Endings…The Space In Between
Bernhard Wessling (author/scientist/naturalist who studies crane behavior) writes “the more one experiences cranes in the wild the more fascinating they become”.
That has been my experience too which is why taking pictures didn’t occur to me the other day until just before I left after spending almost three hours with Sandhill cranes on the ground and in the air. Every time I am with them I become immersed in a relationship I don’t quite understand….
Cranes have fossil remains that are 2.5 million years old – they are ancient relationship oriented birds that spend almost all their time in community except when breeding – their behavior is a source of endless enchantment to a naturalist/ ethologist like me. They return to the same nesting areas every year, one reason the population is growing in Maine. Even while feeding if a small group takes to the air like they did on Sunday the others become uneasy – not sure whether to go or stay – Family relationships remain tight throughout a crane’s lifetime and even though they separate to nest they gather together in the fall to make the journey south, winter over as one, and migrate home to the north to breed in spring. Wild greetings are the rule even if the birds have been separated for a few minutes while some are in the air. Some northern Indigenous peoples believe they are the souls of humans who will become human again one day – the cranes are treated with great respect because the two are understood to be close relatives.
For me, something about them evokes the Spirit of Nature as if it emanated from the bird itself. Other Indigenous peoples call them “The Watchers” and this reminds me of NM when in the pre-dawn I could sometimes see the Sandhill crane that watched over the others all night, keeping them safe from predators.
Like here, Abiquiu only had small numbers of cranes (less than here) that I liked because it was easier to learn about their complex relationships. In the Bosque del Apache just the haunting calls of cranes was overpowering – I had extraordinary experiences there and learned so much about large group behavior…
Whenever I think of NM years it is always the cranes that I’m most grateful for though I had wonderful experiences there. I am so grateful we have them in Maine.
*One interesting note: Bernhardt writes “experiences” not studies which tells me something about how he perceives these birds – not as an object to be studied but an animal to be experienced. If we don’t do the latter we haven’t really ‘seen’ the cranes at all.
Robin Wall Kimmerer (David Abram also) talks about the Grammar of Animacy. What these folks are referring to is the importance of attributing personhood to all of nature. When a person talks to an animal or a tree he/ she is in relationship with that entity; when a person studies a plant or animal it becomes an OBJECT – an IT. No personhood – that is not to say that we are anthropomorphizing a creature or plant by attributing HUMAN characteristics to it – what we are saying is that the creature or plant has its own intelligence -. Treating nature as if it is inanimate allows us to pretend that we can continue to destroy the earth because it is not alive.
This is a criminal act.
Unfortunately has origins in the Bible, but this book is now being re-interpreted by some..
Attributing personhood to nature becomes easy when one has relationships – this morning my cardinals were calling for their food the second I stepped out the door. Yesterday Little Deer peered in at me (although he cannot see me because of the screen) just as I looked out – I welcome the turkeys on their daily visits… the grouse are fluttering around the house – they all know me… (With plants the relationship is more subtle but plants respond to the sound of our voices too and even western science has shown us that they have the capacity to listen)…. The last day I visited the cranes one responded to me immediately before going back to his kin. These experiences are normal when one opens to Animacy.
I am still thinking about Sandhill Cranes – yesterday I found pictures of cranes taken from Monhegan Island (where I once lived) to south central Maine where most populations are found. These birds were first seen in the 80’s. What I didn’t know was that these extraordinary birds once inhabited the state of Maine until about 200 years ago when they were extirpated by colonists – one more atrocity. These birds may just be returning ‘home’ little by little…
In memory of my dad:
My Father Becomes a Beaver
The year my father died I fell in love with beavers. All summer I watched them at dawn and dusk gnaw down the poplars, drag them to the plume, observing keenly how the trees slid so easily into the stream. As the kits grew, little furry heads accompanied their parents carrying whittled sticks in their mouths to help shore up their ever-expanding lodge. I always sat quietly so some evenings around dusk the kits would swim right up to me. Occasionally one would slap a leathery flat tail before diving deep.
When the call came on All Hallows Eve, my father sounded sad and resigned. He was having a surgery for colon cancer that week. The shock of finding out so suddenly choked me up with grief so intense I could barely respond. He had told no one he had cancer. The trips to NY and the hospital were distressing.* I saw my dad twice. The first time he barely acknowledged me; that night he looked into my eyes and called me “his girl,” words he had never used to describe me, his daughter, during our entire lifetime together. Two days later, after returning to Maine, I awakened from a dream with the words, “Your father has become a beaver” just as the phone rang. My father had died minutes before.
A second frantic trip to NY was cut short. My mother had decreed there would be no funeral.
An extrovert who tried too hard to please, my father could be overly kind in public, and privately had a problem with explosive rage. As a child I was terrified of him—I never knew when mindless chaos would erupt and it destroyed any sense of safety I might have had being with him. Yet in retrospect, it was he who held my head while I threw up, carried me in his arms when I fell asleep after a long car trip. My father took me to the hospital, the circus; he read to us at night, helped his children climb the circular stairs of the Statue of Liberty, bought me my first prayer book when I chose to become Episcopalian, told me that when he prayed it was always to Mary.
The morning after I returned home a pure white wild dove appeared on the ground amid the other mourning doves I routinely fed outside the window. I had never seen one before. I had the uncanny sense that my father was trying to communicate with me through that bird, perhaps as an aspect of Mary. The dove stayed only one day, leaving me more bereft, if that was possible, when s/he departed.
My uncle Alex, my dad’s only surviving brother, told me an even more incredible story. One night after we had been planning a memorial service for my father, my uncle was eating pasta when he bit into something hard. When he pulled the object out of his mouth it was a tiny white stone dove. The presence of the dove sealed the rightness of what we were doing, although I had never had doubts and neither had my aunt and uncle.
As soon as my father was cremated and his ashes returned, my mother pawned them off on one of my sons who promptly gave them to me. No one wanted them.
I placed the ashes on a table where shafts of light lit up the plain brown box almost all day long. My father loved the sun. The little prayer book that he had given me found its way to the top of the box. I kept it open to a passage that I pored over during my two-month vigil … “ in my father’s house there are many mansions…”
It was November. I cleared a place within a copse of cedars for my dad’s ashes, dug a hole before it became impossible to do so. I spent Thanksgiving alone except for the beavers who I had been visiting every day until the week before, when thick ice froze over the stream. Oh, how I missed them; by then I understood, on one level, why I dreamt about my dad becoming a beaver when he died. He was a man who got things done, a doer just like the beavers; even in his spare time he was always busy building something.
That Thanksgiving morning dawned frigid and clear. I took a crowbar down to the stream and punched a big hole in the ice. Then I sawed up a few poplars and stuffed them into the black water—my Thanksgiving gift to the beavers, and an offering to my dead father. The next morning I raced down the hill to see if the beavers had accepted their thanksgiving feast. The poplars were gone, and a solid sheet of ice covered the open water.
On January 9, 1994, two months after my father’s death, my aunt, uncle, cousin Billy and I attended my father’s memorial service; the church was festooned in deep crimson a color that suited my dad. The trip down the day before had been a stormy one made in a fierce blizzard – heavy clouds still hung over the horizon. January cold penetrated my bones.
Afterwards we met at my aunt’s house for a feast. When we sat down to eat a shaft of golden sunlight struck one of the plates lighting up the entire room. My aunt had set an extra place by ‘mistake’. Chills crawled up my spine. A ripple of shock ran down the table. “Oh”, Terry exclaimed, “Pete is with us.” My father’s presence in that room was palpable. .
When I returned to Maine, I immediately dug through mountains of snow to place my dad’s ashes in the earth. The two – month ordeal was over; I could hardly believe it. Peace that literally ‘passes all understanding’ flowed through me as I felt my father’s spirit join me in that snowy cedar grove. All winter I dreamed of beavers…
In August, the summer after his burial, I had a vision. I saw my dad’s face and heard his voice. He was thanking me; all was well. I’ll never forget his smile – he was so HAPPY.
And I saw so clearly then: Funerals are not just for the living; they bring peace to the dead.
I am editing this last sentence when a mourning dove SLAMS into my bedroom window. I race out thinking it must be dead, when miraculously, the dove flies away, unharmed. Every living being is connected to everything else.
Picture taken by unknown person ends up on the internet – I am communing with cranes…
This warm weather has the cardinals coming in around 5:45 in the evening to eat after the other birds are gone. Their cheeps alert me and out I go to spread just a little food … they also come before first light so I can barely see them! None of this would be surprising if the cardinals didn’t come to the window to alert me first that they are ready to be fed…. Amazing how they know what room I’m in – during the day they visit sporadically but with so many squirrels I only keep one feeder out – no food is left on the ground except for brief cardinal bonanzas – and this has turned out to be a great strategy… because chickadees woodpeckers nuthatches etc – all my regulars, flutter in and out of that feeder, pig squirrel can’t make it into the cage and only one red squirrel can get inside at once which doesn’t bother the other birds so some food ends up on the ground – gosh it keeps the Blu-jays to a minimum too and it’s cheaper!
The moon was beautiful last night especially the way it shone like silver on the poplar tree to the left – now totally bare.
Poplars cottonwoods and aspen belong to the Willow family and all feed animals and birds as well as being able to suck up poisons from the ground – like lead – the next time you walk by a poplar thank the tree for purifying the soil! This family is famous for cloning itself-.Pando an aspen , a close relative of cottonwoods weighs 13 million pounds and might be anywhere from 80 thousand years old to ? – we don’t know. He is no longer growing although he survived the last ice age and scientists are worried ….our planet lets us know in so many ways that s/he is unbalanced.
Living in liminal space – the space in between one way of being and another. In the old religions this space was created for a time during the cyclic year – November is this month for many. This year we are all living in liminal space awaiting outcomes for politicians, for covid spikes, for life. We have no ground under our feet… The night of the election I walked under a brilliant sorry sky watching the Great Bear rising over the horizon… here in the north the story goes that all fall Orion chases the Bear but never gets her… and eventually the Hunter slips under the horizon without ever getting his prey (I’m always so glad to see Orion disappear!)… the night sky is full of wonder and mystery, and for me it helps to reflect on these stories and the fact that what I see is light that is so far far away and so ancient…Someone told me yesterday that “the stars were boring -they were always the same”. Having heard these bizarre words before from this same person I remarked ” well, in that case you have never seen the sky”. Imagine living your entire life and never feeling the wonder of that firmament overhead? This is beyond my comprehension… Meanwhile birds and stars occupy my days and (early) nights… the geese fly south as do the cranes…When I watch the birds at my feeder I think of Emily Dickenson who once said “Hope is the thing with feathers”… the same may be true for stars…
Yesterday while walking in the woods I was thinking about my life … how much the natural world shapes my reality and my perception of reality…I see a tree stump – I have to stop and count all the living beings that are inhabiting this one log, some breaking it down into the richest soil, and how death is always inextricably tied to birth … such a miracle really. In the woods in late fall I see life crumbling beneath my feet as old leaves – organisms everywhere, the unbroken mycelial mat – life and death – the boundaries blurred even more thus time of year…it is peaceful here.
It is always a shock to find myself back driving on the road assaulted by the ragged holes in the sky where only recently a forest of glorious trees flourished. With the soil uprooted and matchsticks in the air who knows what will grow there next but with this brutal level of disturbance death seems to take on an added dimension…
“The pleasure of living where you live is transformative”
I used to think that people loved their homes the way I do but I know now that this is not true- homes are ‘flipped’ into new abodes sometimes once or twice in a couple of years – it’s no wonder people have no attachment to ‘place’ – As Powers makes clear if you don’t live where you live you miss out…
I love my home and have watched over this land like a mother. Ordinary miracles occur frequently – yesterday’s turkey visit was no exception. I was standing at the window watching turkeys when I heard a conversation coming from the feeder… it turned out that one turkey was talking to a chickadee – after every exchange the chickadee deliberately dropped a seed or two for the turkey to eat! I watched this behavior for five minutes wondering what prompted it – how I laughed!
A visit to crane land included a sign about poisoned pesticides – I watched huge machines cutting the grain – poisoned corn scattered on the ground – and billowing dust blowing into other fields – time for the cranes to be moving on -too bad poisoning isn’t so routine – everywhere – abominations – and we think we eat organically?
We celebrate this November Full Moon as the Beaver Moon in honor of our first ecologists who shaped this country creating rich wetlands and ponds for birds and wildlife.
When the colonists came to this country greed won out and most of these animals were extirpated for fur.. even today beavers are considered nuisance animals by humans who believe they dominate the earth.
Usually you hear this moon called the Hunters Moon and god knows that’s true today but this name replaced that of the gentle ecologists by guess who? People who believe animals don’t matter. Killing them is what matters and as someone in a prominent conservation position recently quipped “ hunting is good for the economy”.
These pictures were taken as I sat in the field last night watching the moon rise over the horizon – for the next months star gazing becomes a pass time – part of the late fall and winter season a time when the sky is sprinkled with star dust and stories are told of long ago.
As of today we still have a governor not a thug. What a relief… now the beavers, our first ecologists, might live on….
Many years ago my father died on November 9th and I dreamed he turned into a beaver just a few minutes before I got the call… at the time I was living with beavers…yesterday I took to the woods to visit an emerging beaver wetland – Fascinating how these first ecologists work the wood so efficiently – because this wetland is in transition ‘reading’ it is a challenge but it was so much fun trying to figure out just what direction these beavers are going in. With climate change and droughts these special ponds take on a new importance … let’s hope these beavers will be allowed to stay!
“ A mothering language is one that strives to bring the world into being through story”
Our cultural myth is one of violence to the earth and her people – (the earth did not begin with the Greeks!) – definitely not a mothering story- perhaps it’s time to change it into a tale that offers sentience to all living beings. What we call ‘reality’ is no more than a destructive cultural myth that belongs to the past –
We don’t need a new story – we simply have to pick up the threads of the indigenous story we lost…
The one where life once again becomes a gift.
The pattern is there waiting to be lived again.
Pictures taken during yesterday’s blustery walk ending up in my field.
“ You don’t need language with plants. If you look at the Mayan glyphs for example, you will see that when they speak that little flowers emit from their mouths”
This is true for the Huichol as well.
Trees communicate beneath words.
Yesterday was a Hemlock day… these foundation trees – meaning that they create and structure the forests around them, are under attack from the woolly adelgid throughout their range in the east. The Harvard Hemlock researchers tell us that this tree will be functionally extinct by 2025 – meaning that although trees will still live the species is disappearing.
I love these trees and on some days like yesterday feel compelled to go to be with them – answering a “ call” I walk amongst them feeling such a deep sadness while glorying in such beauty. Harvard scientists who have studied these trees longer than anywhere else tell us that preemptive cutting is not the answer. DO-NOTHING they say… Allowing the trees to die naturally allows their nutrients to seep into the ground creating a rich soil for the trees to come… if left alone someday a very different forest will emerge – one that is healthy. If only Foresters/logging machine would listen…
“The disconnect from nature is the disconnect from the life force. They are one and the
same.” This is not the same as using nature for recreation – when we do we would be better off going to a gym – Nature is not our wallpaper… s/he’s the core of who we are.
Signs of beavers no matter where I go!
Every day they are here in droves – the turkeys – and every day I watch them with fascination…
Being truly present for one’s life is a gift.
I was listening to the rain, the overflowing brook, turkey chortling, and the birds coming to the bedroom window before dawn. With one feeder protected under the eaves positioned just next to the window the birds arrive even earlier and I don’t have to bring it in because the dogs do not tolerate coons or squirrels! I don’t know why I didn’t do this sooner…. The other feeder I bring in each night… last night it was so warm that the dogs and I sat on the porch listening to the deer as they scrounged for seed and cereal – when the coon arrived he was too late! It’s hard to believe it’s mid – month but cold is on the way so I am bathing in the last scents of fall with the deepest appreciation with open windows…winter is on its way …
Some of my favorite hemlocks…. These are still healthy but the woolly adelgid is in Maine and this insect, second only to preemptive logging is divesting us of trees…. It is not supposed to be here – supposedly the insect has made it as far as Poland, but I have seen evidence of it in heavily logged forests…if you see evidence of infestation please call fish and game or better yet Harvard Forest.
Harvard has been studying these trees along with others in their 4000 acre forest since 1907 – when my brother was at Harvard I spent a lot of time in that forest with him- one Harvard scientist states “ we are documenting the latest chapter in the epic story of a great species… with mixed feelings …scientific engagement , consciousness and lament… we are reconciled to our fate…we will lose the history and the experiences embodied in these woods” In that spirit Harvard Forest brought in international artists to install sculptures throughout the hemlock forest calling it the Harvard Hospice project.
Acknowledging the fate of this foundational tree with compassion and honesty moves me deeply….
It is so important to bear witness to possibility…
My pig squirrel certainly demonstrates this truth as does Hairy who is trying to figure out how to get to the seed – you can see him thinking, assessing but when he figures it out he’s below the picture while his cousin Downy slips through the bars! Ordinary happenings while we wait for first snow.
spread feathery cloaks
announce communion –
Sandhill cranes arrive in Abiquiu – friends send pictures….
Here late fall turns burnt umber, moss, and wheat to white..
“Trees have to become the center of human politics”.
I don’t think this is an exaggeration – to lose the trees is inviting in death. We need to save the last of the 2 or 3 percent of our old forests to save ourselves and then find a way to farm healthy plantations for wood – something we are not doing now. How do we stay so blind? Capitalism, of course. The quick fix for cash.
When I stand under a hemlock I am aware that 1 – 2 feet below my feet in the spongy duff are seeds that may be hundreds and thousands of years old… why because the duff is composed of needles that don’t break down and produce the richest soil. Seeds of the future lay hidden here. Birds like nuthatches, warblers and owls nest and roost in hemlock boughs
Around here every fruit tree is totally bare and it’s only mid -November…Grouse in every tree and not one decent picture..
“Beings of higher intelligence are already here, always have been. They just haven’t used their intelligence to destroy anything yet”
Every day animals teach me something new – yesterday. With 50 turkeys here one ends up below bird feeder calling a chickadee who appears gets one seed and drops it for this one turkey – this scene repeats until I have to leave the house and has happened before. The turkey makes a special high pitched eee to bring in the chickadee and as I write one turkey is using that same call to get me to put out seed from bedroom window… last night it was the flying squirrels. We watch each other from the window- dogs are fascinated… periodically, flying squirrel dips into the feeder for a snack and then returns to his perch to watch us through the window. All of us communicate below words… animals have their own lives and purposes but choose to interact between species for reasons of their own. Ordinary miracles….
a sliver of grief
ends the day
When Dawn breaks
Breathe Winter Light.
Once upon a time there was a scientist who was also an Indigenous healer who told me that “ all myths are holy water”.
Yesterday was Earth School and Owl showed me all the frogs that he saved from being killed. They sing to him at night and it was abundantly clear how much affection they felt for him coming to the front of their house which is sprinkled every few minutes with water… they climbed on his hands clasped his fingers and oh those eyes. I was in heaven…. Later we visited the lab where stones are being turned into spheres – unbelievably beautiful – and I got to see the process of how they were made. Animated conversation about how humans must have some kind of innate feeling for these spheres because it’s impossible not to keep picking them up – there were so many – and each exquisite in its own way – Martin gave me a little one – it has some blue – oh there was one frog a red eyed something with blue legs that stayed hidden – he only appears every couple of weeks! What a day.
“Once upon a time when women were birds there was a simple understanding that to sing at dawn and dusk was to heal the world through joy…the birds still remember”
Terry Tempest Williams
This has to be one of my favorite quotes of all time – I would change joy to song…even at this time of year I am hungry for the first chirping….
I add the fantastic tree frog that remained hidden at Earth School.
Today I celebrate a different Thanksgiving – from now through February I give thanks for every evergreen left on this earth. I light my indoor Norfolk Island Pine with this intent…
I feel so sad when I see all the christmas trees stacked in piles, severed from their roots and life. They will not live to see another season.
Isn’t there another way?
Couldn’t we PLANT live trees that could be decorated during the holiday season? This could be a wonderful project for young people who will be inheriting this earth…. every tree eats light and stores C02. Every tree breathes life into our lungs. What could be more important?
There is something about living with indoor trees that thrive that brings joy to my heart….And Norfolk Island pine trees are so easy to grow…rice lights don’t burn their needles because they are solar powered and their lights remind me of fireflies.
One somber picture taken on a walk… love the layering… and here is my tree!
I love the way the darkness fades during this time of year – the sanctity and the silence – both gifts beyond measure. (Me)
Every morning I watch for that first glimmer of the sun as it peeks through the trees and casts a brief silver- golden glow on the waters below. If I am not paying attention I miss these moments…then in come the birds and by eight pig squirrel arrives – I get such pleasure out of him biting metal bars as chickadees and titmice ignore him and eat the seed!
Turkey Celebration!!!! I think the turkeys were giving thanks for surviving this human holiday! They were having the best time chortling hooting and making so many animated sounds I couldn’t describe – what an amazing vocabulary they have. At one point one turkey went to the feeder eeeing and as usual the chickadee appeared to drop the turkey seeds one by one! This with all the other commotion. When a second group appeared there was a brief scuffle but by the end of the day everyone left together to roost here in the hemlocks. Males and females both. Bless those trees for providing shelter for so many birds and animals…. Remove all trees and most birds can’t survive — a sobering thought for bird lovers everywhere with our forest rape underway.
It was a beautiful day to tip greens and walk along the river – I am drawn to water like never before because so many of our forests have been destroyed.
On a happier note the Northeast Wilderness Trust has saved 33,000 acres just in Maine to be left “ Forever Free” meaning these forests will never be logged again – these places will be left to heal themselves of the damage we have done. Northeast works with the Harvard Forest a place dear to my heart because when my brother was at Harvard we spent many happy years there. My brother was an international runner whose last record was only broken 20 years ago…. Of course these places are just postage stamps but at least some places are trying.
COP27 came to a close this year in much the same way as the rest of the international climate summits—with no unified commitment to curb fossil fuel emissions. It left us, once again, with the question: Where do we turn when our leaders fail to take steps toward change?
Yesterday a trip to my favorite forest for a little more tipping – oh that scent- and visits with some friends – two favorite hemlocks whose roots are now so entwined they have literally become one tree .. once I had a brother like that…partridgeberry, clear waters, a wondrous old stump full of life, fairy cups which are lichens – the first green life to reach land – can you imagine algae fungi and bacteria partnering up to colonize the earth? They became friends and now cannot live without each other! And they are everywhere on land busy photosynthesizing giving us life! As usual a wonderful day….
It is barely twilight black tree tops towering over the forest piercing a pale pink sky….yesterday was earth school and my scientist/ naturalist friend and I talked frog! His frogs may be mating and laying eggs and if so one day I will have two of the babies…. First though CONTEXT and in this case this means the frogs must have a home with all the right Amazonian conditions – I have to grow plants, set up a misting system etc in the terrarium he gave me… I will have fun creating the space which when done will even have bugs to eat refuse – the space will take care of itself except for feeding and changing the water…very neat – I hope the snow holds off long enough for me to get what I need from the woods – I will also be using passionflowers which should be so happy in this space. Red Deer and Little Deer made it through hunting season! Yes! But now they are shy, and this is how it should be. – they have learned to fear their predator – man…
Today it is FREEDOM that defines wilderness not the absence of man – according to Northeast Wilderness Trust the root of the word wilderness means” the will of the land”.
Unfortunately the will of the land is only present in fragments today because even in areas where land is contiguous if the trees are missing the will of the land has been violated….only in wild places do natural processes direct what happens… in this area we are fortunate to have some land that is truly protected, – trees included. In this little sanctuary that I call home nature does direct what happens – but this parcel is just too small…Yesterday at 6:30 AM one female turkey started screeching. I had forgotten to put a little seed on the ground. The rest of the females didn’t appear until 7 AM. Although it was chilly the windless afternoon called me to her and I spent about an hour wandering around especially in the field where the moon was keeping an eye on me … I love these crescent moons – this morning the trees wear a white skin…
FIRST BUCK OF THE YEAR SEEN ON THIS LAST DAY OF NOVEMBER.