Black Bear Intolerance in Maine

Living with Black Bears

 

As a Naturalist/ethologist I am compelled to keep on speaking out on behalf of Maine’s Black bears because they are so misunderstood.

 

A person has a million to one chance of being killed by a black bear. We are 32,000 times more likely to be murdered by another human.

 

Black bears are primarily vegetarians.

 

Black bears are maligned thanks to certain individuals, ans special interest groups like the NRA and state fish and wildlife agencies who are interested in perpetuating the myth of the “nuisance” or “killer bear” to foster their own agenda.

 

In reality, Black bears are extremely shy, intelligent animals that outperform chimps in many tests of learning. They have navigational abilities that defy scientific understanding. During hibernation Black bears are capable of healing themselves of life threatening wounds and are able to re-cycle toxic bodily waste without damage to muscle tissue.

 

Black bears co – evolved with trees as a prey animal. Black bears cannot live in areas where trees do not provide them with adequate protection.

 

Black bears are very nervous animals who convey their fear by moaning, slapping the ground, huffing, blowing, or in extreme cases, false charging when surprised or approached by humans.

 

If we want to co –exist with bears we need to learn their language – all they are asking is that we give them some space.

 

We also need to re- interpret bear behavior in terms of their fear and not our own.

 

Understanding a bear’s fear helps a person to re-evaluate what appears to be threatening/aggressive behavior.

 

A “nuisance bear” is a hungry bear and most human-bear conflicts occur late in the spring and early summer after bears have emerged from their dens in April/May. Initially, these animals are sluggish and have no appetites. Their hunger returns after metabolism returns to normal in about three to four weeks. After ingesting tender grasses they search out bulbs, corms, ants and larvae as they wait for the first berries to ripen.

 

The 40 – 70 pound adolescents are most vulnerable during this period. After their second spring Black bear mothers leave them to mate. The young are searching for territories, are immensely curious as well as being hungry and this is when they are likely to visit backyards for a snack. Sometimes adult bears do too. I am always astonished when people complain about bears destroying feeders when the solution is obvious: take bird – feeders in during late spring and early summer especially at night.

 

Well documented research by bear biologists (www.bear.org) reveals that given a preference, Black bears will choose natural foods over birdseed/garbage as long as it is available. There is a brief period during spring/summer when natural food is scarce. It’s worth repeating: if you don’t want bears in your backyard take bird – feeders in.

 

With an exploding human population we are taking over the land these animals have lived on in peace for millennia. Why can’t we learn to share resources without taking measures to destroy these iconic denizens of our forests? In Ely Minnesota for example, supplemental feeding keeps bears from visiting backyard feeders and reduces nuisance bear complaints to almost zero.

 

However, in areas like Minnesota people choose to co –exist with bears, and don’t insist that wild animals conform to human expectations. Maine is fortunate to have a stable black bear population, one that attracts many visitors – hunters among them – Why couldn’t we choose to do the same?

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The Story of Changing Woman

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Changing Woman – who grows old and then young again. Navajo Sand Painting.

 

Myth and Commentary

I want to begin by recounting the story of how Changing Woman came to be and why she was so important to Navajo mythology. In these dark and tumultuous times I think Changing Woman’s story has a deep resonance for all of humanity. We seem to have forgotten who we are and are in desperate need of guidance that will help shift our current paradigm.

 

The Navajo word Diné means the People (every Indigenous group defines its inhabitants by using the same word in their own language).

 

Navajo mythology begins with the creation of the First World. The Insect People moved through the four lower worlds to the fifth world the place where the Navajo live today. In the first world there was no sun, moon or stars, only the oceans stretched out in 4 directions. A flood came and the Insect people moved to higher ground, the second world. The third world was inhabited by grasshoppers so the Insect people moved again, this time to a fourth world with snow covered mountains and Pueblo people. In the Fourth World the Holy People laid two ears of white corn and two ears of yellow corn on the ground and covered them with buckskin creating First Man and First Woman.

 

Frightened by a flash flood, First Man and First Woman rose up from below from the center of a lake to reach the Fifth World and the place where the Four Sacred Mountains are found today.

 

(One of these sacred mountains may lie to the west of the village of Abiquiu, New Mexico where I presently live. It is said that Changing Woman was found on a flat – topped mesa wrapped in many colors of light. Anyone who has been to the Pedernal can find pieces of rock called chert/flint cast in every color of the rainbow).

 

On a level place below the summit First Man and First Woman laid a turquoise figure on two pieces of buckskin that were spread on the stone from east to west in the sun. Wind and Water Sprinkler were there. When the Holy People began to sing the song the wind flowed under the blankets and a child appeared. The Holy People told the couple her name was Changing Woman and instructed them to take her and raise her as their daughter.

 

By the thirteenth day, Changing Woman had become a young woman, and on that day there was a celebration and the Navajo Night Chant was sung. *

 

Soon after Changing Woman birthed the hero twins.

 

In four days the twins had grown into boys. Talking God and Water Sprinkler tested their strength four times and were pleased.

 

The twins asked Changing Woman who their father was and when they were told they had no father the twins refused to believe her. “We must have a father and we need to know who he is” they responded. Changing Woman was irritated and said “your father is a round cactus then. Be still.” (!)

 

The twins went south to hunt and saw four birds – a woodpecker, vulture, raven and magpie – and when Changing Woman heard their stories she said they must flee because the birds carried a warning: monsters would kill them. Before dawn the twins ran to the West and met an old woman who lived in an underground chamber who told them that she could help them find their father who was the Sun.

 

Because the way was fraught with danger Spider Grandmother gave them a talisman to protect them and a special song that ended in “Walk in Beauty.” The twins continued West on the rainbow bridge overcoming four monsters that threatened to kill them. Eventually they reached the House of the Sun where they overcame two more tests to prove to the Sun that they were his children. Then they told their father that monsters were killing the People and the Sun replied that could make the passage from boyhood to manhood and save the Navajo people in the process, which they did.

 

After a time, Changing Woman became lonely and went to one of the sacred mountains to sit in the sun. The Sun appeared and tried to embrace her but she refused. He wanted her to come live with him. She said no until the Sun promised to give her a house that shimmered on the water and animals and plants for company while the Sun was away on his daily journey across the sky. Then Changing Woman said:

 

“You are male and I am female. You are of the sky and I am of the earth. You are constant in your brightness, but I must change with the seasons. Remember that I willingly let you enter me and I gave birth to your sons. As different as we are, we are of one spirit. As dissimilar as we are, you and I, we are of equal worth. As different as we are, there must be solidarity between us. There can be no harmony in the universe unless there is harmony between us. If there is to be harmony, my request must matter to you. There is to be no more coming from me to you than there is from you to me.”

 

The Sun balked at first but finally agreed that she was right and granted her requests for a House in the West that shimmered in the golden light that stretched over the waters at sunset when the Sun returned from his journey across the sky. In this place they came to dwell in Harmony…

 

In the myth Changing Woman never dies; she grows old and young again with the seasons. In the East she is Earth Woman, in the South Mountain Woman, in the West she is Water Woman and in the North she is Corn Woman.

 

Changing Woman embodies Nature’s as a whole and since the Navajo trace their lineage through a matrilineal line she is the Mother of all the People.

 

According to Navajo mythology the first way Changing Woman saves the world is by birthing the twins, the male aspects of herself. This embodied female/male energy is capable of taking action on behalf of all the people, ridding the world of monsters. It is important to note that the twins require the help of Spider Grandmother’s wisdom, guidance and protection because Spider Grandmother is Changing Woman’s older wisdom aspect, a continuation of her mother – line.

 

The second and most critical way Changing Woman saves the world from “monsters” is because she secures the matrilineal line for the People. The matrilineal system traces descent through maternal roots. Men who marry move to the wife’s residence (matrilocal) and become part of the maternal family. Mothers, aunts, and grandmothers bring up the children, protecting, guiding, and teaching the children the ancestral family stories. This system unites Navajo society and creates the social structure of the culture connecting generations through kinship.

 

Although in present day Navajo culture Patriarchy has eroded women’s power the four tenets (harmony, beauty, balance, peace) remain part of the judicial system of the Navajo people.

 

Commentary:

I love this story because it demonstrates the evolutionary and eternal nature of Woman; her intimate relationship to Nature, her ability to give birth, to mother, to let go, her ability to endure, her need for animals and plants as companions and her willingness to stand her ground until she is able to get what she needs. Changing Woman matures from a passive figure who is acted upon by the forces of Nature into a self-directed female power who knows what she wants, and one who finds peace in choosing relationships with animals, plants and humans on her own terms.

Initially, Changing Woman is impregnated by the wind – the power of the spirit moving across the land – and not through sexual intercourse. Spirit and the Body of the Earth are the two equally creative aspects involved in her birth. The same holds true for her children, who are male, but conceived and birthed in a similar manner without the need for male insemination (no room for Patriarchy to enter here), suggesting to me that all three are parts of one spiritual/bodily whole that cannot be separated. As creative principles (beyond gender stereotypes) they work together as a triad to rid the world of monsters, to make the Navajo world a safe place, and to secure the matrilineal line. According to Navajo mythology securing the matrilineal line is primarily how Changing Woman saves the world.

Changing Woman’s “divine” birth and that of her children also demonstrates the more than human aspect of Nature and that Nature is both Source (wind/sun) and Context (earth/water) of all there is, a belief that fosters equality of all species and interdependence upon the planet that is our home.

On one level, with the birth of her children we see that Changing Woman recognizes the transient state of motherhood and care – giving, knows that her twins must seek their own destiny and that it is important to let them go. Human mothers must do the same if they are to move into their own lives in the most creative ways.

When the twins seek out Grandmother Spider and are guided and protected by her we see the importance of the matrilineal line expressed as grandmother; the latter also knows how important it is for boys (and girls) to discover and align themselves with the father principle in order to become creative and balanced adults.

The twins ability to destroy “the monsters” that threaten the people suggests defeat occurs only by harnessing both creative female and male powers together because the twins are Changing Woman’s children.

It’s interesting to note that from a biological perspective we learn that the female x chromosome is responsible for creating both male and female children and that all descent comes through our “Motherline” so here we find concrete evidence for the importance of this female creative principle and the physical importance of the matrilineal line.

We live in a time when Patriarchy’s destructive forces – the “monsters” of endemic woman hatred, white male privilege, hubris, and arrogance, greed, war, lust for power, an obsession with technology, and profound indifference to the loss of species and the pollution of our planet – all Patriarchal values – are destroying Life as we know it. We must seek a paradigm that promotes relationships with others that is based on equal power, respect for all species, and one that promotes reciprocity and sustainability for all. This paradigm is the gift that the story of Changing Woman offers us. The paradox is we seem to need to return to our “original instructions” so that we can move on.

To shift the present pattern, we must heal the frightening divisions that Patriarchy has created between women and men. The Sun (son) demonstrates his willingness to comply with Changing Woman’s requests, and only by giving her the respect and equality that she deserves are they both able to walk in beauty and live in harmony. Walking in balance, harmony peace and beauty are the four tenets of Navajo mythology.

In conclusion it must be noted that Changing Woman’s requests include her insistence upon having the company of animals and plants, which demonstrates the importance of the intimate link between Women and Nature and how critical it is to recognize that it is up to women to lead the way in terms of advocating for the future of the Earth and all Life.

 

*Navajo Night Chant:

The origins of the Navajo Night Chant are ancient stretching back into pre- history for perhaps thousands of years to the original Indigenous inhabitants of Canyon de Chelly. This most sacred of ceremonies occurs during the winter months and is a ritual of healing performed to cure those who are ill, to remove chaos, and to restore order and balance within the Navajo Universe. This chant is also a stunning piece of poetry.

 

These words are some of my favorite and were taken from the Night Chant.

 

“Beauty is before me
And beauty is behind me
Above and below me hovers the beautiful
I am surrounded by it
I am immersed in it
In my youth I am aware of it
And in old age I shall walk quietly
The beautiful trail.

The mountains, I become part of it . . .
The herbs, the fir tree, I become part of it.
The morning mists, the clouds, the gathering waters,
I become part of it.
The wilderness, the dew drops, the pollen . . .
I become part of it.”

Dr. Gary Stuer

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Yesterday morning I discovered the Facebook Post that appears below this commentary. Typically, it would never have occurred to Gary to email me about his appointment  as President of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association because he possesses a rare gift: deep humility.

I first met Gary when I took a dying rabbit to be euthanized just after he began practicing in Maine. When he injected her he explained to me that it would be 15 minutes before my beloved Midnight actually died,  What struck me forcibly was the way this stranger put his hands over her body. His loving gesture helped calm the rabbit and I felt his deep compassion flowing through my body too, easing my sorrow. I no longer recall our words but I remember leaving his office experiencing both grief and wonder over what I had just witnessed and participated in on a visceral level.

Gary was an Animal Healer.

A life long relationship was born and began to flourish.

Our friendship deepened over many years. I learned to trust Gary’s impeccable diagnostic skill, his willingness to work with me to identify problems, always listening so carefully to what I thought. He respected my judgment. When I dreamed that one of my animals was dying he understood immediately that this was one way I received information and took immediate action on the animal’s behalf.  When any of my dogs were operated on I was welcome in the operating room. I learned to trust Gary on a level that I had only previously experienced with my animals.

When my dog Star was dying Gary had just had open heart surgery and was unable to be present with us. She cried out when a colleague injected her and my last moments with this dog were spent in agony.  I had never felt so abandoned. But then Gary called me. He listened in silence as I wept uncontrollably and then he apologized for putting himself first, healing me with his words.

I can’t express how much these years of deep friendship have meant to me. But I know how much I miss him here in New Mexico… Last summer one of my dogs suddenly became desperately ill and ended up staying in a terrible clinic that I later made a formal complaint to the state about. Terrified and confused by the diagnosis I called Gary and he walked me through the indecipherable notes, told me what tests to request, checked blood work, and helped ease my panic. All this occurred long distance.

Gary heals both animals and their people. He saves lives and is capable of being emotionally present for both living and dying. Anyone who has been fortunate enough to have worked with this man of great integrity, honesty, deep compassion, and humility has been given a great gift.

It is often said that we cannot choose our parents. The same holds true for our children. Although there is but 16 years difference in ages between Gary and me, I have watched this man develop into a remarkable healer and a man I deeply respect. I am as PROUD of his accomplishments, as a mother would be for her son.

Gary is the son I never had.

That the animals I have had love him is no great surprise. I love him too.

 

Portland Veterinary Specialists (Portland, Maine) ·

PVS congratulates staff veterinarian, Dr. Gary Stuer, on his recent appointment as President of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association! This is an honor, but no surprise to anyone who knows him!

Dr. Gary Stuer graduated from Tufts Veterinary School in 1987, but feels that was just the beginning of his veterinary education. He has studied and integrated into his practice several complementary methods of treating patients. In 2004, he was certified in Veterinary Acupuncture by the International Veterinary Acupuncture Society (IVAS) and completed Reiki Master Training. In 2014, he also completed IVAS certification in Chinese Herbal Medicine. He is also on the staff of Portland Veterinary Specialists, where he practices Integrative Medicine with a team of Board Certified Specialists.
Dr. Stuer knew from a very early age—around 9 years old—that he wanted to become a veterinarian. He was influenced early on in his life by a family cat that was hit by a car who completely recovered with extensive medical care. He also spent a lot of time around horses when he was growing up.
Dr. Stuer is originally from Lowell, MA and moved to Maine in 1994. He and his wife enjoy being part of their community, and they also enjoy hiking and snowshoeing with their Labrador Retriever. In warmer weather, they enjoy kayaking and paddle boarding. He also has two cats, neither of whom has expressed an interest in hiking or snowshoeing.
Dr. Stuer is inspired to offer patients and their people integrative care, combining Western medicine with Eastern influences, where each animal is treated as an individual. His medicine constantly evolves as he learns more from his patients every day. He loves what he does and he is honored to be a caregiver for his clients’ treasured animals.

Cicada Symphony

Each evening

I sit in gathering shadows

listening for the nighthawk’s peet,

the owl softly hooting.

Peering into the dense cottonwood canopy

I await the symphony…

 

How do they know

just when to begin

in perfect synchrony?

Punctual to the minute,

the swell is deafening

This music of the spheres

saturates my body

with song as I breathe

into the wonder of

Nature on the wing.

 

 

Postscript and Natural History

 

Every night I sit on the porch at dusk listening to night sounds. At precisely 8:30PM the symphony begins as the arching boughs of the cottonwoods come alive with song. When it’s really hot the cicadas are so loud that when I stand underneath the cottonwoods I am transported to another realm.

 

One night they surprised me. A few drops of rain fell and instantly the choral overture began. It was 8:15 PM and this uncharacteristic early beginning seemed to have everything to do with the rain which only fell for a few minutes although the insects sang on… perhaps the cicadas too are singing to the Cloud People, praying for rain.

 

I listened to many recordings before identifying the cicadas that are singing from these cottonwoods! Mine are “cactus dodgers” that are known for their affinity for cacti during courtship because they can dodge deadly spines during frenzied mating! They are primarily black, gray, white, and beige colored; well camouflaged for the desert.

 

Cicadas in general are an order of insects distinguished by piercing and straw-like sucking mouthparts.  Worldwide, cicadas comprise about 2000 species, which occur primarily in temperate and warmer regions.

 

Like all insects, the usually dark to brownish to greenish cicada has three body parts—the head, the thorax and an abdomen.  It has six jointed legs, with the front pair adapted for digging—a reflection of its underground burrowing life when a nymph.  A strong flyer, it has two sets of transparent and clearly veined wings, perhaps its most distinctive feature.  At rest, it holds its wings like a peaked roof over its abdomen.  It has bulging compound eyes, three glistening simple eyes and short bristly antenna.

 

The male cicada has on its abdomen two chambers covered with membranes – “tymbals” – that it vibrates, when at rest, to produce its “song.”  It can make various sounds, including, for instance, an insistent call for a mate, an excited call to flight, or a hoped-for bluff of predators.  Both the male and female cicadas have auditory organs, which connect through a short tendon to membranes that receive sound.  The male produces a call distinctive to his species.  Ever faithful, the female responds only to the call of a male of her species.

 

The cicada often makes its home in the plant communities along river bottoms and drainages but can be found in many different desert ecosystems as well.

 

The cicada falls into one of two major groups, one called “dog day,” the other called “periodical.”  The dog-day cicadas, which usually appear during the hottest days of summer, hence the name, include all of the several dozen species of the Southwest.  They have a life cycle of two to five years. The periodical cicadas, which include several species, all east of the Great Plains, have a life cycle of 13 or 17 years.

 

Once one of the Southwestern female dog-day cicadas answers the call of a male cicadas and the two mate, she seeks out an inviting, tender twig or stem on a tree or a bush.  She uses the jagged tip at the end of her abdomen to gouge into a twig.  She lays eggs, each shaped like a grain of rice, into the wound eventually laying several hundred eggs.

 

Once a cicada nymph hatches, it drops to the ground, immediately burrowing into the soil, using its specially adapted front legs for the excavation.  It seeks out a root and uses its specially adapted mouthparts to penetrate through the epidermis and suck out the sap.  The cicada spends much of its time in its underground chambers.  Once grown, it tunnels upward, to near the surface, where it constructs a “waiting chamber.”  Upon receiving some mysterious signal, perhaps a temperature threshold, our nymph, along with its multiple kindred nymphs, emerges in a synchronized debut, one of the great pageants of the insect world.  It climbs up nearby vegetation, molts for the final time, emerging from its old nymphal skin as a fully winged adult, beginning the final celebration of its life.

 

The cicadas struggle for survival through their final days because they are nontoxic and relatively easily caught, especially during the final molt, and must deal with a crowd of potential predators, including birds such as boat-tail grackles, various woodpeckers, robins, red-winged blackbirds and even ducks; mammals such as squirrels and smaller animals; reptiles such as snakes and turtles; spiders such as the golden silk spider; and other insects such as its especially fearsome arch enemy, the cicada killer wasp.

 

Of course, the cicada does have certain defenses.  Once it has molted, it can fly swiftly to escape some potential predators.  The raucous male alarm call may startle some predators, especially birds.  It may occur in such numbers that it overwhelms the collective appetite of predators.

 

In perhaps its most novel defense, the desert cicada has developed an extraordinary ability to remain active throughout mid-day, when most would-be predators have to seek shelter from the desert heat.  Notably, the cicada, unlike any other known insect, can sweat, which helps it dissipate heat.  When threatened with overheating, desert cicadas extract water from their blood and transport it through large ducts to the surface of the thorax, where it evaporates.  The cooling that results permits a few desert cicada species to be active when temperatures are so high that their enemies are incapacitated by the heat.  No other insects have been shown to have the ducts required for sweating.

 

While the cicada may cause minor damage to the plants on which it feeds during its life cycle, it contributes in important ways to the environment.  Studies of the cicada in Colorado River riparian communities revealed the ecological importance of this species.  Feeding by the nymphs influences the vegetative structure of mixed stands of cottonwood and willow that occur in certain habitats.  Excess water removed from the host’s water conducting tissues (the xylem) during feeding is eliminated as waste and improves moisture conditions in the upper layer of the soil.  Xylem fluids are low in nutrients and the nymphs must consume large amounts of it to accommodate their energy needs.  Most of the water is quickly excreted and becomes available to shallow rooted plants.  Additionally, cicadas comprise an important prey species for birds and mammals, and the burrowing activity of nymphs facilitates water movement within the soil.”

 

The cicada has entered the realm of folklore across much of the world, possibly because its periodic emergence from darkness into light and song has been equated with rebirth and good fortune.

 

In one myth Cacama was the lord of the Aztec kingdom of Tezcuco who met his end at the hands of Spanish conquistadors. Cacama lives on in these winged desert treasures.

 

A Greek poet once wrote,  “We call you happy, O Cicada, because after you have drunk a little dew in the treetops you sing like a queen.”

 

An Italian myth held that “one day there was born on the earth a beautiful, good and very talented woman whose singing was so wonderful it even enchanted the gods.  When she died the world seemed so forlorn without the sweet sound of her singing that the gods allowed her to return to life every summer as the cicadas so that her singing could lift up the hearts of man and beast once again.”

In our desert Southwest Zuni mythology, the cicada outwitted the traditional trickster, the coyote.  The insect produced heat in Hopi mythology, heralding the arrival of summer, and it is “the patron of Hopi Flute societies in charge of both music and healing,” according to Stephen W. Hill, Kokopelli Ceremonies.  The cicada played a key role as a scout and a conqueror in Navajo creation myths.  It brought renewal and healing to other tribes.

Across the Southwest, from prehistory into historic times, the cicada became identified with the hump-backed flute player, or Kokopelli, a charismatic and iconic figure portrayed in rock art and ceramic imagery.

Kokopelli risked his life to lead the Ant People from mythological inner worlds to the present world, where they became The First People, after agreeing to follow the teaching of the Great Spirit.

“Kokopelli’s transparent wings have now unfolded and dried, and he is able to take to the sky.  Kokopelli’s reward is flight.  His continued gift to us is his reminder to be grateful that we no longer live in darkness.

” A Cricket on my Hearth”

 

Two nights ago I heard a cricket singing in the kitchen, and after dark I tried to locate him without success. I have loved crickets since I was a little girl and the joyful chirping seemed like such a good omen. After I returned to my bed I heard such a cacophony coming from that same area that I got up a second time to investigate. There were two crickets singing to each other from opposite ends of the room. I fell asleep listening to their animated conversation.

 

Vaguely, I recalled learning about country folk who kept crickets in cages for good luck, a custom that distressed me because the idea of caging any animal is antithetical to my belief system.

 

Yesterday afternoon I was away all afternoon and had left water in the dishpan. When I returned I didn’t see the cricket until I emptied the dishpan full of soapy water. Oh, no. I quickly retrieved the cricket from the draining water but saw it was too late. One of my new friends had drowned. I felt a sharp pang of grief slice through me at this sudden loss. I placed the cricket on the railing of the porch, not knowing what else to do. I thought some bird or lizard might eat him…

 

About an half an hour later I went out to begin watering my garden and stopped in front of the cricket realizing suddenly that he was no longer frozen into a splayed out position, but had pulled in his legs. With child-like hope surging through me I stroked his carapace murmuring an endearment. He jumped a little under my touch and then I saw his antennae twitching. He wasn’t dead after all! I left him there sunning and when I passed by the railing a few minutes later the cricket had disappeared.

 

I felt a moment of fierce joy and deep gratitude that he lived.

 

Last night after the cicadas had begun their symphony in the cottonwoods, the second cricket began to chirp excitedly from the kitchen. Oh, I thought, he’s calling to his lost friend…

 

A few minutes later an answering call came from just outside the open porch door. This chirping continued for about 15 minutes with me riveted to this conversation between the two. When it became quiet I wondered if the two had met on the threshold and decided to depart together (the screen door has enough gap underneath to allow a cricket to come or go). If that was the case I would miss them but I certainly didn’t want any more cricket mishaps in the house, and besides food was more plentiful outdoors.

 

I awakened to a welcome cool breeze around midnight and heard a cricket in the kitchen singing his heart out, so evidently this one chose to stay.

 

There is something about these encounters with creatures of the wild that energizes me, sparking wild hope that somehow transcends the daily despair I live in with respect to the survival of all creatures world wide.

 

Is it possible that these intimate friendships with non – human species (no matter how brief) places us both in a space beyond space/time where now becomes all that matters?

 

It certainly seems that way to me.

 

Postscript:

Interesting ideas associated with crickets

Crickets have played a strong role throughout Chinese, Japanese and Native American cultures as a symbol of good fortune, vitality and prosperity. As far back as 500 B.C., people revered the song of the cricket and often kept crickets in cages to enjoy that song on a regular basis. In addition, crickets are valued as “watch dogs” because they fall silent when approached, (although the crickets here did not). Crickets are also reversed as natural clocks for timing a good harvest.

Throughout Chinese history, crickets have symbolized wisdom and prosperity to the extent that a 2,000-year period of history is known as the Cricket Culture. Within this time frame, three specific eras celebrated various aspects of the cricket. In the first era, which lasted from 500 B.C. to 618 A.D., the singing of crickets was revered. During the Tang Dynasty, from 618 to 906 A.D., people began to keep crickets in cages in order to appreciate the sounds.

I also read elsewhere that it is very bad luck to kill a cricket even by accident.

My crickets are New Mexico Field crickets.

Wily Ravens

The other morning I was out watering when a raven landed on the compost heap and began “talking” to me. Naturally I replied. This raven wasn’t “quorking” but making other curious and complex sounds while staring directly into my eyes and the further we got into conversation the more fascinated I became. S/he used so many vocalizations in response to whatever I was saying that I couldn’t keep track of them. This raven pointed his beak directly at me while speaking. Our mutual exchange ended when the raven flew off to join his mate, leaving me with a sense of wonder. What had we been talking about? I would have given anything to have a tape of that dialogue! One curious note: ever since that conversation these same two ravens acknowledge me with a quork whenever they fly over the house.

For anyone seriously interested in ravens I highly recommend Bernard Heinrich’s book “The Mind of the Raven.” This biologist has probably studied ravens more extensively than anyone on the planet. He believes they are the brightest avians of all. As a naturalist, and therefore a generalist, I have to say that I believe that all birds are equally intelligent, albeit in different ways, but Corvids including jays and crows do seem to have a curious edge in terms of problem solving. My neighbor Rose has been feeding the latter for years and witnessed one crow solve the problem of how to fly off with only their ripest pears! i watched a blue -jay working an ant hill with a stick.

There are three species of ravens but in this article I will be talking about Corvus corax, the common raven, which is geographically and ecologically one of the most widespread naturally occurring birds in the world. The raven is distributed throughout major portions of North America, Europe, Asia, and North Africa, and in all terrestrial biomes except tropical rain forests. The typical adult common raven, the largest of the three, measures about two feet from the tip of its bill to the tip of its tail and is a luminous coal black.

Highly gregarious, adaptable and resourceful, ravens roost and feed in pairs, or scattered flocks, sometimes numbering hundreds (or thousands) depending on the area. Typically, they migrate only short distances with a change of seasons or variability of food sources. They may welcome newcomers, inviting them to dine. They may “mob” a would-be predator or intruder to protect each other or nestlings/ fledglings. The young birds may play games including having a tug of war. For fun, they may also drop and catch objects in mid – flight or snitch and cache shiny and inedible objects in secret places, Sometimes they yank the tail of a would be predator.

Opportunistic and omnivorous, the ravens and crows feed primarily on the most abundant food source available. This could include a broad range of insects, arachnids (e.g. spiders, scorpions), reptiles, small birds, small mammals, pilfered eggs, grains and fruits as well as carrion and human refuse.

Throughout the year, the birds spend substantial time resting, preening, sunning and peering around at their surroundings. They may bathe in shallow waters, sprinklers and snow, preening extensively afterwards. Most fascinating to me is that ravens may post themselves near an ant bed, allowing the insects to crawl through their feathers, leaving a blanket of formic acid to protect them— probably a natural pesticide that eliminates parasites – and then pick the ants off and eat them!

In the spring, when breeding season arrives, raven pairs mate and bond for the year and perhaps for life. During courtship, the birds may preen each other’s head feathers and gently clasp each other’s bills. They may engage in acrobatic flight, showing off, trying to impress a prospective partner. The male and female may spread their wings and tails and fluff their feathers. In the common raven’s version of a lovers’ serenade, the two partners make gurgling, choking and knocking sounds. After mating, a pair turns to homemaking, which often becomes a family affair, with two or three “helpers” – often progeny from the previous season’s hatch – contributing to the raising of the young.

Typically, the birds build their nest on a solid platform such as the fork of a tree, the cross arms of a power pole or, sometimes, in the case of the common raven, on a ledge or crack in a cliff face. It appears that the male hauls most of the construction material to the nest site, and the female builds the nest, which she will make sturdy because she may use it again in coming years. First, she braids small branches and twigs and sometimes even bone or wire into a rough bowl shape spanning a foot and a half to several feet in diameter. Then, she lines her nest with whatever softer materials may be available—grasses, shredded bark, leaves, moss, animal fur, sheep wool, mud and maybe even rags or paper. The lined cup may span a foot in diameter and measure a few inches in depth.

After she finishes her nest, the female lays five or six generally oval-shaped greenish-colored eggs over a period of several days. While she takes primary responsibility for incubating her eggs, the male guards the nest from predators, feeds the female on her nest, and may even incubate the eggs for brief periods.

After about three weeks, the eggs begin to hatch. Babies are born blind and helpless, covered with a slight down. While the female carries most responsibility for brooding the newborn, the male and, now the helpers as well, fetch food, typically insects, grains, carrion and food scraps for the female and the new arrivals. Sometimes, the male and the helpers dip the food in water to make it softer and easier for the nestlings to swallow.

Within a couple of weeks, the young have opened their eyes and begun sprouting feathers. Within four or five weeks, they are fully feathered, and active. They begin short flights. They develop the ability to take care of themselves, but stay in the vicinity of the nest still begging their parents and the helpers for food. After a couple of months, they may leave to join other adolescents, but some may return the following year to serve their turn as helpers in raising their parents’ next brood.

The next time you see a raven strike up a conversation and see what happens Observing these birds as they go about their business of making a living is so much fun!

 

1. Ravens are one of the smartest animals.

When it comes to intelligence, these birds rate up there with chimpanzees and dolphins. In one logic test, the raven had to get a hanging piece of food by pulling up a bit of the string, anchoring it with its claw, and repeating until the food was in reach. Many ravens got the food on the first try, some within 30 seconds. In the wild, ravens have pushed rocks on people to keep them from climbing to their nests, stolen fish by pulling a fishermen’s line out of ice holes, and played dead beside a beaver carcass to scare other ravens away from a delicious feast.

If a raven knows another raven is watching it hide its food, it will pretend to put the food in one place while really hiding it in another. Since the other ravens are smart too, this only works sometimes.

2. Ravens can imitate human speech.

In captivity, ravens can learn to talk better than some parrots. They also mimic other noises, like car engines, toilets flushing, and animal and birdcalls. Ravens have been known to imitate wolves or foxes to attract them to carcasses that the raven isn’t capable of breaking open. When the wolf is done eating, the raven gets the leftovers.

3. Europeans often saw ravens as evil in disguise.

Many European cultures took one look at this large black bird with an intense gaze and thought it was evil. In France, people believed ravens were the souls of wicked priests, while crows were wicked nuns. In Germany, ravens were the incarnation of damned souls or sometimes Satan himself. In Sweden, ravens that croaked at night were thought to be the souls of murdered people who didn’t have proper Christian burials. And in Denmark, people believed that night ravens were exorcised spirits. It was important not to look up at them in case there was a hole in the bird’s wing, because you might look through the hole and turn into a raven yourself.

4. Ravens have been featured in many myths.

Cultures from Tibet to Greece have seen the raven as a messenger for the gods. Celtic goddesses of warfare often took the form of ravens during battles. The Viking god, Odin, had two ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), which flew around the world every day and reported back to Odin every night about what they saw. The Chinese said ravens caused bad weather in the forests to warn people that the gods were going to pass by. And some Native American tribes honored the raven as a deity and because of its clever ways. Raven led the people to food sources and assisted hunters, Raven was also seen as a sly trickster who was also a creator god.

5. Ravens are extremely playful.

Indigenous peoples were right about the raven’s mischievous nature. Ravens have been observed in Alaska and Canada using snow-covered roofs as slides. In Maine, they have been seen rolling down snowy hills. They often play keep-away with other animals like wolves, otters, and dogs. Ravens even make toys like bears do by using sticks, pinecones, golf balls, or rocks to play with each other or alone. Sometimes they apparently taunt or mock other creatures for their own amusement.

6. Ravens do weird things with ants.

They lie in anthills and roll around so the ants swarm on them, or they chew the ants up and rub their guts on their feathers. The scientific name for this is called “anting.” Songbirds, crows, and jays do it too. Theories range from the ants acting as an insecticide and fungicide for the bird to ant secretion soothing a molting bird’s skin to the whole performance being a mild addiction. One thing seems clear, though: anting feels great if you’re a raven.

7. Ravens use “hand” gestures.

It turns out that ravens make “very sophisticated nonvocal signals,” according to researchers. In other words, they gesture to communicate. A study in Austria found that ravens point with their beaks to indicate an object to another bird, just as we do with our fingers. They also hold up an object to get another bird’s attention.

8. Ravens are adaptable.

Evolutionarily speaking, the deck is stacked in the raven’s favor. They can live in a variety of habitats, from snow to desert to mountains to forests. They are scavengers with a huge diet that includes fish, meat, seeds, fruit, carrion, and garbage. They are not above tricking animals out of their food—one raven will distract the other animal, for example, and the other will steal its food. They have few predators and live a long time: 17 years in the wild and up to 40 years in captivity.

9. Ravens show empathy for each other.

Despite their mischievous nature, ravens seem capable of feeling empathy. When a raven’s friend loses in a fight, they will seem to console the losing bird. Ravens are known to mourn their dead as so many other animals do. They also remember birds they like and will respond in a friendly way to certain birds for years after seeing them. (They also respond negatively to enemies and suspiciously to strange ravens.) Although a flock of ravens is called an “unkindness,” the birds appear to be anything but.

10. Ravens roam around in teenage gangs.

Ravens probably mate for life and live in pairs in a fixed territory. When their children reach adolescence, they leave home and join gangs, like every human mother’s worst nightmare. These flocks of young birds live and eat together until they mate and pair off. Interestingly, living among teenagers seems to be stressful for the raven. Scientists have found higher levels of stress hormones in teenage raven droppings than in the droppings of mated adults. It’s never easy being a teenage rebel!

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.