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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April’s Frog Moon Resurrection

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The Frog Moon Mystery

 

April’s second spring moon was almost full as she rose through the cracks of the cottonwoods. The acequias were filling across/down the field and a small amount of rain had fallen two days earlier. Diminutive lime green leaves feathered the trees. I was just walking in the house when I heard the call.

 

I stopped dead in my tracks, stunned. Then wondered if I was having some kind of audio – hallucination. A paracusia, or audio hallucination is a form of hallucination that involves perceiving sounds without auditory stimulus.

 

After all, it had three years since I had heard one of the most beloved sounds that I associate with spring…I kept listening, sat down on the steps, my ears on fire. The unmistakable trill.

 

After a timeless pause, the practical side of me took over. I entered the house, got my recorder, and began recording the song.

 

I have been listening to the musical trill of tree frogs since I was a child, and I knew this song by heart. A gray tree frog was singing just beyond what I call the magic portal, a natural cathedral framed by bowed cottonwoods that opens into the next field.

 

After about an hour of listening and recording even the skeptic in me was forced to accept that this really was a gray tree frog. Sadly, I never heard a female’s answering call. It was also clear that this male frog was not being challenged by other tree frogs (who call out to establish territories as well as to attract females) because there apparently were no others in the area.

 

This latter fact did not surprise me. All frogs have been endangered since the 1960’s and many have become extinct.

 

“In Silent Spring” written in 1962 a brilliant and dedicated biologist, and true “mother of the environmental movement” warned us about the Great Silence that was about to descend upon us as a result of indiscriminate pesticide use, and no one listened.

 

Frogs and toads are the canaries of water, land and air. Because they breathe through their skin they are indicators of the massive amounts of pollution we are allowing to consume our planet “forgetting,” of course, that eventually these pollutants will kill humans too (the ultimate dis-connect).

 

Just before I went to bed that night I opened the door and heard the solitary tree frog crying out to the moon.

 

The next morning I compared my recording with the songs of grey tree frogs online, and of course they were identical.

 

For two days I researched every New Mexican tree frog and listened to about 50 recordings and came up with nothing that sounded like the recording I had.

 

How could this be? Grey tree frogs are denizens of the wetlands and forested areas of the northeast – east of the Rockies.

 

Meanwhile, my beloved gray tree frog is still singing his heart out even during the day, something I have never heard any of the Maine gray tree frogs do unless rain or heavy mist blanketed the mountains. At these times they sing periodically.

 

As of this writing, even in the wind my little friend is still calling – the voice of yearning crying out in the wilderness… Three days in a row.

 

At present I have no answer to this particular mystery and welcome any commentary the reader might have.

 

What follows is a little natural history on these one to two inch frogs that come in every shade of gray to green, depending upon the vegetation they inhabit.

 

The gray tree frog’s scientific name is Hyla versicolor. The frog’s ability to alter its skin color also changes with respect to the time of day and the surrounding temperature. When my brother and I were children we would capture these frogs and place them on leaves, lily pads, wild grasses, bark, lichen etc. just to watch how fast they could change color! Their skin becomes much lighter at night and darker during the day.

 

Gray tree frogs hibernate in the winter by taking refuge in trees. They survive sub -zero temperatures by producing glycerol to “freeze” during which time they also stop breathing while still being able to maintain interior metabolic processes. A virtual miracle, that.

 

Supposedly the gray tree frog’s range covers much of the eastern United States, from northern Florida to central Texas and north to parts of southeastern Canada but obviously, some of these frogs are moving west, or were here in the first place. Tree frogs are an arboreal species that occupies a variety of wooded habitats. They are most often found in forests, swamps, on agricultural lands and in wooded backyards.

 

All need access to trees and a water source. I don’t know when it occurred to me that I am surrounded by the perfect habitat here as well as in Maine. When gray tree frogs are young and newly metamorphosed, they usually remain near the forest floor tucked into bark, detritus, or high grasses; later they transition to the forest canopy. As an adult I have captured some that like to hide in the rough bark of the white pines next to my brook (Maine).

 

Adult gray tree frogs mainly prey upon different types of insects at night because they are nocturnal. Mites, spiders, plant lice, snails and slugs are common prey. They may also occasionally eat smaller frogs, including other tree frogs. They search for insects in trees, where they can climb vertically or move horizontally with their fantastic toe pads that cling like suction cups.

 

The males begin trilling in early spring, shortly after emerging from hibernation. In the mid-range areas males begin calling in late April to early May. In Maine I don’t begin to hear them until late May. Males call to females from trees and bushes that are usually close to overhanging streams or standing water.

 

The exact timing of breeding for gray tree frogs varies based on temperature and their location throughout the range. Most reproduction takes place early on, although the musical trilling lasts from late April to early August (May through September in Maine). Individuals may mate up to three times in a season.

 

Males are very territorial and will fight other males to defend their area. Fights may last 30 to 90 seconds and consist of wrestling, shoving, kicking and head butting until the subordinate male retreats. Females are sexually di-morphic (bigger) and initiate mating by approaching a calling male.1,000 to 2,000 eggs which are externally fertilized by the male. Since actual mating occurs while the frogs are floating in water, eggs are deposited into the water in small clusters, attached to a reed or some kind of floating debris. Tadpoles usually hatch after three to seven days, depending on the water temperature. As youngsters, these frogs are painted scarlet or orange-vermilion with black blotches around the edge of the crests, so unlike other species they are easy to identify. Bodies and tails are patterned with many specks of black and gold. Like most tadpoles, they eat algae and organic detritus found in the water. Tadpole development depends on water temperature and is variable, but vernal pools must have standing water for some time, a real challenge here in Abiquiu.

 

After three days of trilling this poor little frog must be exhausted. I can only hope that there is one female that will hear his call…

Personal Note:

I wrote the above piece for a publication after having what for me was and continues to be an extraordinary experience  with a tree frog that doesn’t even belong in the desert – a frog that is so dear to my heart.

My childhood memories are permeated with frogs. While most kids had dolls I befriended a large squealing amphibian which i took to bed with me at night. Additionally my little brother and I loved caught, and studied these remarkable amphibians and I cannot think about frogs without conjuring up my brother’s spirit from the deep. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I finally buried his ashes on my land in Maine (just below the house), nestled against a glacial  granite boulder covered with lichen moss and ferns, the resting place situated just beyond the brook. This burial of his ashes occurred after a waiting period of 32 years… I had no idea at the time that it was Earth Day because i never celebrated it – every day is an Earth Day for a naturalist like me.

Each year around Davey’s burial day I have unusual experiences – usually with a hawk – and indeed one occurred yesterday when a Kestral landed on the porch and just hung out there for about ten minutes even though the bird could clearly see me moving around. I thought, oh, Davey’s spirit is moving close by. I don’t believe in god or any kind of after life, but my lifetime experiences have taught me that something of the person must live on – or can be accessed after death. For me, these apparitions occur as an encounter with some natural force – an animal bird etc and I am always moved from one perception of reality to another – beyond or outside time – this is what mysticism is all about.

It wasn’t until I wrote this article that I realized that the visit from the hawk was only part of this year’s Davey encounter and that another one was already in progress with the coming of Gray Tree Frog. The hawk is a visceral presence year after year reinforcing the power of the relationship between us. But the frog signifies  – dare I say the word? – resurrection from death to life, transmutation, transformation, rebirth, are all part of this creature’s animal powers and are inextricably woven into this story about Davey and me. So, something is shifting here on a personal level, although I don’t pretend to have any idea what it is.

Add to this “holy week”. I have been writing about Earth’s crucifixion every day – submitting a few articles for publication even though I knew how radical my ideas would be perceived. Not surprisingly, only one essay was published – silence – around the others.  Evidently to write about Earth’s Bodily crucifixion during holy week just doesn’t sit well with the DOMINANT christian overlay, the SPLIT OF MIND AND BODY, the SPLIT OF SPIRIT from the BODY OF THE EARTH and the power of its flow even in otherwise broadminded venues… oddly I am not upset – especially because this gives me insight into WHAT IS.

But there is something to the fact that this frog who doesn’t belong here in the first place and surely will not be able to breed here is still crying out on resurrection day.

Hecate’s Spring Moon 2019

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The Frog Moon will be full in a few minutes and I want to remember this moon in particular because I have longed for and mourned the absence of frog sounds for three years… eventually coming to believe the sound of those primal denizens of the waters would forever be withheld…

 

Frogs have been calling to me since I was a child.

 

The frog world continued to remain eerily silent as I witnessed the drought shrinking the desert landscape into a parched skeleton. I heard the trees scream as forest fires raged and my own breathing became labored and ragged.

 

I thought I was dying.

 

Literally brought to my knees, I finally accepted that there was nothing left to do but accept what was…

 

Climate Change had turned the Earth into a Ball of Fire.

 

Then the winter of 2018-19 brought reprieve. First rain and then snow graced the land. This spring the arroyos are running. I built a toad pond, and with great joy I am once again celebrating – participating in the Greening of the Earth.

 

Even if this reprieve is temporary I have the choice to focus on Now.

 

At the edge of this second Spring moon – The Frog Moon – I continue to make the choice to honor each turning with more gratitude than I ever believed possible, although I find it ironic that this year the full moon falls on the day of christian crucifixion – ‘good friday.’ It’s important to note that in ancient female centered story (pre-dating patriarchy) various male vegetation gods were always sacrificed in the spring so that the crops might grow.

 

Today it is the Body of the Earth that is being sacrificed – crucified, the body upon which all species depend upon for life.

 

For me, there is nothing left to say or do – almost no one is listening.

 

But like Hecate, Greek goddess of liminal spaces and the crossroads (water and earth) I can bear witness to what is and give thanks for my life and that of every frog  who still lives on this planet.

 

I cultivate this attitude out of deep awareness and interconnection with all that is.

 

Lately I have been dreaming about roots. As Hecate’s daughter my roots seek living waters, and the stability that comes from being One with the Land.

 

Last night I heard the poignant melody as I gazed into a cracked moon rising up through the cottonwoods. Although the diminutive tree frog was hidden from sight, he cried out for Life.

 

It wasn’t until I took the moon picture that I saw the owl. Like the frog, the owl is another of Hecate’s familiars or animal aspects (beyond gender). On a personal level the owl is the silent presence of the spirit of my mother – she who witnesses in the dark.

 

We three, woman, frog, and owl stay present for each other and for the Earth as we acknowledge what is, and ultimately – the relativity of both joy and sorrow.

 

We also live in the truth that with every frog refrain, the Song of Life Lives On.

Our Lady is on Fire

 

 

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I entered the Silent Tomb;

the Mosque felt

devoid of Presence.

We wandered through

a myriad of glorious arched rooms,

ornately carved woodwork –

soft carpeted floors.

Removing our shoes

we spoke softly

in deference to

Something ineffable?

Each tiled courtyard,

Mute, yet

starred in

cobalt blue.

Opaque light streamed

through precisely cut

geometric shapes,

domed ceilings

cracked the heavenly stream

into patterned shards.

Outside,

unattended,

High mud walls

kept Creation

at bay.

Fruit trees

twisted by bitter west winds

ragged junipers

sagging in sorrow

rendered invisible

by those who choose

not to see…

I wept for the casually discarded

living breathing

Beings –

Pulsing with Light.

 

Beyond white sand walls

the stark white capped

Mountains cried out in torment

“Here we are!”

“Sangre de Christos” –

It is our body, our blood

that has been shed

not just his.

Stretching north –

Ridged, ribbed serpents

split the continent in two,

valley gorges meandered far below

arroyos flooded Rio Grande

and all the colors of

the rainbow streamed

out of mud and stone.

 

I picked a fragrant branch

on my way out –

a blushing apple blossom.

Re – attaching myself

to Her through a plant,

to what is tangibly real

helped me to breathe…

I felt the split

between mind and body

heal the artificial division

that I had just experienced

beneath words –

Inside and outside

remain perpetually at war

for so many.

 

I stared –

Transfixed by a miraculous painting –

bewildering beauty

stretched around me

from horizon to horizon

I bloomed with the usual awe.

Turning back I gazed at

the graceful rounded lines

of a “holy place”

where Nature was kept at bay

by stark walls,

lack of windows,

cold shadowy halls.

 

Why is it that humans

can no longer see

that the ‘holy’

may manifest

in man made structures

but containment

requires situating

oneself in the Whole?

 

At home

When I placed the

budded branch in water

I recalled another

holy place engulfed by flames.

“Our Lady” is on Fire

during this week of

crucifixion

as once again

body is severed from

the spirit to which it belongs.

 

 

Working Notes:

 

Yesterday I spent more than two hours with a friend exploring a huge and empty Mosque situated just down the road from me… this beautiful structure was situated high on the Mesa with the snow covered Sangre de Christo mountains (Rockies) in the distance – other mesas and volcanic mountains stretched in every direction. The whole landscape was draped in pale spring green. A deep blue sky held a white star in her arms…

Once inside the enormous structure all light was diffused and entered only from ABOVE – mostly covered by some kind of translucent material or plastic… Each magnificent courtyard was enclosed – stone, tile adobe, star patterns carved into ornate wooden doors – The arched doorways and niches were astonishing to behold.

And yet, my body felt heavy – “de -pressed” in some fundamental way. It wasn’t until I was outside the compound that I realized that what I had experienced was a brutal and mind – body split as I was FORCIBLY separated from Nature’s beauty while wandering about inside this extraordinary building…

From my point of view this compound reflected in a concrete way how religions force us to make a choice between loving natural beauty and “worshiping” in man made structures. Churches etc. separate us from wholeness, creating a split that damages not only humans and all non human beings, but allows us to discard this beloved planet that is our home.

How in such a magnificent setting could people separate themselves from their landscape as effectively as this place had?

Then I thought of Notre Dame burning…. “Our Lady” is going up in flames.

I do not believe in coincidence. The message implicit in the burning down of the cathedral in France during the Christian holy week also speaks to what we are doing to the Earth.

Indeed this is the week of Earth’s Crucifixion even as Christians and Jews celebrate resurrection – freedom from the body, slavery, and redemption.

A Cactus made of Rainbows…

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(Author’s newest rainbow cactus garden – the stones are pieces of chert that were found nearby -note the tiny nubbins on the sides of these cactus that will soon burst into bloom)

 

Raspberry spines

prick my skin

but do not harm me

as I gently dislodge

you from stones

and soil,

praying out loud

for permission.

 

You thrive here

as the Bears do

under tall red pines

and lichened boulders.

Aspens, Spruce, Juniper

all murmur

love songs

on Changing Woman’s mountain.

 

Is that why they call you

a Rainbow cactus?

Were you there

when She was born

under soft deerskin

pulsing with a whole

spectrum of Light?

Did the Bears watch you

From swaying tree tops

offer generous blessings

for the gift of your life?

 

I step so carefully,

so as not to crush

your little village

thriving under my feet.

I gather you as

a small family, believing

you need to grow together

to thrive.

Your roots are shallow

hugging jagged rocks

at odd angles.

I feel amazement –

Such tenacity.

 

I note your need for protection

from merciless west wind and sun.

Yet you thrive with so little –

a blessing from the Cloud People and you

burst miniscule roses from thorny skin.

I imagine a waxing frog moon

overflowing with pride.

 

I found a bear paw

not far from where you lay –

White flint worked

by those who once

tread lightly

on sacred ground,

soul heart and body

bound to each rock

and tree.

(Bears still leave

their marks on smooth

white aspen bark).

 

The People

spoke in tongues

most can no longer hear.

Oh, my grateful heart

sings praises for this

precious body that

vibrates

ancient strumming sound…

Your collective Voices

vie for my attention

as I move effortlessly

through the veil,

bowing my head

to acknowledge your

Bountiful

Grace.

 

Time gathers herself around me

False lines and boundaries

disappear.

I am so easily comforted by Now.

If only I could stay here…

 

When I wend my way

down the mountain

with a prickly clump

of your people,

I am filled with Light.

Perhaps Changing Woman

was right –

Her children’s father

was a round rainbow cactus

after all.

 

Working notes:

 

Yesterday I visited the mountain that once called me to this place, although I couldn’t name her then… three years later I am drawn back again and again to this Mesa forged in Light to gather stones made of the flint that was traded throughout the Americas by the pre – Puebloan peoples.

 

The Powers of Place embrace me again and again as I climb, hearing voices, and I am  permeated with wonder…

 

In Navajo mythology Changing Woman – she who grows old and young again but never dies – was born under a rainbow of light created by a myriad of colors – orange, gold, gray smoke, ebony, pink and burnt orange – of the stone called chert that is found in a single band that stretches around this mountain. This flint was worked into tools that were traded throughout the continent…

 

Changing Woman (parthogentically) birthed two boys who left her. When they asked about who their father was she retorted that maybe he was a round cactus! (a tongue and cheek response?) Their grandmother later told them their father was the sun but my guess is that their real father was a prickly round rainbow cactus that grows close to the ground on the slopes of Changing Woman’s beloved mountain, the mountain where she was born.

 

This marriage was one woven from Light, tenderness, thorns, and tenacity.

Crucifixion

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When I saw

the mist rising

over the veil

of red willows

I heard Her cry out.

I had to heed the call.

 

I stood at the river’s edge,

a silent witness for

My Lady

of Sorrows –

La Llarona,

the Mother that Mourns.

 

I did not know

that today

was the beginning

of Her Dying;

Body severed from Spirit.

 

A 2000 year old story

lives on

through each heart-centered cell

year after year

regardless of personal

awareness or intent.

 

I must choose to join

Her as she rises,

for her grief

mirrors my own.

 

Not to acknowledge

the dark veil she must wear

is to deny the loss of her son,

the loss of my sons,

the Great Dying of

Earth’s plants and animals.

 

What can I tell her

this Lady who watches over

the Living Waters,

this Woman Who Weeps?

 

Only that I witness

Her anguish

with heartfelt compassion,

and commit to Presence

amidst the Great Dying

loss of children

and the death of one

whose benign and beneficent spirit

some continue to call a god?

 

 

Working Notes:

 

This morning I awakened to a hard frost, and a deep blue pre- dawn sky. When the heavy mist beyond the field caught my attention I felt compelled to walk to the river. I wasn’t thinking about the story of La Llorona, the mythical Southwestern woman who haunts the river’s edge, one who mourns the loss of her children … What I experienced instead was the Presence of My Lady as a Spirit of the River, a spirit who watches over the Living Waters, and one who mourns the loss of so many animals and plants. I feel a great kinship with this figure because I am a dedicated Naturalist who walks with the Great Dying as a way of life.

 

It wasn’t until I returned to the house that I realized that today is Psalm Sunday, the beginning of holy week according to the Christian tradition. Although I am not a Christian, I have Judeo- Christian roots and for some reason I seem to have to live this story each spring whether I want to or not.

 

So, I was not really surprised to learn that my first spring meander to the river included an encounter with the Mother who mourns the loss of her son, although I wasn’t yet consciously aware of this aspect while I stood at the river’s edge gazing into the mist…

 

What’s different for me is the focus of this week’s story. I identify and align myself with the Woman Who Weeps not only for lost children but for all the losses the Earth is presently enduring.

Seeds of Change

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The Desert Mothers

peer out of pale pink apple

blossoms, fringed chamisa

clumps of gray green

asters…

A glittering diamond frost

coats dark red ground.

Redwing and Dove songs

celebrate new life

in the Round.

 

My Visions

repeat the warning:

Slow down.

It’s not time

for too much

raw Sap to rise.

Scorching tender roots

is a grave mistake.

Roots need Earth space,

to drift and dream,

delve ever deeper

into meaning

before spring fire

bursts into golden splendor,

embodying September’s Grace.

 

The Desert Mothers know

that timing is all –

that rooting requires patience,

heartfelt attention

and dedication.

Heeding signs

from rain clouds

unfolds forgiving

blue

wings around us.*

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*( Just after completing this poem I go outdoors and am stunned to see a circle of blue open under heavy gray skies – this kind of sign appearing so soon after writing the above sentence reveals the profound interconnection between every human being and this beloved Earth we call home – Later a second synchronicity – I am re -reading poem and although it is absolutely still the door opens by itself – Someone is speaking and I am listening)

 

I imagine tender roots

twining around each other.

Seasons turn.

Together,

embracing possibilities,

changes

of perspective,

the weather of uncertainty,

they thrive.

Well nourished

by Love that tolerates Separation

one day – root tendrils become robust.

Passion can now be unleashed

to climb through

the Desert Mother’s Hair

torching an evening sky,

with Wild Flames

from a Noonday Star.

The Story of Changing Woman

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Changing Woman – who grows old and then young again. Navajo Sand Painting.

 

Myth and Commentary

I want to begin by recounting the story of how Changing Woman came to be and why she was so important to Navajo mythology. In these dark and tumultuous times I think Changing Woman’s story has a deep resonance for all of humanity. We seem to have forgotten who we are and are in desperate need of guidance that will help shift our current paradigm.

 

The Navajo word Diné means the People (every Indigenous group defines its inhabitants by using the same word in their own language).

 

Navajo mythology begins with the creation of the First World. The Insect People moved through the four lower worlds to the fifth world the place where the Navajo live today. In the first world there was no sun, moon or stars, only the oceans stretched out in 4 directions. A flood came and the Insect people moved to higher ground, the second world. The third world was inhabited by grasshoppers so the Insect people moved again, this time to a fourth world with snow covered mountains and Pueblo people. In the Fourth World the Holy People laid two ears of white corn and two ears of yellow corn on the ground and covered them with buckskin creating First Man and First Woman.

 

Frightened by a flash flood, First Man and First Woman rose up from below from the center of a lake to reach the Fifth World and the place where the Four Sacred Mountains are found today.

 

(One of these sacred mountains may lie to the west of the village of Abiquiu, New Mexico where I presently live. It is said that Changing Woman was found on a flat – topped mesa wrapped in many colors of light. Anyone who has been to the Pedernal can find pieces of rock called chert/flint cast in every color of the rainbow).

 

On a level place below the summit First Man and First Woman laid a turquoise figure on two pieces of buckskin that were spread on the stone from east to west in the sun. Wind and Water Sprinkler were there. When the Holy People began to sing the song the wind flowed under the blankets and a child appeared. The Holy People told the couple her name was Changing Woman and instructed them to take her and raise her as their daughter.

 

By the thirteenth day, Changing Woman had become a young woman, and on that day there was a celebration and the Navajo Night Chant was sung. *

 

Soon after Changing Woman birthed the hero twins.

 

In four days the twins had grown into boys. Talking God and Water Sprinkler tested their strength four times and were pleased.

 

The twins asked Changing Woman who their father was and when they were told they had no father the twins refused to believe her. “We must have a father and we need to know who he is” they responded. Changing Woman was irritated and said “your father is a round cactus then. Be still.” (!)

 

The twins went south to hunt and saw four birds – a woodpecker, vulture, raven and magpie – and when Changing Woman heard their stories she said they must flee because the birds carried a warning: monsters would kill them. Before dawn the twins ran to the West and met an old woman who lived in an underground chamber who told them that she could help them find their father who was the Sun.

 

Because the way was fraught with danger Spider Grandmother gave them a talisman to protect them and a special song that ended in “Walk in Beauty.” The twins continued West on the rainbow bridge overcoming four monsters that threatened to kill them. Eventually they reached the House of the Sun where they overcame two more tests to prove to the Sun that they were his children. Then they told their father that monsters were killing the People and the Sun replied that could make the passage from boyhood to manhood and save the Navajo people in the process, which they did.

 

After a time, Changing Woman became lonely and went to one of the sacred mountains to sit in the sun. The Sun appeared and tried to embrace her but she refused. He wanted her to come live with him. She said no until the Sun promised to give her a house that shimmered on the water and animals and plants for company while the Sun was away on his daily journey across the sky. Then Changing Woman said:

 

“You are male and I am female. You are of the sky and I am of the earth. You are constant in your brightness, but I must change with the seasons. Remember that I willingly let you enter me and I gave birth to your sons. As different as we are, we are of one spirit. As dissimilar as we are, you and I, we are of equal worth. As different as we are, there must be solidarity between us. There can be no harmony in the universe unless there is harmony between us. If there is to be harmony, my request must matter to you. There is to be no more coming from me to you than there is from you to me.”

 

The Sun balked at first but finally agreed that she was right and granted her requests for a House in the West that shimmered in the golden light that stretched over the waters at sunset when the Sun returned from his journey across the sky. In this place they came to dwell in Harmony…

 

In the myth Changing Woman never dies; she grows old and young again with the seasons. In the East she is Earth Woman, in the South Mountain Woman, in the West she is Water Woman and in the North she is Corn Woman.

 

Changing Woman embodies Nature’s as a whole and since the Navajo trace their lineage through a matrilineal line she is the Mother of all the People.

 

According to Navajo mythology the first way Changing Woman saves the world is by birthing the twins, the male aspects of herself. This embodied female/male energy is capable of taking action on behalf of all the people, ridding the world of monsters. It is important to note that the twins require the help of Spider Grandmother’s wisdom, guidance and protection because Spider Grandmother is Changing Woman’s older wisdom aspect, a continuation of her mother – line.

 

The second and most critical way Changing Woman saves the world from “monsters” is because she secures the matrilineal line for the People. The matrilineal system traces descent through maternal roots. Men who marry move to the wife’s residence (matrilocal) and become part of the maternal family. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers bring up the children, protecting, guiding, and teaching the children the ancestral family stories. This system unites Navajo society and creates the social structure of the culture connecting generations through kinship.

 

Although in present day Navajo culture Patriarchy has eroded women’s power the four tenets (harmony, beauty, balance, peace) remain part of the judicial system of the Navajo people.

 

Commentary:

I love this story because it demonstrates the evolutionary and eternal nature of Woman; her intimate relationship to Nature, her ability to give birth, to mother, to let go, her ability to endure, her need for animals and plants as companions and her willingness to stand her ground until she is able to get what she needs. Changing Woman matures from a passive figure who is acted upon by the forces of Nature into a self-directed female power who knows what she wants, and one who finds peace in choosing relationships with animals, plants and humans on her own terms.

Initially, Changing Woman is impregnated by the wind – the power of the spirit moving across the land – and not through sexual intercourse. Spirit and the Body of the Earth are the two equally creative aspects involved in her birth. The same holds true for her children, who are male, but conceived and birthed in a similar manner without the need for male insemination (no room for Patriarchy to enter here), suggesting to me that all three are parts of one spiritual/bodily whole that cannot be separated. As creative principles (beyond gender stereotypes) they work together as a triad to rid the world of monsters, to make the Navajo world a safe place, and to secure the matrilineal line. According to Navajo mythology securing the matrilineal line is primarily how Changing Woman saves the world.

Changing Woman’s “divine” birth and that of her children also demonstrates the more than human aspect of Nature and that Nature is both Source (wind/sun) and Context (earth/water) of all there is, a belief that fosters equality of all species and interdependence upon the planet that is our home.

On one level, with the birth of her children we see that Changing Woman recognizes the transient state of motherhood and care – giving, knows that her twins must seek their own destiny and that it is important to let them go. Human mothers must do the same if they are to move into their own lives in the most creative ways.

When the twins seek out Grandmother Spider and are guided and protected by her we see the importance of the matrilineal line expressed as grandmother; the latter also knows how important it is for boys (and girls) to discover and align themselves with the father principle in order to become creative and balanced adults.

The twins ability to destroy “the monsters” that threaten the people suggests defeat occurs only by harnessing both creative female and male powers together because the twins are Changing Woman’s children.

It’s interesting to note that from a biological perspective we learn that the female x chromosome is responsible for creating both male and female children and that all descent comes through our “Motherline” so here we find concrete evidence for the importance of this female creative principle and the physical importance of the matrilineal line.

We live in a time when Patriarchy’s destructive forces – the “monsters” of endemic woman hatred, white male privilege, hubris, and arrogance, greed, war, lust for power, an obsession with technology, and profound indifference to the loss of species and the pollution of our planet – all Patriarchal values – are destroying Life as we know it. We must seek a paradigm that promotes relationships with others that is based on equal power, respect for all species, and one that promotes reciprocity and sustainability for all. This paradigm is the gift that the story of Changing Woman offers us. The paradox is we seem to need to return to our “original instructions” so that we can move on.

To shift the present pattern, we must heal the frightening divisions that Patriarchy has created between women and men. The Sun (son) demonstrates his willingness to comply with Changing Woman’s requests, and only by giving her the respect and equality that she deserves are they both able to walk in beauty and live in harmony. Walking in balance, harmony peace and beauty are the four tenets of Navajo mythology.

In conclusion it must be noted that Changing Woman’s requests include her insistence upon having the company of animals and plants, which demonstrates the importance of the intimate link between Women and Nature and how critical it is to recognize that it is up to women to lead the way in terms of advocating for the future of the Earth and all Life.

 

*Navajo Night Chant:

The origins of the Navajo Night Chant are ancient stretching back into pre- history for perhaps thousands of years to the original Indigenous inhabitants of Canyon de Chelly. This most sacred of ceremonies occurs during the winter months and is a ritual of healing performed to cure those who are ill, to remove chaos, and to restore order and balance within the Navajo Universe. This chant is also a stunning piece of poetry.

 

These words are some of my favorite and were taken from the Night Chant.

 

“Beauty is before me
And beauty is behind me
Above and below me hovers the beautiful
I am surrounded by it
I am immersed in it
In my youth I am aware of it
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.

The mountains, I become part of it . . .
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters,
I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen . . .
I become part of it.”