Dear Mary

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When I responded to a post on feminism and religion this morning I wrote that you were my first goddess. As a child I knew little beyond that you were the “Mother of God,” and I found your presence immensely comforting, even seeking you out in secret, entering your rose garden in a local monastery. I needed you so.

 

Early in adolescence I learned that your life was one of purity, sacrifice, and loss. Your purity left me bereft. How could a young Victorian girl be “good enough” to serve such a figure? I was fierce and passionate – a thorny red rose – with an empty hole in my heart.

 

Sadly, I released you and chose your sister the whore, the Black Goddess in disguise… but I didn’t know that then; I only knew that the “black” woman succumbed to her flesh as I did, covered herself in shame…What lies Patriarchy tells…

 

Mary, I kept your starry blue image on the mantle as I mothered my children. I thought of you as a model of female perfection, an idea so antithetical to who you are and what you embody that today, I am appalled. Eventually, I came to believe that you abandoned me, not realizing that I was the one who abandoned my soul and spirit along with the body of a beautiful girl that I despised.

 

Sudden death and intolerable grief opened the door between us again; you became the Mater Dolorosa. I wondered how you survived the death of your son. I don’t know when I realized you had no voice. It disturbed me that you disappeared into obscurity after your son’s death as if mothering was all there was… meanwhile, held captive by the Underworld my life dragged on with me as its victim. More, many more losses, would follow…

 

As my life deteriorated I retrieved you again and again trying to understand… Eventually I saw that an old white god had all the power and you were acted upon by him just as I seemed to be acted upon and held captive by an unholy darkness. Neither of us had a voice. You were not worthy enough to become a saint, let alone god’s equal – you were consigned to act out the role of intercessor – becoming a bridge between humans and the divine. You were always a servant. You grieved loss without reprieve. In retrospect I see clearly that during the first half of my life I lived out your life as I understood it – always passive, always trying to please, making a sacrifice of myself, unable to use my voice, accepting grief as a way of life. Never good enough. Your patriarchal victimhood was my own. What lies Patriarchy told about you, my Beloved.

 

The strange part is that even then I noticed that many people, women and men, my own father included, prayed only to you. I developed a deep respect for your role as intercessor…

 

At midlife, I discovered you in Italy, as the starry Queen of Heaven, in the form of the doves I had loved as a child, as the scent of a thousand lilies, and although your ‘dark’ sister, Mary Magdalene and I still carried the burden of my deep sexual shame, I loved her too because through her I had been able to keep my connection to you alive and intact as an adolescent. In Assisi you finally appeared to me as the Goddess, loving me just as I was. This time I refused to choose one sister over the other and the two of you merged into a fully embodied divine figure in which light and darkness were One.

 

When I left Christianity soon after, I took you with me to begin a new life; this time with Nature as my muse. Of course Mary, you were Nature, my Beloved Earth and each of her creatures and trees … so the thread remained unbroken.

 

Today a silver Guadalupe, the Indian Goddess of the America’s, hangs on the wall as you enter this house; Guadalupe/Mary/ the Black Goddess finally elevated by the “god boy” to her rightful place: She is Mother of All. Each of the Nichos in this house holds images of her divine manifest expressions… owl feathers, potsherds, a bear claw for protection, chert, and the antler of a deer. Divinity is expressed through the spark of each individual species; for me this momentary (usually) experience occurs primarily through animals like a bird, dog, or tree, but for others it takes a human form…

 

Lately Mary, you have become a Crane, and I have been desolate because flocks of you are leaving for the season. I feel bereft and full of fear. Have I lost myself again?

 

I read that Cranes are vigilant and keep watch at night for predators.

 

Last night I dreamed two words “Dear Mary,” and this morning after responding to a post written about you, it hit me. I had to write you a letter.

 

I fear losing you – falling victim to the underworld. I need your protection… Will you intervene on my behalf as Bear, goddess of spring?

 

I remind myself that you, the Mother of All Creation stand behind each particular bird, animal, tree, person that I experience as an expression of (your) divinity, and that although I mourn the leave – taking of the Cranes there will be others that will come to manifest your Grace, because you, are both the Source and Context of all that is, and also the Bridge between.

 

I love you, Mary.

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The Last Winter Moon

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( almost full Big Bear Moon)

 

A pale white coat

drifts across the scrub

snow asters –

starry clusters

cover the ground –

last years skeletal flowers

become cups

for melting water.

 

The last winter moon

is rising high

over the cottonwoods

a hallowed ring at Four.

 

The Big Bear Moon

takes flight while my

constellation is obscured –

his end star dipping

below the horizon.

 

This seasonal shift

from winter to spring

brings hard light

and days of steel blue.

 

I try to adjust

to a heavy heart

that beats too fast,

sinks beneath

a caul at midnight *.

 

The birth of spring

opens a door

to yearning and loss –

cyclic ancestral story.

 

Too soon

a fierce west

wind will howl

and a wall of

unbearable heat

will force

me to flee.

 

Sandhill cranes fly

over treacherous waters

just as I must.

 

Guns become neighbors.

 

This forward procession

a step backwards for me –

preceding my own

voyage upon stormy seas

to reach a safe harbor

of woods and ponds –

donning the skin –

of the

North Country Woman

I once thought

I left behind…

 

( *the rippling voices of a family of cranes floats through mud walls as I write the word “midnight” – I believe they will help though I don’t yet know how)

 

Working notes:

 

My beloved cranes are leaving… (their collective whirring, rilling, cries interrupted this writing beginning with the word ‘midnight’ and continue as I pause to wait for the right words to form)

 

This last moon of winter is one of transition, a yearly cycle repeats as Persephone rises (for me Persephone works in reverse – my descent occurs during the spring). For those that don’t know the story, Persephone was a Greek Goddess that was raped by the god Hades and forced into the Underworld during the fall of the year. Some say she returns in the spring as  a yellow crocus …

 

The rising of the Big Bear moon and the migrating Sandhill cranes speak clearly to the change of seasons, bringing me closer to the day I must leave too – breaking (open) my heart.

 

Living in Abiquiu has been a revelation… I have fallen in love with my favorite two seasons – fall and winter – for the second time in my life. Being here has removed the fears that overtook me during the last ten years or so that I lived year round in Maine, destroying my joy in fall (certain death of beloved bears and other animals due to hunting) and winter (fear that I could no longer take care of myself).

 

Loneliness was also a constant until I moved to Abiquiu; Here I feel loved, not just by the home -land upon which I am graced to live but because of people.

 

For the Big Bear Moon my hopeful intention is to be able to live fully in the moment so that when I do leave later in the spring I won’t have missed one precious day.

When the Cranes Come

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(Cranes calling my name)

 

 

I remember the day he was born

 

Nothing but winter gray…

 

That night a pearl

 

white moon blossom

 

rose full and round

 

And the deer lay down

 

in the shadow of a towering tree…

 

 

He was taken from me.

 

 

I wondered then

 

About Peace,

 

If it would ever come

 

If pain would lift to the sky.

 

 

A lifetime later

 

my heaped up heart leaps

 

when the cranes

 

rise up from the river

 

singing songs so full of love

 

and joyful community

 

that haunting cries

 

and soul flight

 

heal what’s broken.

 

 

 

Pueblo people say that humans were once Cranes who lived in the clouds… they came to earth and danced for joy in the rain… Cranes watched over Ceremony, also acting as Guardians for the People easing transitions from life to death and beyond….

 

To this day Crane dances are part of Indigenous rituals…

 

The lives/migrations of Cranes speak to the powers of Love on a level that humans can barely comprehend…

 

Yesterday I found a Zuni prayer that speaks to the powers of these birds, revered throughout the world; Cranes move us towards that Love.

 

I offer this prayer to a deeply troubled world on Valentines day this year….

 

“When our Earth Mother

is replete with living waters,

When spring comes

The source of our flesh –

All the different kinds of corn

We shall lay to rest in the ground.

 

With their Earth Mother’s

Living waters,

They will be made into

New Beings…

 

That our Earth Mother

May wear a fourfold green robe

Full of moss

Full of flowers

Full of pollen,

 

That the land may be thus

(S/he has made you)

I have made you into living beings.

 

Postscript:

I no sooner finish these words when I hear a joyful cacophony outside my adobe (which mutes most sound) and run to open the door… The cranes are crying out with such exuberance that I am forced once again to witness how writing about a non – human species with deep feeling brings them in. We are bound by a love that literally passes all understanding. I know, that they know I love them…And this, is enough.

Migration and Sandhill Cranes

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(murmurings at dawn)

 

Migration is a patterned movement from one place to another that occurs in all major animal groups – birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects and crustaceans (Migration may also occur at the cellular level).

Migration can occur seasonally or just once in a lifetime. Animals migrate primarily to find food and to reproduce.

It’s important to distinguish between animals that migrate seasonally for food and reproduction from those who are forced to leave one place for another because of human induced habitat loss, insecticidal use, and Climate Change.

Like scientists, I have been intrigued by both processes (one normal, the other not) since we know so little about how animals know what they know, whether theories about migration are true or not, and because unfortunately whatever capabilities animals have developed over millennia are also being interrupted by Climate Change in ways that we can rarely comprehend. Animals must adapt faster than ever before to survive.

Multitudes of studies indicate that migrating species probably use a wide variety of mechanisms to navigate, including the stars, the sun, olfactory (chemical) cues, internal circadian rhythms that change in response to the seasons, and Earth’s magnetic field (which is shifting more dramatically due to ice melt in the arctic).

Some species may learn their migration routes by first traveling with experienced individuals, but other species are able to migrate without prior experience, an ability that still baffles the scientific community and keeps me mindful of controversial field theory as a possible partial explanation for successful patterned migration.

The latter postulates that each animal has access to its own biological/morphic (family) field and can tap into that field for information and guidance. This theory might help explain why some animals are able to navigate thousands of miles without direct parental assistance. Migration requires a lot of energy and many individuals die during migration. Despite these heavy costs, the potential benefits of migration are great, which is why migration behavior has evolved in so many species.

Approximately 1,800 of the world’s 10,000 birds migrate each year. Many of these migrations are north-south, with species feeding and breeding in high northern latitudes in the summer, and moving some hundreds or thousands of miles south for the winter. However, it must be mentioned that some birds begin to migrate before food supplies even decline, suggesting that seasonal changes in day light or some innate and/or evolving mechanism tells the birds that it’s time to leave.

The shifting range of the Sandhill cranes makes me particularly curious because it seems to be related to Climate Change/global warming. These birds once migrated into Mexico each winter. Now some populations only fly as far south as Tennessee and other south –eastern states, and others remain in Florida throughout the year.

Every spring 400,000 to 600,000 Sandhill cranes—80 percent of all the cranes on the planet—congregate along an 80-mile stretch of the central Platte River in Nebraska, to fatten up on grain in preparation for the remainder of their journey to Siberian, arctic and subarctic nesting grounds. This migration used to begin in mid-February and end in mid-April but for the last two years the birds have begun arriving in Nebraska earlier than ever before. The cranes have also been spotted in western and southern Maine during the spring since the year 2000.

Sandhill Cranes have been in their present form for 30 million years. They have a life span of 35 years and are slow to reproduce delaying breeding from two to eight years so population growth is slow (0.3 chicks actually survive the first year). Fortunately, people have been captivated by the migrations of these magnificent birds so a few sanctuaries have been established to help the species survive. A slow reproductive rate has been a key obstacle to conservation and ‘management’ of the species, keeping these birds at risk.

Sandhill Cranes hold an important place in art throughout the world figuring in traditional Japanese and American Indigenous peoples art where their mesmerizing dances and graceful postures find their way into Native weavings, paintings and dances as well as appearing in contemporary culture.

This winter Abiquiu has been graced with flocks of Sandhill Cranes who have stayed for the whole season, much to my joy and delight. Although, I understand that some cranes have wintered here in previous years at least three big flocks have been flying overhead and roosting down below my house on the other side of the river since late November making me appreciative of the possible short term positive consequences of Climate Change.

We may not know how migration works, but we do know the patterns of migration are changing and that Climate Change is a reality. My fervent hope is that somehow most species, who are all our “elders” – humans, after all have only been around for 200,000 years – (plants for 450 million years, animals for 350 million years) – may possess strategies that we can’t even imagine to survive the damage that we have brought upon all living things including ourselves.

REUNION

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(single crane crying out as s/he flew – to the left of the tree)

 

In the billowing

deep gray

Dawn

I hear soft

Murmuring…

listen to

a Spirit call

down from the sky.

After she rose

from the river

was he too

saying goodbye?

Every cry

is a mourning song

for a soul

left behind.

But I will not stay

long without them.

Where they go

I will follow…

The Cranes

migrate North

with the turning

of seasons

as I must

to seek colder waters,

moderating

heat that cools

at sunset,

fresh dew at dawn,

frog filled nights.

When the days grow soft

with golden light

we will both return

to spend fall and winter

tucked into the willows,

held by red earth

cradled by a flowing river.

The cranes will roost.

And I will listen

for a sky full

of heart hauntings,

scanning the horizon

for a glimpse of hundreds –

dear friends

once again

making their descent,

some to sleep

in a sunflower seeded field

next door.

 

(Lily b has been singing and singing as I write this poem of imagining leading me to believe that next year the cranes and I will be together again – for those who do not follow this blog – Lily b is my 28 almost 29 year old telepathic dove – he literally reads my mind and responds vocally)

 

Working notes…

 

Yesterday I only saw ten cranes; this after witnessing huge flocks day after day for months. Overshadowed by mourning I wrote my way through loneliness with an essay on migration… At dawn a muted murmuring from the river brought me to an unlikely edge. Not all the cranes have departed – not yet I thought, having a sudden illumination that the few cranes that are left are leaving me with hope for an eventual reunion, although I have no idea how they are communicating this idea to me. All I know is that I felt the caul dissolve as I wrote this poem.

Departure

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I stood deep

in a toad hole

slinging mud

at twilight

when the sky

turned lemon

and gold.

They arced

over

my head

in pairs,

loose aggregations –

it seemed like thousands

crying out,

crossing

the river.

Ensouled.

Spirits defying

image or word.

 

A Mighty Migration begins…

 

I shivered.

Tears rose unbidden

Who calls them North?

I call out “I love you” –

Believing they know.

A crescent moon listens

cradled by nightfall.

 

To witness

a sky full

of Sandhill

Cranes

dark red heads

ebony eyes

long graceful necks

curved gray wings

dripping black legs

descending out of the blue

to roost

along this

winding Red

Willow River,

gracing fields

of depleted grain

is a Gift

given

at midnight;

the moment

before

departure.

 

This turning

of the wheel

births

days full of light

and an empty

sky bowl.

 

Haunting cries

in my ears

ring in the silence

of beloved crane absence

for another year.

 

 

Working notes:

 

As almost always (summer is the exception – no matter where I live I tire of too long days and too much heat) the shifting seasons bring me to an uncomfortable edge of personal awareness: It is hard for me to let go. Nature orchestrates this truth to me through her individuals… in this instance it is the leave – taking of the cranes that captures the essence of how loss operates in me… At first I resist. When I let go, I feel bereft. Eventually, I reach a state of acceptance.

 

This morning someone made a comment that said in effect that poetry is about extending human consciousness – making the unconscious conscious. I dislike the word “consciousness” because it conjures up new age – know it all – androcentric thinking – but when I substitute “awareness” for consciousness I know the sentiment is true. Poetry explicates feeling…it brings darkness into light.

 

When tears blurred my eyes last night I was grieving impermanence… the only constant is change, and Nature is my compass directing me towards “True North,” a state of “becoming,” my home. Not a place, but a state of being. It is astonishing to recognize that I have been seeking embodiment of this truth for the last forty years and is probably the main reason I have always lived my adult life near bodies of water.

 

To seek impermanence as a way of being is what it means to flow with the river, or float down a stream. What becomes crystal clear is that this way of being is just the opposite of being human (!) – to be a person is to have boundaries, to be bound by soul and skin. Allowing each of our boundaries to dissolve into all that is, and was, and will be, is a stretch for every human who lives, whether they preach flow or not. Dissolution means an end to what is, creating room for death to enter the river of life as a friend, even as a lover, and one who celebrates change. Spirit is part of every aspect of life.

 

In these days of Climate Change the Great Dying is the center core of each of our lives, acknowledged or not. The loss of non – human species will probably lead to our own eventual demise – not necessarily a bad thing, since humans have made such a mess of things. (I say probably because the future might be an unknown – what I do know is that things don’t look good from where I am standing).

 

But meanwhile, we have now, and the present is filled with beauty, awe, and wonder. For me the Cranes embody all these qualities… after they leave, other wonderful creatures/elements will take their place, perhaps toads or frogs…maybe even a sky full of rain…

 

Cranes are Elders in every sense of the word, ancient relatives and they continue on, some adapting, others following unknown scripts or patterns that stretch back to antiquity. The way they live, migrating out of seasonal necessity, returning to home – places, celebrating through community and song in life and death is a way of being that embodies flowing like a river… And for that, their magnificent beauty and inherent wisdom born of genuine community, I thank them.

 

Blessed be the Cranes…

 

A few words about the natural history of these birds…

 

Sandhill Cranes have been in their present state for 30 million years (perhaps modeling to humans what genuine community might consist of).

 

Most recently these birds have been a presence in my life since last November when they first arrived, I originally thought for a brief stopover, before moving south to places like the Bosque del Apache to spend the winter. When I first came to New Mexico two and half years ago I was astonished and bewildered by their haunting collective conversation even when I couldn’t see them which was most of the time… But this year the cranes not only arrived but many decided to spend the winter here much to my great joy, perhaps a result of Climate Change which is shifting their migration patterns, in some case dramatically.

 

For example, I recently learned that Sandhill Cranes have been seen in parts of Maine. Their normal migration routes take them from Mexico as far northwest as Siberia into the Canadian Shield and Alaska to breed with one major stopover in Nebraska at the Platte river (another group that settles further northeast makes a stop in Mississippi) where 600,000 cranes meet to rest themselves before making the last leg of their seasonal journey. In the fall all northern populations will make the trip south for the winter probably because of inclement weather and lack of food.

 

However, some groups spend their entire lives in one place like Florida, others are no longer migrating further south than Tennessee, although these too fly north in the spring. It is unusual to have cranes living in Northern New Mexico, although I understand that a few have sometimes remained here through the winter.

 

Not in these numbers though. When I first began to hear the cranes I never imagined that I would start to see them or watch them make gracious descents into a neighboring field at all times of the day, every day. But this is a gift that this winter has bestowed upon me, and one I have never taken for granted.

 

Beginning at dawn I listen for the first cranes murmurings, and most morning around 7 AM I see the first flock flying over the river, followed by others, often occurring later. One of the most fascinating aspects of Sandhill Crane behavior is the way they seem so intent upon communal living. They take to the air in pairs, small groups and huge flocks sometimes flying one way, then suddenly wheeling around in the sky to soar in the opposite direction! They never fly in formation like geese do (no one appears to lead), and yet they are in constant communication with each other, which currently begins about a half hour before dawn.

 

This morning a friend sent me an article about the cranes arriving earlier than usual for their seasonal stopover at the Platte River. I am not surprised. For about two weeks now the sense that migration will soon be under way surfaces each time I see or hear the cranes. I think my body already knows what’s coming…

A little bear story

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Yesterday a bunch of us attended a community art – making project. An artist we know is creating a giant nine – foot corn mosaic made out of clay tiles that will adorn an outdoor wall on a building in Espanola New Mexico. There are over 400 pieces that comprise this mandala and Sabra invited those who are interested to join her to draw and paint as many corn kernel tiles and/or circles with images of their own choosing for this collective mosaic.

 

Celebrating corn is celebrating the Indigenous “Summer People” and the food the people of New Mexico thrive on. Corn is the Mother of all other plants.

 

There is something about individuals collaborating to create art, writing, or to sell local produce that feels very satisfying to me probably because any of these activities seem to enliven the ideal of community in a very concrete way.

 

It was also fun! What the little girl liked the best was being able to participate in this gathering without any artistic pressure.

 

Because it was “Bear’s Day” I already knew that I would be drawing bear paws… What I didn’t know was that I was going to create a third tile, one in which a little girl’s story would come to light.

 

In this tile the little girl drew a bear created out of an indigenous bear fetish heart-line that was also the bear itself. When she drew cave walls around her bear, rather than the sun (that I imagined would represent the warming spring light), I was surprised. She painted the cave around the bear black; a womb-like cave. In the top center she drew a very small yellow spiral to represent a sun that barely radiated warmth and then she surrounded the sun in deep cobalt blue – a blue she wished was even darker – as if it was still night. Beneath the bear cave, water flowed by in verdant greens…

 

No doubt about it. This was my favorite tile of the day. I was intrigued by the story that emerged out of the images the child had drawn. Bear’s Day occurs at the time of “first light,” a time when cultures throughout the world acknowledge the powers of the intensifying light and warmth of the sun, just as bears emerge from their dens if days are mild.

 

But this bear had another agenda. Instead of choosing emergence, this little fellow (even the little girl seemed surprised that he was a boy – she thought maybe he might be her little brother or some other child) retreated to his lair in the hopes that the seasonal change would take its time coming, giving the little bear more time to adjust to the changes that would also be coming for him personally. The bear knew that an early spring would mean that he soon would be floundering in fierce heat that would spike the temperature of his shiny black fur coat up to 180 degrees F. He would have to migrate north in order to survive. The little bear was resisting change because he loved where he was, living under a miraculous dome of starlit skies, complete with sky stories like those of his relative, Night Sky Bear, long still nights and best of all cool temperatures. This little bear loved his present desert home fiercely and wanted to stay put within its inviting mud walls. He needed more time to dream his dreams.

 

He also hoped the water would come to his desert to nourish the plants that withered so pitifully last year driving him down from the mountains to seek food at the river’s edge. One of his relatives had just visited the river three days ago leaving deep claw marks sunk in wet mud… Bears love water even when their dens get flooded. Perhaps a spring flood would eventually drive little bear from his cave, the little girl wondered, though she couldn’t quite imagine flooding waters…. The desert had been parched for a long long time. She also hoped that he would emerge on his own if given more time.

 

After listening to the story the little girl told me I promised both children that I would give the little cave bear the time he needed, while the rest of us entered the spring season with gratitude for the waxing light reminding ourselves that without summer heat the corn will not grow.