Bumblebee Vibration

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In physics waves explain how energy is propagated or transmitted. Vibrations are the physical evidence of waves/particles. Waves and vibrations are everywhere in Nature. Vibration is a patterned or random change over a period of time and the wave is a length traveled during the vibration period.

Something that is vibrating may shake at the same time. … This vibration will send sound waves to the ear and to the brain. I would add that vibrations are also experienced directly through the body, and that bodies may actually pick up signals that the brains (in humans) routinely miss. Indigenous peoples have intuitively understood that every living thing has its own wave/vibration – which to me is like a kind of signal or signature that says,“ I am a bumblebee or a pear tree” or in this case “I am a bumblebee that needs pollen so I shake my body”.

Intuition and sensing are non – rational, experiential ways of knowing not much valued in a culture like ours.

Scientists have discovered that wild bumblebees are born with the ability to remove pollen from nectarless flowers using high-frequency vibrations.

The study, published in the Journal of Insect Behavior, is the first to show that the ability to vibrate flowers to extract pollen is an innate behavior in Bumblebees and one that is refined over time and gives a rare insight into the complexity of the pollination services provided by these creatures.

The research was carried out by evolutionary biologist Dr Mario Vallejo-Marin of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, along with other colleagues.

Vallejo-Marin states: “We studied captive bumblebees from their very first exposure to flowers that need to be vibrated to extract pollen and found the creatures instinctively and almost immediately begin vibrating their bodies.

We also found that over time and with practice, bees are able to tune down their vibrations, removing pollen while potentially saving energy. Initially bees tend to vibrate on the flower petals, but after two or three visits they focus their efforts exclusively on the part of the flower where pollen is produced. Bumblebees learn to reduce the frequency of the vibration they are using during pollen extraction as they gain more experience manipulating flowers that require vibrations to release pollen.

This shows the extensive capacity of these insects to learn complex motor skills to maximize their rewards from each flower they come into contact with.”

Although bumblebees’ ability to learn how best to collect nectar is well documented, this study is the first to show how vibrations change while foraging for pollen. The study also “proves” (westerners must have documented proof) that the buzz bees produce during flight and during pollen collection have clearly distinct acoustic signals.

20,000 species of plants including major crops, such as tomatoes and potatoes, rely on vibrating bees for pollination services. Apparently only some bees use vibration to collect pollen.

The study concludes that it is only by learning how bees pollinate that we can understand the consequences of declining bee populations. I find it fascinating that scientists are catching up to the Indigenous understanding that each creature uses its body vibration to ‘communicate’; bees use it to communicate with the flower in order to gather its pollen, but the above scientific conclusion seems simplistic to me because it neglects to mention what we already know, namely that pesticides are killing all insects including bees at an alarming rate.

Dr Lynn Rogers…2

 

 

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Photo credit: North American Bear Center – these are two of Lynn’ study bears – bears who clearly love one another.

Working notes:

Lynn Rogers has been a mentor and a friend, a man with genuine humility, a brilliant and innovative Bear Biologist whose groundbreaking work is changing the way some people see the Black Bear.

I have written about him elsewhere on this blog but until this morning did not have this information about his professional life. He is truly a remarkable man.

All the credit for the following information belongs to Lynn, who posted it on his daily update. He writes:”

“The last couple months I’ve been catching up with people who began studies about the same time I did.

Today, it was Dr. Victor Van Ballenberghe. I met him in 1969 when we were graduate students together in the U of MN Department of Ecology and Behavioral Biology. He had just wound up a moose study for his masters and was beginning a wolf study for his Ph.D. We ended up sharing a cabin in the Northwoods and helping each other catch wolves and bears to radio collar. We both have fond memories of those beginnings. Then he graduated and we lost touch for some 45 years. He made moose his specialty. I found out today that we each have followed the career of the other over the decades and saw many parallels. What we learned in the Ecology and Behavioral Biology Department under Dr. Frank McKinney sank in for both of us. We each went beyond the usual studies of how many can be killed sustainably during hunting season and looked at these animals as individuals in a social order with sons and daughters to nurture and food problems to solve. We each focused on ecology and behavior, spending thousands of hours close-up with our subjects. What makes Vic stand out is that he does what is right even if it is politically wrong. He is the main person standing up against the extreme wolf and bear killing that is taking place in Alaska in an unfounded and largely unsuccessful effort to bolster moose and caribou numbers. He is a fine speaker who tells it how it is, including mistakes he has made. He is willing to help with the moose exhibit Judy McClure and I are making for the Bear Center. I am glad to have his renowned name associated with the Bear Center.

A few weeks ago, I caught up with Dr. John Ozoga, a deer biologist who was a beginning biologist for the Michigan Department of Conservation’s Cusino Wildlife Research Station when I got my start there as a student intern. He did over 50 years of deer research while I did the same with bears—both the longest in our fields. He is now helping us with the deer exhibit that Judy and I are creating for the Bear Center, and I am again glad to have his renowned name associated with it.

A few weeks ago, I had some good talks with Dr. Michael W. Fox who I’ve never met although he has helped me out as much as he could in the past. He is a renowned veterinarian and animal behaviorist who writes national blogs and is the former vice president of the U. S. Humane Society. His writing flows from a fertile mind with broad knowledge.

Over the 50 years I have known Wolfman Dr. L. David Mech we have kept in contact. He began his Minnesota wolf study in 1968, the year before I began my Minnesota bear study. We helped each other with captures, and we co-authored several papers together. He is in his 80’s and still plugging away. He founded the International Wolf Center, and we each work together for the betterment of both the two (wolf and bear) centers.

A couple months ago, I called my old employee Pat Beringer, now a wildlife manager in Wisconsin, and thanked him for his efforts to surprise me with a Distinguished Science Award nearly 30 years ago. I had no idea at the time (1991) and recently discovered the paperwork for it. I also thanked Dr. John Probst for his part in that.

I’m very glad I caught up with my old professor Dr. Albert W. Erickson a few years back, shortly before he died. He was key to getting me started on my career, bringing me to Minnesota as his graduate student to do Minnesota’s first black bear field study.

Another person I caught up with in recent years was Dr. Robert Brander, who recommended that the USFS create a field research scientist position to conduct studies similar to my bear studies and hire me to the position if possible. It was possible, and it led to my 17 years as a research scientist with the USFS’s North Central Forest Experiment Station. Dr. Mech backed that idea as it hatched.

Finally, ever since DNR Commissioner Allen Garber stepped in with his quiet strength to overcome opposition and set me on a track to everything that has happened since 1999, we have gotten together periodically to reminisce and rejoice that he was in a position to see and understand and use his power as he did.

Beyond these people, there were so many who helped in many ways. The stories are fun to tell—how things looked dark and a shining savior stepped in to clear the way or provide funding for so many things right up to the present. The North American Bear Center is a shining example. I thank them for all they did, and I thank you for all you have done as part of that.”

Bees – Who Knew?

 

 

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With Honey bee populations in decline due to Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) and other factors, one study conducted by researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of Massachusetts seems to offer some hope. It showed that two different species of bees fed a diet of sunflower pollen had dramatically lower rates of infection by specific pathogens. These pathogens have been implicated in slowing bee colony growth rates and increasing bee death. Bumble bees on the sunflower diet also had generally better colony health than bees fed on diets of other flower pollen.

However, the study also revealed that Honey bees on the sunflower diet had mortality rates roughly equivalent to that of honey bees not fed a sunflower pollen diet, so the positive short term effects don’t include longevity. Bumblebees, (our most efficient pollinators) didn’t seem to have the same problems with longevity.

Bees are adept at collecting sunflower pollen. Annually, some two million acres in the United States and 10 million acres in Europe are devoted to growing sunflowers, making sunflower pollen a ready and relevant bee food.

Sunflower pollen is low in protein and some amino acids, so it’s important that bees have many diverse wildflowers to choose from in addition to sunflowers, especially for generalists like bumble bees and honey bees.

Bees fed exclusively sunflower pollen often develop poorly, slowly, or not at all. What remains a mystery is that many bee species who are not generalists like Honey or Bumblebees collect pollen exclusively from the sunflower family; in fact, it is believed that bees specializing in sunflower pollen have evolved multiple times.

Another study done on (solitary) Mason bees discovered that bee species specializing in sunflower pollen were not attacked by a common brood-parasitic wasp, (Sapyga). One probable conclusion is that some bees, at least, are protected from (some) parasites by feasting on sunflowers; this may help explain the frequent evolution of specialization on sunflower pollen among these insects.

While I was researching bee related articles I came across some startling and disturbing information about the use of pyrethrum. Pyrethrums are naturally occurring compounds extracted from chrysanthemum plants that are used to make pesticides; this family includes sunflowers. Pyrethroids have the same basic chemical make-up but are not naturally occurring and are a man-made product also used as pesticides.

 

What I didn’t know is that pyrethrum is considered to be a low toxicity pesticide only from a human standpoint.

 

Supposedly, there is also a relatively low toxicity level with respect to birds and mammals. (I can’t help wondering how many non – human species have actually been studied). What we do know is this natural insecticide is toxic to cats and extremely toxic to fish. It follows that amphibians would also be negatively impacted by the use of pyrethrum. And what about the catastrophic decline in songbirds who are the proverbial “canaries in the coal mine”?

 

Animals that are exposed to toxic amounts of pyrethrum may experience loss of coordination, paralysis, convulsions, respiratory failure, and death. With bees, foraging behavior may change, and as with more deadly agricultural pesticides, the bees may lose their ability to learn the skills needed to extract nectar and pollen.

 

According to a recent New York Times article the Earth has already lost 80 percent of her insect population for reasons are ‘unclear.’ Yet we know how deadly the use of backyard and agricultural pesticides are, and we continue to use them. How is it that we didn’t pay attention to insect losses until CCD occurred with our bees? Our astounding lack of awareness and attention with respect to Nature is backfiring. Without insects as pollinators, humans will be left without food. We are all connected. Clearly there is an increasing need for field-realistic research into the reasons behind the decline and loss of any species and the impact of any pesticide on bees, humans, and non – humans alike.

Sandhill Cranes and Migration Theories

 

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We know from fossilized records that the Sandhill Cranes are one of oldest birds in the world, and have been in their present form for 10, 30, or 60 million years (depending on the source). They have apparently maintained a family and community structure that allows them to live together peacefully and migrate by the thousands along a central flyway twice a year. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, and in the spring the adults engage in a complex “dance” with one another. During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as “unison calling.” They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating, but all year long (Even young birds begin dancing and throwing sticks and grasses into the air while jumping around enthusiastically).

In their northern habitat, the female lays two eggs a year in thick protected areas at the edge of reed filled marshes. Before nesting these birds “paint” their gray feathers with dull brown reeds and mud to reduce the possibility of being seen by a predator. Born a couple of days a part, the second chick rarely survives. The fuzzy youngster that does (if it survives the first year – delayed reproduction and survival rates factor into the difficulties inherent in crane conservation and to that we must now add Climate Change) stays with its parents for about three years before reaching sexual maturity and striking out on its own, but even then the adult stays within the parameters of its extended family, and it is these families that comprise the small groups of cranes that we see flying together. During migration, a multitude of these groups travel together by the hundreds or thousands. There are no leaders and often it is possible to observe what looks like an unorganized random group (but isn’t) or diagonal thread made up of cranes flying (up to thousands of feet) above the ground.

 

In every roosting place there are a few cranes that remain awake all night alerting their relatives to would be predators, and in fact I have been awakened during the night by crane warning cries that sound higher pitched than normal. I think it’s significant that these very ancient birds have survived so long in their present form. Could it be because they understand the value of living in community, perhaps acting as models for humans who, for the most part, seem to have forgotten 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 believed 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 almost three years ago I was astonished and bewildered by their haunting collective cries even when I couldn’t see them which was most of the time during the month of November…

 

But this year the cranes not only stopped by 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 and created conditions like the extreme drought that dramatically lowered the level of the river over this last year.

My hypothesis is that the resulting shallow riffles in Red Willow River (one of which just happens to be below my house) provided many cranes with the safety they needed to roost there all winter long. For three precious months I listened with awe and wonder to pre-dawn crane murmuring and on sunny mornings watched groups of cranes take to the air with their haunting br-rilling cries. Every night I would stand outside to listen to that same contented collective murmuring just before dark as the cranes settled in for the night.

 

When they are all talking to one another (cranes need to be in constant contact with each other) it is hard to distinguish one voice from another because listening to the whole is a symphonic masterpiece. But this winter I slowly learned to identity various cries by listening to smaller groups as they took to the sky. The highest pitched belong to the youngsters, the lowest and most full bodied calls come from the males and the females speak in tongues from the middle.

 

Sandhill Cranes are omnivores and feed on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water during the warmer seasons. They prefer a diet of seeds and cultivated grains but also include berries, tubers, crayfish worms and insects and frogs depending on the season. In the field next to me they fed on wild sunflower seeds and grasses.

 

As previously mentioned Climate Change is shifting migration patterns. Some groups are now spending their entire lives in one place like Florida (these are endangered), others are no longer migrating further south than Tennessee, although they also fly north in the spring. It is unusual to have cranes living in Northern New Mexico, although I understand from local fishermen that a few have occasionally remained here throughout the winter. I recently learned that Sandhill Cranes have even 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 where 600,000 cranes meet to rest themselves before making the last leg of their arduous and dangerous seasonal journey (another group that settles further northeast makes a stop in Mississippi). In the fall all northern populations will make the trip south for the winter because of inclement weather and lack of food.

 

New Mexico and Texas have the dubious distinction of being the first states to legalize crane slaughter and now every state along their central flyway except Nebraska engages in spring and fall hunting. We can thank the state Fish and Wildlife organizations for “managing” the crane population by issuing licenses to kill these magnificent birds to bring in even more money when these organizations are already extremely well supported financially by the NRA and our taxpayer money. A Caveat to those that don’t know: All State Fish and Wildlife agencies, that purport to support wildlife have a deadly hidden agenda: to kill birds and animals at their discretion.

 

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 for months. Watching them cup their wings, drop their long legs and spread their tails as they parachute to the ground is a gift that I have never taken for granted. A solitary musical rolling rill, a haunting cry that raises the hair on my arms is a sound that now lives on in my mind and body.

 

Spring migration has begun and the largest aggregations of cranes are moving north. Some days the bowl of blue sky feels too empty, but some small flocks are still visible especially during the early morning and again at dusk. I noted the sudden loss of large flocks just before this last full moon and wondered if these birds also migrated at night. Further research confirmed that Sandhill cranes sometimes do migrate after dark during the week before and after full moons.

 

A few days ago the core of engineers opened the dam raising the river and the protected riffles below my house disappeared, so during this last week in February I am without the morning joy of listening to nearby pre-dawn murmuring, but can still see and hear some cranes flying by. According to my friend Barbara R. some flocks remain at the Bosque del Apache, so hopefully we will be hearing their haunting cries for a while. It isn’t until April that all Sandhills reach the Platte River …

 

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 also watched over ceremonies and remain a part of some Indigenous rituals today. Sandhills also act as Guardians for the People easing transitions from life to death and beyond….

 

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, I thank them.

 

I close with a Zuni prayer about the relationship between Cranes, Water and the Rebirth of Spring.

“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.

 

 

 

What is Migration?

Migration is the process or act of migrating, i.e. the movement of animals and birds from one region or place of habitat to another. Migration occurs in all major animal groups – birds, mammals, fish, reptiles, amphibians, insects and crustaceans. (Migration may also occur at the cellular level). The triggers for migration are complex and poorly understood. Climate variability, availability of food, seasonal changes, and reproduction, are some reasons that animals migrate.

Like scientists, I have been captivated by this process especially since we know so little about how animals know what they know, and because whatever capabilities they have developed over millennia are being interrupted by Climate Change (cranes for example have been in their present form for 30 million years.).

Studies have shown that migrating species appear to use a wide variety of mechanisms to navigate, including the stars, the sun and the moon, olfactory (chemical) cues, and Earth’s magnetic field. Some birds like cranes that normally migrate during the day also migrate at night a week before, during and after the full moons. Many species learn their migration routes by first traveling with experienced individuals, but others are able to migrate and navigate successfully without prior experience, an ability that still perplexes scientists and keeps me attached to field theory as a possible explanation. Field theory postulates that each animal has access to its own morphic family field and can tap into that field for information and guidance. This would explain why some animals are also able to find their way over thousands of miles without 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.

One of the driving factors that leads to migration is the season. Many animals move from one place to another at certain times of the year or during a particular period of their life cycle. Some animals migrate only once during their lifetime, often just before they reproduce like the salmon do. Other animals, including many species of birds and many marine animals, such as sea turtles and whales, migrate long distances to their breeding grounds many times during their lives.

In other instances, animals are forced to leave an area when conditions in their environment deteriorate. Many bird species that nest in Canada and the northern regions of the United States and Siberia like the Sandhill cranes do migrate south as winter approaches because they seek a warmer and more hospitable climate. Another critical reason that birds migrate south is because their food supply disappears during the cold months. However, it must be said that some birds normally begin migrating south before their food supply has disappeared, and often even before it has begun to decline.

Approximately 1,800 of the world’s 10,000 species of birds migrate each year in response to the seasons. 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.

Birds probably utilize circadian rhythms (internal twenty four hour clocks) to regulate their migrations in both the fall and the spring. Apparently the changing length of the days may stimulate hormonal and behavioral changes that also result in migration. Scientists believe that natural selection favors birds that use predictable environmental cues, like the seasonal change in day length to initiate migration before their food source disappears.

The tilt of the earth’s axis is shifting because Greenland’s ice melt is causing sea level to rise. In general, the redistribution of mass on and within Earth affects the planet’s rotation but this effect is sudden and more extreme and seasonal migrators are struggling to adapt.

Seasonal migrators must migrate every year. For other animals, migration is less predictable. For example, the Snowy owls that live in Canada have to move south when the lemmings crash.

Irregular (non-cyclical) migrations called irruptions also occur under pressure of famine, overpopulation or other unknown influences but are not considered to be true migration.

The shifting range of the Sandhill cranes is a source of fascination to me and appears to be a result of global warming. These birds once migrated into Mexico each winter. Now some populations only fly as far south as Tennessee, and others remain in Florida. At one time these cranes were mostly found in the Midwest before they moved north or northwest to breed, but since the year 2000 they have been seen in south central and western Maine.

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.

For Love of Cranes

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We know from fossilized records that the Sandhill Cranes are one of oldest birds in the world, and have been in their present form for 10, 30, or 60 million years (depending on the source). They have apparently maintained a family and community structure that allows them to live together peacefully and migrate by the thousands along a central flyway twice a year. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, and in the spring the adults engage in a complex “dance” with one another. During mating, pairs vocalize in a behavior known as “unison calling.” They throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating, but all year long (Even young birds begin dancing and throwing sticks and grasses into the air while jumping around enthusiastically).

In their northern habitat, the female lays two eggs a year in thick protected areas at the edge of reed filled marshes. Before nesting these birds “paint” their gray feathers with dull brown reeds and mud to reduce the possibility of being seen by a predator. Born a couple of days a part, the second chick rarely survives. The remaining fuzzy youngster, if it survives the first year, stays with its parents for about three years before reaching sexual maturity and striking out on its own, but even then the adult stays within the parameters of its extended family, and it is these families that comprise the small groups of cranes that we see flying together. During migration, a multitude of these groups travel together by the hundreds or thousands. There are no leaders and often it is possible to observe what looks like an unorganized random group (but isn’t) or diagonal thread made up of cranes flying (up to thousands of feet) above the ground.

 

In every watery roosting place there are a few cranes that remain awake all night alerting their relatives to would be predators, and in fact I have been awakened during the night by crane warning cries that sound higher pitched than normal. I think it’s significant that these very ancient birds have survived so long in their present form. Could it be because they understand the value of living in community, perhaps acting as models for humans who, for the most part, seem to have forgotten 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 believed 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 almost three years ago I was astonished and bewildered by their haunting collective cries even when I couldn’t see them which was most of the time during the month of November…

 

This year the cranes not only stopped by 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 and created conditions like the extreme drought that dramatically lowered the level of the river over this last year.

 

My hypothesis is that the resulting shallow riffles in Red Willow River (one of which just happens to be below my house) provided many cranes with the safety they needed to roost there all winter long. For three precious months I listened with awe and wonder to pre-dawn crane murmuring and on sunny mornings watched groups of cranes take to the air with their haunting br-rilling cries. Every night I would stand outside to listen to that same contented collective murmuring just before dark as the cranes settled in for the night. When they are all talking to one another (cranes need to be in constant contact with each other) it is hard to distinguish one voice from another because listening to the whole is a symphonic masterpiece. But this winter I slowly learned to identity various cries by listening to smaller groups as they took to the sky. The highest pitched belong to the youngsters, the lowest and most full bodied calls come from the males and the females speak in tongues from the middle.

 

Sandhill Cranes are omnivores and feed on land or in shallow marshes where plants grow out of the water during the warmer seasons. They prefer a diet of seeds and cultivated grains but also include berries, tubers, crayfish worms, frogs, small animals and insects. In the field next to me they fed on wild sunflower seeds and grasses.

 

As previously mentioned Climate Change is shifting migration patterns. Some groups are now spending their entire lives in one place like Florida (these are endangered), others are no longer migrating further south than Tennessee, although they also fly north in the spring. It is unusual to have cranes living in Northern New Mexico, although I understand from local fishermen that a few have occasionally remained here throughout the winter. I recently learned that Sandhill Cranes have even 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 where 600,000 cranes meet to rest themselves before making the last leg of their arduous and dangerous seasonal journey (another group that settles further northeast makes a stop in Mississippi). In the fall all northern populations will make the trip south for the winter because of inclement weather and lack of food.

 

New Mexico and Texas have the dubious distinction of being the first states to legalize crane slaughter and now every state along their central flyway except Nebraska engages in spring and fall hunting. We can thank the state Fish and Wildlife organizations for “managing” the crane population by issuing licenses to kill these magnificent birds to bring in even more money when these organizations are already extremely well supported financially by the NRA and our taxpayer money. A Caveat to those that don’t know: All State Fish and Wildlife agencies, that purport to support wildlife have a deadly hidden agenda: to kill birds and animals at their discretion.

 

Although at present these birds appear to be maintaining a stable population the low survival rate of even one chick a year alerts us to the fact that uncertain survival rates and delayed reproduction factor into the difficulties inherent in crane conservation, and to that we must now add Climate Change – the ultimate unknown. It is prudent to recall that by conservative estimates we have already lost 50 percent of our non – human species.

 

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 for months. Watching them cup their wings, drop their long legs and spread their tails as they parachute to the ground is a gift that I have never taken for granted. A solitary musical rolling rill, a haunting cry that raises the hair on my arms is a sound that now lives on in my mind and body.

 

Spring migration has begun and the largest aggregations of cranes are moving north. Some days the bowl of blue sky feels too empty, but some small flocks are still visible especially during the early morning and again at dusk. I noted the sudden loss of large flocks just before this last full moon and wondered if these birds also migrated at night. Further research confirmed that Sandhill cranes sometimes do migrate after dark during the week before and after full moons.

 

A few days ago the Core of Engineers opened the Abiquiu dam raising the river and the protected riffles below my house disappeared, so during this last week in February I am without the morning joy of listening to nearby pre-dawn murmuring, but can still see and hear some cranes flying by. According to my friend Barbara R. some flocks remain at the Bosque del Apache, so hopefully we will be hearing their haunting cries for a while. It isn’t until April that all Sandhills reach the Platte River …

 

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 also watched over ceremonies and remain a part of some Indigenous rituals today. Sandhills also act as Guardians for the People easing transitions from life to death and beyond….

 

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, I thank them.

 

I close this narrative with a Zuni prayer about the relationship between Cranes, Water and the Rebirth of Spring.

 

“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.

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.

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.