Late last March an emaciated doe appeared around the house even before the snow was gone. Although I am used to having wild animals visit I was bewildered; this deer seemed too tame. I could get within a couple of feet of her while talking to her softly.
Every morning there she was standing at the front door nipping twigs from the crabapple tree when I let the dogs out before dawn. I could see where she was spending the night curled into last year’s fallen leaves, just outside my bedroom window. I named her Red Deer because of her pitiful rusty red coat. It wasn’t long before the first emerald shoots appeared in my flower garden. Red Deer feasted indiscriminately denuding all the plants. Initially annoyed, my increasing concern for the emaciated deer’s welfare eventually allowed me to let go of my flowers – after all, the garden was perennial and all these plants would return next year. The doe was so listless that I thought she might be dying…. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was taking the long view and incorporating it into the present.
Spring was stunning except for my garden! Best of all, Red Deer began to fill out. By May she had become a robust animal with a shimmering red coat that shone deep autumn gold in the morning sun. I had made the right choice!
Whenever I was outside Red Deer would appear. If I sat in my chair in the field she would materialize out of the pines and come within a few feet of me. I was confident that she knew how much I cared about her…She stared into my eyes with an intensity that made me wonder what she could possibly be thinking -those obsidian reflective pools of light… She followed me around the house like a dog. I met her in the evenings at dusk. She appeared at the bedroom window before dawn, challenging Hope the leader of a dog pack of two to bark when only a screen separated the two (both my little dogs had been taught not to bark at wild animals).
Towards the end of May Red Deer moved her bed down the hill into the fragrant lemony – lime hay ferns, but still spent her days and nights (judging by the state of my garden) around the house. I talked to her every time I saw her and noticed that like other wild animals this deer seemed soothed by the sound of my voice. If there was a sudden volley of gunshots from the neighboring idiots I could always calm her. In 40 years I have never had a deer adopt me like this one did.
Red Deer might have divested me of my most favorite flowers but she was thriving, and I was at peace.
One day in mid June I glimpsed a vision that stunned me. The most beautiful fawn barely able to stand, was struggling to walk up the hill. I caught my first picture of this speckled wonder even as Red Deer materialized out of the now thick greenery that characterized the whole area above the brook. She quickly took the lead and the two disappeared around the side of the house to feast on more anemones. I stayed indoors and watched them from the window thinking I might frighten the fawn.
Later that afternoon the dogs and I met the two as we walked up to the driveway. We all stopped and stared. In a soft voice I welcomed “Little Deer” spontaneously, using the Indigenous name that I had been given long ago. Both deer veered a little to the left allowing us to pass. Neither bolted.
This first meeting was followed by others, every day, all summer long. I had two tame deer that appeared out of the green whenever they chose. As fall approached I began to feel uneasy. These two were so trusting that I worried that they might easily be shot if either left this protected space.
Now it is late October, less than two weeks from hunting season. During the last month all the crabapples have been falling just outside my front door. Every morning I do a ‘sweep’ raking the day’s apples away from the door and piling them under the tree. This tree first housed the phoebe family and then twittered all summer with a hundred hummingbirds, as well as becoming a Monarch’s bower as a butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. Now this ‘tree of life’ is feeding the deer…
We have had many hard frosts. Temperatures in the low twenties sweeten the apples so a week or two ago I wasn’t surprised to meet Little Deer at my front door followed by his mother. There are literally about a thousand apples to eat, so my guess is that they will be around for a while – my hope is that Red Deer will not stray far during hunting season, although she is once again ready to mate.
I have become so attached to these two non – human friends that it’s hard for me to think about letting them go…
Even if Little Deer stays close by during the hunt it is unlikely that Red Deer will.
Change is the only constant, I keep reminding myself.
My Indigenous name, “Little Deer” has poignant associations with my dead brother and my youngest son who loved his uncle’s deerskin jacket and slept with it as a child. After receiving my name reluctantly (another story) I learned about the Cherokee myth of Little Deer. In this tale whenever any wild creature needed help, a song was sung and Little Deer appeared out of the mountain to advocate for that animal’s life; he also advocated for the lives of all his relatives. I used to fantasize that he also advocated for me. The animals called him a ‘justice maker’.
By this time I had developed very personal relationships with the deer that lived around me and was giving Native American programs in the schools. Amazing experiences with deer permeated my life. Thirty years passed before Lyme ticks appeared. I had dogs to think about as well as myself. I stopped feeding the deer. My relationship with the mythical Little Deer receded, although as a fierce naturalist and writer I continued to advocate for all animals and plants.
Until this year. The sudden appearance of Red Deer changed everything. I surrendered my garden to her, worried about her health, experienced such joy when she appeared with her little son.
Little Deer came back into my life. Fearing that my concern will not be enough I am once again singing the little song the animals use to call in the Spirit of Little Deer to intervene in the lives of both these animals – a mother and her son…
This poem was written in response to a glory filled autumn day that despite my intention to appreciate it, spiraled into the present Earth Catastrophe we are facing.
The rains were heavy – four inches deep – swelling brooks and streams and pulling leaves away to expose bare branches. A perfect day to visit the river…
But in the first hour of walking my dogs and I were assaulted by screaming mountain bikes chewing up the roads. Back and forth they drove – robots dressed in armor from other planets.
I refused to allow this obscenity to intrude or so I thought until returning to the car I wrote this poem.
Truth pours through words that remind me that like it or not I am a part of this willful destructive dying culture – I shudder, hanging by a thread. We are all in breakdown.
My intention to live in the present is dependent upon having a meaningful present to live in.
The forested places are my solace because Something is always watching, and listening to me there, but that fragile connection is being broken by an invasion from below – the dark unholy noise that shatters brain cells as well as those in our bodies. We are a culture addicted to not listening, seeing, or feeling..
Every year autumn stuns me senseless with her beauty. Earth celebrates being seeneven if only as background to a horizon whose trees have caught fire.
As masses of cars race by me to see the ‘scenery’ I drive like a snail to my beloved forest, day after day, to walk – to witness the ever shifting colors of the same trees as their leaves begin to fall…
I hear them humming in the Silence…
“We are here. We are alive. We are Sentient Beings just like you, celebrating the turning of the seasons as we prepare for sleep. If only you were capable of listening we could teach you how to live.
LIGHTS OUT PLEASE!!!! Last night 325,000 birds crossed this county – migration from now on in is going to be high. Please have your parties and let the stars light your way this Labor Day weekend… all the birds but especially first migrators need your help. They are making a perilous journey alone. Outdoor spotlights are deadly throwing birds off course.
In the last two days I bet I have lost half my hummingbirds to migration during the day. The twittering crabapple is often silent and this is the third dawn since May 8 when I haven’t had to fill feeders! Wow!
The women with wings are hidden in the trees that love them (me)
There is a river of birds in migration, a Nation of women with wings (Libana)
Walking to the brook after more rain is always a treat. So many frogs and toads! Not so many mushrooms on hemlock hill but oh that soft spongy ground. It fascinates me that the brook pools remain so stable – as they widen and deepen – lots of thunderstorms have helped – the water is so tranquil. Passionflowers bloom on and finally, I have some ripe wild apples for me Thanks Red Deer.
Shattering the violent myth of human dominance allows us to experience other beings as sentient. (me)
I was thinking this thought as the dogs and I met Little Deer and his mother at dusk. They had already had eaten their fill of apples! Little Deer is almost as big as his mother but a bit more shy – a quality that pleases me. However, both seem to take such pleasure in our company. My dogs were taught never to bark at animals so the deer have no fear. I note they are staying close to home – even bedding in the garden!
Very chilly! 39 degrees! Ah, I do love these crisp cool mornings…
I’ll say it again. We are are approaching peak migration – last night 1,352,200 birds crossed Oxford County alone.
PLEASE PLEASE LIGHTS OUT from dusk to dawn so the new migrators who are traveling without their parents don’t become disoriented.
With such bright stars and a waxing 2nd harvest moon the skies can lead….
“ I close my eyes and listen to the voices of the rain”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Peaceful weekend in the forest -cool temperatures too. I was happy to discover more orchid clusters – Nodding Ladies Tresses have an intoxicating scent to draw in their pollinators – especially bumblebees! I also found bottled gentians … these wildflowers are becoming scarce – Today more rain – I’m glad that dry spell in July has passed – the woods are moist – important for setting seed. All the people are in and all the animals are out and about!
Yesterday it kept raining all day long after steady rain the night before and it is still drizzling This kind of soaking rain is a form of grace reminding us all that without rain there would be no life. Water is Life!
Normally I am out the door for a rain walk but temps in mid fifties all day seem to warrant a warm fire in the stove with me spending the day window gazing – turkeys birds and deer were mulling about and the bird feeder was busy – I love the late summer greening – today temps will warm a bit and no doubt a morning walk in boots will become necessity – it’s the fragrance of moist air that seduces me every time!
A monarch butterfly split her capsule and hung from the tree until her wings dried…. Although I have witnessed this incredible transformation many times in my life this time seemed the most miraculous – that such a creature could emerge from that capsule as this astonishing creature brought me to tears… she has such a perilous journey ahead 2000 miles . Because I watched the capsule day after day when it turned black yesterday morning I knew her birthing time had come – she was my butterfly in my heart and oh I wish her and all of her kind a safe journey – According to the literature only about five percent of these insects make it to the butterfly stage… While she was drying her wings on the branch of my crabapple I spoke to her, and she shyly climbed onto my fingers like she knew me. I sensed some force passing between us…I left two bouquets of flowers.
Transformations – miracles are part of nature’s genius. A butterfly knows what genuine transformation is really about – humans experience it too at birth and death..
Musings…. Last night I looked up the word miracle:
Miracle: an amazing or wonderful occurrence derived from the Latin “object of wonder”
All the other definitions focused on humans/god – our thinking/writing elevates and separates humans from the rest of nature – it’s no wonder nature is routinely trashed…
“Restoring the land without restoring (our) relationship to it is an empty exercise”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
This is such an important truth because owning land just makes it another commodity – something else to use … or make money from …restoring our relationship to the land turns that relationship into a sacred bond…
Water, turkey tail mushrooms, a chrysalis, and of course an emerging butterfly all bring me into relationship with whatever lies outside my front door… turkeys are chortling and the fog is thick like the blanket of good soil I raked into the base of my ailing apple tree…
Shattering the violent myth of human exceptionalism is I think the greatest challenge of our time.
Red Deer and Little Deer graze around the house while woodsman friend checks moves cameras etc – how grateful I am for this help.
My hummingbirds are leaving in droves! Last night more than one million birds migrated south over Oxford County – PLEASE leave those Outdoor Spotlights out. I am so distressed to see so many houses with those blaring lights left on Why? Indifference? I have spotlights too but they only come in when an intruder approaches, or I am returning after dark. Keeping lights off is a simple and compassionate solution for the birds.
Oh I hope everyone looked to the sky!
The second Harvest Moon was just stunning and I had to walk up the hill a second time to gaze at it as it rose over the horizon … in NM orange means pollution – I wondered about here – weather was clear yesterday – learned that as the sun gets closer to horizon it emits longer wave lengths that are caught and scattered by lingering clouds – so yesterday there was a thicker layer of earth’s atmosphere along the horizon creating the astonishing color!
“ In some Native languages the term plants translates as those who take care of us.”
Robin Wall Kimmerer
Healthy trees in a healthy forest breathe and transpire bringing us clean air and the gift of clouds and rain. The orange slime mold is called “ witches butter” – I love common names because they tell us something important about the plant – witch is a key word here because witches were healers who worked with nature and knew for example that this slime mold supports immune systems and heals respiratory problems. While digging in a young cedar and some witch hobble I discovered a large green frog with the most beautiful markings.
Another monarch caterpillar died. I try to remember that less than five percent of these caterpillars actually become butterflies.
A few mushroom beauties from the woods – there are so many Russulas now that I no longer take pictures of them – some are the size of dinner plates … still waters are such a joy… evening dog walk is punctuated by our two deer that watch the dogs curiously as they walk down the road. The other day I was having lunch and a bevy of turkeys surrounded my chair chortling away – I wondered if they wanted to share my sandwich! It was funny!!!
One more trip to pollinator garden – although there are young milkweed plants pictured I saw fewer butterflies – which I think is a good thing – they need to be migrating now – still lots of baby caterpillars – hmm, does extending the season with new plants keep monarchs here laying new eggs?
A huge silver tower appeared in the field since last week – it’s part of a community science project – an animal tracking system – Motus – these towers are going up all over the place to track birds, bats, and other creatures that have been banded for research – I am always wondering how much new technology actually helps the birds and animals being tracked, though I am fascinated by Cornell’s Merlin that tells me how many birds flew over my county each night.
It’s hard to believe it’s the middle of September – only a few hints of fall – dogs and I went upland on a too well beaten four wheeler trail – easy walking but so little to see – many plants have just disappeared. Not an animal in sight. It seems to me that human “recreation” and nature don’t seem to be respectful partners – one wipes out the other…. I’ll take the forest lowlands the secret places where nature remains untrammeled by man! Still, the dogs enjoyed this trail that is close to home. All my hummingbirds left en masse on September 10! Never have I experienced this dramatic exodus – this morning a lone visitor is passing through – gosh I love not filling feeders twice a day – fresh air this morning after rain. Temps range from 60 to 80 with impossible humidity. Unheard of for this month…
Joanna Macy writes that until we can grieve for the earth we cannot love her.
Grief and Love are two sides of the same coin.
And change is the only constant.
Wind and clear dawn skies – some milkweed fluff and another trip to the land trust to see the new tower – 31 countries are participating – this tracking system will tell us more about migrating birds as well as bats dragonflies and maybe butterflies – I hope this will be technology that helps the animals themselves and not just give us more information about species at risk.
After the rain I am out the door to visit with the mosses – our very first land plants (375-450 million years old) – Aren’t they beautiful?
Yesterday I had the field cut – suddenly all pods and seeds dispersed and once again the field becomes a place to star gaze I experience this annual cutting as a mythical act – even mystical – as if I am participating in some ancient ceremony – the cutting away- strange how I experience this every year.
By evening I emerge through the pine path to sit in my chair – last night all the fawns were eating the sweet crabapples – white tails flashed. They didn’t expect a visitor!!
I will walk the dogs in the evening and then come and sit here. This small field is totally enclosed and just the right size- Chilly mornings small fires and windy northwest wind alert us to the changing season as do the insects – cardinals are coming in at 6:30 now to be fed.
“When you reach for the stars you are reaching for the unknown… when you reach deep into yourself you are reaching for your soul…”
I was thinking these thoughts last night as I sat in my chair waiting for the stars to appear – first that deep blue – black and then a pinpoint of light and soon patterns and stories become visible. How I love still autumn nights.
My hydrangea ( panicled) blooms on as it has been since the beginning of August 38 degree temperatures like those this morning don’t trouble this exquisite pollinator – now a huge buzzing bush with so many bees sipping nectar. Hummingbirds and butterflies especially monarchs love this bush but the latter are gone as are the hummingbirds although I leave the feeders out for visitors passing through… a few shaggy bee balm still pepper the garden along with pure white fragrant phlox so bees are still busy but fall is with us. I love the slow rising dawns…
In the woods we see that death always births more life!
Look at that tree trunk!
First fall colors just starting… and yet one more chrysalis – I worry that it’s too late in the season…no one knows why we have had so many monarchs this year…Did you know that the gold spots on a monarch chrysalis are ports of entry for oxygen or that inside a chrysalis right from the beginning there is a real butterfly? Last night the last caterpillar became a chrysalis. I spoke to this one yesterday morning; she seemed to be listening because she moved her feelers to the sound of my voice much like the newly birthed butterfly did. I named her Rosie and oh, I wished her well as she moved into the J shape, hanging from a silken thread that she had spun. If she hatches it won’t be until around the 4th of October… (she did not hatch –nights in the twenties probably killed her.)
Robin Wall Kimmerer entered graduate school to become a scientist because she loved plants. When asked why she responded that she wanted to know why there was so much beauty in the world – as an example she asked why the asters and goldenrod bloomed together in the fall since the two were so astonishing in contrast. She was told that this kind of question was inappropriate if she planned to become a scientist – and that she should attend art school instead.
This story has stayed with me because it illustrates the terrible separation we maintain by keeping science value free. Science deals with facts and leaves feeling sensing being intuiting out. This approach is quite crazy when we examine it. We need to approach science with all of our senses. Not just by thinking.
These New England asters are my favorite and they don’t begin to bloom until now – my entire cut field is ringed with these beauties and goldenrod too along with so many berries!
There is a quality present in fall rain that seems absent at other times of the year… perhaps it is the slow dawning, the gray noon skies or the deepening dusk that spins a cocoon around me. I step outside briefly to visit and soak in emerald mosses perhaps because during this season, like that of spring these plants seem to come into their own. Glowing. Mosses are the tiny forests that live at my feet and I see the woods around me reflected in those shades of diminutive green. Hair cap moss and red feathered mosses are common here and although I don’t have literature to support my observations I note that often these seem to be mixed with brocade moss one of my absolutely favorites because their tufts look the most like conifers. The fat pincushion moss pictured soaks up enormous amounts of water and turns bright green – it’s sea foam gray disappears…I think about a recent visit to the forest when I finally found coral root a stunning orchid that you must get down on your knees to see! – I cannot get a picture… I spent lots of time in the kitchen cooking up tasty mushrooms with oh so fresh garlic and onions while peering out silver streaked windows at very wet turkeys. Today looks to be much the same…I think of all the thirsty tree roots that are soaking in the mineral rich waters too…
Robin Wall Kimmerer has been on my mind because the frequency of the rain has made all the mosses glow!… pieces of her book on mosses keep surfacing. I read and re – read that book twice. As a scientist and an Indigenous person she is able to see and listen to plant life and heed the language of the natural world using all of her facilities to learn.
She says that as our knowledge of plant life unfolds human imagination and vocabulary must adapt!
Yesterday I spent time enjoying the ostrich plume ferns nestled in between red stemmed mosses and hair cap moss – it interests me that these first plants that came to land some 400 million years ago are growing so close in community and that when I look at them I see different species merging into one united whole. We could learn so much from some simple observations…
Sadly my brook waters turn brown from the logging machine, but will clear by afternoon – what amazes me is that two days of rain just deepen and widen that pool – so good for the trout! I will lose a couple of trees eventually but that whole area is so full of new trees coming and all are hemlocks close to the water that stabilize temperatures…
It’s hard to believe it’s almost the equinox and there is just a hint of fall color – with temps in mid fifties who knows how long this will last .
An aerial predator visits – while Red Deer and Little Deer have changed their coats for fall! All apples gone under their favorite tree but they have many other choices to choose from – oh how I have never regretted planting for the animals instead of people – I came here with the idea that this land would be for them – 40 years later I am so grateful that I made this choice – just as I gave allowed the land to decide how to grow I have become a student of field and forest, brooks and springs and have documented many changes – Here I have a small sanctuary that teaches me each day how to live… a heron in the air, a bevy of flickers passing through, coyotes just up the hill behind me ring in the night as I watch a few stars trying to peek through more haze.. this morning more rain… the passage of the equinox is always a poignant one – only the trees seem to be waiting for a chill. 60 degrees isn’t it! Wow our weather is changing
The autumn equinox speaks to the miracle of slow transformation
Regardless of temperatures shorter days and longer nights encourage the trees to cease their sugar making – they shed vulnerable parts like leaves – harden up – cells become permeable. Water flows out of tree trunks concentrating into anti- freeze. The dormant life below the bark is lined with water so pure there is nothing left to crystallize. Then they sleep…
Yesterday the garden disappeared under next year’s mulch, the second and final round of the cutting away. Part two of the same ritual, of course. All the young cedars I planted have their winter house protection made. Gosh, many of these three year old seedlings are now young trees and the one in my garden is four feet tall! Attention and Intention do make a difference… This property has clusters of dead cedars and some magnificent old cedar trees too but when I noticed that young ones weren’t surviving I paid attention – and planted seedlings taken from other forest to offset deer predation.. The deer population decimates cedars (Thuga) and because they are slow growing they are grazed to death. With protection they thrive loving their natural environment down by the brook. This year I had help and they all have wire houses that I’ll be able to use for a while, happily…. I also spent time seeding milkweed in unlikely places feeling like the seed woman I am!… A long but satisfying day. With all fall chores completed I am creating space for leaf peeping, and hopefully many more glorious days like yesterday.
I think a Barred Owl is trying to return to these woods… It all started last spring with hooting and at least one owl being badly mobbed by crows a number of times… During the summer more hooting across the brook where the owls used to live amongst the hemlock and the cedar (before logging stripped the forest around us)… and one evening a Barred owl flew past me while I was sitting in my chair enjoying the sunset – the poor bird was trying desperately to evade the crows…I kept hearing one off and on all summer but last night after I came in a Barred owl hooted just outside my window nine times!…I just have the sense they are returning ‘home’. Perhaps all the most recent logging of a neighboring mountain has driven them back. Normally these beautiful owls like a lot of forest but they too must adjust in order to survive. And I have one neighbor who cuts trees to heat his home leaving lots of older trees… so together we might have enough forest cover left for these beautiful and shy birds – my absolutely favorite owl!
If anyone can identify this dragonfly let me know – he’s huge! I include the frog picture because around here the frogs are getting sluggish, burrowing in under leaves and other detritus or mud…I don’t see them now, but this little fellow is a tropical wonder!
Mycelial networks work underground like an enormous web connecting all living beings – we know almost nothing about their complexity but when we take mushroom walks like we did today at the local land trust we get to see the fruiting bodies of these extraordinary processes and beings… Vibrant leaves followed me home!
Yesterday someone sent me a picture of the King Bolete, one of the many mushrooms we found on our mushroom walk. This edible is a mycorrhizal mushroom – it has a symbiotic relationship with the trees beneath its feet -and is connected to the mycelial network that stretches across unbroken ground just beneath the surface – nutrients, support, and communication are all exchanged. This is community in action.
The moon is made of feldspar (and other minerals) and I got to hold a piece of this moon stone in my own hands in a truly spectacular lab at the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel – the latter, probably the finest of its kind in the world. Awe.
Maybe even more exciting was holding another sphere of rock that held bacteria – the first living beings on earth. There are convincing arguments that bacteria were present 2.5 – 3.5 billion years ago.
Holding this stone I literally entered Deep Time… the beginning of all Life on Earth…
No matter what we do to destroy life on earth – s/he will live on.
On my way home the flaming trees were telling me the same story…
Yesterday after more rain – it’s raining again today) I went on a quest in my favorite forest to see if I could find an “old man in the woods “ mushroom like the one I’d seen on our mushroom walk. I was careful to try to duplicate the general area – the big difference in my forest was one of diversity – there the variety of ground cover is astonishingly complex – in the other stand of trees it was quite sparse – I did find some of the same mushrooms not surprisingly because this is the season for Amanitas and Boletes. There is so much mystery around the appearance of these fruiting bodies – what has to be present in the millions of miles of mycelia to produce any of the 20,000 mushrooms? We don’t know anything! Anyway I didn’t find the Old Man but I did find a stunning Amanita muscaria – easily distinguished from Yellow Patches (a cousin) by its white cracked veil on the top. This is our American version of the iconic red ‘toadstool’. Gorgeous, yes? The Old Man must have been on my mind as an Elf because I made him a little teeny house in the bottom of a tree trunk…
Here is his story: the Elf was a brilliant scientist who mined minerals under the earth who recently discovered a new one, and will surely discover more. Here in the woods he lived above a beaver pond and two frogs were his guardians. The helpful frogs also ate bugs so he was never bothered by pests. He lived beneath the forest floor snug in his tree trunk house the entrance of which was disguised by mushrooms that he seeded in during three seasons of the year. In the winter mosses and lichens hid the Elf Scientist’s door. His garden was below on a steep hill and he slid down a magic ladder to reach it. He loved trees and grew many varieties; he even kept a small orchard. He scattered amanita spores there too – they grew as big as trees and on sunny days he would nap on their beautiful sunset orange or yellow caps… The beavers provided him with enough wood chips for his fires in the winter and he had many other neighbors though he was the only human…in the early spring a gurgling sound often awakened him as the tree began to draw water up from the roots – all the minerals would nourish the branches of his poplar as the tree ate more and more light and the forest breathed for all… an amazing natural feat…
The morning my father died many years ago I awakened from a dream that said “ your father has become a beaver” just seconds before the call came in.
Since then I have been drawn to beavers and their ponds. My father was a beaver man – industrious to a fault – a fine finish carpenter in his spare time. Professionally he was an aeronautical engineer…
Whenever I visit with beavers I note that they often make an appearance even in the middle of the day.
I am awed by what they can do.
Beavers were our first ecologists – they understood the necessity of creating ponds and wetlands to support the rest of the wildlife. They opened forests in a non – destructive way allowing new for the growth of new plants. At the time the colonists came to this country beavers were plentiful but greed came with the immigrants and before long almost all beavers were extirpated. The ecology of the land changed… today beavers are still trapped and killed routinely – they are considered a nuisance animal.
The pictures show how beavers fell trees and some show one of their ponds… with so much destruction occurring throughout the planet perhaps it’s time to let the beavers teach us more about ecology. As a species they take the long view.
When I look at the trees this year I think of Richard Power’s question:
“ What if the living world sets PATTERNS that we have to accommodate ourselves to.” This idea turns free will on its head and my personal experiences over a lifetime indicate that aligning ourselves with nature’s patterns is a lesson we need to learn…. I think Climate Change will teach us more about this idea, namely that the earth is not under human control after all.
First frost this morning, September 30th. A slow turning because of such mild weather for most of the month – only yesterday did I see what I call “swamp fire “ – (the maples in the lowlands peaking in color) – usually this occurs much earlier – here I am surrounded by pale shades of gold and deep forest green. This first turning is my favorite because there is still so much contrast….yesterday on our forest walk I could not keep my head lower than the horizon!Just now the Barred Owl hoots outside my window… and it is 7:30 AM as I write this morning meditation. It is also my birthday. Every year some kind of gift. Perhaps the owl was commenting on my writing about patterns?
Fall is the season of ‘the cutting away’, a poignant time to celebrate the deepening darkness as we turn inward. I think the powers of the goddess are strongest at this time of year… I wrote this wistful poem in celebration of Autumn as I am experiencing it this year… perhaps the personal reflection that follows is the kind of thinking that is capable of opening a door to a new way of perceiving?
stains the maples
beech hay ferns too
a deeper glow
scarlet sears a leaf
salmon rose blurs…
fir balsam hemlock
soak in drops
on the mountain
Earth speaks so concretely about just how fast change is occurring here and everywhere. At the end of September muted color has been the norm along with what I once would have called “too warm” night temperatures. Where is the swamp fire? My field has been cut, the flower garden shorn, my beloved insect ridden apple tree is bare, apples eaten. Her smooth trunk is a study in pure grace – dove gray curves against pale ochre, faded sage. Red Deer no longer climbs the hill but moves swiftly through bowed ferns, rounding the house to feast on the second apple tree’s ripened apples. Grouse will soon perch in ruby laden trees. One crabapple is so thick with fruit that a daily sweep must be done to get out the door. Turkeys scratch a well – seeded ground layered with next year’s wildflower heads, grass -like mulch.
After the brutality of two months of summer heat and endless humidity this quiet descent into post equinox fall seems almost anticlimactic. I am scanning the sky for flashes of brilliant leaf color or peering intently at forest ground…. Wild orchids bloom on. Mushrooms abound. I imagine the billions of miles of mycelia just beneath my feet wondering which threads will support the twenty thousand species of fruiting bodies that will burst out of the ground somewhere on this earth, many of these mushrooms seduced by rain. Around here frequent, almost daily showers have the rivers singing, and my brook pool is deepening, filled to the brim with healthy oxygen rich fish.
These next few weeks will mark the end of the Season of Abundance as Nature orchestrates the Cutting Away. We notice then that the trees are stripped of their vibrant leaves during this period that precedes winter white. The bones of the mountain appear; holes in the treeline appear – the evergreens have been cut away and chipped. I lean into the coming darkness. For me it is a time to reflect and pose questions…
One query I repeat year after year. How can I express my gratitude for nature’s bounty most effectively while including times of attrition as part of the whole? Only recently, within the past few years have I heard someone else articulate the former aspect of this question.
Scientist, author, and ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks to the necessity of developing an attitude of reciprocity when engaging with nature. What she means here is that it’s critically important not to take nature’s gifts for granted. Like a sunset, an owl, or a decaying woodland trunk. She points out that most westerners treat nature as if ‘it’ (note the denial of personhood for lack of a better word) is a commodity, existing for the sole purpose of serving humanity.
As a naturalist and earth person I have never understood this attitude/belief because it never seemed real. My experiences with animals and trees taught me as a child that this thinking didn’t make sense. During adolescence this denial of nature’s personhood – Nature was inanimate – animals and plants didn’t have souls – became the core issue that split me away from the Christian church. Forced to choose between the two I chose nature and with it, guilt. (I was freed from the latter when I reclaimed my Native roots.)
When I first heard Kimmerer’s words about reciprocity they rang with authenticity. All Indigenous peoples know that intimacy with nature involves relationship because every living being in nature is a relative but I had not thought of this relationship as being one of reciprocity though I tried to live it. Nature wants and needs to be seen, appreciated and loved as individuals and as a whole. It is true that this is a form of reciprocity.
Still, gratitude did not seem to be enough; it felt like I needed to do more. Of course, gratitude has both a passive and active aspect. Giving thanks and giving back…
I advocate for nature through my writing, but often this seems to be more about me than about nature. In many ways writing about this earth l love so much is a way to deal with what otherwise would be intolerable personal grief over what’s happening to our blue green planet. In other words writing helps keep me sane.
I think incorporating the acceptance of grief into the story on a larger scale might be part of the answer. If ever there was a time to integrate the need for radical cutting away on a cultural level it is now. Changes in politics are dramatic and in nature unwelcome and one way I can deal with this present is to find a way to take the long view, which incorporates deep time into the whole. To paraphrase Overstory’s Richard Powers “we are born, we live and we die in the middle of things; this is not a good story”. Entering deep time is easier if I am, for example, watching a snapping turtle, knowing that this species has been in its present form for 60 – to 200 million years. My life in this context disappears into Time…But I cannot stay here.
So at present I can celebrate the cutting away as a seasonal change but that is all.
I suspect that my periodic inability to accept both sides of the whole – abundance and attrition equally – may be getting in the way of living my life joyfully. I am aware of our collective need to destroy this planet on a daily basis. Unless I am actually in the forest actively participating with my beloved, wed to the present while sitting by a stream, peering into the trees, discovering new mushrooms, or listening to the barred owl’s call, grief overshadows my capacity for joy. I believe that nature wants us to feel the joy of being alive and I keep losing it.
Fear of being housebound this winter and of not getting enough help to manage, as well as fear of my own death also get in the way… fear pulls me out of the present too.
There may be another hidden aspect. Richard Powers asks an important question: “What if the living world sets patterns that we have to accommodate ourselves to?” This idea turns free will on its head, of course. But my life experience suggests that certain patterns do dominate our lives. Once I suspected this I wasted a lot of time trying to ignore, rage against, or overcome what I could not.
Now what I want is to accept what is.
It seems to me that I need to re-engage with the Dark Goddess to help me live more joyfully while accepting unwelcome earth changes including that of my own death.
Perhaps She’d also remind me that being willing to engage with an unknown future is what matters. And that deaths of all kinds, at least in Nature, always lead to new life.
Once there was a little old woman who loved the woods…she was too old now to camp – her bones were fragile and her back ached when she slept on the ground – but the forest was her home and she longed for its peace.
One fall a wonderful family who loved the land like she did offered to let her stay in a secret place that was situated in a wood under hemlocks and pines…. This family ‘owned’ lots of land but they shared it with others. They believed that forests needed to be left in peace and so these woods were full of many plants and animals that had no other place to go. The little old woman had fallen in love with this land many years ago and had longed to meet the family who cared for these mountain forests so much…and then the miracle occurred… a refuge for her at last!
One brilliant scarlet and orange autumn day when the milkweed pods were ripe the little old woman took the seeds still attached to their silken sails to her beloved forest; she knew places where the milkweed would grow and scattered the pods still attached to their stems like a wand around the low places. As she watched the seeds flutter away like birds on the wing, she asked nature for a blessing for the seeds and for the family that had so graciously offered her sanctuary…
On her way back to her secret place she heard a little voice – the trees were talking beneath words – “ when you get there build a little shelter and use the empty pods as trees”. So she gathered pine cones, acorns, a mushroom or two, some lichen and moss, found a piece of wood with a hole in it for the roof and set to work imagining all the invisible creatures that already inhabited the mosses, lichens and wood.
As the little old woman finished the sun was sinking below the hemlocks but for a moment it cast a golden light around the little structure with its milkweed trees. Nature would use every pod, acorn, seed, branch, berry, and mushroom to become next year’s soil. Nothing was ever wasted in a forest the old woman knew… In the distance she could hear the river singing “from life to death from death to life” repeating the story again and again. Nature’s round has no end.
When I was a little girl my brother and I used to build fairy houses in the forest. Some were very elaborate and all were made from whatever detritus lay around us. This sounds boring, but we had so many pieces of wood acorns berries etc to work with.
Now I spend a lot of time in a 12,500 acre wood that one family has preserved for perpetuity. Recently these generous people have leased the land to the local land trust so it is getting more attention. I am not sure that this is a good thing. I note the amount of motorcycle and four wheeler use has increased dramatically on the roads that run parallel with the forest so even the paths are saturated with sound.
I grieve the loss of STILLNESS, the silence that allows me to enter a natural trance to become one with the forest.
One day I was visiting my currently favorite beaver bog when the whine of machines was absent…I could imagine woodland creatures living in the thick emerald moss and at the bottom of some of the tree trunks.
I was thinking of my friend Owl who is a scientist – his love for geology sends him up to an old mine on this property every week to search for new minerals for the Bethel Mineral and Gem museum. He discovered one mineral that is named after him.
Al looks like an elf and has a long white beard. He loves nature and is an accomplished naturalist so we have much in common including our love for frogs and bears. Just last week he took me down into the bowels of the earth, where his lab is located to show me part of the moon that had been fashioned into a sphere. As I held it I experienced awe. Even more astonishing was the sphere that contained the first life on earth – bacteria – possibly 3- 2 billion years old. When I cupped this sphere in my hand I felt an instant connection to LIFE that I cannot explain.
That afternoon this experience was very much with me when I decided to build Al a fairy house, a place he could work undisturbed. Using whatever materials were nearby I created an elaborate structure and what follows is the story that emerged out of the doing.
Owl was a brilliant scientist who mined minerals under the earth. He had recently discovered a new one, and will surely uncover more treasure. Here in the woods he lived above a beaver pond; two larg frogs were his guardians. The helpful frogs also ate bugs, so he was never bothered by pests. He lived beneath the forest floor snug in his tree trunk house the entrance of which was disguised by mushrooms that he seeded in during three seasons of the year. In the winter mosses and lichens hid the Elf Scientist’s door. His garden was below on a steep hill and he slid down a magic wooden ladder to reach it. He loved trees and grew many varieties; he even kept a small orchard. He scattered amanita spores there too – they grew as big as trees and on sunny days he would nap on their beautiful sunset orange or yellow caps… The beavers provided him with enough wood chips for his fires in the winter and he had many other woodland neighbors though he was the only human…In the early spring a gurgling sound often awakened him as the tree began to draw water up from her roots – all the minerals would nourish the branches of his poplar as the tree ate more and more light and the forest breathed for all… an amazing natural feat…
she surrendered – Nature’s pattern for her life was not what she would have chosen. She imagined children… Instead a deer appeared Bereft, confused,
she followed… He led her to black bears who loved her. Trees supported her when all seemed lost. Finally Barred Owl became Friend Her beautiful brown eyes Mistress of two souls…
She is old now Purged of needing Others except for help.
An excruciating process. Nature leads her to
to visit her father
a beaver in disguise.
Red berries burn as she trembles under the pattern that owns her. Her body
to remind her
that she is alone.
in the wild places.
beneath her hums
through her feet
Alone but connected
to the whole.
At 77 Her days are growing short. Poignant. Trees lead her on Ruthless slaughter puts her life in perspective Forests survived five extinctions. Maybe she can survive one. The life she lives is always on the edge of not remembering Who She Is. But the forest sings to her … Barred owl greets her Birthday songs at Dawn.
Her dreams fade warnings remain… This pattern still haunts her
Resistance blocks… Oh how She wishes that aging brought wisdom and not a cluttered mind leaving even the children she once longed for –
Silence, their indifference fading…
But she still needs
that sharp knife edge
to keep recording.
her story matters
though she can’t imagine why…
Aching limbs, exhaustion.
shortness of breath slow her down. She must pay attention… Care for Body Give thanks Use the Snappers Beak Tear flesh only in self defense.
Give up the dictates of Nice Let forest be Guide even when white fear buries her alive Hope is engagement with the future. That fierce capacity for love
needs a lover Nature receives.
Thrives on reciprocity. Humans can’t be trusted
Her vulnerability is in the way We all betray so innocence isn’t the point but Sensitivity is.