Two Bridges

The felled trees

scented the air

with pungent pine

and spruce.

I watched this boy

carve the planks

that would become

the bridges,

not even minding

the whine of

the chain saw

because I trusted him,

his skill,


that he was honoring

the forest

creating art

from each dead tree

he cut with Love.



The two bridges


the brook

binding the forest

to the hills

in both places…


One path leads

to the pool

where fishes swim

and I find refuge

from intolerable heat

bathing in crystal waters.


The other touches

a granite boulder

lets me climb

the rise to a child’s

room, hidden away

under balsams

and one intrepid cedar.


Someday I hope

to spend the night

inside the small

porch… sleeping

soundly, soothed

by flowing waters


in peace

like I used to

when my children

lived –

and bears

roamed silently

through fragrant trees.


For now

I cross this second bridge,

stand there

acknowledging the dead,

thinking of him,

steeped in longing…


My Mother’s Hands


It is hard for me to write about my mother. She shut me out of her private life and had little use for a daughter whose birth trapped her in a marriage she might not have chosen otherwise.


I learned who she was through images. My mother began her artistic career as a painter who left crows and black beetles in the lower left side of her paintings – always something dark.


Sphinx-like she lived a life of silence and yet she revealed who she was through her art exploring different mediums.


I always wondered why she didn’t continue to paint.


When I was about 45 she began to work with clay. I remember an exquisitely crafted sculpture of a tree with a black hole at its center. That image haunted me for years. Another sculpture terrorized me – a cracked moss green egg birthing a sneering crocodile.


The seer intuited what might be ahead…


Today, years after my mother’s death I reflect upon her artistic genius and realize she lived her life in liminal space, staying whole and true to who she was through the images she created with such precision, skill, and grace.

Writing Our Way Back



My hand on a beloved Northern Cedar in my woods…and a seedling.


Excerpt from “My Mother’s Hands”

“Over the course of our history, humans have used nearly thirty thousand plants for food and medicine. Most of these plants grew wild. The places where we first evolved into a gathering species were likely the open patches in dense African forests. In the sunlit gaps within the canopy, left behind by the tramplings of large animals, we gathered useful herbs and palms and berries. To bear witness to nature’s abundance demanded the invention of new languages. In elaborating techniques to process plants and finding words to describe the flavors, we invented culinary incantations. We learned to speak and cook in synthetic form. It was an approach beyond the intellect, and so, the first cuisines had an aesthetic of chance. We felt at home in the dark. It was as if our manifold cultures sprang directly from the earth itself.”


I believe it was more than chance that led women to the healing properties of plants and trees of the forest. I think our learning “sprang directly from the earth”. In my experience trees and plants speak to us not through words but through our bodies and we are naturally drawn to the plants that we need to protect us from disease and to help us heal. The problem we face is that we need to re-learn how to become “receivers,” and we can’t do that until we re-establish our broken connection to the Earth Body we abandoned long ago, unless we were/are Indigenous peoples who even today are wed to the land, and can still hear her speak.

Ecocide and PTSD



The fierce light of the white star pierced her thick white fur as the mother froze. She was trying to imagine how her cubs could make the jump from one jagged ice flow to another in the cracked deep blue waters.

Just a few months ago she had birthed them on solid well frozen ice – cubs who knew nothing but nurture – feelings of safety, love, rich abundant milk   – trusting their mother implicitly – the solid blue ice that supported them was home. Now her children faced the threat of death by drowning… A mountain of despair flooded the bear’s mind and body. Blind fear slammed through her young. To lose her cubs was more than the mother could bear. All the accumulated bear wisdom – 50 million years of bear knowing – could not help her now. Her children were helpless.

A polar bear that is forced to confront a situation like this one will live with consequences that will change her life. Nothing has prepared her for this day.  Just how she will be affected we do not know…but developing PTSD is a possibility/probability. (Her children, if they survive will have a 1 -3 chance of developing this disorder as well).

According to the most recent research in Neuroscience/Neuropsychology PTSD is a physiological state brought on by sudden trauma, or prolonged trauma that stretches back to childhood. Either way this trauma affects the individual at a cellular level, pre-disposing that animal or person to experience the world through a “darker lens”, one that may be dominated by fear. There is no cure.


The etiology of PTSD involves shock or violence of one kind or another. PTSD may occur suddenly as a result of a single trauma or it may extend over a lifetime beginning in early childhood. Approximately one out of three individuals (animal or human) may develop this disorder.

It is only recently that non human animals have been diagnosed with PTSD. Generations of wild animals like elephants, and whales who have been tortured and hunted down without mercy are starting to ‘crack’ – some erupting into acts of rage that are unprecedented…

Why? They have been unhinged by man’s violence.

Violence begets violence.

Neuroscience/Neuropsychology is providing us with explanations for this apparently bizarre behavior thanks to scientific researchers like Gay Bradshaw and Naturalists like Charlie Russell and myself.

I think one of the most important consequences of this cutting edge research/understanding is that it takes PTSD out of the category of “mental disorders” (removing a stigma) and places it where it belongs – in the cells of our bodies. PTSD is a physiological disorder.

Having suffered from PTSD for a lifetime it was a relief to have validation for my gut sense that this thing was ‘living in my body’, and that there was nothing I could do to stop “it” once the disorder was activated by yet another social stress.

Intuitively I knew…

As a researcher I recognized PTSD in animals that I studied years ago but could never find evidence to support my observations until now.

For anyone interested in understanding more about PTSD in wild animals (and more insight into our own behavior) I highly recommend Gay Bradshaw’s books “Conversations with Bears” or  “Carnivore Minds.”


What About Pinenes?


Two views of the Pedernal – The first taken from casita – the second back from the backside.


The first time I visited the Pedernal that overlooks Abiquiu New Mexico, that incredible flat-topped mesa where the Navajo ‘Changing Woman’ was born I fell in love! I was with my friend Iren who showed me a place where an enormous band of chert was located on the side of the mountain. The colors of the stone took my breath away – bitter orange, blood red, rust, dusky purple, ebony, charcoal, dense white, light yellow, pale pink, deep rose, blue gray – every color on the spectrum except deep blue was visible. I already knew that this multi-colored stone had been traded throughout the Americas by Indigenous peoples for millennia; I wondered if the arrowheads I had that came from Maine could have come from this mountain…


As we climbed through a forest of tall conifers I soaked in the view of a magnificent multi-layered tree line that stretched all around me as far as I could see on one side. The views of the distant snowcapped mountains were spectacular. I experienced a peculiar kind of “high” that I mentioned to Iren, noting vaguely that I suspected it had something to do with the trees.


That day we collected many pieces of chert that I still have. To digress for a moment, I think chert, or flint is my favorite kind of stone. In Abiquiu, another piece of the same kind of rock with lichen etched into its contours sits on a table in the living room of the casita. I have kept it watered for three years (!) because lichen still lives on this piece that Iren once brought back for me as a gift…


It wasn’t long before I began to make regular trips to the Pedernal, alone, with my dogs. There was something about the place… We hiked around in the gorges, discovering streams hidden below in steep gullies, examined caves, admired amazing rock formations and sat in the shade under towering trees whose fragrance was indescribable. The Pedernal was also the place where I saw my first bear, came upon my favorite wild cactus growing in profusion, discovered lupine and a multitude of other flowers that I have here in Maine. To this day, it is my absolutely favorite place except for the Bosque near the casita and the Bosque del Apache, the winter-land of the Sand hill cranes…


I noted that whenever I visited the Pedernal and began to climb around that physically I experienced myself as having a higher energy level than I did in Abiquiu. Clear thinking, relaxation and a sense of being grounded or earthed were other aspects that struck me as being unusual, especially the latter because I was so sensitive to altitude changes. It was impossible to ignore this general sense of well – being. Of course, I knew the Pedernal was reputed to be a ‘’power spot” but I wondered about the role the magnificent trees might be playing …


Because I love all trees I regularly spoke, touched, and leaned against these tall stately beings soaking in their essence.


I don’t remember when I finally made the concrete connection between the scent of the trees on the Pedernal and my sense of well – being.


Pinenes were probably responsible for my elation, clarity and relaxation. This forest was loaded with phytochemical compounds that can and do improve our health.


During the long winters in Maine I burned balsam and cedar on a daily basis to keep the air inside the house purified. I loved the scent and also used the oil to help rid myself of headaches. I was convinced these evergreens had health benefits years before I ever heard of pinene, and I knew that Indigenous peoples had used these plants in much the same way I did for millennia.


When I learned about the medicinal value of pinene from a western point of view I felt frustrated that western medicine has been so slow focusing research around these helpful chemical compounds.


Pinenes are produced by turpentine trees; these phytochemicals are found in pines, cedar, balsam, juniper and other coniferous plants. Sage and artemisia as well as cannabis contain them too, as does eucalyptus but Pinenes are strongest in evergreens.


There are two forms of pinene: alpha-pinene and beta-pinene. Alpha-pinene is also the most abundant terpenoid found in nature.


It is useful as an insect repellent because insects dislike its aroma.


Many plant essential oils that contain pinene have been shown to reduce inflammation. Alpha-pinene exhibits a number of anti-inflammatory properties in animal cells. One American study concluded that the terpene is “a potential candidate as a new drug to treat various inflammatory diseases”. Interestingly,   terpene could also be an effective additive to sunscreen, because it prevents skin damage caused by ultraviolet light.


Many studies in animals have concluded that both alpha- and beta-pinene have significant anti-tumor properties. In fact, when consumed together, both forms of pinene appear to have synergistic effects in reducing tumors.


Alpha-pinene and beta-pinene have also been studied for their antimicrobial effects.


Beta – pinene appears to improve mood, acting much like an antidepressant might, without undesirable side effects. It also reduces anxiety.


One study published in a Swiss journal tested the ability of alpha- and beta-pinene to fight the infectious bronchitis virus. The study found that both types of pinene inhibited viral activity in cells, therefore making the terpene a potential aid for those with bronchitis. The study also established pinene as a bronchodilator that could offer relief to those with asthma. People who suffer from COPD or emphysema benefit from inhaling balsam, pine or cedar oil, although the effects are short lived and so it is necessary to use these substances on a regular basis. I use them daily during the winter months.


In an attempt to understand Alzheimer’s disease, scientists have investigated alpha-pinene’s role in fighting this incurable neurological disorder. Some scientists have concluded that alpha –pinene may also be beneficial when dealing with dementia, cognitive dysfunction and memory loss.


Bacterial pathogens have a great ability to acquire resistance against antibiotics; and gastroenteritis is a disease caused by a multidrug –resistant bacteria. Alpha pinene has been used to mitigate the effects of the bacteria.


Although it is clear that these terpenes have antimicrobial, anticancer, anti-inflammatory, and antiallergic properties and several in vivo, and more recently, a few clinical studies have assessed the pinenes biological effects, further efforts are needed to deepen knowledge in this field. As far as I was able to determine western science has barely scratched the surface of the benefits of these phytochemicals. Instead we rely on expensive drugs that have undesirable side effects.

Until I lived in the desert I took evergreens somewhat for granted because I have lived with these trees all my life, but it was only a few months after moving to NM before I began to miss the diversity and the scent. Fortunately, the Pedernal was only an hour’s drive from the casita so except during mid –winter I always had a place to go where I could once again bathe my body in these rich compounds I both craved and loved.

Living with Uncertainty

Letter for Publication written in response to others who are sharing their feelings about living through this pandemic.


I was deeply moved by Carol’s willingness to share her honest and heartrending feelings about how this pandemic is affecting her, enough so that I decided to write about how I perceive the virus has impacted my life and the lives of those around me.


Here in my corner of the world summer is a time to be outdoors, and so returning to Maine in the early spring has allowed me to be emotionally present in a joyful way for Nature’s turnings, first from winter to spring, and then from spring to summer. But I am a naturalist and only too aware that my love for the wild is not shared by everyone.


Because I have no family, the longing to be with loved ones does not pierce my heart in the same way it does for others.


However, with emphysema I am also in the highest risk category. What this means practically is that I have to remain vigilant at all times.


Overall, my life has changed very little. I spend my days in the woods, or on the water, visit with neighbors and friends outdoors. The use of appropriate social distancing is respected during each of these encounters.


One other positive note is that when I walk to the pond (the only time I walk on a road) I notice that folks that once might not have the time for conversation often seem anxious to stop and talk.


I have also discovered the joys of using Zoom. I am participating in two virtual gatherings composed of women writers who meet regularly to share their feelings, experiences, and writing. I love being able to sit on the porch with my dogs in comfort, keeping a sharp eye on my birdfeeder and feasting on my flowers while exchanging ideas. I don’t even have to comb my hair!


On a practical level I have critical work that needs to be done on my house that is still pending in mid July, creating a very stressful situation for me. But I think my greatest challenge has been adjusting to living on the edge of ongoing uncertainty.


The kind of uncertainty I am referencing here involves learning how to incorporate ‘not knowing what the future will bring’ into my every day life in an embodied way for the foreseeable future. What I mean by embodiment is that I not only use my thought processes when thinking about the future but I extend my thinking to include and prioritize feeling, sensing, intuition – the latter three abilities reside in my body – all ways of knowing help me navigate the unknown and help me deal with personal fears. Too often we cut ourselves off at the neck with our thinking, crippling ourselves in the process. We too are animals that need access to all our senses to make truly informed decisions about our lives and the direction we need to take.


I am doing the best I can to work with my own issues while taking refuge in the present finding joy in simple things. I find that doing both helps keep me in some sort of balance. I do not judge myself on days when I feel depressed; I expect these moods to come and go.


I no longer know what ‘normal’ is, and I am not sure that going back to what we considered normal is either healthy or life affirming. The exception, of course, is that we all need access to our loved ones, and this virus has made visiting one another difficult or impossible. Most people also need to work, and this crisis is being exacerbated by starving people who have lost their jobs.


As a culture we are living on an edge that is unfamiliar and frightening. My hope and prayer for each and everyone of us is that we may find a way to bridge the past into a new future, one that is life affirming, based on compassion and love of all human and non human species alike. May we continue to develop personal integrity, and begin to celebrate diversity on a level that we have not been willing to do before.


This virus, which threatens the life of our human bodies, can be viewed as an opportunity to embrace changes that will allow us to heal our broken connection to the body of nature so that we can begin to solve the human problems that have created this pandemic in the first place.


It is up to us as individuals to make the choice to walk through that door.


Sara Wright

In Sight




Four years ago I made a radical decision to spend a winter in New Mexico. Maine winters were long and I was 71 years old. An unfinished experience 25 years ago had left me with a longing to spend more time in the desert. Although I had formed a deep and abiding relationship with my land in Maine over a period of almost 40 years and had constructed a small log cabin on this beautiful piece of property that has a brook on three sides, woods and fields, I wondered if at this stage of my life I should consider moving….


I was very fortunate to find a place to live In Abiquiu, NM, and eventually I was able to move into a friend’s newly built casita that bordered a tributary of the Rio Grande, which also abutted another friend’s property. This abutting property included a Bosque (river wetland). I was blessed to have a beautiful place to walk through without having to get into a car. Most hikes required driving somewhere, a practice I disliked.


I discovered over time that New Mexico was a land of extremes – and not the paradise I had expected. The one torturous summer I spent there under 100 plus degree heat made it clear that I could not live in this stifling sauna with its bloody burning sun – star year round. Wildfires burned continiously. The west winds roared churning up clouds of dust that choked the air, sometimes for days on end; and the winds were relentless, especially during the spring. I remembered fairy tales that spoke to the malevolence of the west wind; I imagined I could feel that power here.


The songs of nature were continuously drowned out – I missed the birds singing, the fluttering of tree leaves; even the roar of the river was silenced by fierce wind and it had no scent. When the wind slept and I could be outdoors in peace during the late fall, winter, and spring I began to experience a strange sort of loneliness.  Although I could enter a glorious canyon after a ten minute walk on a nearby road, once there, absence dominated. Where were the animals, the birds? The giant rock statues were utterly silent – although the astonishing shapes and colors were a perpetual feast for my eyes. The sky was a huge bowl that hung upside down and touched an unforgiving rock strewn floor below. Rarely, oh so rarely did the Cloud People bring rain. And when the rains came so did the wind. The rain never lasted more than a few minutes; it came down cold and hard, and often the wind whipped the moisture away. Sometimes not a drop of water actually hit the ground.


Within just a few months I began to hunger for the shark gray skies of the North Country… When the heavens opened gentle showers bathed the earth for hours – even days, leaving sparkling crystals on every shrub and tree. But most of all I missed the scent of water. The air was pitifully thin, crackling, it was so dry, and often it carried a bitter metallic smell that I later learned was due to air pollution. During the warmer months the skies were often choked by wildfires as ominous plumes turned steel blue to charcoal gray.  However, sunrises and sunsets were spectacular splashing the sky with scarlet, rose, violet, lavender, lemon or orange. I remained in a state of perpetual awe for the sky at dawn and dusk. At first the gnarled shapes of the stunted junipers, the only trees around, except for the cottonwoods that lined the river, seemed to fill a void where a plethora of trees lived on only in my imagination… Later, the Matriarchs of the Bosque became my dearest friends because they were the only trees that towered gracefully overhead providing real shade from the fierce and deadly New Mexican sun. Cicadas inhabited their branches in warm weather singing up the night. Sunny days were the norm; gradually the monotony of a deep blue sky that seemed too vast and too empty, began to feel somewhat dead to me. Tuned to ever- changing weather in each season, I missed diversity.


After living in New Mexico for less than two years I began to walk to the river under a pre – dawn sky to escape the wind and the blazing white star that rose too soon. In that magical time between night, twilight, and dawn the air was still and I could listen to the river’s song, identify the birds I couldn’t hear during the day, and think with a kind of clarity I lost when the sun came up. I began to take my camera and took pictures of whatever caught my attention, a certain slant of light, a twig, the curve of the river. Focusing on details. During these meanders deep questions about the direction my life was taking began to surface. I let them be. Once I returned to the house I would look at my pictures. One day I posted a few on FB with some personal remarks. It seemed to complete my morning walk in a very satisfying way. I was able to find expression for the deep gratitude I experienced not just through visioning but through words. I was in love with nature and these walks of mine kept me present to wonder, at least for those moments in time.


I didn’t think about this process of photographing and posting publicly  – I just did it. I was surprised and pleased when others read what I wrote, but this flow was not dependent upon responses from others. I was doing it for myself. I didn’t realize it at the time but these river walks were going to take on a life of their own, and along with the Cottonwoods in the Bosque, would gradually become the force that would help me to see once again.


Images of Maine  surfaced in that pre-dawn hour. I acknowledged ruefully how much I missed the moist mountain air, the gift of quiet rain, deep emerald green, fragrant fertile woodland earth, the long velvet black nights of winter, remarkably, even snow. The constellation of the Great Bear no longer oriented me in this southern sky because instead of circling over my head it lay low on the horizon. I recalled the trees that protected my too sensitive eyes from the harsh white glare of the sun. Except for these peaceful twilight meanders I was forced to wear glasses all the time.


Yet, I was content enough here wasn’t I? The desert was starkly beautiful, and I loved the place I lived, doing my best to create a home, planting trees and creating small gardens. I had escaped the too long winters, the heavy physical work associated with them. Yet questions gnawed at me. What did it mean to feel at home? Why the profound sense of emptiness and lack of clarity? And what about the light?


I couldn’t escape the problem of light. One of the reasons I set out for the river in the dark was because I wanted these walks to end before sunrise. There was a quality of intense light present during the day in the too thin air that I found disturbing. Too much light, air, wind, and on the other extreme, too much stone. The crust of the earth held little in the way of new life in the desert. Survival of any plant species was precarious and dependent on the rains that rarely came. Almost everything I planted ended up dead. The desert had little to offer in terms of containment for people or plants. The sky gods ruled the desert, and did so with an iron will. Stone doesn’t surrender; it is incapable of receiving. This was not a forgiving place.


During the fourth winter, I began slipping into a meditative state as I set off for the river in the dark. I knew the path by heart; my feet guided me allowing my questions to dissipate in silence without thought intruding. Peace entered when I was focusing on what my senses were experiencing – paying close attention to whatever Nature presented me with – every piece of bark on the Cottonwoods, decaying brown leaves, dead grass, birds – all seemed to carry messages I could discern through my bodily senses – examining a frost covered branch, frozen grasses that glowed, listening to the haunting calls of the migrating cranes allowed me to anchor myself firmly in Now. My gratitude for being alive flowed naturally, without effort. Gradually, oh so gradually I began to realize that I had never been able to ground myself anywhere in this barren rock strewn earth.


 When I came to the desert I left my body.


Except for these brief walks to the river and into the wetlands each morning I had been walking on air.


For an hour each day I was able to re-enter my body as I entered a light trance circling the paths of the Bosque. Illumination after illumination struck as trees and roots spoke to me. For four years I had been traversing an invisible maze. No wonder I was unable to put down roots here. I needed to return to my home in Maine. This truth suddenly seemed so obvious that I found myself questioning what had happened to me to lead me on this circular journey. When the answers came they were as clear as they were complex. Meanwhile, each morning I continued to post a photos and personal comments after reflecting on the truths my body imparted to me that day …


When Covid struck I felt terror strike for I was in in the highest risk category … At the same time I began to think of these pre-dawn musings as a kind of intentional gift, not just for myself, but for anyone that might need to ponder images of beauty, experience gratitude, or listen to one person’s truth during increasingly fearful and uncertain times…


I returned to Maine in April with all kinds of problems ahead. The most important issue besides my health and money is that I have yet to find anyone to commit to replacing rotting beams in my cellar crawlspace. Mold is another issue. So I am hardly living a paradisiacal life! And yet…


Although I no longer have to leave the house in the predawn hours I continue my morning meditation with as much awareness as I can conjure up, using pictures I have taken the day before to post publically as I comment on what has moved me. On some heavily clouded mornings like this one, I meander through my pine forest breathing in the intoxicating scent of pine listening to the comforting sound of rumbling thunder in the distance feeling reverence and gratitude for the coming rain and ‘what is’ … sinking into that same light trance state as I did in the Bosque.


My sight has been restored. I am rooted in the midst of a dark green religion of trees, fertile ground, and water. Fruit trees lean towards the house. Maples provide abundant summer shade and fall color. Evergreens line the brook. A path through a forest of white pines beckons from my door. All these roots tap into my own. My body knows I belong here. I move through an underground portal; I am attached to the body of the earth and to my own body through my love for this forgiving land.

Peter’s Meadow


(In memory of Peter 7/10/20)



I hardly knew you.


We always met at

the meadow,

the one alive in

your imagination.

Last fall you told me

how beautiful

it would look

when wildflowers bloomed.


I saw swaying grasses.


Tod was busy leveling

the earth, smoothing

her for re- creation

with a machine

that puffed like

a dragon.


When he mowed down

the sumac I winced.

So much winter forage

for deer and birds

no longer a gift.

I missed the

blushing wine berries,

fading ochre leaves.


But we agreed on

everything else.


Like you,

I too was conjuring

up a wildflower spring.


The soil was rich,


with seed..

I knew nature

held other surprises,

for you had created a “field”

of possibility, allowing Her

to take the lead..


And sure enough,

after the snow disappeared

Dandelions sprang up

splashing the earth

in gold as wild bees

gathered for the feast.

I picked a few tart leaves

for my salads.


When the

Indian Paintbrush

flooded the meadow

in lemon, bittersweet

orange, and red,

I met you

on the road.

“Aren’t they magnificent?”

You asked me,

blue eyes intent.

Your face lit up

when I agreed.


Soon after,

you were gone,

flying on the wings

of dandelion puffs.


Seeding the future.


I wondered where

you might land.

Just in case you are

sailing these skies

I keep watch for you.


I note the abundance

of bright eyed daisies.

Black eyed susans

burst forth in the sun.

Pungent yarrow is peppered

by fuchsia pink.


Each day

when I walk by

I feel that some part of you

lives on,

watching over

the Meadow

you brought to life.


Working notes:  Reflecting on the bridges that were crossed at this gathering.

This piece of prose was written for a memorial service that was held at 8 AM in the morning outdoors at my neighbor’s house. Just a few of us gathered less than three weeks after Peter’s death and this event, which also functioned as a bridge into the future for some of us, will stand out in my mind as the most peaceful memorial service I have ever attended. Surrounded by fruit trees, astonishing mountain views, extensive gardens and glorious fields we acknowledged the loss of a kind man that I barely knew, although I am becoming close friends with his widow. By attending this gathering I crossed a bridge that freed me from the past – a blessing I could never have expected and one that closes a circle for me while allowing me to cross yet another bridge into the future…

For so many years I was close friends with the former owners of this spectacular piece of property, walking through their woods, visiting the pond, soaking in the beauty of the flowers… I loved those two. He was a woodsman and a hunter, who loved trees and the animals he killed –  forever an enigma – I still respected him. She was a wealthy Victorian Matriarch who expected others to serve her and we did, gladly. When she chose another woman as her new friend – one I introduced to her – the two turned their backs on me – I became the “expendable” friend – this, after 10 years of friendship. Devastated, and unable to deal with the anguish, I let go… all that was left was a passionflower mourning…A year later, (and a number of other times thereafter) I attempted to re-kindle a little of what had been lost, but she would have none of it. When he died on a cold winter solstice night, the antlers he gave me fell off the mantlepiece. She slipped away a few years later but not before raping her land, butchering a whole forest for even more money. An atrocity committed against the earth that had nurtured her for so many years…

For Betsey this gathering created a bridge into a future she is ready to inhabit. Peter’s dying was protracted and she was able to stay emotionally present for the entire process. “Peter died just the way he wanted to” she told me a few hours after his death. As a result of his readiness to let go (an attitude I frankly envied), and her ability to be emotionally present for him throughout his dying allowed both of them to move into new lives.

At the gathering I spoke of how nature demonstrates that there is no death that is separated from new life – the process is an endless round. Peter’s Meadow was a perfect example – just last year the old house had burned down giving Peter the opportunity to dream and eventually co – create a beautiful wild meadow which is presently full of summer flowers.

When someone referred to the richness of the meadow I exclaimed “Life is bursting out of every “dead” decaying tree stump; there is no death – life and death are one” using my favorite fallen tree replete with its entire ecosystem as another example.

The second I spoke these words I felt the truth of what I had said in my body; specifically in my lower belly. It was only a momentary spark or flash but it was definitely a physical sensation.  Another bridge is being forged…

I am blessed to be forging a new friendship with a person on land that I love. I am welcomed, appreciated for my compassion and insight, my ability to see what others cannot. I can be who I am with Betsey. Every conversation I have with her leaves me gratified because I am seen and heard. I don’t have to get stuck in projection because she communicates her feelings and her understanding to me directly through her words and through her body. There is no room for projection or doubt in this kind of exchange. It should come as no surprise to the reader that Betsey has a close relationship with animals, especially her dogs. Dogs are our closest animal familiars tuned to frequency of intimacy that is true astounding.



Northern White Cedar


Just outside my window this morning…




cedar seedlings

When I first moved to the mountains almost 40 years ago I was entranced by the beautiful Northern White Cedars that seemed to grow in such abundance here. On my property I have a number of these magnificent bell shaped trees with their fan-like fronds and clusters of budded green or brown cones that are found on the newer growth in spring and fall. Since I have water all around me and I noted their penchant for moisture I thought I might have ideal habitat for them to thrive.

One year my neighbor planted a whole row of majestic cedars in front of his mother’s house, and over a period of many years I have had the pleasure of watching the saplings become large healthy trees providing shelter for  many birds. During the winter the deer continue to browse on the lower branches of the cedar, a favorite winter forage plant not just for deer but also for moose and rabbits.

After a number of years I began to notice that I no longer saw cedar seedlings popping up around fallen logs around the “mother” trees. Why weren’t the trees producing offspring? At that point I asked my neighbor if I could dig up two small trees of his and I planted these two around the house. The one closest to the house survived browsing deer; the other did not. It was a while before I made the connection between the increasing deer population and the lack of cedar seedlings. I also unwittingly contributed to this problem by feeding deer on this property, something I will certainly not be doing in the future.

The beautiful cedar I planted in my yard next to the house was totally destroyed by deer the first winter I spent in New Mexico. Last year I planted and protected a new cedar seedling in my garden but it was deliberately crushed by a rock that someone pulled out of my stone wall. Fortunately, I have a pictorial record of this egregious act so it won’t happen again.

This spring I have been on the lookout for young cedar seedlings elsewhere and finding few. I have also been talking with my neighbor about this problem. He believes that the exploding deer population is responsible for decimating the seedlings and that we are losing these trees for good. Wise in the ways of the forest, I take his words seriously especially since my own observations match his, and as a naturalist, learning from observation is what I have learned to trust.

After doing some preliminary research on cedars I discovered that indeed, the inflated deer populations are now considered the primary threat to the life of all Northern white cedars. Apparently these trees are threatened by deer in every state they grow in from Maine to Michigan.

New world cedars are not to be confused with the old world cedars of Lebanon; the latter are “true” cedars. Ours come from the Cypress family. To confuse matters further our cedars and junipers are related; the difference between the two is that new world cedars have cones; junipers have berries.

Part 2

What follows is some research on the Northern White cedar:

The literature clearly indicates that cedar prefers organic matter where the pH is neutral to basic (pH 6.0 – 8.0) and where rates of organic matter decomposition are relatively rapid. As soon as water stagnates soils become highly acidic. Chemistry and waterflow are therefore critical factors that affect cedar survival and growth.

Cedar dominated forests develop where the groundwater contains relatively high concentrations of oxygen and essential nutrients and where it moves laterally through the soil. These conditions result in finely decomposed organic matter and a high pH, both characteristics of a good cedar soil. Lateral movement of oxygen and nutrient laden water through the soil may be why cedar swamps typically occur as bands in wetlands and along lakes and streams.


Typically, cedar is found growing in association with other lowland conifer and hardwood tree species. Tamarack, balsam fir, white and black spruce and hemlock are common evergreen companions. Hardwoods like maple, black ash birch and pine are good examples of the latter.


In lowlands Cedar is typically found in small, relatively pure patches. These seem to occur in areas where the water table is at or very near the surface and is moving, such as the edge of a low ridge or along a small stream.


A common denominator in upland cedar habitats is a rich basic mineral soil with a high pH. Cedar forests are more or less confined in the uplands to soils with free calcium carbonate close to the surface.


Another common observation is that upland cedar forests invade open areas: old fields, clear-cuts, sand dunes, and limestone bluffs. These situations are, apparently, the only ones where seedling establishment is clearly the mechanism of stand regeneration.


There is evidence of genetic differentiation between upland and lowland populations. In programs of artificial regeneration, consideration should be given to the fact that local ecotypes could exist. Lowland vs. upland seed should be used to reforest the appropriate habitat.


Northern white cedar is a dependable seed producer. It bears good seed crops every 3 to 5 years, with light to medium crops in the intervening years.


However, seed viability is low, although seed production is relatively consistent year to year. Seed dispersal by wind starts in September with the majority of seed falling during autumn. Some seed is dispersed during winter. Most seed is dispersed within 50 meters of the mother tree.


Seedlings can establish on bare organic and mineral substrates, moss and downed logs in various stages of decay.


Establishment is numerically greatest on logs, but sources point out that the numbers of seedlings are not necessarily related to cedar survival because of deer browsing. It is generally agreed that an estimated 99% of the initial seedlings died by the thirteenth year.


Light in the forest understory doesn’t seem to be a factor regulating seedling establishment according to the literature. I question this statement because the few seedlings I have found seem to have access to some light, either in the morning or late afternoon during the summer, and more light off season. As I have mentioned previously, seedling establishment is definitely positively related to soil PH.


All the sources I consulted concur: The lack of seedlings and saplings in lowlands is due to browsing by the white-tailed deer. Cedar dominated lowland swamps are critical winter habitat for these animals. Small cedars die when more than 15 to20% of the foliage is removed annually. Seedlings often grow very slowly; it can take 20 years for a seedling to reach 1 meter in height. Because cedar grows slowly, seedlings are exposed to browsing pressure for a relatively long time. The only successful reports of sexual reproduction come from uplands and lowlands that are not utilized by deer.


Part 3


Cedar can and often does reproduce by layering or tree tipping. Branch layering where a branch of the parent stem transforms into a stem is the predominant type of vegetative reproduction. The presence of thick sphagnum moss facilitates the formation of new roots and branch layering. Trees can also be blown over and the lateral branches then become main stems. Vegetative reproduction via layering and blow – down appear to be major pathways for successful regeneration in the lowlands.


The notion that cedar typically occurs in the understory and eventually replaces other trees is a myth that should be eliminated. Cedar almost never grows taller any other tree simply because it grows so slowly. Cedars are capable of living a long time – up to about 500 years or more (one cedar in Ontario was dated to 900 years). Because these trees occur in the lower portion of the canopy and can live a long time a myth developed around the idea that cedar is very tolerant when it is not, at least not today.


Researchers suggest that today’s cedar swamps are very similar to those that existed in the same locations more than 150 years ago. Wind – throw is extremely common in cedar swamps and is a major form of natural disturbance. Completely and partially uprooted trees abound. When trees tip only partially, lateral branches assume dominance and the resulting trees are unusually shaped.


Today, most blow-downs encourage spruce, fir, and hardwood regeneration, or the gaps are colonized by  hardwoods and conifers Some cedar reproduction still occurs in open plaes, especially when trees are only partially uprooted and lateral branches remain beyond the reach of deer. But because there is little chance for natural reproduction to grow above the browse – line, cedar does not generally regenerate in areas that are disturbed by wind. Thus, the primary mode of natural regeneration has been eliminated by the white-tailed deer.


Another young friend of mine who is so knowledgeable about trees (and also loves cedar) that I asked him to read this article made a critical observation. He notes that in his experience most trees have a particular strength that compliments their weaknesses and wonders what quality a cedar might have (or develop) that might help them deal with deer predation. We discussed the fact that cedars produced oils that made them more attractive to deer during the winter (also true for junipers). And I wonder if one cedar strategy for long – term cedar survival might be to stop producing the chemical that deer find so tasty during the winter months…


For anyone who loves trees, especially our native cedar there are two things we can do to help address our current cedar losses. The first is to plant and be prepared to care for cedar seedlings long term providing them with adequate deer protection.


The second more unlikely possibility might be to contact the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife folks with a request for help with this issue, even though this organization is heavily invested in maintaining an inflated deer population for hunting.


Cedar has been a valuable tree that has been used by people for millennia beginning with the Native peoples of this country. The Wabanaki named the cedar the ‘Tree of Life’ and used it to make rope, clothing, baskets canoes, poles, fences, and totem poles (west coast – red cedar). Today, in the east these trees are still used to build fence posts etc. because of their durability and natural resistance to insect damage and decay. Burning cedar during the winter, a practice I have engaged in for years, purifies the air because of the Pinenes that are present, and the intoxicating scent of the dried fronds is reason enough to gather a bough or two in the fall to dry…


I think we have taken our native cedars for granted as I once did. Surely, we need to intervene on behalf of these trees giving nature time to make necessary adjustments or we might lose them forever.

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The Predator

dug a hole

in turtle’s wake

scooped and

sucked down

pulsing life

one dark night.

An empty pit

and shriveled eggs

mark the theft .

Her children are dead.



and violence

are bed mates

She bears

thirteen squares –

Round House

hovers above her –

Nature’s Protection.

But how can she

puncture the balloon of

his lies

with her body

to feel the strength

of the shield

she owns?