sharp peaks that are etched in black ink. I breathe into the still air, feeling an ancient sense of wonder permeating my body. Gratitude flows like the water beneath the sandstone cliff on which I stand… I am viscerally attached to the all the peoples, animals, and plants who lift their eyes to the east where a rosy pink, pale yellow, bittersweet orange, or scarlet morning sun will soon break over the horizon. In these precious moments I am the Earth becoming her Morning Prayer.

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The Crush Cage

 

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What does it mean to feel psychologically and physically unsafe?

 

This question has been much on my mind of late and this morning I found myself writing random notes to answer my query.

 

First I typed that I feel psychologically and physically unsafe when my body is in deep distress from exhaustion. When I don’t have the luxury of being able to experience my feelings and allow them to flow through me like the 70 percent of me that is made of water I am literally floundering above an unknown sea walking on air … I am also forced to live on a hard military edge of “might is right” where it is impossible to feel fatigue. My body becomes rigid, stiff, and headaches, backaches, stomach troubles, and free floating anxiety peak, creating a negative feedback loop that results in insomnia that had become so severe that I was unable to sleep, relax, or even rest to relieve the exhaustion that held my body and mind hostage to another person’s insensitivity and self absorption. My pleas for help went unanswered. Serious physical illness became a threat, and recently my body succumbed to that indignity as well.

 

I am a sensitive, perhaps a mystic, that is, a person who is keenly attuned to others, both human and non –human beings, as well as to her surroundings on both a mind and bodily level. Does this tendency make me “difficult” as I have been so harshly accused?

 

Perhaps.

 

I do know that because of this predisposition I am unable to protect myself from sudden noise, the worst form of psychological assault that I personally experience. Trapped in a house where incomprehensible slamming of cupboards, pots being smashed, screen doors screeching, wood being rammed into a stove, frightening thumps and buzzers going off at midnight are just a few examples that come to mind. Hyper -alert, my body goes rigid with unpredictability. As anger surfaces it has no place to go because I have no control over the timing of the threat I am facing.

 

Victimization is the unfortunate result.

 

Many of us also know that sleep deprivation is also a form of torture and can actually result in death.

 

To have this basic physical need for sleep so wantonly dis respected is not just painful but makes it clear that human invisibility is the core of the problem. As a living being I do not exist except as someone’s bizarre fantasy. Over the past two months I have witnessed myself disappearing – literally – withering away like the plant that I loved as a sister who did lose her life to this travesty. As my own physical situation deteriorated I was simply ignored.

 

The second most devastating feeling of not feeling safe develops out of a fundamental lack of respect for a person’s ideas and beliefs. When one person holds truth with a capital “T” and is always right there is no room to express opinions, to share ideas, to have different priorities. This process is insidious. Not to be heard at all is a kind of death, and after a while a chilling silence pervades the empty places where love is not. Without mutual respect friendship cannot survive.

 

Physically, sleep deprivation leaves me feeling unsafe, but emotionally, not feeling heard or seen destroys my sense of self.

 

Because I am a person who finds beauty in all of Nature there is another facet to this emotional tendril of feeling unsafe. Nature has sustained me throughout my life and has been both mother, father, sister, brother, lover, and when I am told that I have no aesthetic sense – “that I love everything indiscriminately, that I am common” I feel indescribable grief. I am in love with Nature. To speak of the astonishing wonder and beauty of swaying grasses, sunrises and sunsets, a sea green river of red willows, waxing moons and a starry firmament is to invite ridicule and perhaps this is the most devastating, certainly the loneliest aspect of attempting to cultivate a viable friendship. I learned quickly to shut up.

 

My guess is that a pervasive feeling of safety, or the lack thereof varies greatly with each individual.

 

In my case simply putting words to my feelings re ignites my capacity for joy, and returns what was stolen from me by this cruel and devastating experience.

 

That, and getting out.

 

 

Postscipt:

(1) I noted as I wrote this reflection that I had difficulty staying in one tense while writing. My sense is that my experience is still too present and that this is what is causing the confusion.

(2) The excruciating photograph was taken by someone who has witnessed what horrors the Asian Black Bear is subjected to as s/he spends her entire life crushed in a cage where the animal cannot stand up or move as a crude catheter is inserted into the animal’s belly to extract bile that is used in Chinese medicine. Some of these animals live fifteen years before they eventually die.

As I was writing this reflection the image of the “crush cage” inserted itself into my mind and I couldn’t get rid of it probably because it’s how I’ve felt over the last two months… However, next to the suffering that these animals experience my own vignette becomes insignificant.

Most amazing is that these extraordinary animals when rehabilitated (by Animals Asia an international organization initiated by the work of Jane Goodall and Marc Bekoff) not only forgive their oppressors but learn how to love humans. They also learn to play and experience joy after years of unspeakable abuse. Forgiveness is divine it is said. If so, animals are our teachers, and anything becomes possible.