There is nothing like first hand observation to provide a naturalist with new astonishing information. In my last column for another publication I wrote about gophers in the abstract, and two days later Hector made his first appearance. I noted the hole that appeared one morning with some curiosity but I never expected to meet its owner. While standing at the window one morning (I lose amazing amounts of time here watching birds, the river, soaking in the subtlety of the winter scrub, red willows, flying geese, ducks, egrets, and soaring eagles) a small russet brown head popped out of a hole in a cleared area. The rodent perused his immediate surroundings and then disappeared. I have just met my immediate neighbor, a gopher, I thought excitedly, as the name Hector flashed through my mind. I didn’t know then that friend Iren loved the name Hector! Of course, I have no idea whether Hector is a male or female but I trust the part of me that might know…


Hector is a most fascinating neighbor. Soon after I put seed and cracked corn out in the early sometimes pre-dawn hours he appears. Every morning he re -opens the hole he closes at the end of each feeding day (which here ends around noon because by then the birds and Hector have devoured the day’s ration of food). Just why he feels the need to close his door after the food is gone remains a mystery to me, unless he is irritated by the sparrows who sometimes peer down into his abode, no doubt looking for food too! Yesterday I noticed that a couple of birds actually snuggled into the orifice Hector had created – maybe for warmth? I recalled that gophers are very territorial.


This morning I didn’t awaken until after dawn. When I went outdoors to scatter seed there were five new holes in the same area. Hector had obviously opened one door and when he found nothing edible he descended into his cavern of tunnels and created new doors to the surface to scout around for seed! At least that’s my theory.


As soon as I came in around 7:30 AM I went to the window and there was Hector pulling down sunflower seed and cracked corn into his favored tunnel as fast as he could! Today is a bonus day because in addition to bird food I also sprinkle my dove’s food outdoors recycling Lily b’s left overs. Hector has been busy storing goodies all morning!


After the flock of blackbirds arrived things took a turn for the worse because now the ground is picked clean and it’s only 11AM. Hector has already closed down one of his entrances (his favorite), and I am anxious to see what he does with the others. I still try to imagine what it must be like to have a burrow that snakes its way through the earth six feet deep and can extend up to 5000 feet in length. I would like to believe that Hector sleeps under the Trailercita snuggled into his gopher nest somewhere below us.


(We need to be mindful that all gophers do so much good because they keep the desert soil aerated allowing precious moisture to be absorbed)


Clearly, living with a gopher is a source of ongoing amazement to me. I am always wondering what Hector might do next!


Coyote fences, gourds, and Canis latrans


My friend Iren has erected a beautiful coyote fence for privacy. Each day when I look at this wooden structure I find myself admiring it more.


Coyote fences can be made of a number of materials often spruce – fur latillas and this one appeals to me the most. The uneven wooden poles fit the surrounding desert like they rise out of the ground like willows will in wet places…


In the morning light the poles shimmer.


Naturally, I also think about coyotes being able to jump these fences if they actually surround an enclosed structure (this one does not).


Coyotes are brilliant and can eye immediately the difficulties presented when assessing the viability of jumping such an uneven barrier. A coyote could easily break a leg, or worse. However, coyotes are amazingly adaptable wild animals and rarely make stupid mistakes.


I have read that if they choose coyotes might be able to clear a fourteen-foot fence. This information seems a bit far – fetched. Even a starving coyote probably would not make this choice.


When Iren gave me a coyote gourd I was simply amazed. When halved these beauties reveal Nature’s superb packaging and intricate handiwork. According to Iren, Santa Fe has coyote gourds all over the place so I had to look them up. They grow wild and although unpalatable to humans, coyotes like them very much, because their scat is full of the flat seeds, three of which I just planted in one of my pots. The vine is to my mind quite beautiful to look at with it’s star –like variegated leaves. The smooth spherical fruits ripen from green to pale yellow gourds that are still used by Pueblo peoples as rattles in ceremony and the seeds were also once ground and eaten. These wild plants grow in sandy places and I am anxious to see if I can germinate a vine. Perhaps one day I will have a coyote fence on which the vines could grow…


A few weeks ago I met a coyote wandering across Owl Canyon. I had my two five pound Chihuahuas with me on leashes. Because I am a naturalist, my dogs have been taught that they can bark at people but not wild animals, and during this encounter we were able to approach this coyote close enough so that I could see his golden amber eyes. The coyote seemed quite curious and regarded us with intense concentration, especially after I called out a greeting of welcome. We all stood there quietly in the still afternoon sun until the coyote decided to continue along his way.


Wild animals are busy living their own lives and this brief interlude was a gift from the Mistress of the Desert. Had we met a pack of wild dogs I would have been alarmed because these animals can be dangerous but it is my experience that coyotes rarely, if ever bother humans. Of course, anyone who has cats, chickens, and unleashed small/medium dogs leaves their animals at risk to become an opportunist’s next meal if left free to roam at will, but it is our responsibility as pet owners to care for our two or four legged friends, and not blame an offending coyote for passing up a free meal. Coyotes do not have supermarkets to shop in like people do.


One fascinating fact about coyotes is that every attempt to extirpate them has failed, and in fact, coyotes have now extended their range throughout all of North America into Mexico and Panama. Killing them simply encourages the remaining coyotes to reproduce more of their kind, so these wily animals are successful in outwitting human cruelty. As a naturalist I am almost always writing about the loss of species so I am especially happy to write about the highly creative coyotes who have learned to thrive along side man, their primary enemy.


I have never understood why so many people fear and hate these beautiful animals who are excellent meso – predators who sing up the stars and fill an ecological niche without which the desert would be a poorer rodent ridden place.



halved coyote gourd


Coyote fence

Winter Solstice Repose


Solstice Eve Sunset


Winter Solstice dawn…

I awaken to the lovely song of my dove who is coaxing up the dawn as the turning of the wheel is occurring. When I go outside to feed the birds I gaze up into the giant cottonwood tree in the east studded with stars in the predawn sky. Arcturus and Jupiter are brilliant against a velvet blue firmament.


I listen for the owls…


Last night anticipating tonight’s bonfire down by the river, I celebrated my ritual in our bird room with its blue green lights to honor the Earth and a crown of candles to honor the women of myth who wear them at this turning. The effect was stunning – the crown and the lights, the burning white sage sanctifying this space.


A bruised deep pink and purple sky soon caught fire outside my window.


My rituals are simple and each is written according to the inner dreaming self who directs these seasonal turnings of the wheel. As I blessed my dogs, my bird, myself with river water, I allowed my present grief to flow through me… every year it’s the same this mixture of sadness and gratitude.


Yesterday morning I awakened with an image of a cross section of a perfect round red cedar tree that somehow had the four directions or the equilateral cross superimposed over it (or more likely both)…In the dream this image was attached to an entire tree and someone was telling me that I needed to find a way to separate one slab from the whole supine trunk of the tree because this was my piece.


Reflecting on this dream I was struck by the double meaning of the cross and the four directions…. The cross indicating suffering and death perhaps, the four directions signifying life and a “good red road.” The fact that the trunk was one of great girth gave me the sense I had was that I was participating in a mythical reality of Oneness, and that my piece of tree trunk held one piece of the tale just as the rest of the tree held the whole. It was enough, and all day I carried this story in my heart.


Winter Solstice is a time to rest, a time to reflect, a time to seek repose. “Winter Woman” is very much with me as is the prayer that I might lean into her stillness to find my own sense of peace.


In my mind I see Freya, the Snow Goddess with a crown of stars on her head flying across the frozen tundra in her chariot, rabbits leaping over snowdrifts as they lead their goddess on…


This winter season like every other is a gift that Nature offers – it is always our choice to embrace what is, and I am grateful to be alive to make this choice.

Blessings to All

Las Posadas at Abiquiu Pueblo




IMG_2901 2.JPG


(musicians, friends Sabra and Iren and Dexter of the Pueblo making biscochitos in the kitchen)


For the past couple of days my friend Iren and I have been preparing for the Christmas party at the Pueblo. Every year Iren, who is a gifted artist, works with the local children helping them to make ornaments, cards, and god’s eyes to sell at this special gathering, and this year I worked with her and the children. Iren also made beautiful cards to sell. Every penny of the proceeds goes to augment the funds for the Abiquiu Pueblo Library and Cultural Center. The day before the party we went into the canyon, gathered pinion boughs and then black pine (from Iren’s house) to decorate the tables for the festivities. We included fragrant black sage and blue green juniper berries as part of the whole.


This is the second time I have attended the Christmas party at the Pueblo and once again I was delighted by the delicious food, the animated conversation between friends and joyful live music. I am also so pleased with the bright red ceramic peppers, a hand painted stone, and the beautiful cards (made by Iren) that we purchased last night. These are my winter solstice offerings…


This year the night of the party also marked the beginning of Las Posadas, a Hispanic tradition that Abiquiu Pueblo observes. This nine – day festival has multiple variants but the basic story is the same, and is reenacted around Mary and Joseph who are searching for a place of “repose” as Mary prepares to give birth.


When the luminary – a fire – was lit in the church courtyard I went out the door and followed a few others as they approached the flames. Within a few minutes the church bells rang and people gathered at the church door, knocking on it and singing a song about being invited in that was answered by singing from within the church. Eventually the doors opened and we entered the church that was festooned with live trees and a crèche with Guadalupe overlooking the scene. A Catholic Church service followed (unexpectedly for me because I thought I was about to witness an actual reenactment of a story that originated with Saint Francis in 1200 AD!).


I am not a Catholic, or for that matter a Christian. I am an animist, that is, a person who believes that spirit and soul resides in every living tree, stone, star, plant – and that the natural world is a holy place.


However, my father was an Italian immigrant and once, a Roman Catholic, so I have Christian roots…


When the Asian priest gave a homily I found myself listening with reverence and deep respect because the core of his message was that Abiquiu was a most beautiful and sacred piece of earth and that if one looked into the mirror of Abiquiu Lake and saw the moon reflected upon the waters, or the stars in the sky, then one could feel peace. The choice was ours, he said, in these times that threaten war and destruction to choose peace or war. It was up to us.


When I left the church I realized that this message was what I had come to hear. I too would consciously make the choice on this approaching solstice eve (12/20) to choose peace in my personal and political life as best as I could as we approach this next turning of the wheel. I will also light a Faralito on the night of the winter solstice and put it in my window to invite the Spirit and the Soul of the Peace of Nature to enter and find repose.

Cedar Slips through the Veil…



Yesterday my friend Iren surprised me with a gift – actually two – slabs of fragrant cedar that she had cut herself for firewood.


One cross section, a large one, irregularly shaped like a cauliflower floret took me back to 1971, the last holiday I was ever to spend with my twenty one year old brother who was my dearest companion and soul mate. That Christmas he had surprised me with another equally beautiful slab of sweet cedar with its red center.


A month later he shot himself and my world went dead.


The following year I spent in New York. My grandmother was dying and when my two young children (6 and 4) returned to Maine after her death my precious cedar slab had vanished. The neighbors who had stayed in our little house had probably burned it as firewood. I was devastated.


As children my little brother and I both gravitated to the cedar tree (white) as being our favorite tree of all, often picking twigs to keep in our room and carving small animals out of its fragrant heart wood.


When I moved to the mountains and built my log cabin the first tree I planted after my fruit trees was a white cedar. She became the house’s guardian spirit tree, and each year I decorated her during winter darkness and starry nights – the holy days that are celebrated in every culture with trees and lights, tucking a crystal star into her center that twinkled as she offered shelter and protection for winter birds.


Last winter while I was here in Abiquiu, my deer devastated the branches of this once magnificent tree that I had grown as a seedling. When I returned to Maine in the spring I understood that this tree would not recover from being girded and shorn of most of her branches, so I cut her down fearing a lingering tree death and hoping to hasten her demise. All summer, the doe and the fawn grazed on her branches and each time I walked out the door I could feel the hole she left behind… My house had lost her guardian.


One day last fall I was walking down the road and on a whim, gently uprooted a tiny cedar seedling, potted it and brought it with me across country to Abiquiu, intentionally. I did not understand why I did this, only that I needed to. Each morning, I mist her branches, and my hope is that one day she will thrive in Casita del Oso (house of the bear) eventually developing that dense teardrop shape, perhaps living in a pot for a few years…


Last night when I carefully placed my cedar slabs in my little bird room I could smell the tree’s sweet scent. I thought about my brother with the usual poignancy and sent my deepest gratitude to the woman who couldn’t have known what it would mean to me to be given this particular gift. Another circle was closing. It feels almost as if my brother is once again with me in some intangible way…


I can’t end this reflection without mentioning how important the cedar tree is to mythology. It is used by many Indigenous tribes as incense and as a purifying herb. Cedar is associated with prayer and healing, dreams, and acts as a protector (ess). Many rituals surround the felling of cedar trees that are used as sweat lodge poles and in medicine bundles.


In Greek mythology some women are actually turned into trees to escape being raped. The Egyptian Isis discovered the body of her beloved in a cedar tree, and eventually brought him back to life, long enough to conceive her child.


Women and trees have a natural affinity for one another. Mystics, or “sensitives” like me can often feel what a tree might be conveying without words. And during these times of world tree destruction the screams of many haunt our dreams.

Tree of Life



Every culture sanctifies trees. Some are believed to have spirits that live within their roots, trunks, and branches. Sometimes the god of vegetation is a tree – often a pine as in Greek Mythology. Although many different trees symbolize the Tree of Life in different cultures all symbolize the interconnection between the two worlds, that of the mundane and the sacred. With its roots in the earth, its trunks extending upward and its branches reaching to the sky the worlds become one. Perhaps most important the tree is the symbol of “everlasting” Life, not in the Christian sense but in the sense that life is always in a state of renewal. No wonder trees are holy. (My twenty six year old dove, Lily b, sings out as I write the above words at 2 AM in the morning reaffirming this truth. We have a telepathic connection that extends back to when I first got him and realized this bird could read my mind).


Trees converse with those who listen to them. There is one Yaqui myth that tells the story of the People coming upon a tree whose vibrations made a sound that no one could understand. An old wise woman lived deep within the forest and she sent her daughter to listen to what the tree was saying. The tree told her that Christians were coming with a new religion. The people were distressed and some left to dwell underground taking the old ways with them into the earth where the roots of the trees could keep them safe. The People who remained became the Yaqui. Native peoples of this land hold the tree as sacred, and here in Northern New Mexico boughs are used as part of the regalia by the Pueblo people during the winter dances to symbolize the powers of Nature and the  sanctity of the Forest.


Every year a tree, usually an evergreen “calls” out to me capturing my attention involuntarily, without words through some kind of vibration or sense. Yesterday, this happened in a greenhouse with Pinus nigra, the black pine. This evergreen is native to Austria and Northern Italy (my Italian roots may have called me to her) and it was brought to this country in the mid 1700’s and as I discovered later, it is one of the best trees to grow in the high desert! I knew nothing about the tree initially, but the second I saw it I knew it was the one.


This tree will be the first to be planted here at Casita del Oso, or the House of the Bear, when the casita is finished. Meanwhile, she has also become my tree of life for this year. Shaped like a pyramid, thick with dense long needles she stands about three feet high and this morning I festooned her with red, yellow, orange peppers and a few pine cones. Birds flocked around her and a few landed on her conical cap. Since birds and trees have a special reciprocal relationship, I have no doubt that my avian friends are welcoming her too. I covered her tender roots with juniper boughs and tomorrow friend Iren will give me some hay to protect her over the winter until I can finally put her in the ground in early spring.

Tonight she was welcomed with a farolito or luminary lit in her honor. Farolitos are used during  Northern New Mexican Feast days and are a tradition. They are sometimes called luminaries. Around the Winter Solstice/Christmas people put them outdoors to welcome the benign spirits/or Mary and Joseph into their homes for repose. When I filled a small paper bag with dirt and placed a candle inside it felt just right. When darkness descended on the river valley last night, a soft glow emanated from beneath the tree. I hope that the Presence of my little pine will bring peace and blessings as well as protection for myself and for others, as so many Indigenous people believe.

The Owl Place



It was a beautiful black night peppered by only the brightest stars when I went outdoors to take a picture of the mysterious pearl white orb whose mystery still binds me to her and all women with wings – those women I love, the mother I lost, and of course, all birds.

The deep ‘whooing’ of the Great Horned owls began shortly afterwards just as I got into bed and continued for about fifteen minutes while I reflected upon the remarkable day…

“Who whooo who who,” the harmonious conversation between the two owls filled my heart to overflowing.

Nature was offering me yet another gift on this night of December’s cold, frost, snow, or winter full moon according to various Indigenous traditions.

The day before, my kindred spirit, (Iren’s words) had suggested this canyon as a safe place to walk my two little dogs. My trust in this woman runs deep and so we set out yesterday on a mild December afternoon following a sandy arroyo back into the hills. The serpentine rock strewn path eventually led to a roughly textured column of immense curtained sandstone structures, a couple with deep hollows carved and sculptured by the wind.

Climbing inside the one I could reach to investigate, I immediately noticed a couple of crumbling owl pellets realizing that I must have accidentally stumbled on an owl’s roost, and probable nesting place although it was impossible to see where the structure might be located behind the undulating sandstone curtains.

Excitedly I began to examine the pellets. By the size of the skulls, jaw bone, leg bones and other fragments I reached the conclusion that this must be a Great Horned Owl’s place of residence. Delighted by the find, it was a moment before I saw the distinctive horizontal barred feather resting in the rubble.

I was overcome by joy. Discovery is a magical process and this experience occurring on the afternoon of the eve of the Full Moon felt like a precious gift. I carefully picked up the feather, and a few bone fragments to bring home with me giving the place two names “Owl Canyon” and the “Owl’s Place” feeling ever so grateful that I could visit here again and again, should I chose.

As often is the case here in Abiquiu, I felt like I was walking on hallowed ground. Some of this sensing/feeling comes from being able to disappear into wilderness in minutes with deep silence, the footprints of wild cats, coyotes, and the occasional soaring raven my only companions.

Except for the owls who are hidden from sight…Owls who understand that Silence is a Gift.

I am truly only at peace in the wild.

Last night I fell asleep thinking about owls, how some had moved into my woods in Maine just this fall and how it seemed to me that they had followed me here to the high desert…

Just before dawn this morning when I walked my dogs I was startled to hear an ongoing call made by a solitary Great Horned owl, surely the most ancient image (and almost always maligned) of a “woman with wings.” I looked over the stark ridges of the reptilian mountains to the Owl’s Place and silently wished the owl good morning as my body was flooded by the comfort that only deep communion can bring.

Because we are all interconnected I am positive that an ancient multitude of women with wings from every continent keeps watch over us all.