Father’s Day Reflection

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The Littlest Tree

 

Today I honor the father I loved so deeply.

 

My dad was an absentee father, and when he was home he was a tyrant who seemed to prefer interacting with machines to being with his daughter. He was an aeronautical engineer by profession. I never felt I measured up to his standards of perfection, which included being good at math, learning to drive, and being practical – the former I couldn’t do because I was severely dyslexic with directions and numbers; the latter was simply not in my nature. I was a dreamer whose love for beauty and Nature directed my life. In addition, my father’s impatience and fiery temper resulted in daily explosions that also helped to destroy my nervous system through mind-bending fear (my mother finished the job with chilling silence). By the time I became an adolescent I believed I hated my father, and everything he stood for. Sadly, my father and I seemed to be terminally mis-matched.

 

Secretly, all I ever wanted from him was to be loved and cherished but as I grew older I lied to myself turning my intense longing into hidden rage and depression.

 

I don’t know just when I owned that I had developed the same explosive temper that he had, but when I did and began to see him as a man who cared deeply for his family even though he was incapable of demonstrating that love on an emotional level until I was well into mid life. I forgave him.

 

The first time he apologized to me I was stunned. Once he sent me flowers, but I had to promise him not to tell my mother.

 

Memories surfaced during this imperfect period of reconciliation (which I initiated). I recalled the times he took me to the zoo, the statue of Liberty, the circus, the tiny umbrella he gave me, the way he carried me in his strong arms when I was half asleep, held me when I threw up all over him. These snippets coalesced into a whole as I realized with astonishment that this first generation Italian immigrant really loved his daughter. The last words he said to me just before he died were “here’s my girl” when I entered his hospital room. During our entire lives together I had never heard such a sentence spoken. To this day, just the memory makes me weep.

 

It is easy in retrospect to acknowledge that my father probably didn’t have a clue about good fathering. His own father was also a tyrant who beat his wife, my grandmother in addition to screaming at her. I do know that my father defended his mother vehemently, and he was the favorite of her sons. Now I applaud and deeply respect my father’s loving behavior towards my grandmother. Caregiving was an ability he developed as a child, and although he worked incessantly, (we would call this a work addiction today) he always provided financially for his family. He adored his wife, my mother – and that was another problem because I couldn’t ever compete with her, so I didn’t even try.

 

After my father’s death a dove came to live with me, and because Lily b was such a good father to his own young I began to glimpse what good fathering was all about. Today, almost 29 years later Lily b is still with me and continues to acts as a spirit bird guide, validating my thinking in the same way a loving parent would. This peculiar connection between this bird, my father, and myself keeps my dad alive in ways that all other members of my family, with the exception of my little brother are not. Whatever it is sustains me, although I seem to suffer from a crippling sense of lack of direction that is no doubt a result of lack of personal fathering. Not his fault. My father couldn’t give me what he didn’t have himself, and whenever I think about him this thought comforts me. The only really important thing at this juncture is that this man loved his only daughter, perhaps as much as she loved him.

 

Today the tree frogs are singing from the trees and I am feeling protected by the forest that is thriving all around me. I am not sure when trees took on this male protector role, but trees of all kinds seem to possess this element for me. When I dream the trees are bare, stripped of bark, or chopped down, I know that a frightening time is ahead.

 

Because it is full moon I went down to the brook (where my dad is buried) to bring some water to the house for a body blessing, for me, for my animals, and for this house made of logs. When I saw the tiny cedar seedling sprouting out of the ground I immediately dug it up knowing the deer would demolish the tiny evergreen. Potting the tree in a small clay pot it now sits on the table where I will be lighting one candle for my body-soul retrieval from the underworld of illness and fear, as well as asking for a body blessing for us all.

 

This is the second cedar I have uprooted and potted in two years. Up until now all cedars have been female, but this little one might be a male; perhaps he’s a “mother’s son” like my father was…Perhaps I will light a second candle for him.

 

It is these men, the men who are protectors like my father was who hold the future of Woman, Animals, and the Earth in their hands.

 

And surely this tiny tree is the male offspring of the towering mother cedar that torches the sky nearby.

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The Doorway

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When I look into his face

I wonder

what he is thinking

as he loses himself

in sweet mountain mist.

He’s alone now.

His fear of the unknown

keeps him vigilant

ears erect,

mouth tasting air

standing on two legs to see

beyond summer’s diaphanous veil.

No wonder he climbs trees.

 

He’s not yet two.

Did she warn him

about the others

before she left?

Two legged threats armed

with hatred,

the need to destroy life

men addicted to power,

who will gladly spew fire

through his gut,

strike out an eye, maim a paw

so he cannot flee?

 

 

He slaps chipmunks

in repose,

scents fragrant white lilacs

clasps a metal can to his belly,

kicks it down the hill in play.

He bounds

towards the brook

for a bath,

circles back for protection

in a thicket of

young pines

for a nap.

 

He tolerates me

if not as friend

at least as one

who wishes him

no harm.

He peers around

rough bark like a child

playing hide and seek.

He’s curious to identify

to whom I am speaking.

He listens intently

when I caution him

like an anxious mother.

Do not trust.

Do not trust them.

I am the exception

to the rule.

 

Most want him dead

Skinned and hung –

a furry black skeleton –

a shroud on the wall,

his jaws forever frozen

in an impossible roar.

 

Always present,

Death stands at his door.

A Beary Peaceful Day

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It is overcast and a few drops of rain are falling. I have been out talking to Tree Bear (TB), a yearling who has brightened my life in these dark soul days. Tree Bear comes up the mossy pine strewn path to the clearing and peeks at me from behind his white pine intermittently as he snacks.

 

There are so many old felled trees full of tasty grubs and ants now that the spring grasses have matured and gone by; soon the berries will ripen and Tree Bear will begin to put on weight. Acorns will be the choice of food for fall. Few people know that Black Bears are 93 percent vegetarian.

 

The other night I watched TB in the cherry tree, sitting in the branches like a monkey calmly combing out his thick under fur as he munched on cherry leaves and hard green cherries. He is a healthy looking and very beautiful yearling with brown eyebrows and a bump in his nose that is only visible from some angles. He probably weighs 50 – 60 poundss and has some brownish fur in places.

 

He was recently separated from his mother who left him because she needed to mate and his little sister has also disappeared. His face is so full of compassion that it takes my breath away. I say compassion because my personal experience has taught me that some (if not all) of these animals understand human suffering and respond to it by taking concrete actions. One slept outside my window while my dog was dying, another came to sit by me one night while I was wildly weeping outside in the dark. Stark and hopeless depression brings them in. Empathy flows like a deep underground river between us – why – because bears like other animals have deep feelings that are not mediated by abstract intellectual rational thinking.

 

This is not to say that all bears respond to humans this way. But some do, and Tree Bear is one of these animals. Bears are demonized by humans, shot and wounded on sight (legally and illegally) often in the gut so they will die slowly and painfully. In Maine we hunt them for four months; with hounding ‘practice’ four months becomes five. What is truly amazing is that these animals do not retaliate in kind, except on rare occasions. A human has a million to one chance of being killed by a bear. These animals use remarkable restraint, utilizing peacekeeping practices for themselves and humans alike. If bears ruled the Earth there would be no wars. All bears utilize a matriarchal family system with mothers and daughters sharing territories; males roam the peripheries.

 

This morning I quietly spoke to TB while slowly approaching his tree. I know his language; he huffs to remind me how much he disapproves of close encounters. Yesterday, he eluded me each time I tried to film him. He’s wary, full of curiosity, and uncertainty. Fear when it comes to other bears. He stands on two feet in alarm when he glimpses his own mother. He does not trust me, but allows me to approach him if I do it respectfully. He moans when I get too close even though I keep reassuring him that I am his friend.

 

Sometimes TB is a clown. Late yesterday afternoon he lay on his back with a can positioned between his paws poking his nose into its cavity. Next he chased it down the hill. I have to find other toys to amuse him.

 

His trickster aspect is most evident when he sees me with the camera. He turns his head away, ducks behind a branch, runs down to the brook or disappears down the path in a flash. TB is also developing a habit of peering around tree corners to see who I might be talking to.

 

TB and I both love trees. Black Bears are native to this continent and co evolved with trees. They cannot live in treeless places because they are a prey animal who must have trees to protect themselves and their young.

 

Obviously Black Bear territory is shrinking.

 

TB and I have such a brief moment in time to be together. Even now each gun shot, or semi automatic blast slams a hole in my heart. The future for this bear is grim. Most of the bears that are slaughtered are yearlings (18 – 20 months old) when they are first on their own.

 

All this to become a trophy or rug, a badge of “manhood” on some idiot’s wall.

 

Perhaps because of the rapidly approaching hunting season each moment spent observing TB’s behavior is that more precious. Befriending this bear brings me to the edge of possibility.

 

We could find a way to live together, if only we would.

 

I close with a quote from Leslie Marmon Silko that mirrors my own experience:

 

It is very peaceful with the bears; the people say that’s the reason human beings seldom return.”

A Valley Steeped In Rain

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Sweetly scented falling rain is one of the greatest gifts of early summer. The canopies of luminous green deepen their shades with each drop; my chimes ring softly. The brook swells tumbling over moss covered stone, as I listen for the first tree frog and toad trill. There is a peace in me, a need to stay in this moment in this fog filled valley sweetened by lilac and flowering crabapples. To be fully present to the sound of water cascading from the roof, soaking in the moisture, breathing as the frog does, through her own skin, feeling my breath rise deep out of my belly instead of high in my breast – the fragrance of rain; these are the greatest presents Nature can offer me…

 

While listening to the stillness that rain brings I reflect upon the fact that the madmen of this world with their stupid guns, screaming cars, relentless killing machines don’t like streams of water. It seems ironic that these bullies are silenced by this element that so nourishes the Earth (this statement is not biased – women and girls around here are not doing these things – boys and men are).

 

Perhaps this is one reason I love rain.

 

But there are others…

 

My too sensitive eyes feast upon the shadowy greens of the forest that surrounds me without a need for glasses. Dreaming. Last night’s dream reminded me that, no matter what, I need to feel gratitude for the circle of stones that I see before me in this woodland forest.

 

Lately, gratitude has eluded me. With the sun reaching high in the northeast dawn comes too soon. Even here, the days seem endless. Lack of sleep and illness sap my soul – body of strength, just as superficial conversation drains me. I am too much alone here, and forget why it’s often by choice.

 

People may be absent but Nature is ever present and always ready to converse with me through leaf and flower, bird and bear. Last night’s visit from Tree Bear was especially satisfying because of his own accord this yearling has ceased to fear me unless I get too close to him with my camera. When he moans or clacks his teeth in frightening dismay I move quickly away. I too suffer from an overload of anxiety so I am always talking, reassuring him that he’s safe with me. Yesterday, for the first time, when he trotted towards the forest for safety, he turned back at the sound of my voice, reversing his direction. Recently separated from mother and sister perhaps like me, he needs a new friend. Being with bears keeps me present to the moment much like rain does.

 

Cardinals have the same effect. This morning the cardinal sang just outside my bedroom window. And just as if I hadn’t been absent for three years I knew he was calling me to scatter seed on the ground for him, which I promptly did. Now I am remembering when the first female cardinal arrived clicking at my window to get my attention many years ago…

 

Although I kept birdseed in the feeder cardinals prefer to eat on the ground. When I stopped putting seed down because of too many squirrels the cardinals disappeared for months. I was bereft but felt that I had no choice. My only recourse was to trap more squirrels, and by then I knew this was not the answer.

 

The following fall a female cardinal appeared outside my bedroom window clicking, it seemed to me, with excitement. I quickly went out and put a small amount of seed on the ground feeling astonishment when the female arrived in seconds to feed. This incident became the beginning of a new story and pattern of relating between the cardinals and me, and the female cardinal led the way.

 

Even though the story continued with others who joined the female when they wanted food, I never moved beyond the initial amazement/awe I experienced when one female cardinal solved the problem for all of us so effectively!

 

When I left home for New Mexico in August three years ago I knew that this time the cardinals would not be following me because there were none in the Southwest.

 

Imagine my joy when I came east almost four weeks ago and discovered a bevy of cardinals singing in a lush forest glade in Virginia. I couldn’t escape the feeling that they were welcoming me home.

 

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On the second morning of my return I heard a male cardinal singing nearby. I promptly and hopefully dispersed seed on the grass and was stunned to see a crimson jewel fly down to feed. The male cardinal has been visiting at different times during the day ever since, and always at dusk. Two days ago when the male clicked and whistled his beautiful song I sprinkled seed as usual, and then I heard a tiny voice singing the identical song in a tinny high-pitched tone. It took me a minute to understand what was happening. The male was teaching the youngster how to capture my attention for food. How wondrous! I realized then that I was witnessing one way the cardinals passed information onto their youngsters (another way might be through a paradigm that was established by cardinals who knew the original instructions –“both and”). I am so grateful that at least one resident cardinal still knew the story and was paying it forward.

 

Although the summer solstice is on the horizon with its raging bouts of heat and noise, at least for today, I am cradled by a valley steeped in rain…

Sons of Power

 

Scorched,

by

the merciless

sons of patriarchy

some rebel,

wear flaming orange

to express helpless outrage,

 

But the Sun is at its Apex.

Ultimately,

We will choose

“the right to bear arms” –

seduction by the righteous right,

continue to slaughter

without accountability.

 

Guns speak.

And when held

in the hands

of irresponsible boys

(of whatever age)

permit the weakest to reign.

 

We celebrate violence

as ‘Masters of War,’

rape women,

shoot children,

innocent animals,

pollute and

plunder the Earth,

worship

Power and Might

Even as the Night closes in.

 

Working notes:

There was a time when I would have protested gun violence…but during the last few years I have been struck by the futility of protest. The lords of power have no conscience and are not interested in negotiation of any kind. Men, powerful special interest groups like the NRA and our state wildlife agencies support the right to bear arms at any cost as does the madman I can barely name as president.

Late last night I was assaulted by a round of semi-automatic gun blasts – unfortunately a common occurrence in this area. More blasts follow this morning. I wish I could say that this behavior on the part of my Maine neighbors was triggered by the protesting. But I know better – any excuse will do to shoot up the neighborhood. It’s NORMAL

Coming Home to Spring

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The older I become the more I appreciate Nature as she is, Nature the Creatrix of the Earth. Nature creating without human intervention. The cycles of life and death are so intimately intertwined and never more evident than in the spring when each rotting log becomes home to ants who are feasted upon by black bears (whose primary protein source 93% comes from ants, grubs and larvae). Splintered detritus becomes the rich soil that supports the seedlings of the next generation of trees, even as the ground peppers the moment with the delicate three lobed trillium, lady-slipper, twin flower, partridge berry trailing arbutus, unfurling spirals – the birthing of ferns, and perhaps my favorite, wild lily of the valley soon to fill the forested glade with her intoxicating scent.

 

Outside my window, diversity reins as Royalty! Maples, ash, oak, beech, moose maple, witch hazel, spruce hemlock, fir, balsam converse with one another, above and below ground – their language made of pulsing vibrations and scent. The naturally fallen white birch logs crisscross each other creating complex and unique patterns apparent to any artistic eye. The brook is wending her serpentine way to the sea, her spongy banks of sphagnum moss are steeped in emerald. The translucent papery thin leaves of the beech tree ripple in the slightest breeze. Everywhere a multitude of shades of greens – greens that we cannot name – a writer’s palette is pitifully limited to words like jade, olive, spruce, lemon, lime, emerald, sage; this language can’t come close to describing the wonder of a woodland forest coming to life. Every leaf and twig emanates a luminous glow. Evergreens bristle, their delicate fingers stretching towards the filtered light of a canopy that protects the most sensitive eyes. Sweet moist air fills thirsty lungs, the sound of light rain brings out a symphony of frogs. The brook pools mirror blue sky through lacy ferns and wild sprigs of lily of the valley that are springing up under a woodland carpet, a pine – needled floor. In the distance, rose pink, magenta, and lilac blend into a huge field bouquet. The highest grasses hide white and purple violets, star-like lupine, deep blue spires of ajuga gone wild. As I observe the snowy crabbapple loose her glorious white crown I think I have never witnessed such wonder, this coming home to spring.

 

Working notes:

I recently returned from the high desert where I created small gardens against my adobe house, experienced the beauty of wildflowers and an abundance of sage green shoots appearing where none were before thanks to the generosity of the Cloud People. Even the hills were glazed in gray green, and one tree frog called from a nearby ditch. I was profoundly grateful to experience this year’s desert spring.

And yet, nothing prepared me for the miracle of experiencing a second spring here in the North East after a three year absence ( I returned the summer before last but missed the spring). The North Country Woman thrives under a canopy of green because her roots are here stretching deep into rich woodland soil. These deep roots are nurtured by regular rain and moisture, cool nights and a sun that is less intense. Perhaps too my Indigenous Peoples are calling me back…

I don’t know how to reconcile my love for dear friends and a thriving community in New Mexico with this felt sense of rootedness in Northern place. My body knows that she belongs here.

It’s almost as if I have had to go through a desert to find my way ‘home’ after I fled to escape harsh winters.

Here my body thrives; there I find community.

How, I ask myself, am I ever going to heal this split?

Cardinal Homecoming

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I first heard them in Virginia when I stopped in a forested glade to walk the dogs. There must have been two or three pairs singing from the leafy lime green canopy. Even though I was in the northeast, I was still a long way from Maine. Yet I experienced this symphony as a distinct welcoming ‘home’. The scent of wild honeysuckle blended with the songs so completely that I can’t separate the images from the sounds in my mind.

 

It has been almost two years since I last heard the cardinals, the most beloved bird in my life. I had missed them so much in the desert. When I finally arrived at my log cabin I filled my bird feeder and was somewhat bewildered when grosbeaks, chickadees, nuthatches, woodpeckers, even one grackle arrived almost immediately, as if they already were expecting me.

 

When the male serenaded me with his whistle that second morning I stopped dead in my tracks astonished. Cardinals are forest or edge dwellers and although this place is heavily treed I assumed that the cardinals had long ago disappeared because of lack of food. When the male flew to the ground below the feeder, I was overjoyed.

 

Now every morning when I step out the door I hear the Cardinal’s welcoming whistle. The female calls from the trees and yesterday I heard three conversing simultaneously.

 

Perhaps like the bears that visit, these birds know that there is a very lonely aging woman who craves deep companionship from her closest friends who are woven like precious jewels into an edge person’s life.