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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Beloved

 

My daily prayer begins with kisses.

Rough wet tongues scrape soft skin.

My dove coos three times

coaxing up the sun.

Wiggling tails and feathered

furs fan wandering souls

waving them home.

My three most intimate companions

curled up beside me,

stretched across my feet,

soaring across the room,

remind me that the flow of Gratitude

is the River of my Life,

that Joy attracts,

Love like no other…

 

Working Notes:

I almost never write about my dearest companions because they are so deeply woven into my soul body – the warp and weft of Nature that separation does not exist. Loneliness cannot enter this sacred space unless one of us is distressed or missing…

Paying Homage to Hestia

(one of author’s dogs, “Hope,” gravitates instantly to the heat of the wood stove)

This morning I was kneeling in front of my new wood stove kindling a fire from hot coals when I felt the presence of the Greek Goddess Hestia, Lady of the Hearth moving through the house. The goddess manifests as a crackling wood fire, and when I kneel before my wood stove to coax coals into flames I feel as if I am paying homage to her.

I have spent two winters without a wood stove, and have missed this ritual fall lighting of the fire, and the knowing that I am participating in ancient practice that extends back far beyond the Patriarchal Greeks to the dawn of humankind.

Today I felt her presence in a visceral way as I looked out the window at the first flakes of white snow disappearing into wet ground, and felt the hearth warming beneath my feet.

Hestia symbolizes the importance of creating sacred space within one’s home by honoring the fire that turns wood to ashes and re –kindles itself, resurrecting what was dead. This is also a time to give thanks for every tree that sacrifices itself to keep us warm…

Hestia’s name means “hearth” or “fireplace,” and her status shows how important the hearth was in the social and religious life of Ancient Greeks. Making and preserving fire was essential for early cultures, which made the household fire a sacred element at a very early stage of “her – story.” In later days, Hestia became its embodiment.

Hestia received the first offering at every meal in the household with families pouring sweet wine in her name and dedicating the richest portion of food to her.

The hearth fire in the household was not allowed to go out by any family unless it was ritually distinguished.

In the Greek myth, Hestia was one of three “virgin” goddesses; the other two were Athena and Artemis. I interpret this virgin aspect as being “one unto herself, indicating wholeness which has nothing to do with chastity. Athena was a goddess of war and got lots of attention, Artemis was Mistress of Wild Animals and also a great huntress. Hestia was acknowledged as Mistress of the Fire, and cultivator of the home place. Of the three goddesses she got the least attention, probably because the Greeks were a Patriarchal warring culture that valued men over women, and thrived on conquest, rape, and killing (power over). Honoring any peaceful nurturing goddess of the household was less important.

There is an interesting story about a potential rape of Hestia by a drunken god while she was sleeping. The braying of a distressed donkey awakened Hestia in time to ward off this atrocity and thereafter, on Hestia’s feast day a donkey that wore a garland was included in Hestia’s festivities. This intervention by a loving animal may carry a significance that is easily missed. Animals can represent women who are living in a state of wholeness because they have married instincts to awareness. To become en – souled is a holy undertaking that connects a woman to All That Is.

This autumn I welcome Hestia as Keeper of the Fires into this house asking for her blessing, honoring WOMAN who tends the potentially transforming element of contained fire in her own home or realm.

Our Amazing Junipers

(Author’s Guardian Juniper Tree)

 

Tomorrow we are supposed to have the first freezing temperatures and I am watering my adopted juniper, the first tree species that I fell in love with when I came to Abiquiu, because of its fantastic myriad of shapes, its tenacious ability to cling to cliff edges and because so many of these trees are allowed to live out their natural lifespans of a few hundred to a thousand years or more. Now my love and amazement for these drought resistant trees has deepened into genuine concern because this summer’s drought has turned clumps of needles brown on most of the junipers on the mesas and many appear to be dying unnaturally (very old trees do have a strange half dead look that is normal). Anyone with eyes can see how dis – stressed these trees are.

 

Water is Life. Here in the river valley, including the Bosque there are fewer dead patches but little or no new growth on the junipers. A few days ago I took a tape measure to measure new spikes on the solitary juniper that I water, noting that most fronds had bright blue green spires measuring twelve inches or more. Although I am happy for my tree I am also frightened because it is clear that we are now living the ravages of climate change and most of the junipers around here have little or no new growth and are not doing well.

 

Western junipers are an “indicator species.” If they are showing signs of stress from lack of water then other less resilient trees are even more threatened. Not to take heed of this juniper tree warning would be a grave mistake. For me, the upside of this knowing has validated my belief that I must stay with native flowering plants and because of what the junipers are saying instead of planting fruit and other trees I am going to choose more junipers. Fortunately, there are many beautiful cultivars to choose from. My neighbor Bruce has a gorgeous blue green gray green teardrop shaped juniper that is definitely on my list. It even has a huge bird’s nest hidden within its boughs.

 

Western junipers are dimorphic, meaning that they have two growth forms. One is upright (like my tree), and the other, much more common is bush-like opening to the sun like a flower. Even the biggest trees are not taller than 40 feet. The seedlings especially bear bluish green awl shaped leaves that are pointed at the tip. Mature leaves are a darker green and scale – like in appearance. The older leaves are borne in pairs or whorls of three and are rounded at the tip. The arrangement of the adult “leaves” in a circular pattern gives the twigs and uncanny resemblance to coral.

 

Although juniper and cedar are related – both belong to the cypress family – cedars produce small woody cones while junipers produce a bluish berry –like cone. Most junipers are dioecious, meaning that male and female cones are found on separate trees and once you observe the difference it is easy to differentiate between the two (to make things confusing some junipers have both male and female cones on one tree). The male cones are brownish in appearance and very small. These latter produce pollen sacs that release pollen grains in spring and summer, as many people that suffer from allergies know. The female cones look like berries. As the trees age some of the trunks become twisted and gnarled.

 

Junipers are one of the top ten plants for wildlife. Many birds love their berries and around here the Cedar waxwings, the Townsend solitaire, and American robins flock to the juniper cluster that shades the ground. I also see Dark Eyed juncos, Canyon towhees, and House finches scratching the ground under the tree. Collared doves, Pinion jays, Magpies, sparrows, and Western bluebirds to mention a few, gather in these trees for protection from hawk predation. And when winter winds are fierce and deadly, birds of all kinds seek protection from the bitter cold in the junipers’ thick branches.

 

To survive in dry climates, western junipers have long taproots and extensive lateral root systems that can efficiently obtain moisture where none seems to exist. They are intolerant of shade, so if you are going to plant some give them space and lots of sun.

 

Of particular interest to us during climate change is the way Junipers use water. Rain falling on a juniper canopy is partially intercepted by the foliage, branches, and trunk (this of course is also true for other trees but less so if their canopies are not dense). In brief storms like the few we had this summer much of the intercepted moisture evaporated and did not reach the ground so the tree roots were never watered. Wind has a negative impact during storms also lessening the possibility of the trees’ ability to absorb moisture and we had wind with every brief rain.

Transpiration nourishes the trees and is the process by which water is carried from roots and trunks to the small pores on the underside of leaves, where it changes to vapor and is released to the atmosphere. Transpiration cannot occur in soil that is devoid of moisture so without rain or during brief deluges most of the water becomes run off and even the lateral roots of Junipers (and other trees if they have them) receive little or no water. Transpiration ceases as the Junipers try to conserve what water they already have. In Abiquiu all of our un -watered Junipers (as well as other trees) have been literally starving for water. It is no wonder leaves/ needles withered turned brown and dropped to the ground.

 

Now that it is October and we are getting the first real rain of the year we need to hope that the air temperatures stay mild enough to keep transpiration occurring. Soil water uptake is reduced when the soil temperature is below 50 degrees. If air temperatures are near or below freezing, then very little or no transpiration occurs at all.

 

Adult junipers define our unique landscape with their glacial growth and fragrant aroma. These trees are active during much of the year, and are able to absorb spring runoff to begin transpiration. They are also able to take advantage of soil nutrients long before other trees are awake, making junipers the ideal tree to plant in times of unwelcome planetary change.

Bear Grace

In the Northern Hemisphere in both Europe, Asia, and the Americas, bears were the first animals imaged and worshiped as the Ancient Bear Goddess, Mother of All.

This is the season of bear slaughter and every year I feel powerless to help these animals.

Last night I had this dream:

Everyone is shooting bears.  I stand up for them confronting one man who loves to kill them. I am without anger. There is another man who loves bears who comforts me. I ask him to help me to understand why niches  (Nichos) were carved for these animals but the bears are absent. They are not inside these protected, holy, spaces. There is a third man who also cares about bears though he doesn’t say so. I feel so lost. How I long to see a bear again.

This is a big dream. The Great Bear Goddess is missing, She no longer inhabits the Nichos or holy places in our homes or in our global culture. The female aspect of divinity in body, soul, spirit is totally absent creating a terrible imbalance in perspective. This speaks volumes about the destructive patriarchal cultural system we live within.

There are some men who care about bears, but they are unable to stop the slaughter.

One of these men is Dr. Lynn Rogers who took the photograph. This bear biologist has dedicated his life (55+ years) to studying black bears… He and I both know that bears are peace loving animals that want to co- habit with humans. Their social structure is matriarchal with females and their offspring at the center.

I offer this poem to all Bears and the Great Bear Goddess who are One:

Thresholds…

In the Company of Bears

thundering past my window

I am thrown into prayer.

Rooted in dark space,

Shattered by Life,

the Power of Love

to dissolve all boundaries is

an invisible Presence

in this place

where possibility

crosses the Threshold of Becoming

a Moment in Time.

 

Postscript:

This morning after putting this prose/poem on my blog I took a hike along a rich riparian desert creek shimmering with gold and green Cottonwood hearts. Imagine my surprise when I discovered bear scat everywhere along this clear untroubled stream flowing down from the mountains. The bears are here, and just knowing that made all the difference.

When I came home I had an email from Lynn who is now in possession of my unpublished bear manuscript. He is going to include some of my bear stories in his forthcoming book…NOTHING could make me happier.

I think I can hear faint music coming from a song that floats through the air…. “Dancing with Bears.” Yes, for this moment in time I am dancing with bears..

 

No One is Listening

(author inhaling sweet scent, gathering a few boughs, bowing her head in gratitude)

 

In a couple of weeks All Hallows will be upon us marking the end of the Celtic year. Those of us like many Indigenous peoples who use this wheel to define the boundaries of our seasonal space will  move into the space – in – between until winter solstice. Reflecting, I am struck by the fact that my body has been submerged in “Great Sorrow” for eleven long months…

 

The grief I embody is both personal and Plant/Earth based. The boundaries began to blur between self and plant last November when I lost a passionflower, a beloved friend of 17 years. Now the two have completely merged, so that when, for example, I am confronted with the fact that my body cannot tolerate extreme heat and ongoing drought and I become ill from the smoke that is killing much beloved trees by the millions in unprecedented forest fires, the grief of one bleeds into and merges completely with the other. The Tree Woman in me is literally dying.

 

What can a statement like this mean?  One answer might be that on a personal level I associate the ‘tree woman’ with my mother who in her sixties gave me a juniper to care for without explanation. At the time, I felt the strangeness of this gesture, wondering what this passing of the torch of trees might have meant. My love of all trees including junipers has been a part of my life since I was a child who first remembers falling in love with an apple tree with golden apples outside my grandmother’s window. During my adult life two to three hundred year old apple trees sheltered my home by the sea, and later when I moved to mountains I planted crab -apple trees and lived in a forest of mixed maple, oak, ash, pine and juniper all of which provided me with dappled shade and protection from wind, winter storms, and sun. In the fall of each year the maples caught fire torching the sky with wonder.

 

When I moved to New Mexico at first I fell in love with the native gnarled junipers that dotted the sparse desert hills. More recently I have adopted a guardian juniper just outside my door that has grown a foot under my loving care during this summer’s horrific heat and drought. Why? This tree wants to live; and I have watered and loved her like a mother… The Cottonwood Matriarchs whose now golden fall canopies bow and grace the earth still offer shelter to a family of owls. Every time I walk under one I give thanks for all trees. Trees and plants are the legacy of my Motherline, which ends with me, a source of grieving on a personal level, I see now.

But the tree mother in me is also the one who has endured unspeakable family sorrow as well as the loss of trees and animals that I love. This woman who has fought to keep her family relationships intact has failed. Her deep abiding love for Nature hasn’t helped change the trajectory that we are on. This mother needs an infusion of hope to go on; she is losing precious life energy.

On a collective level the trees are the lungs of the Earth. Without their presence all oxygen breathing animals including humans will die, and yet this obvious fact appears to go unnoticed as we prescribe more “controlled burning” and ever more extreme logging.  As trees disappear by the billions humans continue to clear more land for building, for grazing animals, and for agri – business without a thought to what the consequences of this mindless behavior will mean for us and for the planet. Then there is the problem of disappearing wildlife. Trees offer shelter and food for the birds, create habitat for all forested creatures and keep moisture in the earth during times of extreme drought. At present The Earth has caught Fire a result of global warming and still we “soldier on” with the same destructive practices. So many stadning Tree Mothers are withering, dying from lack of adequate nourishing mineral rich water.

Just as my Motherline ends with my death and hope for authentic change dims I am also carrying the awareness that the lives of all trees are numbered. The first of these truths makes me sad, the second spirals me into depression, but it is the latter that crushes my spirit. I am myself and the spirit, soul, and body of every tree and plant. We have been  fighting to stay alive, for now (The word future has no meaning in this context). And all this effort has come to naught. And it has been made so much worse by endless rounds of denial on the part of individuals and the body politic of the collective. Most repugnant to me is the refusal of people to take any position on this catastrophic collective situation; this leaves the door open to false hope, so called positive thinking (another lethal form of denial), acceptance (We are supposed to be “accepting” of femicide with respect to women, trees, the earth?), and an irrational belief in the “magic” of mechanistic science to ‘fix’ our problems. This latter reliance on science serves no one, certainly not the trees who are screaming to anyone who will listen.

 

Mythologically, trees and women have been linked since the dawn of humankind. In story they frequently shapeshift into one another. And why not? Trees are expert communicators who thrive in a culture of containment and community. Their “tree culture” is based on nurturance – caring for self/others – those who are in need, communication, and the sharing of resources like water and food. Trees thrive on the interconnectivity between all species.

 

In the same vein, it is women that historically created human culture, sustained it until about 5000 years ago, when this egalitarian matriarchal culture that valued community, nurturing, relationships and peace began to be overthrown by warring peoples, a practice that continues to this day. Ironically, it is women’s perspective that is our only authentic hope. Women, if  given the chance, could address the imbalances in the thinking/behaviors that are behind the destruction of ourselves/other species/the planet if only their VOICES were heard.

 

Unfortunately, the voices of women are muted as we recently experienced when Dr. Ford courageously came forward to testify against the nomination of a man to the Supreme Court who had attempted to rape her as an adolescent. This woman had nothing to gain from her disclosure, was articulate and soft spoken as she stood up to her abuser (women are never allowed to express anger although men can cry and have tantrums) and yet she was deemed not credible enough. Millions of women including myself have been submerged in the collective grief experienced by all women who have been abused not just today but over thousands of years. Again and again we are shown that women’s voices don’t matter. We are dismissed and silenced, ad nauseum.

 

There is a direct relationship between women who are assaulted and the trees/plants that supply us with the oxygen that we must have to breathe. WE ARE BOTH BEING RAPED, and this grievous assault continues to be sanctioned by a culture hell bent on destruction of women, trees, and the planet herself.

 

How can it be that no one is listening?

Broken Pot

 

When Emmy handed me the pot I held it gently in my palm, marveling over its rounded shape, the warm earth tones, the sparkling mica speckled through smooth clay.

 

“It’s broken,” she said simply as I turned the perfect vessel in my hands, laying my cheek again her soft skin. How did she manage to stretch the clay that thin?

 

“I think it’s beautiful just as it is,” I responded gazing at the lines where the clay had cracked in the fire – almost as if it was meant to be this way. I peered inside the neck of the bowl to see two pieces of broken lip nestled in the bottom, two sisters asleep in the arms of their mother.

 

“Once I sold a broken pot,” Emmy murmured with a quiet sense of wonder in her voice.

 

“I see why,” I responded, replacing the pot on the table with reluctance.

 

The entire display was a collage of natural art. Bits of bone, smooth stones, shells, delicately strung hand made necklaces, hills of sand, strips of patterning crisscrossed the table highlighting the exquisite shapes of these small containers. Lush sedum plants provided an emerald backdrop. I was transfixed and couldn’t take my eyes off the table…

 

Vaguely, as if from a distance, I heard Emmy say to someone “ Oh, I probably came out of the ground somewhere” in response to a question about where she had come from.

 

Obviously, I thought. Emmy emerged with her pots.

 

I was so moved that this artist was able to create her own original style without copying Indigenous traditions. After being with, and touching each exquisite shape my eyes and hands would recognize these pots anywhere. The Spirit of the Clay spoke through each pot. Emmy doesn’t sign her work, a tribute to the Mother of Clay?

 

Mammitu, she is called by some.

 

That night, tired and deeply satisfied from the El Rito Studio Tour the image of the broken vessel kept re- surfacing in my mind… There was something about that pot…

 

The next day I returned to the art show to finish my sight seeing. It was my birthday, and this year like so many others I would be acknowledging the day alone. After visiting a number of other studios, I was drawn back to Emmy’s table.

 

“Will you sell me this pot?” I asked Emmy as I cradled the little jewel in my hands. She was thoughtful for a minute, and then nodded her head. We agreed on a price, and I left holding the fragile clay creation tenderly in one hand.

 

Not understanding why, but knowing I had made the right choice.

 

When I returned to the Adobe I placed the little pot in the Northern Nicho with the Owl’s feathers… but the pot was still speaking. ‘Not here.’

 

Where then? And suddenly I knew as I walked over to the Nicho in the South that held a clay vase full of Anasazi potsherds. I moved the large pot to one side and placed the broken jewel next to the Ancient Ones. Then as now, in the South, the direction of Fire, soft clay vessels were surrendered to this fierce element to be tempered… if they survived the pots became strong and durable, capable of storing water, grains, and seeds for the future…

 

I felt waves of amazement wash over me even as tears ran down my face – rivulets in the rain…Even though the little pot had a broken collar, she had survived the ravages of fire and held her broken fragments tenderly deep within her body as both an offering and a prayer.

Earth Woman Shattering

 

Where are the owls that sing through the night until dawn? Their Silence is deafening. When I walk to the river I feel absence keenly, a precursor to the anguish that will pour through each vein and artery of this aching body when I read the words: “Kavanaugh Confirmed.”

 

Dismissed.

 

Silenced again.

 

Rape wills on.

 

The Owls have gone into hiding, sequestered in the gracious arms of the Matriarchs of the Bosque, the Cottonwoods, whose butterfly canopy still protects them from unseeing eyes.

 

But the leaves are falling in drifts, scattering delicately scalloped hearts over desert ground. From lemon to bronze. Hearts that are broken fall to earth like the leaves do, I think, after witnessing the fall.

 

I thought I saw a luminous glow reflected on shining leaves just after dawn when the clouds parted for a rising sun, but now I see the trees were the Source of that Light, not its reflection. Like the owls whose dark eyes penetrate the night.

 

The absence of the owls today is no coincidence for they are in mourning for the women who love them.

 

The wind blows open my door as I write these words.

 

Nature’s response to sorrow is to open the door.

 

I remind myself that soon the trees will be bare and the owls will seek protection from caves carved into sandstone cliffs.

 

I want to follow these birds into the coming night, take comfort from “the dark ways of knowing” to find peace in this Earth Woman Shattering.

 

Allow a river of grief to flow unimpeded…

 

If only I could.