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.