Witches in the Weeds

There she is in flight,

a shooting star on fire.

There she spirals eyeless

her blue wind births chaos.

There she moans bitterly

churning up dark waters.

There she plows fiercely

heaving up  mountains.

Her Datura pods explode,

broadcasting black seeds ..

Fire, Air, Earth and Water –

Old women stir the cauldron.

Shapeshifting into birds

they stalk fish in every marsh.

Black crowned night herons?

Owls with second sight?

Ah, these are the women with wings…

soaring through the night.

Listen to the reeds applauding.

Brown Cattails are humming.

Bitterns sing love songs to

Witches in the Weeds!

Working Notes:

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In folklore Old women are believed to control all aspects of Nature – Fire, Earth, Air and Water, but in myth and story they have a special relationship with water.

The title and poem “witches in the weeds” emerged after I did some research on the Datura plant. This plant is usually associated with old women and sorcery in myth and story. For example, in European mythology, the dark goddesses, Hecate, and Baba Yaga are associated with Datura. Datura is considered to be a ‘witch weed’ and is categorized as a poison along with deadly nightshade, henbane and mandrake. The seeds and flowers have a history of creating visions, delirious states, and causing death. Datura thrives in wilderness areas. Old women, dark goddesses and Datura have a lot in common.

Women and birds have been associated since Neolithic times so it seemed natural to use them in the poem. Scholar and mytho- archeologist Marija Gimbutas unearthed many bird-women sculptures that were fashioned out of clay in “Old Europe”. Old women in particular are most often associated with owls, herons, crows, ravens, and black birds of all kinds. It is probably the relationship between women and birds that is one of the roots behind the belief that old women can fly. The other root behind flight can probably be found in the relationship between women healers and the plants they used. Plants like Datura  contain alkaloid properties (scopolamine, hyoscyamine, and atropine) that are capable of producing visions of flight and are used by folk healers and medicine women and men.

The reference to marshes in the poem is important because it is in liminal space – that place between earth and water – that lends itself to transformations of any kind. Goddesses like Hecate inhabit such places, and with good reason because “transformation” requires suffering and death to old ways of being. It’s important to have a Guide.

According to Wikipedia, Datura “was known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches’ brews.” Since there is no such entity as a witch, I was surprised to see the above sentence in print on a research site. The word witch was first coined by the King James version of the Bible which appeared in the 1600’s. A women’s holocaust occurred in Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries when thousands, perhaps a few million rural women of all ages were burned as witches. In a nutshell, women have been healers since ancient times. When men became “doctors” they took over the role of healer from women, and conveniently dispensed with the latter by burning them alive.

Whenever I see the word witch I stop to consider the context because inevitably the word is associated with older or old women who have power. Women healers were naturalists who observed, experimented with plants to learn about their medicinal properties, and used these herbs to heal, to birth a child, to abort an unwanted fetus, and to help humans die peacefully at the end of life. It takes a lifetime to acquire the necessary skills, so younger female healers were usually apprenticed to their elders and their secrets passed from one generation to another.

Patriarchy continues to dismiss women as needing equal rights, including the right to end life if it becomes necessary. Our need to have sovereignty over own own bodies is a threat to this system of oppression. We are rejected as folk healers, and as leaders out of fear. If we dare to speak out we become witches, bitches, or nasty old women. We are irrational and emotional, unpredictable, incapable of making sound decisions due to our biology according to this Patriarchal story. We are also a genuine threat because as thinking/feeling women we can reject the either or/black or white perspective of Patriarchy and seek “both and” solutions. We are capable of thinking with both parts of our brain, and have access to Nature’s secrets because we can develop intimate relationships with plants (and animals). Many women recognize that we are a part of nature and can choose to advocate for the Earth understanding that to do so is also to advocate for all life on this planet. We can choose not to separate the parts from the whole. Women and the Datura plant belong together because both are potential visionaries.

Datura flowers are startling, huge, trumpet shaped – pearl white and luminous, tinted with pale to deep lavender around the edges – and in northern Mexico, intensely fragrant after rain. Last summer, like the bees that hummed around the flowers from dawn to dusk, I too couldn’t get enough of the sweet scent of literally hundreds of undulating lace edged trumpets that opened each day. These plants are also known as devil’s trumpet, moonflowers, devil’s weed and thorn apple. Datura plants also are capable of removing lead from the soil and storing it in their roots and leaves. While the plant provides nectar to several creatures in the desert food chain it has formed a partnership (mutualism) with the Hawk moth, an insect almost as large as the human hand. The Datura furnishes the moth with nectar as a food source and a shelter for its eggs. The newly hatched larvae are served a tasty leafy meal by the plant. In return Datura are pollinated. The plants’ male pollen is transferred by the moth to the female flower parts, enabling fertilization to take place. The Datura can then produce fruit and seeds for another generation.

The seeds of Sacred Datura are used by Native peoples like the Navajo to bring on visions during ceremony. It’s important to understand that Indigenous peoples who use this plant for visioning also have learned how to detoxify it (as women healers have) and are not sharing this information with outsiders. Overall, Datura species are considered to be highly poisonous; even bees that drink the nectar of the flowers can produce honey that is deadly. All parts of the plant are poisonous but especially the flowers and seeds.

The plants’ precise and natural distribution is uncertain owing to its extensive cultivation and naturalization throughout the temperate and tropical regions of the globe. It’s distribution within the Americas and North Africa is most likely restricted to the Southwest regions of the United States and Mexico in North America, and Tunisia in Africa where the highest species diversity occurs. (Brugmansia, a South American cousin with similar properties differs from Datura in that it is woody, reaches the size of small trees and has pendulous trumpets).

Strangely, all nine Datura species can also change the size of their individual plants, leaves and flowers! The plants’ size, shape etc. apparently depends upon the location of the plant. I find the correspondence between the plant’s ability to create visions or to poison, and it’s physical ability to change its shape, color, size, leaves, depending on location fascinating. It’s as if the plant is advertising its literal ability to shapeshift, to alter its identity in the wild where it can thrive even as a weed. This kind of co-creating between plant and (powers of) place is probably much more common than we realize.

We are fast approaching the end of October. All Hallows and the Feast of the Dead occur over a period of three days beginning October 31 on All Hallows Eve, and ending on All Souls Day, November 2nd. In the United States this honoring of the dead has been distorted becoming Halloween, when children dress in costumes and go trick or treating, but retain the fear of old women as “witches” flying through the night with their familiars.

In contrast, European and Earth based religions honor this three – day period as Feast of the Dead, All Saints Day and All Soul’s day. We begin by honoring the dead through prayer. On the latter two days we can choose to make contact with the deceased – saints and family – because “the veil is so thin.” It is at this time that we can call upon those who have gone before us to pray for us, or guide us…In some earth based (Celtic) and most Indigenous traditions we also acknowledge that this feast marks the end of the calendar year…For the next few weeks we live in the “space in between” until the advent of the new year which begins at Winter Solstice.

This year the Presidential election occurs on November 8th five days after this festival ends. If ever there was a time to celebrate “witches” as women of power it is now. We need to gather together with all the other “nasty women” and support Hillary Clinton by getting out to vote for her. Then we can pick up our prickly Datura pods and soar away into the night on the broomsticks that our distorted cultural story has provided for us!

IMG_2742.JPGPostscript: I want to make it clear that I know a number caring men with great integrity who do not support Patriarchy in its death throes (just as I know many women who do). This country is fortunate to have many such men all of whom will be casting their vote for Hillary Clinton as next President of the United States. We need to acknowledge how critical their support is and how much courage it takes for a man to go against a culture that strives for power over at the cost of losing access to genuine feeling.

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The Hooligan

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When I first arrived in Abiquiu I began feeding the birds. After about a week I had canyon towhees who greeted me with enthusiasm in the morning, rose breasted house finches and pine siskins that dropped to the ground to eat the seed even as hawks soared overhead. Best of all I didn’t have even one squirrel!

Naively, I assumed that the high desert must be free of these pernicious pests. In the mornings I would happily scatter seed on the ground broadcasting to the neighborhood that food was abundant here under my homemade bird oasis. Desert cottontails and jack rabbits appeared from dawn to dusk and soon the scaled quail scurried to the spot peeping as they raced across the desert floor.

One day about a month after moving here I glimpsed what I earnestly hoped was not a very large squirrel peering at the birds from the roof of the Ramada. I picked up the binoculars to better identify the creature in question. This animal was definitely a squirrel – a big one. I groaned inwardly. I had been overrun with squirrels in Maine, and after attempting to live with them unsuccessfully for years had eventually caught and probably transported about 1500 red and gray squirrels to another world. The “reds” with their endless chittering were the worst. I didn’t want to repeat that process here in New Mexico.

In spite of my bias I had to admit that this large squirrel was actually quite beautiful with his thick mottled gray overcoat and long fluffy tail. Best of all he didn’t chatter incessantly. I watched him nibble some leaves off a nearby bush before jumping down to the ground and slyly making his run towards my oasis. I watched first with awe and then with dismay as the squirrel sucked down sunflower seed like an out of control hoover vacuum cleaner! Naturally, he scared all the birds away. I quickly opened the door to interrupt the gluttony noting his bulging cheeks as he streaked past me. I also knew that this gesture of mine was ultimately pointless because the squirrels in my life were never afraid of me.

Sighing, I acknowledged that another round of squirrel harassment was on the horizon.

With the adage “keep your enemies near” I turned to my desert guide-book for information on this squirrel’s identity and habits…

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Flipping through the photos I soon discovered that my intruder was a desert rock squirrel. When I read that he dug burrows in the ground or rocky crevices I went out and examined the strange hole that had opened up in the driveway just the day before – It was about three inches in diameter and when I fed it a small stone the stone disappeared down the hole without a sound! I wondered if this was the rock squirrel’s burrow… Sure enough, the very next morning as I scattered more seed I kept a sharp eye on the hole until a furry gray head with small round ears and a piercing stare appeared for a second before the squirrel popped out of the ground.

Resigned to the fact that this squirrel had moved in I decided to do some further research to answer the next most important question: did he co habit with many others of his kind? Implicit in this question was the fear that I might be overrun by giant squirrels!

I learned that the rock squirrel (Spermophilus variegatus) was the largest of three desert squirrels, the only one weighing up to 1.5 pounds. These rodents are found in most desert habitats and are true omnivores feeding on seeds, mesquite beans, insects, eggs, birds and cactus fruit! Some sources said they were territorial.

Most fascinating was the fact that the rock squirrel kills snakes. When encountering a snake, the squirrel will stamp his feet and wave his tail side to side while facing his enemy. The wily rodent also tries to flick sand in the snake’s face with his front paws. This behavior is called mobbing. Apparently rock squirrels can distinguish between venomous and non- venomous snakes and change their mobbing behavior accordingly. However, they are known to attack rattlesnakes, probably because they can partially neutralize snake venom. Rattlesnakes have heat – sensing organs that can detect a change in temperature as little as 0.01 F from one foot away. The squirrel takes advantage of this by pumping extra blood into its tail to make the tail warmer than it’s body fooling the snake into striking the tail rather than the torso. Wow, what an ingenious trickster.

In spite of my general antipathy towards squirrels I was impressed. Unfortunately the sources that I consulted were either vague or contradictory on the issue of whether these animals were solitary or gregarious. Some articles said they lived in groups, others stated that the animals were solitary. Had I gotten lucky? I did note that my furry friend seemed to be working alone and that he never made a sound. Come spring and mating season all that might change. I decided that for now, at least, I could cope with one silent intruder. I named him the “Hooligan” to remind me that, for me anyway, he was still considered an interloper even though I ruefully acknowledged that on the whole squirrels had every right to be living here because the desert was their home.

One day after watching the Hooligan make a run for the seed from his burrow entrance (there are always hawks circling around in the air) I had the brilliant idea of covering up his hole in the driveway with a flat rock to see what he might do. The next morning I watched the rock begin to move by itself as I spread seed on the ground! In seconds I watched the Hooligan push the rock completely out of his way with his shoulder and front paws, as he popped out of his hole. Maybe I should have named him Houdini? Later that afternoon I chose a large heavier red rock and put that over the entrance of his tunnel to see what he would do next. The following morning the Hooligan stared at me from the top of the Ramada’s chimney with steely black eyes. Clearly he had other entrances to his burrow besides the one he liked to pop out of in the driveway (presumably because that entrance was closest to the seed). He never uttered a sound, but the sense I had was that this latest rock trick of mine had backfired, and the Hooligan was upset with me. Chagrined, I moved the big rock away as he disappeared down the chimney only to reappear in seconds from the hole in the driveway. I apologized to him as he ran towards the oasis for his breakfast. Clearly, he was caching extra seed for the winter because he didn’t leave until his cheeks were bulging.

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I hate to admit it but I have come to enjoy the Hooligan’s presence and would miss him if he left! I like living in harmony with an animal I once abhorred. Keen observation has taught me his habits. I have learned to put out enough seed in the morning while he watches me from his chimney or from his closest burrow entrance so that he gets breakfast before he vacates the premises. Where does he go in between morning and late afternoon meals, I am always wondering? After he leaves I feed the rest of the birds who then have a chance to eat in peace. Late in the afternoons, I repeat the same process; the Hooligan gets his meal and leaves. Then I scatter seed around for the other birds. My little Chihuahuas alert me to the Hooligan’s presence if I am otherwise occupied, so together we have system that works well for all of us. What pleases me the most is that we are all sharing the same space in peace.

Armando’s House

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I walked down a path of dried grasses and crossed a little bridge. I listened with pleasure to the sounds of river water flowing under me. Some part of the Chama (river) had been channeled into some sort of canal beneath my feet. There were large sprawling deciduous trees overhead and I could feel the peace of this place permeating my mind and body. I was relaxed and alert as the path veered to the left opening onto a modest adobe house with a small covered porch or Ramada. To the right a steep mountain rose out of a nearby field. Dried cornstalks seemed to be waving as an invisible breeze brushed their papery leaves.

People were wandering around outside, some sitting under other trees around tables all talking quietly. I was struck by the sense that there was no clear boundary between inside and outside; the two spaces, the adobe house and the rest of nature seemed to flow one into the other. Dried Datura flowers were hanging from the ceilings and Hopi pottery shards lay on one of the tables. A huge Great Pyrenees greeted me in a reserved but friendly manner; as I bent down I lost my hands in her thick white fur.

Almost involuntarily I was drawn to the painting of the Indian woman with a bowed head who was wearing a living crown fashioned out of the magnificent sacred Datura blossoms I loved so much. This painting of the woman, with a face like a Madonna replete with flowers and a brilliant yellow billed toucan was hung at the edge of the Ramada. I was astonished by the image because it seemed eerily familiar but it wasn’t until I began to write about my experience that I recognized that this painting and others like it were manifest expressions of the ancient Neolithic bird –woman archetype. I plan to return to buy this print.

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Other paintings caught my eye as I approached the porch. I was swept away by the plethora of graceful women and their animal familiars. I stepped into the adobe with open kitchen where Armando was preparing a bowl of homemade chicken posole for someone…Behind the big black velvet screen that was adorned with paintings and two sculptures I glimpsed a beautiful healthy indoor cactus garden that looked out on the field and mountain.

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Guadalupe’s sculptured face (and the face of the angel who held her) was the purple of wine colored grapes. I stared, at first startled, and then gradually comprehending… The rays that surrounded her were made of spiked golden agave leaves. Each detail of Guadalupe’s cornstalk body was meticulously fashioned. Bits of clay and brightly colored stones adorned her robe. I was unable to look away and sat down in a chair to be with the sculpture and then the rest of the paintings in a quiet way. For a while I entered another field of awareness one beneath or beyond thought.

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There was something about the way Armando portrayed women that seemed infinitely wise, yet familiar. The Indian women were stylized, ageless and sensuous, rounded in form, most with long flowing black hair. Gracious. Both spiritual and sexual elements were blended seamlessly into each painting. All had eyes that were softened and unfocused giving them a dream-like quality. In one large painting a woman and a young man were flanked by graceful white water-birds (probably egrets) who regarded the observer with keen human-like eyes. I noted the distinction between the dreamy unfocused eyes of the two and the intensely observant eyes of the animals. The relationships he depicted between women, animals, flowers and birds also spoke to me of seeing beyond the veil as well as depicting interspecies communication at a cellular level. These paintings seemed to reflect my deepest longings and the depth and breadth of my own experiences with animals, flowers and birds, the powers of water personified by the river, and the moon. I was astonished, stunned, humbled by the recognition that someone understood.

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It wasn’t until the second day when I first saw the painting of the two Mexican men facing and touching one another on the shoulder and face with clear untroubled eyes, one with a small flower in his hand (Somos Novios) that I realized that for Armando the power of relationship that he expressed so poignantly through his paintings of woman and nature extended to men as well, although in the painting of the two men it was expressed more directly through feeling and touch. How I wished a painting like the one I was gazing into could penetrate the haze of the power driven patriarchal culture that forced men to abandon genuine feeling…

When I met Armando I involuntarily clasped my hands together as if in prayer while I asked about Guadalupe’s face. His voice was soft, almost musical, his face round, his eyes were large, deep mysterious pools, and his skin burnished like almonds. Only a bit taller than me he spoke with a thick Spanish accent, slowly and replete with feeling, answering questions I can no longer recall asking. Being around him felt inexplicably safe…

I returned to Armando’s house each day of the Abiquiu Artists’ Tour – three days in all. Each time I walked down the path I had the same experience of moving into an altered state or dimension in time… each day I was invited to have a bowl of the celebratory Mexican posole which Armando had prepared for his guests. Each day hours passed without my knowing how long I’d been there. The last day his partner invited me to sit with them under the trees just after I arrived and Armando replied, “No, first she has to sit with the paintings.” He knew.

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That third day I finally got beyond the lure of the paintings long enough to gaze intently at the whimsical sculptures that were also hanging on the screen and walls. Archetypal symbols abounded; piercing eyes, flying horses, cats, wheels, stars, sun rays, mirrors, animals with teeth, came at me from every direction, and I was once again flooded with delight, awe, discomfort, as I allowed the images to penetrate my awareness. I was startled anew by this multifaceted aspect of Armando’s imagination, creativity and ingenuity. These three – dimensional “stories” were impeccably crafted out of natural materials, and many were in flight. To me they seemed to be a child-like extension of the man who created them.

I recall at some point sitting on the porch opposite Sugar, the giant great Pyrenees, who lay stretched out on the couch, when Armando sat down next to her and laid his head and torso against the animal’s thick fur. The deeply loving unconscious gesture struck a chord that resonated… There was a basket of apples next to the couch with a sign that said, “Please take these apples with the holes to eat!” I happily complied and was delighted but certainly not surprised that Armando grew his garden organically.

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I sighed as I walked down the path back to my car on the last day of the studio tour. Here was a Mexican Indian who was so attached to his Tarascan roots that he could fly, and who crafted his art from his life and his dreams. I was filled with wonder that such a man existed in the flesh, a man for whom the idea of separation was a total anathema…That I was in love with Armando’s art was obvious!

My lasting impression of Armando is that he is a man who is loved by all of Nature, blessed by the sun and the moon, the animals, the plants and the dreams that he lives by.

Armando – Adrian Lopez

Email : armando@armandolopez.com

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The Dog Who Belonged to the Earth

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The first morning after I arrived in Abiquiu there was a medium sized shepherd – like dog with a broad forehead, dark pools for eyes, thick black fur and pale buff markings curled up on the flagstones outside my bedroom door. Who was she I wondered as my six pound Chihuahua’s shrill cries of outrage and my yelling frightened the large dog away. I remember being vaguely aware that the dog’s submissive body posture, head low, tail dragging, sparked a memory.

I think it was later that day that my closest neighbor introduced herself and I learned that this dog “belonged” to no one in particular in the small group of people (which now included me) who lived on the southwest side of these blue tipped reptilian ridgeback mountains.

“What do you mean, she belongs to this place?” I asked. “Doesn’t she have a real home?” I found this information deeply distressing. I was standing outside the little stone house talking to this woman while Snoopy shyly (and it seemed to me, hopefully) gazed up at me.

“We all look after her…the story is that she left the people who originally had her and never went back…she likes to be outdoors all the time except when it thunders… some of us feed her,” the woman explained. So the dog had been abused, I thought grimly. I noticed the tick imbedded in the thick sand colored fur that bordered the black ridge on her back.

“What about shots?”

“Someone apparently took her to the vet last year and Snoopy was so scared that she messed up the car…”

Snoopy? Inwardly, I groaned.

I bent over to pat the dog who seemed to be somewhat afraid of me, probably because I had yelled “go home” to her earlier that morning, before I knew she didn’t have one. My back porch was home.

She had the most beautiful chestnut brown eyes, the kind of eyes a person could get lost in… I looked away as the persistent memory pierced my awareness. I felt a surge of compassion as a wave broke over me… This dog reminded me of the Shepard –malamute puppy I had adopted the year after my brother’s death some 40 plus years ago. Sam, with her loving nature and deep loyalty helped me survive a suicide. During her life Sam taught me about the gift of receiving unconditional love; she was the first of many animal teachers… After her death fourteen years later, this dog became a “bridge to the beyond,” coming to me as a guide and teacher through dreams. This dog reminded me so much of Sam that I wondered if I had a new lesson to learn…

The high-pitched barking of both of my Chihuahuas from inside the house brought an end to this reverie. My neighbor and I concluded our conversation and the two departed down the path. “Bye Snoopy.” I murmured.

That name certainly did not fit this dog I thought irritably as I entered the house. I hated the way the culture turned animals, the most compassionate beings on earth, into human-like cartoon characters…

As the weeks went by I realized that Snoopy was indeed cared for by a number of people in her territory. One woman gave her chicken necks, another bones, my closest neighbor fed her each night and every morning the two went walking together in the washes. The latter called Snoopy “the Scoop” a name I sometimes adopted when meeting her. I also called her “the Snoop.” She responded with equal enthusiasm to all variations. Although I always spoke to her, I did not encourage Snoopy to come by the house because Hope, the eldest of my two Chihuahua’s simply couldn’t tolerate the bigger dog’s presence. Hope had never forgiven me for getting Lucy, the youngest member of our family, and she was not going to tolerate another canine intrusion – not ever.

It wasn’t until my closest neighbor and I became better friends that Hope learned to tolerate Snoopy’s presence as long as we met on neutral ground. I was delighted by this improvement and hoped that it augured well for the future. It became increasingly clear to me that Snoopy had fallen in love with my friend, a genuinely kind and caring person that I was learning to respect mightily because of her compassionate attitude towards people and animals. I stopped worrying about Snoopy…

Then my neighbors went away. Why wasn’t I prepared for Snoopy’s response to their absence? The first day they were gone I tried to encourage her to walk with us. She refused to come choosing instead to continue lying in the sun by their back door, barely raising her head to greet me as we passed by. In the middle of the afternoon I went over to visit with Beal their giant long – haired cat, who banged cupboard doors when ignored, and took Snoopy some cheese. She hadn’t moved and was still lying by the back door. When she saw that I was alone she perked up her ears and thumped her tail briefly. Although she got up to eat the cheese she continued to regard me mournfully. The dog was depressed. I felt abandonment slam through my body with a thud.

“She’ll be back.” I told Snoopy over and over patting her head.

That evening after I fed Beal I put out a bowl of food for Snoopy and sat with her as she wolfed down her dinner. When she followed me back to the house I gave her some more cheese. As soon as she had her treat she trotted back down the path to my neighbor’s house…

I could feel panic rising in me. Didn’t I have to do something to help this animal? I resisted acknowledging to myself that at best, all I could be was a surrogate. Snoopy was mourning the absence of her person. How many folks had this dog loved and lost I wondered distractedly…

I was obsessed and couldn’t stop thinking about the animal. I put Snoopy prayers into my “Bear Circle”, a prayer circle made of Zuni fetishes that I thought I made up about 30 plus years ago (It turned out that I had tapped into a Native American healing tradition without knowing it. Bears were believed to be one of the most powerful animal healers of all and sitting within a bear circle promoted healing of mind and body. Much later I also learned that bears and dogs were also “kin” evolving from a common ancestor).

The second day passed in much the same way, only now I was trotting back and forth between my neighbors’ house and my own a few times a day to check on Snoopy whose behavior remained unchanged. I couldn’t bear to see her waiting so patiently and trustingly for her people to return. Late that same afternoon a small white truck delivered wood to me. As the truck bounced up my road I saw Snoopy jump up and race across the open space to meet the truck. Of course, Snoopy knew that her people had left in a truck and she thought it might be them. When she realized her mistake she bowed her head and trotted back to her post.

I texted my neighbor that the animals missed her.

My friend responded, “ Don’t worry too much about the Scoop, she appears very resourceful. She’ll find you when she needs you.” I wasn’t convinced.

I started to fantasize about saving Snoopy from another abandonment.

It was then that it occurred to me that my deep concern about the dog might be creating problems for her. Animals know what we are feeling often before we humans do, and sometimes they will take on those feelings especially if we cannot own them. I recalled my own struggle with abandonment…

The third morning Snoopy wasn’t in her usual spot by the back door. This, I knew, was a good sign. She might not belong to anyone but surely she belonged to this patch of earth that rose up around us in pink, gold, or fiery red hills depending upon the time of day. The high desert was her “home” and she routinely defended it from wild dogs or singing coyotes. I felt palpable relief thinking about the fact that at least she belonged to the Earth, and also in knowing that she was off somewhere in her territory, perhaps visiting another neighbor. When we set off on our walk, Snoopy appeared from behind one of the bluffs and acted as if she wanted to join us until Hope’s fury got in the way.

That evening when I filled Snoopy’s food dish she wasn’t around.

Was Snoopy adapting to her loss? If so then what I needed to do was to follow her lead and choose a more flexible attitude towards this dog’s situation, opening the door to unseen possibilities. I could also choose to stay in the moment, doing what I could to alleviate the dog’s present loneliness by being her friend when she needed one. Snoopy and I were kindred spirits.

The next morning Snoopy trotted over to visit me ignoring Hope’s outrage. I noted that her ears were standing up straight. She had her early cheese snack before trotting off on her morning rounds, it seemed to me quite happily. The way she held her ears and tail reassured me that in her world all was well. That same afternoon she appeared around 4 PM. More treats were given as I walked her back to my neighbors’ house to feed her dinner.

She and I were communicating on an invisible channel.   My neighbor had been right; this very special dog knew just where to come when she wanted company, a treat, or her dinner.

Almost a week has passed with Snoopy directing all of our interactions and I have finally relaxed. My friends will be home in less than two days. I learned just today that Snoopy has been regularly visiting another neighbor who also fed her every day! Although I have deep concerns about the future with regard to this dog I am doing my best to keep my heart and mind open.

It is easy to forget that Snoopy is a canine “daughter of the earth.” It is possible that the powers of place will assist this dog in ways that I can’t imagine. Perhaps the Soul/Spirit of the Earth will continue to draw in good people to this community, people who love dogs, people who will also befriend this most gracious of animals. Snoopy continues to trust and to attach herself to humans even though her first family apparently treated her so badly that she chose place as home. Someday maybe, someone will adopt her… In the meantime, if Snoopy can continue to put her trust in the goodness of people, so can I. Ah, this was the lesson I needed to re-learn!

 

*Postscript: Animals in mourning

As a naturalist/ethologist I have spent a lot of time observing animals at home and in the wild. Although, science is slow to admit it there is ample concrete evidence that animals mourn the loss of loved ones in much the same way that people do (see literature on dolphins, chimps, elephants, whales, bears, etc – elephants, for example, have been observed returning once a year on the anniversary of an elephant’s death to touch the bones of their dead). Snoopy’s behavior after her people went away provides us with a picture of how dogs mourn the loss of a significant person.

What is remarkable about animals from my point of view is their resiliency in the face of loss, and their ability to return to the present to live their lives in the now. When animals grieve their grief is obvious, palpable to anyone that is sensitive, but out of it comes an ability to adjust to that loss, and to let go of the past, perhaps because they allow themselves to feel in the present without censor? When humans suffer loss, they often distract themselves, or are told by others to “get on with their lives” encouraging the grief stricken to bury their feelings, or as in my own case, are pulled out feeling involuntarily. Not allowing for the process of grieving to occur naturally keeps us stuck in the past.

Hecate’s Moon

 

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Lupita, Guadalupe –

Your agave points of light glow in grave darkness.

 

Hecate’s Moon is Red.

The Raven slices the sky into shards.

The River catches shivering stars.

 

We remember the First Mother…

Patiently, painfully,

we return the parts to the Whole.

 

See the Wolf who hides behind the Tree?

Welcome him in.

Only then can we begin…

 

Lupita, Guadalupe –

Your agave points of light glow in grave darkness.

 

Photo credits: I took this photograph when visiting the studio of artist Armando – Adrian Lopez whose work in mixed media produced this vision of Guadalupe.

Working notes…

Guadalupe is the Native “Mother of the Americas” – not the Virgin Mary as often suggested but an ancient Earth goddess. She is dark skinned and an Indian. Curiously, Lupita is the diminutive form of Guadalupe. Lupe means wolf. I was surprised to learn that the name Guadalupe means river of black stones or valley of the wolf. I was intrigued by the inclusion of both dark and light (wild and tame) in Guadalupe’s naming. She is a goddess of wholeness whose light continues to shine in a broken patriarchal culture.

Hecate’s moon is the last moon of the year according to some earth based traditions, and here I aspect her as the goddess who ushers in the dark months ahead in the northern hemisphere and the return to chaos.

Guardian of the Earth

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Some friends of mine gave me a mole carving for my birthday. I was delighted and intrigued by this gift because fetishes have been important to me for many years; they are also part of my Native heritage.

A fetish is usually carved out of antler bone or stone. The artist has a personal relationship with the animal that s/he is carving and because of that relationship the bone or stone “lives” and communicates either practical (as in hunting, or curing illness) or spiritual (as in guidance or protection) information to its owner. These carvings are also given to others as gifts transferring the power embodied in the stone from one person to another sometimes intergenerationally. Fetishes act as mediators between the two worlds that are interconnected, the seen and the unseen.

The best known stone carvers are the Zuni Indians who inhabit the southwest. Many years ago I bought a medicine bear from Zuni carver Stuart Quandelacy and began to correspond with him after I had an unusual experience with the little pipestone bear. I loved the story he told me about creating his medicine bears. Whenever he carved one to sell he would ask the Bear Spirit to guide the bear to an owner who needed its particular power. Stuart became the Zuni carver who put medicine bears on the map.

Unfortunately New Age folks co –opted native fetishes (as well as other Indigenous customs) and assigned their own western interpretations to them. The problem with this approach is that the carvings were/are taken out of their original Indigenous context which includes keen observation of the animal in question in the wild and is also based on the intimate relationship that develops between that person and the animal. Fetishes are not symbols, they embody genuine Animal Powers.

In order to understand the power behind a fetish, we have to recognize that Native peoples were not only naturalists, but were people who did not privilege the human species over any other. Animals were understood to have as much intelligence as humans. Native peoples remembered the stories their elders told – that the people learned how to live from observing the behavior of the animals around them – Because animals have been on the earth for three hundred and fifty million years, while humans have only been in their present form for two hundred thousand years, this approach to older “relatives” (non – human species) seems well documented by the scientific community today. To Native peoples who choose the old ways, animals continue to be powerful teachers and allies…

When I received my little black mole I immediately did some mythological research on moles. I learned that in some Native American tribes mole helped during the hunt because he lived beneath the trees at the edge of the forest. He could trip or slow down prey so it could be caught.

When Mole is called upon for healing he is able to bring up plant and “root” knowledge that humans might need because he lives under the surface of the ground.

Mole has eyes that see in the dark. Mole may help a person develop intuitive insight, and a more complete understanding of the world of the plant people.

Because Mole lives underground he is able to help a person navigate the underworld, as he literally swims through the soil.

Mole may also help a person make peace with the unknown.

Grandmother Mole sees the world through spiritual eyes…

Frankly, I was surprised to find that the mole was so important to various Indigenous people. I had never paid much attention to moles beyond thinking of them as something of a nuisance because they created such havoc around my house. As soon as I learned that moles dug deep tunnels underground by swimming through the dirt with wide front paws, aerating the soil while eating lots of destructive grubs including Japanese beetle larvae, I began to feel quite differently about them. Although moles did heave up conical mounds of dirt in a few places around my house I realized that I was blaming moles for the damage that voles were primarily responsible for.

Moles live underground and rarely comes to the surface except in the evenings. They are 6 – 7 inches long. Moles are superbly adapted to a subterranean life style; they have cylindrical bodies, velvety fur, and very small ears and eyes. They also have a hairless pointed snout. They can tolerate higher levels of carbon dioxide than other mammals because moles can reuse oxygen inhaled above ground. Thus they are able to breathe comfortably in their underground burrows. Moles also are related to shrews and bats! They have an extra thumb that helps them to dig more efficiently. Moles also eat beetles, nuts and earthworms and they store food in special underground kitchens. Because of their food requirements moles must cover a larger area than most underground creatures. Three to five moles per acre are considered a high population. Deep runways lead from the mole’s den to its hunting grounds. The runways are 5 -8 inches below the surface but moles also tunnel close to the surface. During wet weather tunnels are very shallow. Moles make their homes in dry spots but they prefer to hunt in soil that is shaded cool moist and populated with earthworms and grubs. In neglected orchards and woodlands they work undisturbed. But this preference accounts for the moles’ attraction to lawns and parks. Moles commonly choose dening sites under portions of large trees. Unfortunately, the maze of passages provides protective cover for several other mammals like voles and mice to live in. These animals move through mole runways as they help themselves to grains, seeds, and bulbs. Moles often get blamed for these herbivores that do indeed damage garden plants. Moles eat up to one hundred percent of their weight in food each day. The star nosed mole can detect, catch and eat food faster than the human eye can follow.

Breeding season occurs for the seven species of moles between February and May. Males search for females by letting out high-pitched squeals and tunneling through new areas. Gestation occurs in 42 days with two to five baby moles being born. They are on their own in 45 days. Apparently moles are solitary creatures. Their territories may overlap and their range extends over eastern North America and Canada. Moles have few natural enemies because of their penchant for underground living. Sometimes coyotes, dogs, and skunks dig one up and occasionally a cat or owl might predate on one of these animals. Spring floods are probably the greatest danger facing adult moles and their young.

Moles remove many damaging insects and grubs from lawns and gardens. However their burrowing habits disfigure lawns and can create general havoc in small garden plots.

After doing this research on moles I can understand why volcanic mounds appear on my land after a good rain, especially in the spring. But I am also correct in my recent assessment that voles are the real culprits around my house. Voles and mice both damage trees, and the former have eaten almost all my spring bulbs. Throughout the year I see voles boldly popping out of their inch holes almost all day long in search of any seed I leave on the ground. Moles are responsible for making the life of a vole much easier. On the whole, though, I think moles are beneficial, so I am pleased to acknowledge this unseen “guardian of the earth” as a friend, although I shall probably never meet him!

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