Ant Hill

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Photo is one that speaks to me of doorways into other ways of being. This young bear (70 LBS) who was shot this fall was a dear friend of mine – and when I look into his face I see my own…

 

Yesterday I gave a poetry reading at a local library beginning and ending with thoughts about how Climate Change is affecting all living beings. I am a naturalist who holds the radical belief that all living things are sentient. I also argue that we must not equate animal intelligence with that of humans.

 

Almost every poem I read was about my intimate relationship with some aspect of the natural world, for example, the changing seasons, my friendship with sagebrush lizards, steadfast trees, Sandhill cranes, beloved Black bears. Intimacy and inter –relationship are part of every experience I have with nature and by sharing these poems I hoped might draw others in to new ways of perceiving the earth and her creatures.

 

The whole point of my focusing on non – human species was to raise awareness that these animals and plants desperately need our help. Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough about how critical it is to bring animals, plants, trees, mushrooms into the picture in this age of the Anthropocene, that is, the period in which we live where a few men with power rule. Today, it is not an exaggeration to say that humans control every aspect of our fragile planet.

 

I repeat: Perhaps I wasn’t clear enough or perhaps almost no one was capable of listening? Maybe both. As soon as I concluded my reading one woman did actually bring up an incident involving a very difficult child who became attached to a lizard, so she at least, was on the track I hoped I had laid….

 

The Director, another insightful woman wrote to me afterwards that she thought that people were simply overwhelmed by what it means to be living Climate Change and they don’t know how to respond to what’s happening in their own lives, let alone to the non human world. This remark also struck a chord of truth, especially since almost instantly the conversation disintegrated into personal irritations and turned political, at which point the Librarian mercifully ended the afternoon gathering.

 

Initially I left the library feeling that I had failed in my mission to make a meaningful connection between the relationship between humans and animals experiencing, what for me, has become the usual despair over not being heard.

 

However, later, after listening to feedback and reflecting on the experience I realized that we have to start somewhere if we want to begin this Climate Change conversation. Maybe one way we could begin to do this would be to meet weekly with one person leading the conversation like I tried to do, by connecting people to animals. For that one meeting the focus would need to stay with the relationship between humans and non – human species. Another meeting could revolve around ways to garden that support our pollinators and wildlife. A third could discuss the merits of traveling in groups rather than each person taking his own car. Etc. This way we could include and address everyone’s concerns.

 

Today I am feeling more hopeful, and perhaps I may have learned something important about working as part of community. I have already emailed the Librarian about my idea and haven’t had a response but I think I am on to something!

 

And I will continue to raise the same questions:

 

How do we continue to ignore the fact that we are in the midst of a catastrophic decline of insects on dry land and krill in our oceans. If these losses don’t seem serious, consider that humans are at the top of this food chain and without these creatures the rest of all life including humans will eventually succumb to death.

 

Consider toads and frogs who are the most threatened species on the planet; think about how they must breathe both water and air and they have been disappearing since the 70’s when Rachel Carson wrote Silent Spring predicting an ominous outcome if we continued to use pesticides indiscriminately. Like Rachel, frogs and toads have been showing us that the lack of potable water and air pollution threaten each oxygen breathing creature on the earth.

 

Increasing cycles of extreme drought leave us with trees that are literally starving for water, and although we cannot hear the gurgling noise they make in their trunks because our ears are not sensitive to high frequency sounds they too are trying to alert us to the catastrophe on our doorstep. Trees are the lungs of the earth, but to breathe out precious oxygen they too must have water. Why is it that the youngest species on the planet barely 200,000 thousand years old can continue to ignore the cries of species that have been around for 450 million years?

 

I continue to ask these questions and write these truths not because I believe that the culture is paying attention but because writing is a last grasp (gasp) I have on saving my own life. I have recently been diagnosed with emphysema.

 

We are killing ourselves with our technology and our hubris. Realistically, it is too late to save the dying animals; too many species are functionally extinct. But perhaps if folks can begin to gather in small community conclaves we can begin to imagine a new way of being that will help us all to live more sanely, cultivating genuine humility and perhaps hope in the process as we turn to the natural world to look for the sustainable answers that Nature has been demonstrating for millennia…

 

I close this narrative with another supremely ironic/toxic personal experience. I have been away for the summer and on my return I discovered that someone – probably my neighbor who owns this house and property – had left a can of RAID in the house. I was in a fury because I have been adamant about not using toxic chemicals here. I have animals and a bird who cannot tolerate these deadly substances. Three days ago my dog was bitten by ants and had a life threatening reaction. If she is bitten again my vet says she could die.

 

We have been living with these ants ever since we moved in here a year and a half ago without any difficulties, co existing in peace. After the dog was bitten I went searching for answers. I discovered that my neighbor had destroyed a nearby ant – hill while removing debris although he refused to admit it. Naturally, he enraged the ants who had lost their home and who are now biting everyone who comes to the door (including me) and who can blame them? When I attempted address this issue with this stupid man after the reading (which he attended), he remarked that all I had to do was to put some ant killing capsules into the ground around the remains of the ant hill and the ants would be gone.

 

Oh my god – no one is listening.

A Place Below the Cattails

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As a woman with Passamaquoddy roots when I first came to Abiquiu I was invited to participate in the seasonal celebrations that occurred in each of the six pueblos that were located along the Chama/ Rio Grande River. These gracious invitations made me feel blessed, grateful, included, and at “home.”

 

My own people’s lives and traditions were destroyed by colonial peoples centuries ago.

 

Yesterday, I was invited to attend a river blessing on what I call Red Willow River a tributary of the Rio Grande by folks of Spanish and Indigenous descent who live here in Abiquiu on the mesa. These people, although local, are of mixed descent and do not follow the seasons and cycles of the year as the surrounding Pueblos do. There is a heavy overlay of Spanish colonialism along with a restrictive (to me) Catholicism that sets this village apart from the pueblos.

 

Still, I was looking forward to this local celebration.

 

It was supposed to be led by Tewa Women United from the neighboring pueblos. It was a beautiful day, and of course we were all on “Indian Time” which means practically that ceremonies start when the time was right.

 

However, this blessing of the river didn’t come together at all. People milled around aimlessly. Some left. The children some of whom were dressed in regalia played for a while and eventually got hungry. Some complained they had to get back to school for a game.

 

Because this celebration was supposed to honor the waters and the river, I had brought one of my Zuni bears to be blessed.

 

I approached one of the head honchos of Abiquiu village to ask if I could include my little bear in the blessing, and was told curtly that it was my job to watch.

 

Stunned and deeply distressed, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I am a ritual artist who has been celebrating the eight spokes of the year (akin to the Indigenous way) for almost 40 years. I removed my little bear from my neck and walked down to the river.

 

Kneeling by her waters, I submerged my small bear three times praying that the wild bears that were being slaughtered throughout this country of unspeakable violence would be spared suffering as they were killed…

 

My tears of grief spilled into the slowly meandering gray sage green river. On my return to the group I heard the drum…

 

It was at that moment I saw the gift. Retrieving it instantly I recognized it as an eagle’s breast feather.

 

Someone had heard this prayer.

 

Maurice, from Abiquiu village was leading the children and some of the other Genizaros (self defined name the mixed blood population of Abiquiu) in some circle dances after which he invited the public to join in.

 

Maurice is a dancer that is filled with the Spirit. His feet never touch the ground. Every time I witness his dancing I am struck anew with wonder. I loved watching the children with their colorful ribbons flowing in the wind. The dancing ended abruptly after a few minutes and the people went home.

 

Although the focus of the gathering had been aborted, it was fun talking with friends under the shelter of the cottonwoods.

 

As a woman who thrives on rivers, brooks, warm summer rains, and abundant moisture I felt satisfied that I had come to do what was in my heart and to honor the gift of water that brings me life.

Midnight Dreaming

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Carter, a yearling (20 months old) who I hope survives the hunt

Photo Credit:  Lynn Rogers

 

In my mind

I inhabit a small

cabin nestled in

fragrant red pines

where Black bears

climb rough bark

to peer

down at me

believing I

seek their company.

Boundary waters

surround me

with deep Silence

that allows

me to hear

the Voices

of the Forest.

The scent of

of hundreds of

miles of open water

wraps me in

a blanket of moist

air even as night sky

bowl cracks over my head,

pouring down tales of

primordial story.

The Great Bear

is a spiral –

spinning a cocoon of

Midnight Grace.

Here, living

among the bears,

trees,

and the creatures

of the forest

I remember –

We are all

spun from stardust,

meant

to live in harmony,

as relatives –

In Peace.

 

Working notes:

 

I have just moved across country from Maine to New Mexico – leaving one border- land for another. Yet my dreams do not follow me; Instead, they speak to the bear hunt that occurs each fall throughout this country, a land so hopelessly steeped in human violence. In my dreams night after night I cry out for the suffering I witness as young bears are slaughtered without mercy.

 

When I awaken I am not here or there but in a place in northern Minnesota where an ‘old man’ along with his kind neighbors seek to protect the innocent… Here bears and humans co –exist in peace.

 

How I long to join them…

Field of Dreams

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Once the new white pine forest that stretches out before me was part of a larger field that belonged to an old farm. The woods cascade down a steep hill on the east side of the house and run parallel with the brook that empties into another that crosses my property in the wetlands below.

 

Over a period of thirty – five years I have chosen to allow nature to decide how best to use this field and she turned it into a beautiful white pine forest. I created walkways through the young trees and moss covered pine strewn ground, and now, even during the hottest summer days a stroll under the pine boughs that create a protected arch overhead, is always refreshingly cool. The sweet scent of pine, moist earth, and nearby water creates a longing in me to breathe this perfume forever…The paths are like serpentine ribbons crisscrossing one another. Some take me to the brook, others climb a knoll I call cedar hill. Wild apple and cherry trees, chokecherries, hobble bush and partridge berry provide fruit for the animals that pass by, as do blueberries and brambleberries that are scattered on the hill in late summer. In some protected thickets wild animals bed down to sleep…

 

One path leads directly down to the remnant of the working farm field, the only place that I now keep open. Taking this particular path is a walk I never tire of because it is dark and cool and heavily wooded. At the end of the path a golden light pierces the darkness. And in an instant I am out of the forest feeling the familiar surprise! Now I am walking into a diminutive rounded field that is ringed with wild apple trees and roses, asters and goldenrod in the fall. In the center of this field are a cluster of crabapple trees that are so heavy with berries that a couple of branches are bowed and broken. The pear tree wears a crown of pears…

 

I reflect on the field’s brief season. Lilacs thrived here in May when wild violets with heart shaped leaves spread their white – throated flowers over the ground. In June the field was covered with lupine spires of every shade of pink, white, yellow and purple. Roses caught the gentlest breeze. Swamp iris clumps of deep blue and pure white flowers (that I call angel wings) provide a feast for my flower hungry eyes later during the month. When the lemon lilies bloom in early July the entire field turns buttery yellow and the intoxicating scent from this show is enough to make me swoon. Delicate pink milkweed clusters blossom during the heat of late July, another impossibly sweet fragrance… In August wild strains of goldenrod begin to create a stunning accent when viewed against a deepening cobalt sky … and by late September wild asters finish the season coaxing pollinators into deep lavender blue flowers. It is hard to believe that nature and I planted all these flowers together!

 

Every year I am hesitant to have the field cut. But I must if I want to keep this small oasis open for the deer to graze over the winter. Because of the field’s northeastern exposure it is also a wonderful place for me to watch the northern lights, meteor showers, a rising full moon, and in the winter alpine glow sets the mountain on fire. Still, I hesitate to flatten the impossibly tall foliage…

 

Last night the field was mowed even as part of me winced. Afterwards, while wandering around the hay –strewn ground I thanked the last

IMG_2106.JPG flowers that were now in shreds around my feet. I also looked across the field towards Bryant Mountain whose few clouds were pasteled in rose and lavender. I breathed deeply taking such pleasure in being able to wander through the open area that now stretched around me without parting a waist high jungle, knowing that once again I had made the right choice!

 

Every home – place needs a “field”, however small to imagine what it’s like to touch the stars, to trace the patterns of Cassiopeia and the Great Bear overhead – To imagine and nurture wild dreams that can manifest if one believes they could …

 

Every Living Being needs a Field of Dreams.

Equinox Reflection

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I gaze out my bedroom window and hear yet another golden apple hit the ground. The vines that hug the cabin and climb up the screens are heavy with unripe grapes and the light that is filtered through the trees in front of the brook is luminous – lime green tipped in gold. My too sensitive eyes are blessedly well protected by this canopy of late summer leaves.

 

The maples on the hill are losing chlorophyll and are painting the hollow with splashes of bittersweet orange and red. The dead spruces by the brook will probably collapse this winter providing Black bears with even more precious ants and larvae to eat in early spring. I only hope that some bears will survive the fall slaughter to return to this black bear sanctuary; in particular two beloved young ones… Mushrooms abound, amanitas, boletes morels, puff balls, the latter two finding their way into my salads. The forest around my house is in an active state of becoming with downed limbs and sprouting fungi becoming next year’s soil. The forest floor smells so sweet that all I can imagine is laying myself down on a bed of green mosses to sleep and dream.

 

The garden looks as tired as I am; lily fronds droop, yellowing leaves betraying the season at hand. Bright green pods provide a startling contrast to fading scarlet bee balm. Wild asters are abundant and goldenrod covers the fields with a bright yellow garment. Every wild bush has sprays of berries. My crab – apple trees are bowed, each twig heavy with winter fruit.

 

Most of the birds have absconded to the fields that are ripe with the seeds of wild grasses. The mourning doves are an exception – they gather together each dawn waiting patiently for me to fill the feeder. In the evening I am serenaded by soft cooing. One chicken hawk hides in the pine, lying in wait for the unwary…Just a few hummingbirds remain…whirring wings and twittering alert me to continued presence as they settle into the cherry tree to sleep, slipping into a light torpor with these cool September nights…

 

Spiders are spinning their egg cases, even as they prepare to die. I can still find toads hopping around the house during the warmest hours of the day. Although the grass is long I will not mow it for fear of killing these most precious and threatened of species. I am heavily invested in seeing these toads burrow in to see another spring. My little frogs sit on their lily pads seeking the warmth of a dimming afternoon sun. Soon they too will slumber below fallen leaves or mud.

 

I am surrounded by such beauty, and so much harvest bounty that even though I am exhausted I take deep pleasure out of each passing day of this glorious month of September, the month of my birth. Unlike many folks, for me, moving into the dark of the year feels like a blessing.

 

Another leave -taking is almost upon me, and I am having trouble letting go of this small oasis that I have tended with such care for more than thirty years…

 

I don’t know what this winter will bring to my modest cabin whose foundation is crumbling under too much moisture and too many years of heavy snow. In the spring extensive excavation will begin. A new foundation must be poured and this work will destroy the gardens I have loved, the mossy grounds around the south end of the house that I have nurtured for so long.

 

In this season of letting go I must find a way to lay down my fears, and release that which I am powerless to change. Somehow… I have no idea what I will return to except that I have made it clear that none of my beloved trees be harmed.

 

I am grateful that Nature is mirroring back to me so poignantly that letting go is the way through: That this dying can provide a bedrock foundation for another spring birth. As a Daughter of the Earth I lean into ancient wisdom, praying that this exhausted mind and body will be able to follow suit.

Stepping Out of Time

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Cicadas hum.

Blushing yellow apples

fall onto grasses that are

fading to wheat.

The velvet tiered buck crosses

the rushing brook,

climbs the

hill to stare at me

through the window.

His lady is not far behind,

her white tail switching.

Cicadas hum.

A single tree frog trills

from a slender swamp maple

whose leaves

are shining silver from

recent rain. Intoxicating scent

still lingers – the sweetest

perfume of all, this moisture

laden air warming

sleeping stones

and the toad who

lives under feathery ferns.

Cicadas hum.

There is a tapestry

of leaves laying around

my feet as I walk up

the woods’ road –

blood orange, lemon, lime

and crimson –

a sense of being suspended

in time.

Cicadas hum.

A few caterpillars spin threads

and hang in thin air

from trees still dressed

in various shades of moth eaten

green, to land upon crumbling

moss covered tree trunks

ripe with mushrooms

birthing new earth.

Cicadas hum.

Hobble bush offers luscious bounty –

Generous sprays of bright red berries,

attract butterflies and birds alike.

Fuzzy beaked hazelnuts are

ripening to warm brown

for hungry Black bears

to pluck and feed.

Acorns fall at my feet.

Canada geese honk overhead,

gathering for migration

as does the raft of loons

floating on a nearby pond.

Cicadas hum.

The sky bowl is full

of deep blue water.

She cradles

a golden star that glides

off center at noon.

And I think I

have never witnessed such

splendor as this prelude

preceding Earth’s passage

into Fall.

 

Working notes:

 

There is something so miraculous about this prelude to the fall of each year. Every day I make a deliberate commitment for time to simply be. I treasure leisurely woodland walks so that I might absorb earth’s subtle changes. The deepening shadows provide such delicate contrasts in color and shape. Familiar trails allow me to focus on details – fiery new blossoms, the ever – changing leaves on a single tree that I might miss otherwise. Unlike spring or summer I never feel the need to hurry or to explore new places. I lean towards the familiar during this season of stillness and waiting, taking pleasure from the places I know so well, a deepening blue sky, buttery yellow wildflowers, and a golden sun that streams in my window at dawn. It is at this time of year in the afterglow of summer’s heat that the sun and I befriend one another once again as we both move towards the darkening of the year.

Black Bear Attack – The Bare Facts

Here is the tragic story without embellishments:

A black bear killed a Minnesota woman on a secluded island in Canadian waters.

When the woman heard the dogs barking at dusk she went outdoors after them and never returned.

Both dogs returned to the cabin; one of them was injured.

There were no witnesses.

When officers were called to the scene they discovered a yearling (1-2 years) standing over the woman’s body. Another bear and a yearling were nearby.

The yearling was shot.

What happened?

Of course we can never know.

What we do know is that one bear in a million kills a human and that one is 32,000 times more likely to be murdered by a person.

We also know that Black bears evolved as prey animals and are fear – driven animals, who when cornered, may attack.

Black bears are particularly frightened of dogs for good reason.

Hounds are trained to hunt Black bears before hunting season begins. A number of hounding dogs track a bear to exhaustion at which point the hounds tree the animal until it is shot by the hunter.

This tragic incident happened in the evening when bears are foraging for food. Apparently, this was a family of three – a mother and two yearlings? If the dogs terrorized or attacked one of the bears, a bear might retaliate. My guess is that the poor woman was killed as she attempted to defend her dogs.

As a dog lover I would have made a different choice. I live in bear country and I don’t allow my dogs to roam free around dawn or dusk because I know that bears are very much afraid of dogs, and that dogs will chase a bear.

My heart goes out to the family.

Black bear attacks are very rare, but do occur. Rarely if ever is the context of the event included. In this case understanding the context in which this story occurred is critical. The dogs were running free in bear country. The woman followed her dogs outdoors because they were barking, curious, or fearing for their safety. Her dogs obviously frightened the bear(s) with their barking and perhaps an attack setting the stage for a tragic outcome.

Unfortunately the truth behind this story will disappear into sensationalism. I have already read a couple of articles that portray the bear that was shot and others nearby bears as “acting aggressively.” No one mentions the fact that when a Black bear appears to behave aggressively it has been terribly frightened.

Some state wildlife agencies and poor journalism will use this incident to further agendas by frightening the public even more and getting media attention by perpetuating the “killer bear” story.

Postscript:

Dr Lynn Rogers bear biologist had this to say about bear attacks involving dogs:

“A “disproportionate number” of attacks by bears on human are related to dogs, Lynn Rogers, research scientist for the Wildlife Research Institute and founder of the North American Bear Center, told ABC News.”

My hope is that those of us (like me) who are dog owners will begin to take some responsibility for allowing our dogs to roam at large especially in bear country when we know that dogs will chase bears and could get hurt.