Catapulted From One World to Another

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Returning from Abiquiu, New Mexico to Maine split me in two. Part of me is there and part of me is here.

A four – day driving marathon is only important in retrospect because we survived it.

Arriving safely at dusk in light rain gray tree frogs trilled in the leaf laden tree trunks – a sound that I have longed for in my dreams… The drought in Maine that continues in spite of the monsoon leaves my brook two feet below normal – and yet the water flows still, so I am grateful.

The next morning a Luna moth (they only live two weeks in this form and have no mouths to eat) graced the porch window.

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Starving deer girded many fruit trees, ate most of my medicinal elderberry bush, and are presently feasting on fresh grape leaves thick with tiny grapes, but in this world the first summer emerald green inspires the poet in me just as the sound of the brook soothes me into sleep like Red Willow River recently did, the memory of which remains as fresh as the first day I ever heard its symphony.

Phoebes nested above the door and the young fledged about three days after our arrival. I was thrilled.

Last night we went to an art show and on the way home I successfully saved one fat green frog and a nubbly brown toad from extinction – other’s we just couldn’t stop for because other cars bore down on us.

EVERY SAVED LIFE MATTERS.

 

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(Above: Datura from New Mexico that I grew this spring from seed bloomed first morning after our return perhaps in gratitude for light  -it spent 4 days in the back of a trunk).

White pines have new lime green shoots at least a foot long paths are overgrown and in need of a trim. My tree slaughtering neighbor damage has been mitigated by new tree growth… Nature is such a powerful model for survival. “Just keep growing,” S/he intones with every action.

Lemon lilies are late and their fragrance is overpowering in the overgrown field. Around the house, old – fashioned peonies, honeysuckle, my favorite lavender blue clematis, dame’s rocket (early phlox), and deer chewed bee balm (very strong mint) will eventually bloom anyway. My gardens have gone wild and I am simply enjoying what I see. Yesterday, one bumblebee visited and the hummingbirds are here but are fewer in number.

The thick umbrella shade of the deciduous trees that hold us in the arms of this hollow dims the fierce summer sun (or will when it returns) and the stunning feathery ferns are a feast for wild eyes.

A moment of joy flooded me when we saw the little 70-pound yearling, this one a male black bear – one who is a descendant of the kinship group I studied for 15 years. He doesn’t have much of a chance for survival since bear slaughter, “practice hunting” with dogs, begins this week (July) and the 4-month killing season erupts in earnest this August. Folks brag that they have a hundred percent chance of killing a bear in Maine, and they are correct. Yearlings like this male bear are at the greatest risk because they need to travel to find a new uninhabited territory. European settlers have taken over native land with a vengeance – slaughtering Native peoples and any animals/trees/plants that got in their way. Now the bears (like the people who are stuffed onto reservations) have no place to go. This story does not have a happy ending.

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(Above – phoebes ready for first flight)

For this precious moment there is peace here in this sanctuary – although the exploding bombs of the Fourth of July “celebrations” are still ahead.

Wildflower Fever: March

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This time of year I am on the look out for the first spring flowers and on March 1st I discovered the first desert dandelion (Taraxacon officinale) feeling absurdly happy that such flowers exist here in the high desert too! All parts of the dandelion can be utilized for food or medicine. The whole plant can be dug when budded and eaten in salads or boiled like spinach after the roots have been cut off. Save those roots and make a tincture for stomach problems!

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At the monastery in the cracks of a stone path I discovered a thicket of small magenta star-like flowers nestled in fern-like leaves. This plant is an Erodium from the geranium family. It is commonly called heron or storkbill because of its distinctive seed pods.

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Field milkvetch (Astralagus) appeared next, a single fetching purple blossom perched above the compact blue gray clump. Vetches are from the pea family and astralagus is used as a popular herbal medicine.

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Last week I was thrilled to find the bird cage primrose (Oenothera detoids) with its stunning flowers – snow white fading to pale pink – the flowers look as if they have no stems. Even the teardrop shaped buds lay almost horizonally in the center of a reddish rosette. These lovely wildflowers seem oblivious to low temperatures and hard frost, probably because they lie so close to the ground.

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The brilliant orange desert globe mallow (Sphaeralcea) caught my attention one day last week. It was hiding behind a large white stone, which no doubt, brought the plant into bloom before any of its relatives). I plan to dig up this one and plant it out back because with little care it can spread into a carpet of flaming orange.

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Yesterday, April 1, at the steep edge of a wash I discovered an unknown flower growing out of dead looking gray clumps. It had new sage colored leaves emerging with clusters of tiny white flowers opening to buttercup centers. Although I searched diligently I was unable to identify the plant, and so its name remains a mystery.

I think wildflowers are the most astonishing flora in the world because they grow in the most unlikely places and require no care! When I was a child I used to pick bouquets of these (mostly) diminutive flowers with utter abandon. Now at 72, after having been a dedicated gardener all my life, I turn back to the wildflowers that once enchanted me because they appear without any effort or attention on my part, producing blooms that leave me with a joyful heart.

This year I saved the prickly pods of the wild Datura (Solanaceae) and during this last month I began to germinate the seeds… These seeds can be very stubborn about growing their first roots if one doesn’t have much patience, but I persevered! Last week I planted a few seeds indoors in a pot and I am wondering when the tiny roots will push down into the soil and begin sending up a shoot or two. One has broken the surface but the rest are still growing in the dark. I feel such a thrill seeing that first white root appear which sometimes curls back on itself or does the exact opposite – stretching itself out with abandon. In my imagination I see glorious clumps of trumpet like pure white or lavender tinted blossoms that take my breath away with their scent after a summer rain.

I also have been watching brittlebush, saltbrush, big sage, and countless other desert shrubs and trees leaf out creating a mist of gray green sage that hovers over the desert. Many of the fruit trees are in bloom and some are deliciously scented. Honey bees are pollinating the fruit trees. Our high desert has been blessed by rain, and every day, new shoots pop out of powdery red dirt. Although we had something akin to a hard freeze the night of March 30, at least here, down by the river, every plant seems intact.

I am confident that the month of April will bring me in contact with new wildflowers. The arroyos are running and there is still snow on the mountains so I am thinking that it’s time to begin walking in the washes to see who might be blooming there.

Abiquiu 2

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I’m beginning this writing after just seeing the first roadrunner hop up on the bird-bath to perch in the tangle of cholla branches that were sticking up all around him. I had to laugh as I watched him fly down as soon as he had a sip of water. He zipped along the ground to the road, and raced down it for a bit before veering off and disappearing into startling clumps of snakeweed bushes.

These plants cover the ground in my front yard and are festooned with millions of diminutive buttery yellow flowers, which have been in bloom all month. I love them. After it rains the branches of the bushes turn lime green as a diaphanous veil settles over the desert. Only the return of the sun can dim the vision. Snakeweed, is used by some Indigenous peoples to treat snakebite, bee stings, headaches, colds and fever.

I love the way my house opens onto the desert floor beyond a few rows of soft pink and sand colored flagstones. There is no separation between the house which sits against the hillside leaning into it from behind and the high desert with it’s reptilian ridged mountains to the southeast that are often partially hidden by clouds, especially in the early morning. A series of little red hills stretch up behind me to the west. I have become part of a whole new ecosystem here and the desert has made me feel at home.

This morning I almost stepped on a red coachwhip snake – the first of his kind that I have seen since I arrived here a month ago today. My guess is that he’s been here all along but has never made his presence known. I glimpsed the long sinewy rust colored body for a few seconds before he slid under the mounds of fragrant Datura or Jimsonweed, whose pointed leaves drape gracefully on the ground. I feel as if I am slowly being accepted by the creatures who live here because more and more of them are allowing themselves to be seen.

Lightening, my sagebrush lizard, greets me each morning as I go out to water the little rocky mountain juniper in front of the house. A few days ago I noted that part of her tail was missing. She had a close call with some hungry predator and I am glad she survived because I would miss her daily visits (sadly, within the next month, she will be going into hibernation). I always converse with her and she watches me with what appears to be some sort of fascination, perhaps because, as far as I know, most folks don’t talk to lizards.

The rocky mountain juniper in front of the house is thriving and has added about two inches of prickly sage colored scales (leaves belonging to an evergreen) to her height and girth from being watered and cared for by Nature and by me. Junipers can live for a few thousand years in the desert because they are not disturbed by logging. As they age some trunks become gnarled and gray often twisting themselves into impossible shapes. Others become dense and bush –like, but all are trees.

Birds love junipers, nesting in their interiors, eating their berry –like seeds, and seeking protection from predators inside their tangled boughs. As a northerner who has lived with the slaughtering of progressively younger and younger trees for 50 years – in Maine a 20 year old tree is now considered to be an adult – I am delighted that this little tree has the potential to live out her natural life –span. I like the idea of being in her life at the very beginning like some kind of tree grandmother. Perhaps the juniper will remember being loved by a human when she was young. A few birds are starting to perch in her uppermost branches, yet this little tree is barely two feet high! As a species, Junipers have my deepest admiration and respect because they can withstand the harshest conditions and still survive. I am dismayed that so few people seem to think they are special. I remember my mother bringing me a small juniper when I was about 40 without explanation. My mother and I didn’t have the kind of relationship that allowed for questioning her intentions, but I had a peculiar sense that she was passing on something important to me…

There is a sculptured circular stone bird – bath in front of the juniper that I began to work on when I arrived to make it more bird friendly. First I inserted a copper bowl in the depression. Next I added cholla branches and driftwood that I collected on my walks to make perches for thirsty birds. Finally I threw seed around the base of this structure and was amazed at the sheer numbers of birds, rabbits, and hares that arrived to eat and drink. The scaled quail run across the desert floor peeping and chipping in their haste to arrive at what has become a miniature desert oasis. The newest arrivals are the roadrunner, and recently, the white breasted nuthatch and Swainsons thrush. In between, I have seen many finches (House and Cassin), pine siskins, a beautiful black throated sparrow, a black phoebe, a sharp shinned hawk, a red tailed hawk, a gorgeous golden headed bird as yet unnamed and three collared doves. The canyon towhee family comes by every morning. They complain about eating with such a crowd so I give them food in the earth house on a little stone table, a structure so named because it is attached to the house on the east side but is situated half underground (It is remarkably cool out there). I was delighted to see the Eurasian collared doves arrive because Lily B. my twenty three year old collared dove has his cage outside where he can watch all the activity. Early in the morning he sings to the other birds as they appear and some perch on the top of his cage. Lily B is a boy but when I got him I didn’t know that. By the time I did it was simply too late to change his name. I added the “B” to remind me of his gender.

A few days after we arrived Lily B had a Cooper’s hawk land on the plywood covered cage one morning. The hawk attempted to bow his head to peer in at Lily who was perched just below the plywood cover without success… at dusk a few nights later another predator arrived in the form of the great horned owl. S/he sat on top of the plywood and turned her head around almost 360 degrees surveying just what, I am not sure, before flying silently to the ground. (I have never witnessed this 360 degree turning behavior in an owl before although I have read about it). I thought my bird would be unnerved by all this unwanted attention from these aerial predators; yet he continued to coo quite contentedly each day so I was not unduly concerned.

At dawn one day last week I approached his cage in shock because feathers were strewn everywhere on the ground and in his cage. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Something had brutally attacked Lily B during the night clawing his neck open. A great gaping wound about three inches long was caked with dried blood and matted feathers making it impossible for me to examine him properly when I removed him from the cage. My poor bird was numb, seemingly in shock. Immediately, I brought him indoors, and soon after, with the help of a neighbor, I had the cage situated in a window. The bars of his cage are so narrow – less than a ¼ of an inch – that it is impossible to offer a plausible explanation for this attack unless something crawled in from below. Most mornings Lily B coos and sings his heart out. His terrible claw-like wound and equally terrible silence turned this morning into a nightmare. Not only was Lily in tremendous pain, but there was nothing I could do to remedy the situation because it was Labor day. No veterinarians were open anywhere.

The pain he was experiencing was palpable. He couldn’t turn his head. I stood vigil for hours, numb with horror, feeling the life force draining out of him, yet he survived the night. Early the next morning my unbelievably kind neighbor finally found a vet in Santa Fe who would treat birds. After a brief exam later that afternoon the vet said she would have to give him pain medication, antibiotics, sedate him and try to stitch up the wound the following morning. If he made it, we could pick him up the next day. I was in a daze. I did not believe he would survive more trauma but he did. When Lily B was brought out to me the next afternoon I winced; his entire neck was stitched up and he still couldn’t move his head. I was given antibiotics, liquid food, pain medication and we drove home. That night I stayed up with him. The next morning he was still in so much pain that he refused all food, but then ever so slowly something shifted and Lily began to improve. It has been a week since this tragedy struck and lily B is finally gobbling down his Havarti cheese with gusto, eating his chopped egg, and pecking away at his seed. Although he will have to stay in a cage for the next two weeks and he will carry a deep scar for the remainder of his life, he is taking great interest in the birds outside his window. He is still unable to groom himself and his feathers are in tatters all over his body. He is so fussy about preening – normally keeping his feathers immaculately clean that it must be very hard for him not to be able to groom himself. I note that he’s also becoming restless which I hope is a good sign. Normally he flies free in the house and he dislikes being caged except outdoors. My 23 year old bird has exhibited an extraordinary will to live. Most collared doves have a life span of 10 to 12 years. I am guardedly hopeful that he will once again be able to fly, bathe, and groom himself. I will be forever indebted to my generous hearted neighbor for her help.

This terrifying experience with Lily has left me walking on air. This desert moves me so and the people are kind, but from the day I arrived I have had problems with this house. The interior was filthy. A dirty oven and a fireplace filled with creosote, screens with holes in them, a broken video, loss of hot water, diminishing water pressure, a gas leak which has left me without a stove to cook on, windows and doors that were broken and won’t lock, barking dogs that awaken me almost every night are some of the issues I continue to face. I came to Abiquiu to write and have been unable to begin my project with all the confusion swirling around me. Consequently, I am slipping into a depressed state. It is only when I am engaged with the desert that I feel peace, and the sense of “home.”

I am doing my best to stay afloat in all this chaos and unsure of what the future holds. I am puzzled by the extremes I am encountering. I have to face the fact that I may have made a mistake coming here.

The most effective remedy for my sleep deprivation and exhaustion has been to get out and walk in the desert….

On our morning walks miniature striped Chihuahuan whiptail lizards with bright green tails flash by disappearing in seconds in the nearest vegetation. Desert cottontails and black tailed jackrabbits astonish me with their sudden appearances, especially when they freeze so that I can pick out individual differences. One morning I watched two cottontails chase each other around the wash that stretched out in front of us. Two baby cottontails visit the bird place every night.

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Wildflowers are amazingly abundant especially in the washes. The birdcage primroses are pure white, tinted with delicate pink petals, wild flax wash the landscape in pale sky blue. Sunflowers spring up almost anywhere. The magenta and pearl white blossoms of cleomes are buzzing with bees. Purple and yellow aster bouquets spring out of dry sand. Tiny pincushion clusters of deep purple blossoms surprise me each time I stumble on one. My favorite wildflower is a tiny periwinkle blue flower with five petals and a bright yellow center that I also can’t identify. I never before associated an abundance of wildflowers with the desert in late summer or fall until I came to Abiquiu.

Last week I accidently injured a six – inch juniper that I dug up. It was growing under a nurse tree leaning towards the sun it couldn’t reach. My intention was to give this small juniper a more tree friendly home – young junipers are shade intolerant – but I broke off its taproot while digging it up. I left it sitting in a glass of water and potted it up yesterday. I hope that it lives.

Feeling distressed and responsible for what I had done to this young tree I went for a walk in one of the washes. Suddenly I began to see the differences between each juniper. Previously I had been researching junipers trying to identify them by name and had become very frustrated because I hadn’t been able to discern the different kinds. When I started to perceive the junipers as individuals it was as if as curtain had lifted before my eyes. I understood then that the desert was trying to teach me to be patient and allow the trees to speak for themselves in their own way, in their own time.

How many times did I have to re- learn this lesson I wondered. Nature dislikes naming because classifying does not facilitate relationship between person and tree. In fact it separates and distances us, allowing us to objectify whatever we see. What I needed to do was to slow down and let Nature take the lead.

Yesterday in one of the washes I discovered that the pinon pine was dropping her cones and the desert floor was covered with seeds. I knew that these trees produce nuts on an irregular basis every few years, so I felt blessed to be witnessing this particular dispersal. I picked up some seeds and brought a whole clump of sweet scented cones home and placed them in a basket to remind me that the season is turning…

All the grasses are seeding up, some looking like wispy tufts, and some wildflowers have already gone to seed. The Datura trumpets are producing dusky spiny pods that pop when they open. I am gathering seeds of all kinds to cast on the bare ground around this house in the hopes of repairing the earth damage, and to give to my neighbor for her new home knowing that I am participating in an ancient ritual, because as most archeologists will attest to, Indigenous women have been gathering seeds for millennium. Women invented agriculture with their seed gathering; their handprints are imprinted on the ancient clay vessels they created to carry water and to store seeds and they wove clothing from wild plants and animal skins and fur – All this occurred thousands of years ago and stretches back to the Paleolithic era.

At the Indian market fresh produce is at its peak with luscious tomatoes, pears and peaches, green chilies and buffalo meat all sold at reasonable prices from the Indigenous peoples that grow their produce without pesticides.

Soon the 2nd Harvest moon will be upon us. Waxing full on September 16 the moon precedes the Fall Equinox only by a few days. For a moment the earth will pause, and day and night will be equal in length and then the days will grow shorter. Surely this is a time to be thankful for the abundance the earth has provided.

There is a traditional Navajo expression in this area that states:

“There is nothing the human hand has made. The lake is our church. The mountain is our tabernacle. The evergreen trees are our living saints. We pray to the water, the sun, the clouds, the sky, the deer. Without them we could not exist. They give us food, drink, physical power and knowledge.”

IMG_2631.JPGThis kind of heart centered embodied thinking allows me to become part of all there is. Growing up I knew nothing of my Native heritage and yet, it was to Nature that I turned for solace. It was engaging with Nature that brought me joy. When I discovered my Native roots I wondered if it was this part of my psyche and body that had been leading me “home” all along. Perhaps home for me is anywhere where wilderness still thrives?

Abiquiu 1

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We have been living here  in Guadalupe’s little round stone house for about two weeks making the acquaintance of many rabbits and hares, three kinds of hummingbirds (ruby, black chinned, rufous) and the canyon towhee, a rose colored house finch, flycatchers, and a multitude of gorgeous desert lizards – the stunning blue green collared lizard, a yellow and red striped fellow that I think is the chihuahuan whiptail, and my favorite, the sagebrush lizard who seems to like hanging around the house. These friendly little lizards like the stone ledges to  bask in the sun. The desert cottontails come in for seed in the early morning and evenings. Black tailed jackrabbits (hares) meet and greet one another, leap around the scrub, fragrant sage and rabbit brush at the edges of each day. They too feast on sunflower seeds. Yesterday a juniper titmouse called out to me from its tree in the wash. Juniper and pinion pines seem to dominate the landscape but there is one juniper or cedar (cypress family) that reminds me of the northern white cedars of Maine that I can’t identify. Wildflowers are abundant and the wild mounds of Datura with their violet tipped trumpets are sweetly fragrant in the early mornings and are humming with bees. I have huge clumps Datura everywhere outside my door and will sow seeds around Guadalupe’s house as soon as the thorny pods are dry and brown to usher in the coming of autumn. I also have diminutive clumps of sky blue blossoms with a yellow beak, bushy mounds of delicate yellow star-like flowers and masses of Russian sage.  I also discovered a barrel cactus under its nurse tree, a helpful Juniper. I dug this up and planted it in a pot. The washes are full of little mounds of magenta flowers. Tiny plump bushes of asters dot the landscape. Yesterday while watering my small juniper I saw an emerald green praying mantis amidst the thorny leaves and the broad winged katydids bring in the night with sounds so soothing they put one to sleep. Ravens squawk from the highest buttes. I have seen night – hawks soaring, scissor -like at dusk and heard the hooting of the great horned owl on the full moon. Huge puffed up cumulus clouds rise up in the afternoons; every day the desert folk, animals, plants and people pray that rain, carried by shark gray clouds and flashes of lightning will come to sooth the parched cracked earth. Abiquiu, like much of the rest of the country is suffering from drought. The mountain ranges and little red hills are astonishing in their beauty – peppered in subtle sagebrush grays and greens –  sunsets catch the sky on fire.

 

We have a community dog named Snoopy that belongs to this cluster of houses. Mine is set off from the others and has it’s own long winding road. This is probably a good thing because Snoopy has not been welcomed by one of my Chihuahuas, who, because of her behavior has been named the “Barracuda” by one of my closest neighbors! Wild dogs are a nuisance and bark at night while coyotes sing up the stars.

 

I have met two wonderful people who have helped me in so many ways already that I feel that I will be indebted to them forever! It is such a gift to have so much in common with these kind generous hearted folks. And for me, having people I depend upon for help finding my way by car has become necessity because of my severe directional dyslexia. I was told by someone who knows me and lives in Abiquiu that I would have no trouble negotiating the driving to get groceries and other necessities. That assessment was incorrect. I am so used to fending for myself that it is hard to depend so much on others for such basic help, but I have no choice. Thus, I feel doubly blessed by these neighbors and their offers of  assistance…

 

What follows is a list of the birds that I have seen and I think I know by name:

mountain blue bird

pinon jay

mourning dove

raven

crow

turkey vulture

scrub jay

great horned owl

black chinned hummingbird

ruby throated hummingbird

black chinned hummingbird

flycatcher

nighthawk

canyon towhee

house finch

coopers hawk  (landed on Lily B’s outdoor cage terrorizing him)

juniper titmouse

 

August 19th

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Cassandra’s Vulnerability

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While gazing out the porch window this morning I spied a roundish brown creature hopping around my flower garden. Grabbing my binoculars I was delighted to discover that this was the little hare that I had glimpsed disappearing under the cedar fence a couple of days earlier. As I watched this little rabbit she stopped, munched and then moved on repeating this pattern as she circled the garden. Her very bright dark eyes stood out from the uniformly oak brown fur. Curved stand up ears acted like radar alerting her to the slightest sound. She had a distinct oval white spot on her forehead, making her easy to identify. Getting a picture of her (I named her Heather although I have no idea why) was something of a challenge because she moved so quickly, and preferred the high grass and brush. Red clover was obviously a favorite but she had lots of tasty greens to choose from. Each year I plant three kinds of clover and dandelion for the bees and in hopes of drawing down a rabbit or two. I watched her disappear under the fence again surmising she might well have a nest in the tangle of prickly juniper. I was tempted to investigate but refrained because these animals will often abandon their young when disturbed.

An hour or so later I met Heather again up at the garage where she was sipping water from the snake dish. She let me come within about 6 feet of her as I spoke to her. I wondered about that white oval on her head. I couldn’t escape the thought that Heather had been marked; she belonged to the moon. When I continued to move towards her she slipped through the fence and vanished.

After the encounter with the rabbit I meandered around my “now gone wild” flower gardens which were festooned with bees, butterflies, and baby hummingbirds. What a busy world it is around here on a sweet summer morning!

Suddenly a sickening thud. Racing back towards the porch I searched for the poor bird that had hit the window. Unfortunately, it is fledgling time and young birds, still awkward fliers, have not yet learned to avoid my windows. When I saw the emerald feathers splayed out on the stones I cried out “oh no, not a hummingbird” and in that moment the tiny jewel shook her head and soared upwards into the crabapple tree flooding me with gratitude for all Life…

The cardinal’s lovely whistle alerted me to his presence in the white pine… Every morning he sings as soon as he sees me at the door. Today I responded “hi beautiful” and he whistled back “wheet wheet” followed by a series of rapidly descending notes and closing with three or more “chiwes” after which I said “I love you!” Some days we repeat this conversation a number of times. To say I feel blessed is an understatement.

Birds have been much on my mind because we are leaving on a trip and my house dove Lily B has been ill. I am so used to hearing him sing that his silence has been unnerving. Yesterday while sitting in my very wild garden I asked Nature to take care of him as only she could, and that if it was his time to die, to make it a good death…In my mind I spun a thread around Lily, my dogs, me, our home and land and stretched it out to include the place we will visit containing us all – animals, one human, and two patches of wild earth – in a psychic round. This morning Lily once again helped the sun rise with his melodious cooing. Coincidence? I doubt it.

The intimate relationships that develop between some birds, animals and humans are based on respect and a shared need and desire to communicate. Interspecies communication has been around a very long time but we have been educated out of this idea and separated from nature to such an extent that we have lost the ability to believe what our senses tell us is real. I think of the mythological Cassandra…

In an intriguing version of the Greek myth Cassandra falls asleep and snakes whisper in her ears. Serpents gift Cassandra with the ability to understand the language of animals as well as an ability to read the future but because a god then curses her, she is not believed…

Snakes often represent the wisdom of the body and they were associated with women in a positive way during Neolithic times (6500BCE – 3000BCE) and up until the common era. To be visited by serpents might bring a wo/man into a positive relationship with animals and herself but also leaves her vulnerable to rational and logical thinkers, who are frequently men or male –identified women.

Take the vignette about the cardinals and me. The pattern is always the same. Whenever I try to share a story like my cardinal experience, the carefully chosen phrase “what an interesting story” is usually followed by the naysayer’s rational and logical explanation dismissing the possibility or probability of interspecies communication. This kind of a knee jerk response is as boring as it is repetitive. It is also dangerous. Not only is my personal experience dismissed but so is that of the animal/bird/bee in question. I struggle to hang on to my own experiential reality and the door is shut on Nature’s sentience.

Our western culture has little room for relationships that are mediated through our bodies. We live through our minds in a disembodied state. Yet, it is these bodies that carry our feelings, so when we dismiss our emotions we lose access to truths that can only develop through relationship with others, human or non-human. Without access to genuine feeling we privilege mind over body and can think or talk ourselves out of believing anything that cannot be nailed down. Like Cassandra we have been cursed by the gods.

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What is Earth Based Ritual?

 

When I discovered the Women’s Spirituality movement some thirty – five years ago I knew I had found home. As a feminist and a naturalist the festivals of the Old Religions ‘fit’ like a glove because most of these pagan rites (pagan means country person) revolved around Nature as Goddess, and the observations of country folk who were wed to their agricultural practices; these rituals always followed the seasons. One way of visualizing this idea of Nature as Goddess is to see the goddess as the center of wheel and the god(s) as the traveler(s), moving around the center. In Goddess theology both male and female elements are understood as being equal in importance.

I remember so clearly my astonishment when I finally found the feminine face of god; what I didn’t know then is that this reality would change my life in profound ways. Perhaps the most important realization came to me gradually as I began to believe that humans were just one of many species and that all species carried a form of consciousness and awareness. Most exciting to me was also the realization that I could communicate across species and that trees and frogs, dogs and bears all wanted to converse with me as much as I wanted to commune with them.

I found myself slipping through the veil as I began to write my own rituals shamelessly borrowing whatever elements appealed to me from world mythology and incorporating them into my own rites. It is probably just as accurate to say that these rituals also came to life through my dreaming body, since almost from the beginning my dreams directed the process. I chose the Celtic calendar as my own because the eight festivals of year, four involving the equinox’s and solstices, and the other four occurring as cross quarter days. Beltane or May Day is the next cross quarter ritual, the Feast of the New Grain occurs August 1, and All Hallows, or the Feast of the Dead occurs on October 31, and lasts through Nov 2nd which also corresponds to the end of the Celtic year… At the Winter Solstice the next year begins so there are a few weeks when “the space in  between” acts as an open door to the universe and is a powerful time to self reflect… Each of these eight rituals follows the obvious and subtle change of each season.

The very first ceremony I ever wrote was the first cross quarter festival of Imbolc, which occurs February 2nd. I renamed it “First Light” because it is at this festival that those of us in the northern hemisphere begin to bask in the warmth of the winter sun which is now rising higher in the sky each day; icicles begin to form on the roof because melting has begun. This is a festival associated with fire and water. I also dedicated this festival (and continue to do so today) to all animals and the Animal Soul believing then as now that making contact with the latter would help me on my personal journey. I didn’t know for many years that in folklore and myth the Bear Goddess came out of her cave on February 2nd to see how much longer winter would last… The propitious Bear, perhaps the first religious figure ever  worshiped spoke to rebirth, renewal and hope for the people.

When I researched Native American mythology I learned that indigenous peoples also held festivals around the same times that the European festivals were held. These synchronous eruptions reinforced my belief that there are invisible “fields” or regions of influence in Nature that people tap into intuitively if left to their own devices. Nature literally became my compass as I continued to write and celebrate ritual every full moon and eight times a year. There is something in my psyche that loves this whole process and for many years now I have left it to Nature and my dreams to inform me what comes next, so although cyclic my rituals are also continuously evolving. All I have to do is to pay attention to the animals, birds etc. that might be acting as guides in daily life or in my dreams, stay open to synchronicity, and reflect on whatever is hooking me mythically in my research and the rituals write themselves.

Celebrating, I frequently tap into a specific archetypal field and at these times my rituals become profound religious experiences. Not always though. Sometimes I don’t feel any connection to anything. However, I have learned that the only important thing is that I keep paying attention, writing, and celebrating; that Nature will eventually reveal herself again to me in a meaningful way.

Each ritual follows a simple pattern. I call in my guardians – the animals and birds that are most important to me, I call up the elements honoring each – fire, water, earth, and air, and I honor the four directions. I compose a brief essay or poem to use as an invocation and write about whatever moves me in the body of the ritual. I give thanks. In each ritual I release something in myself that I no longer need, and I set intentions that have emerged through my dreams/day-life. To end the ritual I thank the guardians and the four directions for being present to witness the rite, and I imagine the circle that has been created by the ritual remaining unbroken until the next festival.

These rituals have changed the way I live my life, tuning me in to Nature on a level I couldn’t have imagined.

Below is a ceremony that I wrote this year for the festival of “First Light” to help the reader see how Nature’s rituals work through me.

My hope is that this example will excite the imagination of the reader and that perhaps S/he will want to write a ritual of her/his own choosing to enter the world of Nature at will.

FIRST LIGHT:

Guardians of the east…south…west…north ( choose a guardian for each direction)

Invocation:

Ascending, burnished in copper and gold –

“Our Lady of the Beasts”

Raises her paws to purify all waters…

She is the Promise of Spring.

…The Bear Goddess comes to us through the Veil – epochs pass- She can be recalled through Neanderthal peoples who cashed her bones. Paleolithic and Neolithic peoples honored her through ceremony leaving carefully placed skulls deep within caverns to protect them from desecration. Until the advent of patriarchy She still reigned throughout the northern hemisphere as a powerful solar and lunar Goddess first as a Bear and then as a Bear Woman. Her latest incarnation in human form is the Greek Artemis, goddess of the wilderness, a protector of women she presides over birthing. Some say Mary is called “She of the Bear.” Today she is totally absent as a theriomorphic figure, this once Wild Goddess of all.

I bring the Bear Goddess to life again through my imagination, by inhabiting her field, and by writing about her. She emerged for me this winter as Brigid, (whose root meanings include the words “bear” and “brightness”) the Celtic Fire/Light Goddess who in her human form is patroness of poetry, a healer, and mistress of the forge. She transforms through fire…

At this second fire festival at mid winter we begin to think about the promise of spring; In February “the Big Bear’ moon will have take her son’s place in the sky as the Great Bear follows the changing season. Snow will begin to melt under the warming noon – day star; one day emerald waters will overflow their banks to nourish the earth and seeds will sprout… This festival also marks the birth, and perhaps the first emergence of wild bears from their dens. These animals once heralded the coming of the Light, as the Great Bear Goddess, Wild Mother of us all… Grandfather Bear makes the necessary sacrifice, giving his life so the people can live…

At this festival we give thanks for the element of water, the music of the waters as well as for the gift of Brigid’s transforming fire … We release what is no longer needed to the flowing waters and the mindbending fires of the universe in preparation for the Vernal Equinox and the coming of spring. We ask for Her Blessing at this time of purification.

Because the Great Bear is Wild Mother to us all it is at this festival that we give thanks for all animals and for the Animal Soul imbedded in each body, animal or human and also surrounding it – that wise instinctual soulful self that unites us with the our precious Earth Body, our home.

We give thanks for our bodies and ask “how might we better listen to the voices of our bodily selves as they manifest psychological distress, bodily pain, dreams, visions, intuition, or messengers from the spirit world?” We recall that animals in our dreams may be the manifestation of our instinctual bodies and spirit crying out to be heard.

We also give thanks for the clarity of dreaming that comes with winter moons, Earth’s Renewal Moon (December) and the two bear moons that follow, the Little Bear moon in January and the Great Bear moon in February. Some Native peoples including the Ojibwa call these three “Great Spirit” Moons.

We are mindful of the moon because her clear blue light embraces each of us with a clarity found only during the winter…We recall that the moon was once a part of the earth 4.6 billion years ago, (theory has it) that the moon split away from earth, and that she is slowly drifting away from our blue-green planet …Only one face of the moon is ever seen because the moon rotates around on her own axis in exactly the same time it takes her to orbit the earth. The moon is in synchronous rotation with the earth so the rabbit and his grandmother can be found each month on the side we see … the other side of the moon remains dark, but only to those of us who live on this precious blue – green planet. To honor the moon is to honor the earth. Once physically attached, now the moon remains entrained to the earth by means of an invisible field. Each one of us has the same kind of field around us; each of us is an earth-moon soul-body in miniature! The moon draws up the tides and let’s them go reminding us that change is constant but also cyclic…that both diversity, and patterning are part of the whole.

(a) Release to the mindbending fires of the universe or to open fire: as many releases as you like

(b) Blessing of the Animal Body with watersuse water from a brook, river, well, the sea, if possible – bless self and animals if you have them

( c ) Light the candles for the coming light to set intentions – as many as you like

Thank the guardians for witnessing – guardians of the east etc.

Circle is unbroken… Imagine the circle that you have created remains unbroken…

Earth’s Renewal Moon

I took this photograph during the last full moon (12/24), the “Earth’s Renewal Moon” according to the Blackfoot Nation. This moon belongs to Waboose, the Spirit Keeper of the North and it is considered to be the first moon of the New Year; it can occur anytime during the period that extends from December 22nd until January 19th.

The Earth’s Renewal Moon is special to me because for the next three months I will be able to watch the moon rising over the South Eastern horizon from either my bathroom or living room window. The moment before she makes her ascent the mountain glows with an otherworldly silvery white light. My dove Lily B celebrates by singing to the moon each month from his window perch. He and I are both in love with the luminous white blossom that fills the night sky with such beauty that even all but the bravest stars dim under her loving gaze. I always look for the rabbit who hides with his grandmother in the moon.

I am also reminded that some Native peoples like the Haida, the Cree, and the Potawatoni call this first moon of the year “the Little Bear Moon.” Not surprisingly the Little Bear Moon corresponds to the birth of black bear cubs which occurs sometime in January. Alert and caring mothers tend their infants while snug in their underground dens, many of which are tangled in the roots of the trees these baby bears will soon depend upon for climbing.

On this first day of the new year I think about the Earth’s ability to renew herself, her animals, plants and people…

It is in renewal that hope becomes reality.

Postscript: I sent this photograph to my friend Harriet Ann Ellenberger and she suggested that I post it. So I dedicate this first offering of the year to this dearest of friends.