Women with Wings

 

 

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(magpie visiting at dawn)

 

What does it mean when the Black Birds Come?

 

First it was the magpie

Black and White

shivering iridescent

feathers flashing

in every conceivable hue –

warning about extremes.

 

Next the raven took up

residence in in the upper crown

of the Russian Olive

outside my window

quorking his threat

hoarsely at dawn.

 

But when the red – wings arrived

in outrageous numbers

flocking to the ground

a hundred or so at a time

I imagined I heard a Red Bird’s song

rising from the sea…

 

A river of birds around

and over my head cry out

that Nature is always listening

appearing in times of calamitous need

supporting by Presence

a tangible truth

in the midst of

alcoholic delusion.

 

The Great Goddess

comes to life through

trees and birds –

thriving on the edges

of disaster –

offering Comfort

when there is none.

 

Women with Wings

are ancient female spirits

appearing in the guise

of birds whose Love

intervenes

when Fire threatens

to annihilate

just as Gimbutas intuitively

understood.

 

 

 

Working notes:

 

This morning I read Carol Christ’s most recent article on scholar and archeologist Marija Gimbutas whose work has informed my writing for the last thirty years ( Carol P. Christ feminismandreligion.com).

 

Understanding intuitively that Marija spoke truths no one else had dared to utter, I read, wrote, sculpted and listened to Nature with secret relief having finally found a context in which I could find comfort and a reason to go on…

 

Instead of paraphrasing I will quote Christ’s words directly because this woman is a scholar perhaps equal only to Gimbutas herself.

Responding to the backlash against her theories, Gimbutas is said to have told a female colleague that it might take decades, but eventually the value of her work would be recognized. It is now more than twenty years since Marija Gimbutas died in 1994, and the value of her work is beginning to be recognized by (at least some of) her colleagues—including one of her harshest critics. In a lecture titled “Marija Rediviva: DNA and Indo-European Origins,” renowned archaeologist Lord Colin Renfrew (allied with the British Conservative Party**), who had been one of Gimbutas’s most vociferous antagonists and a powerful gate-keeper, concluded the inaugural Marija Gimbutas Lecture at the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago with these words: “Marija [Gimbutas]’s Kurgan hypothesis has been magnificently vindicated.”

In the lecture, Colin* explains Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis about the spread of Indo-European languages from the steppes north of the Black Sea by invaders she called “Kurgans,” from a word of Slavic origin which refers to their characteristic burial mounds. Gimbutas spoke of these as “big man” graves, arguing that they marked the appearance of a new cultural group into Europe—one that was patriarchal, patrilineal, and warlike. Before their arrival, the people Gimbutas called “Old Europeans” buried their dead in communal graves, with grave offerings indicating no great difference in wealth or status and no domination of one sex over the other. Gimbutas argued that the “Kurgan” people introduced Indo-European languages into the lands they conquered, as well as new cultural systems based on domination of warriors and kings over the general populace and the domination of men over women. She stated that the Kurgan invasions of Europe began about 4400 BCE and lasted for several millennia.

Colin* dismissed the Kurgan theory, advancing his alternative hypothesis that Indo-European languages were introduced into Europe through the spread of agriculture from the Middle East after 7000 BCE. While Gimbutas spoke of a “clash of cultures” between the peaceful, sedentary, matrifocal cultures of Old Europe and the new culture of the Kurgan warriors, Colin* preferred the theory that cultures change through processes of internal evolution, rather than by violent overthrow.

In his lecture, Colin* discussed the different theories about the diffusion of the Indo-European languages across most of Europe and large parts of the Middle East and South Asia. He cited new evidence based on analysis of DNA in ancient bones that has been published in the last several years, acknowledging that this evidence definitively proves that a group called the “Yamnaya” people entered Europe in large numbers from their homeland north of the Black Sea. Colin* stated that he believed this evidence to be scientifically valid and thus to have proved Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis. Stating that little work had been done on DNA of ancient bones from the area of modern Turkey he postulated as the Indo-Eurpoean homeland, he said that his hypothesis had not been disproved and held out the hope that it too might be proved to be correct. (Most scholars consider this unlikely.)

It is important to note that when Colin* said that Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis has been proved, he was saying only that there is now convincing DNA evidence to uphold her idea that a new population element most likely speaking an Indo-European language entered into Europe at the times she postulated. He did not evaluate or endorse Gimbutas’s theory of a “clash of cultures” between peaceful, sedentary, matrifocal cultures of Old Europe and invading nomadic, warlike, patriarchal cultures of the Indo-Europeans. Nonetheless, in declaring Marija Gimbutas’s Kurgan hypothesis “magnificently vindicated,” Lord Colin Renfrew, considered by many to be “the grand old man” of his field, opened the floodgates. He implicitly gave permission to other scholars to reconsider all of Gimbutas’s theories and perhaps eventually to restore her to her rightful place as one of the most–if not the most–creative, scientific, ground-breaking archaeologists of the twentieth century, “the grand old lady” of her field.”

 The Women with Wings are hidden

among the boughs of the trees that love them,

biding their time until Her Collective Voice rises out of the ashes of a civilization crumbling in collapse.

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The Healing Power of Birds

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(scrub jay on the railing outside my north window)

 

I recently arrived in Abiquiu, New Mexico after an absence of several months. That first morning I was struck by the light that gilded the mountain in gold at sunrise as I hung up my bird feeders, scattered corn on the ground, and put out a dish of water.

 

The first thing I do when I move to a new dwelling is to call in the birds. There is something about being surrounded by these winged ones that binds me to a particular place especially during difficult transitions.

 

Within minutes I was delighted to make the acquaintance of a number of raucous scrub jays who hungrily swallowed sunflower seed while Lily b, my collared dove, peered at them curiously from his hanging basket indoors. We have east, west, and north windows that surround us on three sides that makes viewing our new avian friends a pleasure. Our next visitors were mountain chickadees and a curved bill thrasher.

 

A week later I count twenty – seven species of birds! Among them were ravens, hawks, an eagle, towhees, magpies, curved billed thrashers, dark eyed juncos, flickers, robins, stellar jays, finches, nuthatches, downy woodpeckers, white winged doves, a flock of collared doves, and one single collared dove that comes alone. The smallest birds greet us at dawn getting a chance to eat before the larger birds arrive. The woodpeckers know just where to find the fat that I have attached to the rough hewn trunks of the Russian olives. The Great Horned owl awakened me one night at 3 AM serenading me with his low resonant hooting. Every morning I hear the sound of geese as they fly by at dawn and the eerie calls of the flocks of sand – hill cranes remind me that bird migration is underway. Is it any wonder I have named our little refuge the “bird room?”

 

My dogs, birds, and I are surrounded by scrub that lets in the stars at night. With a northern exposure I look for the Great Bear rising over the horizon thinking about my black bear yearling raking in bedding and entering his den to sleep in peace. Last night I saw a falling star not long after sunset.

 

I can’t decide if mornings or evenings are my favorite times of the day with glorious orange sunrises and pale yellow sunsets tinged with scarlet ribbons that can be witnessed from both east or west from this one small room.

 

During the day the sky is that deep New Mexican mountain blue, and even though it is almost December the sun still has warmth…

 

The river is running high and every day I go down to let the water move through me, helping me to return to this abandoned body after weeks of prolonged stress.

 

Water is Life. Not only are we made of water but for some, like me, water acts as a natural healing force. I am irritated with my body willing her respond to my command to relax her hyper-vigilance, even when she is indicating to me that she isn’t ready. I am distressed by this split I have created in myself with my impatience. I ask the river to begin to flow through me as I watch the birds soaring over my head.

 

I remember the words of Emily Dickinson:

 

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul…I’ve heard it in the chilliest land, and on the strangest sea.”

 

Hope is the bird that lives in me.

Endings and Beginnings: Re -membering my Father

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It’s cold – 18 degrees – the coldest it’s been all fall, and the sky is clear, the air bone dry. I awaken remembering that today my father died on another Thursday many years ago at age 74, only two years older than I am now. I imagine the ice closing around the beavers’ den whose members have flooded the field with water below my house.

 

The morning of my father’s death, moments before I got the call, I awakened from a dream that told me that my father had become a beaver. That Thanksgiving, the first of oh so many that I would spend alone over the next twenty some years, I opened a hole in the ice, cut some poplar branches and sank them under water for the beaver family I had befriended the previous summer, who in my mind now bore my father’s name and were intimately associated with him. I wondered then about death and transformation.

 

I spent that first winter after my dad’s death learning everything I could about beavers.

 

It was uncanny that the dream picked the beaver of all animals to transmute my father’s energy (and perhaps information too), because although my father was a man who lived his life in the fast lane in a concrete world, paradoxically he was also caught under water. Rarely did he surface as the deeply compassionate family man he was. His young children experienced continuous uncontrollable bursts of rage and terminal impatience. We learned to fear him. My father’s uncontrollable temper remained a lifetime nemesis.

 

I buried my father’s ashes twice. Now they lie beneath the house under Trillium rock, near those of his only son, a child he adored, a child whose death he never recovered from. Fortunately, I gave him two grandsons to love.

 

During most of my father life I did not believe he loved me, so I was stunned to experience a profound rush of his love for me after his death. Memory re –surfaced from the deep (Did the beavers help me?). The times my father comforted and held me when I was a small child, holding my head tenderly and cleaning up the mess when I threw up, rushed trips to the hospital without my mother, tucking me into bed, reading nightly stories, teaching me about the stars, and later as an adult, appreciating the way my father provided financially for his distant wife and family, the weekly visits to see his own mother that continued for ten years although she no longer knew him…

 

I think it was piecing together these memories that taught me that actions always speak louder than words, that fiery tongues of anger, anguish, disappointment do not make the man (or woman). What made my father so special was that he was capable of deep feeling and acted on that feeling in concrete ways to care for those around him, especially the members of his own family.

 

My father spent his life as a caregiver.

 

This was a revelation to me as was the insight that followed; that I too have lived my life as a caregiver, a woman who not only loves her family fiercely but also one who loves each tree, bear, dog, and bird caring deeply for all. I am my father’s daughter, after all.

If Not Winter

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“… Imagine a different world…

create a time when the impossible

becomes possible.” (Sappho)

 

These words are like a spark that catches fire in the ashes of what is, or was… here my imagination roams free and unencumbered by a monstrous daily cultural reality .

 

I inhabit the spaces in between for survival.

 

Trees do talk.

Bears do sleep and dream.

 

This is a month that hovers like a specter, the austere bones of granite mountains stretch out to touch bare branches spiraling through an untouched forest of fallen birch, maple, poplar, elm, ash, and beech. Brown oaks fill in the empty spaces with tenacious rust colored rustling leaves. Spruce and balsam spires tower overhead. The sky is sketched in graphite.

 

Trees communicate in a myriad of ways science confirms for those that need proof. Trees converse as electrical impulses pass through their roots/tissues at a third of an inch per second (before you think how slow this is remember that trees are literally our “elders” living for hundreds even thousands of years). In addition, trees use their senses of smell and taste for communication. They also use visual cues for reproduction. But perhaps most astonishing, trees in a forest care for each other, sometimes even going so far as to nourish the stump of a felled tree for centuries after it was cut down by feeding it sugars and other nutrients. Not all stumps are so nourished and it is speculated that these stumps are the parents of trees that make up the forest today. A tree’s most important means of staying connected to other trees is a phrase coined by science as the “wood wide web.” Soil fungi connect trees and other vegetation to each other allowing them to share an enormous amount of information and nutrients. Trees and plants need each other.

 

In my mind trees are sending messages to the black bears that co –evolved with them. “Come dig your den.”

 

I watch the bear as he digs a hole under a glacial slab on the southern side of the mountain. Tree roots surround him inviting him in as he rakes leaves and forest detritus inside to soften sleeping ground. The scent of sweet earth is overpowering, as his curved claws pull in more shredded leaf bedding. The bear is re arranging the forest floor to his satisfaction inside his den. Cave walls deaden sound, create space for dreaming.

 

Drowsy now and well pleased, the bear enters his winter abode, stretches out with his back to cool stone. With his head positioned at the entrance he sniffs with a nose that is 2100 times more efficient than the human nose. He opens his mouth to read the air for unfriendly scents one last time before his eyes grow heavy. Though even in slumber, a snapping twig will instantly alert him to potential danger.

 

The bear chose this spot two months ago returning to it occasionally on his travels, but up until now he’s been busy foraging the bountiful fall acorn mast and growing his wavy winter coat complete with furry insulation. He has recently become less hungry. He moves less, listening to his body’s instructions to slow down. He still drinks water but soon his heartbeat will slow… When white flakes fall or even before, if cold sharpens the night air into cracked ice, the bear will enter and close the entrance of his den for the last time until spring, and no one but the trees who love him will know he’s even there…

 

The trees stand sentry, staying awake even after leaves and pine needles fall. Perhaps they warn the bear of impending danger through their roots and help him to awaken instantly, even after he has fallen into a deep winter sleep.

 

Anything is possible Sappho reminds me.

 

With these words I intentionally create sacred space where bears and trees commune and all but cyclic time ceases as the seasons have their way.

The myth of the hero… naming the face of war.

As Veterans Day approaches I feel the usual hopelessness and dismay as we come round again on celebrating the” fallen heroes of war.”

I lost two uncles and a cousin, two in the Korean War and one in Vietnam so  I have experienced the loss of loved ones to combat firsthand.

Feminist Robin Morgan’s blog voices my distress over this obsession around keeping the myth of the heroes of war alive (at the continued cost of human lives) in a very powerful way.

She writes:

“…it seems to me that in human history, so far at least, just as the family has been made to serve as the ideal hierarchical foundation for patriarchy, so has war functioned as the perfected articulation of patriarchy, defining manliness as the drive for competition and the capacity to dominate and murder best.

To sustain that definition’s power requires the myth of the hero, which in turn necessitates a systemic hypocrisy: flags, parades, anthems, ceremonies, wreaths, medals, gold stars, and other patriotic symbols that nonetheless ring hollow though the 4 AM silence of a widow’s grief or the agony of a woman who has lost her grown child.

“We,” one woman says through the dignity of her tears, “are the ones left behind. We are the collateral damage.”

Those words slice through all the masks of hypocrisy and name the face of war.”

Amen.

The Dove and the Owl: Moving Beyond Childhood Fear

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(my dove Lily b sitting on his perch)

 

For the past few weeks I have had Great Horned owls calling around the house, for the first time ever. For many years I have seen them soaring low through the hemlocks on a nearby logging road after being mobbed by crows, but last winter all those old hemlocks were cut down. Today there is a hole in the sky where those elders once stood. Where did the owls go I wondered the first time I witnessed the devastating loss of these most gracious of evergreens that provided protection and food for so many woodland birds and animals.

 

Now, I think, they moved here.

 

Most amazing to me is that Lily b my dove is returning these evening calls by cooing back! This blending of voices between predator and prey captivates me. I know from living with Lily b for 25 years that he normally reacts to the presence of avian predators with stony silence.

 

Why is Lily b having conversations with these birds? The most rational explanation is that Lily b answers because he feels like it and knows he is safe in the house. Yet I am not satisfied; it feels like something else is going on here (He never cooed in response to the barred owls that called each night for years when they inhabited this patch of woods).

 

I have a long history with Great Horned owls that stretches back to my childhood, one that includes my relationship with my mother who often painted them. As a child I was frightened by these images of the Great Horned owl, probably because I was afraid of my mother.

 

During the span of my adult life I have rarely heard this owl hoot in the forest up until this fall, when these birds congregated around the house the night before a bear was shot in mid September, and then on the eve of my birthday when they once again engaged in animated conversation that lasted almost an hour.

 

I experienced gut level fear the first time this happened even as Lily cooed back and forth with the owls. The bear in question survived being shot, so my initial fearful reaction to the hooting was wrong…The night before my birthday it was impossible for me to ignore the possibility that my mother, in the form of an owl she once loved, had come to visit me. I felt confusion rising while listening to Lily b converse with the owls a second time because the symphony was quite beautiful.

 

Lily b is a telepathic bird who regularly comments on what I am thinking, and the fact that I was initially alarmed by the owl convocation while he was cooing in response might have been his way of telling me that in this case I had nothing to fear.

 

The longer I reflect upon this idea the more I think it might be true.

 

Now as the night closes in I listen to the owls calling back and forth and feel a strange sense of comfort.

 

What I appreciate the most is that the deep haunting hoots of these majestic birds evoke the mysteries of the forest and not old childhood fears.

The Gathering In

Seed gathering is my way of preparing for winter and for a season of stillness and quiet. The sun rises lower and lower over the horizon each dawn. This year light is filtered through trees that are losing leaves to drought and not to the natural process of chlorophyll withdrawal. But the light is still extraordinarily beautiful as it illuminates each branch and leaf, creating mosaic patterns on patches of parched dry ground.

Yesterday we had a light frost and I brought the last of my nasturtium and bean seeds indoors to dry upstairs in preparation for next summer’s garden.

While I collect seeds, explosive gunshots pierce the air in my backyard.

Bumper stickers warn me, “Don’t interfere with ‘our right’ to bare arms.” A threat? Apparently, having the “right to kill” is all many people think about.

I am never free of the awareness that death is in the air.

This morning I had an email from my friend and feminist artist Sabra Moore who lives in Abiquiu, New Mexico.

She writes:

“All the news is terrifying – I feel like Trump is, each week, becoming more unstable so I am keeping hold of the harvest here.”

I immediately thought to myself that “keeping hold of the harvest” is a way to deal with our current political insanity.

Unfortunately for me, the harvest is over.

Below: Artist/writer Sabra Moore in her garden

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