Refuge: Finding a Way to Feed the Birds

It’s another gray snowy day with large white flakes falling from the sky… January lasts “forever” every single year. I feed chickadees on my window ledge until the squirrels show up; then I scatter seed on the ground. Chickadees begin their day just before 7 AM when it is still dark, coming to the ledge. Today the turkeys are absent, fluffed up monks still hidden under hemlock boughs. The blood male cardinal appears with his usual message. I peer into the forest as the turkeys make their way across the brook and start up the hill while gazing at sage green shield lichens and two pure white birches that stand out like sentries, peeling white skin. Some maples and many hemlocks border the brook that is running clear of ice. A multitude of twigs and evergreen spires sway, branches twist and bend filling every inch of space, a comforting sight, even though all the deciduous trees are bare. Global warming turns snow to rain and back again in every storm creating ice bound paths, easily traversed by my little dogs. Dangerous for me. Often now I am housebound.

This gray world of mine needs animation from within…

 The birds and my little night- flying squirrel remind me that flight can be a good exercise, even if it is only in my mind – but any flight I may make must be attached to my body. My body needs solid grounding and the separation I feel from rich brown earth, now covered by snow threatens to sever one from the other, I know. That I need extra protection at this time of year is sharply etched in my psyche. I light sage daily as I invoke the Four Directions. Following my dreams closely I receive nudges like those I feel and sense when I am free to roam through my favorite forest. I meditate on a dream of a blue green serpent with red crosses on his back. Blue green earth and betrayal behind my back. I am forewarned…

 Paying close attention to my beloved dogs, dove, and indoor plants, I take deep pleasure from the fact that all are thriving. Twice now two plants have spoken; one imaged an offering I needed to make for personal protection. Another produced an illumination: The root connection to my children remains, part of the great underground mycelial network, regardless of their behavior. I feel ambivalence around this news having suffered for so long, and finally being purged of want or need, the latter a Life Blessing.

 A second dream tells me to add a frog to my enclosure, a place where a child that is also me lives …

The next dream reveals that this child is no bigger than a little red berry (berries contain seeds) and that living inside a protected space allows her to thrive because she is safe. 

 Yet another dream reveals an emerald evergreen princess pine, a diminutive forest ground cover shimmering through the snow. The meaning behind this plant dream remains obscure until I spy the spore bearing tuft in my winter bouquet. Severing the ‘candle’ from the plant I carefully spread the seed dust on the moss of my terrarium. Seeds! Offering or Intention – I am not sure – probably both. 

My terrarium is bursting with life. Last fall I collected wild plants from the beloved forest, where my little brother roams free, to fill a container…. By creating a miniature woodland without conscious intention, I created a safe space, not just for a child but for me.

 Every morning I open the doors to mist the air and let the sweet earth scent of a forest in miniature remind the adult that winter is but one of four seasons and spring will come. Inside this oasis a partridgeberry catches my eye immediately. Little stone frog sits at the edge of the pool, the She Bear is in the foreground, head bowed, her red heartline hidden. Both Zuni fetishes. Lichen and mosses abound, dripping from lichened wood. Hemlock heartwood, driftwood from the deep lies against the glass; two hemlock seedlings are planted just to the right. Death to Life. Rotting leaves curl, brown edged, like Pulmonaria, once common now a rare lichen. Gradually a few stones move in, chert from Changing Woman’s Mountain, granite from my friend an Oglala Sioux Medicine Man. The first two offerings I was instructed to leave here for Winter Protection… A few wispy turkey feathers lay against the back glass wall. The child directs who and what enters this space; plants and my dreams fill in the blanks.

 Imagination turns the key.

 Until this morning I thought we were finished with offerings, but I was wrong. As I read an article that Carolyn Lee Boyd had written about witch stones*, I suddenly recalled my brother’s Algonquin amulet, one he used to wear around his neck. Rummaging through my old jewelry bag I discovered the leather thong, but inexplicably it had been cut. The round stone with its hand drilled hole was gone. How could this be? Bereft, I tore through everything I had before finding lost treasure. Clasping the stone in hungry hands it suddenly hit me. The anniversary of my brother’s death was five days away. Every year for the last 51 years there has been something that re -attaches me to him in a visceral way… Here was the final offering. This one for the dead. When I examined the petroglyphs etched on the stone I remembered the fish, the sun, and the arrow on one side. The opposite side held the end of the story picturing a teepee – like structure, a place to hang fish, and stars falling to earth. A prayer for good fishing? A Witch Stone.

When I looked at the rounded edge I was stunned. I didn’t remember that a serpent circled the periphery, meeting up with a lizard, face to face. Serpents and Lizards – north and south. Both grounded, both sleeping under the earth during the cold months of the year. I smudged the stone before placing it in the terrarium; at last the enclosure held all the objects it needed for Great Mystery to work. It makes perfect sense to me that the little girl would need a talisman of her brother in the terrarium created from bits of our beloved forest because she lives in there and misses him so. Now we both have what we need. This terrarium has also become my bridge to Refuge and the forest when I can’t be there during the winter. When I open those doors, I join the child and am pulled into a magic place.

It was a little more than a year ago that I dreamed that my brother, whose ashes were buried below the house, had moved and roamed freely through the forest I had come to love  not just because it was wild, bursting with some 200 year old trees and fertile ground but because it was protected – all 12,000 acres of it. This dream held a ring of unshakable truth for me because Davey and I spent our childhood and adolescence in the woods. Over the past ten years the Powers of this Place (my home) have been fractured. I believe the fragmentation of natural power is due to this small parcel of land being sandwiched in between others that have been heavily and carelessly logged. The perpetual noise created by constant traffic, the whine of man’s machines drowns out the voices of Nurturing Nature Spirits.

  In what I have come to call ‘my forest’ it is blessedly still at least in the spring and fall. During the spring there are so many birds singing at the edge of the river that I slip into an enchanted state unable to do anything but look and listen… The Powers of Place are palpable, all day long. Frequently I experience the amorphous presence of my little brother. I have also found my burial place in Hemlock Hollow among the tangled roots of the Mother Trees sung to by the river. 

During the months of silence the Powers of this Place seem to strengthen despite winter fear that comes out of the knowledge that I am too old to be safe here because of the ice. Yet I take joy from the frost carvings etched into my porch windows, gaze lovingly at the overflowing brook, feed birds all day long, and in the late afternoons light the fire and curl up on the couch with my dogs bringing in the night drinking raspberry tea amidst tiny lights, stars appearing on my fading fragrant balsam wreath.

This is when I read, listen to podcasts, or reflect upon the day, and much of the time I feel gratitude flowing as my mind wanders… sometimes I have ideas about the little post I will write the next morning with whatever pictures I might have taken. These posts on FB are my way of beginning each day with an offering to anyone who might need an image of nature’s beauty or someone’s thoughtful questions (most of the time – at other times I complain!). These posts are for the public, available to anyone, my solitary venture into social media.

Last night I was sitting by the fire listening to a podcast by Robin Wall Kimmerer- “Good Medicine…” Kimmerer, a plant scientist and well known author of Braiding Sweetgrass asks  important questions, ones that I ask all the time: How do we de -colonize plant/animal knowledge? What has to shift in peoples minds so that we can attribute Personhood to plants, to animals? To see them as the sentient beings they are? Would making this shift allow us to see plants/animals as our Teachers?

 Kimmerer believes as I do that according Personhood to plants and animals is utterly necessary if we are to make a paradigm shift from nature as resource to be used (timber/ agriculture/ animal slaughter) to plants/animals as Living Beings that need our respect, compassion, love. All are teachers. I am not anthropomorphizing here; I am saying that we need to respect plants and animals for who they are in their right, having their own lives and purposes while acknowledging that they are also our relatives – we cannot do this unless we see them and accord them with intelligence, feelings, beings who also embody ancient knowledge

 We both feel that it is possible to make this shift by developing personal relationships with individuals and the context in which they live but we can’t do this unless we accord each plant or animal with Personhood. Every biome is sentient. Forests like mine are whole communities composed of trees, plants and animals that all interact with each other above and below ground. We will continue to need wood products and foods but it’s the way we use our forests and fields (the ocean etc) that must change. If we believed that plants and animals were our esteemed teachers and relations (after all they are 400 – 300 million years old while humans have been present for only two hundred thousand years) we could no longer “it” them forcing them to become ‘Other.’ Separate, less than human. Oh, the hubris. 

Internalizing a sense of wonder about nature is the third key. For me both have developed because I have had relationships with plants and animals ever since I remember – I tend and care for them, grow them, love them, and spend time simply being with them. I do my best to be emotionally present, to listen. I think anyone can learn to see plants and animals as sentient beings. One can begin in the city with something simple as having one houseplant, a terrarium, some fish, a cat. Maybe a small container garden. All we need is an open mind and heart and nature will do the rest…

 Every morning when I open the doors of the terrarium to mist my little forest I peer in inhaling the sweet scent, noting new wild lily of the valley shoots springing up in January (!), the unfurling fern, emerald moss, the crimson partridgeberry always asking the same kinds of questions… How can I stay protected, yet remain open to possibilities? How can I find balance in a culture where extremes dominate? How can I help others see, sense, intuit feel the wonder that is nature? What is the most effective way to reach others through my writing? I could go on here… Entering this forested space I fall into prayer, joyfully, if only for moments. I am happy.

 When I began this project last fall – this is a vivarium in the making (someday tree frogs will live here) I had no idea this terrarium would become a place to ground my questions, and my need for protection in an earth space that isn’t frozen over, as well as becoming a way to live through the child, to stay connected to moments of joy until this season passes and with it the threat of physical danger and my fear of being separated from earth, my mother, my father, my Beloved.

Blessed Be.

  • Carolyn Lee Boyd Witch Stones MAGO

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