Bless Be the Trees that Bind

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Photo credit Lynn Rogers

 

Today I begin to honor all trees as we enter the dark months of the year. The (three) Days of the Dead are on our doorstep and the veil thins – this is a reality that so many refuse to experience out of fear. This weekend we will return to “natural” or Indigenous time – giving us a chance to rise with an early morning sunrise and to allow a darkening sky to wrap her velvet cloak around us as the days continue to shorten. Nights are long and sweet, inviting contemplation, dreams, and deep abiding gratitude to befriend us.

 

This year, perhaps more than any other, I am crossing this threshold feeling a peace that I haven’t felt in months. Not because my life is simpler – it isn’t – I face so many unknowns – conflicts remain and some have escalated as well as darkened, health issues are unresolved. However, I am emotionally aligned with this seasonal change and the loss of harsh white light – a fierce light that casts no shadow. We live in such a frenzied culture. I am so negatively impacted by the monstrous amount of violence, the hatred, the lack of empathy that surrounds us … somehow the darkness helps me to process these daily atrocities with more equilibrium…

 

When the Great Bear rises in the early evening at this turning of the wheel I give thanks knowing that bear slaughter is coming to an end in a few weeks time. Hopefully, because of the cold, most bears that survive the hunt are bedding down beneath the roots of welcoming trees…

 

All trees are my steadfast friends. Around the house I have tied bits of orange ribbon to new seedlings that will someday spread their canopies over an unyielding desert floor (if left to grow when I am gone).

 

I continue to water my junipers who are so well adapted to desert conditions that they can continue to absorb moisture much longer than other trees, these same junipers that are being sprayed with deadly herbicides to kill them off.

 

Inside during the next few days I will be adorning the base of my Norfolk pine with a ring of white lights to celebrate this season of tree gratitude.

 

I have already tipped fragrant fir, pinion, and juniper greens for a wreath that I will weave some time in the next few weeks to honor the Circle of Life.

 

Outside, my adopted juniper provides juncos, sparrows, chickadees, thrasher, and flicker with predator protection. My tree was starved for water after four months of probable, not so benign neglect in my absence, her growth stunted, bunches of needles withered and dry.

Interrupting this cycle with watering, quiet conversation, and the power of touch I notice the tree has responded by turning her needles a dark spruce green – a welcome change from former ashen gray. This tree has a star at her center to celebrate the sanctity of our bodies – the importance of genuine feeling – When I think of trees I also think of women, especially the women of myth who turned themselves into trees or were turned by others into them – but I also associate trees with genuinely kind, loving and heroic men like Dr. Lynn Rogers who has advocated for white pine trees in Minnesota for decades…

 

Because of my intimate relationship with trees and plants I experience their losses on a visceral level, and am presently dealing with the violence that one man enacted on the limbs of the gracious cottonwoods that once created a cathedral on the path to the river. I told this man that what he did to the trees by chopping off their limbs, he did to me, and of course, that was his intent. This act of personal revenge for some imagined slight has left me grieving.

 

What I didn’t realize until this morning is that my dreams forecast this egregious action before it occurred. It was written into the stars and part of one man’s pathology. What he gained is questionable because as a tree woman I will not forgive him… I create a deliberate intention to remember… and perhaps in the process I can in some way “re-member” those broken cottonwood limbs returning them to wholeness like the girl who lost her hands.

Forgiveness is sometimes a way to release one’s hold on truths that often need personal attention. And violence is perhaps most deadly when it occurs covertly because hidden brutality paves the way for “forget it and just move on,” not surprisingly, this tree maiming man’s philosophy… he lives it well.

So I approach this time of year grieving personal loss and giving thanks for the trees that bind; all of whom hold me in their arms with Love.

Lady of the Canyon

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And the canyon held her

Like a mother holds

a grieving child

who lost her holy place

to slaughter.

The trees wept.

Today,

she gathered pinion

pine, fir, and spruce

to acknowledge

the sanctity of trees

in this dark season

of golden winter light.

 

She gathers in the greening.

 

The scent of pitch

sticks to hands

tipping branches

In Love.

Giving thanks.

She imagines beloved

Black bears

dancing

behind boulders,

feels a powerful

beary presence nearby…

She has been

offered another gift

in this place

where clear spring waters

tumble down steep mountain cliffs

and watercress grows…

The Man with the Hat

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I met a man on a rumbling train who had hooks in his hat.

 

A fisherman, I thought with the usual dismay – brutal images of dying fish gasping for air exploded in thin air. Memories of my grandmother who took her eight year old granddaughter fly fishing also flooded my mind (my grandmother was a professional fly fisherwoman). I caught my first fish in the brook – a six inch trout. After landing the desperate creature my grandmother said, “ now we must kill it so the fish does not suffer.” And she looked for a stone.

 

Hit it over the head” she instructed handing me a rock she picked up nearby, and I did. Tears welled up. It broke my child’s heart to murder such a shimmering rainbowed creature.

 

When we got home that day, my grandmother praised me lavishly for my catch, promptly gutted the fish and fried it in a pan for me to eat. I forgot the anguish I had experienced, basking in my grandmother’s approval. The fish tasted delicious, and to this day I eat fish and other seafood.

 

As a lobstermen’s wife I learned quickly how to cook crustaceans by sticking their heads in boiling water so they would die almost instantly.

 

No fish ever suffered after it was hauled into our boat. I killed each individual myself, enduring ridicule in the process.

 

My grandmother had taught me well.

 

Yet, becoming a fisherwoman never appealed to me.

 

Instead I became a Naturalist…

 

When the man on the train began talking I politely asked him what kinds of fish he caught. “All kinds” he replied with obvious enthusiasm. Inwardly I groaned, quickly changing the subject to the hooks on his hat.

 

Each one was unique, and all were beautiful and when I told him I had a childhood friend who tied flies he took off his hat and gave it to me to inspect. After admiring the exquisite craftsmanship of each lure the man surprised me with his next remark as he replaced the hat on his head.

 

He exclaimed, “I love to catch fish but I never eat them! I throw each one back. If you look carefully at the hooks you will notice that none of them have a barb.”

 

How had this observation escaped me? Sure enough, each hook was barbless, and I understood that this way the fish could be caught and returned to the sea unharmed. I was suddenly overjoyed to meet the man with the hat. With words of deep appreciation I happily shook his hand, exclaiming how wonderful it was to meet a dedicated fisherman who released his catch!

 

We went on to discuss the merits of conservation with regard to freshwater fishing. Suddenly the man removed his hat again.

 

“I want you to have one of these hooks,” he said quietly handing the hat to me. “We are kindred spirits.”

 

I chose one small perfect fly and carefully wrappd it up in a paper napkin before putting it in my purse. Thanking him.

 

When I got home that night I already knew where the tiny hook would find home. I have a beautiful Norfolk pine and hanging from one branch is a tiny flask that Iren once gave me that I periodically re-fill with our river water. The diminutive bottle is tied to one end of the string and I carefully attached the barbless hook to the other end.

 

Every time I walk by that tree I give thanks for the water that flows from Red Willow River and I remember the man with the hat who loved his fish!

 

But there is more to this story. On my birthday this year Iren and I met someone who had a fish he had recently caught that was still gasping for breath in a plastic bag. I begged him to kill it, offering to do it myself. My offer was rejected and afterwards, Iren, who is a vegetarian, thanked me for trying to save the fish, acknowledging that the experience had been too upsetting for her.

 

Of course, I understood why.

 

Within two weeks of this painful incident I met the man with the hat and now when I pass by my tree I think of Iren, the man, and me. One of us eats fish; the other two do not. But all three of us abhor animal suffering. And that hook has become a symbol of hope. Perhaps there are more of us out there than I thought!

In Memoriam: The Loss of the Holy

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( a close up of a piece of the magnificent cottonwood canopy that arced its way overhead and met the ground – photo 2018)

 

Something’s wrong.

I stopped dead

in my tracks as I

passed through the gate

startling the pre-dawn sky.

 

I was on my way to the river.

It was dark.

Gazing up at my beloved

Cottonwood Cathedral

I couldn’t see,

But why couldn’t I feel her Presence?

 

A fearful hole

ripped through my heart

as dread seeped in.

Some alien force

had smashed the Peace.

 

When I reached the river

La Llorona was sobbing

her veil of mist

smudging the trees with a shroud.

 

Retracing the path at dawn

the terrifying sight of

severed limbs –

the loss of

supple arches

that swept the ground

with their bountiful grace,

limbs bowed low in surrender…

shattered the wonder of this holy place –

twisted knives in my gut.

 

To lose a holy place

is to be annihilated.

 

Both the trees and I

have lost our limbs

like the handmaid once did

to mindless slaughter

by those that neither

see or feel.

 

Never again will

we rejoice in the

reciprocal

joy that the holy

bestows on

those that are

capable of Love.

 

 

For three years I have walked through the Cathedral of Cottonwoods, sometimes two or three times a day just for the simple pleasure of feeling the peace that these Matriarchs of the Bosque bestow upon anyone who can feel their benign yet powerful presence. In just one place beyond the gate the holy lived… and day after day year after year I would stop just to feel the peace – amazing grace. This spot was my sanctuary, the one place on this property that somehow felt like it belonged to me as I did to her.

 

Today my sanctuary has been destroyed forever. This tree destruction occurred either in my absence or sometime during this past week when my dog has been so ill that I have barely stepped out the door except to make a harrowing trip to the vet.

 

My body is still struggling to process the magnitude of this loss. Intentional or not it feels malevolent. Each time I walk through this area someone in me screams out “NO NO, not here.” My most beloved place. Gone, the severed limbs will bare ugly scars until the tree itself returns to the earth in death…

 

The worst part of this story is that the severing of the arms of the tree accomplished virtually nothing. These beautiful arches were beyond a fence… and part of a path to the river. There was absolutely no reason to senselessly destroy them especially since dead branches still hang over the same area.

 

The severed limbs also remind me of a fairy tale…In the “The Handmaid’s Tale” a father betrays a glorious apple tree that is also his daughter for money. This bargain with the devil intensifies as the dark one insists the father chop off the girl’s hands. At this point after a second unconscionable betrayal the child leaves home with her severed hands and throws herself on the mercy of nature, who eventually restores the young woman’s hands…

 

My beloved cottonwoods will not have their limbs restored but perhaps there’s a message in this story for me.

Bare Bones

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In the pure white sun dream

I wore a necklace –

bearstone and bone.

For months

meaning

eluded me,

but feeling

erupted

from within-

a volcano

was burning

somewhere

beyond me –

destructive fires,

my body knew.

And beyond that

stones and bones.

 

Extremes freeze authenticity.

 

Why is it

that I cannot

hold onto Dark

the way others do?

I keep shedding Shades

like outworn skins –

“Let them go” I pray,

missing the point completely.

An error bordering

on personal stupidity –

Sometimes

Shadow

casts a shroud

to create clarity.

Instead of berating

myself, I need

to look to others

to uncover

what’s hidden

in them.

I own my flaws.

There are dark

rooms in everyone’s house –

not just my own.

Black Capped Chickadee

 

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This morning after I returned from my early morning walk to the river I stood at the east window watching a few Black – Capped chickadees flying out of my adopted juniper to the bird feeder. Although there are other trees around, the thick cover provided by my arboreal friend is everyone’s favorite. I love to watch these birds delicately take one seed to eat or cache somewhere for the winter. There was so much activity around the juniper early this morning that I suspected that all the birds knew “a big wind” was coming, and were stocking up on seed early.

I tried to count the black-capped chickadees and reached the conclusion that I had about 4 – not exactly a flock. However, I am delighted to have even one pair here in Abiquiu. According to some sources there aren’t even supposed to be any in this area at all, but for three out of the four winters I have lived here I have always had a few.

Other sources say that Northern Mexico has a small population, and most remind us that Black capped chickadees are moving north because of Climate Change. Northern New Mexico is perched on the edge of Black-Capped chickadee extinction, so please enjoy these delightful little birds while we still have them. Even in Maine, those of us who are birdwatchers have been be –moaning the fact that we are seeing less and less of these iconic little birds each year. Most are moving north towards the boreal forests of Canadian Shield because there are still enough of the kinds of trees around to support healthy populations – for now.

This morning after watching the chickadees, sparrows and nuthatches flying in and out of my juniper I read some very disturbing information about junipers and sage in the Abiquiu News:

“A low-flying airplane will drop Tebuthiuron pellets*, a soil-applied herbicide that inhibits photosynthesis, on creosote bush and juniper trees. At the planned rate and timing of application, the herbicide will have minimal impact on desirable grasses and forbs. Because the herbicide is applied in pellet form, it will not drift from the treated areas (simply not true). When the pellets dissolve with favorable precipitation, (how do they know we will get it?) they are absorbed into the ground to a depth of approximately two feet and taken up by the target plants root system, eventually reducing the sagebrush density. The pellets will not be dropped near waterways or on slopes greater than 10%. Tebuthiuron has been used to thin many bush species including creosote bush and juniper trees since the 1980s, and the benefits of its application are well documented.” (By whom, and what was their agenda?)

 

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Soil Conservation folks believe that the objective of the treatments is to improve plant species diversity, which will benefit wildlife, rangeland and watershed health by reducing the density of sagebrush, and result in an increase of native grasses, forbs and other herbaceous vegetation.”

 

Benefit Wildlife? I was aghast reading this information because it neglects to mention that the junipers and sages provide necessary cover/food for so many birds in the Southwest, or that junipers and sage are better adapted to the drying conditions that are associated with Climate Change in the Southwest.

 

Truly, one hand does not know what the other is doing.

 

But to return to chickadees…

 

In Maine, perhaps because I live in a mixed confider and deciduous forest chickadees visit my feeders all summer. However, I happen to know that their summer diet also relies heavily on insects (spiders, caterpillars, snails etc) and berries. As some are aware, chickadees also love to eat fat. Just yesterday I put out my first suet seed cake. During the winter, chickadees also feast on insect pupae.

Pairs typically form in fall and remain together as part of winter flock. Flocks break up in late winter, and both male and females defend their nesting territory. During courtship and afterwards the males feed the females. Less frequently these days nest sites are found in the holes of trees. Chickadees like to line their nests with mosses or animal hair. In Maine some use tufts of hair (from my brush) that I leave in a little basket in a nearby juniper. I still have many woodpecker excavated holes because I allow all trees to live out their natural lives on my property, but some of my chickadees also use nest boxes.

The literature is very confusing when it comes to migration. Some sources suggest that chickadees are permanent residents but that they also move south in fall and winter (!). I believe that some are permanent residents, at least in Maine, but for reasons that are unknown others do migrate. Another bird mystery. Those that do stay in northern climates must be able to withstand little sun and very cold temperatures during the winter. These chickadees are able to lower their body temperature at night to enter regulated hypothermia, which allows them to conserve energy. Chickadees also have exceptional spatial memory, which allows them to re locate cached food.

Despite its once vast range, as a species the chickadees are remarkably homogeneous in their genetic make-up. The Black capped chickadee’s closest relative is the Mountain chickadee, another endearing avian creature. Although I have been on the lookout I have yet to see one in Abiquiu this fall.

 

* Some information on Tebuthiuron

(Wikipedia/ Cornell are sources)

Tebuthiuron is a “non -selective broad spectrum” herbicide (read: it kills a lot of living things).

The Environmental Protection Agency considers this herbicide to have “great potential for groundwater contamination, due to its high water solubility, low absorption to soil particles, and high persistence in soil.”

In Europe this herbicide has been banned since 2002.

Weeds that are controlled by tebuthiuron include alfalfa, bluegrasses, chickweed, clover, dock, goldenrod, mullein, etc.

My commentary: all these plants are beneficial to bees and other insects and they provide food for birds and animals.

ACUTE TOXICITY

Skin, eye or clothing contact with the herbicide should be avoided. This herbicide is classified as moderately poisonous. Symptoms of Tebuthiuron poisoning in rodents include lack of energy, loss of appetite, muscular incoordination and death. Vomiting occurred in cats and dogs.

Who benefits? Ranchers and big business at everyone’s expense.

 

October Moon

 

 

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The Earth Goes to Sleep Moon… after the freeze

 

Dawn at the river –

a golden sun

rises over the horizon…

Sea smoke rises from

rushing waters where La Llorona weeps

for those who are lost, dying, or dead.

I am only one of many.

Frosted grasses and dull brown

leaves fall around my feet.

Marsh grasses bend low to the ground

I follow their lead,

feeling the peace of surrender,

the letting go

of the end of a torturous year…

A white moon is washed in

pale pink as she rises

over barren reptilian

mountains –

No mercy there.

Just empty

vast blue sky.