A New Dawn?

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Lily B my dove sings up November’s ominous orange sun peering out his window that overlooks over the mountain soon to be marred by machines that will create chaos in the skies. Dead bats and birds will be the invisible collateral damage. Whirling blades create noise that “hums” creating electrical impulses that are registered in human/animal bodies perhaps below the threshold of awareness but these waves of electricity are capable of disrupting bodily integrity and creating illness in ways that have not yet been studied.

 

I just read yesterday that my most beloved twenty – six year old collared dove is also avidly hunted as a game bird in New Mexico, (although New Mexico it must be noted, has much stricter hunting laws than Maine does). How can Lily B not know that others of his kind will be slaughtered while he lives on as a free flying house bird, protected and loved? Is there no escape from this “harvesting” of animals and birds for sport (fun) and trophies, and the addictive high that comes with each new kill?

 

When Europeans first came to this country they brought their guns introducing their profoundly “nature hating” way of life to the Native peoples and animals that already inhabited this continent. These men killed because they could. They bragged about shooting any animal that moved, collected pelts, heads, teeth, gall bladders, horns as evidence of their superior skill. When wounded grizzly bears responded to attacks by retaliating in self- defense, these poor animals were simply extirpated.

 

In the process of the violent takeover of this continent and its peoples the myth of “the killer bear” was birthed, soon becoming an American “truth.” It didn’t matter that Indigenous peoples had lived in peace with polar, grizzly and black bears for millennium, naming her/him Healer, Guardian, Guide and Protector. All bears were demonized and became the enemy, destined to fall to the hunter’s gun. As the settlers moved west and north black bears, grizzly, buffalo, antelope, deer, polar bears and birds disappeared, some species becoming extinct. Europeans shot everything that moved as the vicious and soul destroying “hunting tradition” became their new dawn.

 

I just finished reading a book about a man who lived with polar bears for a number of years and found them to be highly intelligent and shy animals that co- existed with him in peace. This biologist never carried a gun and the only near attack situation he found himself in was one that he deliberately provoked.

 

Charles Russell has lived around grizzly bears all his life (he’s in his late seventies now). He did an in depth study of grizzlies in Russia over a period of ten years to answer the question of whether or not it was possible to live with these animals in peace in a wilderness area where these animals had not yet learned to fear humans. The answer, of course, was yes. The only protection Charlie ever carried was pepper spray, and the only time he ever used it was to protect his rescued grizzly cubs from adult male grizzlies before they were old enough to be returned to the wilderness.

Dr. Lynn Rogers 55 plus years as a bear biologist and the most extensive researcher of black bears on the planet attests to the peaceful nature of black bears. His educational facility and many academic research papers can easily be accessed on his website www.bear.org.

 

If the myth of the killer bear is false, then how many other lies are being told about other animals?

 

Yesterday I heard one man say “we have to keep on hunting because if we don’t the animals will take over and threaten our way of life. We have to keep them under our control.” This is the standard response of most people I know. How this logic could possibly apply to deer, doves, elk, bison, prairie dogs or moose is beyond my comprehension. Bears are a different matter because men project their darkest fears onto these poor animals and then slaughter them without mercy.

 

Aside from projection, the question that is never addressed is why Americans continue to hunt in the first place, since most folks no longer “need” to put meat on the table. After all, we have grocery stores and programs (at least for now) that assist those in financial need.

 

What we refuse to acknowledge is that Americans hunt because they love the addictive high, and the sense of power they experience that comes with the kill. Is it any wonder that murdering innocent people is now so commonplace that we are immune to hearing it on the evening news? I would argue that there is a direct relationship between slaughtering animals and killing humans.

 

We also keep violence in the foreground in this country with our obsessive need to celebrate heroes of war through “holidays” like Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day when we venerate the fallen “heroes” of war, never acknowledging the deadly context in which these deaths occurred. We never hear about the thousands/millions of innocent people that died for absolutely no good reason. Going to war is an ideal that Americans hold dear. Think about it. We are the only country in the world that has no rituals to honor people in death that are not soldiers of war.

 

According to many American sources, men who have “served their country” develop bonds in war that they are unable to duplicate in daily life (if this doesn’t reveal addiction what does?). What this says about the state of human relationships in this country is terrifying to contemplate. In order to feel men (and now some brainwashed women) have to place themselves in a situation in which they wound and kill others or are wounded or killed themselves. Power over at any cost defines the structure of Patriarchy. This is where it is easy to see that the hunting tradition is an extension of a patriarchal perspective that Europeans brought with them when they invaded this country with their guns, and their need to slaughter innocent animals and Indigenous peoples who simply wanted to live out their lives in peace.

 

In these dark times where once again we are threatened by war on a global scale, most Americans are hell bent on keeping their destructive war rituals intact. When they get out there on Veterans Day this year to wave their flags and honor their heroes in death maybe they need to take a moment to pause and reflect upon who it is that they are really serving.

 

It certainly isn’t Life or Love.

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Precognition, Telepathy, Presentiment, and the End of the Year

 

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(painting by Susan Boulet)

 

Yesterday, I sat on the top of a granite glacial boulder on a carpet of green moss that overlooks a tired ribbon of sluggish water recalling years when this brook was a force of nature tumbling to the sea after abundant October rains. Summer temperatures kept biting insects active, and swarms of small gnats swarmed around my face like a plague. We will soon be moving into November and still the rains do not come.

 

I look around me at the withered leaves of many deciduous trees noticing papery skeletons devoured by insects falling into the stagnant pool below me, striking because the water is unmarked by a discernable current. The brook has dropped three feet below “normal.” The fish are gone.

 

Thirty years ago when I first lived on this land that was once lush with new growth and clear untroubled waters I dreamed repeatedly of a time when the brook would no longer flow, and the pools would stagnate. Many beloved trees would also be destroyed dreams warned me. I was so happy here in this woodland sanctuary, so full of gratitude and love for the cathedral of evergreens that climbed the mountain that I was totally baffled by these forbidding words and graphic images.

 

Another set of dreams ran parallel with the dreams of severe drought and tree destruction and these also haunted me. “Mean neighbors” would soon surround me and cause endless amounts of trouble. Since I had no neighbors and lush forested areas held me in their embrace this series of dreams made no sense to me what so ever.

 

Today, they do.

 

I couldn’t comprehend it then that the earth was trying to warn me about a future I would one day begin to live. The way She chose to communicate with me was through my dreaming body.

 

Sure enough, seven years later the first neighbor bought land behind me and logged most of his property, left piles of slash in his wake, and opened gaping holes to the sky letting road noise in. The one time I visited this man’s house I was horrified to see snarling bear heads complete with bear skins (some from very small bears) hanging from most of the walls. The second neighbor who bought land in front of me built a house and cut trees down on my property to build a bridge over my brook, as well as stripping his own land of trees. When I asked him to remove the bridge his response was that “he had done it for me.” A third neighbor built a house in front of me refusing to leash her free roaming dogs who bullied my animals for years beginning with the day she first arrived. When I attempted to address the bullying she told me her dog “just wanted to play.” (Last year after twelve years of this behavior I finally submitted a formal complaint to the state in order to get the bullying stopped. The town refused to help me). Finally a second hunter bought 100 acres next to the bear killer, and he cut huge swathes of trees including boundary trees on my land totally destroying what once was a wilderness area that I loved as much as my own property. The two miserable hunting/tree destroying neighbors who live behind me (and now others) treat me to random blasts of machine gun fire as part of daily reality. Fireworks split the nights in two.

 

How was it possible that I had forgotten about those dreams in less than the four years it took for me to be surrounded by these hostile neighbors?

 

That the dreams suggested precognition or prescience doesn’t change the fact that precognition isn’t supposed to happen because it apparently violates the principle of causality. What is so hard to understand about precognition is that time as westerners experience it is not experienced in a linear sequence. Instead, precognition indicates that the future (personal and collective) is somehow present now and can be accessed through visioning, paying close attention to natural occurrences, or through dreaming. Dreams, I might add, are the language of the body.

 

 

Even rogue scientists like Rupert Sheldrake are somewhat uncomfortable with the idea of precognition, although telepathy, presentiment etc. are subjects he discusses with ease. For example, Rupert Sheldrake believes that telepathy is a survival mechanism that allows animals to communicate with one another even when they are separated by great distances, and that humans have this ability too, but it is not as well developed. From my experiences with animals wild and tame I would have to agree that animals have the edge here.

 

One other point that Sheldrake makes is that precognition may be less about seeing into an objective future and more about dreaming a personal future that will be experienced by the dreamer. If I look at my hostile neighbor experiences in this light, I can easily see that if other people lived in this house, perhaps hunters and lovers of guns, noise, and wild dogs, they wouldn’t experience the grief and rage that I have endured as a naturalist who loves stillness, trees and bears. But this doesn’t change the fact that I dreamed my own future.

 

Indigenous and country folk of all cultures took dreams seriously. I think they were able to maintain more open minds as a result, and probably routinely had experiences similar to mine because they lived in harmony with nature. It is my experience that when a person is aligned with the earth (and nature) communication between the two occurs in improbable ways. The earth body and the human body are part of one whole and experiencing this form of communication is an opportunity to see how well connected we really are.

 

We know through folklore that there have always been men and women who communicated with the Great Beyond.

 

Women in particular were associated with prophecy and these women came to be called witches during the very Christian middle ages. Witch, by the way is a modern word meaning to bend or shape; these same women were healers, and women who were also greatly feared because they could apparently discern what the future would bring.

 

When ancient shamanistic practices began to emerge this power was subtly transferred from women to men. Some men made journeys to the spirit world, leaving their bodies behind. Some were (and may still be) great healers, but prophecy wasn’t as important a quality to these practitioners, although some did engage with the future especially with regard to hunting practices through visioning, the use of hallucinogenic substances, and dreaming.

 

Indigenous women continue to practice midwifery/hospice, healing with herbs, and prophesizing, some “reading” tea leaves, cards, sticks, melting metal, etc. to help them see into the future; others receive this knowledge through dreaming.

 

One difference that stands out to me concerning Indigenous men and women healers is that men often leave their bodies in trance to gain knowledge, while most women remain in their bodies retaining a close connection to the earth in order to heal with herbs, or read the future.

 

In the Amazon I witnessed (over a period of three years 2005 – 2008) authentic women shamans practicing in their own villages, while male shamans traveled from one village to another with ease and were generally accepted as being more powerful. Is this an example of the hierarchical structure of knowledge over intuition? At the risk of sounding the bell of sexism I also wonder if men and women who live in communion with the earth are gifted with information that comes to them (in altered states) in different ways that somewhat depend on gender?

 

Today, shamanism is primarily a New Age commercial construction and almost all modern day shamans are men. It is very important to recognize that shamanism may also represent the first transference of spiritual power from a matrifocal culture to a patriarchal one.

 

But to return to the thorny subject of precognition, the fact remains that in scientific academic circles precognition is relegated to the absurd. I think this is why having dreams or visions that indicate precognition causes many individuals to reject their own experiences seeking other explanations.

 

I know I certainly did.

 

However, as a woman who has kept track of her dreams and visionary experiences (altered states of consciousness experienced without drugs that occur spontaneously when I am in a very open, receptive state) for more than 40 years, I was forced to come to the conclusion that precognition in some form does indeed exist.

 

After researching so called paranormal abilities in depth I recognized that for me telepathy works through my body when I am awake often affecting my nervous system. I sometimes experience an uncomfortable buzz when telepathy is occurring with people. Presentiment is a sense or a powerful (often totally illogical) feeling that something is about to happen, that I experience during daylight hours. Both can manifest for me through an animal sighting (or cluster of sightings), weather, or other natural occurrences and are reinforced by my dreams.

 

Years ago I began to put either a “T” for telepathic or a “P” for precognition at the tops of dreams and animal sightings that seemed to carry a peculiar charge of energy and/or message/ information. I also noted feelings of presentiment.

 

When I review my journals once a year I continue to be struck by the accuracy of these T’s and P’s. Many of my experiences are telepathic. And because I already had a dove who had been reading my mind and vocally responding to my thoughts on a daily basis for many years and had repeatedly entered these vignettes in my journal I had developed an open mind years ago. Lily b, taught me that telepathy was real, so I am not surprised that experiences of it are so commonplace in my life. I have lived the same kind of instantaneous “knowing” with my dogs, my children/other members of my biological family/friends/foes/ and in Nature with wild animals, especially during my study with wild bears who apparently communicated with each other and with me through what I still call the “bear grapevine” though we were/are separated in space/time.

 

I’d to give the reader a personal example of what I believe might be objective precognition. In 1997 I dreamed that my mother developed cancer in her left breast, and that she was operated on and survived without a reoccurrence. Just before receiving this information I was in a yoga class and heard my mother’s voice singing a song she loved in French in a plaintive frightened voice. Simultaneously my body cringed with some kind of irrational death fear that I was unable to shake. A year later my mother did indeed develop breast cancer and was successfully operated on. The cancer did not return.

 

How else do I explain this experience if I refuse to acknowledge precognition? Telepathy may have been part of this soliquay (the song coming through the air) but the cancer itself hadn’t been diagnosed yet. Of course there was always the possibility that the seeds of the cancer were there in my mother’s body and I picked that up telepathically.

 

On another occasion I dreamed that my youngest son was going to have a terrible accident. He was in college at the time and working construction over the summer to pay tuition and you can imagine his reaction when I told him not to go to work the morning after I had this dream. He ignored my warning and almost cut his hand off. Again, it could be argued that telling him he was going to have an accident may have made him more likely to have one.

 

The night my son was in what could have been a fatal car accident, I woke up hearing him cry out to me at 3 AM in the morning. The next day I learned that the accident occurred at 3 AM.

 

I have literally, hundreds of personal stories, some more fantastic than others but together these accounts have taught me that at the very least I must always keep an open mind.

 

Although unable to stay in my body under stress – I have an anxiety disorder – unconsciously, through my dreaming body and consciously through a powerful sense or feeling I seem to have a direct link to other ways of knowing. Believe me, some days I am really haunted especially since there is no consensual reality to access for confirmation unless I consult cards or throw myself on the mercy of Nature.

 

I have written this essay to raise questions about how we perceive reality, and hopefully, to open people’s minds to new possibilities. As the reader can surely understand my experiences raise some questions that I cannot answer.

 

It is my intention to put my queries out there to allow the forces of nature to provide new insights if they are so inclined. All Hallows is almost upon us, signifying the end of the year for many Indigenous and pre- Christian cultures, a perfect time I think, to query what we mean by “reality,” because the veil is thin as we move into this dark time of the year. I think of this passage as a holy time, a time to honor the dead and to give thanks for life, as we set new intentions for the coming year.

The American Flag

The Ultimate Symbol of “Power Over” at any Cost?

Yesterday on a barely five minute drive to the Post Office I counted 21 flags flying in my face and this number doesn’t include the small flags stuck into people’s lawns. Flags in this area of Maine have become a small town obsession that I find more disturbing each day. What are these people flying “Old Glory” trying to prove? That they are the “real” Americans? And if so, what does that mean for the rest of us?

Soliloquies around disrespect for the flag are rampant.

In the news last night I saw three white men standing on a roof overlooking a nearby playing field with their hands on their hearts saluting the flag during the national anthem. Seriously?

This image of male solidarity – white supremacy? – revolted me, while it no doubt inspired others to become even more “patriotic”(seeking the high that this kind of power embodies).

I think patriotism, using the flag as its symbol, has become a pathological way to express attitudes that embrace unbridled power over, the unrestricted use of guns, sexual violence, and war, – all of which are related.

Patriotism appears to thrive and revolve primarily around “the fallen,” our heroes of war* who are presently being worshiped like deities while ordinary people are gunned down in streets, schools, churches and music festivals.  I see nothing heroic about either form of dying.

Not as obvious, the dynamic of “power over” always includes having power over women and the earth; revealing misogyny and hatred for both. Rape is on the rise. One out of two or three women (depending on the source) will be sexually assaulted during this coming year. What we are doing to our planet is inexcusable and will eventually lead to our own demise.

Most chilling of all is that this attitude of “power over” was and apparently continues to be held by most of the 53 percent of American women who voted for a man who is mentally unfit to be president, one who brags about his own sexual exploitation of women while his trophy wife stands behind him, a bully who threatens to push the button, a man full of hubris who guts the earth without a backward glance. Talk about collusion.

As a not quite white woman with Indigenous roots who is an eco –feminist, (that is, a person who believes that what is happening to women is also happening to the earth), I think that the flag has become a phallic symbol for the kind of patriotism that supports the inevitability of war, inequality, sexual assault against women and the earth all woven into one red white and blue fabric.

No doubt I will rattle some cages with these ideas.

However, the fact remains that inequality reigns. Women, many men, people of different races, sexual preferences, and non Christian religious beliefs are more at risk for all forms of abuse and death – and these people are Americans too.

Globally we are presently courting a third World War. Death is in the air.

Meanwhile the Earth is crumbling under a human assault the likes of which She has never experienced before.

Think about these realities the next time you salute the flag, take the pledge of allegiance, or sing the national anthem.

 

It might bring you pause.

 

* I mean no disrespect for Veterans as a group. I lost three family members in two different wars. Some of my revulsion for the flag developed out of the way we utilize it to acknowledge/celebrate the deaths of our young people and to indoctrinate others to take their place without ever having learned the basics, that when it comes to war no one wins.

Persephone’s Descent: Perception, Reality, Truth?

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Persephone, perception, truth and reality may be related. In the best known version of the Greek myth, Persephone, daughter of Demeter is raped, split away from her body (the earth) and whisked into the underworld against her will by Hades. Without a body does Persephone lose access to perception, her truth, reality?

 

One definition of perception is that it is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something like the elements of air, water, fire, earth, by using one’s senses. Perception is the way someone understands something – different people have different perceptions of the same thing. It is the process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Although sometimes based on unverified information perception is equated with reality or truth for most practical purposes, and it guides human behavior in general.

 

Perception is directly related to individual attitudes, belief systems, and knowledge where “reality” exists by itself according to most dictionary definitions. Reality then is equated with the Platonic idea that mind is separate from body and exists somewhere outside time. (The mind body split is so revered in our culture that women are seen primarily as sex objects by men, and consequently objectify themselves/their bodies. The result? Women’s endemic hatred of themselves/other women, and female bodies).

 

Reality is supposed to be truth – the actual existence of something. Perception may be controlled by internal/external factors but according to most sources reality cannot be controlled by anyone or anything.

 

The general definition of truth is that it is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. Acceptance is key here. Truth is almost always consensual by nature. An excellent example of this conundrum is the way many of us view the origin of the universe. According to the current mechanistic paradigm the universe exploded into being out of nothing. If one has the audacity to question this unlikely theory (if you can believe this story you can believe anything) we are told  that it’s just a matter of time before conventional science and technology will iron out the confusion. I note that Niels Bohr, Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle have been around for the last hundred years without making much of a dent in the current scientific belief system. Inculcated “scientific truths” carry an amazing amount of weight with westerners. The “Big Bang” theory (not very imaginatively named) is just that – a theory – it is not reality or truth – it is our current western belief or story. Other cultures tell different tales that are certainly more imaginative but westerners dismiss these as primitive myths.

 

But to return to the original issue, this problem of defining perception, truth, reality, is a very thorny subject for many including myself. As a not quite white (I have Indigenous roots) mythologist and eco-feminist I reject the dominant culture’s belief in absolute truths and laws ( in an evolving universe I think natural laws are more like habits built up over time as scientist Rupert Sheldrake suggests) and I lean into the stories of other peoples to teach me other ways of perceiving, understanding, and making sense of the world.

 

What I have learned from this scholarship is that truth is often equated with belief  by those who usually do not question their personal or cultural biases or the paradigm in which they live.. Unfortunately, as a former college instructor I am painfully aware of how we inculcate students into this “either or” way of perceiving the world.

 

There is a multi-valent quality associated with truth. For example, it is true that today, the fall equinox, is the day that ushers in the darker months of the year, not just because science tells me it is so, or that various mythologies support it, but also because I can experience this shift by paying attention to the declination of the sun, the drifting of fall leaves, the times of sunrise and sunset. For me, truth is associated with what I experience through my senses, my relationship to Nature, mythology, an academic background in the New Sciences, and through dreaming. Perception, truth, reality are then not separate entities but  related (both in and outside of space/time).

 

This is not to say that all my perceptions  constitute truth because many, if not all, have been colored by my experiences – and I might add – this is true for all people.

 

I have found it useful to acknowledge that all of us have a particular bias or lens through which we experience the world and that “truth” is often relative and based on consensual agreement. I think it is up to each individual to question what s/he perceives to be real and true, especially in a world culture that has lost touch with the planet (body) on which it depends upon for survival. We are moving into a “winter” the likes of which we have never experienced before.

 

Postscript:

 

What sparked this little essay was an experience that I had yesterday. I was scheduled to have an ultra sound and was told by my doctor that “it might involve a vaginal probe.” I was rushed through the appointment so fast last week that I did not have the chance to ask the doctor what this latter procedure, if it occurred, might involve.

 

The first part of the ultrasound went well, but when it came to the second procedure that had been ordered by my doctor, I learned from the radiologist, (why didn’t my doctor take responsibility for making this decision in front of me?) the kindly man asked me if I was sure I wanted this second procedure to be done. I was a bit confused, even alarmed when he asked me this question because even he seemed unsure. I consented because I believed the test wouldn’t have been ordered without good reason (stupid on my part and a good example of how logic can betray us). When he called in a woman as a witness, he noted that I seemed very nervous which by then I was.

 

Putting my feet in the stirrups as requested I lay down and began to breathe deeply, something I learned to do many years ago to alleviate anxiety and relax into my body.

 

The pain ripped through my vagina – the probe was huge, the size of an engorged penis – and I screamed as it ripped delicate vaginal tissue. The procedure ended abruptly, and of course, the test was unsuccessful.

 

Numb, I put on my clothes and left the office, driving home in a daze. After greeting my beloved dogs we all crawled into bed and I fell into a dead sleep for about two hours.

 

When I awakened I was nauseous and couldn’t urinate without waste stinging torn tissue. I was still bleeding internally. Too late I learned that older women ( I am almost 73) should be very careful about having invasive internal procedures done because our tissues have become so thin and can lead to serious infection as a result of this kind of assault.

 

The dream that I had had that very morning had warned me that I was going to experience excruciating pain from the test that would be done later in the day. In the dream I was powerless and had lost all autonomy. My body knew. As a dreamer who has been recording her dreams for 40 years I hoped that somehow this one was some kind of metaphor.

 

I awoke this morning profoundly depressed and angry. When I was finally able to put words on the invasive procedure, I realized that yesterday I had experienced another rape.

 

As a woman who has survived sexual assault first as a child within her own family, and later as an adult (because I didn’t know how to protect myself), I once again found myself in a situation beyond my control – this time at the hands of the medical profession.

 

Was I intentionally raped? No. However, my experience as a sexual abuse survivor carried over into this process that left my body re-experiencing rape. Had I been told what the second procedure “might” entail by my doctor I would have refused to go through with it.

 

This dreadful little homily is an example of how critical it is for us as women to make absolutely sure we know what is going to happen during various internal procedures, especially if sexual assault is part of our history.

 

Persephone’s descent marks the beginning of fall. It also tells a tale of a brutal split between a goddess’s mind and body and the consequent loss of perception, the ability to “know” or perceive a truth through her senses. Persephone remains captive to her underworld husband for a time, but in the spring she is released to the upper world (Earth) with help from her mother. During her incarceration Persephone matures, eventually making a choice to return to Hades, for part of each year. She becomes Queen of the Underworld, suggesting to me that she has learned to live in two worlds – one of darkness, one of light – and accepts the cycles of attrition and abundance,  as she adapts to both.

Although I have unwittingly re-enacted Persephone’s abduction into the underworld through living my life I take comfort in the belief that like Persephone, I can endure this latest betrayal and rape, eventually moving beyond both.

Blessed Be.

The Art of Concealment

“Bears reintroduce us to our animal shadow, its biological reality in the outdoors, its eternal grip on our cultural soul.” Peter Nabokov

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Did you know that polar bears that hunt seals on ice flows slither along on their stomachs until the seal looks up? Next the bears cover their coal black noses with white paws and then rush the seal from 15 to 20 feet away.

My query (and fascination) revolves around how polar bears know that they have black noses? Do they look at themselves through the mirror of still waters? Are they engaged in self – reflection?

What kind of cognitive thought processes are involved in making the decision to use what polar bears “know” about themselves to hunt their prey successfully? How do all bears know what they know? This epistemological enigma haunts me.

The apparent consciousness of the importance of self concealment is something that I have witnessed repeatedly when “walking with black bears” in the forest as an ethologist – that is, a person who studies black bears in their natural environment.

Often I am astonished by the disappearing act of a bear who simply does not want to interact with me. His/her ability to melt into the forest leaves me wondering if the bear I was following through dense foliage was actually there in the first place.

That such a large animal can move with such speed, stealth, and grace is a Black bear behavior that never ceases to amaze me. Even if one chooses to tolerate my presence, s/he may slap a tree, or huff once or twice to remind me to keep my distance. If a bear turns, flattens his ears and lowers his head, I know this bear has changed his mind and is about to false charge me. If I choose to stand my ground this animal might race in my direction and inevitably veer off at the last moment. Having been the recipient of a false charge that really frightened me during my early research years, I choose instead to speak quietly to the bear telling him that I am leaving. I have never had a bear follow me after one of these encounters.

(Should a bear choose to allow me to accompany him/her – usually it is a yearling that allows me to participate – I am treated to behaviors that I would ordinarily miss like the choice of mushroom or a small flowering woodland plant like oxalis that a particular bear prefers to eat. Certain berries apparently appeal to different individuals because I have witnessed one bear passing by what seemed like a coveted delicacy, a bright red jack in the pulpit berry cluster to chose a single dogberry. Stopping to rake away dead softwood logs seems to be a universal passion, no doubt because tasty protein rich grubs/ants etc. are present during all the summer months).

Cubs are taught by their mothers the moment they leave their dens in the spring to climb a tree at the first sign of danger. Mother “umphs” and in seconds the clickety clack of tiny claws can be heard, if not seen as the young ones scamper so high up a tree that it is impossible to see one even if the researcher knows one is there (occasionally a cub refuses to stay treed and is cuffed or spanked by mother). Baby bears are usually masters of self – concealment!

Females with cubs are also very much afraid of large male bears who will sometimes kill the cubs but they are not afraid of humans. This does not mean that they are not wary. They are (All bears have to be taught to fear humans). When meeting a person a female Black bear with cubs will stand up on two legs to see the stranger better. If she perceives no threat she will change directions and move off deeper into the forest with the cubs trailing behind her. If threatened, she immediately trees her cubs to conceal them and starts running in the opposite direction. Many cubs have been orphaned by hunters who shoot the mother.

Grizzly and Black bears have an equally amazing ability to walk in each other’s footsteps, so that over time it is possible to witness trails made with deep indentations in boggy places. In the woodland areas I traverse bear trails are narrow and are used year after year by various Black bears who also conveniently, remain totally anonymous to anyone but their Ursine relatives. Do bears think about this strategy while they are walking, and if so what conclusions do they draw?

During periods when a number of Black bears use the same general area a network of trails appear. Sometimes one path runs parallel with another with only a few trees in between. During mating season the use of this network of trails allows dominant and sub adult male bears to avoid each other without conflict, a fact that always leaves me with a sense of deep respect, because bears choose not to engage in open conflict whenever possible. Black Bears use saplings and brush as a form of concealment to avoid potential problems.

Another example of self – concealment that Black bears exhibit is one that always makes me laugh. Even when a bear is curious about me s/he will usually insist upon peering at me through a screen of twigs, or from behind the trunk of a tree. And make no mistake, Black bears are very curious about people who do not threaten them (I have read that the same is true of other bears but I am writing from personal experience and don’t want to generalize). Curiosity is a sign of intelligence.

There is a distinct pecking order that is part of bear biology with older males on top, females and cubs beneath, and yearlings at the very bottom. After leaving their mothers in June/July (if the mother hasn’t been shot the year before) male yearlings (second year cubs) are also searching for new territories. Young females spend their lives living in their mother’s home range, so the young males are at the greatest risk. Tragically, it is these young male bears that are most often shot and killed.

Black bears are diurnal animals – that is they are normally active early in the day, nap in the afternoon, feed again before dusk and sleep during the night. However, due to the pressure put upon them by hunters they have become “night bears.” By the end of a yearling’s first summer the bear has adapted to becoming nocturnal in order to survive, another example of using concealment as a strategy by choosing the safety of darkness.

More fascinating is what happens when it is time for a northern Black bear to enter a den for the last time before hibernation. If there is snow on the ground a bear will walk backwards in his own tracks to enter his winter abode. Why would s/he go to so much trouble unless the bear was aware of the need for self-concealment from his/her worst enemy, man?

The art of concealment is well developed in Black bears biologically because they evolved as prey animals. The animals survived because they could climb trees in a flash. In areas where there is no forest cover Black bears are absent because these native bears co –evolved on this continent with the carnivorous (now extinct) short faced bear and lived in heavily forested areas where they found safety in trees. Even 4 LB cubs can disappear up a tree in seconds. We now know, thanks to bear biologist Lynn Roger’s video cams, that cubs practice climbing in the den, just three weeks after birth. Today, Black bears are most commonly found in arboreal forests in northern areas that stretch into the Canadian Shield but small populations exist in southern in mountainous areas like those in northern New Mexico.

That bears also have an ability to reflect on their behavior before acting in a particular way seems quite obvious to me not just because of their ability to conceal themselves. Some of this concealment behavior is, of course, related to survival (biology) as already mentioned, but their thinking is not. Bears have navigational skills that defy explanation, they have complex, sophisticated, flexible, and poorly understood social organizations, they love to play, and can heal themselves of wounds with plants from the forest (How do they know which plants to use as a poultrice or to ingest?).

By developing the intelligence and forethought needed to act in ways that require bears to think ahead into the future as well as to solve immediate problems is enough to blur the distinction between bear and man on a permanent basis from my point of view.

In closing I dedicate this little essay on the “Art of Concealment” to one male yearling in particular and by extension to all wandering bears that face a perilous fall journey as they search out new territories, or stay in one they have already chosen while being hunted mercilessly by man.

May They Learn Fast.

May They Learn Well.

May they live through the winter in order to feel the warmth of the return of the sun as it appears over a spring horizon as they emerge from their dens …

 

 

The Furry Bumblebee

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All summer I have been keeping a keen eye out for bees of any kind, but especially the bumble bees because in the last few years after the honey bee collapse these fuzzy insects seem to have increased their numbers helping to pollinate flowers, vegetables, trees, and shrubs around my house.

Until lately, I have been very disappointed because relatively few bees have been around my very wild flower gardens. I have seen exactly two honey – bees all summer. Some mud and miner bees have been present but I have fretted about the bumble bee absence.

A week ago when my beautiful white hydrangea bush, now as big and bushy as a tree (not the popular variety known as PG) finally began blooming I glimpsed Bombus ternarius commonly known as the orange belted bumble bee visiting the clusters of pure white blossoms along with a number of other native bees. For the first time all summer there were enough bees pollinating the flowers to create that lovely bee hum that I used to take for granted. I was so delighted I recorded a video as much for the sound as for the sight. I find myself repeatedly returning to my pearl white bush (that positively glows in the light of the full moon) to hear a bee symphony.

Unfortunately, some North American Bumble bee species are experiencing significant population declines. Several species including four native to Maine were once very common and now are rarely observed. The usual culprits, habitat loss and fragmentation, pesticides, herbicides, and diseases and parasites introduced through widespread use of commercially raised Bumble bees are part of the problem, but so little research has been done overall that it is difficult to assess the status of the sixteen or seventeen species (statistics vary according to the source consulted) that are known to live in Maine according to the Maine Bumble Bee Association.

Bumble bees are social bees and belong to the same family (Apidae) as honey bees because the females store collected pollen in special pollen baskets on their hind legs. The queen is the largest bee (and she alone will winter over), workers, also females, do not lay eggs, and the males (drones) are most active during the late summer and fall. In Maine, Bumble bee colonies rarely exceed more than 40 individuals.

Bumble bees visit flowers even in cold rainy weather and are superior pollinators. Some species live below ground, others above ground, and a few appear to have no preference. Nests appear in abandoned rodent habitats, in undisturbed meadows and pastures, abandoned bird nests, cavities in rock walls, foundations, and other sheltered areas.

Bumble bees are robust in appearance but their color patterns are often highly variable within species. Curiously they are often similar among groups that inhabit the same geographic region. I wonder if the buttery yellow Bumble bees that love my scarlet runner beans and nasturtiums are the same species as the orange belted bumblebees that loves my bush. They are exactly the same size, small by Bumblebee standards, but otherwise appear identical.

Bumble bees can be found all over the world in Asia, Europe, North America, Central and South America. They are typically found in higher latitudes though exceptions exist. I know from experience that lowland tropical species of this bee exist (Peru). A few species even range into very cold climates like the arctic where other bees might not be found. One reason for this is that Bumble bees can regulate their body temperature, via solar radiation, the internal mechanism of “shivering,” and by radiative cooling from the bee’s abdomen. Other bees have similar physiology but this phenomenon has been well studied in Bumble bees.

Bumble bees extract nectar from a flower using their long tongue and store it in their crop. Some species also exhibit what is known as “nectar robbing.” Instead of inserting their tongue these bees bite directly through the base of the corolla to extract nectar. These bees obtain pollen from other species of flowers that they visit.

Pollen is removed from flowers either deliberately or accidently. Incidental removal occurs when Bumble bees come in contact with the anthers of a flower while collecting nectar. The body hair of the bumblebee receives a dusting of pollen, which is deposited in the pollen baskets.

Once collected, Bumble bees return to the nest and deposit the harvested nectar and pollen into brood cells (made of wax) for storage. Because Bumble bees only store a few days’ worth of food they are much more vulnerable to food shortages. However, because they are much more opportunistic feeders than honeybees these shortages may have less profound effects. Nectar is stored in the form it was collected rather than being processed into honey.

Bumblebees form colonies but they are small with the female being responsible for the construction of the nest, and that nest only lasts for one season (except for some tropical species). The last generation of summer bees includes a number of queens who overwinter separately in protected spots. The queens live at least one year; the workers die at the end of the season.

Bumble bees have a unique genetic system whereby mated females control the sex of their eggs, with daughters developing from fertilized eggs and sons from unfertilized eggs. Unmated females produce only sons.

In temperate zones during the autumn young queens mate with drones and sleep during the winter in a sheltered place.. Early in the spring the queen emerges to find a suitable place to create her new colony. Then she builds wax cells in which to lay her fertilized eggs. The eggs that hatch develop into female workers and in time the queen populates the colony, with workers feeding the young.

Bumble bees are being raised for agricultural use because they can plant species that other pollinators cannot by using a technique called buzz pollination. For example, bumble bee colonies are used in greenhouse tomato production because the frequency of buzzing effectively releases tomato pollen. This is a perfect example of species interdependence – something we know almost NOTHING about.

In these times of uncertainty and climate change it is even more important to take whatever conservation methods we can utilize to maintain our Bumble bee populations. What follows are some tips to help conserve these bees (and others).

  • Minimize lawn areas – mow less often – mowing kills bees – mow in the evening or on windy days when it’s cool and overcast.
  • Keep gardens and grow fruit bearing trees and shrubs – provide a succession of flowering periods beginning in the spring and lasting into the late fall
  • Plant wildflowers in the spring for those early pollinators
  • Avoid marigolds and other hybridized plants that have no pollen (they are sold for blooms only)
  • Tolerate dandelions and other “weeds” like mullen, wild primrose, queen anne’s lace, st john’s wort, wild violets, milkweed and goldenrod.
  • In the fall let your ground fruit rot
  • Provide an area of undisturbed ground/dirt somewhere on your property
  • Create brush piles
  • GIVE UP ALL PESTICIDES AND HERBICIDES.

 

Give our pollinating friends a chance to help our plants grow. Remember that without bee pollination we would have no food to eat.

Mason Bees

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Have you ever seen a Mason bee? Last spring I was drawn to my both of my neighbors beautiful fruit trees; apple and crabapple blossoms are a feast for flower loving eyes, and each time I approached one of these blooming trees I could hear the sound of Honeybees. Delighted, each morning I would stand under those boughs just listening to the humming of what seemed like a thousand bees joyously soaking up this natural symphony… When I saw the blue – black Mason bee burrowing its head into a fuchsia blossom I was transported back to Maine…

Why? Because in Maine the Honeybee collapse, (due to invasive mites) has decimated the population. To give you a poignant example, just yesterday I was outdoors inspecting my luminous pearl white almost tree –like hydrangea that always comes into bloom in early September. Each year I used to anxiously await the arrival of honeybees to watch them search out the sweet nectar of this lovely plant. These days an ominous silence splits the sky in two. Then amazingly I saw a single iridescent blue- black bee land on a flower, and in that moment was transported back to Abiquiu…

New Mexico has many native bees that pollinate 75 percent of the native wildflowers and fruit trees, like plum, prune, almonds, apples, and cherries. These native bees including the Mason bee are actually more efficient pollinators than Honey bees but don’t make honey.

Mason bees (Osmia lignaria) are found throughout the fruit growing areas of the upper Rio Grande (as well as in Maine). There are about a dozen other species in the genus Osmia that are found in New Mexico. Most nest in tunnels in wood, straw or in homemade houses that people provide for them. The bees typically provision each brood cell in their small nests with a ball of nectar and pollen to feed the larvae. For anyone interested, it is also possible to buy wooden nests commercially.

Mason bees (like other wild bees) have many advantages over Honey – bees. They are very docile and do not sting. Most are solitary or form very small colonies (like Bumble bees do). Mason bees are also active during inclement weather. They are such efficient pollinators that fewer bees are needed. They are also resistant to mites.

If you live in Abiquiu New Mexico you can help support Mason and other native bees by purchasing locally grown fruit at farmers markets like the one in Espanola that Sabra Moore runs.

You can also grow bee friendly plants and trees in your yards. It is important to provide water that is changed every day for the bees. It is also eco- friendly to leave your bees a pile of unused open sand/dirt somewhere in your yard, because Miner bees, for example, live in holes in the ground and they use mud to seal their nests. Because Osmia nest in holes in dead wood an old woodpile that is left all year round for these blue orchard bees to nest in is also most desirable.

IMG_3381.JPGPhoto of my bee loving bush

I once took bees for granted, enjoying their presence but not focusing on individuals beyond the friendly bumble bees that I loved as a child. But these days I am anxious to learn about all kinds of native bees, because Nature is doing her best to compensate for lost bees (especially the European honey bees that provide us with honey), and we want to do anything we can to help them! It is important to remember that without bees pollinating our plants and flowers we would not have fresh vegetables and fruit to eat.