High Desert Sojourn

 

I longed to re-visit

the desert – my first

journey left me

with a longing for

 wide open spaces

a blue sky dome,

a bowl of stars at night,

so to return 25 years later

was to complete 

an unfinished story.

Now I could live among

 the stately rock

stark white columns

 conical reptilian hills

pink and purple sands

ragged weeds,

Cactus People,

thorns and stickers.

delicate yellow flowers

under a moon that rarely slept?

Some nights I missed the dark.

I always missed the Bear

 I dismissed the longings 

in my body,

Things were different here.

Maybe I could escape

the grief of dying trees, 

stripped mountains,

a shrinking wilderness

too many gunmen

the loss of dreams?

That first November

I heard a haunting –

 Crane calls

as they touched

down at nightfall.

My bones sang.

 How I longed

to meet the bird

whose voice

 sent lightening chills

through every nerve.

For a time I

fell in love

with a river

without frogs,

a river where

the birds

I called the Old Ones

 slept during winter nights

in rippling waters.

I had yet to meet one,

though giant feathery wings

soared through my dreams.

I began 

walking into

a predawn sky

to witness clouds of fire –

spun gold threads

bruised purple

 bittersweet orange

and crimson light

 painted the horizon

at first light before

the sun wiped

away the night.

In the dark

I glimpsed

 the shadow of

 a single

Crane 

perched 

on one leg

in the riffles

standing sentry

like a god.

The Weeping

Woman rose up

  in a cloud

burst of mist

half hidden

by frothing waters

In the liminal hour 

other shadows shook

and shivered, transforming

into sturdy bodies –

 birds, clustered together

in one communal roost.

That winter they stayed.

Every flyby overhead

brought me to the edge

of some deep knowing…

My body yearned…

I met kindly folks,

hiked over mountains

 made friends

with dying cottonwoods

sagebrush lizards

 witnessed a Bosque

becoming a grave.

Almost imperceptibly 

darkness seeped in.

 Harsh white light

stings sensitive eyes,

a wall of heat petrifies.

Deserts

are too sparse –

except for Stones 

that rarely speak.

This is the world

of the sky gods.

The Lords of Red Sun

show little mercy,

 breathe fire and soot.

Wildfire clogged

skies are heavy 

with smoke.

Unbearable heat.

No wonder

Dragons thrive here.

Cobalt blue can be 

monotonous

day after day…

Desert scrub

is always hungry.

Whirling west winds

blind,

choke sickened lungs

like mine

not made for

dust or smoke.

My beloved Earth

 turned to stone –

How had I missed 

Toad’s transformation?

   Scree and rock

are climbed 

but rarely seen.

 Human eyes are drawn

to distant worlds

jagged mountain views

– those who gaze

‘heaven’ – ward

 seek transcendence

or flying saucers

it makes no difference –

  Her Body Moans, 

 still cracks open,

 She is dying of thirst.

Digging through hardpan

I discovered hell.

A man devoid

of emotion.

Even the river’s muddy

flow is controlled

by the ‘chosen ones’

 who fish

in polluted waters.

 Withering plants

sprout no leaves,

a few drops of rain

leave no scent.

Deer tracks replace

Animal Presence.

No wonder I was lonely.

When the Cranes 

flew North each spring

I mourned absence

without comprehension..

My body was wasting away.

 Last spring

when the Cranes 

 circled over my head

Brrring and rasping,

I heard them say;

“Fly North with us

you must risk it all again.”

I feared

what lay ahead –

A Crumbling Foundation.

Then the Spirit

of my Land spoke sternly

through the air:

“You need

rich moist soil

  a forest of green boughs, 

a life lived through

  shifting seasons –

 the gift of spring rains

summers spent

with a riot of flowers,

fall hikes through leaves

whose flames are free of fire.

 Long Winter Peace.”

Soul slammed into body,

 understanding dawned.

Awed, this time

I understood at last.

Such a perilous

spiral journey,

I learned so much. 

These days I bow

 to that glorious river

imagining waters running free,

 conjure sunrises,

 washed in pink, peach, and gold

I see cranes brrrring in a molten sky.

  I remember

 the lizards

who loved me.

And thank them all.

 I’m already listening  –

Rasping brrrrrs

 fill my senses.

it won’t be long

until Cranes return.

They come  

to dance and breed, 

spend most of the year

 in nearby lowland

meadows.

Cranes, 

Spirits of the Air

called me

year after year

their bodies

brought me home.

Postscript:

I look out the window as I finish my story and see the deer; one stands by the window staring in. These are the Spirits of this Land who came to me the first time I stepped on this patch of earth in pouring rain. Their stares penetrate my soul/body with knowing eyes. They come to reinforce truth: I belong here, just as they do.

Afterward:

Women with Wings

 It wasn’t until I wrote this story that I learned that the Cranes cyclic winter presence and my response to them demonstrated how the power of “women with wings” had been operating as actual birds in my life on a visceral level without my conscious awareness. My body knew from the beginning that I was making a mistake believing I could move to the desert; it took four years for that awareness to penetrate the haze of my mind.  

Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird. A fossil from the Miocene epoch, 10 million years ago, was found to be structurally the same as that of the modern Sand hill crane.

When I first encountered these ancient birds I was forcibly struck by their behavior. During the winter I met small groups of them flying overhead, noting the lack of an apparent leader, how they always called out to one another, how one crane always took on the role of protector of the whole flock by keeping watch for predators at night. At the Bosque del Apache I watched in amazement as they interacted by the thousands in harmony. Their bodies are large and robust; yet they have such powerful wings that they are able to become airborne without apparent effort. Once in the air they fly so high that even when it’s possible to hear them they become literally invisible to the naked eye. 

This migratory species is without parallel. They journey twice a year using three basic flyways, each with stopovers where the birds meet and rest. Most breeding grounds are found in the northern U.S., Canada, and Alaska, but some Sand hill cranes travel as far as Siberia to breed each spring. During courtship they engage in elaborate displays dancing with outspread wings and leaping into the air while calling. Mated pairs engage in “unison calling” an unusual and complex duet. When the birds fly south in the late fall to spend the winter months foraging for grains, the young fly with the parents. During their three – month stay they form flocks of thousands of birds. Most amazing was my discovery that these birds coordinate these bi -yearly long distance flights without a leader. That’s when I put my observations/research together and recognized that these birds must also operate as an “egalitarian matriarchy” (Carol Christ).

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