Lamenting the Fall

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(Author’s backyard)

 

Our maple leaves are withered

drifting to the ground

without flames of fire

preceding their fall.

 

Last June I noticed

the shriveled leaves –

disturbing in summer

when trees leaf out

in emerald splendor.

 

Picking up leaf after leaf

it was hard to find

one without black spots

or dead brown skin.

 

All summer I mourned…

 

Witnessing the effects of

prolonged drought

did not prepare me for

what would come.

 

Dead leaves cluster together

under each thirst driven tree.

The flaming mountains

have turned to dust and ash.

 

Powerless to change

environmental patterns

created by human indifference

fuels ongoing rage and personal grief.

 

 

 

Working notes:

 

Returning from Abiquiu, New Mexico in June I noticed immediately that Maine maples were in trouble. All summer I have kept an uneasy eye on the bare branches of the crowns of these trees, already under assault from herbicides and continued drought conditions both of which have been escalating for years.

 

In 2017 I learned from scientific minded folks, what was already patently obvious – that drought had become a problem in the state of Maine. Because maples failed to leaf out properly this year and have suffered root loss many maples will eventually die.

 

I also discovered that that in addition to climate change, maples, already vulnerable, are being afflicted by three additional diseases that create fungal leaf spotting – Tar spot, Anthranose, and Phyllostica.

 

“Experts” tell us that as far as the fate of the trees go, we shall just have to wait and see.

 

Not much comfort for a Tree Woman who also happens to be me.

Persephone’s Descent: Perception, Reality, Truth?

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Persephone, perception, truth and reality may be related. In the best known version of the Greek myth, Persephone, daughter of Demeter is raped, split away from her body (the earth) and whisked into the underworld against her will by Hades. Without a body does Persephone lose access to perception, her truth, reality?

 

One definition of perception is that it is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something like the elements of air, water, fire, earth, by using one’s senses. Perception is the way someone understands something – different people have different perceptions of the same thing. It is the process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Although sometimes based on unverified information perception is equated with reality or truth for most practical purposes, and it guides human behavior in general.

 

Perception is directly related to individual attitudes, belief systems, and knowledge where “reality” exists by itself according to most dictionary definitions. Reality then is equated with the Platonic idea that mind is separate from body and exists somewhere outside time. (The mind body split is so revered in our culture that women are seen primarily as sex objects by men, and consequently objectify themselves/their bodies. The result? Women’s endemic hatred of themselves/other women, and female bodies).

 

Reality is supposed to be truth – the actual existence of something. Perception may be controlled by internal/external factors but according to most sources reality cannot be controlled by anyone or anything.

 

The general definition of truth is that it is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. Acceptance is key here. Truth is almost always consensual by nature. An excellent example of this conundrum is the way many of us view the origin of the universe. According to the current mechanistic paradigm the universe exploded into being out of nothing. If one has the audacity to question this unlikely theory (if you can believe this story you can believe anything) we are told  that it’s just a matter of time before conventional science and technology will iron out the confusion. I note that Niels Bohr, Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle have been around for the last hundred years without making much of a dent in the current scientific belief system. Inculcated “scientific truths” carry an amazing amount of weight with westerners. The “Big Bang” theory (not very imaginatively named) is just that – a theory – it is not reality or truth – it is our current western belief or story. Other cultures tell different tales that are certainly more imaginative but westerners dismiss these as primitive myths.

 

But to return to the original issue, this problem of defining perception, truth, reality, is a very thorny subject for many including myself. As a not quite white (I have Indigenous roots) mythologist and eco-feminist I reject the dominant culture’s belief in absolute truths and laws ( in an evolving universe I think natural laws are more like habits built up over time as scientist Rupert Sheldrake suggests) and I lean into the stories of other peoples to teach me other ways of perceiving, understanding, and making sense of the world.

 

What I have learned from this scholarship is that truth is often equated with belief  by those who usually do not question their personal or cultural biases or the paradigm in which they live.. Unfortunately, as a former college instructor I am painfully aware of how we inculcate students into this “either or” way of perceiving the world.

 

There is a multi-valent quality associated with truth. For example, it is true that today, the fall equinox, is the day that ushers in the darker months of the year, not just because science tells me it is so, or that various mythologies support it, but also because I can experience this shift by paying attention to the declination of the sun, the drifting of fall leaves, the times of sunrise and sunset. For me, truth is associated with what I experience through my senses, my relationship to Nature, mythology, an academic background in the New Sciences, and through dreaming. Perception, truth, reality are then not separate entities but  related (both in and outside of space/time).

 

This is not to say that all my perceptions  constitute truth because many, if not all, have been colored by my experiences – and I might add – this is true for all people.

 

I have found it useful to acknowledge that all of us have a particular bias or lens through which we experience the world and that “truth” is often relative and based on consensual agreement. I think it is up to each individual to question what s/he perceives to be real and true, especially in a world culture that has lost touch with the planet (body) on which it depends upon for survival. We are moving into a “winter” the likes of which we have never experienced before.

 

Postscript:

 

What sparked this little essay was an experience that I had yesterday. I was scheduled to have an ultra sound and was told by my doctor that “it might involve a vaginal probe.” I was rushed through the appointment so fast last week that I did not have the chance to ask the doctor what this latter procedure, if it occurred, might involve.

 

The first part of the ultrasound went well, but when it came to the second procedure that had been ordered by my doctor, I learned from the radiologist, (why didn’t my doctor take responsibility for making this decision in front of me?) the kindly man asked me if I was sure I wanted this second procedure to be done. I was a bit confused, even alarmed when he asked me this question because even he seemed unsure. I consented because I believed the test wouldn’t have been ordered without good reason (stupid on my part and a good example of how logic can betray us). When he called in a woman as a witness, he noted that I seemed very nervous which by then I was.

 

Putting my feet in the stirrups as requested I lay down and began to breathe deeply, something I learned to do many years ago to alleviate anxiety and relax into my body.

 

The pain ripped through my vagina – the probe was huge, the size of an engorged penis – and I screamed as it ripped delicate vaginal tissue. The procedure ended abruptly, and of course, the test was unsuccessful.

 

Numb, I put on my clothes and left the office, driving home in a daze. After greeting my beloved dogs we all crawled into bed and I fell into a dead sleep for about two hours.

 

When I awakened I was nauseous and couldn’t urinate without waste stinging torn tissue. I was still bleeding internally. Too late I learned that older women ( I am almost 73) should be very careful about having invasive internal procedures done because our tissues have become so thin and can lead to serious infection as a result of this kind of assault.

 

The dream that I had had that very morning had warned me that I was going to experience excruciating pain from the test that would be done later in the day. In the dream I was powerless and had lost all autonomy. My body knew. As a dreamer who has been recording her dreams for 40 years I hoped that somehow this one was some kind of metaphor.

 

I awoke this morning profoundly depressed and angry. When I was finally able to put words on the invasive procedure, I realized that yesterday I had experienced another rape.

 

As a woman who has survived sexual assault first as a child within her own family, and later as an adult (because I didn’t know how to protect myself), I once again found myself in a situation beyond my control – this time at the hands of the medical profession.

 

Was I intentionally raped? No. However, my experience as a sexual abuse survivor carried over into this process that left my body re-experiencing rape. Had I been told what the second procedure “might” entail by my doctor I would have refused to go through with it.

 

This dreadful little homily is an example of how critical it is for us as women to make absolutely sure we know what is going to happen during various internal procedures, especially if sexual assault is part of our history.

 

Persephone’s descent marks the beginning of fall. It also tells a tale of a brutal split between a goddess’s mind and body and the consequent loss of perception, the ability to “know” or perceive a truth through her senses. Persephone remains captive to her underworld husband for a time, but in the spring she is released to the upper world (Earth) with help from her mother. During her incarceration Persephone matures, eventually making a choice to return to Hades, for part of each year. She becomes Queen of the Underworld, suggesting to me that she has learned to live in two worlds – one of darkness, one of light – and accepts the cycles of attrition and abundance,  as she adapts to both.

Although I have unwittingly re-enacted Persephone’s abduction into the underworld through living my life I take comfort in the belief that like Persephone, I can endure this latest betrayal and rape, eventually moving beyond both.

Blessed Be.

Turn, Turn, Turn…

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We are approaching the Fall Equinox, a time of year that is perhaps more poignant than any other, and also my favorite season. As the days shorten and the trees are heavy with golden or rosy apples, with every kind of maple turning a different shade of crimson, rust, gold and olive green, with papery brown beeches rustling in light wind, and white pines dropping needles in abundance as I prune back the juniper that lines my woodland paths for another year, I am thankful simply to “be.”

 

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The Datura plant that has now gone into the ground (with my help – I never thought I would get this plant out of its pot!) surprised me with a shower of ripe seeds falling from bright green prickly pods just two days after I dug it in. I covered the windfall with soil hoping that some new seeds will sprout along with their year old sisters after a long winter’s sleep under a blanket of thick mulch and snow. I am still collecting nasturtium seeds from my seemingly impossible patch of ever blooming flowers, whose peppery blossoms I love to eat, if only I can bear to spare them from becoming a riotous bouquet for my table! The last of the scarlet runner beans have giant pods almost ready for harvesting for next years seed.

 

On quiet nights I sleep with my head under the open window closest to the brook whose waters are barely tr, audible and yet the drought seems less threatening because it is normal to see the brook low this time of year (unfortunately this is only illusion). My vernal pool is finally drying up and I am delighted to see that no wriggling tadpoles are left…all have transformed into amphibians that live in two worlds instead of one (rather like me!) Tree frogs trill throughout the night singing love songs and everywhere tiny gold wood frogs hop through grass that I deliberately leave unattended so that they, and the small slower hopping toads, are not killed by a mindless mowing machine.

 

I revel in the spreading carpet of emerald green moss that is gradually replacing the grass in most places because shade dominates my little patch of woodland around this house. My pearl white hydrangea blooms on and is a joy to behold, she is so full of bumble bees. I could stand under her for hours counting different varieties of this one species. After a summer without bees I am in love with these humming blossoms.

 

The squirrels are caching nuts, during this year of acorn and pine cone abundance and even their chittering seems less annoying. I can smell the fermenting apples outside my window and at night listen for the sound of creatures coming in to feast… Last night, the source of the great thud I heard as some animal hit the ground from the apple tree remains a mystery. Why anyone would bother to climb this tree now is a question that remains unanswered. There are so many apples covering the ground that I need to walk under the drooping boughs with care. I note with pleasure that many small native bees like these sweetest of wild apples as they begin to rot on the ground. This year, instead of raking them up I will leave the fruit to fertilize the Earth for next spring. In time, the deer will return to feast on fermented apples and crabapples that pepper the ground under their various trees.

 

What a season this has been! Never do I remember such abundance but perhaps there have been other years almost as good as this one. It may also be that each year my appreciation deepens. I am still waiting for the first partridge to appear in one of their favorite crabapples, and daily I watch for the flock of cedar waxwings that lay over here for a feast on their southern migration. The flickers have yet to arrive for a stopover but two mornings ago I heard the first flock of geese flying over the house. Some Indigenous tribes call this this month the time of the “ducks flying away” and some are already on the wing.

 

The fox grapes are ripening in great globular clusters just outside my window, although a hard frost will be needed to sweeten them for my taste. The birds aren’t as fussy and neither are the foxes.

 

The time of natural harvest is particularly special to me because I know that I am providing much needed food for my non – human friends – a gift to those who have both witnessed and loved me… Every plant and tree on this property was planted with the idea that someday animals/birds/insects would find an abundance of food here, while in other more manicured places, it might become more scarce. I am glad to have lived long enough to experience this dream coming to pass.

 

As I lean into the coming darkness, I do so with gratitude for this season, and for the few moments of balance that we will experience as the equinox moments pass by, moving us from now pale early morning light into quickening dark nights, and the coming of the winter months…I remind myself that moments of balance are always temporary in Nature and in myself and that both need to be cherished.

 

As fall begins so does the hope for soaking rain – precious water that will nourish the earth, fill brooks streams, rivers and dug wells. Trees caching fire and gold in their leaves are also preparing for winter’s sleep. Hopefully high winds won’t take the flaming canopies too soon.

 

Lily B is usually quiet not singing until mid – morning. I sleep late, the mourning doves and finches don’t appear until after 7 AM, and my dogs are reluctant to leave our warm bed. All of us are turning with the wheel as Nature prepares herself for another winter’s sleep.

Omen: Owl Convocation

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In the still autumn night

crickets chirp at

the forested edge,

the child and I stand rooted.

When we hear three voices cry out,

“woo whoo

whoo whooh – awhooh” –

we understand

a convocation of owls

calls us to evening prayer.

 

Straining to hear,

I open the window

wide with wonder

just like the child who is

soothed by the sound of brook waters

sliding over moss covered stone.

Our golden apple tree breathes in sweet night air.

The chorus of Great Horned Owls begins again.

 

Memory strikes the dark mother chord

hidden deep within.

Fear leaps out like a roaring tiger

claws extended, with piercing eyes,

becomes embodied.

A stone.

 

Owls come to those who need them,

Send messages of Flight

to the cosmos, seeking spirals,

that may or may not exist.

No wonder the experience

of human fright seems surreal.

 

Great Horned Owls

are messengers

sent from the Great Beyond.

Tecolate, Indigenous people call them

heeding their words,

turning heads away.

 

Transmitting Light through Sound

Owls hoot to warn,

to comfort, to heal,

to eventually transform.

 

One year ago this month,

a great horned owl landed on

on my bird’s cage.

And my dove nearly lost his life…

 

What am I to make

of such a visitation

from these three Old Women

hidden

in feathered apparel?

The child fears death

for her beloved bear.

I cringe with fright.

for an aging body,

a wounded bear.

 

How do I deal

with knowing that

we have been invaded?

Or that death may be near?

 

I have no answers.

I will not comfort the child

with promises I cannot keep.

“Only change is constant,”

I hug her as we weep.

 

Whatever the outcome

We will search out Love

in a ground of red ash,

brown dirt, “our mothers,”

include a generous hearted man,

and the planting of single apple seed.

 

I remind the child what her bones know:

(if she could remain sewn inside her skin)

That Earth has always been our Mother

that the Great Bear can bring us peace.

 

“Who whoo, who whoo, who hooh, ahooh…”

This trio of owls witness deep distress,

Responding thrice with voices that remind us

that neither bear, woman, or child

will walk our path alone.

Postscript:

When I was a small child my mother, an artist, used to draw great horned owls, and I started drawing them too. I feared this particular owl. Through all of my adulthood I associated great horned owls with my mother with whom I had a most difficult and confusing relationship.

Twice a Great Horned Owl came to warn me of impending death.

Here in this mountain valley I used to have barred owls who hunted at dusk, and although I loved them they also carried messages I didn’t want to hear.

Two nights ago a convocation of Great Horned owls gathered just beyond my house (this has never happened before in 30 years). Their beautiful calls initially captivated me although I could feel another more somber message coming through the night air. Later, coyotes sang.

 

 

 

 

 

The Hawk and the Dove

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I have had personal relationships with both these birds for my entire life. Hawks were my little brother’s favorite birds, a predilection that escaped me until after his untimely death, after which these birds started circling in the sky over my head. One of these, the Red-tailed hawk became a kind of guide appearing to me at propitious times. I couldn’t help thinking, and eventually came to believe (after struggling with years of self doubt even when extraordinary experiences occurred) that he was somehow the spirit of my brother incarnating through this bird.

I think I fell in love with doves as a small child. I was intrigued by the doves in stained glass windows. The idea that Mary was visited by a white dove entranced me long before I understood Christian church doctrine around the “virgin” birth, a belief that simply repels me today although I still gravitate towards those beautiful stained glass images… Doves incarnated as spirit birds when I was in Assisi Italy. One morning at dawn while sitting on a circular stone table in the church plaza, hundreds of white doves settled around me in a circle. Astonished, I was transported into another dimension.

Mourning doves flocked to my yard as my children were leaving home…

Both these birds have acted as messengers from the Great Beyond in both personal and impersonal ways. For a long time I didn’t understand that they sometimes carried information in both ways which created a lot of confusion as I poured through my journals trying to understand what message was being expressed through various incarnations.

Three days ago, on a still, flaming maple leafed September morning I witnessed a sharp shinned hawk devouring the bloody carcass of a mourning dove outside my door. The night before I had a dream that there were too many doves falling from the sky. Because it is not unusual for me to dream about an animal or bird and then see one I wondered what message was being conveyed by this scene.

I still don’t know. On a collective level I see the dove dismemberment as a metaphor for what is happening in this country, a country I do not belong to. On a personal level I think of my children.

To be sarcastic has roots in “tearing flesh” and I have been the recipient of this behavior with children who disapprove of me as a human being. “I do whatever I want to” is a perennial complaint, as if to do so was some sort of crime.

As a naturalist I do not take a position on any predator that must prey on another in order to survive, although I experience personal feelings of heartbreak, as I did witnessing the hawk dismember the dove. I did photograph the hawk, note the brilliance of his amber eyes, as he peered first in one direction and then another in between breaks of tearing apart red flesh.

September is the month of my birth, a month I used to love until I moved to the mountains and came into close contact with trophy hunting for sport – not food. Now, this month carries with it the poignancy of loss – loss of the lives of innocent animals, and the losses I have sustained as part of my life process.

And yet, each day as I watch the maples lose more chlorophyll, turning yellow and gold, or to crimson fire in the late summer sun, I feel peace enter this body for acceptance of what is. The cycles of abundance and attrition comprise one whole in all lives, not just my own.

That I am part of a great cycle of coming and going is a source of great comfort and containment, although as I think about the hawk sustaining himself on the body of a dove, I also think of the precious life of one young bear who I fervently hope escapes the wrath of the hunters’ gun. That I am choosing life for this one animal is symbolic of my attention/intention to align myself with Life, regardless of the outcome.

 

 

The Art of Concealment

“Bears reintroduce us to our animal shadow, its biological reality in the outdoors, its eternal grip on our cultural soul.” Peter Nabokov

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Did you know that polar bears that hunt seals on ice flows slither along on their stomachs until the seal looks up? Next the bears cover their coal black noses with white paws and then rush the seal from 15 to 20 feet away.

My query (and fascination) revolves around how polar bears know that they have black noses? Do they look at themselves through the mirror of still waters? Are they engaged in self – reflection?

What kind of cognitive thought processes are involved in making the decision to use what polar bears “know” about themselves to hunt their prey successfully? How do all bears know what they know? This epistemological enigma haunts me.

The apparent consciousness of the importance of self concealment is something that I have witnessed repeatedly when “walking with black bears” in the forest as an ethologist – that is, a person who studies black bears in their natural environment.

Often I am astonished by the disappearing act of a bear who simply does not want to interact with me. His/her ability to melt into the forest leaves me wondering if the bear I was following through dense foliage was actually there in the first place.

That such a large animal can move with such speed, stealth, and grace is a Black bear behavior that never ceases to amaze me. Even if one chooses to tolerate my presence, s/he may slap a tree, or huff once or twice to remind me to keep my distance. If a bear turns, flattens his ears and lowers his head, I know this bear has changed his mind and is about to false charge me. If I choose to stand my ground this animal might race in my direction and inevitably veer off at the last moment. Having been the recipient of a false charge that really frightened me during my early research years, I choose instead to speak quietly to the bear telling him that I am leaving. I have never had a bear follow me after one of these encounters.

(Should a bear choose to allow me to accompany him/her – usually it is a yearling that allows me to participate – I am treated to behaviors that I would ordinarily miss like the choice of mushroom or a small flowering woodland plant like oxalis that a particular bear prefers to eat. Certain berries apparently appeal to different individuals because I have witnessed one bear passing by what seemed like a coveted delicacy, a bright red jack in the pulpit berry cluster to chose a single dogberry. Stopping to rake away dead softwood logs seems to be a universal passion, no doubt because tasty protein rich grubs/ants etc. are present during all the summer months).

Cubs are taught by their mothers the moment they leave their dens in the spring to climb a tree at the first sign of danger. Mother “umphs” and in seconds the clickety clack of tiny claws can be heard, if not seen as the young ones scamper so high up a tree that it is impossible to see one even if the researcher knows one is there (occasionally a cub refuses to stay treed and is cuffed or spanked by mother). Baby bears are usually masters of self – concealment!

Females with cubs are also very much afraid of large male bears who will sometimes kill the cubs but they are not afraid of humans. This does not mean that they are not wary. They are (All bears have to be taught to fear humans). When meeting a person a female Black bear with cubs will stand up on two legs to see the stranger better. If she perceives no threat she will change directions and move off deeper into the forest with the cubs trailing behind her. If threatened, she immediately trees her cubs to conceal them and starts running in the opposite direction. Many cubs have been orphaned by hunters who shoot the mother.

Grizzly and Black bears have an equally amazing ability to walk in each other’s footsteps, so that over time it is possible to witness trails made with deep indentations in boggy places. In the woodland areas I traverse bear trails are narrow and are used year after year by various Black bears who also conveniently, remain totally anonymous to anyone but their Ursine relatives. Do bears think about this strategy while they are walking, and if so what conclusions do they draw?

During periods when a number of Black bears use the same general area a network of trails appear. Sometimes one path runs parallel with another with only a few trees in between. During mating season the use of this network of trails allows dominant and sub adult male bears to avoid each other without conflict, a fact that always leaves me with a sense of deep respect, because bears choose not to engage in open conflict whenever possible. Black Bears use saplings and brush as a form of concealment to avoid potential problems.

Another example of self – concealment that Black bears exhibit is one that always makes me laugh. Even when a bear is curious about me s/he will usually insist upon peering at me through a screen of twigs, or from behind the trunk of a tree. And make no mistake, Black bears are very curious about people who do not threaten them (I have read that the same is true of other bears but I am writing from personal experience and don’t want to generalize). Curiosity is a sign of intelligence.

There is a distinct pecking order that is part of bear biology with older males on top, females and cubs beneath, and yearlings at the very bottom. After leaving their mothers in June/July (if the mother hasn’t been shot the year before) male yearlings (second year cubs) are also searching for new territories. Young females spend their lives living in their mother’s home range, so the young males are at the greatest risk. Tragically, it is these young male bears that are most often shot and killed.

Black bears are diurnal animals – that is they are normally active early in the day, nap in the afternoon, feed again before dusk and sleep during the night. However, due to the pressure put upon them by hunters they have become “night bears.” By the end of a yearling’s first summer the bear has adapted to becoming nocturnal in order to survive, another example of using concealment as a strategy by choosing the safety of darkness.

More fascinating is what happens when it is time for a northern Black bear to enter a den for the last time before hibernation. If there is snow on the ground a bear will walk backwards in his own tracks to enter his winter abode. Why would s/he go to so much trouble unless the bear was aware of the need for self-concealment from his/her worst enemy, man?

The art of concealment is well developed in Black bears biologically because they evolved as prey animals. The animals survived because they could climb trees in a flash. In areas where there is no forest cover Black bears are absent because these native bears co –evolved on this continent with the carnivorous (now extinct) short faced bear and lived in heavily forested areas where they found safety in trees. Even 4 LB cubs can disappear up a tree in seconds. We now know, thanks to bear biologist Lynn Roger’s video cams, that cubs practice climbing in the den, just three weeks after birth. Today, Black bears are most commonly found in arboreal forests in northern areas that stretch into the Canadian Shield but small populations exist in southern in mountainous areas like those in northern New Mexico.

That bears also have an ability to reflect on their behavior before acting in a particular way seems quite obvious to me not just because of their ability to conceal themselves. Some of this concealment behavior is, of course, related to survival (biology) as already mentioned, but their thinking is not. Bears have navigational skills that defy explanation, they have complex, sophisticated, flexible, and poorly understood social organizations, they love to play, and can heal themselves of wounds with plants from the forest (How do they know which plants to use as a poultrice or to ingest?).

By developing the intelligence and forethought needed to act in ways that require bears to think ahead into the future as well as to solve immediate problems is enough to blur the distinction between bear and man on a permanent basis from my point of view.

In closing I dedicate this little essay on the “Art of Concealment” to one male yearling in particular and by extension to all wandering bears that face a perilous fall journey as they search out new territories, or stay in one they have already chosen while being hunted mercilessly by man.

May They Learn Fast.

May They Learn Well.

May they live through the winter in order to feel the warmth of the return of the sun as it appears over a spring horizon as they emerge from their dens …

 

 

Firebird’s Song

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She came on the wings of the Owl
flew out of the crack of our imagining,
swooped low over the underground forest
hooing, hooing, hooing

screeching and clacking –
Haunting the night with her song.

I almost didn’t recognize her
inside the feathery brown cape with bars.

On Starry nights while the white moon sleeps
the cloak falls away and behold!
She steps out
in all her Firebird splendor.
Burning, crimson, gold, she crackles — turns blue
white light torching
the fire turned star.
Beaming second sight
she rises out of Earthen ashes

and soars …

To the edge
of the Universe

to the crack between worlds.

– Sara Wright

Postscript 2017

This poem was written/published in “She’s Still Burning” 15 years ago (2002) along with two unforgettable essays well worth the reading. At the time I was writing to save my own life. The poe m was a reference to the day Bush bombed in retaliation to the twin tower disaster, a day I was attending a retreat that involved walking in silence up a mountain. It was on this walk that I saw the owl, and the hole in the tree and “knew” that something horrific had happened. This “presentiment” followed me back to the retreat where I drew a brief charcoal sketch of the black hole in the tree.

Some of us knew what was coming. If the reader goes to Harriet’s site s/he will find an erudite letter written by Mary Meigs that expresses theses same sentiments.

Chilling, these waves of the future.

Women know.

The Furry Bumblebee

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All summer I have been keeping a keen eye out for bees of any kind, but especially the bumble bees because in the last few years after the honey bee collapse these fuzzy insects seem to have increased their numbers helping to pollinate flowers, vegetables, trees, and shrubs around my house.

Until lately, I have been very disappointed because relatively few bees have been around my very wild flower gardens. I have seen exactly two honey – bees all summer. Some mud and miner bees have been present but I have fretted about the bumble bee absence.

A week ago when my beautiful white hydrangea bush, now as big and bushy as a tree (not the popular variety known as PG) finally began blooming I glimpsed Bombus ternarius commonly known as the orange belted bumble bee visiting the clusters of pure white blossoms along with a number of other native bees. For the first time all summer there were enough bees pollinating the flowers to create that lovely bee hum that I used to take for granted. I was so delighted I recorded a video as much for the sound as for the sight. I find myself repeatedly returning to my pearl white bush (that positively glows in the light of the full moon) to hear a bee symphony.

Unfortunately, some North American Bumble bee species are experiencing significant population declines. Several species including four native to Maine were once very common and now are rarely observed. The usual culprits, habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, herbicides, and diseases and parasites introduced through widespread use of commercially raised Bumble bees are part of the problem, but so little research has been done overall that it is difficult to assess the status of the sixteen or seventeen species (statistics vary according to the source consulted) that are known to live in Maine according to the Maine Bumble Bee Association.

Bumble bees are social bees and belong to the same family (Apidae) as honey bees because the females store collected pollen in special pollen baskets on their hind legs. The queen is the largest bee (and she alone will winter over), workers, also females, do not lay eggs, and the males (drones) are most active during the late summer and fall. In Maine, Bumble bee colonies rarely exceed more than 40 individuals.

Bumble bees visit flowers even in cold rainy weather and are superior pollinators. Some species live below ground, others above ground, and a few appear to have no preference. Nests appear in abandoned rodent habitats, in undisturbed meadows and pastures, abandoned bird nests, cavities in rock walls, foundations, and other sheltered areas.

Bumble bees are robust in appearance but their color patterns are often highly variable within species. Curiously they are often similar among groups that inhabit the same geographic region. I wonder if the buttery yellow Bumble bees that love my scarlet runner beans and nasturtiums are the same species as the orange belted bumblebees that loves my bush. They are exactly the same size, small by Bumblebee standards, but otherwise appear identical.

Bumble bees can be found all over the world in Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America. They are typically found in higher latitudes though exceptions exist. I know from experience that lowland tropical species of this bee exist (Peru). A few species even range into very cold climates like the arctic where other bees might not be found. One reason for this is that Bumble bees can regulate their body temperature, via solar radiation, the internal mechanism of “shivering,” and by radiative cooling from the bee’s abdomen. Other bees have similar physiology but this phenomenon has been well studied in Bumble bees.

Bumble bees extract nectar from a flower using their long tongue and store it in their crop. Some species also exhibit what is known as “nectar robbing.” Instead of inserting their tongue these bees bite directly through the base of the corolla to extract nectar. These bees obtain pollen from other species of flowers that they visit.

Pollen is removed from flowers either deliberately or accidently. Incidental removal occurs when Bumble bees come in contact with the anthers of a flower while collecting nectar. The body hair of the bumblebee receives a dusting of pollen, which is deposited in the pollen baskets.

Once collected, Bumble bees return to the nest and deposit the harvested nectar and pollen into brood cells (made of wax) for storage. Because Bumble bees only store a few days’ worth of food they are much more vulnerable to food shortages. However, because they are much more opportunistic feeders than honeybees these shortages may have less profound effects. Nectar is stored in the form it was collected rather than being processed into honey.

Bumblebees form colonies but they are small with the female being responsible for the construction of the nest, and that nest only lasts for one season (except for some tropical species). The last generation of summer bees includes a number of queens who overwinter separately in protected spots. The queens live at least one year; the workers die at the end of the season.

Bumble bees have a unique genetic system whereby mated females control the sex of their eggs, with daughters developing from fertilized eggs and sons from unfertilized eggs. Unmated females produce only sons.

In temperate zones during the autumn young queens mate with drones and sleep during the winter in a sheltered place.. Early in the spring the queen emerges to find a suitable place to create her new colony. Then she builds wax cells in which to lay her fertilized eggs. The eggs that hatch develop into female workers and in time the queen populates the colony, with workers feeding the young.

Bumble bees are being raised for agricultural use because they can plant species that other pollinators cannot by using a technique called buzz pollination. For example, bumble bee colonies are used in greenhouse tomato production because the frequency of buzzing effectively releases tomato pollen. This is a perfect example of species interdependence – something we know almost NOTHING about.

In these times of uncertainty and climate change it is even more important to take whatever conservation methods we can utilize to maintain our Bumble bee populations. What follows are some tips to help conserve these bees (and others).

  • Minimize lawn areas – mow less often – mowing kills bees – mow in the evening or on windy days when it’s cool and overcast.
  • Keep gardens and grow fruit bearing trees and shrubs – provide a succession of flowering periods beginning in the spring and lasting into the late fall
  • Plant wildflowers in the spring for those early pollinators
  • Avoid marigolds and other hybridized plants that have no pollen (they are sold for blooms only)
  • Tolerate dandelions and other “weeds” like mullen, wild primrose, queen anne’s lace, st john’s wort, wild violets, milkweed and goldenrod.
  • In the fall let your ground fruit rot
  • Provide an area of undisturbed ground/dirt somewhere on your property
  • Create brush piles
  • GIVE UP ALL PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES.

 

Give our pollinating friends a chance to help our plants grow. Remember that without bee pollination we would have no food to eat.

Mason Bees

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Have you ever seen a Mason bee? Last spring I was drawn to my both of my neighbors beautiful fruit trees; apple and crabapple blossoms are a feast for flower loving eyes, and each time I approached one of these blooming trees I could hear the sound of Honeybees. Delighted, each morning I would stand under those boughs just listening to the humming of what seemed like a thousand bees joyously soaking up this natural symphony… When I saw the blue – black Mason bee burrowing its head into a fuchsia blossom I was transported back to Maine…

Why? Because in Maine the Honeybee collapse, (due to invasive mites) has decimated the population. To give you a poignant example, just yesterday I was outdoors inspecting my luminous pearl white almost tree –like hydrangea that always comes into bloom in early September. Each year I used to anxiously await the arrival of honeybees to watch them search out the sweet nectar of this lovely plant. These days an ominous silence splits the sky in two. Then amazingly I saw a single iridescent blue- black bee land on a flower, and in that moment was transported back to Abiquiu…

New Mexico has many native bees that pollinate 75 percent of the native wildflowers and fruit trees, like plum, prune, almonds, apples, and cherries. These native bees including the Mason bee are actually more efficient pollinators than Honey bees but don’t make honey.

Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are found throughout the fruit growing areas of the upper Rio Grande (as well as in Maine). There are about a dozen other species in the genus Osmia that are found in New Mexico. Most nest in tunnels in wood, straw or in homemade houses that people provide for them. The bees typically provision each brood cell in their small nests with a ball of nectar and pollen to feed the larvae. For anyone interested, it is also possible to buy wooden nests commercially.

Mason bees (like other wild bees) have many advantages over Honey – bees. They are very docile and do not sting. Most are solitary or form very small colonies (like Bumble bees do). Mason bees are also active during inclement weather. They are such efficient pollinators that fewer bees are needed. They are also resistant to mites.

If you live in Abiquiu New Mexico you can help support Mason and other native bees by purchasing locally grown fruit at farmers markets like the one in Espanola that Sabra Moore runs.

You can also grow bee friendly plants and trees in your yards. It is important to provide water that is changed every day for the bees. It is also eco- friendly to leave your bees a pile of unused open sand/dirt somewhere in your yard, because Miner bees, for example, live in holes in the ground and they use mud to seal their nests. Because Osmia nest in holes in dead wood an old woodpile that is left all year round for these blue orchard bees to nest in is also most desirable.

IMG_3381.JPGPhoto of my bee loving bush

I once took bees for granted, enjoying their presence but not focusing on individuals beyond the friendly bumble bees that I loved as a child. But these days I am anxious to learn about all kinds of native bees, because Nature is doing her best to compensate for lost bees (especially the European honey bees that provide us with honey), and we want to do anything we can to help them! It is important to remember that without bees pollinating our plants and flowers we would not have fresh vegetables and fruit to eat.

September, the Moon Bear’s Full Moon

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This morning the sun rose blood red over the trees splashing crimson fire over the ground…The first frost has come and gone and now the humidity is on the rise as thunderclouds float like specters above the mountains. What am I to make of this natural occurrence?

Nature is the mirror in which I see myself.

I have just learned from my friend Harriet that Black Bears are crossing the Border from Maine into Canada, where they, like other refugees, are finding a more compassionate place to live. In Canada bears are not slaughtered (by baiting, hounding, trapping) for sixteen weeks a year like they are in this country.

The only thing worse than listening to hunters target shoot for hours is hearing one or two gunshots and then a sickening silence like I did on this sultry afternoon. Another bear dead?

I call September’s full moon the Moon Bear’s Moon not just because so many Black bears will be killed this month, but because Moon Bears are real Asian Black bears who have also survived unspeakable treatment.

Asian Moon Bears have endured intolerable suffering on “Bear Farms” at the hands of humans who force them to live out their lives in steel cages so small that they cannot stand up or move around – ever. Crude catheters are inserted into their bodies and they are milked for bile until they eventually perish. Some are blinded, or lose teeth, others have paws hacked off. Eventually they die from diseases like cancer around 15 years of age.

Ethologist/biologist Marc Bekoff and primatologist Jane Goodall stepped in and began a program to end this intolerable suffering. Jasper, once a victim of this atrocity became the first ambassador for Animals Asia, and since that time many bears have been rehabilitated although bear farming continues to thrive.

Amazingly, these rehabilitated animals are not only capable of forgiving their tormentors but some even learn to trust humans again, attaching themselves to their caregivers, as well as to others. This kind of Ursine forgiveness and compassion towards humans is astonishing and heartrending. Having witnessed this kind of behavior firsthand I choose to honor all bears during this Full Moon in September when so many will be killed in this country.

Tonight, on the eve of the Full Moon I call on the Power and the Spirit of the Moon Bears to be present for their people, helping Black Bears to live, or to die a death without suffering.