Wild-crafting the Hedgehog and a brief reflection on Motherhood

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Early last spring while walking in the desert in a rocky area with mineral rich soil I discovered a clump of two very small cacti amongst many other similar clumps. Delighted by the diminutive size of the cacti I dug two along with native soil to pot at home. I noticed two tiny bumps on the sides of each inch tall cactus that were cylindrical in shape and both had short spines that were ridged in burgundy.

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About a month later I was on a rock hunt with my friend Iren, when we discovered another bigger clump of what looked like the same kind of cactus, although the ridges on these were not quite the color of red wine. This clump had more rose red buds. I couldn’t resist bringing this cluster home too along with plenty of chert/flint rich soil. Before I dug up either clump I made certain that others grew in the same area. Whenever anyone digs plants in their native habitat (wild -crafting) it is important to make certain that others of the same kind grow nearby.

After re-potting each in its native soil and placing stones around the periphery of each pot (that I found in the rocky soil around the plants), I placed the two cactus clumps next to each other on a bench right next to my door. The second clump also had buds. Each time I went outside the little cacti greeted me. There was something about finding these cacti growing so naturally and happily in the wild that really appealed to me. I wonder now why I couldn’t leave them there.

I soon learned that Echinocerus viridiflora was a hedgehog cactus that was different from most other hedgehog species. For one thing the cactus is very frost tolerant, and it grows much further north (I found both clumps at about 7000 – 8000 feet in the mountains of Northern New Mexico). The species is native to the central and south central United States and in Northern Mexico where it can be found in varied habitats including mountains, desert scrub, woodlands, and dry grasslands.It also has small flowers along the stem rather than near the tip of the cactus. Plants are globular and can grow 12 inches tall and 1 to 3 inches in diameter but most are much smaller. Stems either remain single or form clumps like some of the ones I had seen. Some clumps could become quite large with a dozen or more individuals. The spines might be variable in color, ranging from red, white, yellow or purple and were short and quite numerous. The flowers could be greenish yellow, pink, orange, brown, or even red. I wondered if elevation or mineral content of the soil helped determine the color of the spines and the flowers.

With so much variation within one species I now suspected that the little cactus I had dug up down the road from my house might also be another Echinocereus v. hedgehog cactus; this one is covered in white spines. The problem for me is that visually they look so different although this one is very small and round too…

Further research on the species as a whole answered one of my questions. One variety of this plant sometimes called Echinocereus davisii is listed as an endangered species and is limited to Brewster County in Texas where it grows in a specific mineral substrate. I couldn’t find any information about the variation in flower color but I suspect that colors also vary with the type of rocky soil and/or the elevation the cacti grow in.

To my great surprise I also discovered that many of these cacti are scented.

I did not know until it was too late that (according to one source) that Echinocereus v. was considered to be “at risk.” Please learn from my mistake. I believed that I was being responsible. I would never knowingly dig up a cactus (or any other plant) that was threatened, unless I knew it was going to be destroyed. All around me as I dug the plants in different locations there were groups of the same cacti. What I failed to take into account is that I found these cacti in diverse, but consistently rocky areas, each having it’s own microclimate and mineral content. I learned the hard way that I should have let them be.

I know one thing for sure. I will treasure these little cacti always, because it would be almost impossible to return them to their original surroundings.

Today is Mother’s Day. My little hedgehog cacti are covered with buds and lemony yellow blooms with a greenish tint. They are stunning and the bees love them!

Nature has gifted me with these exquisite flowers on the one day of the year that celebrates motherhood albeit in a sentimental way. Cactus blooms remind me that the goddess is present in Everywoman as a mother and that she also has thorns! The sharp spines of the cactus that sting like bees also remind me of how difficult motherhood really is, or has been for any woman, not just for me.

Bird Watching on Red Willow River

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(Above: Male Bullocks Oriole sipping from hummingbird feeder)

Living on a river is a bird watcher’s paradise I  discovered when I moved here last February. At first it was the Sandhill cranes that awakened me in the morning, or the honking flocks of Canada geese that soared over the house. Mallards quacked as they took to the sky after floating on the river, and some days a Bald eagle or two perched in the cottonwoods. At night I heard the Great Horned owl call. Two kinds of towhees, the Canyon and Spotted version were among my first small avian visitors along with a few chickadees, white crowned sparrows, chipping sparrows, juniper titmice, two kinds of juncos and downy woodpeckers. One day a flock of cactus wrens took over the bare tree as they dropped from the sky chattering incessantly. I also had house finches and pine siskins, and a few robins. The collared doves came gradually followed by white winged doves and finally in March mourning doves appeared. The black and white magpies delighted me with their mimicking behavior. Red tailed hawks and many other raptors regularly patrol the tree and its neighbors but it is very hard for any hawk to penetrate the thick thorny branches of the olive or one of her close neighbors, so to my knowledge, none of the birds here have become dinner for these predators.

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(Above: Mourning Doves)

The Red Winged Blackbirds heralded the coming of spring arriving in a small flock in March, and thankfully some have stayed on. I have them in Maine where I live but Redwings love fast running streams and rivers and usually nest nearby a larger body of water than my brook.

I soon learned that living on the river meant that migrating birds might stay for a short time before leaving again to migrate further north, east or west. There was a poignancy attached to bird watching that I had never experienced before because in Maine we had two distinct seasons spring and fall when the birds either arrived or left. Here on Red Willow River the birds appeared and disappeared without warning. I began to pay close attention to my bird books especially Sibley’s Birds for migrating information.

When the Ruby Throated hummingbirds appeared in mid April so many came at once that I was shocked. In Maine the males appeared first, and the females about a week later but here males and females seemed to arrive together. It wasn’t long before I became accustomed to the buzzing sound of the males zooming around the house as I opened the door at dawn. I deliberately hung two feeders down by the now flooded acequia (ditches that irrigate the fields by the river) next to the Russian Olives so that the females would have plenty to eat while the males sought out the flashy feeder close to the house. One morning I glimpsed an iridescent deep violet throat and sure enough the Black Chinned hummingbirds had arrived to stay. A solitary Rufous hummingbird made a brief appearance before moving northwest to a warmer climate? Rufous hummingbirds are so aggressive that I am just as happy he moved on. Others will soon be with us and I am already using up a half gallon of sugar water every few days!

The Great Blue Heron must be nesting somewhere nearby on the river because I see one flying by the house almost every evening just before sunset.

On May 9th a flash of brilliant orange startled me as the bird landed on a branch of the budded Russian Olive. I hadn’t seen a Baltimore oriole for many years but there was no mistaking that color. With a few hops the bird was perched next to the hummingbird feeder. I watched with amazement as he deftly tipped the feeder in his direction and sucked down the sugar water. When he was joined by his olive and yellow – breasted mate, she started fluttering her wings in his direction. The female evidently captured his attention because they flew off together after he had a few more drinks!

I grabbed an orange and sliced it in two, ran out the door and impaled one half on a broken tree branch. In minutes the two were back and this time the male went straight to the orange spearing it with his bill. His flaming breast feathers made the orange look dull by comparison. Another couple arrived and although the male was just as brilliantly attired I noticed a different wing pattern, different head markings and what seemed to be a sharper beak. I was confused and took a picture of this bird while he too was sipping sugar water. Turning to my bird books I learned that the first pair were Baltimore orioles as I had thought, and the second two were Bullocks orioles. Adult male Baltimore orioles have brilliant orange undersides and shoulders with black heads and wings. In contrast, adult male Bullock orioles have deep orange breasts, with black caps, wings, back, white wing patches, and tail tips. The detail that was most helpful distinguishing the two species was that the Bullock orioles (both male and female) have black lines through each eye. Just after I figured this out another male oriole showed up and his blotchy black head and wing pattern varied from the others. Perplexed, I turned back to the books. According to Sibley’s (eastern) Baltimore and (western) Bullocks orioles frequently interbreed creating hybrids of the two. When the Western Tanager with his distinctive red head joined the crowd I was frankly astonished but at least I could identify him! Within a day or so I was just starting to sort out the differences between the female orioles when the Baltimore orioles suddenly disappeared!

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(Above: male and female Bullocks oriole)

This morning I looked out and saw a bird I haven’t seen for 50 years. Not just one Meadowlark but about a dozen were crowded around an open feeder. Tonight I saw my first Black – headed grosbeak of the season, another male bird whose markings somewhat resemble those of the spotted Towhee.

At dawn I wake up listening to the roar of Red Willow River as she winds her way to the sea wondering who might arrive today. I pay very close attention because I never know which birds might also be leaving…

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(Above: Two collared Doves)

I could easily spend the entire day sitting at the east window peering into the lovely Russian Olive trees that are such a silvery gray green that they provide a striking contrast to almost every bird that perches there. Bird watching on Red Willow River reminds me that change is the only constant and that it’s important to stay emotionally present to treasure each joyful moment.

The Green Corn Dance at San Felipe

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Yesterday I attended the first Corn Dance of the season for the Keresan speaking peoples of New Mexico at the Pueblo of San Felipe. This dance celebrates the beginning of the agricultural season by honoring the Corn Maiden, the seed soon to be planted from which the corn will grow.

We arrived in the afternoon after the first set of four dances was finished. Passing by the church and stalls (where you could buy fox tails and other regalia) on the way to the plaza it was impossible not to notice two gracefully arced, stylized “corn-flower “ beings whose blue and orange feathers almost touched one another on the top of the front of the church. This beautiful painting, I was to learn, was a representation of the summer and winter people of the pueblo. Summer people were orange/scarlet and the winter people were blue but there was no real separation between the two except that each had its own season.

The circular sunken plaza was totally surrounded by pueblos around which an enormous crowd had gathered. Many people were sitting on rooftops. The dancers entered just behind us. We had a wonderful view from this spot, one that allowed us to see specific details like the red felt mouths of the foxes, their glass eyes and red felt feet that were worn by the men/boys. One man carried a tall white flag pole decorated with ears of yellow corn. On top of the tall flag were the bright orange feathers of the macaw parrot that were shaped into a huge pointed flower opening to the sun. This was the summer people’s flag. There were also painted wooden carvings on these poles beneath the flower that looked to me like eyes. Later I would see that the winter people had an almost identical flag with eyes topped with a cobalt blue macaw flower. The painting on the church literally came to life during the ceremony! The sounds of bells, shells, and turtle rattles made by the dancers as they filed into the plaza created a perfect harmony even before the actual set began…

Across the plaza, turquoise and coral inlaid scallop shell necklaces adorned the necks of two deer, two elks, and the four buffalo heads that looked out on the crowd from their place of honor. All had antlers or horns. They were attached to the top wall of a pueblo building that temporarily housed an image of the saint below (San Felipe) whose apparent role in the dance was to watch. Standing on the roof of the pueblo above these eight animals were the heads and skins of two wild cats – the bobcat and mountain lion, both without decoration. I wondered if these cats somehow symbolized wild nature, perhaps it’s more dangerous side – the side of the predator. The other animals – deer, elk, and buffalo – were all honored during the winter dances. They were also hunted and eaten.

Two large evergreens flanked the building in which the saint was housed and I didn’t know until after the dance that inside the adobe at ground level (along with the saint) there were many other deer heads with antlers. All these were decorated too and were present for the ceremony, lent by various families in the pueblo.

Below the deer, elk, and buffalo heads, on a second story porch, were three older women who kept time with the dancers first with with gourd rattles and then with evergreens.

Hundreds, perhaps a thousand people, mostly Native folk, attended this most important spring ceremony. Although the corn wouldn’t be planted for another few weeks, the acequias (or ditches) that irrigated the fields had been cleaned, water was running through them, and the fields had been plowed. Now the people prayed for rain.

After being astonished and delighted by the sight of the animals, the magnificent regalia worn by the dancers caught my attention. The women, all corn maidens regardless of age, wore single yellow feathers in their hair or blue tablitas. These elaborate headdresses were decorated with clouds (for rain) and rainbows, or cut out stars. Most of the women wore their beautiful black hair long and straight, and their identical black single shouldered dresses were belted with colorful sashes. All the dancers (men as well as women) were adorned with turquoise earrings and many wore coral and shell necklaces. Silver jewelry was in abundance. Each woman carried an evergreen sprig and a gourd rattle. Many of the women danced barefooted suggesting to me how important it was for the women to have an unrestricted, unbroken connection to the earth.

The men and boys rubbed different shades of clay (yellow, rose, buff,) on their torsos – gray clay was rubbed on their legs – and all wore white decorated kilts. The men had belts, bells, and shells at the waist or strapped crosswise on their bare clay colored chests. All wore animal tails (usually fox). The men’s moccasins were trimmed with skunk fur. They also had turtle shell rattles attached to their thighs. The men also carried evergreens in one hand and gourd rattles in the other. They wore tropical feathers gathered into bunches in their hair. The four clowns were dressed the same except that all four were covered in yellow ochre clay and had topknots made of cornhusks. At one point I saw one clown make an obscene gesture to the audience and everyone laughed.

Each kiva danced two sets and one dance followed the other without interruption as one group returned to the kiva, the next set of dancers arrived from the other. The winter people also had an equally long flag that had carved eyes, topped by cobalt blue macaw feathers that were shaped into the same kind of pointed flower. They used their flag to bless the chanters and the plaza just as the summer people did.

At the beginning of each set after the chanters gathered in a tight circle at the top center of the plaza in front of the evergreen pueblo, the other dancers formed two rows in a circle sometimes facing one another and sometimes reversing their positions as the beat of the drum and rattles seemed to keep each foot in perfect rhythm. The dance was simple with all the participants dancing, chanting, using rattles in unison. There must have been about 600 dancers that participated altogether.

The winter people finished their last set first and this time, instead of returning to the kiva, gathered respectfully to one side while the summer people danced the final set as a golden sun dropped behind the mesa that was situated directly behind the pueblo. After completing the dance everyone gathered in front of the evergreen pueblo where the saint had been housed for the day and carried him back to the church. Someone was playing a snare drum and two gunshots rang out.

The Green Corn dance was over and most of the people went to houses they had been invited to, in order to celebrate with a feast. As we literally crawled out of the pueblo (because of heavy traffic) we saw a number of men washing clay from their bodies in the Rio Grande river.

On the way home I found myself thinking that I felt privileged to be a part of such an ancient Puebloan tradition.

The dancing prayers of the people seeped deep into the earth and rose up into the clouds as white doves flew by overhead all day long. Between the drumming, chanting, and the shaking of many bells, shells, gourds, and turtle rattles by the dancers, it was impossible not to be drawn into the ceremony, on both a spiritual and bodily level.

The sound of rain was palpable…

The “Uncommon” Sagebrush Lizard

 

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Above: Leo

One of the reasons I love living in the desert is because I share half the year with lizards. Although the sagebrush lizard is “common” in that it can be found in most western states, I have had a couple of uncommon experiences with them.

The first occurred last summer after I moved into a (former) rental. One day about a week after we moved in a sagebrush lizard appeared in between the slats of the screen door on the inside. Had he been living in the house before we arrived? Each day he appeared in the late morning, seemingly from nowhere, to bask on the stone windowsill inside the house. He spent most afternoons on the inside of the screen door somewhat hidden behind its slats. A house lizard has come to live with us, I thought, with pleasure. I’ll call him Shadow.

My Chihuahuas were astonished by this small creature that snapped up ants, and moved at lightening speed from one end of the house to the other! Shadow befriended Hope and Lucy tolerating their curiosity when they nudged him on his stony plateau. Lily B, my dove kept a sharp eye on him too, sometimes flying down to inspect the floor after Shadow streaked by.

Whenever I saw the lizard during the day I would speak to him telling him how happy I was that he joined our little family. During our “conversations” Shadow peered me with bright almond shaped eyes, cocking his head from side to side and behaving as if he understood what I was saying. Perhaps he did. He certainly responded to my attention.

Researching Sagebrush lizards I soon learned that males had two bright iridescent cobalt patches on their undersides. When I went outside to peer at Shadow clinging to the screen from the inside, I saw the astonishing blue patches. Shadow was a male.

Alas, three short weeks later, the property manager who neglected to respond to my warning, twice, crushed Shadow in the door killing him instantly. I was totally bereft. After his death even the female lizard that unexpectedly bowed to me as I buried Shadow outdoors under his window made me sad… Later, I wondered if the little female had been Shadow’s mate because she stayed around the house and often basked in the same window that Shadow did (only on the outside) until the cool temperatures and a sun slipping low on the horizon sent her into hibernation in October.

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Above: Shadow on the inside of the screen

It was a steamy April afternoon four months later when I went out the back door of our little river house (having moved in February) to sit and to shell some Redbud pods.

When I sat down on a little wooden bench near the door a Sagebrush lizard appeared out of one of the wooden slats of a square slatted plank that served as a bottom step. I held my breath as I looked for blue patches and saw none. But he seemed like a male. When the lizard started bowing to me I stood up and bowed back while calling to him (?) softly. The lizard regarded me with one beady eye. “I’m glad to meet you” I said, delighted that my voice didn’t scare him. I had a sudden pure burst of joy as he and I conversed, me with words, him by using his body to respond by bowing to me after I spoke!

I recalled the little female who had made this apparently formal bowing gesture towards me as I buried Shadow under the window with some Prairie sage last fall…

This was the second lizard I had met that liked wooden slats I thought to myself, surprised by the apparent coincidence. I decided to bring him some water. After making sure he had plenty of stones to reach into shallow the water-dish, I bid him good day. “Please stay,” I finished, before rounding the house.

When I lay down to take a nap that afternoon a name popped into my head “Leo” I heard myself say. Perfect!

Later that afternoon I went out to see Leo, and sure enough, he was still basking in the sun. I saw a flash of blue although he disappeared when I took a picture. He’s going to stay, I thought, and believed it.

The next morning when I came around the corner there was Leo basking on one of the slats. “Hi Leo” I spoke softly. In truth I had no idea if this lizard was male or female (because a female could have pale blue patches too in some cases) and at that moment I didn’t care. I returned to the house for my camera and snapped a picture. Suddenly, A smaller lizard appeared out of the out of one of the slats and Leo bowed to the little lizard first, and then turned to bow to me! Absurdly happy but still stunned, I stood there gaping. I named the smaller lizard Liza.

Bursts of pure joy flooded me. Just knowing that I might have two lizards moving into this outside space was enough. My gratitude overflowed because their presence was also a healing experience that allowed me to fall in love with Sagebrush lizards again.

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Above: Liza and Leo – from left to right

Working notes:

After this second lizard experience occurred I did more in depth research on Sagebrush lizards, a common species throughout the Southwest. I was fascinated by the bowing behavior and wondered if it might be part of the sagebrush mating ritual. Sure enough, head bobbing (a single bob) and shuddering (repeated head bobbing) are part of the male’s mating behavior towards a female. (A male might do head bobbing 24 – 60 times an hour while courtship is in progress). Males are territorial and mate with more female, although they have a preference for certain females and court them frequently. Lizards also use chemical and visual cues to select a mate. The brilliant blue patches on the undersides of the male attract the females, and sometimes the female rejects a male suitor for unknown reasons. After the male impregnates one female she develops an orange belly indicating that she is carrying eggs. Her mate then moves on to another chosen female in his territory. Mating usually takes place in May or June, and one or two clutches of 2 -10 eggs are laid about an inch underneath the base of sagebrush in June or July. Incubation lasts for 40 plus days and sometimes the young appear as early as late July. I saw many very small Sagebrush lizards last August.

Sagebrush lizards are very eco – friendly eating ants, beetles, termites, grasshoppers, spiders and scorpions.

The males are bigger than the females.

Lizards are diurnal and are most active in the late morning and afternoon. They are fond of open spaces where they can bask in the sun, but are never far from some form of protection. Roadrunners love to eat them and many other animals and birds like the badger, snake, and hawk do too. If fortunate, a Sagebrush lizard will live about four years in the wild.

Although fascinating from a natural history perspective none of this information explains why any Sagebrush lizard would spend time “bowing” to me!

The Bear Circle

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Above: Two bear fetishes from the bear circle carved by Zuni artist Stewart Quandelacy. The red one is a Mother bear, the green one I call Tree bear.

 

When I was a little girl my little brother and I played in my grandparents’ woods, dragging boxes behind us that were full of stuffed animals. My little brother loved bears and his box was stuffed to the brim with bears of all sizes and shapes. In contrast, my cardboard box was filled with a variety of creatures and one giant frog that burped!

When I was in my mid thirties I developed a fascination with bears which totally baffled me because I had always associated with them with my brother, who, by that time, had been dead for many years.

This obsession began when I discovered identical life sized stuffed bears in every store I visited in Portland Maine during the holiday season. After seeing so many I had the uncanny feeling that this giant mole brown bear was trying to communicate something important to me. I ended up buying one of these bears in spite of feeling ridiculous. The bear sat in the back seat and stared at me with deep brown glassy eyes all the way home. I named her Cocoa and put her in one of my kitchen chairs where she was always present to greet people! I also made a crown for her out of grape vines and seed pods. My adult children had both moved out by then and when they visited and first saw Cocoa both thought their very unconventional mother had gone over the edge.

The following spring I began a self directed academic study of Native American mythology and I was amazed to learn that bears were very important protectors for many tribes.

By accident or design I also discovered bear fetishes around the same time. A fetish is an image of an animal (usually) carved out of stone that embodies the power and spirit of that creature. These small carvings are worn by their Indigenous owners who believe that the spirit of the animal acts as a personal guide and protected them from harm.

There was a local woman who went to Tucson Arizona to buy fetishes each winter, and when I discovered her collection I was hooked. The first bear fetish I bought had been carved by artist Stewart Quandelacy, a Zuni Indian who believed that the power of the animal would speak directly to the person who bought the stone.

This was how Blue came into my life. She was a small red (2/12 inches high) pipe-stone bear with a little pearl fish in her mouth. I made her a little pouch and took her everywhere with me… There was something about having her with me that felt really good. It was like having a special secret. I never showed her to anyone.

One day I went back to the local shop and the owner let me open the cabinet and sit on the floor examining other Zuni animal fetishes. Eventually, I went home with a frog. Over a period of a couple of years I acquired lizards and a badger, hawks,  and a raven, and most importantly, more Quandelacy Medicine Bears.

One night I had a dream that the bears were sitting in a circle and they were healing someone who was ill. All the bears looked just like mine; the only difference was that these bears were alive, speaking in a language that I could understand.

The very next day I began to create a bear circle with my bears and other fetishes. There was always a bear that represented one of the four cardinal directions. I acquired a piece of deerskin and each fetish was carefully wrapped after I finished  “working” with the circle by talking to the animals, and moving them around. I don’t know what else to call this but play. I had no idea what I was doing, but I felt like something was happening.

A life threatening personal experience motivated me to set up the bear circle. Inside the circle I wrote a small prayer, and left the circle open to the night. The frightening experience dissipated and I had a powerful sense that this bear circle had somehow shifted something to remove the threat. I began using the bear circle as a focus for prayer, first for myself, and then for others.

A couple of years later I discovered that the Bear Clan of the Lakota Sioux used bear circles for healing. Apparently, I hadn’t made up the bear circle after all! I began to research bears as healers and discovered that these “medicine bears” did lots of healing and were often associated with plant and root medicine, that is they healed most effectively through the use of plants. Most likely I had tapped into this ceremonial healing tradition because of my close relationship with the spirit bears and Nature as a whole.

The most unusual part of this story is that the bear circle helped me to break down  walls in my psyche. I had been brought up in the western academic tradition. I was a person who needed to have concrete proof  from “experts” that my personal experience was valid. Working with the bear circle, paying attention to my dreams, and celebrating earth based ritual brought me into a new relationship with myself.

Ironically, when I discovered the work of Rupert Sheldrake and became acquainted with field theory I learned how the bear circle probably worked, but over time these academic explanations came to matter much less. Time has shown me that calling on the bears for help simply works. Whatever the bear circle is capable of doing is always in service to Life as a whole, even if it includes death. Needless to say I do not travel anywhere without taking a small circle of bears with me.

I am presently living in Northern New Mexico, a place where the veil between the mundane and sacred world seems thin, probably because we are still surrounded by wilderness. I noticed shortly after my arrival that I experienced the potential power of the bear circle more intimately. That I am living on land that has been sacred to Indigenous Pueblo peoples for a very long time may also be partly responsible for some of this intensity because I also have Native American roots. I am developing a powerful sense of ‘home’ as I wander over the hills listening to a river that sings a song that seems to be “calling” out to me just as urgently as the bears continue to do.

Pay Attention, they say. And I do.

A Little Story about Telepathy and Dreaming

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I am a naturalist and ethologist who has studied many animals and birds in their natural habitat; my 15 year study of Maine’s black bears is perhaps the best example of the work I do. I am a dedicated animal advocate and telepathic communication is part of many if not all of my interactions with both tame and wild animals.

A couple of months ago I wrote a story about the telepathic relationship between my dove, Lily B and me. I put it on my blog and every day there after I noted that a number of people read it. At first I didn’t pay much attention but after awhile I couldn’t dismiss the odd sensation that this story was traveling from country to country in a very peculiar way. One day I counted 11 countries whose bloggers just read one article, the story about Lily B. Bloggers continue to read about my dove on a daily basis. This morning, for example, someone from Egypt read it.

I recently sent Lily’s story to a couple of editors to have it published. One editor responded saying she wanted the story but that I needed to make some changes and that she wanted more specific examples of how Lily and I maintained our telepathic bond. “What kind of things does he communicate to you?” she wanted to know. She also requested that I include a conversation between Lily B and me to end the piece.

I did not know what to do since what I had written was a true story and I resisted fictionalizing it because genuine telepathy works in very strange ways.

I approached Lily B with my problem asking for his help. He was swinging back and forth in his basket that overlooks the birdfeeder in an east window. I reminded him that this was his story and that I really needed him to help me create a better ending to satisfy this woman’s requirements for publication. Lily B listened intently peering down at me with one or the other of his very beady eyes. In this instance I spoke to him in English, just as I would talk with another human. Lily made no comment regarding my request and I went back to editing the story in another room.

In about a minute I had a very clear phrase pop into my mind: End the story with the fire that almost killed me. Of course, I thought. “Thanks Lily.” I sent him my feelings of gratitude expecting the three short coos that came back almost instantly.

 Lily B and I communicate much of the time without words being spoken by either of us, or one of us, as the above example indicates. Sometimes I will have a clear thought about something, perhaps a new insight, and Lily B will respond with his characteristic three short coos if I am right.

He also communicates with me when I have a strong feeling about something that might happen (that is usually, but not always negative). This kind of communication occurs through my body and usually I can’t articulate what I am sensing beyond experiencing fear and free floating anxiety if it is something threatening, which leaves me in a strange kind of limbo, second guessing myself. If the fear will manifest in a concrete way I hear that triple coo. At this point I surrender, opening the door to acceptance, no matter how difficult. I have learned to trust Lily’s judgment on these matters because I am a writer who has been recording these exchanges with my bird for 24 years. Lily’s response about the fire was the perfect ending to his story because it was the second time in seven months that a threat to Lily’s life had come to me in a dream that manifested in a concrete way. Twos completed a cycle, my dreams had taught me over the years.

This second dream simply said that Lily B would die. I tried hard to turn this dream into metaphor and attach it to my spiritual condition. I couldn’t make it fit…It wasn’t until I accepted the fact that Lily B might really be facing death that he sounded a triple coo, the first time ever that he responded to my thoughts/feeling in the middle of the night. I was so heartsick that I couldn’t fall asleep again.

Ever since we had moved into this rental space six months ago I felt threatened by negative energy. Within the space of a month a house lizard I adored was squashed in the door by the property manager, a hummingbird broke his neck on one of the windows and Lily B was attacked by an unknown predator and almost died from the three – inch gash than ran from his eye to his breast. Something was very wrong with this place on a psychic level – something I couldn’t name but could sense. Now it was February and I hoped that I could move out by spring…

Lily had recovered completely from the trauma he sustained during the late summer so it seemed unlikely that he would die from natural causes even though he was so old. I was on high alert, but had no idea what threat my bird might be facing…

One night a few days later while sitting in front of the fire on a low couch, I heard a strangled coughing sound. Turning around I realized that to my horror that I couldn’t see my bird. He was engulfed by heavy smoke. Screaming his name frantically I tried to get to him on the ceiling fan where he was roosting. When I managed to reach him he wasn’t there and I couldn’t breath. Still croaking his name I heard a weak choking sound and followed it until I found my poor bird on the floor. Grabbing him frantically, I raced out the door and put him in the car and stayed with him until he began to breathe more naturally. I later discovered that the fireplace damper had simply shut down by itself. Miraculously, for the second time in less than a year, Lily B survived an attack that should have killed him. We moved out of the rental the next day.

The night this editor’s request arrived I also had a powerful dream (this was what motivated me to talk to Lily directly about the story the next morning) reminding me that I communicate across species and don’t have to prove it.

I am an animal activist for deer and other animals and it’s twilight and the deer show themselves to me. There are at least 3- or 4 bucks all with antlers. One buck is larger than the rest with a huge rack of antlers. All of the antlers glow – they are luminous – and the colors keep shifting – rainbow colors. The deers’ antlers are all speaking to me through their luminescence and I can understand what they are saying. I am fighting for them to keep the land untouched so that the deer, elk, and other wild animals have wild places to roam. People are destroying the wild places and ruining the habitat the animals need to survive. I hear someone talking about me. “No, she won’t take money.” People are decimating the forest, prairies and desert and the deer tell me that all the animals will soon be leaving for good, but they tell me without words.

I awaken from this dream in a state of profound grief because I can’t bear knowing that the animals will be gone. I also understand that wild animals are talking to me just like Lily does – without using words, reminding me that I have this capacity to know what animals are saying and feeling – not just the animals that I live with but all animals. And of course, thanks to Lily B, I can own that interspecies communication is a gift I have been given by the animals because their persistence and my attention helped make it real. Telepathy is the means by which this kind of communication occurs, and it is strengthened and works most effectively between species that have close emotional ties as I do with deer, black bears, red-winged blackbirds, cardinals, hawks, herons, rabbits, lizards, hummingbirds and now golden eagles to name a few wild animal friends.

Today, animal communicators/ whisperers are “in” and have become part of popular culture. What I note is that most of these folks have ongoing conversations with animals that resemble those between humans. I find myself speculating on how much of this communication actually comes from the animal in question, because in my experiences, animals don’t use long sentences and don’t discuss current world issues at great length.

On the other hand my friend Harriet brings up an important point when asked about her opinion regarding those who are skeptical about communicating with pets.

“Oh, my opinion about people who communicate with their pets all the time while simultaneously believing that they aren’t communicating with their pets: they have walls in the brain!”

Walls in our brains? Well I had one too!

Below: Lily B on his perch in our bedroom where we all sleep together.IMG_1465.JPG

Baba’s Tapestry

 

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Above: Huichol String Painting of the Tree of Life – Thanks to Bruce Nelson for the image

This morning the first email I read was written by a male friend of mine who reminded me that today, International Women’s Day, was “my day.” How delightful to be reminded of this moment by a good man I thought to myself.

An article in Return to MAGO about the biological miracle of female mitochondrial DNA captured my attention immediately afterwards. It had been a while since I had thought about the unbroken line of genes passed down from mother to daughter that allowed geneticists to trace woman’s heritage back to the “first mother.” I reflected for a minute on “her- story” that I share with all women including my own mother and grandmother.

In the same piece of writing (excerpts from Blood and Honey by Danica Anderson) references were made to scholar Marija Gimbutas’s research which highlights the importance of spinning and weaving, and how these two creative acts were carried out by women in sacred temples long ago. In ancient times flint blades were used as scissors by the women who cut the threads and cords – umbilical and otherwise. (Neolithic Europe).

These references swamped me with memories driving me to write, today, before I lost the precious threads.

First, I thought of my grandmother who I named “Baba” because she sang a song to me about three lost sheep that cried bah, bah, bah. The word “Baba,” I later learned, was a name used to denote grandmother.

My maternal grandmother took care of me as a child. She let me bake cookies and help her put up food that she had grown in her vegetable garden. She taught me how to grow flowers, and together we watched birds for hours. She cooked special foods for me when I was sick and washed my face with warm water every single night. She awakened me so that we could watch the deer grazing in a circle around the golden apple tree under a blossoming white moon. But what I remember best is sitting with her as she sewed…

My grandmother was a professional seamstress who crafted all my grandfather’s suits, shirts, ties, and silk handkerchiefs from bolts of cloth that she chose with great care. I also have many poignant memories of her sitting at the sewing machine stitching together dresses, shorts, shirts, for her only granddaughter who she loved fiercely. She taught me to sew delicate little stitches, and I have a clear memory of her working on a huge tapestry of the Tree of Life that was filled with colorful birds that I loved. That she never finished this particular piece of embroidery always upset me whenever I thought about it. At the time of her death my grandmother had embroidered so many pillow shams, and wall hangings that were so exquisitely executed that I was left to wonder about the significance behind the fact that she abandoned my favorite tapestry of all. I still have the silver heron scissors that she used to cut the threads while working on that piece of embroidery …

Today of all days seems like an appropriate time to honor my very creative and loving grandmother who nurtured me as a child, adolescent, and young woman. When I lost her not long after my brother’s death I lost the only adult I had ever come near to trusting…

According to Andersom, women’s aprons had pockets that often held precious family heirlooms like rings and necklaces, as well as scissors that were passed down from mother to daughter (or as in my case from grandmother to granddaughter).

(I stopped writing at this point to get a cup of coffee and to water my plants. I was stunned to discover a small pair of (child’s) scissors in the center of one of my passionflower pots that had been hidden there for months. Sometimes synchronistic experiences like this reinforce the powers of interconnection like nothing else can)

My grandmother also wore aprons that always had pockets in them.

My mother was an artist that worked in a number of mediums. At one point she was silk screening pictures that my brother and I had drawn onto linen napkins. My brother drew a bird’s nest with three eggs in it. The picture that my mother selected for me was a self-portrait of a small child who wore an apron with a single pocket in the left hand side. I was also wearing one of my grandfather’s berets. Oddly I had drawn myself with only one arm. As an adult, I wondered about why my mother had chosen this particular picture for her napkins because it seemed to indicate that her daughter saw herself in a distorted way.

The embroidered Tree of Life tapestry that my grandmother never finished and the picture of myself with one arm leads me to believe that something was broken in my grandmother and in me on an archetypal level (tree of life) and the personal (a child with one arm). But I think that the intergenerational woman thread endured and eventually triumphed, because the child had a pocket and inside that pocket was a woman who developed into a creative writer, one who continues today to re-weave the threads of her broken woman line.