Hemis, the Ripened Corn Katsina

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Traditionally, Katsina dolls were used as teaching tools. They are carved representations of the Spirit messengers of the universe. The Katsinas come to the Hopi and Pueblo peoples in the form of clouds which bring life –giving rain to the people and their crops. They appear in the villages around the winter solstice and stay until the monsoon season begins in July.

 

Katsinas represent different aspects of life. The dolls are given to young girls to help them learn about their future responsibilities as women…They are carved by initiated men out of cottonwood roots.

 

Currently my favorite Katsina is the Jemez or Ripened Corn Katsina.

 

In the little book A Guide to Hopi Katsina Carvings that my companion Bruce sent to me as a gift Hemis is a Katsina inspired by the Jemez people who live in Northern New Mexico. Hemis brings in the first harvest of whole ripe corn plants at the Feast of Niman. This Katsina carries gifts tied to cornstalks.

 

The Katsinas enter the plaza at sunrise forming double lines and wearing imaginative and most creative tablitas as part of their masks they dance with the corn maidens in a beautiful and complex manner.

 

Niman lasts sixteen days, with all of the ceremonies taking place in the kivas except for the final day. Then the Katchinas appear in public for the last time before returning to their mountain abodes. The People ask the Katsinas not to forget them, and to continue to appear as more rain.

 

At this Turning of the Wheel celebrated by all Indigenous peoples, I give thanks to the Katsinas for bringing the much needed rain to Abiquiu, New Mexico – a place that holds me close to Her Heart.

 

The photograph of the Ripened Corn Katsina is taken from the little book I have. The artist is Leo Lacapa.

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Dreaming Life

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I never could have imagined

 

the dream I am having now

 

of inhabiting a house not far from the river

 

where the sound of water

 

flows by a pebble strewn island.

 

A path winds from cottonwood

to scrub,

 

parallel to a sometimes raging torrent

 

down to the water’s edge,

 

winds over a bridge

 

into a cattail filled bosque,

 

where iris and lilies find home.

 

Mud swallows soar, Sandhill cranes

 

cry out as they pass overhead

 

heralding the change of seasons.

 

‘The peace of the wild things’

 

has spirited me to this place

 

where I am loved

 

for who I am.

 

A Gift beyond all imagining.

North Pond

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Loon on her nest – author

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Above: Eaglet at the nest  Barbara Haskell

One of the activities I look forward to most each summer is spending time in my kayak exploring North Pond that is just down the road from me. There is a wonderful marsh that is tucked in a corner of the lake (a portion of which was deeded over to me because it wasn’t useful i.e. build-able), and it is full of cattails and wild orchids, not to mention a loon’s nest and many Redwinged blackbirds who hang out on slender twigs of the swamp maples that catch fire in the fall.

 

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Above: loon chicks

 

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Above: Loon chicks  with parents Kathy Hurd

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Author enjoying wandering around on the rocks around one of the islands. Barbara Haskell

 

This year I have been spending time on the pond with a friend who likes to watch eagles like I do. We pack lunches and take our kayaks out to the rocks and moor them there listening to the eaglets’ cacophony. These youngsters are now almost as large as the adults, and are still screaming for fresh fish. Because we are patient we are always able to witness the parents flying into the nest with a silvery fish, dropping it in the there and then heading for the next island to get away from their youngsters’ incessant screeching, I am convinced!

 

Although never far away, the parents leave the eaglets on their own and the two spend a lot of time flapping their now huge brown wings to strengthen them for flight and jumping in and out of the nest. One of the mole brown eaglets is larger than its sibling, which is often the case since one is usually more aggressive than the other and gets more food. Sometimes, the second chick dies of starvation, but not this one. Last week we witnessed one of the eaglets fledge. One moment he was in the nest, and the next he was in the air awkwardly landing on a neighboring tree. Within seconds one of the parents arrived with another fish and dumped it in the nest as if to say “well done!”

 

While we pick a few berries from the bushes on the island and I scour the shallows underwater for sunfish and fresh water clam shells we also have also been watching two loons that fish quite close to the island. Loons like to fish in deep water and I am always amazed to watch one swimming along with his/her head under the water scouting for fish before a black and white herringbone body suddenly disappears below the surface. Barbara and I have commented to one another how curious it is that this pair hunt so close to the island where their would be predators nest, although an eagle would probably not be able to take an adult loon. I think it is the deep water that draws both eagles and loons to the same hunting area.

 

Eagles are, unfortunately, predators of loon chicks and as an Audubon loon counter for North Pond I often have conflicting feeling about the bald eagles because they predate on the young and for the last couple of years have gotten the babies even though the parents are so vigilant. This year it rained on the day of the loon count and I didn’t see one chick. I was so disappointed believing that once again North Pond was without the possibility of the next generation of loons.

 

Then, just yesterday I was talking with my neighbor and friend Kathy Hurd at her beautiful old family farm on North Pond when she spied two loons with two babies between them. I couldn’t believe it! These two adults were swimming with their fluffy brown offspring close between them and I watched spell bound as Kathy ran in and got her camera to take pictures of the little family. This sighting made my day!

 

With August just around the corner, I am looking forward to more kayaking on those glassy mornings when the water reflects the firmament above like a mirror. Kayaking as to be the most relaxing form of entertainment for a naturalist like me. And I never know who I might meet next.

The Turning of the Wheel

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Today heavy mist shrouds the apple trees and rises like puffs of smoke over the mountains. Every twig is still covered with lush green leaves and every time I look out a window I feel that gratitude pulsing through me – the wonder of being alive. A brilliant green frog inhabits my toad pond. Last night a Datura blossom literally opened before my eyes etched with pale lavender – a moonflower of exquisite fragrance and beauty, and if anything, I appreciate these moon blossoms here more than I did in the desert.

IMG_3296.JPGMy shrinking garden, (now taped in lime green to remind Spencer that flowers grow here along with grass!) has exploded into raucous crimson, deep orange, yellow, pink, a cacophony of color and sound. I say sound because I can imagine that I can hear the flowers singing a song of abundance, gratitude, and praise to all there is…

The first lemon lily pods are ripening, green apples bend the trees low, grapevines are heavy with new fruit, wheat colored celandine spikes are bursting with seed, queen anne’s lace makes nests full of seed, diminutive pale pink poppies keep popping out of a tangle of ajuga runners and fledgling grosbeaks hug the feeders while little gold birds flit back and forth, sunbursts singing up the dawn.

The light is changing. High sun – dappled shade slides into deeper shadow as the sunstar slips lower on the horizon. We have already lost 45 minutes of sunlight to a sultry dusk; that steel sword edge of white summer light is softening, although here in this sanctuary of trees the thinning grassy hair of the Earth’s body is still active growing new shoots and creating more carpets of velvet moss. I can still hear the brook flowing but the sound is muted now. The water table is low from ongoing drought, although this July has given us a lovely reprieve with so many cloud driven days, some with real rain.

I have eaten the first blood red beets and greens from Kathy’s garden and my basil is providing me with salads and pesto that delight my tongue. The scarlet runner beans have bright orange blossoms and early this morning I watched three deer, an aunt, a mother, and a delicate spotted fawn grazing in their bountiful “kitchen” around the house. The fawn trotted down the mossy path as if he knew safety awaited him in the lush pine thickened hollow below.

I have to remind myself that everything I planted here was for the animals…especially when I see the place where my guardian cedar once stood so proudly until the deer stripped her of bark and leaves irreparably mutilating her. When I cut her down, I grieved the loss but accepted it too. I planted this tree as a seedling. I believe that she knew she was loved – oh so deeply – and I hope that was enough.

I have once again become a hermit, except for spending time on the pond watching the eagles take flight from the nest high in a red pine, and walking through this peaceful forest when the gunners sleep.

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I also write on behalf of bears because the killing season will soon be upon us…Knowing that educating the “white” (death oriented) people around here about these gentle creatures is hopeless I do it anyway for Bb who has suddenly become a night bear… May the Spirit of the Bears step in to redress an imbalance that runs so deep in the hearts of these people that I am left without any hope on a rational level… nothing short of divine intervention can help these intelligent animals who are at such risk. I feel flickers of hope when I think about New Mexico, because they kill bears there too but not with such vengeance and cruelty.

For every season there is a sacrifice and this year my cedar took the fall at my own hand…

The Corn Mothers come into their own at this Feast of the New Grain. Corn is the mother of the Pueblo people… and this year my heart is with the Tewa who are celebrating the coming harvest, giving thanks for whatever rain has fallen, and saying goodbye to the Katsinas who are returning to their mountain homes.

Blessed Be this Mother of the Corn, and the abundance that comes with her Presence, first as Seed Maiden and now in readiness for the coming harvest.

At this Feast of New Grain I give thanks for being alive, for the gift of my beloved dogs and bird Lily B., for the generous hearted people who have stepped in to enrich my life in ways that I could have never imagined, for finally coming to the understanding that I have two home places, not one.

I also cut away what is no longer needed…

Blessed Be.

For Love of Water

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Each morning I awaken to the soothing sound of water flowing over stone and remind myself that this is July in Maine, definitely the hottest month, and usually the driest at least before climate change began to create havoc with our weather.

 

By this time of the year, my brook is usually barely audible, but this year with the increased rainfall it is still running, has a large pool with iridescent rainbow brook trout swimming happily, and the mink leave teeny little prints in the mud after finishing their morning ablutions.

 

Fat tadpoles are swimming about in the “almost vernal pool” I dug for them next to the brook and yellow swamp iris were still in bloom on my return from Abiquiu.

 

Best of all, the scent of water is overpowering and whenever I walk down the mossy hill that meets tall mint spires, round pincushion moss and sage green sphagnum mounds I am overcome with gratitude for this precious gift because water is life.

 

I am glad that both my brother and my father’s ashes are buried there.

 

Kingfisher’s family rattles up and down the winding brook hunting for food; last year the terrible drought left him without adequate fishing territory.

 

When I have the courage to listen to local news the low water table that I witness uneasily as I scan the edge of the brook translates into the drought that is still with us.

 

As of June Maine is at least three plus inches below “normal” rainfall for this time of year. It is easy to be lulled into believing that the drought is over, but of course, as the trees will tell you, it is not. The white pines have new shoots growing as if their lives depended on it and they do. All the grasses are seeding up and my very wild flower jungle is a visual feast with deep crimson fiery orange, lemon yellow, and delphinium blue… Tiny toads and garter snakes abound and the thick fog laden air is so sweet I can hardly bare it.

 

I feel as if I have acquired two “home places” or more accurately, they have acquired me. This one in Maine has been my sanctuary for thirty years. Abiquiu has been a dream that finally came to fruition last summer, when I fled to a mountainous New Mexican desert from a blistering world of withering flowers, falling leaves, and crumpled dead grasses that left me wondering if life would continue here in Maine. There, I discovered people with oh such generous hearts who literally took me in.

 

I came to live on Red Willow river and fell in love with elephant armed cottonwoods, lizards and snakes and the wildflowers that adorned the high desert scrub. Each day as I walked down the river path, I would stop a moment to give thanks for the gift of that torrent that would bring the farmers the precious water they needed to grow their crops. I watched the sun rise over a fog bound serpent who rushed to the sea. In my mind, the two places have become two pieces of one whole in my life. I belong to both.

 

Here I cannot rest in the dappled light, so golden at the edges of the day, under trees with emerald leaves so heavy with fruit, without thinking of that other home to the south of me…

 

That home where water is too scarce and thunderheads do not bring the rains the people must have to live. When I left there in June, temperatures skirted 100 degrees – a great wall of heat that literally took my breath away. By then the birds had raised at least one clutch and hummingbirds buzzed like bees around feeders that I filled twice a day. The magenta cholla were in bloom as were the crimson and yellow roses that my neighbor tends to with such love.

 

I confess, my body cannot take the heat of summer in Abiquiu, though the other three seasons work well for me. It occurs to me that perhaps this is how it is supposed to be. I am meant to return in the spring to this piece of land, my own lilacs, fruit trees and wildflower gardens, and hopefully to the sound of a healthy brook that still runs clear.

 

For the moment, I am at peace, though I miss my Abiquiu friends – people who have stolen my heart much like the sage gray green high desert has.

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Every day I call out to the frog gods to bring the rain to this high desert with its reptilian mountains that is also my home. Never mind that it took 72 years to find it.

 

Every day I give thanks for the precious gift of water that brings all of us life.

 

Every day I wonder when people will see the gift of this water, and once again honor it as Indigenous peoples have done since he beginning of time…

The Woman Who Respects Herself…

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The Woman Who Respects Herself:

(A Tribute to Bears, Women, and the Men who love them)

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself

has learned how to Love.

 

She stands up for the Hunted,

the Abused,

for Herself,

no matter how steep the personal cost.

 

The invisible are real to her –

animals, trees, and people.

They call themselves the Anawim –

“the forgotten ones.”

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself

has learned how to Love.

 

She has not accomplished this act alone.

She was mirrored by animals, plants, and people

who saw her as she was,

and did not despise vulnerability.

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself.

has learned how to Love.

 

Bears first taught her about Trust,

how fragile the connection

between self and other remains,

dependent upon respect for Difference,

Mutuality in relationship,

the Gift of being Seen.

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself.

has learned how to Love.

 

Even now He comes,

Medicine Bear, Healer, Friend,

denizen of the forest

slipping through a veil

of emerald green.

 

Thanks to Him –

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself.

has learned how to Love.

 

Yet fear grips her heart

for a mangled paw

and a blood spattered head –

death strikes in a can.

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself.

has learned how to Love.

 

Yet she cannot help Him.

 

Even a Medicine Bear cannot protect

his fierce attachment to Body –

to Survival.

 

Few recognize that the Spirit of All Life

is snuffed out in these multiple acts

of mindless violence.

 

The Woman Who Respects Herself

Has learned how to Love.

 

Keening, she cries out in protest

of murderous men.

Those who would slaughter

the innocent –

women, men, and bears.

 

This Woman Who Respects Herself

has learned how to Love…

 

Postscript:

 

There is a lot happening here in this poem. On one level it speaks to the Power of Love to shift personal awareness. The poem alludes to a personal story of how this woman was taught by a bear how to love and respect herself by interacting with some over a period of many years. Some people also helped and they know who they are…

 

The poem also addresses the issue of relatedness because what we do to these animals we do to ourselves. Every single time we snuff out an innocent life we also slaughter the Spirit of Life on this planet.

 

By writing this poem I am also protesting the slaughter of bears in Maine. This egregious practice of bear butchery begins on July 29 and extends to November 25th, and black bears (who are prey animals that co- evolved into their present state with trees during the last ice age) and who are generally shy and reclusive by nature are cast as the Demonic Killer Bear by men who project their own fear, violence, and hatred onto these animals and then massacre them without mercy.

 

Bear baiting involves baiting a bear in the woods when s/he is most vulnerable. Bears are simply shot with their heads in a can while eating. Females “tree” their first year cubs before entering a bait site. The black bear depends upon berries for caloric value and this year the berry crops are failing so the bears are more desperate than usual, needing to put on enough fat in order to survive hibernation. They will eat anything with fat in it and are usually baited with donuts. Worse, the young males are seeking new territories, and so these youngsters are the most vulnerable of all. Most of the bears killed are these yearlings, bears weighing less than 100 pounds.

 

Bear hounding pits dogs against bears (the two species are related) and hounds chase the unfortunate victims until they are exhausted, separating mothers from cubs and often killing them (in Maine almost as many females as males are murdered). First year cubs will perish without parental care.

 

Bear trapping is illegal in every state except Maine. Bears sometimes gnaw their paws off to get free of these steel snare traps and then starve to death because they can no longer walk or protect themselves. Bears are eventually shot by the trapper, who might not check his lines more than once a week. The pain for the trapped, starving bear is unbearable.

 

In Maine a bear can also be shot at any time “if s/he is considered a threat” which means that any bear that is passing by through someone’s backyard can be annihilated without consequences. Bears have no rights.

 

It is true that one in about a million bears does become a predator of man, so occasionally the tables are turned, but not often enough to suit me.

“Under Distress”

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Overheard at a grocery store by someone waiting in line behind a woman speaking in another language on her cellphone.  Ahead of her was a white man.  After the woman has ended her phone conversation and hangs up, he says, “I didn’t want to say anything while you were on the phone, but you’re in America now.  You need to speak English.”

 

“Excuse me?”, the woman says.

 

The man says, very slowly, “If you want to speak Mexican, go back to Mexico.  In America we speak English.”

 

The woman replies, “Sir, I was speaking Navaho.  If you want to speak English, go back to England.”

 

Postscript: My friend Bob sent me this gem and I want to pass it on…