Shadows; After the Solstice

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Summer Solstice

Shadow strikes

without warning.

Rusty barbed wire

wound tight like a crown –

Ambiguous words slung

in the wake of a fiery sun

demonstrate intent to harm.

 

I have learned to stay awake

to this darker side

of human nature:

Keep my eyes to the ground,

Protect my heaped up heart,

Listen – separate this from that.

Temper my judgment.

My dove reminds me

that these barbs will pass

like the power of a

bitter orange sun.

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Midsummer Eve

 

It sounds so appealing

a time of revelry,

crackling bonfires,

staying up all night

to witness the dawn.

Why do we celebrate

this longest day

of the year

as if endless hours

of daylight

and a scorching

sun star encompass

a gift of unparalleled grace?

 

I miss the shadows

that define sharp edges,

reveal form and depth,

of flat mesas, mountains,

deep blue sky,

clouds that hold promise

of muted gray and soaking rains.

 

Too much light

bleaches the earth

of her vibrancy, washing

out sage and emerald green.

Red dirt turns dull brown

as wildflowers wither.

Streams and rivers

surrender their souls

as precious moisture

rises.

Wily lizards scurry

for cover

under the fierce heat

of this unrelenting white star.

The birds stop singing by noon.

 

Too much light

ushers in self

and other destruction

encouraging frantic action –

noise that shatters.

Unhinging

“being” from doing,

destroying quiet moments

for thoughtful reflection.

The summer solstice sun can be

a delusional veil

that separates us

from ourselves.

 

I look forward

to the day after this turning

with profound relief,

because even though

summer’s harsh light will

linger well into August

and the heat will drone on

the sun is slowly losing

his fearsome power

creating space

for blue-green turquoise and golden skies.

In the shelter of the coming days

of longer shadows,

illuminated by reflective Light,

She will rise again with her Moon.

 

Working notes: I am always struck by the fierce energies that define this time of year – too long days – too much heat. Personally I have headaches and trouble sleeping and often feel irritable. It is well documented that violence escalates in the heat and noise certainly intensifies. I am struck too by our culture’s need – or obsession with light –  particularly the powers of the sun. Mythologically the the solar power of the sun is most often associated with the male powers of procreation, and power in general.

In other cultures the sun and moon are usually depicted as belonging together. Just as the sun is seen as a masculine power, the moon is perceived to be feminine in nature. – Each has a specific realm of influence, and together they are perceived as one whole.

At the risk of being accused of binary splitting I take the position that western culture is out of balance and we demonstrate that imbalance with our obsession with light that often manifests as our obsessive need for sun.

(This is the time of greening and without the powers of the sun and its heat the crops would not grow and Earth and her creatures and trees would not be able to survive – so I am not suggesting that the sun is lacking in importance)

And yet, the summer solstice sun is still an extreme event just like the lack of light is at winter solstice. I think that it is important to recognize that these extremes are part of Nature but their effects are temporary.

When the sun is highest in the sky, our star casts no shadow and this should be a warning to us all.

“The Cottonwood Dance”

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(The Cottonwoods outside my window)

 

A couple of days ago I went to a late spring Corn Dance at Okay Owingeh Pueblo. For the Tewa, spring, summer and fall are dedicated to the seasonal agricultural round and the late spring dances acknowledge the necessity of adequate rain for the newly planted corn to grow. Because the Tewa people have a living tradition each dance is unique although a general pattern is followed – one that has ancient origins. The point of these dances is to pray for rain, help the corn and other crops grow through dancing prayer, and to keep the Earth and her people in balance. One experiences the dance; no words are spoken. Drumming is an integral part of this ritual cycle.

 

There were many participants, men women and children, and a number of clay striped clowns who wore turtle shells on their legs. Both the women and the men also carried and shook gourds that sounded like rain. Both men and boys wore kilts trimmed with bells and shells and turtle shell rattles on their legs. The men also wore brightly colored arm – bands some of which were yellow. Most had feather top knots. The women wore white wrap around high legged moccasins made from the softest deer skin, beautifully belted dresses, predominantly rose patterned shawls, their shiny long black hair hanging down their backs. The men danced in moccasins trimmed with skunk fur. Some of these moccasins were dyed a bright yellow and I wondered if the color had something to do with the corn. Skunks love water so even the footwear that touches the Earth becomes a prayer for rain.

 

Each set begins and ends in one of the four plazas to honor each of the Four Directions with breaks between each set. I attended the first set and at the end of the dance all the dancers (there must have been a hundred or more) entered a ramada for a blessing and then filed into one of the two kivas where secret rites are completed in private.

 

Because it was getting hot I had not planned on staying for more than one set. I knew that the dance would be repeated in exactly the same way in each plaza until each of the Four Directions had been honored and the dance ended.

 

The rhythm of the dance had a hypnotic effect on me that by now I had become accustomed to experiencing. I find these dances deeply moving, perhaps because I have Indigenous roots, and because my life is so tightly woven to the cycles of Nature. I also understood that the Tewa believe that participating in these dances, even as a spectator helped the rain come and the corn to grow, probably the only reason the Tewa allow outsiders to attend the celebrations. These people are fiercely independent and do not share their traditions with strangers beyond allowing visitors to attend the dance. By maintaining this kind of vigilance they have managed to keep ancient traditions intact. One is left to interpret what one sees and experiences…

 

The striking aspect of this particular dance for me was the lack of corn imagery. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw men wearing wreaths of cottonwood, something I had never witnessed before. In addition, the women and children each carried sprigs of cottonwood branches. Fascinated by this change I called the pueblo the next day to find out if I had seen a corn dance. Yes, I was told. I knew enough not to ask impertinent questions about cottonwood branches. Instead I reflected upon the possible meaning of what I had seen, and what it might mean. That night I fell asleep listening to muted cottonwood conversation…

 

I am presently living in an adobe house that is situated under a giant stand of cottonwood trees, trees whose leaves flutter and rustle beguiling me to listen to their songs. Sometimes at night I imagine I hear rain falling…it takes me a minute to recognize that what I am hearing is the sound of cottonwood leaves communing above my head.

 

A day or so later it dawned on me that using the cottonwood boughs, a sacred tree to the Tewa and other tribes because it is associated with water, might have been incorporated into the dance as an additional form of prayer to call down the rains.

 

In Northern New Mexico we are experiencing an unprecedented drought. We had no snow or rain this winter, and thus no spring run off. Fires are burning out of control throughout the region and the National parks have been closed to camping and other forms of recreation. How this is going to affect the corn and other crops that these people depend upon for sustenance is unknown. The Rio Grande is low, and no longer reaches Mexico. A Mexican friend, and builder friend of mine finds this state of affairs confusing because as he asks “Doesn’t the water belong to all the people?” Apparently not, our Government decrees.

 

Meanwhile, I listen to the cottonwood trees with rapt attention adding my prayers to those of the people.

 

May the rains come.

Postscript: Curiously we had our first real rainstorm just a couple of days after the ‘Cottonwood Dance’ and who can know if the trees were listening and helped bring down the rain.

Cottonwoods, by the way have enormous taproots that seek the water table and must reach it in order to survive. Today, young cottonwoods are struggling because the water table has dropped. It is heartbreaking to see how few young trees are actually growing.

Water – Sky Woman

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(Photo taken by Iren Schio at Abiquiu Lake)

I am a woman who is in love with the Water and Sky!

This photo was taken a few days ago when Iren and I went to the lake to swim – it captures the joy of the moment.

Last night we had real rain – the kind that soaks the desert ground and brings even the most withered plants to life.

Here in Northern New Mexico we are suffering a terrible drought that has chilling implications for the future. Living by the river under the cottonwoods I am spared the  visual reality of drought, although it is impossible to ignore the dry cracked earth beneath my feet, or the scarcity of wildflowers.

The light rain we had yesterday morning wasn’t enough to keep me from watering thirsty seedlings and plants… but the birds were taking baths on the wire fence and I had a flock of western bluebirds, phoebes, flycatchers and towhees that all participated. The first fiesty Rufous hummingbird appeared at my feeder.

Last night, as if in anticipation of heavier rains the great horned owl hooted just outside my window at dusk – twice. The nighthawk identified himself  by his high pitched peet.

When the skies opened last night it seemed like a holy thing. This morning on my walk to the river mist rose off the water obscuring the mesas.

The thick gray cloud cover keeps the scorching solstice sun at bay, and all my windows are open allowing inside and outside to become parts of one whole.

Unlike so many this time of year is my least favorite because of the heat of the sun, so to have two mornings of reprieve seems like the greatest of blessings and my gratitude overflows…

Seven of Swords; Majidi Warda

 

The first sword marks

the cuts on her flesh;

Seven stories passed down generations.

The first sword severs

old tongues from lips;

Seven volumes of our imagination.

The second sword bodes

the augury of battle

The solar eclipse is an omen

Stalemate paralysis and suicides

of virgins

beckon that war is for blind men.

The third sword paints

a red nun on the doorway

Blood sacrifice here is an order

A black crow caws

foretells a calamity

Three swords and it is for murder

Black scarabs scuttle

from graves and vaginas

Four swords stand guard at the openings

both orifice and larynx mutter supplications

“the mosaic arches are crumbling.”

The fifth sword removes

the crown from the King

the downfall of men from their thrones

widows whisper for mercy and tea

heralding the era of crones

Six words rebuild

the schools and the libraries

upon rubble and ghosts of delusion

faint echoes of screams

still lurk in church hallways

and bomb shelters

now museums

Blood paints the flag

and honeymoon bedsheets

lacerations a hymn to Inanna

poets and prophets

and coffee cup readers

articulations of our chthonic longings

 

Commentary: When I read this poem, I felt truth seeping into my bones. The poem speaks to what is trying to come through – shattering our present delusions.

After the Dance

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The Pueblo men

wore cottonwood wreaths,

women and children

carried heart shaped boughs

men wore skunk fur moccasins.

(Skunks love wetlands)

All danced for rain…

Tuning my heart to the drum

I still can’t escape the

feeling that cracked earth

claims body and mind.

So much yearning

for a sky full of water

It certainly fills mine…

 

Back home

Under Threat

the fire of the sun

burns holes in parched ground.

Even cottonwoods droop

under a waxing solstice sun –

still a week away…

Spiral dust rises

in a cloudless sky.

Where is Spring Green?

Chimisa bend low

and magenta cholla wilt.

Even cactus protest.

When clouds billow up

I ignore the signs –

I have been tricked by hope

too many times…

Falling asleep after the dance

I am awakened abruptly

startled by

rumbles of thunder.

I leap up – the cloud cover

a gift too precious to ignore.

I’ll water now…

Once outside the shifting gray skies

deadens thick heat like a blanket.

This blessed air is cool.

Not a moment to lose!

I turn on the faucet

filling buckets by hand

swiftly pouring gallons

of water on potted plants

newly planted trees

wildflower blossoms

just waiting to burst.

When the first raindrop

hits pink granite stone

amazement floods me

for I have returned

from a dance for rain –

a holy prayer sung with

rattles, bells, drums

holding the heart of a People

who walk lightly on this land,

(Giving thanks is their way of life)

I keep watering.

Soon my clothes are damp.

Feathery Chimisa spring to life.

Wildflowers uncurl tiny buds

brilliant points of yellow emerge…

And I keep watering.

This intoxicating music

is magic –

Drops of precious liquid

stream into thirty buckets.

Hummingbirds perch on bushes

to bathe and preen.

Reveling in wet wonder

falling from the clouds

desire surges through me

and is assuaged…

Taking joy in the moment –

I too give thanks

Like the dancers do

for the Cloud People’s gift of rain.

Chamisa

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Every morning I look for new signs of healthy growth on the devastated rabbitbushes many of which did not survive the construction of this house. I love chamisa and am dedicated to bringing these mutilated species back to life. I water them periodically and watch the slender leaves turn emerald green in gratitude for such meager attention. During the summer and fall these beautiful plants turn the high desert a brilliant yellow and with their soft gray leaves that sway in the slightest breeze they are a joy to behold. The blossoms last so long that unlike so many other desert plants it is possible to appreciate them over a long period of time.

 

Behind this adobe structure there are the remains of what was once a chimisa forest that glows in the evening western light. My neighbor routinely hacks his chimisa down much to my dismay. These living plant beings feel pain, and I try to imagine what it must feel like for a plant to be hacked down mindlessly, ignored by so many, or experienced as a nuisance.

 

I counter this trend with loving attention and delight in the feathery leaves, the cover these plants provide for lizards and mammals, and think about all the good these plants do to help the earth.

 

Without being able to perceive natural beauty in the world we live in a state of profound poverty, and with so many wondrous plants growing wild, how can it be possible that so few seem to be able to SEE?

 

What follows is a bit of information on these denizens of the grasslands (around here), even as I give thanks for these wild plants whose bouquets take my breath away.

 

 

 

Chamisa or Gray Rabbitbush

 

This perennial shrub is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) along with sagebrush, with which it is often found. Chamisa has several different subspecies located throughout the western United States. It is typically distinguished by having whitish to green flexible stems, felt-like matted hairs, and narrow, thread-like grayish-green alternate leaves. Shrubs are rounded and generally two to five feet tall, but can reach as high as seven feet. Flower heads are made up of 5 small, yellow, tubular flowers, and are arranged in dense, rounded or flat-topped clusters at the ends of the branches. Flowers bloom from August to October as other plants are fading, providing vivid color and a pollen source for insects late in the summer. The shrubs reproduce via an abundance of small, wind-dispersed seeds and can also sprout from the base.

Chamisa occurs as a dominant to minor component in many plant communities, ranging from arid rangelands to montane openings. It thrives in poor conditions, and can tolerate coarse, alkaline soils. Dense stands are often found on degraded rangelands, along roadsides, and in abandoned agricultural fields. The species is useful in soil stabilization and restoration of disturbed sites. The deep root system establishes quickly and plants produce large quantities of leaf litter, helping to bring nutrients to the soil surface from the deeper rooting profile. Rabbitbrush is also gaining popularity as an ornamental; the white/gray foliage, abundant flowering, and tolerance for poor conditions makes it well suited for desert landscaping.

Native Americans reportedly used Chamisa as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum. The forage value varies greatly among subspecies and different ecosystems. In some locations, it can be an important browse species for mule deer, pronghorn, and jackrabbits during fall and winter. It also provides cover for mammals and small nesting birds. Livestock generally forage only lightly on this species and it is considered to be of little value to all classes of livestock, a fact that doesn’t bother me at all. We eat too much meat.