Dear Mary

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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.

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For Love of Dogs

 

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(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…

For Love of Trees

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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.

Portals…

(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.

 

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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.

Midnight Musings

It was damp.

Cloud heavy skies

spit silver raindrops…

When I awakened

to overflowing drainpipes,

and an unfamiliar voice

I wondered if

you were out there

hunting, or

singing love

songs to wet ground,

laying low in thick green –

Toad, lover of deep night.

I marveled,

picturing your image…

a throbbing throat

your tightly pinched face –

amber bejeweled eyes

wide ample body

nubbly pale skin,

a cream stripe

running down your back.

You had shed an old skin.

In the white heat of the day

I murmured endearments.

Could you feel

my joyful body thrumming?

 

Now I wondered

if you were calling.

When

signature hoof prints

marked

the driveway

at dawn

I believed you had.

Deer

bridge worlds

binding one

to the other

as you bridged mine

that day

with the gift

of your presence –

a toad dream come to life.

May we

share this bountiful river,

cottonwood canopy,

red road,

and meadows

replete with visits

from occasional bear and deer,

thick with burrows for you to hide in?

This mud house

needs a Toad –

one wed

to the ground way

of seeing.

She who tunnels

underground

transforming

with each sloughing

of wrinkled skin,

one that hugs the Earth.

Owl songs sweeten the night,

slice through poisoned air with silent wings

but rarely touch ground in flight.

Will you befriend me

and stay a while?

What I can offer

is the promise of

a little extra moisture

to help protect you

from too much sun…

That, and my love.

 

 

 

*Awi Usdi is a mythical white Cherokee deer who is a ‘justice maker” intervening in the lives of both animals and people to re-dress imbalances between the two.

 

Working notes:

 

Two days ago I wrote a toad story about a remarkable encounter between a giant female western toad and myself. The toad appeared in 92 degree heat and in three hops bounded into the only available moist ground. Within minutes she had dug herself into the hole as I covered her with leaves, branches, and cottonwood bark to protect her from the heat. I had been palpably longing for a toad to join me here all summer and had even built a small rock pool for one so this “visitation” seemed quite miraculous.

It wasn’t until after the toad appeared that it occurred to me that her unexpected arrival might mean something more than seeing a beloved friend.

“The Old Woman” is coming to life in me, and Toad just might be the ally I need.

The amphibious part of my life remains unresolved. Toad and frog thoughts pull me back towards the lush green of my past life along a woodland brook rich in riparian diversity. I am homesick and hungry for fog and mist, warm summer rains that last for days, toads trilling and grey tree frogs singing from the tree tops. Cool, cool nights. Are these thoughts keeping me present to myself helping me to complete the mourning process of leave –taking so that I can finally shed my old skin? Or are they warning me not to make another mistake?

Perhaps I need to live in both worlds after all.

I have to keep reminding myself that most people do not make the kind of radical life changes that I am in the process of making – leaving one whole life behind, house and land I love, along with absentee children, loneliness, and harsh winters, moving more than half way across a country to live in the high desert along Red Willow River, a place I love, but also on the edge of what will surely become ‘true desert’ before long. Drought, intolerable heat, and wildfires are bringing the terrifying effects of climate change into the daily world I inhabit here.

The knowing is excruciating.

I have come through my first summer in New Mexico scorched by the unrelenting heat, with strange and debilitating bodily symptoms that seem to come and go without rhythm or reason leaving me enervated and in a state of perpetual confusion. I feel as if I have literally become allergic to the sun. What can this mean? I have been ever so fortunate and deeply grateful to find a “home” here but as thankful as I am, I am also wary of what my body may be trying to tell me.

My body seems to be screaming and I don’t seem to know how to listen.

I may think that living here “permanently” is what I need but if so why is my body in such misery?

I have no answer to this question, which is why I think I need a Toad Woman to intervene…

Yesterday after doing some extensive research on the western toad I was devastated to learn that according to a number of academic sources these toads have already been extirpated from the only area where they once thrived in New Mexico – along the Rio Grande river and its tributaries in Rio Arriba County which is where I live. Because I have seen two western toads in two years I know this information is not correct – at least not yet. But the trend is alarmingly clear. It won’t be long. Dams, the artificial raising and dropping of river water, drought, chemicals, UV light, farming, fertilizers are all culprits, as is habitat loss and human indifference. So this longing I feel for toads has both truth and loss at its core because we are losing this species. Now. Next year, the year after, or a few more years and the last western toads will be gone. Forever.

Ever since I learned that western toad extinction is immanent all I can feel is heartbreak. I am used to feeling helpless in the face of ecological destruction. Every creature I love is under threat and I am living with what is, grieving as I go. But this story has a deeply personal aspect, because part of me thinks I need help from a toad to stay here and what happens to me if they are all dead?

This is where the power of an archetype becomes important. My encounter with the toad transported me into another dimension. Toad is more than a toad. She is also an ancient archetypal pattern that is aligned with, and embodies the Earth Mother (in both life and death aspects) in Mexican, Mesoamerican, and South American mythology (as well as in Asian mythology). I think I tapped into that pattern when I encountered my giant toad. If so, this experience has transpersonal aspects to it and help may be on the way.

As heartrending as it is to learn that live toads are disappearing, the pattern remains and I can still choose to align myself with it. I need a Toad Woman to ground me in the dark generative powers of the Earth Mother – to help me shed an old skin, to help me breathe through mud and lack of clarity. I also need access to more effective protection from the powers of the sun…

This morning I had a dream that made it clear that returning to my old home and land (both of which are for sale) is not an option for me even for a brief time. This dream -body response clarifies what not to do, but does not solve the problem of how to survive New Mexican summers. Next year maybe my longing to go north to Minnesota to be with Lynn Rogers and my friends the bears for two months will become reality. And then I could come “home” to New Mexico to bury my body in the mud for a month or so like Toad does until it cools off for good. Perhaps this would be a “both and” solution for my amphibious self because Ely is on the edge of the Northern Wilderness where lakes and moisture abound. There I could listen to summer rain and visit with my friends the toads and frogs that are still in abundance- for now.

Today while watering my wildflower oasis I discovered the first baby sagebrush lizard I have ever seen here. For the second time in a couple of days I felt that thrill of being present for amphibian and reptilian Life. My two house lizards have a tiny two – inch long son or a daughter that is presently hanging out with them on my adobe walls. Just seconds later I noted that the toad’s hole (which was located just below the place where the lizards bask) was no longer empty but was now occupied by someone who had dug herself in and pulled the dirt in over her head!

Burial in Indian Country

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A small skull

was in the bag

we carried down the mountain –

the body severed

from its head –

“forgotten”

and left behind.

No, I cry wounded

beyond comprehension,

insisting we return

the parts to the whole

if only for burial.

We climbed the mountain

three times in all

my reluctant partner

choosing trance and lead.

I claimed the body,

wept for what could have been,

mourned the dead –

in Indian country…

 

Working notes:

 

Sometimes it is necessary to put skin and bones, by way of words, on a dream that is too disturbing to put aside.

 

The severing of our heads from our bodies is the root of the split that allows us to continue to survive in modern culture. We intellectualize, rationalize, use logic, embrace denial – anything to gain distance from the one whose loss we mourn – albeit unconsciously – the death of our sensing, feeling, body – the wild animal within us – the one who has access to the compassionate, loving self – the bridge to our own survival and that of the planet upon which we depend upon for life.

The Dreaming Body

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(Offering to Avanyu)

 

Recently, I had a dream that informed me that I needed to peck an image of Avanyu into a canyon wall. I took this to mean that I needed to visit a snake. Avanyu is an ancient Tewa Pueblo Serpent who is pecked into the walls of canyons or overlooks the rivers from high on the mesas. These petroglyphs usually have at least one horned serpent and are accompanied by smaller snakes without a headdress. Some of the images on the mesas show Avanyu spiraling skyward while some that I have seen in the canyons run parallel with the arroyos that are flooded with water during storms. Avanyu is the embodiment of Spirit of the River, the one who brings life – bringing water to the desert.

I “read” these petrogylphs as Avanyu having access to the spirit world, as well as being a manifestation of the body of earth and water, at least for the Tewa Pueblo people. For me every time a snake appears in my dreams something important is trying to be conveyed through my body. After the dream I decided that I needed to make a pilgrimage into an arroyo to visit Avanyu in hopes of having another dream to help me clarify what his presence might mean.

The air was still as I walked deep into the canyon. The sweet pungent scent of sage wafted my way in the early spring sun. Briefly, I noted the large distinctive prints of a puma and the hooves of mule deer. As I made my way through the stony arroyo the light was in my eyes making it difficult to see pictures on canyon walls.

At one point, I entered a little cleft in the canyon, and just below a pinion pine l discovered a pile of bluebird feathers. The sun made the feathers shimmer with an unearthly blue light. I gasped in wonder at this sight. Examining the feathers carefully as I collected them, I concluded that this was not a pinion but a Stellar blue jay because there were black feathers mixed in with the others. And the cobalt blue was almost unbearably intense.

It was starting to get warm and I decided that Avanyu had chosen not to make himself visible to me for whatever reason, although I felt gifted by those feathers, so I began to retrace my steps. And that’s when I saw him pecked into the canyon wall. The petroglyph had been flooded many times and I knew that I was in the presence of an image that was in the process of disappearing into deep time, though I firmly believed that because Nature has memory, the power of his presence would remain. I felt a rush of gratitude. Taking one of the best feathers I had gathered I placed it in a niche in the canyon wall offering Avanyu a gift.

Last night I had a strange dream about a television breaking down. The sound was blocked and I felt enormous frustration. Since I don’t own a television this mechanical device was blocking communication by using silence as a kind of weapon, an emotionally abusive blocking tactic I was familiar with because it’s part of my family history. I think Avanyu was warning me that I needed to let go of trying to understand someone else’s craziness – something that never belonged to me in the first place. Thank you Avanyu.

 

Working notes:

Not surprisingly, up until the advent of Christianity serpents were always associated with the Life Force and with the body.

In Greece women priestesses dedicated themselves to Artemis and watched over temples where people came to bathe in warm springs to have healing dreams.

In Neolithic Old Europe serpents were always associated with the Great Goddess who also had a bird aspect. Rarely was this Goddess associated with “mother.” In ancient times The Great Goddess of Nature had both a bodily (serpent) and spiritual (bird) aspect because She was One Unto Herself.

I see Avanyu, as a manifestation of both the Spirit of the waters and as the Body of the Earth, both images of undivided Nature.