Cassandra’s Vulnerability

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While gazing out the porch window this morning I spied a roundish brown creature hopping around my flower garden. Grabbing my binoculars I was delighted to discover that this was the little hare that I had glimpsed disappearing under the cedar fence a couple of days earlier. As I watched this little rabbit she stopped, munched and then moved on repeating this pattern as she circled the garden. Her very bright dark eyes stood out from the uniformly oak brown fur. Curved stand up ears acted like radar alerting her to the slightest sound. She had a distinct oval white spot on her forehead, making her easy to identify. Getting a picture of her (I named her Heather although I have no idea why) was something of a challenge because she moved so quickly, and preferred the high grass and brush. Red clover was obviously a favorite but she had lots of tasty greens to choose from. Each year I plant three kinds of clover and dandelion for the bees and in hopes of drawing down a rabbit or two. I watched her disappear under the fence again surmising she might well have a nest in the tangle of prickly juniper. I was tempted to investigate but refrained because these animals will often abandon their young when disturbed.

An hour or so later I met Heather again up at the garage where she was sipping water from the snake dish. She let me come within about 6 feet of her as I spoke to her. I wondered about that white oval on her head. I couldn’t escape the thought that Heather had been marked; she belonged to the moon. When I continued to move towards her she slipped through the fence and vanished.

After the encounter with the rabbit I meandered around my “now gone wild” flower gardens which were festooned with bees, butterflies, and baby hummingbirds. What a busy world it is around here on a sweet summer morning!

Suddenly a sickening thud. Racing back towards the porch I searched for the poor bird that had hit the window. Unfortunately, it is fledgling time and young birds, still awkward fliers, have not yet learned to avoid my windows. When I saw the emerald feathers splayed out on the stones I cried out “oh no, not a hummingbird” and in that moment the tiny jewel shook her head and soared upwards into the crabapple tree flooding me with gratitude for all Life…

The cardinal’s lovely whistle alerted me to his presence in the white pine… Every morning he sings as soon as he sees me at the door. Today I responded “hi beautiful” and he whistled back “wheet wheet” followed by a series of rapidly descending notes and closing with three or more “chiwes” after which I said “I love you!” Some days we repeat this conversation a number of times. To say I feel blessed is an understatement.

Birds have been much on my mind because we are leaving on a trip and my house dove Lily B has been ill. I am so used to hearing him sing that his silence has been unnerving. Yesterday while sitting in my very wild garden I asked Nature to take care of him as only she could, and that if it was his time to die, to make it a good death…In my mind I spun a thread around Lily, my dogs, me, our home and land and stretched it out to include the place we will visit containing us all – animals, one human, and two patches of wild earth – in a psychic round. This morning Lily once again helped the sun rise with his melodious cooing. Coincidence? I doubt it.

The intimate relationships that develop between some birds, animals and humans are based on respect and a shared need and desire to communicate. Interspecies communication has been around a very long time but we have been educated out of this idea and separated from nature to such an extent that we have lost the ability to believe what our senses tell us is real. I think of the mythological Cassandra…

In an intriguing version of the Greek myth Cassandra falls asleep and snakes whisper in her ears. Serpents gift Cassandra with the ability to understand the language of animals as well as an ability to read the future but because a god then curses her, she is not believed…

Snakes often represent the wisdom of the body and they were associated with women in a positive way during Neolithic times (6500BCE – 3000BCE) and up until the common era. To be visited by serpents might bring a wo/man into a positive relationship with animals and herself but also leaves her vulnerable to rational and logical thinkers, who are frequently men or male –identified women.

Take the vignette about the cardinals and me. The pattern is always the same. Whenever I try to share a story like my cardinal experience, the carefully chosen phrase “what an interesting story” is usually followed by the naysayer’s rational and logical explanation dismissing the possibility or probability of interspecies communication. This kind of a knee jerk response is as boring as it is repetitive. It is also dangerous. Not only is my personal experience dismissed but so is that of the animal/bird/bee in question. I struggle to hang on to my own experiential reality and the door is shut on Nature’s sentience.

Our western culture has little room for relationships that are mediated through our bodies. We live through our minds in a disembodied state. Yet, it is these bodies that carry our feelings, so when we dismiss our emotions we lose access to truths that can only develop through relationship with others, human or non-human. Without access to genuine feeling we privilege mind over body and can think or talk ourselves out of believing anything that cannot be nailed down. Like Cassandra we have been cursed by the gods.

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Kinship and the Powers of Place

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What do I mean by the word kinship? I believe that kinship is the idea, and the belief that all aspects of nature from photons to galaxies are connected to one another. Practically, I think of kinship as my feeling/sense of being intimately linked to place/landscape. In my mind Kinship and Place are not only related, each is shaped by the other.

The powers of place are invisible threads that work by exerting a kind of physical and psychic pressure, pulling me into relationship; place acts like an attractor site. My body behaves like a lightening rod or perhaps a tuning fork picking up information from the landscape. Once I have heard the “call” the door opens through my relationship with elements, trees, animals, stars or stones to name a few possibilities. As this presence manifests through its individuals place begins to teach me what I need to know about an area and how I might best live in harmony with a particular landscape, if not its people. This learning occurs in bursts or very slowly just below the threshold of everyday consciousness. Either way, information seeps in through my body as I listen and pay close attention to what my senses are telling me. I allow animals, trees, plants to speak to me in their native language, and I note synchronistic occurrences. Information also comes to me through dreams. Eventually a discernable pattern emerges. My body acts as the bridge between my self and Nature; my body is the vehicle that keeps me connected to the whole.

Ironically, I never heard the phrase “power of place” used until the 90’s. Yet, this force has driven my entire life spanning almost seventy – one years. As a toddler I was already “reading” and absorbing landscapes through rain, flowers, the presence of deer, stars, dogs, the moon. This first intimate relationship with place occurred on my grandparents’ pre -revolutionary farm with its attendant fields, brook, and forest. During the day my little brother and I spent hours in the woods playing by the brook, watching birds, catching frogs and salamanders. At night we learned the names of the stars and caught fireflies which we kept overnight in jars… My grandmother often awakened me to watch the deer grazing under her golden apple tree. I also have a sharp memory of my mother and I gazing out my bedroom window at the full moon. When clouds scudded by shrouding the moon I apparently remarked, “the moon has gone under her covers.”

As an adolescent power of place fatally snagged me with Monhegan Island, an artist’s paradise located off the coast of Maine with it’s beautiful cliffs and raging seas; I moved there after college, married a fisherman, and my two sons were born during those years (I use the word “fatally” deliberately because accompanying the call is a sense of being pulled into the “right” place for unknown reasons. To live one’s Fate is another way to express this calling).

On Southport, another island, 300 year – old apple trees cried out to me, and a diminutive 1700’s cape style house embraced my children and me after my divorce.

After the children were grown I heard the sound of “wilderness” keening and I moved to the western mountains of Maine seeking the source of that call, the one I called the Mountain Mother. I did not understand then that I was being called to witness the desecration of the earth from ‘my land’ and then to become Nature’s advocate. I was called to this patch of earth to begin my most important life’s – work: to write honestly about my experiences in nature with the hope that I might be able to sensitize others to the destruction of the earth through stories about individuals and my relationship with them. When I first arrived here this mother swept me off my feet! She flowed through me like a great underground river, rooting me to this particular ground with a love so powerful I had no words to express what I felt. When she continued to communicate with me I experienced ecstasy, and later during longer and longer silences I felt profound overwhelming grief.

My initial experience with place follows a certain pattern: first I feel joy and wonder, followed by a visceral feeling of belonging, the best kind of natural high. After a time the joyful aspect continues intermittently, as I become more deeply enmeshed in a landscape through relationships with its particular features and creatures as I have with this brook, forest and field, the birds and animals that live here with me… Experiencing joy also opens me to sorrow (For example, moving to the mountains of western Maine brought the mindless destruction of trees to the center of my attention). To love is to experience loss of the beloved; the two are intimately related.

In recent years although I continue to write, joy has absented herself from my relationship with this land… There are many reasons I could give and all involve change. The massive tree destruction, noise, gunning, chaotic neighbors etc. are concrete examples of negative changes that have profoundly impacted me. I still experience deep pleasure in particulars like the unfurling leaves of ferns, the first mayflowers, my love of birds, the few bears that continue to visit now and then, my wild gardens on fire with bee balm, delft blue delphinium, and fragrant yellow lilies, the changing seasons but I feel a deep penetrating sadness overall, though I retain a deep love for the land as a whole and my small log cabin. I believe the powers of this place understand that for whatever reason I am in crisis, (I turned 70 last September) and that I need to leave at least for a time in order to regain my perspective. As I continue to converse with the land that I love I feel that She is giving me permission to let go for now.

Running parallel with all these feelings is the powerful sense that I need to return to the desert. I first visited this timeless world in my early twenties just after I lost my only brother. That first time the desert was unable to penetrate the haze of this young woman’s grief. It wasn’t until mid-life after another series of losses that returning to the desert helped me re-capture my lost soul. How this happened remains a mystery to me but it has everything to do with the powers of place. The desert has a healing aspect to it that is unlike any other. What I did after my divorce was to surrender myself to the Desert Mother while asking one question: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? After six months in the Sonoran desert, I returned east feeling whole, having recaptured my joy, and ready to return to college. That was 20 years ago and in retrospect I see that the choice to return to school was a sound one because it helped shape my teaching and writing life and it gave me my first experience with a community of like-minded people.

During the last year, a year of deep depression and loneliness I began dreaming about the desert again. I struggled to give myself the permission to allow myself to make another pilgrimage to the desert for healing – to re –dress the imbalances in my life, and to re-capture my joy. Although I couldn’t afford it I made a decision to go to New Mexico to visit a desert that I have never seen before. I chose Abiquiu, a small mountain village in the high desert because the artist Georgia O’ Keeffe lived there during the latter part of her life and painted some of her most astonishing desert paintings in this amazing world of wide open blue sky, stars, and stone. Although I never met her, Georgia has been a mentor to me, a beacon of hope, because I believe that she experienced Nature in much the same the way as I do, and she allowed the powers of place to influence her decision making too. I admired O’Keeffe’s tenacity and refusal to live her life according to other people’s expectations. She lived an authentic, self -directed life.

As some of us know, while making a pilgrimage, time stretches out like a rubber band, and once the threshold has been crossed one is catapulted into sacred space where the present becomes all there is. That first morning in Abiquiu I awakened at dawn and ran out into the surrounding desert in my nightgown possessed by joy! The dusty gray sage laden hills were round, peppered with sea green spiked pinion pine, fragrant Juniper and mountain cedar. These beautiful small trees provided a stunning contrast in shape and color to the dusty red Earth.

On the peak of a nearby hill I was drawn to a solitary Grandmother Cedar, an ancient gnarled tree whose thick, rough, and wavy gray bark had been shaped by harsh winds and summer rains. Her lace-like fronds were few. Most branches lay dead, strewn around her trunk like bleached bones providing her with nutrients that might be helping her to keep on living long past her time. Startled by her probable age and tenacity, I picked up one of the dead twigs; I saw the shape of the whole tree mirrored in that one branch, just as the sparse but fan -like evergreen “leaves” that still lived reflected the same fractal patterning. I could sense a presence around and within the tree’s ashen body as she bled into me; I was reminded that if she could live on so could I as I entered old age. Did I imagine a new sense of self emerging from out of the rubble?

When I returned to the adobe house I was renting I was stunned to encounter a wild African collared ring necked dove sitting on a branch of a nearby snag. I am very familiar with these doves because I have one. Lily B has been with me for 23 years. Hundreds of these birds (who are imported because they are such good egg sitting parents for exotic species) have been released into the wild after they are no longer useful as egg sitters. With a shock I realized that some apparently survive here in Northern New Mexico where temperatures drop well below freezing during the relatively brief winters. I called out to this ring necked dove as I approached him warily, not wanting him to fly away. He cocked his head in what appeared to be curiosity but he didn’t respond to my voice with a song. I was disappointed. Perhaps this dove was a female; females adopt a shorter version of the male’s song but only respond to the voice of their mates. I experienced the appearance of this wild ring neck dove as a powerful link with my home in the mountains of Maine.

My first trip into Abiquiu village was bewildering because it seemed as if the winding road was one sinuous red serpent snaking its way down through the peppered hills. The clear untroubled Chama River flowed beneath a bridge in front of me as I made my descent to the place where earth met concrete. The cottonwoods were sprouting lime and chartreuse and mountain blue birds and three kinds of doves were singing to each other and perhaps to the sound of the river.

Once across the bridge I visited the Inn and church compound where Georgia O’Keeffe eventually bought and managed her second house, a once abandoned hacienda. Here too I experienced another rush of pure joy. My love of O’Keeffe’s paintings had been part of my longing to visit this particular desert, so why was I so surprised when I opened the wrought iron gates of the church courtyard around to find it eerily familiar? Georgia had once painted this edifice. I found the fragrant herb Rue growing in the garden and picked some to take into the church with me. Rue is traditionally an herb of protection used by Meso and South American Native peoples to ward off evil. Inside, the lovely chapel had stained glass with lots of traditional Christian images but when I approached the lily strewn altar I saw to my right a statue of the Virgin, and on the opposite side of the enclave I was stunned to come face to face with the Black Madonna! In Arizona I had found these images outside or behind the churches, usually in little stone grottos. The country folk come to these shrines to light candles and pray to an older goddess than the one Christianity knows as the Virgin.

The images of the Black Madonna and Guadalupe that I had seen in Tucson and other places in the southwest were usually Indian looking; in Europe they are black. Oddly, this figurine was also black, embossed in gold, and seated. There was no place to light a candle for Her, this Mother of Us All, so I took a votive candle from the Virgin and lit it in front of the wooden carving. The hair prickled on my arms… After a while I left the church, leaving an offering of Rue at the foot of the Black Madonna’s robe.

Everywhere I went people told their stories about how they came to this thriving artists’ and writers’ community and how much they loved the area. With the exception of Native tribes like the Navaho, most folks seemed to have arrived here from all over the country. Some spoke of the spiritual energy that permeated the place, and I knew what they were talking about because the energy charge I experienced was so fierce that I was having a hard time staying in my body.

I met a group of women that called themselves the Intrepids who regularly hiked in the seemingly endless high desert, most of which was protected by National forests that stretched out all around this small village. While hiking I couldn’t help comparing this true wilderness to Maine where the wild places are under siege and virtually disappearing. I learned that the logging industry was dead in Northern Mexico. Thanks to the “Forest Guardians” this land would remain untouched; no doubt the reason the silence struck peace like a bell.

The following day I went to see where Ghost Ranch was located, the first place that Georgia lived, (and bought), where she painted many of her landscapes. I was not prepared for the astonishing depth and breadth and the visionary quality of the seemingly endless beauty that surrounded me. Ghost Ranch blended so well with the scenery that I could barely see the structure tucked into the base of one of the cliffs. I spent four hours staring at the austere mountains that changed color every second as clouds passed by and shadows fell in new places highlighting red, ocher, lavender, even deep purple and green until the night closed in. The landscape around Georgia’s “home-place” was so astounding that after my initial experience and attempt to describe it, I decided that O’Keeffe’s mountains must remain as stark impressions in my mind:

Sand, white clay, ivory, buff, orange and yellow ocher, brick, Indian red, violet and purple, even a pale moss – all colors running together against a background of Indian red rock and stone. The stillness is deafening and sweet. Fantastic formations, a roaring gorge, and one long deep blue lake – a sand stone floor teaming with life – raging gullies – slippery sands – and layers upon layers of clay forming pyramids that are painted in every conceivable earthen shade. The Great Goddess of the Desert Wilderness is a living presence here; the powers of place rooted me, clasped me in their embrace, and soared above me like great black birds vanishing into the deep blue firmament…

For artists and perhaps mystics like myself, the “value” is in ever changing color and truly this place embodies the Navaho spirit of “Changing Woman.” She continuously shifts clouds and sky, stones, sands and water – arroyos overflow, even reverse directions under thundering rains – the driest cracked red earth is alive with sage, juniper, cedar and pinion pine – all the colors except the red cliffs run together – pastels, each bleeding one into another. Desert Silence is like no other, and at night a bowl of silver stars stretches round over the night from horizon to horizon.

The fifteen – mile drive in to the Benedictine monastery requires both courage and focus on an unbelievably narrow winding dirt road that slithers its way above an impossibly deep gorge on one side and meanders around flaming orange cliffs or towering rotund sandstone castles on the other. The roundness of these Sandstone Beings, sculpted and curved by wind and time seemed infinitely wise and the sight of them left me dumbstruck. How could stone be chiseled and smoothed into such a fantastic myriad of shapes? I felt as if I needed eyes in the back of my head to take in all this wonder.

I was actually relieved to reach the monastery, which was tucked under its own mountain, shaded and sheltered by many surrounding cliffs; rich red soil had already been turned for spring planting. Walking into the chapel for vespers stunned me. Above all the usual ecclesiastical images on the altar there was a huge bowed window that stretched across the front of the church and reached the top of the building. This giant window was angled like the prow of a ship and opened directly on a towering burnt sienna cliff with a solitary mountain cedar rooted to its pinnacle. I let out an involuntary gasp as the golden sunlight streamed into the building and lit up the room. Whoever had done this architectural work clearly understood that the Stone People were the first earth beings. The image of the stupendous cliff turning red, orange, and gold in the setting sun was so breathtaking that I was speechless. It’s impossible to write more about this place beyond stating that it must be experienced.

Later that afternoon I meandered around the Indian red hills. From the top of a craggy red rock a solitary raven crowed. Because this was virgin desert I didn’t expect to find a creative homemade wood and tin birdhouse lying on the desert floor. Was this a second message about home? I picked up the bird -house and decided to keep it.

The sparse and spiky vegetation suggested that this area was a bit drier here and I wondered how much water was left in the underground aquifers. The average home well was 400 – 500 feet down. Masses of juniper, cedar and a few pinion pines provided some protection from the wind and the dirt road wound its way up the nearest mountain. Nature sculpted circular sandstone paintings on the rough stone eroding on the ground. There was a steep red gully that ran through the west part of the rolling hills and across from that arroyo stood another group of sandstone Desert Beings. I imagined I could hear the water tumbling down that gully during the summer rains. Birds of all kinds flew in and out of the holes of these cliffs.

To the north a nearby softly rounded mountain range speckled with pinion and juniper rose in austere silence. To the east the imposing snow covered peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range stretched over the horizon as far as I could see. I wondered which peak was 14 thousand feet high since all seemed equally immense. To the south I saw another blue mountain range with its solitary mesa or Pedernal rising in the middle. Georgia had painted this configuration of rock with its flattened top, and her ashes were scattered on the top of the mesa. She once said that god told her that if she painted this mountain enough he would give it to her! I wondered if O’Keeffe knew that according to Navajo Myth, Changing Woman was born on this mesa. The contours of the land rose and fell around the mountain ranges, flowed over gullies and shallow arroyos. The Earth seemed to be whispering to me in an ancient language that flowed out of stone into thin air. Late that afternoon I wandered back to this higher terrain and eventually ended up at the crest of the mountain where I witnessed a miraculous sunset on fire.

Early dawn would find me at the airport headed for Maine. Reflecting on the powers of place I realized that the high desert of Abiquiu mirrors my life through wild beauty and my fatal attraction to it, through song and scarcity, tenacity, loneliness, and death, my need for silence, wonder, thorns, bones, and for flowers.

I thought about the particulars that stood out from the whole: the mountain cedar, the brief appearance of a ring necked dove, the bird house, the Black Madonna, flaming cliffs seen as if from the prow of a ship, and the sense that Georgia in some magical way had accompanied me throughout this entire journey. The message seemed obvious – She was calling to me again, this Mother of Stone. For the second time in my life I had discovered a spiritual home in the mountains. A part of me is attached to this land by invisible threads; I belong to this place and to learn what this desert has to teach me, I will have to return.

(This picture of the little red hills came from one of Georgia OKeeffe’s art books…one that I own)

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The Gift of July

July is a steamy, fiery, orange month when the element of moisture – laden air overpowers my senses. The perfume of pine needles, lilies, bee balm, milkweed, ripening berries carries a sweetness that is only brought on the wings of stifling heat…

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The Gift of July

 

Thick moist heat bathes

the night in crimson,

drives bears deep

into sphagnum bogs to dream.

 

Fireflies drift through

sweet wet grass.

Hidden under leafy branches

grey tree frogs trill.

 

Blood red cardinals whistle love songs,

teach offspring to chirp

sharp staccato rounds

at the threshold of dawn…

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Brilliant morning light filters

through crystals formed by dew…

 

Kingfisher’s absence

won’t be missed

by transforming toads,

but the drought may dry

the vernal pool too soon

for lungs to form.

 

The doe grazes outside my window

under a blistering noon day star.

Chomping down wild rose thorns,

red deer shreds supple grape leaves,

nips bee balm for an after dinner mint!

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Gray foxes feast on treats I leave

beneath heavily perfumed pines.

Grapes, old cranberries, apples,

fat and bone marrow – perhaps

a carcass entices them in.

 

When mountains disappear under clouds of thick fog,

Our Goddess ascends, her nimbus shrouded in pearl like mist.

One night soon, she’ll sing up a blossoming Moon.

 

A wave of gratitude swells and breaks –

An emerald sea is moving through me.

Water and Air create a symphony

Breathe deep and listen –

The Soul of Nature sounds a joyous Hum.

Violence and the Fourth of July

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I have just survived another “Independence Day” celebration complete with three nights of experiencing myself as being under ruthless attack by not so anonymous neighbors who began the weekend with deafening explosions that intermittently assaulted my nervous system. Semi – automatic weapons also punctuated the monstrous three – day weekend splitting the air with their “mindless” gun power at all times of the day. Like drones at war. Last night was the finale. For two and a half hours we were forced to listen to fireworks exploding like bombs and then echoing blindly around our mountain valley. All my efforts to protect myself – closing all windows, exchanging the screen door for winter glass, using ear-plugs and wearing professional ear protectors could not keep out the ear – splitting cacophony. My two dogs stared at me with deeply troubled eyes. Wasn’t there something I could do they begged? “It won’t last forever” I responded with heartfelt compassion, the only sane reply I could make to their pitiful query, (which was also an attempt to comfort myself). When the auditory attack finally ended, I realized I had a horrible backache. My body, unable to withstand the assault at a cellular level was keening. Was she also filled with blind rage? I hugged my dogs and opened the window so we could listen to toad trills and the night symphony, but although the darkness was still sweet the toads and frogs had fallen silent. Like us they were probably exhausted. We three spent a restless waking night…

Target shooting and gunning (everyday occurrences here in our mountain valley), take on a more sinister aspect around holidays. New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, and the Fourth of July, Labor Day, and Veterans Day are celebrations that bring out the killers in full force. War games complete with all the necessary victims, living beings, human and non – human, whose nervous systems recoil at blunt auditory force, not simply because our bodies can’t deal with the chaos, but because of what we sense is happening beneath the noise – we feel the intent to kill, maim, dismember, overpowering us. Death is in the air. And we are powerless to stop the assault.

This morning I reflected upon my distressing response to this third night of the weekend attack. After the first hour, I heard myself thinking how much I wished these people were dead. I would like to say that this persistent reoccurring phrase was a simple exaggerated reaction but it wouldn’t be true. For every moment I thought it, I did wish people dead. Worse, I recognized the pit of pure hatred I had fallen into as a result of feeling victimized. I knew from prior life experience that I had to shut down this kind of thinking immediately and I was able to do so with some concentrated effort. I couldn’t afford to become part of that problem. The conclusion I reached for the millionth time is that violence breeds more violence, and no human being is immune. I find this perception terrifying.

Perhaps equally troubling was a conversation I had this weekend with a dear friend, a mother of two adolescent boys, both of which are developing violent tendencies that are being ignored. In this family it is now acceptable to discuss the many ways to blow up geese I discovered on Saturday while listening to dad and the boys laughing uncontrollably at their own ruthlessness.

Slaughter.

The following day my friend complained about her husband and sons’ violent conversation, which apparently occurred quite frequently around the dinner table. However, almost in the same breath she also said that she understood why people believed they needed to carry around firearms to protect themselves because the world had become too dangerous. I was shocked because up until recently this woman and I shared the belief that violence engendered more violence and that guns would not solve our cultural crisis of escalating human (and non -human) slaughter.

My first thought was that she was protecting her oldest son who had become a gun carrying “red neck” by his own description. He had just turned eighteen and still lived at home, though he did have a job. He shot anything that moved. I remembered him as a child, bright, a budding naturalist, a little boy that I loved. What happened? What flashed into my mind next was an image of her youngest, also a teenager, throwing an ax at a helpless tree, wounding it horribly in the process. And his bloodless stare. My gut response to this adolescent’s behavior was to shudder involuntarily as I made the decision to leave the premises. This tree was being wounded so that some kid could have “fun.”

What had happened to my woman friend’s perspective on violence? Was she losing her reality under the force of this dominant male family ideology? Patriarchy has such dark roots. As I empathized with her as a mother, I also felt threatened.

I remembered the gun that my brother used to shoot himself just after graduating from Harvard…

When my youngest son (now almost 48) purchased his first weapon a few years ago I was stunned. I thought I had taught both my children well that guns, violence and war were unacceptable…

I remembered that the last time I saw my grandson almost two years ago, he proudly showed me the gun that he purchased on the way to my house. My stomach churned uncontrollably when I saw the deadly weapon. He was finally discharged from the Marines after five years this June at the age of 22. He hasn’t bothered to call me.

At almost 71 I continue to believe that violence breeds violence and that buying more guns to protect ourselves from those that would would harm us is not the answer. Am I simply naive? Perhaps I am deluded? I can’t answer my own questions but I hear the deepest part of myself crying out “No! More guns will only bring us closer to the worst form of human evil in ourselves and in others.”

I choose to listen to that inner voice, and realize that to do so puts me over the edge into a  terrifying territory of unknowns.

Postscript: The image at the beginning of this article is of the Lorenz Attractor which is a paradigm for chaos. The idea behind this image  is that small changes in initial conditions can create perturbations that can have large effects because sensitivity to initial conditions means that each point in a chaotic system is close to other points with significantly different future paths. Thus a small change in the current trajectory may lead to significantly different behavior. As a metaphor the Butterfly Effect could help us understand that if the initial conditions are predicated on peace, for example, then a change in behavior might be able to create a new kind of peace… To extrapolate the metaphor further if we uncover the initial conditions under which early cultures lived then we might be able to change our current aggressive behavior. Feminists believe that early cultures did live harmoniously (see Marija Gumbutus). We also know that Indigenous peoples  around the world walked lightly on the land and as a whole were peaceable. If feminists are right, we have a chance then to call up the past and build a more peaceable world for the future. Of course critical mass is also an issue because the majority of people must believe and take concrete actions to help make these changes. And feminists are few… We have such a long way to go but perhaps there is a sliver of hope for those of us who abhor violence…

I must add that in all fairness from a scientific perspective this explanation regarding the Lorenz Attractor depicting chaos is ridiculously simplistic.

I chose this image was because it reminded me of an owl and owls are  often associated with wise old women!

Midsummer Meditation

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“my” cardinal

Today, July 2nd, dawned crisp and cool with puffy clouds filling up the sky. The male cardinal who lives here on this deeply loved land was singing up the sun with his magnificent whistling song complete with crescendos. Such a lovely way to begin the day I thought as I greeted him. “Hi beautiful” I called as I walked out the door with seed and my two Chihuahuas. He answered me immediately and for about five minutes we called back and forth. He sang his melodious song as I replied, “oh I love you so!” Often this early morning conversation irritates my dogs who prefer that I use “I love you” only when speaking to them!

My relationship with cardinals began thirty years ago with two cardinals that arrived one December and didn’t stay…. When I moved into my little log cabin a pair moved here too. I was ecstatic. Something, about these particular birds moves me on a level I can’t quite comprehend. Is it the male’s crimson coat or the female’s soft olive feathers? Is it the way the female comes to the window and chirps to me so that I will feed her? Is it the way the male feeds the female when they are courting or the way the devoted father feeds his fledglings under the safety of my pines? Is it the young scruffy fledgling male who has learned from his parents how to entice me to feed him with a single chirp? Or is it that they seem to be as interested in me as I am in them? All I know for sure is that in their presence I feel Nature is speaking just to me. When I am happy Nature rejoices with me. When I am feeling sorrowful Nature expresses her love for me through deep empathy. At these times I feel a deep sense of comfort; a profound acceptance seeping through me softening my prickly skin and thorns. When I cannot love me, Nature shows me a cardinal. Instantly, I am once again in love with Earth and Sky!

Many people have a special relationship with a particular bird (at different times of my life I have has special relationships with different birds which may be a bit unusual). Could this be because birds are the messengers that move between the Earth and the Spirit world helping us to communicate and binding us all as One? I think they do act as messengers, and perhaps help us in a myriad of ways that we may never become aware of, so I spend a lot of time paying close attention to birds that accompany me through my everyday life.

Last night I attended a soiree that spontaneously became a moving memorial for a woman who died this week of a heart attack just after she left her art “A Parliament of Owls” to be hung for our art show. The outpouring of people’s love took the form of owls of all kinds that other participants brought in to honor Elise because of her love for these denizens of the night. Asked to write about a ‘Parliament of Owls’ I wrote and spoke briefly on the subject reminding folks that the word parliament (which historically is made up of men) and owls didn’t fit since owls were associated with women as wisdom figures, like the Greek Goddess Athena and Artemis who both had an owl aspect. Owls also represented the old Crone, the third and most powerful aspect of the pre-christian Triple Goddess who through midwifery brought children into the world and assisted the dying into death. The old Crone so feared by many has a heart filled with deep compassion for the life process as a whole, one which includes death. She reminds us that these thresholds must be crossed, but that we never have to make this transition alone.

Indigenous cultures often see owls as harbingers of death and I think there is some truth to this idea since in my own life an owl almost flew into my windshield the day my grandfather died, an owl hooted through the night when it was my mother’s time to cross her final threshold, and the owl came to me – she actually flew through a glass window – to announce that I would lose my grandchildren.

In the guest book at the soiree I wrote that I fervently hoped that Elise was now in the company of owls soaring free through a night filled with silver stars… I would like to believe that at the time of my death, I too will be flying with the cardinal (and perhaps others I have loved like Lily B my collared dove, or mourning doves, woodpeckers, red tailed hawks, owls, or hummingbirds and any other birds that may come to me in the future as teachers or friends), perhaps with the help of an Old Woman. The older I become the more familiar this “Old Woman” seems to feel to me – it’s almost as if I once knew her… The phrase “Women with Wings” takes on a new meaning in this context. Is it possible that women are not able grow wings or become our favorite birds, or fly through the night until its our time to be born or our time to die?

 

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doe visiting to eat tasty greens this morning