” A Cricket on my Hearth”

 

Two nights ago I heard a cricket singing in the kitchen, and after dark I tried to locate him without success. I have loved crickets since I was a little girl and the joyful chirping seemed like such a good omen. After I returned to my bed I heard such a cacophony coming from that same area that I got up a second time to investigate. There were two crickets singing to each other from opposite ends of the room. I fell asleep listening to their animated conversation.

 

Vaguely, I recalled learning about country folk who kept crickets in cages for good luck, a custom that distressed me because the idea of caging any animal is antithetical to my belief system.

 

Yesterday afternoon I was away all afternoon and had left water in the dishpan. When I returned I didn’t see the cricket until I emptied the dishpan full of soapy water. Oh, no. I quickly retrieved the cricket from the draining water but saw it was too late. One of my new friends had drowned. I felt a sharp pang of grief slice through me at this sudden loss. I placed the cricket on the railing of the porch, not knowing what else to do. I thought some bird or lizard might eat him…

 

About an half an hour later I went out to begin watering my garden and stopped in front of the cricket realizing suddenly that he was no longer frozen into a splayed out position, but had pulled in his legs. With child-like hope surging through me I stroked his carapace murmuring an endearment. He jumped a little under my touch and then I saw his antennae twitching. He wasn’t dead after all! I left him there sunning and when I passed by the railing a few minutes later the cricket had disappeared.

 

I felt a moment of fierce joy and deep gratitude that he lived.

 

Last night after the cicadas had begun their symphony in the cottonwoods, the second cricket began to chirp excitedly from the kitchen. Oh, I thought, he’s calling to his lost friend…

 

A few minutes later an answering call came from just outside the open porch door. This chirping continued for about 15 minutes with me riveted to this conversation between the two. When it became quiet I wondered if the two had met on the threshold and decided to depart together (the screen door has enough gap underneath to allow a cricket to come or go). If that was the case I would miss them but I certainly didn’t want any more cricket mishaps in the house, and besides food was more plentiful outdoors.

 

I awakened to a welcome cool breeze around midnight and heard a cricket in the kitchen singing his heart out, so evidently this one chose to stay.

 

There is something about these encounters with creatures of the wild that energizes me, sparking wild hope that somehow transcends the daily despair I live in with respect to the survival of all creatures world wide.

 

Is it possible that these intimate friendships with non – human species (no matter how brief) places us both in a space beyond space/time where now becomes all that matters?

 

It certainly seems that way to me.

 

Postscript:

Interesting ideas associated with crickets

Crickets have played a strong role throughout Chinese, Japanese and Native American cultures as a symbol of good fortune, vitality and prosperity. As far back as 500 B.C., people revered the song of the cricket and often kept crickets in cages to enjoy that song on a regular basis. In addition, crickets are valued as “watch dogs” because they fall silent when approached, (although the crickets here did not). Crickets are also reversed as natural clocks for timing a good harvest.

Throughout Chinese history, crickets have symbolized wisdom and prosperity to the extent that a 2,000-year period of history is known as the Cricket Culture. Within this time frame, three specific eras celebrated various aspects of the cricket. In the first era, which lasted from 500 B.C. to 618 A.D., the singing of crickets was revered. During the Tang Dynasty, from 618 to 906 A.D., people began to keep crickets in cages in order to appreciate the sounds.

I also read elsewhere that it is very bad luck to kill a cricket even by accident.

My crickets are New Mexico Field crickets.

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Chamisa

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Every morning I look for new signs of healthy growth on the devastated rabbitbushes many of which did not survive the construction of this house. I love chamisa and am dedicated to bringing these mutilated species back to life. I water them periodically and watch the slender leaves turn emerald green in gratitude for such meager attention. During the summer and fall these beautiful plants turn the high desert a brilliant yellow and with their soft gray leaves that sway in the slightest breeze they are a joy to behold. The blossoms last so long that unlike so many other desert plants it is possible to appreciate them over a long period of time.

 

Behind this adobe structure there are the remains of what was once a chimisa forest that glows in the evening western light. My neighbor routinely hacks his chimisa down much to my dismay. These living plant beings feel pain, and I try to imagine what it must feel like for a plant to be hacked down mindlessly, ignored by so many, or experienced as a nuisance.

 

I counter this trend with loving attention and delight in the feathery leaves, the cover these plants provide for lizards and mammals, and think about all the good these plants do to help the earth.

 

Without being able to perceive natural beauty in the world we live in a state of profound poverty, and with so many wondrous plants growing wild, how can it be possible that so few seem to be able to SEE?

 

What follows is a bit of information on these denizens of the grasslands (around here), even as I give thanks for these wild plants whose bouquets take my breath away.

 

 

 

Chamisa or Gray Rabbitbush

 

This perennial shrub is a member of the Aster family (Asteraceae) along with sagebrush, with which it is often found. Chamisa has several different subspecies located throughout the western United States. It is typically distinguished by having whitish to green flexible stems, felt-like matted hairs, and narrow, thread-like grayish-green alternate leaves. Shrubs are rounded and generally two to five feet tall, but can reach as high as seven feet. Flower heads are made up of 5 small, yellow, tubular flowers, and are arranged in dense, rounded or flat-topped clusters at the ends of the branches. Flowers bloom from August to October as other plants are fading, providing vivid color and a pollen source for insects late in the summer. The shrubs reproduce via an abundance of small, wind-dispersed seeds and can also sprout from the base.

Chamisa occurs as a dominant to minor component in many plant communities, ranging from arid rangelands to montane openings. It thrives in poor conditions, and can tolerate coarse, alkaline soils. Dense stands are often found on degraded rangelands, along roadsides, and in abandoned agricultural fields. The species is useful in soil stabilization and restoration of disturbed sites. The deep root system establishes quickly and plants produce large quantities of leaf litter, helping to bring nutrients to the soil surface from the deeper rooting profile. Rabbitbrush is also gaining popularity as an ornamental; the white/gray foliage, abundant flowering, and tolerance for poor conditions makes it well suited for desert landscaping.

Native Americans reportedly used Chamisa as a yellow dye, to make a medicinal tea, and for chewing gum. The forage value varies greatly among subspecies and different ecosystems. In some locations, it can be an important browse species for mule deer, pronghorn, and jackrabbits during fall and winter. It also provides cover for mammals and small nesting birds. Livestock generally forage only lightly on this species and it is considered to be of little value to all classes of livestock, a fact that doesn’t bother me at all. We eat too much meat.

Nichos embody Natural Grace

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Red Willow River at Dawn

 

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Nicho in the East

 

A ‘Nicho‘, is a three-dimensional or recessed area used to honor an important figure, saint, or loved one. Nichos originated as an adaptation of the Roman Catholic ‘retablo’, painting of a patron saint on wood or tin.

 

When I was a little girl my parents spent a year in Europe and my mother brought me home a small Greek Orthodox retablo of the Virgin and Child made of silver. It had two small arched doors with tiny nobs that opened onto an etched picture of the Madonna and Child. I placed the retablo on a table next to my bed where it remained throughout my childhood. I opened and closed ornate silvery doors frequently drawn in by something that at the time I couldn’t name. When I became an adult this small silver story moved from night table to table in each house I lived in for about 45 years.

 

The most amazing part of this childhood gift was that as far as I knew my mother had no idea that I had a relationship with Mary or her son. The eight year old child in me concluded that my mother must have magical powers! Even more curious was the fact that my mother, though she had married an ex-catholic, was very biased against Catholicism, so as I got older I became even more puzzled as to why she would choose such a gift for her daughter, especially one she didn’t like much.

 

When I moved into my log cabin in Maine, the very first object to be placed in the house was a retablo of Guadalupe, a Mexican Indian Goddess that belonged to the country people. She appeared to an Indian peasant in the 1500s at the site of an ancient Indigenous Earth goddess Tonsaztin. During the cold winter months, I festooned her with red lights. Although I was no longer associated with Christianity or the church I was still much taken by this figure because she was an Indigenous Mexican goddess and an Earth Mother.

 

Now I am living in Northern New Mexico and have just moved into a casita that has been constructed by a gifted Mexican builder named Mario. I do not own this house. It belongs to my neighbor. However, part of me belongs here. I chose the location, the colors of the walls, the Mexican tile floors and insisted that the house have many windows so that indoors and outdoors could merge as one undivided space. I also asked that Nichos be placed in each of the four directions. The adobe has simple lines and two portals or porches one on the east side that overlooks the majestic cottonwood trees I love so much.

 

Perhaps even more important, as the first mud bricks were laid, my dear friend Iren  embedded “sacred” (to me) objects in the walls while I was in Maine. She also placed sage in the center of the house. To acknowledge the powers of the Four Directions she chose an elk antler and a piece of chert for the North not knowing that I had named my log cabin in Maine “Elk House”. For the East and West (the good red road) I sent her treasured pieces of bear fur from my ursine friends to honor the black bears that had stolen my heart, and who lived around my house in Maine. The potshard she placed in the Southern wall acknowledged the ancient inhabitants that first belonged to this land. (The southern view from the house overlooks Poshuowingeh, an Anasazi ruin, a place I love and have visited countless times).

 

In preparation for this embedding Iren made a drawing of a squared circle and its four directions in her studio, When I arrived later in November she made a copy which I immediately placed on a wall where I could see it every day throughout a long and difficult winter. This drawing reminded me that the casita that was being built with my neighbor’s money began with me, and my clear intentions to inhabit a space that would be in harmony with the powers of this place. Iren and I called the casita “house of the bear.”

 

Winter dragged on, and as the construction continued I was rarely at the site because my neighbor had made it clear that the casita was his and that my suggestions were no longer welcome. I was told that the house would become part of the estate that would be left to his niece; this latter piece of information was no surprise since I already knew it. I had no claims on the casita, only my love for Red Willow river, Iren’s beloved land, and this small chimisa meadow which I had chosen as a building location because the Earth had indicated that I should.

 

Serious doubts crept in along with ongoing persisting illness that plagued me during the course of the winter. On the rare occasions that I did visit the construction site I experienced a peculiar numbing throughout my body. Had the connection I once felt to this small piece of Earth been delusional? … Every morning when I went to the river to watch the sunrise I would silently ask this question… I buried bear root. I made plans to return to Maine.

 

On the first day of May I was visiting the casita with my neighbor when I discovered an owl feather. I had been listening to owls all winter and knew that they lived in these cottonwoods. I also had what I would call an ongoing owl conversation with these great Horned owls that began in Maine last fall and followed me here. Finding the owl feather on this day, a day once revered by country folk/Indigenous peoples as a powerful turning point of the year seemed significant, and my neighbor brought it into the casita and placed it in the Nicho in the East. That same day, May Day, I also began to scatter wild seeds that I had collected the year before around on the red earth… This seeding went on all month with me tending to the care and watering, clearing up construction debris, garbage, trimming beloved chimisa bushes. (with me doing the work the owner has a professional gardener/landscaper who works for free).

 

For the first time I wondered if it would be possible to live here after all – to stop here for a time. The house and land might not belong to me except in a spiritual sense. What I felt was a renewed connection to Place and since I trust Nature’s nudges I went with it.

 

Now a month later I have moved into the casita. I don’t carry a lot of false hope. Money rules the world and I don’t have it. I could never buy this land even if it was an option. That I personally believe that we all belong to the Earth and no one owns it is a perspective that is foreign to most people and is certainly not lauded by the owner of this property.

 

However, with this much said, the day I moved in I felt the walls hugging me. I did belong here! The casita felt utterly familiar, comforting. Most important the structure exudes a sense of inner peace… something I have been longing for.

 

About a day later, Mario found a second great horned owl feather that I added to the one in the East Nicho. By now it was clear that Nature had decreed that bears belong in the West, but owls must embody the powers of East. As if to reinforce this notion, the second night I slept here I heard a great horned owl hoot just outside my window….

 

The first task I undertook was filling the rest of the Nichos. The owl feathers face East. A vase holds precious potsherds in the South. In the West I have placed a picture of a bear I once knew whose name was Hope. Iren’s photo of the squared circle and sacred placing of the objects sits behind a black Mexican luminary… to light up the night. In the North I have placed a piece of luminous black chert and an antler that Iren gave me. There is also a small wreath I made with cypress pine cones that symbolizes Wholeness inside the house and out. I am setting clear and vivid intentions. I am aligning myself with the Powers of Nature to hold and to heal…

 

Some say that two is the number of manifestation…Iren began this process of orienting the casita to Nature and I am finishing it. The casita has been blessed by river water and smudged with sage by me.

 

Will I be stopping here awhile? I don’t know. But I do my best to be as present as I can be to each moment opening myself to the astounding beauty that surrounds me. Nature aslo invites me  to do so with each new seedling that sprouts tiny green wings.

 

However, Everything Changes and the future remains veiled.

 

The light in this house (thanks to my placement of windows) is astonishingly beautiful with its warm sandy walls, wood ceilings, and rust colored Mexican tile. The east portal that looks out on the Matriarchs of the Bosque is a source of ongoing joy, a place to end each day, eating my dinner to the fluttering sounds of heart shaped leaves of the cottonwoods and hummingbirds that twitter and cheep as they dive into the feeders for a nightcap! Each morning I walk to the river winding down through the wild grasses of the old pasture, cross the acequia onto the prickly pear path, listening for the roar of this much beloved churning serpentine ribbon while scanning for birds. When I sit down on Iren’s little bench I look to the sky… Sunrise is a time to give thanks for the gift of each day…

 

And I do.

Three Old Women, Owls, and the Spirit of Place

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The Three Old Women In the distance

 

Every morning as I walk down the river path, climb prickly pear hill and enter the lower pasture that nurtures the sage garden I feel a powerful pull I am afraid to trust… I exchange greetings with the Cottonwoods, listening for fluttering heart songs. I feast my eyes on the red dirt road under the soles (souls?) of my feet, soaking in her rich crushed rock, peer at wily lizards scurrying through leaves like lightening. I bathe in the deep shade and light breezes as cottonwoods tufts drift around my legs. Although I can no longer hear the river roaring behind me I know she’s there, just beyond the willows that line the acequias… I remember the “good red road” that Indigenous people walked, the same road I am walking now from west to east. Fire and Ice are my steadfast companions.

 

Raising my eyes from the forest floor I gaze at the simple lines of a new adobe structure that seems to belong to this patch of earth. Surrounded by a few junipers, silvery Russian olives, a Squawberry bush or two, and a forest of recently battered chimiso that I have trimmed with loving attention, the stepped mud walls rise to the sky… perhaps the Cloud People will visit here. The portals are inviting me to enter the house, their cedar wood railings a pleasing contrast to textured sand walls. Lizards climb the adobe walls with ease, their delicately splayed feet finding firm purchase on nubbly mud skin.

 

Once on the porch I stare at another stand of giant cottonwoods with thick fissured trunks and branches that arch over my head. How I have come to love these trees! Whenever I walk under them I feel blessed by Tree Presence, blessed and loved.

 

In early May I scattered wildflower seeds in the holes that my neighbor dug for me. I grimly uprooted plants with injured roots, and we transplanted sacred Datura, an apple tree, and two kinds of sage. One day this man surprised me by saying “we work well together” and I realized that this was true. Was it my imagination or was peace growing between us in the space between words?

 

Each day throughout the month I continue to climb the prickly pear path, and walk through the cottonwood forest to water seedlings that generate hope for new life. I fear the coming heat. The sun burns my shoulders, and some days I feel woozy from the rapidly approaching fire of the summer solstice sun.

 

I search for more wildflowers because my neighbor has taken the time to water barren ground while I water seedlings. I am never disappointed! New green shoots appear like magic. I wonder if he knows that I appreciate his watering. I have tried to tell him, but he is not much of a receiver.

 

Scarlet gaura spiral upwards transforming rose to red; delicate white primroses seek the morning sun. I find clumps of salmon globe mallow, pull tumbleweeds as I stare across the mesa visually climbing the steps of the mountains I call the Three Old Women. Could they be my Desert Mothers too?

 

I think that in the beginning The Powers of Place first seeped into my blood through these three wise “Old Women” who live in the hills beyond the adobe house. When Place casts her spell, an ordinary view becomes the Beloved crying out – “see me, feel me, I am you and you are me” blurring edges between us…weaving mystery and magic through sight and senses, irrevocably marrying me to a piece of Earth without my knowledge, let alone understanding. Place determines the strength of our relationship not me. If this hadn’t happened to me before I wouldn’t have believed it…

 

I am afraid to Love. This bond binds me like no other to Beauty, animals, plants and people, to internal truths, to knowing what I might not want to know, to Life in all its complexity, fragility and strength, and finally to a possible homecoming after two years of wandering in the high desert without any sense of direction. This year, winter/ spring illness eclipsed my body, robbed it of will, sapped precious energy to hike or explore. Six months of soul loss leads to crushing depression and loss of hope.

 

Both the miracle of seeds growing and my attention to watering, birth a tentative hope as I open the door to loving place again. Is this piece of Earth a sanctuary where I might find friendship and peace?

 

Was it necessary to wander alone in the wilderness – to live without knowing, to mourn what was to reach this turning?

 

Of all my fears, self – delusion frightens me most of all. Could I still be desperate enough to imagine this feeling of belonging?

 

I sense not.

 

When I open the door cool rust colored tiles gently massage my feet. The walls warm me with pink sand like hues, the light is soft and inviting, yet the air is blessedly cool and sweet. An immense wooden beam slices through the slanted wood ceiling above my head. In every direction windows open to Nature’s beauty, trees, berry bushes, chimisa, mountains, red dirt, and wild grasses. Wood and mud make the finest of houses, and I have lived in both.

 

Walking towards the kitchen, cobalt tile counters shimmer like spun glass. Over the sink the Three Old Women gaze in at me through the window; our eyes lock in silent recognition. A few nights ago I smudged the rooms with sacred sage. The next morning an elk ran by my front door. An elk antler and a chert fragment had been embedded in the Northern foundational wall. Was this synchronistic occurrence a personal sign? It was tempting to think so. Nature routinely communicates with me through the appearance, disappearance, or death, of animals and plants.

 

When I picked up the owl thread on May Day I felt bewildered…

 

Discovering a great horned owl feather just beyond the east door of the new house meant something I was sure. My neighbor told me that he had been listening for owls in the evening, which seemed hopeful to me for some unknown reason.

 

As friends we had spent the last six months having star crossed encounters many rife with raw anger, and it seemed to me that it was impossible for us to amicably share this piece of land. Hadn’t our differences divided us permanently? When I spied the great horned owl feather I was surprised that he seemed as moved by it as I was. Taking it into the house, he placed it in the Nicho that faces East (where it has found a permanent home). This simple action carried a deep resonance for me although its meaning was veiled. It also reminded me that for the better part of the last eight months owls and I had been in ongoing conversation…so I digress a moment to return to the past…

 

The night of my birthday last September – I was still in Maine – a symphony of owl song brought sharp memories of my mother and I felt the usual fear and ambivalence because my mother loved great horned owls but we also had a deeply troubled relationship… Great horned owls are harbingers of death to some, birds of wisdom to others. They carry a charge that is either positive or negative in every culture and in my life as well. When this trio of owls sang just outside my window the hair on my arms prickled. A Visitation, I thought. Each night thereafter, I was serenaded by these magnificent birds who had moved into a still untouched forest for the first time in thirty years.

 

When I arrived here in November I couldn’t believe it. Great horned owls were perched in cottonwood trees around my neighbor’s house. They sang out on starry nights and heralded pre-dawn skies with me rooted to their whooing seeking out their presence on star cracked winter nights and bittersweet orange (pre-dawn) mornings. This couldn’t be coincidence. Whatever the owls portended I knew I needed to listen with careful attention … I surrendered, even found comfort in their haunting songs. I knew I was being called. Was I being warned?

 

The day I moved out of my neighbor’s house two paired owls flew over my head after hooting to one another in the cottonwood tree… I couldn’t escape the feeling that they were saying goodbye… I experienced an unbearable sadness.

 

I had a very strange dream a day or so later. A strange dis-embodied voice informed me “I am the Spirit of this Land and you shall dine with me.” I awoke with a sense of awe and mystery, believing I had been called for a third time by the Power’s of Place, this time not by Three Old Women, or Great Horned owls (old women in feathery owl capes?) but by another Voice that was clearly male.

 

This dream was followed by another in which I peer in at many diminutive fluffy owls who are sitting at a table and all of them are waving to me! I wave back jubilantly.

 

After moving into the Trailercita owls hooted infrequently and from a great distance. I missed them.

 

I didn’t fare well. This winter was hell.

 

But to return to the present…

 

In May the owls left me a feather reweaving our dormant connection, and owl presence preceded May, the month of my seeding…

 

Each spring all creatures, plants and people participate in Nature’s round – the resurrection of soul, body and spirit as the greening approaches full bloom. Our Mother adorns the Earth with bouquets of flowers… And seeds that have lain dormant for months or years burst out of moist ground… rising from the dead.

 

Will the seeds lying dormant in me grow into blossoms of fragrant flowers?

 

Will the owls finally speak in a language I can comprehend?

 

I look towards the mountains as a bat flies across a waxing full Mayflower moon… The Old Women stand steadfast in silent contemplation.

 

The future remains veiled.

Climb like a Crab!

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The view from the ruin

 

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Cupules in the large stone

 

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Views from inside the Monolith

 

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Iren and I were going to explore an ancestral Tewa ruin named Ku’owingeh, situated above what seemed to be a shear cliff of rubble. The one time I looked up to the mesa I decided my best course was to keep my eyes lowered and simply to follow my dear friend, a gifted artist, mountain climber, lover of children, humans, animals, flowers and gardens – my idea of an Earth Mother incarnate.

 

For me the rubble is daunting especially when it’s almost perpendicular! (Brittle bones are an issue for me). As Iren climbed just ahead of me she pointed out hand and foot holds and I followed in her footsteps. Whenever I got stuck – her reassuring hand reached out to haul me up! No wonder I felt safe. I owed this woman!

Every meaningful adventure in the desert that I had since I came to Northern New Mexico two years ago couldn’t have happened without Iren’s knowledge of the powers of place and professional climbing skills. Among other attributes, Iren has a natural ability to know just how to traverse impossible gullies, use sophisticated switchback techniques (not visible to the un- initiated), and to find “steps” in the cracks between boulders. Every now and then she would remind me to crawl like a crab, using my hands and feet to heave myself up another few inches. Crawling like a crab appealed to me I discovered.  When climbing cliff faces I like being close to the ground with my eyes cast downward. (I also like the lizard’s approach to life, though he also scales sheer walls like Iren does!)

 

Finally we reached the summit and began to explore the huge area that was once a thriving ancestral Tewa Pueblo village. Potsherds were scattered everywhere. Some were worked and discarded pieces of flint (chert) that were used to make projectiles and other tools. We discovered two ceremonial circles one larger than the other dug into the earth and surrounded by boulders. We sat down in one. It was almost as if we were nesting inside this circle. The place exuded a sense of peace.

 

The most wonderful part of this ruin was the complete absence of recent human garbage. The cliff face protected the remains of the pueblo, and it was easier to experience the sense of the ancient Tewa pueblo people living here. The views, of course, were spectacular and as we meandered in silence over the mesa Iren was tracking a ceremonial boulder, which she found, of course!

 

This one had a series of depressions called cupules that had been painstakingly bored into the rock. I recalled the research that I had done for a previous nearby ruin we visited where many of these stones were clustered close together surmising at that time that many women ground herbs and medicines in the stone depressions on that particular mesa.

 

Here there was just that one large stone called a kaye with a number of pecked depressions or cupules on one side of its top. A few small pocked stones were scattered about in the general area but otherwise we saw little but gnarled juniper stands. The whole feeling of this place felt different but I didn’t know why… but it seemed to me that this one might have used for very different purposes.

 

Because I believe it is possible to access the past through the present in unusual ways, I paid close attention…

 

Fortunately, I have an open mind and a high tolerance for mystery, so simply being a part of this place that filled me with questions was fine with me – except for that one stone with its mysterious depressions.

 

Why just this one ceremonial (?) rock I wondered as Iren pointed it out. I ran my hands over its surface. Was a different sort of ritual practiced here – perhaps by men? I thought of the chert I had seen that was used for projectiles, knifes and other tools. I couldn’t know of course, but later I did some research on these cupules, and learned that they might be the earliest form of prehistoric art produced during the stone age (290,000 – 700,000 BCE). These impressions are found on every continent except Antarctica.

 

A cupule is defined as a hemispherical petroglyph created by human hands intentionally by a number of percussion blows that exist on a horizontal or vertical surface of a rock.

 

I noticed that on one side of the stone I touched that a spherical cup had been smoothed by repeated pounding, as if this depression had been used to pulverize something. I had seen these before at other ruins. The depressions in the top were more mysterious. According to the literature a cupule must possess some non-utilitarian or symbolic function but I am unable to accept this academic conclusion unequivocally because how can we possibly know?

 

The Tewa Pueblo landscape is vast and nuanced. It is conceptualized as a complex network of people, nature and the spirit world and each intersects with the other at sacred places known only to the Tewa, but not visible to outsiders.

 

For the Tewa, vertical space is bounded by three levels – the current world and an upper and lower world. Horizontal space is defined by the four cardinal directions. Horizontal space is also bounded by sacred mountain peaks whose center is the village. According to the prevailing scholarship the outermost sphere belongs to men who commune with ancestral rain spirits. The second layer belongs to both the men and the women and is composed of hills and the agricultural fields that surround the village. Only the inner circle belongs to the women. I can’t help wondering how heavy a patriarchal overlay obscures what might have been the story before the European invasion.

 

I have no idea how much time we spent on the mesa but I could have stayed much longer – something about the spirit of place was resonating like a drum.

 

When it was time to leave I was grateful that Iren knew of a less precarious descent, one that soon took us by way of dirt roads.

 

At one point we passed this amazing towering stone that was so large that was possible to climb into. Inside, it was lovely and cool and there were fantastic portholes that opened onto the opposite horizon. I was deeply distressed – no I was angry – to see this amazing monolith entirely defaced by modern graffiti, and it was easy for me to imagine how at one time this too must have been a sacred space.

 

I wouldn’t have missed this adventure for anything and I decided that in the future I would be only too happy to become a crab to climb up another mesa with Iren!

Matriarchs of the Bosque

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Every morning I walk down to the river’s edge to watch the sunrise. In late April the sky and trees are buzzing with hummingbirds, the mournful cooing of white winged doves, and the trilling of red winged blackbirds. As I wait for that pinpoint of light to blossom into a golden orb I look to the gnarled trunks of cottonwood trees (Populus delitoides wislizenii) that stand out against a background of blue slate marveling at the shapes, size, and trunk texture of such magnificent rapidly growing shade trees, trees that I have come to love so much, now drooping with male and female russet catkins (each on separate trees). I think about the heart shaped leaves that will soon grace bare branches rustling in the slightest breeze and the birds and small animals that will find safety under the massive canopies of these (egalitarian) Matriarchs of the Bosque. And I think about their future…

 

The Rio Grande Bosque is a system of wetlands, oxbow lakes, sandbars and woodlands that supports the growth of cottonwoods and willows, one of the most critically endangered habitats in the world. Seasonal flooding once cleared debris and enriched the soil allowing new seedlings to germinate, but over the last century large scale agriculture, irrigation systems, livestock grazing and logging have created soil erosion and extremes in flooding. Dams were built to control floods and wetlands were drained.

 

Mature cottonwoods have roots that can reach down to the water table, but young cottonwoods cannot germinate or grow unless they have enough water available to them near the surface.

 

The cottonwoods I love are “elders” but young cottonwoods are scarce or completely absent except in a few locations near the river (my friend Iren’s Bosque is a small but healthy ecosystem that is flourishing with the next generation of cottonwoods but this riparian area still floods in the spring). Whenever I gaze up or sit under one of these magnificent trees that are dressed in such golden splendor in the fall, I wonder how many people are aware of the fact that these gracious matriarchs will disappear from the landscape within less than a century even without assistance from climate change.

 

This year severe drought has added another layer of distress to an already critical cottonwood situation. All trees have access to food through their complex underground root systems and their relationship with certain fungi but trees cannot deal with ongoing thirst.

 

Groundbreaking scientific tree/plant research indicates that when trees are threatened with lack of water, food production and growth cease. The trees that suffer the most are the ones like cottonwoods that grow in soils where moisture is most abundant. Deeply distressed thirsty trees send vibrations through their trunks when the flow of water from the roots to the leaves is interrupted. These vibrations could be understood as cries of thirst, a sobering thought for anyone who loves cottonwood trees (or any tree for that matter) and sees them as sentient beings as I certainly do.

Earth Day

 

 

 

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This unknown painter captures Earth Day for me.

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Young dancer after the ceremony

 

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David Garcia and band

 

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Woman on left making contact with the sky and earthing with her other hand… she may be holding Avanyu, Tewa serpent of the river(?) – I am fascinated by the large dog-like animal above her.

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Iren and I at the river…. water women we are!

 

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Honeybee cacophony!

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The seed circle – note the bowls of earth and water

Yesterday we attended The Tewa Seed Exchange at Los Luceros, a magnificent piece of lush irrigated land situated on the Rio Grande a place where many Indigenous peoples once lived and farmed. The orchards were stunning, magenta, deep rose, pale pink, and white clouds of fruit -tree blossoms drew in masses of bees from every direction. Standing under the trees to listen to this joyous buzz was pure honey-bee delight!

 

The seed ceremony was held outdoors in a circle and just as it began two red tailed hawks appeared out of the deep blue sky and circled over our heads – Messengers from the beyond, these birds have a habit of appearing at Indigenous ceremonies, a fact I have witnessed too many times to ignore. And what could be more important than a seed exchange between primarily Native peoples many of which had gathered seed from plants they had grown the year before and brought them to exchange with their neighboring pueblos?

 

The appearance of the two hawks also held personal significance for me because I buried my brother’s ashes on Earth day and this seed ceremony occurred the day before. Every year around this day hawks appear as messengers reminding me that my little brother lives on through these raptors he so loved… a comforting thought though he has been dead for 46 years.

 

Before the actual ceremony the current docent spoke. I was distressed to hear so little about the Tewa speaking peoples we were there to honor. Instead the recent story of conquest and colonization took the usual precedence along with that of the recent history of the mansion located on the property (which had finally been taken over by the state).

 

However, when the actual ceremony began the Tewa women blessed the seeds and we were asked to enter the circle from the direction we came from with our individual offerings all of which were put into a communal container… We moved around the circle counter clockwise before pouring our seeds into the large beautifully woven Indian basket. A simple but moving gesture that united all that participated.

 

The week before I had spent time reflecting on what seed offering I would make. I had saved many wild seeds from last spring but because I wasn’t here last summer, hadn’t planted any. Then just a few days before the ceremony I discovered a “black sage garden” on Iren’s land that she hadn’t known was there! I knew then that I needed to offer the seeds of this black sage, not just because it is a powerful blessing herb, and one deeply meaningful to me, but because of my deep gratitude towards this woman. I have been privileged to stay in safety and comfort on her land for two winters, and to offer these seeds as a form of thanking her as well as an offering for the ceremony felt just right.

 

What I also liked was how the children were encouraged to participate in the ceremony bringing seeds for the communal basket. Seed gifts from the earth belong to the ancestors of the Tewa and are also the seeds of their children’s future…

 

The dancing came next. I am always struck anew by the individuality of the dances although meaning seems to seep through the sound of the drumming. The singers/ musicians came first and two of them carried orange lightening sticks to call down the rain as they chanted. Four young people came next, two boys and two girls dressed in elaborate rainbow regalia, the boys with spear – like projections topped by the deep orange parrot feathers that identified them as the summer people. The boys danced in a circle with the two maidens, each gender moving up and down in a rhythmic way. The two girls wore a circle of red on each cheek to signify purity. The boys wore white net leggings, plowed the earth with their spears, the girls held up their baskets. The sounds of the bells, rattles, and gourds pulled me into their story, one without a need for words…

 

Just after the ceremony ended we were told that the children would use the earth, the water, and the seeds that had been placed within the ceremonial circle to make mud seed balls that could be planted just as they were. What a wonderful idea! I have one sitting on the table waiting to be Earthed until I receive a message as to where it should go…

 

We then entered the building for the actual seed exchange – an unbelievable abundance of seeds were spread out on table after table. With so many to choose from it was hard for me to make choices. I chose seeds that I wanted to grow, herbs in pots, a few kernels of blue corn, some hardy flowers. I did not take more than I needed but even so, I will have plenty to share because if I have a garden it will be a small one…

 

Iren and I wandered down to the river to eat our lunch and when we returned a celebration was in full swing with lots of hot food, music, and dancing. The joy was contagious! David Garcia’s music has no parallel in these parts.

 

When we left we stopped to see some petroglyphs – there was one with an Indigenous woman holding one hand to the sky while earthing the other. This picture caught the spirit of the seed ceremony I had just witnessed in a pictorial way.

 

As a woman with northern Indigenous roots and a dedicated seed saver for most of my adult life I was so grateful to be able to participate in a communal tradition so dear to my heart.