Who is the Goddess?

a wood frog in the forest… frogs and the goddess are intimately connected – many goddess figures are frogs

I have been re- reading Carol Christ’s Rebirth of the Goddess reflecting upon my own journey over these past 40 years, remembering how her image appeared to me as a bird goddess the day I first worked with river clay… When I discovered that some of the images I sculpted of bird goddesses mirrored those in Marijia Gimbutas’s The Language of the Goddess I entered an unknown realm. All I understood at the time was that I was being called by some unknown force. I had no idea that this power existed not only without, but within, and that someday I would be able to name both Nature and my Body as the source of that power. And come to understand that they are One.

Carol writes:

“ The image of the goddess is the catalyst that enables women to clear away the false consciousness of self hatred, dependence, and dualistic thinking created by patriarchal religion. Once this is accomplished the image of the goddess is no longer necessary.”

The goddess is then a transitional figure who ushers in immanence.

And yet, here are Carol’s words that describe the ‘both and aspect’ of her experience of the goddess. She writes: 

“I experience the goddess by fully entering into a relationship with a particular tree, a mountain, a person, not by attempting to separate myself from… other beings… She (the goddess) has a personal aspect too – She is a power who cares about my life and the fate of the world”.

At no point does Carol suggest that the power of the goddess can stop the patriarchal rape of woman or climate change, only that she cares. The power of the goddess is not omnipotent. She operates within a finite and changeable world. “The cycles of nature are her cycles.” Carol also writes that when we violate the web of life the body of the goddess (nature) is desecrated. 

At the time of her mother’s death Carol had a mystical experience that embedded her in the reality that the ground of all being is love. She said she understood that she was surrounded by a great matrix of love and always had been. “The power of the goddess is the intelligent embodied love…that undergirds every being, including plants, animals, and humans, as we participate in the spiritual processes of birth, death, and renewal.” This is revelation, is it not? I believe Carol took her scholarship and experience and infused it into every aspect of her life, passing it on to us as possibility regardless of where we might be on the goddess continuum.

Yesterday I visited a woman friend who loves animals the way I do, preferring their company to that of humans much of time. We call ourselves hermits, but of course, our animals and those we care for remind us that however much we may experience loneliness or despise ourselves/others we are infinitely lovable. (Yesterday my friend’s dog immediately sensed that I was struggling with loneliness and immediately showered me with kisses – herein lies the power of the goddess).

 Why is it that betrayal by others has the power to turn us against ourselves?  All I know is that for women like us that have been harmed by humans we loved, beginning with those in our own family, it is a natural response to channel rejection and distrust of people into feelings of loneliness, self/other hatred (often masked as depression) while turning to animals for acceptance, love, safety, and sustenance.

I may know what I am doing to myself but I have not found a way to overcome my general distrust of humans, although when I experience feelings of separation and self hatred I refuse to give into them relying on endurance to survive these periods. I have to remind myself over and over that nature is mirroring back the love I cannot feel from humans through my relationship with animals and nature as a whole.

mirror images…

I learned first that animals were my most powerful teachers; later the rest of nature ‘animated’ me literally bringing me back to life when all else failed. 

I want to end this loneliness, this false sense of separation from people that my experiences, my attitude towards those that harmed me, and my patriarchal culture have laid upon me; I just don’t know how. In my mind I truly believe that all life is interconnected in mysterious ways, and in my body I can feel/ experience this relationship as truth it except when it comes to humans… Rejection and betrayal loom as threats and these are embodied too. 

 I think of Carol who experienced love as the ground of all being… Perhaps the Goddess will intervene.

Earth Rises Again

A horizon

belching sooty smoke

pollutes

 once pure air 

pressing invisible

particles, ozone

 into granite –

 lichen covered mountains –

  plant/animal lungs

 are coated in filth

just as ours are.

 Death hangs over

a leaden sky,

the sweet scent

of moisture 

is absent.

Tomorrow’s

bitter orange sunrise

signals what many

still refuse to believe:

The Earth is on Fire.

Those of us capable of Love –

Animals, plants,

Humans, who suffer,

 those who fought for justice

  continue to grieve

in a Silence

impossible to break.

Change, 

if it comes at all

 will come too late.

 Humans have had 40 years

to prepare…

The age of the

Anthropocene

 will not survive

a species gone insane.

Although my poem ends here there is a part of me that projects my heartbreak and rage onto the planet hoping for retribution:

 Earth weeps

even as S/he prepares

to redress imbalances.

Hell has no fury

like this ‘Mother’s’ scorn.

Beware.

On Monday the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a scientific body convened by the United Nations, released a major new report concluding that the world cannot avoid some devastating impacts of climate change.” 

The New York Times 8/9/21

 The best we can do is to mitigate the extremes ahead; we can expect raging fires, intolerable heat, flooding, cyclones, tornados, melting glaciers, droughts and other natural disasters to change the face of the earth for at least another 30 years even IF humans are capable of reducing our carbon emissions at all. Tree deforestation is responsible for 20 percent of our present carbon emissions. The remainder is due to the use of fossil fuels, big industry, agribusiness, trucks, cars, flying planes, burning wood or pellets, running air conditioners, etc. etc. There is no doubt left.  Man is the culprit of this natural holocaust, and if we are people we are all culpable. So much for human hubris. Like Icarus, a few powerful men flew too close to the sun, and now, as a result of egregious actions and our complicity we all begin to fall…

For many years I winced when I heard people calling the earth “mother”. That warning bell has never ceased to ring (the one exception is that of Indigenous peoples whose loving, respectful, reciprocal relationship with the earth continues to help them survive patriarchy – these people have earned the right to call the earth ‘mother’).

As a feminist I continue to shudder when I think about how the unequal structure of patriarchy has treated our human mothers – sentimentalizing them, judging them, refusing to pay them, treating them like servants, raping them, leaving them in poverty as they aged if not before, and worst of all, expecting “perfection” at every turn, and if a mother does not live up to this patriarchal cultural ideal we BLAME them without mercy. Men, women, and adult children – all are culpable.

And we wonder why mothers blame themselves?  

What chills me as an eco feminist, is that it is also clear to me that what we are doing to our human mothers we are doing to the Earth. To give the reader just a few examples: We sentimentalize nature through romantic art and poetry, yet we judge her as one who is ‘red in tooth and claw’. Mother Nature is cruel and uncaring. We blame her mercilessly for natural disasters. We routinely rape, slaughter her forests, mine her precious body for minerals gas and oil, pollute her waters, and air. We accord her no sentience, no feelings (except as enemy); she is a ‘resource’ to be used and abused by humans, men, women children alike.

The one difference between human mothers and the Earth is that as human mothers we are blamed/and/or blame ourselves for our shortcomings. Nature does not engage in blame. The Earth is focused on survival of the whole planet and not its individuals. (Yet what astonishes me is that she is capable of such deep compassion, as those of us who turn to her for help soon learn. She becomes a mirror witnessing for us in our joy and in our grief). Change is who She is. ‘She changes everything she touches… Everything she touches changes’. To that end, we are now seeing Her beginning to redress the imbalances that humans have created. As the youngest species on the planet we are literally her children and for some it is tempting to hope or believe that she has grown tired of abuse and is about to erupt in rage. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Earth is invested Life and to that end she is willing to make whatever necessary sacrifices are needed to achieve that balance. Life, death and renewal, this is the circle of life as Carol Christ has stated repeatedly. That we all will suffer, human and non – humans alike is inevitable. But one day, as our stories have been teaching us since the dawn of humankind, she will birth an Earth that has been purged of its tormentors.

I, for one, am finally nearing a point of acceptance of what lies ahead. Losing all the people I loved and having to witness the death of so many birds, animals, flowers, trees that have sustained me throughout my life have brought me to this edge, a place where I am finally getting ready to let go.

Afterward:

The Power of Dreams…Roughly two year ago I entered a dream that was so vivid that I still feel as if I lived through it. I had a small clear bubble in the palm of my hand; it was wrapped in plastic. When I removed the cover and opened the sphere I saw to my astonishment a tiny ark that was overflowing with animals, trees, every conceivable living being and there was so much green. I was overjoyed. This was the Earth! Life would go on. It was only afterwards that I realized there were no humans to be seen…

Legacy

My Northern White Cedar in her garden!

When I planted my cedar

in the garden

it seemed like an odd place –

Why bury her amongst

 a plethora of summer flowers

unless I feared she’d disappear?

I was afraid to name her –

 Guardian.

 When delicate fronds

 dulled, turned brown

I despaired.

Weeks passed.

I considered pulling

her up by the roots.

‘Replace her’,

an unpleasant voice nagged.

But another chimed in.

‘Give her time; be patient.

 Wait and see.’

 I listened to the

Voice of Patience

knowing how much

 I needed to learn.

All winter I walked by

 brushing ice crystals

 from frozen lacy fingers.

When April came

the absence of rain

unraveled the spring.

Fierce northwest winds

 bent and battered my tree –

a slender “Y” shaped canopy

  supported by one 

 thin skinned stem…

I tended to roots

covering them with mulch,

watered her daily.

When one

 filigreed tip

unfurled followed by

another, I 

 exclaimed,

‘She’s alive

and Greening!’

Now the circle

 has closed

She’s been

with me a year.

New growth has

 rounded her form –

As a burgeoning tree

 she’s thriving….

Lately, I have been

 missing my mother

who also loved these trees…

 But she left me

 before my birth –

with broken promises

 –  and a Judas kiss.

Unprotected, I floundered.

I couldn’t force her to love me…

When she died I felt relief.

 Today I imagine

 conjuring her up

as Wise Woman, Seal,

a Guardian  

who could teach me

how to mother myself.

 Perhaps I can find

Protection 

by loving the woman

 she could have been

 and the body

 of my tree.

Abandonment is a curse we don’t outgrow. Not being loved by our mothers follows us all the days of our lives. I used to think I would grow out of this need – that the abandoned child would recede, but instead she continues to follow me wherever I go. Recently, I realized that my only hope was to grow my own version of a loving mother, and that I needed to begin that process by turning to my mother and my Motherline for help as well as to the trees I call ‘my mothers’.

I have loved trees all my life and cedars in particular. Amazingly, it was years before I remembered that my mother loved them too. Once when she was about 60 my mother brought me a cedar seedling in a clay pot. I dutifully planted the tree. I had no idea whyshe brought me this cedar. We had a one-sided relationshipmy questions were not encouraged.

That incident occurred more than 40 years ago, but I am still planting cedars… I think the trees I used to call “The Mothers” were my ‘natural mothers’ but also were the women of my Motherline that always seemed too far removed from me, probably because my mother taught me to reject them as she did. Today, my intention is to draw them in along with my mother in a different form. Perhaps my mother even demonstrated her love when she was alive by gifting me with a tree?  Women and trees are woven together like a tapestry.

Barbara’s Story: an encounter with the Invisibles

Caeser’s Mushroom – the fruiting body of an invisible mycelial network that thrives underground…

In a world where an unequal power structure dominates the relationship between men and women women are vulnerable. Barbara’s story is a perfect example of one woman’s attempt to find direction and acquire power in a potentially dangerous but compelling way.  

“I was born into a Republican, Calvinist, working-class family in Ferguson, Missouri, and was a teenager during the 1950s. Nothing remotely “spooky” or occult about my life. I was fortunate to discover the Unitarian Universalist Association during my freshman year in college and was a happy Unitarian until the late 1970s, when I completed my formal schooling and moved to Southern California. Nothing spooky or occult about the UUA, either.

After I moved to California, I met people interested in occult and metaphysical topics. I wanted to know more, so I started reading. I read the mainstream metaphysical literature, the books on the European Occult Revival and the various psychic sciences, books on ceremonial magic, New Thought, alchemy, the Qabala, theosophy, metapsychiatry, and the Universal White Brotherhood. I read Madame Blavatsky, Charles W. Leadbeater, Annie Besant, Dion Fortune, Horace Quimby, Stewart Edward White, Charles Francis Stocking, Manly P. Hall…well, the list goes on and on. (Those books are still on my shelves.) Although I learned enough to be a walking footnote to this day, I didn’t learn anything helpful about the spirit guides that a popular teacher in Anaheim told me were running my life. My boy friend was regularly doing automatic writing, so under his tutelage, I tried automatic writing, too. All I got was a stiff hand. I visited The Psychics To The Stars. I went to a spoon-bending seminar. (I bent one spoon). I attended a remote viewing workshop. All I got was a lot of debits in my check register. I didn’t meet any of my spirit guides.

One day I went to a local metaphysical teacher. “Well,” she told me, “have you tried the pendulum?” Although I didn’t realize it, that was the beginning of the end of my enchantment. But it took me more than a year to get through the learning process. What this teacher told me to do was get a piece of typing paper and print the letters of the alphabet on it in an arc, like a Ouija Board, plus the numbers from 1 to 10. She showed me how to hold a pendulum above the paper. Soon it began to swing from letter to letter, spelling out words. “Just write down the words,” she said. “This always works.” “Good for you,” my boy friend said, “but just to make sure you don’t get under the influences of any evil entities, say the Lord’s Prayer before you begin. And give yourself an hour or so every night.”

Reader, do you know the meaning of “compulsive”? Have you ever seen obsessiveness in action? I should mention here that my son, Charles, was twelve years old at the time. He has always been very bright, very skeptical, very resourceful. I suppose I could safely say that my adventures with the Invisibles helped him become more resourceful and self-sufficient. Within a week or two, my nightly hour with the pendulum doubled. We moved the TV into Charles’s bedroom. My doubled hour doubled again. I sat on the couch, not watching TV, not listening to music, not talking on the phone, not reading paperback mysteries, not petting the cat, not meditating. I sat there with a mini-Ouija Board and a pendulum and talked to spirits. As I told Charles, I was watching the “wizards drive the pendulum.”

I don’t remember the names of all the Invisibles who came through my pendulum, but Wow, I thought. Now I know why I’m on earth. I know what My Purpose In Life is. Four hours every night after work with pendulum, spelling out a sentence and writing it down, spelling out another sentence and writing it down, watching the wizards steer the pendulum round and round and round.

An Invisible who said she was Isis also came and talked to me. She said she’d been my mother in a past life. (Really??) Another Invisible said that my boyfriend had been David and I’d been Bathsheba. Another one said I’d been Cleopatra (the topic of my Ph.D. dissertation) and he’d been Caesar and another boy friend had been Marc Antony. Another one said my boy friend and I had been the King and Queen of Atlantis. Guess what? I wasn’t even skeptical. Yet.

By this time, my boy friend, who had been doing automatic writing for four or five years, had a whole stack of notebooks filled with different kinds of messages in different handwritings, none of them his own. My stack of pendulum papers was about ream-high. We were waiting to assume our rightful places in the sacred hierarchy of the world.

One Friday night, as soon as supper was over and my son was in his bedroom listening to Billy Joel records, I picked up my pendulum, assumed the position, and waited for wisdom. The pendulum began to swing.

We want you as our earth slave.

I put the pendulum away. I went into Charles’s bedroom and watched TV with him.

But I was addicted. First thing Saturday morning—back to the pendulum. We want you as our earth slave. I prayed over my paper Ouija Board. I cupped the crystal pendulum in my hands and prayed again. I visualized white light on the paper, around the pendulum, around my hands, around my pen and notebook, around my whole body, filling my living room. White light everywhere. I called upon angels and spirit guides to protect me.

We want you as our earth slave.

Our Father Who art in Heaven—

I had figured out by this time that I could influence what the pendulum said. I could make it spell out what I wanted it to say. Not this time.

Don’t bother praying. It won’t work. We want you as our earth slave.

…hallowed be Thy Name….

It was noon. I tore up the paper and burned the pieces in an abalone shell on sacred sand. Then I buried the ashes in my back yard. I took the expensive crystal pendulum outside. I also took a ball-peen hammer and used it to smash that crystal. I burned the black thread, and buried it all. But I was addicted. Sunday morning, I found another crystal point and tied it to another piece of black thread.

What’s going on here? I asked. Then I held the new pendulum over my new paper Ouija Board and waited. 

Who are you?

My name is Walter Troll.

I nearly dropped the pendulum. Who are you? Why are you scaring me?

That’s not really my name. But you may know me as Walter Troll. It’s my job to scare you.

Well, you’re doing a really good job of it.

Glad to hear that. Have you looked at your life lately?

No. All I’d been looking at was that pendulum. I’ve been learning things from my spirit guides, I replied to this new Invisible. And Isis, she’s a famous goddess, you know, and she talks to me all the time. They say I have a mission on earth.

Do you expect me to believe that?

I believe it!

Do you really believe what a pendulum is telling you?

Yes! Of course I do. Why wouldn’t I?

It was, Walter Troll told me, time for a reality check. What is the quality of your life?

The quality of my life was lousy.

Good girl. Now pay attention. The way to live your life is to get out there and live it. That’s trite, yes, but it’s quite true. You’re so smart? Examine your life. What are you actually learning that is of any use to you, your son, or anyone in the world? What are you learning that is true and useful?

Reality check, indeed. I put the pendulum down and picked up a pencil and wrote in my journal. I went for a walk. I took Charles out for lunch and we had a genuine conversation about the wizards driving the pendulum. And more important issues. I phoned a friend, who said she’d been wondering if I was still alive. Monday morning, I went to work and edited a proposal to build a cement plant in northern Idaho. Then I edited a report on a construction project in Florida. After work, I came home and watched a little TV with Charles, then took him out for supper. We came home, watched some more TV, and after he went to bed, I picked up a paperback mystery. I had to start at the beginning because I’d completely forgotten the plot.

Atta girl, Walter Troll told me Tuesday night. If you spend all your time waiting for instructions from spirit guides, what else do you have time for? You want a task on earth? How is your son growing up? When’s the last time you spent time with your friends?

How could I reply to him?

I thought for several minutes. Walter, I said, are you my friend? Really? Who are you?

Yes, my dear, I am your friend. Who do you think I am?

I wish I knew! Why are you here? Why did you tell me you want me to be your earth slave?

Do you still believe you’re the queen of the earth?

Well… No. That just doesn’t make sense.

Do you need this pendulum?

Okay. Yeah. I’m looking at it with clearer eyes now. But why did you scare me? Who are you?

Walter Troll never answered my questions. Like the Little Prince, he was much better at asking questions than answering them. But you know what? He made me face myself. To this day, I don’t know who he was. And all the other Invisibles who talked to me through that pendulum—were they real or did my needy self make them all up? I’d read quite a lot and, when I reread their dictation, I saw that none of those invisible beings that drove the pendulum had said anything I hadn’t already read.

Who was Walter Troll? I have never heard from him again. He spent a week in my head, a week driving my pendulum. What he taught me was to be skeptical of “messages from beyond.” He taught me to look closely at power and magic and claims of power and magic. He taught me that the invisible world may exist only between our ears and beneath the canopy of our skull. The invisible world may also be all around us. It can be hard to tell the difference. And he taught me not to be afraid of knowledge, whether it comes from worlds visible or invisible. He taught me to face gods, goddesses…and invisible trolls. Walter Troll had arrived just in time to tug me back toward feminism, to point me at the Woman’s Movement, and to prepare me to meet the Goddess.

 Who is Barbara Ardinger? Ph.D. (www.barbaraardinger.com), is a published author and freelance editor. Her newest book is Secret Lives, a novel about grandmothers who do magic. Her earlier nonfiction books include the daybook Pagan Every Day, Finding New Goddesses (a pun-filled parody of goddess encyclopedias), and Goddess Meditations. When she can get away from the computer, she goes to the theater as often as possible—she loves musical theater and movies in which people sing and dance. She is also an active CERT (Community Emergency Rescue Team) volunteer and a member (and occasional secretary pro-tem) of a neighborhood organization that focuses on code enforcement and safety for citizens. She has been an AIDS emotional support volunteer and a literacy volunteer.Barbara also regularly publishes stories on Carol Christ’s feminismand religion.com, a blog that I read and contribute to regularly.

Final Comment:

What I find most compelling about this true story is that “becoming an earth slave” is one way of aligning oneself with the powers of earth/self even before Barbara had a conversation with Walter Troll. Aligning oneself with the earth allows the goddess to manifest in one’s life. For me this has meant that I see my self as part of the whole earth. I don’t see the goddess as a mythological figure. I see her in every tree, flower, dog, bird, wild creature. She lives in the green of my woods… she births life out of every rotting log. When the birches lie down to die in the forest they nourish the soil for new life. Life, death, renewal…This is the circle of life.

Monarchs: Extinction is Forever

Extinction is Forever

 Almost every day I spend a little time down in my field waist high in the milkweed searching for caterpillars and hoping for the sight of a Monarch. This summer I have seen five Monarchs in all and none have been spotted in my field. Of course Monarchs don’t need to feed on milkweed nectar; they have many other choices. And this year the milkweed flowers bloomed so early that most Monarchs weren’t even around to feast on the fragrant flowers. I usually don’t start seeing these beautiful butterflies until early July and sightings used to peak around the end of the summer here in Maine.  The startling flaming orange Mexican sunflowers and Liatris are favored monarch nectar blossoms neither of which I grow here because I don’t have full sun, but I do have Butterfly weed, lots of it, and twice a Monarch has visited along with clouds of Frittilaries.

Even if flowers are barely open, or have passed quickly in the heat, Monarchs have an amazing variety of sensors, including  antennae and chemoreceptors on their legs that allow them to detect the plants they are encountering for edibility. While Monarchs are able to fly long distances to find milkweed host plants and nectar sources, widely spaced milkweed patches mean that females need to search longer to find places to lay eggs, and thus they lay fewer eggs over the course of their lives. 

Wading through fields in search of Monarch caterpillars is something I have been doing most of my life. In the spring I plant acorns, raise frogs and toads; in the fall I watch Monarch caterpillars transform into butterflies…or I did. I still plant acorns, raise frogs and toads but now, even if I find a caterpillar I leave it where it is. So far this year I haven’t seen one, but I keep looking…

Global statistics on the decline of all insects, which include the Monarch, vary from 75 – 40 percent depending upon the sources consulted and regions studied. Some places have not been researched so the picture is not complete. Scientists are deeply concerned about what might be the worst threat of all –Climate Change  – but even without the latter the general trend is alarming because these butterflies like all invertebrates are at the bottom of a food chain that affects us all, human and non humans alike.

According to the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), not all insects are declining. Some moth species are increasing. Numerous temperate insects, presumably limited by winter temperatures, have also increased in abundance and range, in response to warmer global temperatures. Around here the prevalence of ticks especially deer ticks are excellent examples. Mayfly swarms are also on the increase. In some places, native herbivores have flourished by utilizing nonnative plants as adult nectar sources or as larval food plants, and there are even instances where introduced plants have rescued imperiled species.

 However, “Monarchs are the face of the wildlife extinction crisis,” states a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity.

The eastern Monarch population is made up of the butterflies east of the Rocky Mountains and accounts for roughly 99% of all North American monarchs. The butterflies migrate each winter to Oyamel fir forests on high-elevation mountaintops in central Mexico to spend the winter. Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies. That population has been dangerously low since 2008. 

In December of 2020 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service put Monarchs on the waiting list for Endangered Species Act listing, which confers no actual protection to them or their habitat. Yet the U.S. Wildlife organization has estimated up to an 80% probability of population collapse for eastern Monarchs within 50 years and a 96-100% probability for the western population.

“Now the 2021 count shows monarch numbers declining even further,” states the Center for Biological Diversity because of Monsanto’s toxic Roundup. Monarchs are threatened by pesticides, herbicides, global climate change, loss of habitat, and illegal logging of the forests where they migrate for the winter. They are also threatened by mortality during their migrations from roadkill.

Monarchs have lost an estimated 165 million acres of breeding habitat in the United States to herbicide spraying and development in recent decades. The caterpillars only eat milkweed, but the plant has been devastated by increased herbicide spraying in conjunction with corn and soybean crops that have been genetically engineered to tolerate direct applications. The butterflies are also threatened by neonicotinoid insecticides, fungicides and other chemicals that are toxic to young caterpillars.

Monarch butterflies west of the Rocky Mountains overwinter on the central coast of California. Their numbers have plummeted by 99%, and fewer than 2,000 total butterflies were counted this winter (2020 -21). The western migration has collapsed in part due to warmer winters, pesticides, loss of habitat etc. and to people planting invasive tropical milkweed.

An eastern Monarch’s relationship with the climate is complicated. This insect is not a typical migrant that spends the winter in the south, comes north to breed, then returns south in the fall. Monarchs take a number of generations each year to reach their northern breeding areas and if even one of these areas is compromised it can affect the whole cycle. The forth generation born during the summer is the one that makes the long Journey south to Mexico from Maine each fall.

The yearly count of Monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico (2021) continues to show a dramatic decline in this imperiled species. Today’s count of 2.10 hectares (5.2 acres) of occupied winter habitat is down 26% from last year’s count. The minimumpopulation threshold needed to be out of the danger zone of extinction is six hectares. In the wintering sites in Mexico, as forests become more heavily degraded by logging and drought they are less able to buffer the Monarchs from temperature extremes, including both warm daytime temperatures and cold nighttime temperatures.

What can we do to help the Monarch butterfly stay with us as long as it can?

Some solutions are simple. Plant milkweed, or simply let it go wild instead of mowing down entire fields where it grows naturally. I mow my small field in the fall once after all the birds have fledged and most of the autumn flowers are spent (wild asters and goldenrod continue to bloom around the edges of my field attracting late Monarch arrivals). This approach allows me to keep a protected open space during three seasons and still allows for summer’s wild abundance. 

If you don’t want a flower garden create a wildflower meadow like my neighbor has. Peter’s Meadow is replete with red and white clover, daisies, vetch, black eyed susans, blue grass, yarrow, milkweed, and more. I have seen two Monarchs feeding in this lovely space. 

If you garden, plant flowers the Monarchs are attracted to like Mexican Sunflower Liatris, Salvia, Butterfly weed, Bee balm, Vervain, Verbena, Zinnias – there are so many excellent choices – visit our local pollinator garden to see what Mahoosuc Land Trust (ML) has planted to attract the Monarch butterflies.

 Stop using pesticides/herbicides ANYWHERE.

 Stop growing genetically engineered seeds.

Boycott Monsanto.

Fall In Love with every Monarch you see.

 And perhaps most critical, join any organization that is dedicated to working with the overwhelming problems associated with Climate Change and our crisis of biodiversity. 

Afterward:

In an effort to trace the migration of Monarch butterflies, citizen scientists (including children) are encouraged to collect, tag, release and report on monarchs in their respective areas. Although well intentioned, I am disturbed by this practice because there are studies that indicate that when Monarchs are captured and held by humans their hearts race and they exhibit a high stress level. Creating more stress for an insect who has to make an arduous fall journey to the mountains of Mexico is not something I would feel comfortable doing. This practice may be useful for people who need statistics to tell them how fast these beautiful butterflies are disappearing, or whether one butterfly made a successful journey but who is asking the Monarch how it feels?

The Role of Indigenous Peoples…

Indigenous Peoples

  Taken from an article posted by The Northeast Wilderness Trust  (NEWT)

The role of Indigenous Peoples:

“Perhaps the greatest positive change in the conservation field over the past 20 years has been the broad recognition of the critical role played by indigenous peoples and local communities in delivering conservation outcomes through local values, norms, and resource management systems. Mainstream conservation leaders now regularly extol the importance of indigenous and local leadership in global conservation issues, while a growing volume of research documents the incredible contributions made by indigenous people to biodiversity conservation. Moreover, as pressures on remaining wild lands intensify, it is increasingly clear that local communities and indigenous peoples are literally the people putting their lives on the line to save tropical forests and other rich ecosystems – not for conservation but for their self-determination, cultures, and territories – which are bound up in those landscapes. This reality has been strongly reinforced by the realities of conservation during the pandemic, when local organizations have steadfastly maintained their presence and support to communitiesthroughout the shutdowns and disruptions.

In this context, conservation needs to truly speak to these social struggles and the worldviews of the indigenous people and other local communities that are increasingly the true conservation leaders of our days. Conservation has to be socially and politically relevant to local communities around the world – from villagers in Mozambique, to indigenous people in the Amazon, to coastal communities in the Western Pacific.

Local communities and Indigenous peoples in the tropics are increasingly recognized as critical for effective conservation.  

Growing networks of indigenous and community-led conservation organizations are strengthening the voices of those leaders. Stronger financial support to assist local communities and indigenous people secure their territories, such as the $459 million in philanthropic pledges made at the 2018 Global Climate Summit, could also play a crucial role.

Conservation cannot be successful if it continues to be in conflict with those who should be its strongest allies. Greater investments should be made in supporting efforts to secure indigenous peoples and local communities rights to their lands and territories, which is often a foremost challenge to both survival and stewardship. Conservation has an opportunity to fully recognize the huge investments that indigenous people and local communities make in safeguarding the planet’s biodiversity and ecosystems – estimated at up to $1.7 billion annually in forested parts of low-income countries. This recognition should be at the heart of the next phase of global conservation agreements and their financing.

This all provides an excellent opportunity to redefine the profile of a conservationist, shifting towards a more diverse profile of the people who are living and working on the front lines each day, in their community or country. They are the true conservationists, regardless of education level, race, and gender.”

Saying Goodbye

I picked a small bouquet of wildflowers – goldenrod, and black – eyed susans. I wove the viny threads of deep blue vetch around the others to create an old fashioned posy that I placed on his grave as soon as I arrived.

 During his long life, Franklin often stood here sniffing the swaying grasses of a field that towered over his head. Memories of him flashed to the surface. I saw him standing there surveying the unknown, his long thin black, now graying nose catching breezes that wafted scents his way – smells I couldn’t even imagine. Betsey had picked just the right spot to bury him.

I was on my way to see Phoebe his sister, another dachshund, this one with ruffles of golden hair. The two had been together for sixteen years, having suffered the loss of many people they loved. But always as a unit. After losing their dad last year Phoebe was inconsolable, sleeping with Peter’s shoes, but Franklin continued to “carry on” and perhaps this was one reason Phoebe recovered. They were a team. It was hard to believe I had only known them for a year; the two were woven through my heartstrings having taken up residence with all the dogs I had ever loved…

I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to see Blue, the giant friendly Lab. I don’t know why I assumed he would be with Betsey… Fortunately I had come with enough treats for two. 

Phoebe was apparently asleep on the couch but awakened the moment I touched her, leaping down excitedly, greeting me with a mewing sound I knew well. Phoebe and I had been through a lot together and there was a special bond between us.

Chaos ensued as I doled out the treats with giant Blue whose need for attention always won! Realizing that my only hope for a visit with Phoebe depended upon her willingness to follow me outdoors I left. She could use her dog door to meet me.

Once I was outside Phoebe arrived in seconds and the two of us snuggled on an old towel for a few minutes while I stroked her silky fur. Then she got up abruptly and walked to the edge of the brick walk sniffing, her nose to the air. Returning, she only stayed a minute before repeating her walk two more times. This behavior was very unusual for her when we were together. Seconds later I got it – She was looking for Franklin… Generally, when she joined me outdoors – he appeared too, and we three hung out together. I loved how the two shared my attention, each waiting his/her turn. Oh… 

When Phoebe returned the last time she lay down beside me quite contentedly, I thought. Accepting. I was reminded of what often happened to me when I lost someone I loved. Suddenly, I would forget, imagining the lost person restored to sight and scent. It interested me that this behavior of hers also mirrored Franklin’s… 

 I wanted to take home some chicory and I thought a little walk might interest Phoebe. She seemed to be doing well – except for the odd feeling that I had that she was far far away when I first entered the house. Anyway, the two of us meandered around bunches of chicory briefly before Phoebe decided it was time for me to come back indoors! After slipping through the dog door I watched for her nose to appear – This was game she frequently played with me.  She would refuse to come out – I had to come in! Franklin was always content to stay outdoors when I was there and he liked little walks much more than she did. When Blue’s big black head appeared in the dog door I figured our time was over. Although Blue had gotten treats he had also been left indoors…

 I was just standing there thinking about Franklin, how much I missed his sweetness, relieved that Phoebe seemed to be dealing with his death when I heard the strangest high-pitched screech. Looking up to locate the piercing shriek I saw the hawk circling over my head making this high pitched cry again and again. Not a normal call. I knew hawks well…They were messengers from the spirit world that had come to me when members of my family died, or were buried.

For a moment I tried to make sense out of what was happening and then it hit me. 

Franklin had come to say goodbye.

Carnivorous Plants

Cluster of tiny Sundews

Carnivorous Plants of the Northeast

  I spend a lot of time in wetlands of one kind or another and have previously written about carnivorous plants on this blog because I am utterly fascinated by them. This time around I am publishing the writing from a unique organization that I support wholeheartedly (and write for) that promises that any land acquired will never be logged. The Northeast Wilderness Trust has a column called the Wild Times. “Newts from the Field is a seasonal installment written by Wildlands Ecology Director Shelby Perry, bringing the reader the wonders of nature…” The photo of sundews was also taken by her.

“Imagine you are a wild fly, just buzzing along in the world. All around, plants dazzle you with their delights, flowers of lovely colors tempt you with their nectar, and leaves offer you a comfortable resting place. Some of those leaves even have “extra-floral nectaries” where they secrete nectar directly from their stems or leaves, seemingly just for you. These plants appreciate you, maybe because you pollinate them, or perhaps you eat their pests, or you might even help disperse their seeds or spores.

Your environment is full of hazards. Dragonflies zoom overhead like predatory drones that can see in all directions. Spider webs slung through the air lurk ready to net you when you least expect it. And there are any number of insect predators and fungi pathogens that can bring you down at any moment. In this threatening world, the  plants seem safe–how could they possibly be a threat to a harmless fly? What could be dangerous about something rooted to the ground that eats sunshine and exhales oxygen? You might start to get comfortable, you’ve been a fly for 15 days (about as senior as flies get). By now you’ve seen it all…right?

Wrong.

Around the world there are over 600 species of carnivorous plants, although calling them all carnivorous might be a bit generous…some of those species are more accurately characterized as coprophages–the technical term for eaters of poo. Here in the Northeast the three most common genera of carnivorous plants are all truly meat-eaters though. They dine mostly on insects, but occasionally also on small amphibians or mammals. These are sundews (Drosera), pitcher plants (Sarracenia), and bladderworts (Utricularia).

Sundew:

The characteristic little green leaves of sundews, bristling with sticky red fuzz (technically called “glandular hairs”) are common sights along wetland edges and beaver ponds in the Northeast. Though there are several species in our region, the two most common are round-leaved (Drosera rotundifolia) and spatulate-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia).

Like many carnivorous plants, sundews tend to grow in places that are very nutrient-poor, such as bogs. So, they supplement what they can get from their roots with the phosphorous, nitrogen, vitamins, and minerals from the insects they consume. These environments support only very slow growth for sundew plants, and where they grow on bog mats of sphagnum moss they are often overtopped by the moss in the cooler seasons. When this happens they simply send up a central stalk during the next warm season and grow new leaves above the moss.

Though the plants themselves grow quite slowly, there is one way in which sundew growth is quite quick: capturing their prey. When an insect lands on the sticky glandular hairs, its struggle to get unstuck will trigger the hairs and the leaf to bend toward the wriggling insect, sticking it to more and more hairs.

While this might look like movement, the sundew is actually growing towards its prey, by adding cells to the far sides of the leaf and hairs, causing them to curl in toward the insect. The growth rate of these “moving” hairs is much faster when the sundew has captured a live, struggling insect than for a dead one or piece of debris that sticks to the leaf without struggling. It takes roughly 20 minutes for the leaf to enclose live prey, and several hours or more to envelop still objects or dead insects.

Pitcher plant:

There is only one species of pitcher plant native to the Northeast, Sarracenia purpurea, called simply “pitcher plant.” Its characteristic tubular red leaves were originally believed to be a method of storing water by the plant, for use in times of drought. Further investigation has revealed a more interesting purpose: it is a pitfall trap for unsuspecting prey. The hollow leaf has five distinct zones: a flared opening, a smooth neck, a water-filled barrel, a digestion zone, and an area where undigestible bits collect in the very bottom.

The flared opening is bright red in color, with showy veins and nectar glands that beckon hungry bugs in. Downward-facing hairs line the interior, making it very hard for the unsuspecting bugs to go any direction but further in. Below the hairs, the bug will encounter what looks like a smooth leaf surface– respite from the hairs pointing them downward! But what they actually are walking onto is a smooth surface lined with sticky, shingled cells that come off –attaching themselves to the feet of the insect, and further trapping even flying prey. From here their struggle leads them inexorably closer to the fluid-filled barrel of the leaf below. The barrel is filled with water that contains digestive enzymes secreted by the leaf cells that are underwater. The pitcher plant begins digesting the insects as soon as they hit the water. The hairs on this section of the leaf hold prey in place while the nutrients are being absorbed through the leaf. The cell walls here are thinner to facilitate the absorption.  Finally, the bits undigestible to the plant collect in the bottom of the leaf. Because nothing goes to waste in nature, there are specialized insects resistant to the plant’s digestive juices who clean up the detritus in the bottom of the leaf.

Bladderwort:

Bladderworts are probably the most fascinating carnivorous plant you have never heard of. They live all over the world, from the artic to the tropics. There are 14 species local to the Northeast, the two most common being horned (Utricularia cornuta) and common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris). They live mostly in bog and wetland environments, and have no roots at all. Instead the plant has a collection of finely divided spreading leaves, which support a single erect flowering stalk. Without their lovely showy flowers, one might not notice the plant at all, which would be a shame since the leaves are perhaps the most interesting part.

Bladderworts’ inconspicuous leaves are dotted with little bladders originally believed to be for flotation or oxygen storage, but now known to be traps. Think of them like the bulbs at the end of eye droppers. They begin convex with their edges sucked in, like the squeezed bulb of the dropper. Near the mouth of the bladder are a series of small “trigger hairs” that let the plant know when prey is moving nearby. Typical prey are isopods, mosquito larvae, and water fleas, but larger bladderwort species can sometimes consume tadpoles or even small fish. When triggered the mouth of the bladder opens, and like releasing the bulb of the eye dropper, anything at the mouth is sucked inside with great speed. Once the bladder is full, and fully rounded, the door is sealed shut again – the whole process taking about two-thousandths of a second.

Carnivorous plants illustrate just one of the myriad ways nature solves complex problems. Forever-wild places ensure that the stage on which evolution plays out will continue to exist into the future, whatever that future may hold. Northeast Wilderness Trust is committed to securing wild places for all of nature’s mysteries, from charismatic mega-fauna, to carnivorous micro-flora, to every living being in between.”

Patriarchy and Predators

Patriarchy – For Love of Predators

Loon

I live just down the road from one of our many lakes and ponds here in western Maine. Almost every morning I hear the haunting call of the loons as they fly over the house. Although I cherish the symphony I have never figured out why some of these birds making this early morning flight from one lake to another. I have never seen any research that supports my experience – but obviously, for unknown reasons some loons  move routinely from pond to pond. Why remains a mystery.

I used to have a woodsman friend who once commented that he didn’t understand why everyone loved loons so much because they were fierce predators who speared their hapless fish, duck, or goslings to death before devouring them. At the time I found Don’s statement ironic (and irritating!) because this man was an excellent brook trout fisherman and deer hunter. In his defense I must add that I had to acknowledge that he also loved all animals; after deer hunting season ended he fed his deer all winter.

I want to digress a moment to tell a story about Don. The year before his death one buck left him a complete set of antlers on the night of the winter solstice; the next year on solstice night Don died. At the time of his death (I didn’t know this until the next day) an antler he gave me clattered to the floor.

Although we never spoke of it I understood that Don’s relationship with wild animals was as intimate as my own. Acknowledging this truth created enormous ambivalence in me because I loved and studied wild animals. I did not kill them. I wanted to separate myself from Don. But at the same time I ate fish and chicken so how could I really make a distinction between him and me? And what about all the plants I ate? Wasn’t I a predator too? I carried this contradiction with great discomfort for years before finally being able to accept it. All life feeds on the lives of others…like it or not. Life, death, and renewal complete the circle of life as Carol Christ often said.

 To return to my original story, Don’s remark about the loons  stayed with me because up until then I had never thought of loons as predators… I had grown up falling asleep to the sound of loons calling on the lake, watched them raise their young ones at a time before speedboats became a summer reality. Whippoorwills, loons, frogs, and lightening bugs brought in our joyous summer nights. Who could imagine that all of these animals would become so endangered?

Loons are iconic water birds and once they began dying Audubon, followed by many other groups, attempted to bring back the loons, many of which were dead from lead poisoning. As most people know this effort was successful. Today loons once again grace ponds and lakes all summer…

Eagles also became threatened but through tireless conservation efforts these birds returned to our waters too. On the pond closest to me eagles abound, often plucking loon chicks for dinner. Initially, I took sides with the loons, especially after witnessing a lone chick being snatched up by deadly hooked talons to be swept away, perhaps to feed one of the two eaglets. For years now we have had a giant eagle’s nest on one of our islands that attracts enormous attention from people in boats every summer, people who hope to get a glimpse of one. And everyone I know covets an eagle feather except me.

On our lake we also have a whole gaggle of wild geese who are shot (- illegally in summer – during the fall migration there is an open hunting season on geese as well as other water fowl -) by the people who live here because they don’t like geese fertilizing their lawns. I happen to love geese. They are birds that live in genuine community. As vegetarians they munch away at wild grasses and raise their young with great tenderness gathering in large groups to surround the fuzzy goslings as they mature. There is always a papa goose who acts as protector keeping a sharp eye on all of the others. Geese are shy of humans because they have been treated so badly. Whenever I am paddling in the pond I talk to them hoping they will allow me to kayak close by, but they make no exceptions. In the fall, one of sounds I love the most is listening to the geese as they gather in large V’s to migrate south – a perilous journey. At dusk the skies overflow with their poignant goodbyes. Often, as these birds take flight above me, Mother Goose tales come to mind, because as most feminists know, geese are associated with the Great Mother. I think it was my love of geese that also helped me to answer a question that haunted me.

Wild Geese on North Pond

  I wondered why saving predators of all kinds, loons, eagles, raptors, wolves, wild cats etc. was a priority for the American people (true for other countries too). It is only now, for example, after we have lost 2.9 billion birds, that songbirds like nightingales and warblers, are finally getting some attention. Other birds like geese are perceived to be nothing but a nuisance – an expendable one at that.

What is it about predators that humans find so attractive?

I think predators reflect the patriarchal structure that humans have adopted for the last five thousand years. Patriarchy supports a hierarchical society where some people – mostly middle class white men have all the power. I think our love of predators is a mirror in which men and many women see themselves, one that reflects the power over model, while peaceful matriarchal egalitarian societies like the ones Carol Christ studied, as well as other Indigenous peoples, animals and birds are ignored or hunted, often to extinction.

Afterward

“The water shimmers with imaginary fish.
Not far from here lie the bones of conifers
washed from the sea and piled by wind.
Some mornings I walk upon them,
bone to bone…”

Imagine a sea without fish,

brooks without frogs or

toads in the woodpile,

bleached tree limbs

 piled up like matchsticks,

the silence of dawn –

(dead birds don’t sing).

Rachel Carson’s plea

fell on deaf ears.

Now waves of isolation

crash against stony shores.

There’s no one left

to mourn.

The Green Goddess

Is gone.