Summer Rain

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The sun burnishes the horizon

in spun gold, as he slips beneath

flat topped mountains at dusk..

The summer solstice

is nearly upon us;

Earth is heating up.

The merciless sky is

a bleached bone at noon.

 

The third week of June

marks the end of the sun’s

relentless journey

to lengthen Earth’s days.

Sun seems oblivious to Shadow.

Twilight shrinks in his wake.

For a time it will seem like the star stands still,

Then a gradual reversal of directions

reinforces Nature’s truth –

Change is the only constant.

 

With his northern journey completed,

the sun will soon arc to the south.

His coming and going is both

Earth process, and event.

 

Within a month or so

after the longest day of the year has passed

silvery sheets of rain will slip

through thick gray clouds.

Instantly the earth turns green.

The summer rains are an act of becoming.

 

Who puffs up the clouds?

Some say Thunderbeings

stir the sky into frenzy.

Bolts of jagged steel lightening

strike randomly,

zapping parched cracked ground.

Rumbling ominously,  storm clouds

threaten to erase the line

between horizon and mountain.

Roaring arroyos fill,

spill over, flood fertile fields.

 

Did you know that an inch

of pure rain water

nourishes the Earth

more efficiently than

any water drawn from the ground?

 

This dance between the sun

and his lady,

Keeps the Earth in Balance.

Gardens explode with chilies, corn and beans!

When Cloud Woman weeps,

tears heal wounds.

Frogs and toads hum.

A flaming orange oriole

nests by the river

and sings from the Bosque

at twilight.

Women sing love songs

to honor our Blessed Mother

who brings the Gift of

Summer Rain.

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Working Notes:

 

The term “Blessed Mother” is used as a metaphor for the Soul of the Earth, and has nothing to do with religion.

This is the time of year that I find myself longing for twilight, that space in between, where light from the sun meets the one who dims the light.

I also dream of rain.

I have practical reasons for wishing that dark and light weren’t so extreme at this time of year. My eyes ache from being exposed to the fierce sun, even with sunglasses. I don’t sleep as soundly, or dream as deeply during the late spring and summer months. My energy shifts without warning. The mid -afternoon fiery heat is too intense and lasts too long into evening.

I also miss the shadows that are cast over the mountains during other seasons, revealing sharp contours and a depth that is no longer visible during the late spring or summer. Here in New Mexico the absence of rain often characterizes spring, although heavy winter snows at high elevations bring forth the most beautiful spring wild flowers, flaming orange globe mallows, crimson, purple, and sky blue penstemon, fiery Indian paintbrush, cornflower blue flax and the delicate gilia, purple mat, heron’s bill, violet vetches and an endless array of buttery yellow flowers. These lovely long months of spring are also sometimes clouded by fierce winds that blow in from the west stirring up spiraling tunnels of dust and debris. And tender seedlings curl inward crushed like paper under the shock of sudden frost.

And yet, whenever I am tempted to complain too much about the sun’s fiery rays and light that lingers too long, I remember that without the searing heat of this star, life would cease to exist. Plants and flowers couldn’t blossom, or produce seeds, or pods. The wild cactus wouldn’t swell with magenta, pink, yellow or red buds. The trees wouldn’t leaf out gifting us with precious shade like the elephant arms of the cottonwoods do as I pass under their cool canopies on my daily morning walks. The rabbits wouldn’t give birth and lizards couldn’t bask on rocks warmed by early morning sunlight.

I appreciate all the seasons for different reasons. Today we know that the solstice is an astronomical event caused by the earth’s 23.4 tilt on its rotational axis and it’s elliptical orbit around the sun. In the northern hemisphere, midsummer, or the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, the day when the North Pole is leaning closest to the sun. As the earth orbits the sun the position of the two hemispheres change in relation to their starry center. At this time of year we lean towards the sun and summer begins, while in the southern hemisphere the earth is tilted away from the sun creating winter. A solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on earth.

Oddly, it isn’t until after the summer solstice that the earth really heats up even though the days are already shortening in duration. This phenomenon is called the lag of the seasons. It’s the same reason that it’s hotter in mid-afternoon than at noon. Earth takes time to warm up. Even in June ice and snow still blanket the earth in some places. The sun has to melt the ice and warm the oceans before we experience summer heat. With global warming this process has been speeded up so we are, on the whole, experiencing hotter weather throughout the world. Our once permanently frozen polar ice is melting, flooding the oceans with more water and raising the water level on each continent.

As I approach summer I look forward to astonishing sunsets that stain the sky purple, crimson, gold, and midnight blue. I will walk through cool blue mornings. I imagine the clouds puffing up like tufts of thick cotton appearing on the horizon sometimes before noon, billowing skyward, nature’s balloons. Every afternoon there’s a chance for a shower, and this year I long to hear the Spadefoot toads that have been buried underground who appear like magic, with the advent of the first monsoon. I missed this serenade and no doubt, those of other amphibians, last year.

What I love most about summer is the rain. Indigenous Pueblo peoples believe that when thunder and lightening rule the skies a torrent of “male rain” floods even the high places. “Female” rain falls gently from a slate gray sky soaking every root, leaf and flower transforming the desert into an oasis teaming with life. Have you ever noticed that after any kind of rain the birds sing their hearts out, hummingbirds chirp wildly, and bees hum even at dusk?

Certainly a marriage between the two is needed to sustain life on this precious blue green planet.

Personally, I think the gender of the sun is male, while rain feels like a female element. Some would disagree unless they were eco – feminists like me! An eco – feminist, not a popular term today, links the abuse of women to the destruction of our planet. For example, I come from the northeast where the rape of the forest is ongoing, while U.S. statistics tell us that rape of women is on the rise. Women have been associated with trees in myth, story, and cultures since the dawn of humankind. No coincidence here.

Sanctioning one form of abuse seems to promote others. Our present U.S. political situation supports horrific abuse of all kinds.

Wild-crafting the Hedgehog and a brief reflection on Motherhood

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Early last spring while walking in the desert in a rocky area with mineral rich soil I discovered a clump of two very small cacti amongst many other similar clumps. Delighted by the diminutive size of the cacti I dug two along with native soil to pot at home. I noticed two tiny bumps on the sides of each inch tall cactus that were cylindrical in shape and both had short spines that were ridged in burgundy.

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About a month later I was on a rock hunt with my friend Iren, when we discovered another bigger clump of what looked like the same kind of cactus, although the ridges on these were not quite the color of red wine. This clump had more rose red buds. I couldn’t resist bringing this cluster home too along with plenty of chert/flint rich soil. Before I dug up either clump I made certain that others grew in the same area. Whenever anyone digs plants in their native habitat (wild -crafting) it is important to make certain that others of the same kind grow nearby.

After re-potting each in its native soil and placing stones around the periphery of each pot (that I found in the rocky soil around the plants), I placed the two cactus clumps next to each other on a bench right next to my door. The second clump also had buds. Each time I went outside the little cacti greeted me. There was something about finding these cacti growing so naturally and happily in the wild that really appealed to me. I wonder now why I couldn’t leave them there.

I soon learned that Echinocerus viridiflora was a hedgehog cactus that was different from most other hedgehog species. For one thing the cactus is very frost tolerant, and it grows much further north (I found both clumps at about 7000 – 8000 feet in the mountains of Northern New Mexico). The species is native to the central and south central United States and in Northern Mexico where it can be found in varied habitats including mountains, desert scrub, woodlands, and dry grasslands.It also has small flowers along the stem rather than near the tip of the cactus. Plants are globular and can grow 12 inches tall and 1 to 3 inches in diameter but most are much smaller. Stems either remain single or form clumps like some of the ones I had seen. Some clumps could become quite large with a dozen or more individuals. The spines might be variable in color, ranging from red, white, yellow or purple and were short and quite numerous. The flowers could be greenish yellow, pink, orange, brown, or even red. I wondered if elevation or mineral content of the soil helped determine the color of the spines and the flowers.

With so much variation within one species I now suspected that the little cactus I had dug up down the road from my house might also be another Echinocereus v. hedgehog cactus; this one is covered in white spines. The problem for me is that visually they look so different although this one is very small and round too…

Further research on the species as a whole answered one of my questions. One variety of this plant sometimes called Echinocereus davisii is listed as an endangered species and is limited to Brewster County in Texas where it grows in a specific mineral substrate. I couldn’t find any information about the variation in flower color but I suspect that colors also vary with the type of rocky soil and/or the elevation the cacti grow in.

To my great surprise I also discovered that many of these cacti are scented.

I did not know until it was too late that (according to one source) that Echinocereus v. was considered to be “at risk.” Please learn from my mistake. I believed that I was being responsible. I would never knowingly dig up a cactus (or any other plant) that was threatened, unless I knew it was going to be destroyed. All around me as I dug the plants in different locations there were groups of the same cacti. What I failed to take into account is that I found these cacti in diverse, but consistently rocky areas, each having it’s own microclimate and mineral content. I learned the hard way that I should have let them be.

I know one thing for sure. I will treasure these little cacti always, because it would be almost impossible to return them to their original surroundings.

Today is Mother’s Day. My little hedgehog cacti are covered with buds and lemony yellow blooms with a greenish tint. They are stunning and the bees love them!

Nature has gifted me with these exquisite flowers on the one day of the year that celebrates motherhood albeit in a sentimental way. Cactus blooms remind me that the goddess is present in Everywoman as a mother and that she also has thorns! The sharp spines of the cactus that sting like bees also remind me of how difficult motherhood really is, or has been for any woman, not just for me.

Bufo americanus

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I recognized him at once

as he limped, one mangled leg,

one eye bleeding,

dragging himself across a dirt road

in search of a place to die.

 

The day went black

with sorrow.

 

Oh no, I keened,

stopping in front of him.

His mouth was open and closing,

– gasping –

with each labored breath.

Did he know how much

it mattered to me that he was hurt

so badly that there was no way

I could save him?

 

Bearing witness never seems to be enough.

 

It was hot – too hot.

Fierce sun dehydrates even

the toughest skin of toad or frog.

I couldn’t bear that he would die

of injuries compounded by thirst.

 

I ran back to get the car.

My intention was to

run him over, to

end his suffering.

But when I drove the car

down the dirt road

he was gone.

 

If only I could glimpse a toad

basking in the desert sand,

I thought until today.

Never imagining this…

 

I was going to a local seed exchange.

Seeds are about beginnings

but I was mourning a dying toad.

What salt – bush sheltered him?

Even purple seed corn kernels

left me joyless.

My soul was with that toad.

 

I was tired – too tired.

I left early, driving down

the winding red dirt road.

My only hope

was that by now

death had claimed the toad.

 

He would never know

that for the last month

I spent each night listening

for amphibious musical trills.

 

Later in the afternoon

I walked to the place

where I had last seen the toad.

And there he was,

quite still, squashed flat

by the only car

that could have hit him –

my own.

 

I buried him in the sand

that once warmed his flesh.

I closed his golden eye.

Sprinkled cornmeal…

How does one ever say goodbye?

 

Although we’d barely met,

I loved him.

Even in death

his life mattered

to one who would

have mothered him,

healing his wounds,

if only she had the chance.

 

Postscript:

Ever since coming to the high desert last August I have been hoping to catch sight of a toad or frog. I missed the early monsoon season when in one night the frogs emerged from hiding, sang love songs, and laid their eggs. I never met a toad. Last summer I lived back in the hills so perhaps toads don’t like it much up there. However, now that I am staying in this riparian sanctuary, situated near a flooded acequia and raging river, I believed toads and frogs must be around somewhere, and yet until today I never met either.

Bufo americanus, or the western toad looks exactly like his northern cousin in the east. In the spring toads are diurnal hunting during the day; in summer they become nocturnal. This was a large toad, probably 3 inches long. And he was actually a she because females are larger than males.

There is a small lily pond on this property that may eventually harbor black toad eggs laid in a double string of jelly below the surface of the water. However, this toad may not have had a chance to become a mother…I say this because the musical trills of this particular toad are very familiar to me, and I have not heard them during the day or at night. (Trilling occurs primarily at mating time and before and during egg laying).

To meet my first toad in the desert under these circumstances was very difficult for me because I have loved these amphibians since I was a small child, and in Maine, where my home is, I created a vernal pool for the toads that is situated next to the brook. Above on the hill in my flower garden, there is also a small lily pond for frogs and toads.

The synchronicity involved in this incident was also startling. The toad was initially run over by a friend of mine, who would be deeply upset if he knew. When I went back to get the car to kill the toad quickly to put him out of his misery, he simply wasn’t there. Unable to think about anything but the dying toad at the seed exchange, I returned home early and I must have been the one that finally ended the toad’s suffering without knowing it by running him over because this is a private road. Discovering the flattened toad helped me deal with my sorrow because the animal was no longer suffering.

It is also strange that I called the toad a male in the poem since I know large toads are all females and potential “mothers.”

To have this incident occur the day before “Mother’s Day” seems particularly poignant because I have spent a lot of time rehabilitating wounded animals etc., and there was nothing I could do to save this toad’s life.

With that much said, I am honoring Nature as the primal “Mother of All” on the eve of Mother’s Day.

I also honor myself.

I am also grieving with all mothers, who have lost “children,” human, or otherwise.

Bird Watching on Red Willow River

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(Above: Male Bullocks Oriole sipping from hummingbird feeder)

Living on a river is a bird watcher’s paradise I  discovered when I moved here last February. At first it was the Sandhill cranes that awakened me in the morning, or the honking flocks of Canada geese that soared over the house. Mallards quacked as they took to the sky after floating on the river, and some days a Bald eagle or two perched in the cottonwoods. At night I heard the Great Horned owl call. Two kinds of towhees, the Canyon and Spotted version were among my first small avian visitors along with a few chickadees, white crowned sparrows, chipping sparrows, juniper titmice, two kinds of juncos and downy woodpeckers. One day a flock of cactus wrens took over the bare tree as they dropped from the sky chattering incessantly. I also had house finches and pine siskins, and a few robins. The collared doves came gradually followed by white winged doves and finally in March mourning doves appeared. The black and white magpies delighted me with their mimicking behavior. Red tailed hawks and many other raptors regularly patrol the tree and its neighbors but it is very hard for any hawk to penetrate the thick thorny branches of the olive or one of her close neighbors, so to my knowledge, none of the birds here have become dinner for these predators.

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(Above: Mourning Doves)

The Red Winged Blackbirds heralded the coming of spring arriving in a small flock in March, and thankfully some have stayed on. I have them in Maine where I live but Redwings love fast running streams and rivers and usually nest nearby a larger body of water than my brook.

I soon learned that living on the river meant that migrating birds might stay for a short time before leaving again to migrate further north, east or west. There was a poignancy attached to bird watching that I had never experienced before because in Maine we had two distinct seasons spring and fall when the birds either arrived or left. Here on Red Willow River the birds appeared and disappeared without warning. I began to pay close attention to my bird books especially Sibley’s Birds for migrating information.

When the Ruby Throated hummingbirds appeared in mid April so many came at once that I was shocked. In Maine the males appeared first, and the females about a week later but here males and females seemed to arrive together. It wasn’t long before I became accustomed to the buzzing sound of the males zooming around the house as I opened the door at dawn. I deliberately hung two feeders down by the now flooded acequia (ditches that irrigate the fields by the river) next to the Russian Olives so that the females would have plenty to eat while the males sought out the flashy feeder close to the house. One morning I glimpsed an iridescent deep violet throat and sure enough the Black Chinned hummingbirds had arrived to stay. A solitary Rufous hummingbird made a brief appearance before moving northwest to a warmer climate? Rufous hummingbirds are so aggressive that I am just as happy he moved on. Others will soon be with us and I am already using up a half gallon of sugar water every few days!

The Great Blue Heron must be nesting somewhere nearby on the river because I see one flying by the house almost every evening just before sunset.

On May 9th a flash of brilliant orange startled me as the bird landed on a branch of the budded Russian Olive. I hadn’t seen a Baltimore oriole for many years but there was no mistaking that color. With a few hops the bird was perched next to the hummingbird feeder. I watched with amazement as he deftly tipped the feeder in his direction and sucked down the sugar water. When he was joined by his olive and yellow – breasted mate, she started fluttering her wings in his direction. The female evidently captured his attention because they flew off together after he had a few more drinks!

I grabbed an orange and sliced it in two, ran out the door and impaled one half on a broken tree branch. In minutes the two were back and this time the male went straight to the orange spearing it with his bill. His flaming breast feathers made the orange look dull by comparison. Another couple arrived and although the male was just as brilliantly attired I noticed a different wing pattern, different head markings and what seemed to be a sharper beak. I was confused and took a picture of this bird while he too was sipping sugar water. Turning to my bird books I learned that the first pair were Baltimore orioles as I had thought, and the second two were Bullocks orioles. Adult male Baltimore orioles have brilliant orange undersides and shoulders with black heads and wings. In contrast, adult male Bullock orioles have deep orange breasts, with black caps, wings, back, white wing patches, and tail tips. The detail that was most helpful distinguishing the two species was that the Bullock orioles (both male and female) have black lines through each eye. Just after I figured this out another male oriole showed up and his blotchy black head and wing pattern varied from the others. Perplexed, I turned back to the books. According to Sibley’s (eastern) Baltimore and (western) Bullocks orioles frequently interbreed creating hybrids of the two. When the Western Tanager with his distinctive red head joined the crowd I was frankly astonished but at least I could identify him! Within a day or so I was just starting to sort out the differences between the female orioles when the Baltimore orioles suddenly disappeared!

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(Above: male and female Bullocks oriole)

This morning I looked out and saw a bird I haven’t seen for 50 years. Not just one Meadowlark but about a dozen were crowded around an open feeder. Tonight I saw my first Black – headed grosbeak of the season, another male bird whose markings somewhat resemble those of the spotted Towhee.

At dawn I wake up listening to the roar of Red Willow River as she winds her way to the sea wondering who might arrive today. I pay very close attention because I never know which birds might also be leaving…

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(Above: Two collared Doves)

I could easily spend the entire day sitting at the east window peering into the lovely Russian Olive trees that are such a silvery gray green that they provide a striking contrast to almost every bird that perches there. Bird watching on Red Willow River reminds me that change is the only constant and that it’s important to stay emotionally present to treasure each joyful moment.

Wild Flower Moon Pyre and Prayer

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I stood out under the thick gray clouds

And listened to the bird song,

the roaring river flood,

watched the swallows

soaring overhead

cutting the invisible link between

earth and sky

with sword like precision

and wished I could stay…

I stopped the thought

pulling back the thread –

Coming here at all

was a gift beyond imagining.

 

Earlier I stood at the window

soaking in

flaming orange and ebony,

sharp avian beaks spearing fruit with skill.

A red headed tanager peered

at me through olive sage.

Redwing black birds hovered.

A banquet for this hungry heart

spread herself all around me.

 

I had forgotten about the moon…

She brought us the gift of two days

of rain that brightened each sage and lime

to vibrant green.

I picked redbud tree pods.

Twice, I

shelled and soaked them,

softening coats that

that gazed at winter through a legume lens.

I want to put down tree roots here –

not just shallow iris runners

(though I love them too)

but a sturdy taproot that grows

towards a fiery center

dives deep and finds life giving water

to succor her

when the desert floor heaves, splits, and

cracks from raw heat.

The star of summer has no mercy

for rabbit, flower or tree.

Only darkness brings cool night air.

 

I have a life here, I say.

Because it’s true,

Friends, a few people

who accept me

as I am – (more or less)

and I do the same.

This is a blessing

I have never known,

until now – except for one woman

who lives too far away.

And under a white wild- flower moon

that lies hidden behind

a sky rimmed in shell pink,

I think I hear the maiden whisper.

Has this possibility always been real?

Did I close the door in fear?

I was woven and spun

distorted by others,

and perhaps most by myself

into a woman that I was not.

But fate, like life, just is –

And even in uncertainly

I can feel the need for

acceptance of what has been.

That I want to

comply is already known

to that grandmother of moons –

the one with a hare at her side.

Hummingbirds sip

sweet nectar.

I give thanks

For what is,

and with some reservation, for what was.

It’s the best I can do.

 

At the rivers edge

I offer a song,

dip and fill my cup

with the moon’s blessing.

And as I climb

the steep mud swallowed slope

buff meets wet red ground,

the luminous stones mark

The path I meander…

Inside my dove and I

enter our room.

He sits on my shoulder.

I bless the dogs, the bird,

and also myself

in Her name.

 

Aphrodite and her Dove.

Rainbow Goddess

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Winged Iris flew over earth and sea.

Rainbows luminesced in her wake.

Messenger from the clouds,

she gathered up the rain,

pouring it on dry cracked ground.

 

One transplanted rhizome bore

three green swords, and

a single grassy stalk,

unfurled ruffled velvet blossoms.

Furry lemon tongues lured

hummingbird and bee…

Iris thrived, spreading a delft blue sky

amid flaming orange mallow.

 

Working Notes:

Early this morning when I went out to water my plants I experienced a moment of wonder. The single stalk and leaves that had grown out of a rabbit ravaged Iris rhizome that I had rescued, was unfurling its first bud. The unexpected sight of this large delicately fluted blue flower in the early morning light sparked a moment of pure joy as a hummingbird hovered over her … Bright orange Globe mallow is an astonishing wildflower that springs up without assistance and it covers my desert backyard making a delightful contrast of colors.

In Greek Mythology Iris was goddess of the rainbow and a messenger from the gods. She was also a goddess of sea and sky. Her father was a god of the sea. Her mother was a cloud nymph. For the coastal dwelling Greeks the rainbow arc spanned the distance between cloud and sea, and the virgin goddess (as in one unto herself having nothing to do with being celibate) Iris replenished the rain clouds with water from the sea.

The Woman Who Listens

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Oh, the sun is burning up the sky

turning it white under smoke heavy air.

Crackling tree bark keens but no one listens.

It’s just another “burn.”

 

I am a woman who listens.

 

Twilight lays down her starry blanket.

A half moon floats through the sky.

Desert air turns cool.

The Canyon towhee and white crowned sparrow

Converse, quenching thirst at a shallow well.

 

I am a woman who listens

 

Hummingbirds

dive and climb, wildly whirring wings

speak to a multitude of avian presences.

Fierce and vulnerable in the extreme,

humming and buzzing they call my name.

 

I am a woman who listens…

 

A long guttural trill breaks the silence.

He sounds like a tree frog!

Is he singing a song for his lady,

under sun warmed stones?

A desert oasis is a holy place,

for a woman who listens.

 

Working notes:

Yesterday, the sun was fierce and the air thick with smoke that didn’t clear until twilight. I ached for burning trees. It was so hot that I went for a dip in the river. And then after dark I heard him singing from the little pond. I don’t know what kind of frog sounds that long guttural trill but just knowing that he was out there singing allowed me to sleep.