For Love of Water

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Each morning I awaken to the soothing sound of water flowing over stone and remind myself that this is July in Maine, definitely the hottest month, and usually the driest at least before climate change began to create havoc with our weather.

 

By this time of the year, my brook is usually barely audible, but this year with the increased rainfall it is still running, has a large pool with iridescent rainbow brook trout swimming happily, and the mink leave teeny little prints in the mud after finishing their morning ablutions.

 

Fat tadpoles are swimming about in the “almost vernal pool” I dug for them next to the brook and yellow swamp iris were still in bloom on my return from Abiquiu.

 

Best of all, the scent of water is overpowering and whenever I walk down the mossy hill that meets tall mint spires, round pincushion moss and sage green sphagnum mounds I am overcome with gratitude for this precious gift because water is life.

 

I am glad that both my brother and my father’s ashes are buried there.

 

Kingfisher’s family rattles up and down the winding brook hunting for food; last year the terrible drought left him without adequate fishing territory.

 

When I have the courage to listen to local news the low water table that I witness uneasily as I scan the edge of the brook translates into the drought that is still with us.

 

As of June Maine is at least three plus inches below “normal” rainfall for this time of year. It is easy to be lulled into believing that the drought is over, but of course, as the trees will tell you, it is not. The white pines have new shoots growing as if their lives depended on it and they do. All the grasses are seeding up and my very wild flower jungle is a visual feast with deep crimson fiery orange, lemon yellow, and delphinium blue… Tiny toads and garter snakes abound and the thick fog laden air is so sweet I can hardly bare it.

 

I feel as if I have acquired two “home places” or more accurately, they have acquired me. This one in Maine has been my sanctuary for thirty years. Abiquiu has been a dream that finally came to fruition last summer, when I fled to a mountainous New Mexican desert from a blistering world of withering flowers, falling leaves, and crumpled dead grasses that left me wondering if life would continue here in Maine. There, I discovered people with oh such generous hearts who literally took me in.

 

I came to live on Red Willow river and fell in love with elephant armed cottonwoods, lizards and snakes and the wildflowers that adorned the high desert scrub. Each day as I walked down the river path, I would stop a moment to give thanks for the gift of that torrent that would bring the farmers the precious water they needed to grow their crops. I watched the sun rise over a fog bound serpent who rushed to the sea. In my mind, the two places have become two pieces of one whole in my life. I belong to both.

 

Here I cannot rest in the dappled light, so golden at the edges of the day, under trees with emerald leaves so heavy with fruit, without thinking of that other home to the south of me…

 

That home where water is too scarce and thunderheads do not bring the rains the people must have to live. When I left there in June, temperatures skirted 100 degrees – a great wall of heat that literally took my breath away. By then the birds had raised at least one clutch and hummingbirds buzzed like bees around feeders that I filled twice a day. The magenta cholla were in bloom as were the crimson and yellow roses that my neighbor tends to with such love.

 

I confess, my body cannot take the heat of summer in Abiquiu, though the other three seasons work well for me. It occurs to me that perhaps this is how it is supposed to be. I am meant to return in the spring to this piece of land, my own lilacs, fruit trees and wildflower gardens, and hopefully to the sound of a healthy brook that still runs clear.

 

For the moment, I am at peace, though I miss my Abiquiu friends – people who have stolen my heart much like the sage gray green high desert has.

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Every day I call out to the frog gods to bring the rain to this high desert with its reptilian mountains that is also my home. Never mind that it took 72 years to find it.

 

Every day I give thanks for the precious gift of water that brings all of us life.

 

Every day I wonder when people will see the gift of this water, and once again honor it as Indigenous peoples have done since he beginning of time…

The Homecoming

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Two giant brown 300 lb. pigs were chasing us down the road next to my house a few days ago. PIGS??? This was the second alarming threat that had occurred in the two weeks since I had returned to Maine.

My friend Bruce mitigated the entire incident by suggesting that these monsters were just walking “fast” while snorting crazily on a public road while they stopped all traffic in their wake. My two little Chihuahuas and I felt differently but then we three are not physicists and we have been harassed by unfriendly, bullying, and most recently, dangerous dogs since my neighbors moved in eleven years ago… One attacked me in a public place last summer.

The pattern of woman/animal elder abuse (now I am 72) is well rooted in this “place.”

Naturally, I called the town office and left a message. Knowing the drill, I next called the dog officer whose robot replied that I should call the police. When I finally got a dispatcher she told me to contact the dog – catcher. Round and round we go. Yesterday I got a text from the Town Clerk asking if I had heard from anyone about the incident. “Of course not,” I replied. We have been here before.

It all began here the year (2003) the town forced me to obtain pictures of the German Shepard who was trespassing and threatening the life of my rabbit. To “prove” that I wasn’t making up the story, I followed protocol and after nine months got the necessary pictures of the offending dog to the town hall. There I was told the pictures weren’t good enough proof. I went home. The very next morning I heard blood curdling, high pitched, and oh so pitiful baby-like screams – Racing out the door in a frenzy I found my dead rabbit still in her pen with her guts ripped out. In shock (murder does put a person into a state that is like any other) I put Moonflower in a paper bag and called the town hall.

“You got what you wanted” my rabbit is dead.”

Their response was that the dog officer had to see the rabbit to make sure. The dog officer, appeared in minutes, a remarkable feat considering his gross nine month negligence, while I stood at the door screaming hysterically “do you still need more proof” as I pulled the dead rabbit out of the bag by her ears while bloody intestinal body parts slithered to the ground. He left.

The dogs – there were three in all – returned to look for the spoils and this was when I got the pictures of the man walking by my window dragging Moonflower’s killer dogs away.

I buried my rabbit on my land here and have never visited her grave. Ever.

Little did I know this was only the beginning…

I built my house on my beloved land (which I have had for 30 years) in 2004 and by 2005 had acquired what was to become the worst neighbors I could ever have imagined. Neighbors who refused then, as they do to this day, to collar and contain their big dogs (this is the law), and who allow them to bully my present dogs by running into the road and threatening all of us. The remarkable thing is that these people continue to get away with this behavior because the Town of Woodstock, the dog constable, and the police ignore the behavior, even after one of these same dogs attacked me in a public place last summer.

By the end of the month last year I had moved to Abiquiu, New Mexico for a break from my exhausting and terrifying life with a full blown anxiety disorder and suffering from PTSD. Eleven months later I returned to flag obsessed western Maine and picked up where I left off. Yesterday, while walking down my road we were threatened again by  a dog, this one a huge Saint Bernard (who is normally chained).

I spent all yesterday afternoon with robots trying to get help from ANYONE in the state department who would be willing to intervene. So far, nothing. Needless to say I have low expectations.

I borrowed a gun. As a woman who has been anti –gun prone since her brother killed himself with one in 1972 I find to my horror that I have now joined the crowd.

Welcome home Sara to “the way things should be” (one of Maine’s favorite cliches) IMG_2100.JPG

Dancing for the Dakota Access Pipeline

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Last week we attended dances at Ohkay Owingeh, formally known as the Pueblo of Santa Clara. These Tewa speaking peoples are located on the Rio Grande River, nestled in the hills on tribal owned land in Northern New Mexico.

 

Because it is the time of the year that most dances are held to encourage the crops to grow the first dance we witnessed, not surprisingly, was a Basket dance. The women dancers were dressed in bright shawls of every conceivable color and carried baskets with ribbons, symbolizing the containers for the harvest to come. All wore moccasins. Curiously, some women had what looked like three dimensional moons with rays attached to their backs. These sculptures were quite original and certainly spectacular and once again the corn maiden symbol, the round red dot, adorned the cheek of each woman. Very small girls were also dressed in traditional regalia. Drumming accompanied the dance and corn pollen was dusted on the earth before the dance began.

 

Many pounding drums alerted us to the next dance that immediately followed the first. Drummers and singers entered the plaza from the kiva (the best drummers I have heard so far). The lead dancer was dressed in a war bonnet made of brilliant orange feathers, His arms were covered in purple clay and he had wings made of feathers, bells, scarlet knee bands. He didn’t dance he flew, his feet barely touching the ground. I was mesmerized and for a while couldn’t pay attention anything but the sound of the drumming and this dancer’s whirling body and footwork. He became the dance. Gradually the other dancers entered my awareness, all men with bodies covered in ochre, red, and gray clay.

 

The whole tone of this dance was different. Angry. War cries. Yells. I could feel a fiery intensity that I have never experienced at any of the former dances. I didn’t understand. Some men wore buffalo horn headdresses and other men wore other fantastic war bonnets along with bells, kilts, red ties on their legs. The drumming pulled me into the earth with its awe – inspiring beat.

 

Then I saw the lead dancer wearing an apron with the letters DAPL – the Dakota Access Pipeline – and I finally understood what my body was experiencing. This dance was being held to support all Indigenous peoples in their fight for their brothers and sisters, the right to reclaim their lands. They were dancing for clean waters for all Indigenous peoples, all people, and for the Earth. I wept.

 

Recently the Trump administration failed to follow proper environmental procedures when it granted approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline according to the Federal Judge’s ruling. This action does not stop the oil from flowing but The People took this ruling as a sign of hope because it opens the door to the possibility that this outrageous law might be rescinded.

 

Currently the pipeline can carry 520,000 barrels of oil daily. It is sobering to know that thousands of gallons of oil have already been spilled in dozens of industrial accidents over the past two years. In early April the DAPL leaked oil before it was fully operational.

 

I came away from the dance with a sense of renewed hope and a grateful heart. I have been experiencing so much grief and anger towards this most hostile government that is destroying all hope for planetary survival. Being privileged to witness this active prayer dance for life helped me deal with my own ongoing rage and sense of powerlessness.

 

Thank you People of Ohkay Owingeh for reminding me that I am not alone. My heart goes with you…

A Day in the Forest

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A couple of days ago my friend Iren took me up to Santa Barbara to the San Pedro wilderness. There were so many tall stately conifers – pine, spruce, too many evergreens to mention. Walking through the pale sage gray trunks of the tall aspen forest with their flat edged rustling leaves was only marred by the people that seemed to be obsessed by carving their names into these beautiful smooth ridged trees (which are members of the poplar family as are cottonwoods) creating a vulnerability for disease and untimely death for each thoughtlessly wounded tree. Amber resin weeps tree tears. Whole mountains were covered with every shade of green. White stone. A few peaks with snow could still be seen in the distance. Astonishing tall craggy cliffs and narrow gorges with clear streams running through the low places kept Iren and I close to the rushing water that tumbled over smooth stone.

 

“Water Women” love the lowlands, though Iren is also “Mountain Woman” scaling peaks (with ease) that make me cringe!

 

Iren says this place reminds her of Switzerland, her original homeland. She was sure she smelled mushrooms! I thought of Maine. I was entranced by all the lovely woodland flowers, the bright red wild columbine, delicate lavender bell shaped flowers of the clematis vines, bluebells, violets both white and deep purple, solomon’s seal, valerian, red clover, alpine lupine, water hemlock – I could go on and on here.

 

The medicine woman in me was astonished/astounded by the plethora of natural remedies this forest had to offer. I was delighted to have found such an abundant source for so many of the tinctures/creams I make up and use.

 

Spongy green sphagnum moss and a number of gray green and orange lichens covered some granite rocks. A cacophony of birds sang from the tops of trees and a hummingbird joined us for lunch at the water’s edge.

Black bear sign was in evidence. Fallen logs that housed millions of ants and grubs were raked into shreds. Insects make up most of the Black bears’ omnivore diet in the spring, along with new grass and sedges, all of which were in abundance here (although Black bears are considered omnivores 93 – 95 percent of their diet is made up of sedges, tubers, insects and berries). Some aspen were bent over in that peculiar angle that Black bears use when they are marking territory for mating season in the late spring/early summer. I decided that most of the 3000 bears of New Mexico must be hiding out in this forest, the trees of which were allowed to sprout, grow, decay and die naturally returning to the earth – from death to life – the forest, (left to her own devices), is in a continuous state of becoming.

 

Iren put her hand in the pebble strewn rushing water and quickly withdrew it. This mountain stream was too cold for her to take a quick dip!

 

When we returned to the car I felt so happy, so satisfied, so grateful to Iren. Thanks to my friend, I spent another wondrous day in yet another part of New Mexico, a state that has stolen my heart

Doves and More Doves

IMG_2852.JPGEurasian Collared Doves

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Lily B came to me almost 25 years ago. I had always wanted a bird but my ambivalence about caging had prevented me from acquiring an avian companion. My personal bias underwent a radical change when I read that African collared doves were imported into this country to parent exotic birds because they were such good parents, and after they grew too old they were set free to fend for themselves. A few small flocks survived this harsh treatment. The fact that they were considered to be “trash birds” distressed me deeply and when I discovered it was possible to acquire one of these doves for $5.00, I ordered one.

 

Lily B is a cream colored dove with an unusual pale lavender tint to his plump body. With penetrating red eyes and a throaty triple coo, Lily loves to sun bathe in the early morning sun, and is keenly interesting in cooking. He spends a fair amount of time in the kitchen, and prefers Havarti cheese as his daily snack. He roosts in hanging baskets.

 

When I came to Abiquiu Lily accompanied me (he has never been caged) and his melodious singing brought a close relative of his, the Eurasian Collared dove, to our bird feeding station.

 

The two are almost impossible to distinguish unless one listens carefully to their calls. African collared doves have a deep throated song, while Eurasian doves have a similar triple coo that lacks the rich tone. African collared doves can also occasionally be spotted in this area but sightings are quite rare, and it is usually the Eurasian collared doves that we see this time of year in pairs.

 

Like Lily, the Eurasian doves have buff colored, robust bodies, startling red eyes that look black from a distance, red legs, and a black ring that circles their necks in a horseshow shape leaving a gap at the throat. If you think that you have spotted an African collared dove listen to the call. If the triple coo is soft it is a Eurasian collared dove and if it is deep and resonant then you are listening to an African collared dove.

 

The Eurasian dove is native to Asia and was introduced into North America in the 1980’s. Presently this bird is found throughout the U.S. except (oddly) in the northeast. They forage on the ground for seeds and insects, and sometimes eat berries. Collared doves typically breed close to human habitation wherever food resources are abundant and there are trees for nesting. The males have a harsh two syllable territorial warning call. Both males and females sing and the female adopts the mating song of her mate. The male chooses the nesting area, the female decides upon the exact site. The male builds the nest. The female lays two white eggs in the casual stick – laden structure, and both parents sit on the eggs. Fledglings become independent within a month. Both parents feed the young regurgitated pigeon milk. Four to six broods a year are common in southern areas.

 

I have at least half a dozen pairs living here in the cottonwoods along the river and early in the morning there is a cacophony of musical coo- COO –coos and fluttering of wings as the birds land on the ground both inside and outside my house!

Serpents Who Slip Through Desert Sands

 

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Yesterday I went with a friend to the Wildlife Center to attend a safe snake releasing presentation. In the southwest pit vipers/venomous snakes are routinely slaughtered whenever they are encountered. Many people have an irrational fear of snakes that drives snake extinction, even when it’s totally unnecessary.

The best part of the program for me was having the opportunity to learn how to safely pick up a rattlesnake with a snake-stick made with a simple metal hook at one end that easily slips under the upper third of the snake’s body. After completing the first step, lifting the snake off the ground and depositing it in an enclosure is a relatively simple procedure, probably because the snake is surprised to be airborne. I noted that even when the rattlesnakes were agitated, once off the ground they calmed down. The trick of course is to hook the snake in question without being bitten! It is important to wear high boots and to cover your legs with clothing that is heavy enough to repel a strike. But if the snake is hooked properly it won’t bite. I personally would like to practice this maneuver with a garter or gopher snake (like the one I saw this morning) before attempting to move a rattlesnake, but after my experience I feel reasonably confident that I could perfect this technique in time, and I like knowing that I might be able to save a snake from an unnecessary death.

Snakes are beneficial because they kill rodents that carry disease. Without the help of snakes we would be overrun by mice, rats etc. They also consume noxious insects and scorpions.

It is so important to remember that snakes are not remotely interested in making contact with humans. They are easily frightened by our presence, and of course, if a snake is cornered it will coil up, rattle its tail as a warning and prepare to strike in self –defense. We humans would do exactly the same thing if the situation were reversed.

Here in New Mexico we have a number of poisonous snakes including Diamondbacks, Western, and Mojave rattlesnakes. At this presentation I was amazed at the variations in color for all snakes (venomous or not) that reside in this area.

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Above: diamondback rattlesnake

A perfect example is the Coach – whip snake that happens to be my favorite local serpent. He is fast! And he has a velvet snakeskin that can be pink, red, or a magnificent burnt copper color and sometimes he is sometimes striped. All snakes feel like smooth velvet in when touched.

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Above: My favorite local serpent, the Coach -whip. Look at his beautiful eye!

Once again, I was reminded that what I needed to focus on for identification was not the variable patterns but the triangular head and the presence of a rattle.

I disagreed with the presenter on two points.

One was that snakes can’t hear. It is true that snakes don’t have ears but they are keenly aware of vibrations of any kind and react to them. Everything in nature is made up of vibrations that most of us cannot hear. Snakes do react to our voices because they create vibrations.

The second point that upset me was the presenter’s remark that snakes have poor eyesight. In my experience this simply isn’t true. It may be that snakes can’t see objects at a great distance but paying close attention to a snake’s behavior will dissolve the myth of poor eyesight. I recently had a very close encounter with a Coach -whip who was hanging upside down in a tangle of willows. I made eye contact with this animal repeatedly who watched me intently as he slipped from one twig onto another while I spoke quietly to him. It seemed to me that he was interested in looking at me from different perspectives!

If you do not want to have snakes in your yard, do not leave birdseed on the ground for mice. Remove all water sources, and keep the area around your house free of rocks or bushes under which a snake might hide.

In closing I would like to reiterate that all snakes simply want to live out their lives in peace. Snakes are not out to get us. They are benevolent creatures that keep rodents in check. Let us create space in our lives to allow them to survive.

Photos (except Coach -whip) Jeff Beeman

Blessing of the Fields

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Above: a small woven Indian basket with Blue corn kernels and an inlaid scallop shell similar to the pendants worn by the dancers. On the left there is a small “Dancing Bear” (Zuni) fetish belonging to the author.

Yesterday I attended a Corn Dance at Tesuque (pronounced Ta –sooki) Pueblo, one that has at its focus, the Blessing of the Fields. It’s the first week in June, the waxing moon will be full in a few days, Venus rises in the morning, and the Summer Solstice is almost upon us, all auspicious signs of the intensifying heat from the sun star that is laying his fiery blanket over the earth urging the crops to grow.

The brilliant morning sun felt good as we stood in the plaza at Tesuque waiting for the dancers to appear from out of the Kiva. Many of the adobes that faced the plaza had recently been re done. There was only one set of buildings left with crumbling adobe, gray with age, and one of the friendly tribal members remarked that it wouldn’t be too long before those too would be rebuilt. Once again I found myself grateful for the casinos that funded the upkeep of these Tewa speaking pueblos. The Pueblo of Tesuque was set among the Juniper strewn hills, with peripheral houses in good repair, all quite neat in appearance. The famed Camel Rock was on tribal land.

I noted with pleasure the alcove over which the heads of the animals looked out on the plaza. The elk with his huge rack of antlers was placed in the center; he was flanked by an antlered mule deer and antlered antelope on each side. Each had been decorated with inlaid turquoise and coral shell necklaces; obviously these animals held the place of honor weaving the blue summer people (squash blossom) and white winter people (turquoise) into one seamless whole. Inside, colorful handmade blankets and intricately designed reed baskets covered the back wall. A small altar stood in the center. Outside, on either side of the adobe stood two fresh well staked cottonwood saplings, the first deciduous trees I had ever seen at a dance. I wondered if the cottonwoods signaled the coming of summer since bits of cotton- like fluff were flying through the air around the plaza with cottonwood seeds attached to their wind pollinating parachutes. Next to this building stood the church refurbished in 2006, I heard someone say.

Inside the small but immaculate church, Mary, Queen of Heaven, although not appearing in the central altar but positioned to the right was much larger than the figure of Jesus on the cross. She had many votive candles lit in her honor. I lit a votive candle for Guadalupe. Together, the two buildings married folk Catholicism to the ancient Puebloan traditions with Mary being honored in one, and sacred animals and the handiwork of the People in the other.

It never ceases to amaze me how I am affected by the sound of the drum as the chanters begin their slow meticulous walk to the plaza from the Kiva. I think my heart actually slows down to synchronize with the beating drum because I feel incredibly alert, but my mind becomes still. All the colors of the rainbow are visible in the flowing ribbons attached to the dress shirts the men wear. After the chanters gather in the plaza, the rest of the dancers appear. Many if not most are adorned with brilliant parrot or other exotic feathers bunched together in a cluster on top of each dancer’s head. This is a relatively small pueblo and yet there were about 200 dancers.

The women wear tablitas, large headdresses, and many are decorated by cloud formations to encourage the rain, water of all life, to fall. Most of the women are barefooted, even though the plaza is full of stones that get stuck in their feet during the dance (the women are barefoot because they are believed to live closer to the earth and hence are better able to help the corn grow). The women are all dressed in a single shouldered black dress with colorful sashes at their waists, and some dresses looked hand embroidered. The women wearing tablitas had a single red spot on each cheek denoting the purity of the “maiden” aspect of corn. All the women carry evergreens (representing the forest/wilderness) in each hand and the same kind of sprigs are attached to the armbands of each male dancer. Each male also wore a fox skin with tail attached to the back of his kilt. Many of the male and female dancers including children wore necklaces of inlaid turquoise and jet beaded with coral. I wondered what the significance could be since the exact same jewelry adorned the elk, deer, and antelope. The combined sounds of voices, the gourd rattles held by men with diagonal rows of tinkling shells on their bare clay covered chests, the belt of large silver bells clanking at their waists, and the deep resonant drum pulled me into a different kind of time, a place where the present is all there is.

Although the songs were different than the ones I had heard at Santa Domingo at the Green Corn Dance, the basic steps of the were much the same, with men and women facing each other while dancing and then exchanging places in the two lines and finally moving in one long line as they gathered to honor the next direction, four in all. There were many small children that also danced and they too wore identical regalia. These Indian children with their dark pools for eyes are enduring. Whenever one tired, a caring adult was in instant attendance helping the youngster in any way that was required. Next to us an Indian woman gave her children corn pollen, which I knew would be sprinkled over the earthen floor of the plaza in a gesture of reverence at the end of all the dances. Occasionally a dog appeared briefly and many old people were present as part of a deeply appreciative Native audience, many of whom kept time with the drum. There were few Anglos present.

When this very long set ended, the chanters and dancers returned to the Kiva and the women scurried around bringing food into the different houses where a feast would be held for all who had been invited, before the next set began. By now the sun was blistering hot and heavy clouds hovered over the horizon. Rumbling thunder could be heard in the distance. Part of me wondered if the thunder was answering the dancing prayers of the Tewa, who were blessing the newly planted corn but also dancing for rain.

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