Letting Go

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Teeny peeper sitting in the middle of a piece of lichen about the size of a quarter

 

Every year I bring back wood frogs, peepers or toads to this property to increase my amphibian population… this year with a drought underway the peepers captured my heart because a bizarre heat wave hit Maine just after the coldest freeze I ever remember. The poor peepers froze and then steamed and fried under a relentless solstice sun, their vernal pools rapidly disappearing from under them.

 

Intervening, I scooped up about a thousand and took them to the pond, brought some here to the shaded vernal pool that I dug here many years ago. Amphibians are the most endangered species on earth and I liked the idea of providing a temporary home for some.

 

This year I decided to raise seven peepers in a fish bowl something I had not done for a number of years. The ones in the vernal pool had kingfishers, herons, and a raccoon to deal with on top of drought – with these odds who knows how many would survive to become adults. The prognosis seemed grim.

 

On a whim when I added five toadpoles to my bowl of seven tadpoles I wondered if they would be eaten, but happily I was mistaken. So now I had twelve rotund bodies with wiggling tails, blobs with discernable eyes that watched me through the glass any time I sat with them. It was impossible not to reach the conclusion that these tadpoles were as interested in me as I was in them. One of the peepers disappeared within two days, and I knew from prior experience that he had died, becoming a source of protein for the others. Nature knows a lot about recycling.

 

Because I have no aquarium I have to scoop out the water and refill it with microbe rich bacteria pond water twice a week, a labor-intensive job that I have been doing for more than a month as of this writing. I feed my tadpoles bits of homegrown torn lettuce that they demolish with incredible speed and gusto. I have been anxiously awaiting back legs to develop because when this happens I know that their final ordeal is almost upon them. Transformation is never easy. (When I hear folks casually discussing transformation as if it was some sort of fun process I cringe. Transformations of any kind are fraught with danger and difficulty).

 

None of the toadpoles have legs but about 10 ten days ago I noted the first of the peepers were sprouting some. One little fellow turned almost transparent as his body shrunk, his head increased in size as frog eyes appeared as protuberances, his mouth grew wider. When tiny nubs emerged and developed almost instantly into front legs and his tail began to shrink this little character made a mysterious exit one night.

 

Since there are no predators on the porch where I keep the fish bowl I had deliberately provided him with an escape by leaving a long piece of wood leaning against the inside of the bowl that stuck out a few inches just in case a transformation occurred during the night. The purpose of the wood was to give the little emerging frog a stable place from which to hunt his first bug. Although I searched the porch I could not find him. Perhaps he slipped through a crack in the door to freedom. I hoped so. After this experience I was determined not to miss the next show!

 

When the second little tadpole began to change I transferred him to another bowl without as much water, one with a floating piece of wood in its center. This time I was rewarded. I watched carefully as his tail shrunk trying to judge when he would re absorb it because this would be his final food source until he caught his first insect. I watched him alternately coming to the surface to breathe air and then sinking back down to the bottom of the bowl to gulp water. He seemed to be struggling a bit and I was worried. By evening his tail had diminished. When I looked in the bowl he was sitting on the floating wood gazing at me expectantly as if he knew I was his route to freedom. It was time.

 

I prepared a protected place in my flower garden, putting a shallow dish of water with a few stones under the greenery, and added another wooden island – just in case he might still need to rest. When I picked him up and opened the door he squirmed a little. As soon as I bent down in the greenery, placing him in the dish he leapt out and disappeared into a mass of green foliage! His journey had begun. I was shocked to feel so bereft. Even though I had raised him from childhood I was, after all, celebrating his new life…How is it that I had forgotten that raising tadpoles always carried a cost?

 

I suspect the process reminded me of losing my own children to unseen forces; but perhaps it wasn’t only that. It may be that nurturing (and usually I raise tadpoles from eggs) puts me in touch with the inevitable pain that is always associated with love. I reminded myself that I needed to learn this life lesson over and over. And that Letting Go is an art form.

 

Postscript:

 

As of this afternoon I have three froglets living in my flower garden. When I took the second one outdoors he leapt so high into the foliage that I was stunned. Remember these tiny peepers are only about a quarter inch long.

 

The third one was waiting for me on the floating wood, eyeing me with particular intensity this morning. I spoke to him, commenting on the fact that his tail was still quite long, but he seemed to be telling me that this was fine. It was time to go. I complied, and although he did spend a few moments floating in the dish, he also vanished into the giant green jungle…

Electric Green Damselflies!

 

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Today it was 90 degrees and I spent most of the afternoon with a friend wading in my brook – a body of clear mountain water that flows under a graceful canopy of trees, trees that sheltered us from the brutal Summer Solstice sun and kept the surrounding air moist and cool as well as almost unbearably fragrant. Oh, I am never more appreciative of the forest than on a day like this one. We haven’t had a soaking rain for almost two months and although the humidity provides a little moisture for thirsty trees the forest floor is drying up, the mosses are losing color, lichens are crispy. Fire is an ominous threat, and piles of slash have become a real danger… We were discussing these worries when suddenly three amazing apparitions interrupted our conversation.

Catapulted into the present we both watched in wonder as electric green damselflies darted back and forth below the waterfall, barely lighting on the lacy ferns for seconds before darting away. Emerald sticks shimmered and shivered as they soared after prey.

No other insects symbolize summer quite like this group of colorful, primitive-looking predatory insects. Often we confuse the two species calling both dragonflies. In the late summer garden, both damsel and dragonflies resemble tiny animal fighter jets, fierce-looking with bulbous eyes and gossamer wings.

Just the day before I was kayaking on the pond and had a number of the latter landing on my bow with their outstretched wings. I also noted strings of dragonfly – damselfly (?) eggs attached to reeds floating under water.

Damselfies and dragonflies are closely related. These members of the insect order Odonata include roughly 5,900 species – about 2,600 damselflies and 3000 dragonflies.

Damselflies and dragonflies are both predatory flying insects that look primitive and ancient because they are. Fossil records indicate that prehistoric species are quite similar to those we see today. Modern dragonflies and damselflies are most prevalent in tropical regions, but some species can be found in almost every part of the world except for the polar regions.

In all fairness it is easy to see why dragonflies and damselflies are often confused with one another because they share many characteristics, including membranous wings, large eyes, slender bodies and small antenna. But there are also clear differences. Damselflies have longer thinner bodies that look like needles. In general, dragonflies are sturdier, thicker-bodied insects Once you the difference in body shape most folks can easily identify the two. What is easiest for me to remember is that damselflies look like flying needles while dragonflies resemble small aircraft especially when they land. Damselfly wings are held vertically while dragonfly wings are flat while the insects are at rest.

Both species come in a wide range of sizes and colors. Some are subdued, others dazzle the eye with their brightly metallic hues of greens and blues. Damselflies have the widest range of sizes, with wingspans ranging from about 3/4 inch (19 mm) in some species to 7 1/2 inches (19 cm) in larger species. Some fossil ancestors have wingspans of more than 28 inches! One of the first winged insects, dragonflies have inhabited the Earth for more than 300 million years.

Both damselflies and dragonflies lay their eggs in or near water. Hatched larvae go through a series of molts as they grow, and begin predatory feeding on the larvae of other insects and small aquatic animals like tadpoles. One year someone gave me some dragonfly eggs and forgot to tell me they would eat my tadpoles. Naturally, I was deeply upset when I discovered the trick and was quick to remove the offenders. The Odonata larvae themselves also serve as an important food source for fish, amphibians, and birds. Larval damselflies and dragonflies reach adulthood in as little as three weeks or as long as eight years, depending on species. They go through no pupal stage, but near the end of the larval stage, the insects begin to develop wings, which emerge as useable flight organs after the last molt of the larval stage.

The adult flying stage, which can last as long as nine months, is marked by predatory feeding on other insects, mating, and finally laying eggs in water or moist, boggy areas. As adults dragonflies and damselflies are largely immune to predators, except for some birds. These insects are our friends! They consume large quantities of mosquitoes, gnats, and other biting creatures. Damselflies and dragonflies are visitors we need to entice into our gardens!

In some folklore green dragonflies are supposed symbolize abundance and the greening of the earth. To see these magical flying beings on the afternoon of the summer solstice seemed prescient. I couldn’t help wondering if their timely appearance might suggest that this turning of the wheel might bring us some relief from the difficulties that we are facing on a personal and collective level.

 

Postscript:

The picture that I have included shows a Sparkling Jewelwing damselfly. Only the tip of the wings is dark, making it easy to differentiate from the more common Ebony Jewelwing. Many areas of the east coast are blessed with these magnificent insects.

June Moon: The Berry Moon

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I watered the soil thoroughly because it was so dry. I intended to plant my seeds and May has been a month of bizarre weather extremes. The last waxing moon frost occurred this week with temperatures in the mid 20’s. Finally, it was time…

 

When I awakened during the night a light drizzle sweetened the air as a solitary gray tree frog trilled from the brook. At dawn I was disappointed that rain had barely wet the leaves and yet the sky was soft with dark gray clouds, and it was delightfully cool, a perfect day for planting.

 

I felt excitement rising as I gathered my chosen seeds and began raking smooth the damp sweet earth, marveling of the fact that each seed contains the miracle of its own becoming. I was imagining the riot of color that would be visible by early August as I poked each seed into its home, tamped it down, and afterwards, watered again. Nasturtiums and Scarlet Runner beans would provide the back-drop for the perennial flowers in the lower garden all of which had escaped the frost. I was well pleased. Because of the light drizzle the seeds would not dry out today, I thought, with some satisfaction.

 

Finishing with the rock garden I moved up the hill to my herb patch. I planted four basil plants, the dill seedlings were nestled next to the lettuce, with parsley in between; happily the lemon thyme was recovering from its winter ordeal. Finally I seeded more basil directly into the soil and poked more trailing nasturtiums around the lettuce because the latter would be gone before the nasturtiums were big enough to shade the plants.

 

This simple little herb patch gave me as much pleasure as having a big vegetable garden once did. It was the relational act of co creating with the earth that mattered.

 

Afterwards I walked to the pond in the still gray air. I love humidity when it’s cool because the moist air holds the scents of so many trees plants, bushes and flowers. The combined effect is intoxicating. Especially now with the lilacs.

 

When the rain began I was back in the house. Instantly my eyes witnessed electric green emanating from the trees – all plants were breathing, saturating themselves with moisture. The evergreens stretched their fingers out, and the deciduous trees turned their leaves upward opening them to the sky. The grosbeaks, red wings, and cardinals sang love songs. Everyone loves the Cloud People.

 

Seeding in officially marks the end of heavy garden work for me. For two months I have been digging and moving plants from the big cottage garden into a smaller one that I can see from our screened and glassed in porch, our summer living room.

 

Reflecting over the past few years I remembered becoming disenchanted with gardening – the work was becoming too hard – so much so that I thought I was ready to let go. I was wrong. When the grass began to crowd out the delicate spring flowers and other old fashioned perennials so dear to me I realized I was missing my old friends.

 

At that point I left for the NM desert where I tried to garden in a hostile environment on land that did not belong to me. After attempting to create an oasis in impossible heat and wind I was forced to give up gardening for a second time, this time out of necessity. In that process I had developed a new perspective on gardening in Maine. It might be hard work but the rewards were worth it. I was ready to try again.

 

When I returned home this spring I knew that necessary construction would ruin what was left of the old fashioned overgrown cottage garden. Trusting that this work will happen ‘sometime’ motivated me to move plant after plant – choosing carefully what to keep and what to let go. The result is that I have created a lovely cottage garden that contains my most beloved perennial flowers. Hopefully I can care for these, at least for a few more years. It’s been quite a process, and I have learned the hard way that gardening is as necessary to me as breathing.

 

June’s full moon is upon us. Because so many wildflowers are sprouting fruiting bodies besides strawberries I have re named this solstice moon the Berry Moon… There is an old purple Berry Woman that lives in this forested wood inside an Elderberry bush I recently planted who can be coaxed out of hiding if the need is great. I hope she will help me break out of the paralyzed state I find myself in. I need help believing that I can find the builder, the help I need…

 

Once, a few years ago she left me a seed…

The Endearing Phoebe

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The Phoebe that helped me solve a mystery

 

Last year when I returned from New Mexico I found an Eastern Phoebe’s nest under the eaves above my front door. I witnessed the three nestlings mature with deep pleasure, happy because the phoebes have only nested on the house once before, though this little valley has been home to these endearing birds ever since I built the house. Every year I watch them hunt from the wild apple tree with its golden apples that spans the entire southern wall of the house and overlooks the brook. In fact I am watching a phoebe hunt as I write these words. In years past I always looked forward to their arrival in the early spring after a long Maine winter.

This spring the phoebes chose another nest site, probably one of their old ones, perhaps because last year I removed the dormer that protected their nest; I can’t be sure.

Two days ago I watched a phoebe fly from a nearby crabapple towards the very spot above the door where the birds had their nest last year. I was baffled by this strange behavior and when I investigated I found the answer. Phoebe was hunting hungry mosquitos – there was a whole cloud of these little monsters that had convened there apparently while waiting for me to open the door! Insects are smart, and this convocation is a perfect example of insect brilliance. No wonder the bugs were getting in. I thanked my little friend for his help before rubbing peppermint oil on the wood to discourage the mosquitos, who then vacated the area. Because I am repeating this application the phoebes are no longer hunting around the front door, but have returned to their previous hunting ground, the apple tree. When I posted a couple of phoebe pictures my friend Carol Bondy mentioned that she had some nesting on their house. I hope at some point to see some of her pictures.

In Abiquiu I hear phoebes in the gracious Cottonwoods during the winter but I rarely see them and whenever I do it is always just a glimpse of a wobbling tail or bobbing. After hearing about Carol’s experience it suddenly occurred to me that these New Mexico phoebes might be a different species. And of course they are. The reason I had never thought about this issue before is because their calls sound alike to me although the literature states that there are distinct differences. I was baffled by this apparent inconsistency. When I actually listened to the two species singing I noted that The Says phoebe has a shorter call or peep, though it sounds similar to the call of the Eastern phoebe, a sound I have heard all my life. At least one of the sources I consulted said that the ranges of these two species can overlap Is it possible that both species inhabit the Abiquiu area? If they do I would love to know.

The primary difference between the Eastern phoebe and the Says Phoebe of New Mexico is that the former have a pale belly as opposed to the cinnamon – washed belly belonging to the latter.

Both species of flycatchers migrate north in the early spring and are noted for being early arrivals. Unlike many other birds both species reuse nests. With that much said it is also true that Phoebes that are breeding in the Southwest do not migrate and are present year round.

In the east the phoebes place their mud-and-grass nests in protected places like houses, barns, under bridges or around here in nests placed close to the brook (the one on the side of the cabin was made with a lot of moss). They gravitate to protected woodlands.

The Says phoebe will also nest on houses and buildings but otherwise “is an open country bird”. The literature says these phoebes perch on fence posts and pasture wire but I have not seen this behavior although both wire and fence posts border the casita on the riverside. It seems to me that phoebes in Abiquiu would be drawn to the Bosque because this is where there are more insects to eat. Out of season they are fond of berries. They are supposed to lay two clutches of two to six eggs. Here, the family that nested under the eaves only raised one.

Both species seem to tolerate and even befriend humans who pay attention to them. This has been my personal experience with the phoebes that hunt from the wild apple tree. They watch me through the window with beaded eyes while bobbing up and down and wagging their tail feathers in that characteristic phoebe way. They do not fly away, even when I approach them; they respond to the sound of my voice with apparent interest.

Happily, according to Audubon both species appear to be maintaining a stable population.

The Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years.

The Eastern Phoebe is a loner, rarely coming in contact with other phoebes. Even members of a mated pair do not spend much time together. They may roost together early in pair formation, but even during egg laying the female frequently chases the male away from her. I didn’t find similar information about the Says phoebe but my guess is that the two behave in much the same way. I never glimpsed more than one at a time in Abiquiu.

Say’s Phoebes have been in the U.S. since the late Pleistocene. Paleontologists discovered Say’s Phoebe fossils in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas dating back to about 400,000 years ago.

The Say’s Phoebe also breeds farther north than any other flycatcher and is seemingly limited only by the lack of nest sites. Its breeding range extends from central Mexico all the way to the arctic tundra.

I know from personal experience that befriending these little birds is a worthwhile endeavor providing the viewer with hours of entertainment – sometimes at the expense of work that has to be done! The little fellow outside my window keeps interrupting my train of thought with his aerial dives.

All Shall Be Well Again

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Just one mutilated tree stump…

 

Destructive behavior seems to have become a socially accepted “American Way” for many people in this country. Up the road from me I have a retired neighbor who exemplifies this attitude. When the couple first moved here he built a bridge over my brook with trees that he cut from my land without my permission… and that was just the beginning. There were other misunderstandings that followed. Most occurred behind my back.

 

In 2012 I approached him hoping to make amends, offering peace if not friendship. I told him then that we shared a physical boundary and that it made sense to be civil to one another. According to him I had betrayed him “three times” – What? He sounded like he had been bewitched by a bad fairy tale. He rejected my offering, choosing outright hostility instead.

 

This winter while I was away this man and his wife used my property as their personal ski area, obviously, without my permission. This man also took the time to destroy a garden wall that sheltered a tree seedling. Fortunately, I caught these egregious actions on camera and am now in a position to press charges.

 

I am equally fortunate to have genuinely kind and helpful neighbors nearby. It has also been such a positive experience for me to spend winters in an area in New Mexico where next-door neighbors actually like each other! Here at home, I have come to accept the situation with unpleasant, untrustworthy neighbor as it is. And I have been educated by him…

 

This man taught me a lesson I wished I had learned much earlier in my life – namely that some people take great pleasure out of creating misery for others, particularly those they believe are vulnerable. It was hard for me to understand that these people need an enemy, someone they think they can torment. That their behavior had nothing to do with me personally and was all about them was not evident for many years because I kept trying to make peace.

 

Today I see this neighbor issue as a microcosm of a situation that has become rampant in this country and throughout the world. Human selfishness, dishonesty, and arrogance, the inability to form genuine relationships, the pervasive need for power over at any cost, the addictive need to exert that ‘bully’ power to deal with personal inadequacy, the need to have an enemy or create one that doesn’t exist has never been more apparent than it is today. It might be important to add that bullies are always cowards at heart.

 

The underbelly of the American Beast has been exposed and it is depressing to behold. It is not lost on me that like our pitiful excuse for a president it is people like my neighbor who get the attention…

 

A number of years ago this man began to take his powerlessness and pathological hatred out on trees. He owns what used to be a beautiful sloping mountain field bordered by evergreen woodlands. Initially, he allowed his white pines to flourish but eventually he began to destroy his trees from the top down, hacking off crowns, chopping side branches away until there was nothing left but bleeding stumps. Finally, he dragged the dying limbs to the road that also functions as my driveway (he continues this practice today). Then, bizarrely, he planted new “perfect” trees in more obvious places near the main road where they would be seen by the general public.

 

At first I was dumbstruck by this behavior; it seemed to make no sense. That it hurt and eventually (mercifully) killed the living beings we call trees was obvious. After witnessing such malevolent obliteration I reached the conclusion that this man’s mental health was in jeopardy. And, of course, to this day virtually anyone who drives down the driveway asks me what is going on with the “holocaust” next door. As if I had inside information. Now I simply reply, “the man is crazy” and let it go at that. If he only knew what people thought…

 

Long ago I made peace with the dying trees. They know that if I had the choice those magnificent Beings would have been left to live or chopped down mercifully… Today whenever I walk by the ugly stumps it brings to mind man’s inhumanity to man and the natural world as a whole and how weary Nature must be of man’s ongoing need to control and destroy the integrated living organism we call Earth. My revengeful neighbor is only one of those destroyers…It is always helpful to put a person’s actions in a larger context and I have done exactly that with this man.

 

I am filled with compassion for mutilated trees, animals, plants, and for people who are suffering or dying. I am also comforted because I know that Nature has begun the process of re-dressing the human induced imbalances with the first of her pandemics. S/he has been desperately attempting to get our attention as her trees are slaughtered and burned, her waters poisoned, her air and ground polluted, her animals and plants becoming extinct. Few have paid attention. We seem to have forgotten that Nature is reality. Life on this planet is 450 million years strong; humans have only been around for 200,000 years. Today our socially constructed “reality” is cracking and a great void looms above and below revealing that humans are more vulnerable than they ever imagined. It is a relief to know that in time Nature’s Way will prevail:

 

“All Shall Be Well Again.”

Collapsing Foundations

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The slow greening of the spring…

 

I was writing an article when a sharp crack slammed through the house. I jumped out of bed to identify the frightening sound and found nothing. It wasn’t until I was in the bathroom that I saw that the floor had separated from its molding. Frightened out of my wits I crawled into my cellar to discover a supporting beam had collapsed. Others would follow. I was leaving for New Mexico in a week.

Frantic, I called around to find a foundation contractor, and cancelled my plans to go south. Why was it that every trip to New Mexico was preceded by omens, bad news and now a crisis? PTSD struck and I was walking on air. Uncomfortable with the person I found I managed to get the foundation propped up temporarily and left thinking I had someone who would do the work in the spring…

I arrived in New Mexico to a horrific jungle that had once been my garden, spent three weeks clearing a path to my front door (ending up with bloody hands from hand cutting and ruining two pairs of shears) eventually untangling and clearing an indescribable mess. Not one person had warned me… My closest neighbor would come over on some pretense or another and stand there watching me work in the intolerable heat of the sun never offering assistance. I succumbed to altitude sickness and 90 plus degree heat becoming ill within a few weeks. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was not welcome here, although some acquaintances appeared friendly enough. One friend was kind enough to shop for me In Santa Fe, a city I could not go to on my own because of severe dyslexia.

So began my winter in Abiquiu. In time I adjusted to my isolation, took deep pleasure from my pre-dawn walks to the river, listened carefully to messages I received from the cottonwood trees and bare winter ground. Friends, I thought I had, disappeared. But I was no stranger to loneliness and had resources like my writing, occasional brief visits from my neighbor, and my love for Nature.

The previous summer I had been diagnosed with emphysema and I noted that the high altitude was affecting my breathing keeping me too aware that at some point this disease would kill me. I continued to long for the scent of pine and the clear air in Maine and burned balsam oil to deal with my breathing issues.

It wasn’t just that the foundation of my house in Maine was collapsing… there was a relationship between the state of my little cabin and what was happening to my aging body. And soon I would note a third correspondance.

I spent time in the present appreciating what I could. Sunrises, trees, early evenings and winter’s ground supported me. I felt deep gratitude flowing. Of course, gratitude is ephemeral and one cannot force it, so some days I simply endured, stuck in either the past, or the now, more terrifying unknown future.

During the fall I had frightening dreams that were personal and impersonal in content. I consciously worked with dread relying more and more upon the present moment for relief from suffering.

I reached a point in my writing when despair finally overcame my ongoing attempts to educate people about the abuse of the Earth. I had been an advocate for so many years, and it seemed to me that my life’s work had come to nothing.

At the winter solstice I had an extraordinary reversal occur after listening to a storyteller tell an audience that humans as a species had run out of time. When I heard these words, I felt like I had been struck by lightening. As the searing truth severed years and years of false hope that I had clung to in my need to save my beloved Earth I let go; felt my entire body lean into a peace I had never known. I had done enough. It was over. I was free.

At first my dreams were jubilant, their meanings crystal clear. Humans were an expendable species whose arrogant selfish behavior would lead to our demise – my gratitude knew no bounds.

In one dream I held a clear bubble in my hand. I quickly opened the sphere to allow the contents to breathe and when I did I saw the most amazing scene. There were thousands of animals, birds and trees of all kinds scattered over magnificent emerald green ground. I was stunned, riveted, and it took me a few moments to take in what I saw. This was a whole new earth waiting to be born! Then I saw an ark. An ark? But this ark had no people, just animals birds butterflies worms – all manner of living creatures streaming out of its center. Mesmerized, I peered into the sphere. This earth was free of humans and their destructive manipulation. I awakened weeping with joy.

In a 2nd dream I was walking through the Bosque in the pre-dawn hours when I had a vision. My beloved dying cottonwoods had disappeared but in their place were giant pinecones that had become trees that were securely rooted in the ground. They were already 5 feet tall and growing very fast! These weren’t ordinary pinecones; they were crane –cones, cones like those that I had picked up at the Bosque del Apache (Cranes are spirit birds for me). “The trees will live on; they will just change forms” a dis-embodied voice told me.

I awakened feeling a profound sense of relief because I loved all trees and had witnessed such heartrending tree destruction by logging and burning, and in Abiquiu, I lived with thirst driven trees that were succumbing to desertification.

For a month I stayed in what can only be described as an altered state of consciousness – ecstasy. My whole world had shifted. I began to write about trees and couldn’t stop. The primary emphasis was no longer on advocating for the life of trees but rather to invite people in to examine trees as remarkable living beings four million years strong! I wrote and wrote and wrote with joy in my heart.

When my dreams suddenly turned dark again at the end of January I was baffled, unsettled. Trees were losing their bark; there was a new threat on the horizon. Two dreams haunted me. In one there were just the words: a malware virus will strike. In the second, bugs were flying horizontally past my window. As is my custom I wrote P for precognition across the top of the two dreams and let them be. My unease turned to raw fear; I knew something was coming.

A month later the C/virus slithered into awareness through thin air. I recalled a troubling dream I had the previous November about a giant multi-colored python that was snaking its way down the river and bearing down on us. I awakened knowing that whatever this was it involved the culture as a whole. Beyond that nothing. In retrospect it was easy to see that the presence of the menacing serpent was the first warning…

The time was also approaching for me to return to Maine. I had trouble sleeping; my plans to fly suddenly took on ominous overtones. My neighbor who planned to accompany me on the flight told me that he didn’t want to fly under the circumstances. I called my doctor for a recommendation: do not drive. With emphysema I am in the highest risk category, and I was aware that the disease had worsened during the winter. We would drive instead. I needed to see my doctor (New Mexico is not known for its medical expertise I had learned the hard way). I agreed, though with some reservations… We were fortunate to make the trip safely by taking extreme precautions.

Arriving home so early in the spring was joyful. The first frogs were singing, the birds I so missed in Abiquiu were here in abundance and are still arriving as of this writing. We had a couple of spring snowstorms that bowed the evergreens, covering them in delicate white shawls. My woodland paths turned into a fairyland forest. I dug and manured my vegetable garden and began to reclaim my grass-choked perennials, a job I continue to this day. Because it has been cold the leaves on the trees are unfurling craftily. They know enough to pay attention to the unpredictable moods of Nature. Spring greening has begun…

Now it is mid May and foundation issues are still looming. The contractor backed out. So far I have not been able to find someone to do the work, although I have made inquiries. In this area people are very responsible about the C/virus so the threat is lessened. I am very grateful that our town, not to mention our Governor, has been put laws into effect that will help protect the people if we do our part. Unfortunately, this C/virus is creating a Catch 22 situation. People have to work so the restrictions will have to be lifted at some point, and when they are we can expect a resurgence of the virus and more deaths.

I think it is becoming clear to some of us that the virus is changing the way people can relate to one another, and that this change is not temporary. Yet I rarely hear anyone mention that if we had paid attention to Nature, respecting her needs instead of mindlessly using her as a disposable resource that we would not be in this position today. Humans unleashed this virus by their actions, and now we are beginning to take the consequences.

I am no stranger to fear having endured PTSD for almost my entire life but this virus has added another threatening layer because I am also dealing with the reality that I suffer from a terminal disease. I know it, but I am only in the early stages of feeling it. One day I shall wake up and be unable to breathe my sweet mountain air… Because of the C/virus much needed tests I need to have to be put off, so once again I am walking on air.

The future has become uncertain. The artificial socially constructed cultural reality that people call “the real world” is an illusion that is breaking down as Nature claims sovereignty. I am struck by the relationship between my house problems, worsening health issues, and the breakdown of the culture under the threat of this pandemic and those that will follow. I am quite certain I am not the only person experiencing collapse on both a personal and collective level.

Meanwhile, my strategy for dealing with fear and uncertainty is to take refuge in the present as always. Fortunately, my love for Nature provides me with a seemingly endless resource… the next unfurling leaves and flowers – bloodroot and wild violets, the songs of birds – the drumming of the grouse, the bittern’s guttural call – the orioles whose luminescent coats are brighter than the oranges they sip nectar from – emerald green mosses, tufts of lime green grasses, peepers singing at twilight all remind me that each day is a gift – and that it’s up to me to be open to receiving what is offered.

Last night I participated in an online conversation with a number of other women all of whom were writers like me. Again and again I heard words about the importance of being able to withstand this slowing down, the benefits of achieving a state of stillness, and how participating with Nature allowed us to enter a state in which it is possible to feel peace during this very difficult transition.

Words to Live By.

Bluebird Spring

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When I arrived home in Maine seven weeks ago my friend Kathy who lives down the road already had eastern bluebirds coming to her feeders. Because I think of bluebirds as being insectivores (although they love berries too) their early arrival seemed unusual to me until I did a little research and discovered that bluebirds as a species are expanding their winter range as Climate Change continues to push them northward. I didn’t know that some have been living year round in Massachusetts for some time.

 

Most Eastern bluebirds who breed in northern climates do migrate, gathering in large numbers during November to fly south. In March, April, and May they move north to summer breeding grounds. In Florida where there is a stable population the bluebird may breed as early as January. Putting up nest boxes for bluebirds is helpful because these birds have lost so much habitat. Around my house here in Maine all snags have been left intact, as have all the trees so I have many natural cavities for all kinds of birds to nest in. But except for my field I have little open space. This year a friend of mine is making me a nest box, so perhaps I can attract a bluebird couple of my own.

 

Wherever these birds breed, the male initiates courtship often providing his mate with a tasty morsel or two while delicately fluttering his wings. The female lays four to six eggs that are a stunning shade of blue. Here at least, two broods are raised during one season. While the female sits on the second set of eggs, the male takes charge of the nestlings.

Caterpillars, spiders, and insects of various kinds provide the young with protein. Newly ploughed fields are an excellent source of insects and grubs. As previously mentioned bluebirds are also fond of berries and other ripe fruits. During the late summer and fall, bluebirds pounce on grasshoppers from the tops of mullein, an herb that is so common in natural fields. In the west hundreds of bluebirds might gather to feed on juniper berries. My guess is that they could do the same around here.

 

When I glimpsed bluebirds perched on my telephone wire a couple of weeks ago I got a chance to watch them through binoculars. I noted that the subtle coloring of the females varied as did the vibrant blue of the males.

 

I was also struck by how similar these eastern bluebirds were to those western bluebirds that I had glimpsed during the spring and early fall months in Abiquiu. I knew that I would probably not be able to distinguish one from the other unless I could identify the blue patch on the western male’s belly; the eastern bluebird has more white. Another identifying marker is that male western bluebirds have blue throats, while the male eastern bluebirds have orange or rust colored throats. I also didn’t know that the two species were so closely related that they interbred, or that both eastern and western bluebirds nested in the Rio Grande Bosque.

 

Around the casita I watched what I thought were western bluebirds (!) perch on the fence wire overlooking the field. When spotting tasty prey they sometimes took insects from the air; occasionally, they flew to the ground. By late fall these birds were gone.

 

Both eastern and western bluebirds prefer semi –open terrain; orchards, farms and ranches are excellent places because they are often surrounded by pine, oak, ponds for cattle, and streamside groves. Both eastern and western bluebirds tend to avoid hot dry regions during the summer but in the west they will nest in pinyon – juniper forests.

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(Fledglings)

 

Overall, the eastern bluebird is also in decline for the usual reasons. In recent decades, the western bluebird numbers have fallen dramatically over much of their range. The use of pesticides and controlled and uncontrolled burns destroy masses of habitat and are creating havoc for all southwestern bird species. Because western bluebirds have also become relatively common Bosque breeders over the past two or three years, it is more important than ever to protect our precious Rio Grande Bosque.

 

Bluebirds are important in the traditions of many Native American cultures. In particular, Bluebird is a symbol of spring. In Iroquois mythology, it is the singing of the bluebird that drives away winter. Bluebirds are also associated with the wind by the Cherokees, and were believed to predict or even control the weather. The Navajo and Pueblo tribes associate bluebirds with the sun; in some Pueblo tribes, Bluebird is identified as the son of the Sun. The Hopi see the bluebird as a directional guardian, associated with the west.

 

I close this narrative with a personal memory…

 

When I was a little girl I would sit on my grandfather’s desk, (the same one that I write on now) and look out the east window to watch the bluebirds enter and leave their nest boxes. My grandfather had ten homemade boxes positioned across the large and open field. Each year the bluebirds returned and my grandmother, my little brother, and I loved to see the fledglings leave the nests for the first time. I was always afraid the little ones would fall and my grandmother would have to remind me that I had never seen one get hurt –not ever.

 

 

 

May the bluebirds live on!

 

 

 

 

Earth Day 2020

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I awakened this morning to frozen raindrops hanging from trees – jeweled beads, snow capped hills, and a cacophony of spring songs – I was serenaded by robins, chickadees, phoebes, goldfinches, and nuthatch tweets as I walked out the door into the early morning sun. I listened for the cardinals who for the moment were absent. It was cold! 28 degrees at the end of April speaks to anomalies – or more realistic – Climate Change.

Yesterday we had rain, and working in the still damp air is literally a healing experience. The unbearably sweet fragrance wafting through thin air is a combination of chemicals released by soil-dwelling bacteria, oils released from plants during dry spells and ozone created when lightning splits oxygen and nitrogen molecules that then turn into nitric oxide.

I dug in baby trees that I had rescued from the side of the road the day before. Salt kills tender seedlings if the road crew misses slaughtering them. Around Maine trees are worthless except as an economically viable product, a heartbreaking reality for someone like me. That the lungs of the earth are worthless says everything I need to know about how this culture prioritizes money and power over LIFE.

As I turned over rich woodland earth to create a home for the seedlings I breathed in the intoxicating scent of moisture laden decaying detritus until I thought my lungs would burst. After living in a dry wind driven desert for months I am still inhaling woodland air like a starved creature (Fresh unpolluted air is a gift without parallel). Placing my trees in their new home near a “mother tree” I tamped down the soil with a deep sense of satisfaction. I potted up two other seedlings with damaged roots hoping that they will recover enough to be planted in the ground by fall.

Later today I will place the two tiny trees in a terra cotta pot down below moss covered Trillium rock where I dug in my brother’s ashes on an Earth Day thirty two years after his death. Normally, wild Trillium and Mayflowers are in bloom by his natural granite marker, but not this year – the most consistently cold April I ever remember, and perhaps one that is eerily appropriate.

Normally I do not ‘celebrate’ Earth Day because every day is an Earth day for me, but this year is different. We are in the midst of a pandemic, one that humans brought upon themselves with their disregard for the Earth. Nature does not discriminate; she is focused on Earth’s survival and our egregious behavior has created a perfect storm for viruses to erupt killing people indiscriminately as S/he struggles to re – dress gross imbalances. Climatologists have been telling us for years that pandemics would occur with more and more frequency as the Earth continues to heat up.

Working outside to dig and plant trees is my way of honoring the Earth and my little brother this day. I think how much he would appreciate the trees I will place under his stone hollow. He loved trees as much as I do; On days like today, I think I must love all trees for us both.

Cross Country Journey…

From New Mexico to Maine

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Last November I had a terrifying dream. I was looking down at a river from a great distance. A huge iridescent pulsing blue serpent (it looked like a python) was swimming along the river; it was bearing down on us; there was nothing I could do to stop it. For the Huichol and some other Indigenous peoples the presence of the blue serpent means death is on the horizon.

 

As a precognitive dreamer I recognized that some frightening force that involved a bodily threat was on its way (snakes represent the life force/body in most mythologies), but beyond this realization had no idea of the precise nature of this menace – just that it involved the whole culture. In late January I had two more precognitive dreams reinforcing the same threat before the C/virus struck the United States.

 

I was planning to return to Maine at the end of April because I had to be present for foundation work to begin on my little log cabin, but in early March I had a very personal precognitive dream. “It’s time to get going.” I began packing that day. More frightening dreams followed as my sense of urgency increased to an unbearable pitch. All I knew was that we had to leave as soon as possible. I barely slept, yet my dreams were relentless. I trusted the truths of my dreaming body because she is connected to the Body of the Earth… my earth body self knows things I cannot even imagine…

 

We left for Maine on the last day of March. A 2500 mile journey lay ahead but I was so relieved to be on the road moving away from an unknown threat even though we were also moving towards a peopled concentration of the C/virus. I had planned carefully for the trip. We slept and ate in the car, used the woods as our bathroom. Our only contact with people was at gas stations where we wore gloves, kept our distance, and paid with a credit card. With the C/virus escalating as we moved towards the east coast it was imperative that we took no chances.

 

There were some serious issues between my companion and I that went unattended. I believed we were not in any hurry and could take as long as we needed to make the trip safely. My driver disagreed, refusing to stop for any breaks despite knowing that this unexamined  willful behavior was dangerous to his health. We made a record breaking trip in three and a half days, arriving here in the middle of the night in heavy rain.

 

I was unbelievably grateful although my nervous system had been on scream because of the interminable high speed driving and stress. Two days later my companion was hospitalized. He paid a steep price for ignoring my pleas and (probably?) those of his doctor. Fortunately, he is all right now. For about a week after our arrival every time I closed my eyes I saw a speeding highway. I am still recovering from an acute PTSD episode.

 

What got lost in the chaos/trauma around our return were the special moments we shared during this trip. All the astonishing Rosebud trees were blooming in four states we sped through. If we hadn’t stopped each evening I never would have gotten a picture of one. Night became my Beloved… every morning I longed for her and the peace that would come at the end of that day’s frenzied driving…

 

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After finding a quiet place on a country road to spend the night I made sandwiches for us, fed the dogs, gave my dove Lily b his water and took my dogs Hope and Lucy for their only really long walk of the day exercising my aching back and body and breathing in the sweet night air in the process. On April 1st I heard the first peepers singing their hearts out. Every night I gave thanks for the day that had just passed. I experienced a strange sense of being protected by Something.

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In the morning I awakened to the whistling calls of the Cardinals, (my absolutely favorite bird except for Sandhill cranes). I was starved for the spring bird cacophony that had been missing in Abiquiu. I was relieved to see that diversity still existed elsewhere. One night we stopped before dusk to camp in the driveway of an abandoned house. Lily b had a chance to be outside; he perched on an old upended garbage can and stared at his surroundings with rapt attention. I watched a phoebe fly into an open porch with twigs in her mouth. Meadowlarks sang heartrending serenades. Awake before sunrise I walked the dogs for at least 15 minutes and gloried in the shimmering golden light of dawn… The pale green of unfurling leaves brought tears to my eyes. One night we camped on a hill inside a magnificent six-acre state park. While walking the dogs just before dark a whole herd of white – tailed deer passed by us in the valley below. It was here that I was able to take pictures of the Rosebud trees. That pre-dawn walk will stay with me forever. The rolling mountains were so astonishingly beautiful tinted in deep green and lime. I fell in love with spring again.

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These precise images stand out with a peculiar starkness and clarity, perhaps because overall the trip was exceedingly difficult and exhausting. For those moments at least, I was emotionally present, living in my body.

 

I am writing this reflection eighteen days later. The threat of the virus is minimized in this area because stringent precautionary measures were taken from the beginning of the viral outbreak. It is possible to shop, use a pharmacy and get gas locally. My vet, doctor and the dedicated folks of the Bethel Health Center are less than ten minutes away.

 

I wonder what specific threat was avoided by our hurried departure from Abiquiu. If past experience is any indication, I probably will never know.

 

However, with that much said I suspect it had to do with the virus itself. My companion repeatedly ignored my pleas to use protection when dreams told me the virus was “under our feet” before it was publically acknowledged in Arriba county where we lived.

The Croakers

 

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(Frogs mating – note the one who didn’t make it! Eggs in upper right)

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(Look at those golden eyes!)

 

The most exciting part of arriving home in early April is that signs of spring are everywhere. This is truly the season of new beginnings. I listened for the croaking quacking wood frogs at every ditch, puddle and vernal pool and was rewarded by one croaking male wood frog on April 12th.

Two days later in the same place I discovered one couple mating and laying; a few clumps of jellied eggs were scattered close to the frogs who were still clasped together. The frogs vanished the next day. I realized then that in this place there should have been many couples, not just one…All frogs and toads are the most threatened species on earth, our canaries in the coal mine. They absorb pollutants through their skin – human induced poisoned air, earth, and water. We are currently in the process of losing the species for good.

 

I happily scooped up the newly laid eggs to bring home to scatter in various vernal pools on this property where the have a better chance of surviving, grateful that I had not missed wood frog emergence. Normally they begin to croak before ice –out in late February March (March around here). So I am a bit puzzled by their current behavior.

 

Wood frogs are native to our Boreal forests in Alaska, Canada, and throughout the Northeast. Wood frogs are the only frogs that live north of the Arctic Circle.

 

Wood frogs are omnivorous, and eat a variety of small, forest-floor invertebrates. Adults consume a variety of insects including spiders, beetles and moth larvae. The tadpoles feed on plant detritus, algae (they also like lettuce) and also eat the eggs and larvae of other amphibians.

 

Similar to other northern frogs that enter dormancy close to the surface in soil and/or leaf litter, wood frogs can tolerate the freezing of their blood and other tissues. Urea accumulates in tissues in preparation for over wintering and liver fluid is converted in large quantities to sugars in response to ice formation. Both act to limit the amount of ice that forms and reduces osmotic shrinking of cells.

 

Amazingly, these creatures can survive many freeze/thaw events during winter if no more than about 65% of their total body water freezes.

 

After wood frogs emerge from hibernation they begin a yearly migration to the nearest vernal pool for breeding, starting in late February or March. This species is often described as an explosive, short-term breeder which means that the window for survival is minimal. In this region, breeding often takes place over just a few days. Males search for a mate by hugging other frogs until they find one who is round enough to be carrying eggs. Females lay approximately 1500 – 3000 eggs, often in the deeper sections of the pools. Out of the large amount of eggs deposited only about 4 percent survive. The egg mass retains heat, and those eggs located near the center of the mass have a higher survival rate.

 

Communal egg masses are sometimes attached to vegetation within pools. The ones I have found in ditches are free floating. Eggs will hatch in 4 to 30 days. Temperature is a factor. Around here the eggs I have hatched have become tadpoles in 2 -4 days.

 

In four to sixteen weeks, depending on water and food supply, wood frogs have completed their growth cycle. My tadpoles become frogs during the month of July. Maturity may be reached in one to two years, depending on the sex and the population of frogs. A wood frog’s lifespan in the wild is usually no more than three years.

 

In my eyes the glorious sight of a wood frog (now very rare) is cause for celebration. I used to see a few each summer, but no more. They are found in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests; marshes; meadows; and swamps. Most of the time the frog lives close to the ground, hiding under leaves in woodland areas.

 

A wood frog’s most distinct characteristic is the black marking across its eyes, which has been said to resemble a mask. The bodies of wood frogs can be varying shades of brown, red, green, or gray, with females tending to be more brightly colored than males (note picture). These frog hues sound dull but each has an iridescent sheen. Adults can reach about three inches. The ones around here do not.

 

It seems to me that everyone loves to eat wood frogs from eggs through adulthood…Herons maneuver their way into my vernal pools for a snack even in the deep woods! My kingfishers love them. A variety of snakes eat adult wood frogs. These creatures fall prey to snapping turtles, raccoons, skunks coyotes, and foxes. Beetles, turtles and salamanders feast on eggs and tadpoles.

 

In the amphibian world, wood frogs may be the species best able to recognize their family. When many tadpoles are in the same place, siblings seek each other out and group together (my guess is that it is the only species that has been studied). My observations of all frogs confirm that the young like to be close to one another.

 

Wood frogs are found in deciduous, coniferous, and mixed forests; marshes; meadows; and swamps. They spends most of their time on the ground in woody areas except for during mating season when they are breeding.

 

I am anxiously awaiting the birth of these tadpoles hoping that my attempts to scatter the “Croakers” around my property will lengthen the time they remain on Earth.