What the Sandhill Cranes Told Me:

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“Enter our world:

Journey as we do

from South

to North.

You are not alone.

We must travel too.

Do not resist.

Do not mourn

the passing of winter

into the first fierce heat

of spring.

Migration for you

is for one season

out of four.

Follow the Night Bear,

North Country Woman.

Be soothed by the rain.

Listen for frog song.

Paddle on still waters,

Turn emerald green

under incandescent light.

Allow your aching eyes to rest.

Plant a new Cedar.

Sink her roots deep

breathe in “What Is”

with your heaped up heart.

Feel the Earth move

beneath your feet.

 

Two dreams warned you

last spring of the necessity

behind personal departure.

But you were unwilling to go.

You could not honor

your body’s truth

until you shrunk

into a skeleton

you did not know.

 

The truth is

that you have lived your life

in both worlds

long before you came here;

One was a winter desert oasis.

Another was forged

from evergreen fir

rising out of granite stone.”

 

 

Working notes:

 

For the past three months the Sandhill Cranes have been landing in the field next to my house, crying out in wonder and the joy of deep communion. They roost by Red Willow River each night.

 

When I visited the Bosque del Apache to see the cranes last November I was transported into another dimension. There was something about these migrating birds that made my heart sing, long before I began to pay attention to what my newest obsession with these particular birds might mean personally…

 

On my return from the Bosque these same cranes began to appear down by the river regularly, and even when I couldn’t see them I was haunted by their calls. After the golden cottonwood leaves drifted to Earth a magic portal opened into the neighboring field, and these birds began to visit me from there. I could hardly believe it. I watched them drift down and settle into the grasses to feed, their magnificent bowed wings acting like gliders as long twig like feet swayed and touched ground. And the cries of communal compassion struck home in my heart.

 

Why did they stay all winter?

 

This behavior on the part of the cranes might have been influenced by Climate Change or perhaps by some other unknown mechanism. Perhaps there are a number of reasons why they chose this place as home. But daily moments of joy struck and stunned me every time I heard or saw them. When winter finally touched our parched desert, snow fell – offering a brief reprieve from drought. By then I was seeing and hearing the cranes every single day beginning moments after the fires of dawn turned pale winter blue.

 

Now, we are at the first spring turning. The sun is becoming more intense, and the light hurts my eyes. For the past week I have been in a strange sort of mourning state because soon the cranes will be heading north to their next stopover in Nebraska before they head towards Canada, the Arctic, and Siberia. Every precious day that passes leaves me aching. I will miss them so.

 

Today I started to research migration to help me understand more about the Cranes seasonal journey, not realizing that by doing so, I was also trying to come to terms with a loss so dear to my heart. I know they have to go…

 

Just as I do.

 

Moments after I began my research a flock of cranes rose up in sky crying out as one voice as they flew over the house. That they knew I was thinking about them seemed obvious to me…and suddenly I had an insight: They were sending me a message.

 

Quickly, I shut down the research and wrote the above poem on a scrap of paper in my journal. Just as I completed the last lines a flock of at least forty cranes flew by the windows in front of the house. Their collective cries convinced me that I had absorbed the message they offered. I felt intense gratitude. My sadness has suddenly dissipated because of their words speak to comfort, truth and acceptance of who I am and what is.

 

I offer my deepest gratitude to these birds whose seasonal journey helps me come to terms with my own.

Passion Vine Pruning

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Cringing,

I cut away

bug infested vines

from stalk and root –

offer tender white filaments

moist dark space –

mineral rich earth

as nourishment.

Will you feed

your verdant

shoot –

the only one

to survive root stalk pruning?

 

A lot to ask, I know.

 

Emerald green spire,

I beg of you,

begin your spiral dance…

Our hands are clasped in prayer

as the Cranes settle in the field.

I imagine you thrive.

 

I own this act

of soulbody slaughter.

 

When I cut your leaves

away from healthy roots

I severed my own leaf

root connection too.

 

Last night

my belly roiled

in deep distress.

I dreamed I chopped down trees.

My body never lies.

 

Postscript:

Yesterday I pruned every vining tendril away from my beloved passion vine, the first one to root last spring after the death of her mother, a passionflower I had for 17 years…

My body responded to the brutal act of pruning with a rush of deep anxiety. The two hours I spent cleaning each severed vine in warm soapy water and sticking them in a bottle to root ( I hoped), re – potting the orignal roots and stalk in new earth seemed to last forever. After disinfecting the entire area where the plant grew I was exhausted.

This year, unlike the last, thanks to Iren who had the other passionflower, I rooted a number of new shoots so if I lost another one I wouldn’t feel so bereft.

Not true.

It is true that I feel less alone when I look over at the other vines, one of which has been showing blooms for months. But the trauma of having to prune so severely it could cause death (though I had no choice) unhinged me. My love for this particular vine is unique and tied up with my hope for her renewal… Each plant has her own soul and each one is as tied to my own as I am to hers…

I have never understood this root-ground connection but it stretches back to my childhood…

When I am forced to hurt one of my plants – even if one has spider mites that refused to be treated – my mind creates anxiety and my body becomes ill. This time even my dream-body had a lot to say…

How is it that so many many people can’t feel what I do? Plants and trees are our relatives and some of the best friends a person can have. How can we support their extinction when to do so is to seal our own fate?

Bear’s Day

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( a pool created by mountain waters flowing into El Rito Creek)

 

Crystal waters cascade

down craggy mountains

blessing desert scrub.

Cottonwood buds sing.

Bears dream renewal,

tangled under pulsing

roots of light.

 

Working Notes:

 

The Powers of Water and Light …

 

Last night I dreamed that I was on top of a craggy mountain, astonished and bewildered as I witnessed a clear mountain waterfall cascading down mossy crevices nourishing the desert below… Equal amounts of joy and disbelief awakened me probably because our desert is still struggling with drought.

 

Although we have had a winter reprieve with much needed snow falling in some Northern mountains we are still in need of adequate spring rains to nourish our desert scrub, wildflowers, and trees. At the very least I am hoping we experience a spring run off which will bless Red Willow River by raising her waters.

 

I continue to imagine the spring rains that will make the roots of every plant and tree sing as the days shrink the night…

 

This is a very special time of year because the waters do begin to rise in many parts of the world. This rising of the waters is traditionally also a time of purification for peoples who are preparing for spring renewal.

 

The intensifying light brings longer warmer days. Every cultural tradition notes this shift even in a distorted form. In the United States we remember February second as “groundhog day,” the day the groundhog emerges from his underground lair. If the groundhog doesn’t see his shadow spring will not come for another 6 weeks. The old story was obfuscated by Europeans when they came to this country.

 

Originally, the groundhog was a bear.

 

Wild Bears of all species do emerge from their dens for brief periods during early February to drink snow and to urinate. The females are also birthing their cubs

 

In Indigenous mythology throughout the U.S. all   (black, grizzly, polar) bears are seen as the animal that voluntarily enters the underworld, survives death, and returns to birth new life in the “first light” of the following spring.

 

Bear is the ultimate embodiment of renewal.

 

Until recently in some rural places in central Europe a chained Shrovetide Bear was led from house to house, often made to dance on hot coals to help the crops grow.

 

Here in New Mexico, the Tewa hold the Deer Dances at dawn. The power of Avanyu, Serpent of the Rivers and flowing Waters is acknowledged as a sacred Life Force. Another Tewa dance honors his coming…

 

Some ancient Goddess traditions celebrate Brigid (also aspected as a bear), as goddess of poetry and mistress of the forge. Each year on February 2nd I light a crown of candles to celebrate the Bear’s Return, the power of Brigid’s Fire and Light. I also pour river water on the Earth as a blessing singing a little song for Her renewal.

 

Blessings to all on Bear’s Day.

Winter River Reflection – 2019

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We are approaching the end of January here in Northern New Mexico and already the light is becoming more fierce, but the nights are still long, the blood moon has passed, and clusters of stars are strung like pearls into patterns that speak to ancient stories, so this precious time to reflect and dream is very much with me. Winter brings a sense of peace unlike any other.

 

This year it has also brought us a reprieve from drought. This morning a thin layer of snow once again coats the grasses while birds flock to my feeder in record numbers. Although each layer of snow doesn’t amount to much more than a tenth of an inch of rain, it is still something. Last week we even had real puddles of standing water, and slippery mud that oozed in places when the sun warmed the ground.

 

Coming from the North Country I have never been able to appreciate mud with the kind of enthusiasm I have for it here. Mud means moisture, and water is life and here in the high desert rain and snow may bring sage green scrub back to life if we continue this trend…

 

Reprieve from drought is a form of Grace.

 

In the distance the mountains wear white tufted caps – Perhaps this year Red Willow River will once again overflow her banks serenading us with songs as snow melt sings to disappearing stones.

 

Is it too much to dream that frogs will come, rising up from moist red ground to breed?

 

As I kneel before the wood stove kindling my daily fire, I am keenly aware of the deep gratitude I feel for the gift of life and for each drop of water even when these aging bones ache in dampened air.

 

I wonder where my afternoon walk will take me? No matter where I go I always end up back at the river’s edge listening to water on stone while scrying the sky for the Sandhill cranes. The river has always been my lover, long before I arrived here… A tangle of blushing willows greets me as I bow low to walk through their arching branches into the old overgrown field, lumpy with gopher mounds.

 

This winter I have started to cook again with joyful child-like abandon. The intoxicating scent of yeasty bread no longer brings a wave of grief for lost children but simple joy in the rising…some say that cooking is a form of transformation. So it may be for me.

 

Moving into “old age”, the years of the crone, my elder years snaps the constricting steel ties that threatened to suffocate my body, and shredded the caul of the “mother hood” – an unwelcome veil I wore for too many years, one that was too heavy with grief; grief that eventually came to threaten my life. Now, because of the shadowy presence of an Old Woman who comes to me as an Owl, a star child begins to shine.

 

Bear’s Day is approaching, that time of the year when the wheel turns once again towards the coming light, and Brigid’s Crown of Fire speaks to new life bubbling from beneath the ground. Already bulbs are stirring from deep sleep, tree roots are absorbing precious water as they begin a new growth phase, and black bear cubs are being birthed by attentive wild mothers…

 

Soon the Sandhill cranes will be migrating North as will the flock of golden evening grosbeaks that have taken over my porch, all in search of summer breeding grounds.

 

As I approach Bear’s Day, and the Feast of “First Light” I feel ambivalence, for each lengthening day brings me closer to the time of my own birthing into spring, and the necessary migration I must make to go North. It is hard to be caught between worlds. I have a homeplace here in the South and another far North.

 

I must place my trust in myself, and the Old Woman. Bird-like, I will migrate too, before spring light births a bitter orange sun, fierce and deadly west wind, and a wall of intolerable heat.

The Blood Moon: In Memoriam

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(Blurred photo taken this morning speaks to how memory blurs and creates a timeless clarity)

 

 

Yesterday was the anniversary of my little brother’s death. It was such a beautiful day with a lovely rose and crimson sunset and a white blossoming Little Bear Moon rising high through the trees. Best of all, the last twenty-four hours have been framed by the Great Horned owl’s call before dawn each morning. This most beloved of owls…

This morning I stood chilled in the blood filled pre-dawn riveted by that deep whoohing… After listening to the male’s courtship song, I could still hear the sound of that resonant whoohing in my body, though my mind was telling me that I was imagining it. A call to Love. I felt some strange power pulsing through me.

Great Horned owls attach me to my mother and my Motherline, but today the call seemed unusually poignant until I read the words below.

Owl always creates a resonance for me that literally bridges worlds.

 

“I was young and he was younger.

they cut him down before his time.

time took me far from him and farther, his

falling body, there in the distance, that shadow,

here in my heartbeat forever, that horror.

him underground and me under leaves,

years and years of fallen leaves.”

(Elizabeth Cunningham)

 

When I read these words the terrible grief surfaced flowing through my body as I “re- membered” how my brother simply disappeared into thin air…catapulting me into the underworld for more than a decade.

It was 32 years before I was finally able to bury his ashes under an emerald moss -covered stone named Trillium Rock, a boulder that the glacier left next to my brook. It was a raw rainy April “Earth Day.” Today, wildflowers cover his grave along with a fossilized spiral, a large ammonite that is perched in a niche in the stone.

Red Tailed Hawks, my brother’s favorite birds, bore witness for an entire week after his burial. They kept watch sitting above the brook in trees regarding me with piercing yellow eyes whenever I approached the heavily forested area. Red tails normally like open spaces …

The terrible dreams that I had each year on or around his death day – the ones in which he was always wandering and could find no rest – stopped.

No one’s ashes should be abandoned and hidden in an attic for 32 years.

Each year I accept that the cycle of grief will live on, perhaps beyond my death. For me this sorrow is written into the stars and the Earth beneath my feet because my brother was my Beloved.

Unlike the words in the poem there is no horror attached to this burial.

I scattered my brother’s bones in a small depression that I had carved out in the half-frozen ground next to the rock. His ashes lay amongst dead leaves. I gathered a few fragile bluish bone fragments to scatter in the rushing spring brook. The Earth took him to Her and loved him.

And finally, I believe, we both found peace.

Black Ice – Renewal?

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Last night She came –

I heard her call

my name.

She broke through

sea green waters,

white capped waves,

blocks of black ice.

My body hummed her song.

And yet I mused..

Who was She,

this ancient denizen

of the Deep?

 

Whale songs so complex –

so poorly understood

lead me down

Down

Down

Down

to the bottom

of the sea…

 

To learn how to Breathe ?

To dive into unknown depths?

To stand unbearable pressure?

To re –surface unharmed?

To breathe sweet water in too thin air?

To keep on advocating for Earth?

To hear to the Heartbeat

of Creation Sounding?

 

These are questions

I pose to Whale

in her bountiful Soul Skin –

velvety smooth

and firm.

 

In Indigenous story

an old woman

stands at the edge

of tidal waters –

patiently,

watches for whales

to surface –

walks into the sea

when she hears them calling.

 

A Star

shines in the East.

The Great Bear

points true North.

Perhaps

Whale comes to me

from the ocean

to guide my aging body home.

 

Working notes…

 

The Little Bear Moon is waxing according to some Northern Indigenous mythology… This is the month Black Bears give birth to their cubs. Wide awake and alert, these wild mothers care deeply for their young while staying snug in winter caves or dens dug under piles of stone or tree roots. The winter stars are bright and the Great Bear circumnavigates the sky each night.

 

When I dreamed of a great whale rising out of the sea. –“Someone” who was “familiar” to me – I was surprised – although my love of whales stretches to childhood when I first saw the Great Blue Whale’s skeleton in New York’s Museum of Natural History. On Monhegan Island, as a “fishermans’s wife,” I longed to touch the skin of these mammoths that often approached our boat while it was idling. Sometimes they lay just under the surface right next to the boat, as if they knew we were a safe harbor. It never occurred to me then that the whales might have come with a message for me.  Later that fire was re –kindled in the 70’s by Judy Collins’ whale songs. In the nineties I dreamed that the sea pulled away and I was walking on the bottom of the ocean searching for a golden dolphin ring. More recently, my fascination with Helen Hye-Sook Hwang’s scholarly research on whales, and my friend Lise’s profound life changing experience with these mammals has brought them back into the center of my awareness.

 

There is something compelling about dreaming of a whale surfacing from the deep while living in a drought driven high desert.

 

And yet whatever this Presence signifies for me personally is overshadowed by the collective need on behalf of all humans to start listening to the songs that all of Nature is singing or screaming before the Great Silence descends upon us stilling each song and cry forever.

 

The age of the Anthropocene is upon us, that is, an age that is totally shaped by humans. Without immediate intervention to stop this man made holocaust we will soon be the only surviving species left on Earth. According to the WWF Global Wildlife’s 2018 report the Earth’s wildlife population has dropped by 60 percent since 1970.

 

Some species have become ‘functionally extinct’, meaning that although at present the species is still extant, there are not enough individuals left to save the species from its eventual demise. Monarch butterflies are a good example – their populations have dropped by 90 percent in the last 20 years.

 

Unimaginable loneliness is coming our way.

 

We can start by dramatically lowering carbon emissions to help preserve the non-human species that still have a chance to survive.

 

We can plant millions of carbon sequestering trees…

 

We can protest our continued use of plastics.

 

Just to give the reader a few ideas…

 

Think about it. It is through our love of, and for Nature that most humans experience a sense of “renewal.”

 

Where will you go when the Silence of Nature becomes deafening?

The Amazing Scarlet Runner Bean

 

IMG_1503.JPG(Phaseolus coccineus) – photo from my garden

 

About 30 years ago I was visiting a neighbor for the first time early one August when I spied the most extraordinary vine of brilliant orange pea sized flowers cascading from an emerald climber that stretched across the entire wire wall of a huge vegetable garden. Eileen left an eight foot arch open by tying back some of the vines for an entrance. The vines were massive, at least 12 to 15 feet high and at least 100 feet long, and I could see and hear the sound of joyful ruby throated hummingbirds as they buzzed from one blossom to another as millions of bees, swallowtails, and monarchs swooped through the air lighting upon loose tendrils that were attempting to find purchase somewhere by climbing on the backs of their neighbors. To say I was transfixed by the sight is an understatement. I lost time in the blue and gold mountain field in Western Maine as I stood there astonished and bewildered by such abundance and beauty.

 

Returning to ordinary time, and gathering my wits about me, I asked my new friend about the vine and was only then I was formerly introduced to the magnificent Scarlet Runner bean. As we wandered down the fence line Eileen told me that she had grown up in the south and had been surrounded by these vines since she was a child; she was then a woman in her late sixties. As we peeked into the plethora of leaves I was delighted to see small green beans developing from the flowers and was told that these beans were delicious to eat, especially when picked while still young. I had been a gardener all my life – how had I missed learning about such a plant?

 

By the time I left Eileen’s house that afternoon I had a whole handful of shiny deep mauve and black kidney shaped beans in my hand for next year’s planting. These were heirloom seeds that Eileen had been given by her own mother. I was ecstatic.

 

This was the beginning of my love affair with Scarlet Runner beans, an affair that continues into the present. The first year I grew them they took over the entire back porch. I soon learned to plant even more vines like Eileen had so the deer could feast on the bounty too.

 

One spring a black bear watched me place my seeds into rich loam from behind his spindly screen of bushes, and that very night Little Bee came back and dug up every bean that I had planted (An endless curiosity is a fundamental aspect of friendly backyard bears)!

 

As the years passed my own wild unkempt garden was covered in more and more Scarlet Runner vines, flowers, and beans. I discovered to my surprise that black bears also loved to eat the blossoms and seed pods. Even with all the competition, I had plenty of fresh green beans and took endless joy out of watching so many bees, butterflies, bears, deer, and hummingbirds feast along with me.

 

About ten years ago when colony collapse devastated the honey bee population the bumblebees took over, but I couldn’t help noticing that overall there were less and less bees and butterflies drinking sweet nectar. Diminishment of various species is invisible to some. Only during the last two summers I spent in Maine did I have fewer hummingbirds…

 

Every year after the harvest I gathered and gave away seed gems to friends who seemed to appreciate them as much as I did – passing on the priceless gift of un contaminated heirloom seeds – seeds that held a future free of human manipulation within each be- jeweled skin.

 

When I moved to New Mexico I brought a few beans with me and my friend Iren was the first recipient of this precious bounty. She, in turn, passed some seeds onto others. Last summer her entire back fence was covered in gorgeous plants. Here in New Mexico the vines don’t grow quite as tall but they are still abundant, and during July deer and elk ate some of Iren’s blossoms (but there were plenty left for her to harvest).

 

Here, I planted my beans in a pot above ground. I do not recommend this practice. These beans need ample water and need to be planted in the Earth to thrive (mine had yellowing leaves). I also noted the effect the intense heat had on the beans. The plants didn’t start producing beans until August though we planted in mid – May, I believe. It’s important to know that Scarlet Runners will not survive frost. What I did notice is that butterflies (swallowtails) and a number of different bees flocked to the flowers. Hummingbirds loved them!

 

Imagine my shock when I discovered that the history of Scarlet Runner beans began in North America. These beans are native to the highlands of Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.

 

This climbing plant is one of the oldest documented beans known to humans!

 

Native Americans consumed almost every part of the plant including the starchy root. Some Indigenous tribes regard the Scarlet Runner bean as a sacred plant. The plants seem to pulse with the life force, at least for me.

 

Today, Scarlet Runner beans are usually grown as annuals for the obvious reasons – their showy flowers and their edible pods and seeds. I recently learned that they are unusual among bean species because they are perennial in places where the ground doesn’t freeze and they climb in a clockwise direction. In retrospect I wondered if they were grown as perennials in the south where Eileen once lived.

 

I remember Iren asking me if you could cook the dried beans. My friend Eileen had never mentioned the practice so I didn’t know until I did this research that here in the U.S. consumers, up until recently, were more likely to find the shelled dried beans to cook than seeds to plant! Mature dried Scarlet Runner beans are ¾ inch in length. They can be cooked like Pinto or Pink beans and used in dishes such as soups and stews. Scarlet Runner beans are less starchy than Lima beans with a nutty garden-fresh flavor. These beans are also known by the common names of Scarlet Conqueror, Fire beans, Mammoth beans, Red Giant beans, and Scarlet Emperor beans.

 

Today, of course there are many cultivars to choose from but I prefer the lineage I have because I know those seeds originated at a time that preceded spraying etc.; they also have sentimental value. If anyone is interested in the gift of a few seeds please contact me at Sara@megalink.net.

 

With that much said so much is happening with seed savers across the country that it is now possible to buy heirloom seeds from a number of companies. This year when I attend the Tewa Women’s Seed Exchange I plan to bring some of my Scarlet Runner beans from last year’s harvest. My guess is that Iren will do the same!