“Quivers of light” pierce darkening thoughts when I examine a piece of lichen – part animal – part plant – these two live together in harmony, each dependent upon each other for life. Lichen are both a fungus and an alga – the latter a photosynthesizing organism… fungi receive sugar from the algae and the algal partners receive protection… this symbiosis or reciprocity is 400 million years strong. As I live with the drought that is stealing the life force from the trees and plants around me, I look at lichen and feel that quivering Earth Light shining through our present crisis. Earth will live on.
In one dream I held a clear bubble in my hand. I quickly opened the sphere to allow the contents to breathe and when I did I saw the most amazing scene. There were thousands of animals, birds and trees of all kinds scattered over magnificent emerald green ground. I was stunned, riveted, and it took me a few moments to take in what I saw. This was a whole new earth waiting to be born! Then I saw an ark. An ark? But this ark had no people, just animals birds butterflies worms – all manner of living creatures streaming out of its center. Mesmerized, I peered into the sphere. This earth was free of humans and their destructive manipulation. I awakened weeping with joy.
In a 2nd dream I was walking through the Bosque in the pre-dawn hours when I had a vision ( Bosque is a wetland area).
My beloved dying cottonwoods had disappeared but in their place were giant pinecones that had become trees that were securely rooted in the ground. They were already 5 feet tall and growing very fast! These weren’t ordinary pinecones; they were crane –cones, cones like those that I had picked up at the Bosque del Apache (Cranes are spirit birds for me). “The trees will live on; they will just change forms” a dis-embodied voice told me.
I awakened feeling a profound sense of relief because I love all trees and had witnessed such heartrending tree destruction by logging and burning, and in Abiquiu, I lived with thirst driven trees that were succumbing to desertification.
For a month I stayed in what can only be described as an altered state of consciousness – ecstasy. My whole world had shifted. I began to write about trees and couldn’t stop. The primary emphasis was no longer on advocating for the life of trees but rather to invite people in to examine trees as remarkable living beings four million years strong! I wrote and wrote and wrote with joy in my heart.
Postscript: As a child I loved the story of the ark imagining all the animals and worrying that some I knew were not in the illustrations I saw. Although I have Christian roots I gave up Christianity many years ago. I find the divine in Nature – every single day. For that reason dreaming about an ark surprised and delighted me!
The bear is no longer missing!
Oh, for the second time
I hear Her call my name.
I am longing
for the sight
of soft curves –
a Beloved Woman
Emerald Green –
Pine scents the air;
Soft rains keep falling.
I feel Her Sounding
from a great distance,
a huge Whale rising from
a churning chaotic sea
half way across the country.
This Mountain Mother
calls us. She
whose Body once
rose out of
wild grasses in
She held us then
in a golden circle,
wrapped us in green wonder
blessed us with Summer’s Light.
We felt Love bleeding
through disbelief –
I succumbed to what
I did not know;
Surrendered to a
Birthing under our feet.
I heard Her singing…
Love as pure Being.
I pray the tough
and tender thread
that Binds us
will hold –
our love for Her,
Her Love for us,
Braided as One.
Once I feared Winter Snows…
Instead an avalanche
buried us alive in desert heat.
The Earth caught Fire.
I couldn’t breathe.
Oh, for the second time
I hear Her call my name…
My cry echoes…
hard blue sky.
West winds unhinge me
with unforgiving fury.
Still, She hears me.
Strengthen the thread,
keep us bound to you
until we touch
lush with greening,
over a bountiful breast
feel your Heart
beat as our own.
Imagine peepers singing,
croaking wood frogs
Our Dreaming creates
a Lizard path to follow.
Stay close to Ground.
We long for Black bears;
their fur- skin warms us.
We see them peering
round Mother Pine
An overflowing brook
is a symphony
made of water.
She hears our cry.
Oh Mountain Mother
For the second time
I am that child again…
spun out of blue and green
luminous Star shining
We beg you –
keep us safe,
on this long
Full Seed Moon 3/9/20
I see a beautiful fruit tree that is in full bloom with delicate pink blossoms and a man comes and attacks it violently – Oh, all the blossoms fall away, drifting tears cover the ground. Before this the little tree had bloomed “forever,” but man brought death to the blossoming tree and to the tree of life itself.
Little interpretation is necessary to understand this dream on a collective level. The Tree Holocaust is upon us. The Anthropocene is destroying more forests every second. Billions of trees. The lungs of the earth. The Beings that gift us with rain. We have less than three percent of intact forest left on this planet.
“Man” represents the age of the Anthropocene – each one of us – male or female. Every human being on this earth is complicit in tree obliteration and the terrifying violence associated with this slaughter. It’s important to note that the tree is weeping. My sense is that the tree isn’t just weeping for being murdered but that s/he is weeping for those who would annihilate her/him.
The most chilling part of this dream from my point of view is that once the little tree bloomed “forever.’ Forever suggests timelessness – mythology routinely breaks through the artificial walls that separate diverse peoples from one another, and the way humans experience time with stories that include this word that transcends time. Past, present, future, merge simultaneously into the eternal Now – or did, but in the dream this reality has broken down irrevocably.
Mythologically, the image/story/pattern of the Tree of Life is found in every culture. This is surely no accident. Indigenous peoples across the globe have been in a loving, respectful reciprocal relationship with trees since the dawn of humankind; each group has its own sacred tree and all trees are considered holy beings. Intuitively, and through reciprocal relationship these humans have known for millennia that we depend upon these beings for life.
The Tree of Life as a pattern also indicates wholeness and inclusiveness. Note that many images of the tree of life like the one that I am using here – my Huichol string painting – also includes animals, birds and insects.
Today it is no longer easy to dismiss trees as the background furniture of our lives or sneer at various mythologies because of their primitive ideas because we have learned that without trees humans will eventually cease to exist… Two other dreams have reiterated to me recently, “we are in too deep, and love is not enough.”
One hopeful personal note:
All winter the cottonwood trees have been “talking” to me in the Bosque, through my senses/and through the air by means of telepathy – a kind of instant communication without words. They tell me how thirsty they are, how much they love being seen and loved. They repeat that they accept their dying, and that new trees of another kind will replace them at some point in the future, although it won’t be soon. A healing balm flows through me as I listen with my heart to their plight. Because of them, acceptance flows through me like the river that parallels the Bosque, although sadness lingers because I love them and all their relatives so much.
Sometimes in the Bosque I also see dead grasses pulsing pin-points of light – like fireflies under my feet – they keep me focused on the ground – inner sight – insight?
Lately though the trees have fallen silent and the grasses no longer glow.
Now my dreams repeat what I see as well as the messages I have receive in the Bosque – that protective bark is falling away from dying trees, leaves are yellowing/dropping because of drought, and that death is on the horizon for most trees through the Southwest as desertification intensifies. In contrast in another dream I learn that elsewhere pockets of dark tree greening can still be found; I interpret this as hope that some trees may live on regardless of human stupidity. If we could save the trees; we could save ourselves. The reverse is equally true. If we save ourselves (and it’s humans that are in desperate need of healing the split between themselves and the rest of nature), the trees will survive.
Passionflower Vine climbing the screen
My first unusual experience with a plant occurred when I was a baby. I had been set upon a blanket and left in the summer sun. Above me a large sunflower bowed her head. As I gazed up at the disk it suddenly began to expand growing larger and larger and then shrunk again, over and over. What I remember best is that it seemed to be pulsing both inside and outside me at once. I was fascinated but totally accepting of my experiential reality.
I don’t remember when I started to talk to plants but I was gathering flowers as a toddler. By the time I reached adolescence I knew that my love for plants was reciprocated; but I certainly couldn’t talk about this intimacy because high school science taught me that these relationships didn’t even exist. Secretly, I reached the conclusion that I must be crazy.
It wasn’t until my late thirties that I began to hear tree and plant voices. They either spoke to me through dreams or through that same peculiar physical sensing or feeling/sense that seemed to come from inside and outside me at the same time. When they began uttering a simple word or phrase in response to questions I was thinking about or asking I was non – pulsed, dis-believing.
I rarely understood what the plants were trying to tell me. Trees were the exception; they told me in dreams (and through my physical senses by that peculiar pulsing) that because of humans whole forests were dying. I was also warned that the animals were going to disappear for good. These dreams and thoughts terrified me and I kept them to myself.
And then one day almost 40 years ago I became a plant. The dream seemed so utterly fantastic that I never forgot it:
I was a beautiful green vine that hugged the earth even as I crept along the ground; my tendrils seemed to be directing my movement along the forest floor but I had no idea what kind of plant I was or where I might be going.
By mid-life I was still dreaming catastrophic dreams about dying trees and animals but I had become a writer and began to advocate for nature in a creative way, an endeavor I continue today. Writing grounded me in my body and helped me to believe that someone might be listening. Maybe I could help the animals and plants survive?
I received a grant to study medicine plants with local shamans in Peru on one of the tributaries of the Amazon (I had become an herbalist early in my adult life), and two nights before my departure I dreamed a second vine dream:
I was the emerald green vine hugging the ground as I moved, only this time each of my leaves had huge eyes that were combing the forest floor.
During the course of these trips (I made three in all) the shamans “saw” that I was seer, someone who could read the future. Their recognition stunned me, especially since I didn’t really believe it myself. I eventually gained enough confidence to ask my teachers what the vine dreams might be trying to convey to me. Each shaman told me I needed to take Ayahuasca to find out. Dismay overwhelmed me. Two early experiences with marijuana had resulted in my having hallucinations in safe places. Here, I was alone in the jungle of Peru. I backed out.
A few months after my return to the states my neighbor gave me a passionflower cutting. I was thrilled! I had seen so many passionflower vines cascading over the river intertwined with a fantastic forest of trees and shrubbery. I kept passionflowers in my room in Peru and attempted to bring one home but the cutting froze en route.
There was something about the vine with its spiral tendrils that pulled me into a deeper relationship than I had previously experienced with any plant – or at least I was more aware of the strength of this particular relationship between the plant and myself. Some mornings I watched my passionflower climb through thin air her tendrils waving as she stretched towards the light. During these times it almost seemed to me that we shared a single mind. She moved almost imperceptibly and I would slip into a light trance to breathe with her as she crept along a ledge or window.
By the time I arrived in the desert I had a daughter plant and both mother and daughter vines came with me. I gave one away to a friend, and then the other one lost leaf after yellowing leaf, lingered, and then died ‘inexplicably’ with me begging her to live. During this period I was also in personal crisis and eventually became ill. It was impossible to escape the sense that this vine and I shared not only a mind but also a body.
I took a cutting from the “mother plant” and it rooted. Passionflowers re – entered my life and I was profoundly relieved. However, they no longer flowered for me with any regularity, or didn’t until I went home to Maine last summer. The one I nurtured there had a hundred blooms ready to open but a last minute crisis prevented me from bringing her back. I notice that although I love the flowers, that these days, it’s the presence of the vine that is so important to me.
Three weeks ago I potted cuttings that were pruned from one of the vines that had almost died during last summer’s absence (when I believed they were being cared for by someone who clearly neglected all my plants). I put the pot on the kitchen windowsill and within a week one tendril started up the screen and this is when I started asking all the cuttings to cover the area to help keep the late afternoon sun from streaming in because it hurt my eyes.
Of course, the vine is phototropic (it normally grows towards the light) so it is no surprise that the vines started to climb the screen but I am asking them every morning to climb to the right, not towards the south where the most sun shines, and the cuttings are complying with my request as I shower them with loving words, attention, and gratitude. Two days ago one tendril reached the top of the window and I asked her to turn right again. She did. I have absolute trust that this collaboration between us will continue.
(But what will happen to my vines when I leave again for Maine? This is currently my deepest concern. They seem to need me to be present for them on a physical level; reinforcing the reality that there is a very complex mind-body relationship between this plant and me).
Here in the house I am surrounded by green plants and two trees. Outside I have the Bosque. Every morning in the predawn hours I walk down by the river and into the bog with its cottonwoods and cattails, its scrub and wheat colored grasses. Pre dawn meandering allows me to enter an altered state as I traverse the Bosque in circles listening to faint tree murmuring, feeling Life bubbling up from under my feet. It wasn’t until I came to the desert that I learned that I have to have trees and plants around me to thrive, and outside the Bosque provides me with trees that tower over my head. Frequently, I have illuminations or the meaning of a dream becomes crystal clear in this tree and plant refuge.
The day before yesterday I had revelation in the Bosque that stunned me.
I “saw” the leaves of the emerald vine/self of my two dreams the first of which, I had almost 40 years ago. I was a passionflower snaking her way along the jungle floor!
I suddenly understood exactly what those vines were trying to tell me. I needed to seek truths about my life and the future by putting my plant eyes and ears to the ground, allowing the emerald vine/self to take the lead. (Humans, including myself cannot see. My plant dreams were trying to convey that open spaces like the sky where transcendence replaces embodiment take us out of our bodies when we need desperately to inhabit them and turn our attention towards the Earth. Had we done this in time it might have made all the difference). The eyes and ears of my heart were embedded in the passionflower plant body who was not seeking outer light but rather darkness, a place of germination/birthing beneath the jungle floor. My plant was directing my attention to the inner light, a light only visible when surrounded by darkness. My present job is to continue this process –and to turn my attention to that which lives below to prepare for further instructions.
First, I need to deal with the reality of the inevitable extinction of a species that includes myself (how do we imagine not being?).
Then, when it’s time, New Life will begin to emerge from below the forest floor.
I wonder in retrospect if taking any drug could have helped me unravel the meaning behind these dreams earlier in my life. I draw the conclusion that ingesting a substance probably would have not have made a difference because I was still being drawn to the sky gods – the transcendent ones. Embodiment was a word that had not yet entered my vocabulary on a feeling level. Even though I was in love with the Earth I couldn’t allow myself to be “known” by her. Even today I still fear being held captive by the underworld of my dreaming body, just as I fear death; so it appears that I have to continue my life’s journey in hopes of learning how to come to terms with these two personal fears…
A number of weeks ago the man who owns this property hacked off the limbs of some graceful arching cottonwoods, destroying forever the cathedral –like arches that I walked under every day as I gave thanks for these Matriarchs of the Bosque, while carrying the knowledge that there will not be a new generation of these trees to replace the old ones that die. The high desert is drying up and young cottonwood saplings must have adequate water to live long enough to produce the deep taproots that will nourish the trees from below.
Being with/under and feeling the benign presence of these gracious cottonwoods for the past three years has taught me more about how important it is to focus on feeling gratitude for now than any other feature in this high desert.
Witnessing the destruction of the arches while walking under the weeping chopped up arms initially unhinged me.
At first I made up a little song to sing to the broken trees when I walked under them, knowing of course it was too late. Nothing could restore those dead arms.
Gradually, I came to the understanding that the cottonwood cathedral, a prayer place so sacred to me, also reminded me daily that being emotionally present for these trees helped me to balance the destruction of the natural world that I saw occurring all around me.
When I dreamed that in the distance I could see a magnificent cottonwood with her graceful bare canopy whole, and opening like like a flower, it seemed to me that the soul of the cottonwoods was trying to comfort me.
I had no idea what I was doing the day I picked up a bare limb and brought it back to the house, positioning the cottonwood right next to my steps so I could see it every time I walked in or out of the house.
Next I gathered boulders to ring the base of the dead tree. The slim trunk sitting on its bed of stone felt just right…
When the seasonal wheel turned into November I retrieved tiny clear crystals from my closet and placed them on my Norfolk Pine inside the house. Rainbows danced over the adobe walls. I also ringed the base of the pine with white lights. This is the time of the year I honor the life of all trees as part of my spiritual practice.
The very next day while coming up the steps I had a strange insight about the dead cottonwood limb. Honoring the life of all trees was no longer enough. Now I needed to honor trees in death.
That afternoon I wrapped white lights around the severed trunk and lit up ‘the tree’ at dusk.
Over the next few days I placed scalloped heart shaped cottonwood leaves around the trunk attaching them to the wires that held the lights… Just yesterday I realized what was missing. I needed an empty nest to grace the amputated limb.
A trip into the Bosque provided me with the latter. The cup was nestled in a few branches of desert scrub. When I attached the nest to the sawed off limb obscuring the work of the deadly chainsaw it finally occurred to me that I was creating art.
I dug through layers of dead cottonwood leaves until I found their flower –like shells – the seed casings that once held cottony balls of fleece – those seeds of the future that could no longer take root.
When I placed the petals in the nest I added four more stones, not just to anchor the empty pods down, but rather to reinforce the reality that stone ‘eggs’ cannot give birth to new life. A base made of Boulders made the same point.
Last night when I lit the ‘tree’ with lights that shivered like cracked stars I felt like I had unintentionally created a new sacred space with my sculpture.
And for the first time since the severing, a sense of peace permeated my once bereft body, soul, and spirit.
Art not only bridges the ordinary world helping us to access the sacred; it heals in life and death.
When I responded to a post on feminism and religion this morning I wrote that you were my first goddess. As a child I knew little beyond that you were the “Mother of God,” and I found your presence immensely comforting, even seeking you out in secret, entering your rose garden in a local monastery. I needed you so.
Early in adolescence I learned that your life was one of purity, sacrifice, and loss. Your purity left me bereft. How could a young Victorian girl be “good enough” to serve such a figure? I was fierce and passionate – a thorny red rose – with an empty hole in my heart.
Sadly, I released you and chose your sister the whore, the Black Goddess in disguise… but I didn’t know that then; I only knew that the “black” woman succumbed to her flesh as I did, covered herself in shame…What lies Patriarchy tells…
Mary, I kept your starry blue image on the mantle as I mothered my children. I thought of you as a model of female perfection, an idea so antithetical to who you are and what you embody that today, I am appalled. Eventually, I came to believe that you abandoned me, not realizing that I was the one who abandoned my soul and spirit along with the body of a beautiful girl that I despised.
Sudden death and intolerable grief opened the door between us again; you became the Mater Dolorosa. I wondered how you survived the death of your son. I don’t know when I realized you had no voice. It disturbed me that you disappeared into obscurity after your son’s death as if mothering was all there was… meanwhile, held captive by the Underworld my life dragged on with me as its victim. More, many more losses, would follow…
As my life deteriorated I retrieved you again and again trying to understand… Eventually I saw that an old white god had all the power and you were acted upon by him just as I seemed to be acted upon and held captive by an unholy darkness. Neither of us had a voice. You were not worthy enough to become a saint, let alone god’s equal – you were consigned to act out the role of intercessor – becoming a bridge between humans and the divine. You were always a servant. You grieved loss without reprieve. In retrospect I see clearly that during the first half of my life I lived out your life as I understood it – always passive, always trying to please, making a sacrifice of myself, unable to use my voice, accepting grief as a way of life. Never good enough. Your patriarchal victimhood was my own. What lies Patriarchy told about you, my Beloved.
The strange part is that even then I noticed that many people, women and men, my own father included, prayed only to you. I developed a deep respect for your role as intercessor…
At midlife, I discovered you in Italy, as the starry Queen of Heaven, in the form of the doves I had loved as a child, as the scent of a thousand lilies, and although your ‘dark’ sister, Mary Magdalene and I still carried the burden of my deep sexual shame, I loved her too because through her I had been able to keep my connection to you alive and intact as an adolescent. In Assisi you finally appeared to me as the Goddess, loving me just as I was. This time I refused to choose one sister over the other and the two of you merged into a fully embodied divine figure in which light and darkness were One.
When I left Christianity soon after, I took you with me to begin a new life; this time with Nature as my muse. Of course Mary, you were Nature, my Beloved Earth and each of her creatures and trees … so the thread remained unbroken.
Today a silver Guadalupe, the Indian Goddess of the America’s, hangs on the wall as you enter this house; Guadalupe/Mary/ the Black Goddess finally elevated by the “god boy” to her rightful place: She is Mother of All. Each of the Nichos in this house holds images of her divine manifest expressions… owl feathers, potsherds, a bear claw for protection, chert, and the antler of a deer. Divinity is expressed through the spark of each individual species; for me this momentary (usually) experience occurs primarily through animals like a bird, dog, or tree, but for others it takes a human form…
Lately Mary, you have become a Crane, and I have been desolate because flocks of you are leaving for the season. I feel bereft and full of fear. Have I lost myself again?
I read that Cranes are vigilant and keep watch at night for predators.
Last night I dreamed two words “Dear Mary,” and this morning after responding to a post written about you, it hit me. I had to write you a letter.
I fear losing you – falling victim to the underworld. I need your protection… Will you intervene on my behalf as Bear, goddess of spring?
I remind myself that you, the Mother of All Creation stand behind each particular bird, animal, tree, person that I experience as an expression of (your) divinity, and that although I mourn the leave – taking of the Cranes there will be others that will come to manifest your Grace, because you, are both the Source and Context of all that is, and also the Bridge between.
I love you, Mary.
(Hope in the Foreground, Lucy at the bottom of our bed)
End of the year reflection….
I have been a naturalist all my life and except for the years I spent as an undergraduate I have always had dogs. Dogs were the first animals that taught me about unconditional love. They routinely demonstrated that I was always good enough, and always accepted for who I was even if I was “different,” severely directionally dyslexic, failed every math class, couldn’t remember which side of the road I was supposed to drive on when I first got my license, was harshly criticized by patriarchal parents, and later, after my little brother’s suicide, overcome by guilt and grief so overwhelming that it catapulted me into the underworld for ten years.
During this period except for waitressing, and attempting unsuccessfully to mother young children, I withdrew from the world. I couldn’t bear to spend time outdoors because every tree, frog, stone, reminded me of my beloved companion, the brother I lost. If I hadn’t had dogs when my brother died I wonder how I would have survived at all. Their sensitivity to my moods astonished me and for a long time I believed that “something” had graced me with the brightest, most loving, most attentive canine friends in the world.
Totally isolated from people and from the rest of Nature, my dogs slipped through the crack and accompanied me on my deadly journey. They slept beside me at night, and when I awoke from endless nightmares in unspeakable grief and hopelessness or blacked out in despair I would run my hands through thick fur as they snuggled up even closer to me covering my face with kisses. Even through the dense fog I felt their love permeating my body – a great underground river of love with a capital “L”.
Sammy, a malamute became my first “teacher” as I began the mountainous climb out of suicidal darkness. I had been numb for so long, and now that I was beginning to grieve my brother’s dying, she helped me stay with the agonizing process. Together we began to walk into the forest, down by the sea, often late at night after I returned from work. She was my protector, I believed.
One September afternoon while racing around in a haze of mindless mother frenzy I happened to notice her lying in the tall grass outside the window, scenting, silent, alert, her nose to the wind. It was a beautiful blue and gold fall day and I wanted more than anything to be out there too… I asked myself how I could begin to make sense of my stupid life – as a single mother I was drowning in boredom and busyness – The moment I asked the question Sam turned her head towards mine and answered clearly. “ Be present for this moment.”
Disbelief permeated my being but was not powerful enough to dismiss the message. Sammy was reading my mind. I tried to rationalize what had happened and couldn’t so I concentrated on the message. What did she mean I pondered for weeks afterwards, gradually reaching the conclusion that ‘being in the moment’ meant that I had to begin to create space for a person I didn’t even know, myself. What a terrifying thought. This was a radical notion for someone who had up until that point been a robot, following the culture’s dictates, had no sense of having personal autonomy, and failed to “fit in,” to the society she was socialized into. Choice was simply not real to me. No one was home.
What I had no way of knowing was how this message from my dog would begin to affect the remainder of my life. Sam not only opened the door to the void in myself but she helped me acknowledge that there was something called interspecies communication, and that I had been ignoring the messages I had been receiving from plants and animals ever since I was a child playing in the woods with my little brother… Although it would take years to believe what I intuited and was told by animals and trees as an adult, (my western conditioning constantly interrupted my experiences, discounting them), a path through the forest had opened. My dreaming body helped lead me, as did Nature who began to speak in tongues of fire at each new dawn.
Dogs remained my constant companions as I struggled to discover who this woman was as she emerged from beneath a death shroud to traverse the spiral way, sinking under the waves, surfacing, and being swallowed again. Lacking clear conscious direction I turned turned more and more towards Nature for clues and confirmation and was never disappointed although I frequently mis – read messages, a vulnerability I carry to this day. If I was on the right track I often received dreams of confirmation that helped. But without the constant presence of dogs my intense loneliness would have defeated me, for mine was a path few traveled, and this remains true today.
At midlife I fell into the underworld for the second time when my first grandson was born, and I was prevented from seeing or becoming a grandmother to him. The grief from this second intolerable loss threatened to unhinge me, and had I not had my beloved dogs and Nature as a whole to sustain me, I believe I might have died from grief.
Coming to terms with a lifetime of loss of children and grandchildren gripped and literally almost crushed the life out of my soul- body self for the second time. This time though, because the deaths weren’t physical I hung on to hope, refusing to give up. I made every conceivable effort to repair the damage even when waves of hopelessness tumbled me into predictable cycles of depression that worsened as time wore on. Finally in the year of 2011 after a horribly abusive and ongoing rejection by my youngest son late in December, I reached the point where I was forced to conclude that nothing was going to change because both my sons were getting something grim out of blocking my every attempt to reconcile. With a stunned horror engulfing me I suddenly understood on a visceral level how much pleasure my anguish and torment was bringing them. How could I have been so blind? I had reached the end of my “long winding road”… Now the question became: was I going to be able to survive these losses too. The loss of four more children seemed too much to grapple with. Was it even possible to move beyond this ocean of mother grief?
Up until this point discovering the scholar, accruing degrees, teaching, writing, and counseling, my love for my dearest canine companions and the rest of Nature had sustained me. I loved the peace of my own company and joyful moments were frequent as I communed with non – human species, wild or tame. Being with Her kept me in balance. I had crafted my own life and the better I got to know myself the more respect I developed for this courageous woman who had emerged out of deep suffering, triumphant, and willing to stand alone.
But I couldn’t ignore the signs year after year… During the spring and summer the rains didn’t come, and the water level dropped in my brook to an alarming low. My beloved trees were showing signs of stress, dropping leaves too early. The poplars were diseased. A couple of my fruit trees stopped blooming. Maine was logging so many forested areas that we had only 16 percent ‘mature’ forest left in the state. A mature tree was considered to be 30 years old, not even adult enough to produce nuts or fruit. I noticed that a number of species of birds had disappeared. Bears were becoming scarce because so many had been shot.
Most baffling were my dreams that had been dark and ominous since I had first moved to this precious Earth – a small oasis bordered on three sides by a brook and peppered with a mix of deciduous and conifer forest, embracing an old field and 20 acres. In these dreams which began almost immediately disappearing brooks, slaughtered trees, barren granite mountains and mean neighbors whose cold hatred of me astounded me all forecast a future that was incomprehensible to me even as the Earth continued to communicate her deep distress. In 1994 neighbors moved in…
Every attempt I had made to reconcile with sons, was now being mirrored by these terrifying neighbors, whose viciousness made me cringe. I was forced to face human ugliness on a level that mirrored my children’s behavior: these people also took pleasure out of tormenting me. I couldn’t grasp the implications behind the torture because I didn’t believe in evil. The question that haunted me was why…I spent years trying to get along with all of them and failed. There had to be something wrong with me…
Nothing made sense and by the spring of 2012. I began to flounder. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Unbeknownst to me, my dog Star developed cancer that summer although I didn’t dream her illness until the following September when it was too late. Although my beloved Vet operated on her immediately, the first night we slept together on the floor after her operation I saw a falling star and knew she would die… Four more intolerable months of hell followed before her death.
I acknowledged then that I needed a dog more than one would ever need me. I lamented. As soon as the monstrous grief peaked and let go, I acquired Bridgee who almost died in a fire the night before I got her and had stomach issues when she arrived that ended in her death as a young dog…Then I found Hope who came to me in the form of a three pound Chihuahua. Together, we survived the following winter during which time I came to the realization that grief had been pouring out of every cell in my body for so long without reprieve that my nine year old dog absorbed it, and had become ill and died. When I chose Bridgee, I chose a dog who was already compromised… ( again the haunting: was there something wrong with me?) I did not blame myself. But I asked Nature what I could do with this knowledge. I wanted Star’s sacrifice to matter.
Anyone who has had canines knows that dogs love unconditionally as a matter of course, and when their people are experiencing intolerable distress they take on their pain. My anguish manifested in Star as cancer, and it killed her (with Bridgee I didn’t know). I kept this information to myself because I knew that no one would believe me if I said that dogs can die not only from grieving for their lost humans, but also from carrying human pain, but I knew it was true.
I vowed to keep this knowing close; to stay aware, to make sure that I didn’t unknowingly create a situation in which I ignored my Hope at her expense. I took great pleasure in our daily playing, made certain she never got left home alone, mentally attempted to create a boundary between my pain and this dog. When Lucy, another unwanted Chihuahua needed a home I agreed, hoping that having two of them might lessen the intensity of my need for a deep human- dog relationship which might give them some protection, or at the very least they were company for one another. Maybe having two might help keep them safe from the ravages of depression and grief that I couldn’t control? I also began thinking I needed to leave Maine…
To digress a moment, it is not well known that there is impeccable scientific research being done on the relationships between dogs and humans. Dogs can sniff out cancerous growths in the people they love and others, they can find human bodies under mountains of debris as the world witnessed in 2001, they can predict earthquakes and changes in weather; they heal people with mental illness, help those diagnosed with PTSD (like me) deal with anxiety, provide steadfast companionship without betrayal, they ease the loneliness of the aged, relate to autistic and abused children. In short dogs are Animal Healers who will literally give their lives to save humans from further suffering, as Star did for me.
I began to dream of returning to the desert…I needed to find a way to make my life meaningful to me again, and once before the desert had helped heal me enough to go on after a painful divorce.
It took three more years before I moved to Abiquiu, New Mexico with Hope, Lucy, and Lily b my telepathic Dove. Initially, I fell in love with sky and stone, the ways of the Indigenous Tewa. I have been here two years, and have recently moved into a little adobe that I have made my own. I have made new friends, and over two years have developed as intimate a relationship with the scrub, juniper cottonwoods and Red Willow river as I had with my patch of land in Maine.
The first year I thrived. Skies that caught fire at sunset, wild and unpredictable summer rains, seductive Datura, tufts of wildflowers popping up in unlikely places, impossible sand cliffs, snow tucked safely in the mountains, the winter sun, all became my lovers…
This last year has been just the opposite. I have been ill with diverticulitis for much of the time, a condition that is chronic as well as becoming antibiotic resistant. Most of last winter, spring, and early summer I spent housebound. Living on a new edge with ongoing stomach issues, including attacks of severe colitis, resulted in me making a physical adjustment. It is uncertain if I can ‘manage’ my diverticulitis without surgery. I have never been more aware of my mortality, or that I am living the last segment of my life.
For the remainder of last summer I became housebound for another reason. I discovered that I cannot tolerate the wall of heat from a merciless summer sun, and as it became clear that the drought I thought I left behind me in Maine was manifesting in front of me because I was living it. I crumpled. The dark side of the desert is its killing heat, which is so deadly without rain. Daily I witnessed the withered scrub, shrunken wildflowers, squawberry bushes dropping leaves in July, dead rabbit bush, wild grasses, and snakeweed, stones appearing in what was once a rushing river, heard the cries and felt the desperation of the cottonwoods and junipers as they sunk roots deeper into parched desert ground… At night cicadas screamed. When the trees caught fire by the millions I couldn’t breathe, whether for them or me, I do not know. Only the ‘edge woman’ lived – the one that rose long before sunrise, dragging herself to the river in the dark, mourning the loss of cover in a dried up bog, aching for the sight of even one frog. Where were the Cloud People; where was the rain? Each trip outdoors opened the doors to hell; I felt dazed and dizzy; some days I could barely stand up and I wondered then if I was dying too. I remade my will prepared for the event should it happen. For a while during summer torment my stomach issues abated, then…
When Lucy became desperately ill in August with what turned out to be colitis all my alarm bells went off. Oh no, not again. I have done everything I know to keep my illness my own… but Lucy is so sensitive, and so dependent upon me, perhaps the more vulnerable of the two dogs. One more attack followed two months later. The Vet here does not know what’s wrong with her but I think I do. I pose the question to Nature: Is there anything I can do to protect these dogs from illness that doesn’t belong to them? I adore my animals. I do not want my dogs to sacrifice their lives for me. Nature does not answer. But my stomach issues returned in November…
I think of years past, when Sammy had convulsions while I was beaten up, when Rinkie developed irritable bowel disease and died from it after I lost my grandson. Star developed cancer of the spleen after Dee’s brutal 2011 betrayal. Bridgee came to me barely surviving a fire, had stomach issues and died from unknown causes that also were stomach related. And now stomach issues may be threatening my life. It’s almost as if each dog was carrying some element of my grief in their bellies for years before it manifested in an illness that one day would become my own.
We know that there is something called a gut brain.; that we think and feel and sense truth from our bellies. My truths were deeply hidden in the bowels of hell and although I have spent a lifetime uncovering what is real, and am doing everything I can to heal my own mind body split, will it be enough to help us all survive?
I have no answers; only more questions.
Now that the winter season is upon us I can look out the window and remind myself that the plants are resting. I continue to water my trees in the ongoing drought, but I don’t have to witness the withering… I wake up before sunrise and bring the day in with gratitude through deliberate and joyful attention. I can walk outdoors any time I want, and have the freedom to hike where I choose – the gift of winter’s repose. I never tire of kneeling before the wood stove, lighting a fire from wood that was dead when it was gathered, while giving thanks for trees. Each day brings more joy as the sun warms the tiles on the floor and casts rainbows through the crystals hanging in the windows. My indoor plants are thriving, green and lush, especially my Norfolk Island pine who has grown a foot in the last six weeks since beginning my winter ritual of celebrating the Tree of Life, and the life of every tree on this planet. Lucy and Hope are happy to have my attention whenever they need it, and I am thankful for each passing day. With the solstice turning only two days away I am acutely aware of changes that will come… for change is the only constant.
Winter is our brief reprieve – Nature’s and mine… Soon we will be facing the heat of a merciless spring sun that without adequate rain (and this is the pattern) continues to kill the desert plants as they struggle to return to life.
When I put my house up for sale last summer I had no sense of wrongdoing. I was leaving Maine behind, I thought. But to my surprise in the interim I have become homesick for the North Country and I long to return to my other home to hear the songs of frogs, to visit with toads and deer, to be with my little forest of trees, to be able to walk out my front door without running into a fiery wall of intolerable heat, to walk in occasional rain, to visit with my cardinals… Of course the desert has made the choice for me because my poor body cannot endure 90 – 100 degree temperatures or the ravages of forest fires. But this time I will return to Maine for the summer with a new level of acceptance. I realize now that the anguish of ongoing personal and Natural grief pushed me over the edge. I came here in part to escape drought and walked into a burning furnace. How ironic.
I know now there is no place to go.
I must find a way to adapt – to allow the grief of what is happening with me and my beloved planet to flow through me without denial or hope for unrealistic change. My equally deep love for the desert has been tempered by its dark side. This is a hard place – a harsh place of wind, sun, and stone. Wild beauty abounds and the sky is cracked with stars and my love for cactus is deeply personal because I need to become one to survive! Thicker spines and a tougher exterior are much needed; No wonder I love them so!
In the two years I have been here I have also witnessed the dominant culture embrace hatred as normal. Because I am precognitive, I understand that what I endured at my children and neighbors hands was probably a precursor of what would come to be a cultural reality for all, just as the loss of my brook water and trees mirrored by Climate Change. Once again I remember the dreams that forecast it would be so.
In my 74th year I remain an outsider but am a woman who speaks her truth, always unvarnished and often unwelcome. We are short on staying in the truth of what is, these days, and expressing my truths, which are inexorably tied to those of the culture is what I have to offer. Weaving back and forth between the two, I continue to advocate for women (and myself), especially the victims of sexual assault without apology. And my love for this beloved Earth, her creatures and trees is the driving force behind every word I write.
And yes, my grief lives on too, the greatest underground river of all, but when I stay in the truth of what is, deep joy is the gift I receive from all Nature and in particular from the unconditional love from my dogs…
I also remember my tale is only one of millions, and the eventual outcome of our personal stories and the ravages of Climate Change which are intimately connected, like it or not, is as yet unknown.
Meanwhile, Blessed Be the Animals, and especially our steadfast companions, all dogs….
On this coming solstice night as the Earth turns towards winter, I look to Her for comfort and winter peace even as I scry starry night skies searching for the old woman in an ancient Italian tale who comes riding on her broomstick leaving gifts for all, a story that is thousands of years old – predating “Saint Claws” by millennia…
Yesterday I dreamed that I discovered a bird’s nest that was hidden in the center of an evergreen tree. This little dream moved me deeply because this is the time of year I celebrate my love and gratitude for all trees, but especially evergreens, and the dream felt like an important message. For me, the “Tree of Life” is also an evergreen at least during the winter months.
Outdoors, I recently placed a glass star in the center of my newly adopted Juniper here in New Mexico, repeating a pattern that began in Maine years ago with my Guardian Juniper in whose center I also placed a star…Inside the house an open circle made from a completely decayed tree trunk sits at the center of my Norfolk Pine. Indoors both boughs and tree are festooned with tiny lights. The point of these making these gestures was/is to remind me that tree bodies are sacred in their wholeness and each tree explicates the immanence of divinity. Another way of saying this is to say that Natural Power lives in trees.
I do not believe in god.
But the reality of “Natural Power” is an ongoing force in my life. When I am deeply troubled I turn to trees or birds or animals for help, and they always respond, although often it takes me a long time to understand their messages, mostly because my intellect and cultural conditioning gets in the way of intuition, sensing, and feeling.
Sometimes dreams help me to bridge the gap, and when I dreamed that the tree held a nest I felt a great comfort moving through me…
It seemed to me that the dream was showing me that the “little bird woman self” (most vulnerable personality) has a safe place to rest within the protected boughs of the evergreen, also her Tree of Life.
Because I am living in two worlds and must find a way to move between both, I am by necessity a “snow bird” migrating with the seasons. Thus, it means a great deal to me that I have a place to feel contained and nurtured among fragrant boughs anywhere I go.
The tree and her nest may be hidden, but it is there, and I found it.
Perhaps I have found home, after all.
(portal made of willow fronds)
Lately, as I meander around the Bosque and down the paths to the river I am seeing portals everywhere I look. I walk under one made of golden cottonwood boughs, another graced by willows, a few created by rusty iron or wooden gates – all pathways to the beyond.
Portals are gateways or doorways into other worlds, or a different way of seeing and it is not lost on me that perhaps I am “seeing” portals everywhere in Nature because according to the Celtic/Native American calendars we are approaching the end of the wheel of the year here in Northern New Mexico as well as elsewhere. Perhaps I need to discover a new way of seeing. I can set this intention for the coming year even as I pass through each gate…Climbing through this mountainous twelve month cycle of steep ascents/descents has exhausted my soul, body, and spirit.
All Hallows, the Feast of the Dead, All Souls day, mark the end of the yearly cycle for many including me.
Then we will enter the space in between to emerge at winter solstice…
Although Indigenous people’s calendars are more fluid, around here, for example, the Tewa speaking peoples will tell you that in November “they do nothing” as one man from Santa Clara Pueblo recently quipped. The Harvest is in. Frost is on the horizon. There are no tribal dances until the winter solstice. Around us our beloved Cottonwoods are slowly losing their golden canopies. The owls are silent. Migrating Sand hill cranes serenade us with their haunting collective cries. Only the tracks and scat of animals remind us that our wild companions are still out and about.
Some Indigenous peoples from the North call this full moon “the leaves falling moon” or “the white frost on grass moon” names that seem particularly apt when describing what is happening. I could also name this moon “making tracks in the mud moon.”
The period that we are about to enter in about a week is a space where the veil lifts… It is a time of rest and reflection, a time to dream the world (and ourselves) into another way of being, perhaps. A mystical time for those of us who are sensitized to All That Is.
It is my favorite time of year.
In Northern New Mexico it is also the ‘season of light’. The dance between the sun star and her shadows is a source of ongoing amazement, exhilaration, and deep wonder, peaking at dawn and at eventide with each becoming a portal into the other.
As scalloped hearts and bear paw leaves drift to the ground and branches (some curved like claws), stretch their limbs and fingers towards an ever deepening blue or shark gray sky, I watch juncos, sparrows, and nuthatches feasting on fluffy chamisa and golden aster seeds. Last night the almost full moon hid her face behind rose pearled clouds.
I create a conscious intention beginning with this poignant and oh so beautiful “leaves falling in drifts” moon to find a way to move through this next year with more grace and less chaos in my life acknowledging that I am not certain how to Earth myself in a more generous way except by developing a new way of seeing.
Extremes of every sort have defined my days this year with me plunging into despair and grief over climate change and woman hatred.
Eerily, my concern for the Earth has often been mirrored by personal crisis. The veil between Earth and self seems to have evaporated like the mist that rises over the river in delicate plumes reaching towards a now golden sun or ever deepening dusk. I can’t help wondering if this merging might be a natural response to aging and/or my heightened sensitivity, a result of being in such an intimate relationship with Nature?
Perhaps as Earth Chaos intensifies I will continue to experience my own extremes even more deeply? If the latter is the case my hope and intention is to carry the awareness that this state is “natural” under the circumstances.
To accept what is, might be I the greatest challenge I face.
One portal to acceptance as I already mentioned might be to shift my awareness into a different way of seeing. I can create this intention without knowing exactly what I mean…
As I pass under the portal of the end of this year entering “the space in between” my earnest hope is that I will not lose myself, even when I stand alone in a sea of humanity whose (personal and political) behavior mystifies me, or that I will not succumb to despair, or make an unnecessary descent into rage or sorrow.
I remind myself that to stay with the truth of what is, as I experience it, is also heroic (although I never feel this way) and that others who cannot be present to their lives in a meaningful way will try to dismiss my life as inauthentic (too emotional, too sensitive, too fill – in – the blank, blah, blah, blah,) because witnessing human horrors is too threatening to them.
Rape is still rape regardless of disbelief.
Like the deer in my dreams who bed down in tall grasses before the open gate may I too surrender to what is, and to that which is unknown. Animal Peace is the gift offered when we are present to the moment.
And like the worms living in my compost heap who create ‘black gold’ in the process of living out their lives, may I find a way to do the same… perhaps through a different way of seeing.
A lot to ask for, I know.
Still, as I pass under this next portal the help I need is near… All I need to do is to follow the tracks of the animals that are so dear.