Tumbleweed Torment


Look how pretty they are when tumbleweeds are young!


Every time my little dogs and I walked into Owl canyon last winter and spring one or both dogs would step on a tumbleweed spine. Some days I was extracting these little monsters from my dogs’ feet a dozen times or more, while they held up a tormented paw with a pitiful look. No matter how carefully I scanned the arroyo for tumbleweed prickers I just couldn’t avoid them.


After moving into this adobe house, I began the process of land reclamation casting wildflower seeds that I had collected last year, and began watering the disturbed and barren earth – a normal consequence of building a new house. I also removed every tumbleweed skeleton in sight from the bare ground – a massive undertaking – with the hope that I could stem the tumbleweed tide. To my horror the first seeds that sprouted were tumbleweeds! That was almost two months ago, and today I daily fry uprooted tumbleweeds on hot stones   while ruefully accepting the inevitable – I will be weeding tumbleweeds indefinitely!


In this process I have developed a begrudging respect for this plant that is a true survivor! It loves wastelands and I am amazed by the plants’ tenacity and determination to reproduce. When the plant is young it is quite pretty with its purple stems and lacy stems shaped like a rosette but I learned the hard way that if I broke the plant from its root two days later I would be pulling two or three thick rooted tumbleweeds where originally there had been one!


I am not naive enough to believe that I will ever be able to eradicate this plant, but my intention is to persevere because around the house I want my dogs to be able to run around without prickers in their feet.


“Tumbleweed,” “Russian thistle” and “wind witch” are common names for this plant. “Wind witch” annoys me. I am tired of women being attached to plants that are considered dangerous or are considered pests. The war on women – especially old women – never ends. Russian thistle alludes to its Eurasian origin. Scientific names for tumbleweed begin with the Latin word Salsola in reference to the plant’s salt tolerance.


Virtually everyone recognizes a mature Russian thistle, which looks like the skeleton of a normal shrub. Plants may be as small as a soccer ball or as large as a Volkswagen beetle! One flew over the Trailercita last spring that boggled my mind – it was huge! The seedling and juvenile plant’s bright green, succulent, grass-like shoots have tiny green flowers each one accompanied by a pair of spiny bracts. Mice, bighorn sheep, and pronghorn eat the tender shoots. I personally have never seen tumbleweed nibbled on by anything.


As they roll down a desert road, tumbleweeds disperse seeds. Seeds are unusual in that they lack any protective coat or stored food reserves. Instead, each seed is a coiled, embryonic plant wrapped in a thin membrane. To survive winter without a warm coat, the plant does not germinate until warm weather arrives.


When moisture falls, it quickly sends up two needle-like leaves and begins to shoot skyward. By autumn the plant has reached maximum size, flowered and begun to dry out. A specialized layer of cells in the stem facilitates the easy break between plant and root, and the journey begins anew.
Like many weeds, Russian thistle exploited the destruction of native ecosystems and continues to do so today. When farmers removed prairie grasses, they created a perfect environment, smooth and flat, for a plant that could roll across the landscape dispersing seeds. Unfortunately herbicides are used to control the spread of tumbleweeds by disrupting the maturation process of the plant. Recently the U.S. Agricultural Research Service announced the discovery of two promising fungal pathogens that infect and kill tumbleweeds. Not surprisingly, the fungi were uncovered in infected Russian thistle plants growing on the Eurasian steppes — the original home of tumbleweeds.

Tumbleweeds were first reported in the United States in the 1800’s apparently transported in flax seed imported by Ukrainian farmers. Within two decades the plant had tumbled into a dozen states, and by 1900, tumbleweed had reached the Pacific Coast. Tumbleweeds have never stopped spreading. Nearly every state in the U.S. is now home to Russian thistle, as well as several newer GIANT tumbleweed species that arrived as immigrants from around the world. Tumbleweeds grow everywhere from Canada to South Africa!
Each winter after the plants die, the brittle bushy parts snap off at the roots and blow away, dispersing seeds wherever they tumble – about 250,000 per plant – a mind -boggling statistic for anyone like me who wants to keep these intrepid survivors under control!




At 98 degrees

the stones

catch fire

beneath my feet –

fry tumbleweeds.

Even the hardiest

desert flowers weep.

The Earth cracks

along invisible fissures

and all I can feel

is gratitude for this

home. Inside

cool walls and

tile floors, low light

and lemongrass

scents open space…

Grateful plants send

out new shoots.

Outside, hummingbirds

gather like bees

under the shaded portal

for sweet nectar

while most birds sleep.

A dust devil

swirls in the distance,

and cottonwood hearts

dance like butterflies

in a fierce west wind.

A sagebrush lizard

clinging to the


adobe wall

pierces the heat

with one eye.

Even he isn’t moving.

Houses made of mud

and straw

provide refuge.

The orange eye of the sun

can’t penetrate these walls.

The Old Ones knew.

The Soul and Spirit of Garlic


Author’s kitchen window with garlic and scapes


Last night a second

bulb of freshly dug garlic

was waiting for me

at the gate

strung up with rainbow thread.

Such a lovely gift

from my friend –

soul sister, a muse…

The first bulb I hung

by the door

to repel dark spirits.

The second I cleaned,

peeling off layers

until her skin turned translucent

under a waxing moon.

Healers known as “witches”

understood the

uncanny powers of this

herb and used it

routinely to create

a barrier between

“this and that.”

Garlic and old women

have much in common.

Their power comes

out of roots

grown deep in dark ground.

Both ripen with age.

Juicy, fat and aromatic,

newly dug garlic

has the sweetest of scents –

is delightfully pungent

to the discerning tongue.

Not to mention

that ingesting this root

flavors any dish,

creating “perfection” while

repelling all manner

of harmful bacteria

that live on inside an

unbalanced gut.

Outside or inside

The Spirit and Soul of

Garlic reigns as queen!

Curing fresh garlic

takes time

requires solitude

and a penchant for shadows..

much like old women

who have become

wise in the ways

of Nature who seek

forest or desert as home…

The Soul of the Garlic

works underground

protecting heaped up hearts

repelling invaders.


As Spirit She banishes

the unholy – neutralizing

dark forces by returning

arrows of harm

to those who sent them.

Both Soul and Spirit of Garlic

heal and protect

as one undivided Whole.

Desert Grassland Whiptails





Every morning when I go out to water my potted plants and the remnant’s of the chamisa bushes that were sacrificed during the process of building I meet the lizards. I have two kinds – sagebrush lizards and the desert grassland whiptails. Both of these reptiles appear to enjoy my company as much as I enjoy theirs, or perhaps they are just waiting for the water to start flowing.


This morning when I planted a few coyote gourd seeds in a hole that I had recently dug, a whiptail lizard emerged like magic from somewhere under the house delicately positioning himself at the edge of the water logged hole for a drink. In the early morning light his stripes shimmered in the sun. The annoying thing is that I never have a camera with me to capture these morning antics, but I look forward with anticipation to seeing these lizards scurrying about every single day.


Desert grassland whiptails are very long and slim, with a thin tail that is longer than their body length. The most distinct identifying feature of these lizards are the six yellow lines – some very bright – that run the length of their bodies. The remainder of their bodies tend to be olive or brown with tails that are faded blue or gray. Curiously, an adolescent’s tail is a very bright and vibrant blue so I am always on the look out for the young ones. Whiptail bodies are lined with small coarse scales, which gradually get larger towards their tails. The scales on their bellies are larger and smoother.

Desert grassland whiptails are found in the deserts of southern to central Arizona and along the Rio Grande River in New Mexico. They are also found in the deserts of northern Mexico. A. uniparens is commonly found in low valleys, grasslands, and slight slopes. Some have argued that the species’ range is expanding due to overgrazing. They are scarce in developed areas, especially where homeowners keep livestock.

One amazing fact is that all desert grassland whiptail lizards are female! Strangely, researchers note that a kind of pseudo-copulation occurs which promotes fertilization during ovulation. The lizards reproduce by parthenogenesis, but offspring do not necessarily have the same chromosomes as their mother. This is because the lizards start off with twice the amount of chromosomes as would be found in sexually reproducing individuals. Diversity is maintained by combining sister chromatids which have the same origin but different functions.

Whiptails eat spiders, termites, ants of all kinds, beetles, and short-horned grasshoppers. These food habits make them very appealing to gardeners like me who don’t use any toxic chemicals to prevent insect infestations of any kind. Whiptails are constantly in motion! They often run upright on their hind legs, giving them the appearance of miniature dinosaurs! They also swivel their heads frequently from side to side, taste the air with slender forked tongues, and use their pointed snouts to probe the ground as they forage.

Their speed, and agility help them outmaneuver predators such as thrashers, roadrunners and snakes. One of my Chihuahuas, Lucy, is fascinated by them and always tries to chase them into the cottonwood leaves! Did you know that these lizards can sprint up to fifteen miles per hour (as fast as a roadrunner)? Whiptail lizards can also escape capture by sacrificing their tails (when grasped, their tail breaks easily along a fracture plane in the vertebrae). The disembodied tail wriggles violently, which startles and distracts the predator while the lizard dashes to safety.

Whiptails are wily creatures, beautiful to look at, and fun to watch. They do seem to enjoy scurrying around my feet as I water. I always talk to them, and when I do they watch me and listen with apparent curiosity. In my opinion, paying close attention to these little characters will bring joy into your day!

Shadows; After the Solstice



Summer Solstice

Shadow strikes

without warning.

Rusty barbed wire

wound tight like a crown –

Ambiguous words slung

in the wake of a fiery sun

demonstrate intent to harm.


I have learned to stay awake

to this darker side

of human nature:

Keep my eyes to the ground,

Protect my heaped up heart,

Listen – separate this from that.

Temper my judgment.

My dove reminds me

that these barbs will pass

like the power of a

bitter orange sun.

Midsummer Eve


It sounds so appealing

a time of revelry,

crackling bonfires,

staying up all night

to witness the dawn.

Why do we celebrate

this longest day

of the year

as if endless hours

of daylight

and a scorching

sun star encompass

a gift of unparalleled grace?


I miss the shadows

that define sharp edges,

reveal form and depth,

of flat mesas, mountains,

deep blue sky,

clouds that hold promise

of muted gray and soaking rains.


Too much light

bleaches the earth

of her vibrancy, washing

out sage and emerald green.

Red dirt turns dull brown

as wildflowers wither.

Streams and rivers

surrender their souls

as precious moisture


Wily lizards scurry

for cover

under the fierce heat

of this unrelenting white star.

The birds stop singing by noon.


Too much light

ushers in self

and other destruction

encouraging frantic action –

noise that shatters.


“being” from doing,

destroying quiet moments

for thoughtful reflection.

The summer solstice sun can be

a delusional veil

that separates us

from ourselves.


I look forward

to the day after this turning

with profound relief,

because even though

summer’s harsh light will

linger well into August

and the heat will drone on

the sun is slowly losing

his fearsome power

creating space

for blue-green turquoise and golden skies.

In the shelter of the coming days

of longer shadows,

illuminated by reflective Light,

She will rise again with her Moon.


Working notes: I am always struck by the fierce energies that define this time of year – too long days – too much heat. Personally I have headaches and trouble sleeping and often feel irritable. It is well documented that violence escalates in the heat and noise certainly intensifies. I am struck too by our culture’s need – or obsession with light –  particularly the powers of the sun. Mythologically the the solar power of the sun is most often associated with the male powers of procreation, and power in general.

In other cultures the sun and moon are usually depicted as belonging together. Just as the sun is seen as a masculine power, the moon is perceived to be feminine in nature. – Each has a specific realm of influence, and together they are perceived as one whole.

At the risk of being accused of binary splitting I take the position that western culture is out of balance and we demonstrate that imbalance with our obsession with light that often manifests as our obsessive need for sun.

(This is the time of greening and without the powers of the sun and its heat the crops would not grow and Earth and her creatures and trees would not be able to survive – so I am not suggesting that the sun is lacking in importance)

And yet, the summer solstice sun is still an extreme event just like the lack of light is at winter solstice. I think that it is important to recognize that these extremes are part of Nature but their effects are temporary.

When the sun is highest in the sky, our star casts no shadow and this should be a warning to us all.

“The Cottonwood Dance”


(The Cottonwoods outside my window)


A couple of days ago I went to a late spring Corn Dance at Okay Owingeh Pueblo. For the Tewa, spring, summer and fall are dedicated to the seasonal agricultural round and the late spring dances acknowledge the necessity of adequate rain for the newly planted corn to grow. Because the Tewa people have a living tradition each dance is unique although a general pattern is followed – one that has ancient origins. The point of these dances is to pray for rain, help the corn and other crops grow through dancing prayer, and to keep the Earth and her people in balance. One experiences the dance; no words are spoken. Drumming is an integral part of this ritual cycle.


There were many participants, men women and children, and a number of clay striped clowns who wore turtle shells on their legs. Both the women and the men also carried and shook gourds that sounded like rain. Both men and boys wore kilts trimmed with bells and shells and turtle shell rattles on their legs. The men also wore brightly colored arm – bands some of which were yellow. Most had feather top knots. The women wore white wrap around high legged moccasins made from the softest deer skin, beautifully belted dresses, predominantly rose patterned shawls, their shiny long black hair hanging down their backs. The men danced in moccasins trimmed with skunk fur. Some of these moccasins were dyed a bright yellow and I wondered if the color had something to do with the corn. Skunks love water so even the footwear that touches the Earth becomes a prayer for rain.


Each set begins and ends in one of the four plazas to honor each of the Four Directions with breaks between each set. I attended the first set and at the end of the dance all the dancers (there must have been a hundred or more) entered a ramada for a blessing and then filed into one of the two kivas where secret rites are completed in private.


Because it was getting hot I had not planned on staying for more than one set. I knew that the dance would be repeated in exactly the same way in each plaza until each of the Four Directions had been honored and the dance ended.


The rhythm of the dance had a hypnotic effect on me that by now I had become accustomed to experiencing. I find these dances deeply moving, perhaps because I have Indigenous roots, and because my life is so tightly woven to the cycles of Nature. I also understood that the Tewa believe that participating in these dances, even as a spectator helped the rain come and the corn to grow, probably the only reason the Tewa allow outsiders to attend the celebrations. These people are fiercely independent and do not share their traditions with strangers beyond allowing visitors to attend the dance. By maintaining this kind of vigilance they have managed to keep ancient traditions intact. One is left to interpret what one sees and experiences…


The striking aspect of this particular dance for me was the lack of corn imagery. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw men wearing wreaths of cottonwood, something I had never witnessed before. In addition, the women and children each carried sprigs of cottonwood branches. Fascinated by this change I called the pueblo the next day to find out if I had seen a corn dance. Yes, I was told. I knew enough not to ask impertinent questions about cottonwood branches. Instead I reflected upon the possible meaning of what I had seen, and what it might mean. That night I fell asleep listening to muted cottonwood conversation…


I am presently living in an adobe house that is situated under a giant stand of cottonwood trees, trees whose leaves flutter and rustle beguiling me to listen to their songs. Sometimes at night I imagine I hear rain falling…it takes me a minute to recognize that what I am hearing is the sound of cottonwood leaves communing above my head.


A day or so later it dawned on me that using the cottonwood boughs, a sacred tree to the Tewa and other tribes because it is associated with water, might have been incorporated into the dance as an additional form of prayer to call down the rains.


In Northern New Mexico we are experiencing an unprecedented drought. We had no snow or rain this winter, and thus no spring run off. Fires are burning out of control throughout the region and the National parks have been closed to camping and other forms of recreation. How this is going to affect the corn and other crops that these people depend upon for sustenance is unknown. The Rio Grande is low, and no longer reaches Mexico. A Mexican friend, and builder friend of mine finds this state of affairs confusing because as he asks “Doesn’t the water belong to all the people?” Apparently not, our Government decrees.


Meanwhile, I listen to the cottonwood trees with rapt attention adding my prayers to those of the people.


May the rains come.

Postscript: Curiously we had our first real rainstorm just a couple of days after the ‘Cottonwood Dance’ and who can know if the trees were listening and helped bring down the rain.

Cottonwoods, by the way have enormous taproots that seek the water table and must reach it in order to survive. Today, young cottonwoods are struggling because the water table has dropped. It is heartbreaking to see how few young trees are actually growing.

Water – Sky Woman


(Photo taken by Iren Schio at Abiquiu Lake)

I am a woman who is in love with the Water and Sky!

This photo was taken a few days ago when Iren and I went to the lake to swim – it captures the joy of the moment.

Last night we had real rain – the kind that soaks the desert ground and brings even the most withered plants to life.

Here in Northern New Mexico we are suffering a terrible drought that has chilling implications for the future. Living by the river under the cottonwoods I am spared the  visual reality of drought, although it is impossible to ignore the dry cracked earth beneath my feet, or the scarcity of wildflowers.

The light rain we had yesterday morning wasn’t enough to keep me from watering thirsty seedlings and plants… but the birds were taking baths on the wire fence and I had a flock of western bluebirds, phoebes, flycatchers and towhees that all participated. The first fiesty Rufous hummingbird appeared at my feeder.

Last night, as if in anticipation of heavier rains the great horned owl hooted just outside my window at dusk – twice. The nighthawk identified himself  by his high pitched peet.

When the skies opened last night it seemed like a holy thing. This morning on my walk to the river mist rose off the water obscuring the mesas.

The thick gray cloud cover keeps the scorching solstice sun at bay, and all my windows are open allowing inside and outside to become parts of one whole.

Unlike so many this time of year is my least favorite because of the heat of the sun, so to have two mornings of reprieve seems like the greatest of blessings and my gratitude overflows…

Seven of Swords; Majidi Warda


The first sword marks

the cuts on her flesh;

Seven stories passed down generations.

The first sword severs

old tongues from lips;

Seven volumes of our imagination.

The second sword bodes

the augury of battle

The solar eclipse is an omen

Stalemate paralysis and suicides

of virgins

beckon that war is for blind men.

The third sword paints

a red nun on the doorway

Blood sacrifice here is an order

A black crow caws

foretells a calamity

Three swords and it is for murder

Black scarabs scuttle

from graves and vaginas

Four swords stand guard at the openings

both orifice and larynx mutter supplications

“the mosaic arches are crumbling.”

The fifth sword removes

the crown from the King

the downfall of men from their thrones

widows whisper for mercy and tea

heralding the era of crones

Six words rebuild

the schools and the libraries

upon rubble and ghosts of delusion

faint echoes of screams

still lurk in church hallways

and bomb shelters

now museums

Blood paints the flag

and honeymoon bedsheets

lacerations a hymn to Inanna

poets and prophets

and coffee cup readers

articulations of our chthonic longings


Commentary: When I read this poem, I felt truth seeping into my bones. The poem speaks to what is trying to come through – shattering our present delusions.