The Circle of Life and Death

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This morning the sky was on fire before dawn even as I approached the river whose ripples reflected a purple so deep it was almost inked in charcoal – In the Bosque I noticed that one mule deer had used a juniper to scrape his antlers. Otherwise the Earth emanated precious predawn stillness except for the sound of receding river waters slipping over cobbled stones. It was mild; I thought today might be the day…

 

The greens I had tipped in prayer and gratitude on ‘the mountain where bears live’ were waiting to be woven into wreaths, and by afternoon the temperature was warm enough for me to sit on the porch under a milky December sun with my clippers and bag of greens.

 

The sweet scent of pinion wafted through the air as I began to weave my circle of life with pinion, fir, and spruce. I wove carefully cutting smaller fronds without thinking about what I was doing, but beneath my quiet mind an intention was being set to weave a new kind of wholeness back into the trees, back into our broken Earth; S/he who is crying out to be heard through each raging fire, crackling drought, mud ridden flood. My greatest fear is that no one is listening.

 

My intention is that I will listen; I will be present for the trees.

 

Frequently in dreams I hear the screams of trees being slaughtered, cut away from their loved ones, left alone to die without adequate nourishment, water, or support.

 

Here in New Mexico the cottonwoods suffered so in last year’s drought that I wept over them, never imagining that my holy place, a cathedral created from a few graceful cottonwood arms that stretched all the way to the ground would end up being ruthlessly severed and h left on the ground as a pile of useless dead limbs. I raged and sorrowed then, helpless in the face of slaughter, even after I had a dream that in the distance a whole cottonwood spread her bountiful branches over the desert floor. I was grateful the tree soul lived on, but I was grieving my loss.

 

One day about a month ago as I walked under these Matriarchs in the now parched Bosque, the cottonwoods nudged me to bring one of their broken peeled arms back to my dwelling place and to create something out of it. As I followed directions I discovered I was constructing a memorial to honor the dead. Another dream came; this one reinforced the truth that I must honor all trees, but that I needed to focus on all those that were dead or dying.

 

Finally I understood that the loss of my cottonwood cathedral might have been making the same point.

 

For many years I have been reverencing all trees at this darkest time of the year with an emphasis on evergreens because they symbolized the continuation of all life. And in my world each tree I revered became a “Tree of Life.” Weaving my wreaths in their honor was and remains an act of heartfelt prayer. Up until the present hope for a more wholesome, peaceful future has always been attached to my ‘tree of life’ prayers.

 

But this year it is different. The Earth is on Fire and I must seek a larger context – one that includes the death of all trees and Nature herself.

 

As Terry Tempest Williams states we “must feel the pain of now and not look away.”

 

I promise the trees I will do my best to stay present for their anguish, knowing that what I do for them I do for me.

 

It is hard to admit that I can no longer imagine what I can do to change any outcome – theirs or mine – we are that enmeshed.

 

I wove the above intention into my wreath and then brought it in. After placing the circle of greens on a small table I lit the wreath up in green and blue lights to honor both Earth and Sky. Life and Death. As I stood over the wreath, the scent of all the boughs filled me with a profound sense of peace.

Winter Solstice Drama

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Last year I attended a bonfire on the night of the winter solstice at a friend’s house. As my companion and I walked towards the ledge where the fire had been the year before we were both astonished. Where was everybody? We stood in the dark confused. Minutes passed.

 

After suggesting we leave, my companion remarked with annoyance, “What the hell is going on here?” A Rhetorical question. I sure didn’t know.

 

Sudden hooting split the night and some dissonant musical sounds seemed to be coming from out of the bushes below us.

 

Following the sounds we descended the steep hill and discovered that the fire was at the river’s edge, and that a few people were already gathered there.

 

Unbeknownst to either of us the location had changed, and from our vantage point on the hill we couldn’t see the fire or hear any sounds. I had been looking forward to this celebratory turning, and liked the idea of sharing it with friends. Yet, now I felt uneasy.

 

As I recall, there were noise makers (?) but what stuck in my mind was my sense of confusion. Was this some sort of joke being played on us, and if so why? The anguish I felt was palpable. I barely remember the rest of the evening. I felt completely shut out and took refuge by staring into the flames of the fire, ending the evening by giving a solstice gift to my friend.

 

The next day I believe, I felt compelled to write to my friend to tell her how upset I was over what I perceived had happened. I love this woman, and consider her a soul sister.

 

She was as deeply distressed as I was. And when we spoke, cried, and hugged all at once, it immediately became clear that she assumed that we would know that the location of the fire had been changed because of a recent fire that had broken out further down the Bosque, and that no joke of any kind had been intended.

 

My perception and that of my companion’s had apparently been totally distorted.

 

I took responsibility for the distortion.

 

But I was floored.

 

I became a psychologist because I am a person who needs to root out underlying truths. I am like the proverbial dog with a bone, unable to put down an issue until I have unraveled it – even if it takes years. No dream came to me to help me unravel this conundrum. I have been sitting with it for a year, and have used the incident twice to demonstrate to others how perception can be skewed in ways that sometimes appear incomprehensible.

 

The closest I can come to an explanation for this drama will be difficult for most folks to comprehend, let alone accept. I have been a ritual artist for almost 40 years and have participated both alone and with others in these eight yearly turnings of the wheel and know from countless personal experiences that extraordinary happenings can and do occur during these times of what I call “natural power”. Sometimes these energies move in a positive direction and sometimes they move in reverse. I think what happened that solstice night was an example of cosmic energies constellating around a gathering in a negative way. Everyone was apparently impacted. That fact combined with the astounding synchronicity that my companion and I experienced – the weird sense of being tricked in some way – gives credence to this explanation. Stunning synchronicity, is in my experience, almost always associated with these forces of natural power that can manifest for good or for ill.

 

When my friend and I discussed this unfortunate experience today she wanted reassurance that this kind of dissonance would not occur again at this year’s fire. Everyone had gotten hurt she said. This remark surprised me because up until now I had assumed that this issue was between us and didn’t really involve others. I realize I am not clear why these people were so upset. It wasn’t as if I said anything to anyone else. Still, I was only too happy to reassure her.

 

But her remark about everyone being so hurt gave me a clue. Apparently everyone had been negatively impacted.

 

When I hung up the phone that I heard that nagging inner voice saying ‘you are assuming too much responsibility for this incident’. My telepathic bird Lily b started bellowing.

 

Whatever happened that night may remain a mystery but I believe that all of us were unwitting players in the dark side of a winter solstice drama.

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Reparation

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This morning on my walk the word reparation floated through my mind as I listened to rippling river waters…

What does it mean to make reparation for an injustice done? One dictionary definition suggests that reparation involves making amends. To reweave the circle, to repair the rent, that is a hole made by tearing apart what once was whole, seems like an image and thought worth pondering especially during these dark winter months that encourage self – reflection and dreaming (but are also rife with declarations of ‘love’ usually expressed as a commodity).

We all make mistakes. Most are not intentional, yet they can inadvertently cause great harm; in some cases these mistakes destroy relationships.

It seems to me that we all have choices here. We can make a decision (set a clear intention) not to allow the past to determine our future. This does not mean that we don’t hold a person accountable for his/her actions. We must, in order to stay present to the truth that we were harmed by another person’s behavior intentional or not.

However, we can still make a choice to remember that we were hurt and still let go. Of course, this is a process, and depending upon the depth of the pain inflicted, it may take a very long time to move through that dark tunnel. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others.

Becoming stuck in anger, or feeling victimized blocks letting go. It is critically important to feel those feelings, but at the same time, not to allow them to drive future interactions with those we care about.

If a breach of trust has occurred then this loss of trust must be taken very seriously because relationships are so complex and fragile and so dependent upon this feeling to flourish.

How do we go about healing a breach of trust? In my way of thinking, acknowledging that we broke the trust of another must come first.

Re-establishing friendly contact by focusing on common ground is helpful in some cases.

But the most important aspect of this healing involves changing our behavior – repeated apologies without demonstrating to the other person that we care enough about them to alter our actions – when words are not followed by actions – apologies becomes meaningless. It is relatively easy to say we are sorry, it is much more difficult to begin to re – establish trust by shifting our behavior. It is worth repeating that trust is forged from the ground up, and the building blocks of the temple of meaningful relationship must rest on a foundation of trust.

When we harm or are harmed by another it is helpful to know that our actions no matter how egregious don’t have to determine the future, and that with intention, attention, patience, and persistence, our damaged relationships can be healed.

IMG_3398.JPGUltimately, forgiveness may be the gift offered without reservation to those who are willing to do this most challenging work.

The Feast of Santo Tomas

 

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This morning I went up to the village plaza in Abiquiu to watch the dancers parade around the church with their saint who is also honored at this village festival held every year at the end of November.

This is one of the two Native American festivals that is honored each year by the genizaros who are mixed Spanish and American Indian people who embrace and practice the Catholicism that was once forced upon them.

This eclectic community is made up of descendants of Native American slaves. Those captured in warfare were brought here, converted to Catholicism, taught Spanish and held in servitude by New Mexican families. The young women and female children endured the usual atrocities perpetuated on captive females including rape at the hands of their captors. Some New Mexican male genizaros gained their freedom by serving as soldiers to defend frontier villages like Abiquiu from Indian raids. By the late 1700s, genizaros comprised one-third of the population of New Mexico. Ultimately these non – tribal peoples were assimilated into New Mexican culture.

The dances are beautiful to witness with the smallest female children dressed in predominantly white regalia some wearing a rainbow of ribbons. Adolescent girls were dressed in red and white and had painted red circles  inscribed on their cheeks; some of the older women also wore red, Many carried turkey or eagle feathers in their hands or wore them as headbands. Most wore face paint.

As the church bells rang out signaling the end of mass the dancers emerged to the sound of the drums as they circled the church and danced in the plaza. A single gunshot rang out repeatedly throughout the ceremony. Dexter, pictured above in full regalia, led the dancing along with Maurice whose footwork defies description. I think of Maurice as a bird who flies through the air only touching the ground momentarily with his moccasined feet. Drumming, chanting a repetitive refrain that can produce a light trance in those that are sensitive to the vibrations, the shaking of seeded gourd rattles and ankle bells were followed by what sounded like war cries that split the air.

This celebration has a very dark side to it and yet the participants were joyous, and it is clear that everyone had fun. Pictures are taken by everyone. A potluck lunch followed.

The wind was so intense that I decided to go home to get out of the cold feeling satisfied because I had witnessed the heart of this festival which honors Indigenous peoples as slaves who endured unspeakable treatment at the hands of their captors.

May the genizaros live on!

Turkey Tales

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(male turkeys displaying for the females in my yard)

 

Right across the river is an ancient Pueblo ruin. Half way up the cliff a petroglyph of the turkey, a bird that is sacred to Indigenous peoples is inscribed on a rock with other storied landscape scenes…

 

When I first came to Abiquiu (the place below the cattails) I climbed the mesa to touch the carving, to be with, to reflect upon this particular petroglyph. The stone marked a holy place.

 

After being away for a few months I returned to find ‘my’ turkey defaced by uncaring people.

 

I no longer visit the ruin.

 

Turkeys are sacred birds to all Indigenous peoples who gather their feathers to wear in ceremonial dances. Wild turkeys like the ones in the picture inhabit the lowlands around my house in Maine, dancing and spreading their iridescent fans even in the fall for the females who are not in the picture but feeding close by under the bird feeder. In the winter they make hieroglyphics in the snow, and roost in tall evergreens by my brook. In the spring the mothers raise their chicks in the tall grasses that stretch down to the wetlands. They know they are protected here in this small sanctuary. I love the sounds they make – chortling conversation – and when they take to the air they resemble flying cannonballs, a sight that always makes me laugh.

 

Of course, these wild turkeys can be shot by hunters in and out of season because after all – who is going to stop them?

 

The second amendment and the religion of violence are intimately related.

 

Today is ‘thanksgiving’ for many Americans, the descendants of the colonists who took over this country, shot everything in sight –some species to extinction – and annihilated the original inhabitants, destroying their ceremonies, customs, language, stealing their land, selling the woman and children into slavery, forcing them to adopt a foreign patriarchal (power over) religion or die.

 

Perspective is everything.

 

From the colonists point of view – they won. Ironically, even the food that first sustained the starving immigrants was provided by Native peoples. Indian lands became their own, the animals and birds with whom the Native peoples lived with in harmony, respected, killed only ritually, and with gratitude for food, the Native understanding that all life was sacred – that all beings were equal and related; these ways of thinking were dismissed, crushed, denied, forbidden.

 

Three hundred years later little has changed. Americans have yet to own that they destroyed an entire culture, a people who lived in “right relationship” with the planet that supports them.

 

Surely, today, Indigenous peoples are not celebrating their takeover by the descendants of the original colonists; surely they are not cooking turkeys for what has become a feast of revolting gluttony when so many are starving throughout the world – and surely they are not grateful that their lands have been stolen, their women and children raped, murdered, or sold into slavery, or that their most sacred places are gone or up for grabs by corporate greed.

 

To give the reader just one example: think of 85% of Bear Ears monument a holy place sacred to most tribes in the southwest taken over by this current administration. This president supports the “chaining” of thousands of acres of forest, and rights of way for new roads and utility lines through the iconic Indian Creek landscape even in what is left of the monument. The plan fails to map out strong protections for priceless cultural sites in Bears Ears and fails to lay out a plan of co-management with the Bears Ears Inter-tribal Coalition as it was originally designed.

 

Throughout the country BLM lands, the public lands that once belonged to all American peoples have been desecrated, overgrazed, ruthlessly logged, opened up for fracking, oil extraction, mining and every kind of abuse of power.

 

Economy ‘trumps’ the living breathing planet on which we depend for life.

 

Rape of the Earth has become normalized.

 

Indigenous peoples understand that what we do to the Earth we do to ourselves. Americans as a whole have no concept of what the above statement means, or can even imagine what the consequences of Earth abuse might endgender.

 

And then I think of the millions of turkeys mindlessly slaughtered to provide so many with meat for ‘thanksgiving’ and I weep.

 

I close this narrative with a quote from Terry Tempest Williams that mirrors my own Indigenous perspective. I have Passamaquoddy roots.

 

“Whatever I know as a woman about spirituality I have learned from my body encountering the Earth. Soul and soil are not separate. Neither are wind and spirit, nor water or tears.”

Tree Stories

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(one of author’s paths… including the one that opens to the little field)

 

I have always loved trees and as a child often found refuge in the fragrant branches of old maples and oaks. Does the reader know that every kind of tree has a scent of its own? My grandmother’s sweetly perfumed golden apple tree attracted the deer on moonlit nights as my little brother and I watched with rapt attention when the bucks moved in to feed while we counted the points on each rack of deer antlers…

 

Our first tree houses were constructed high up in the uppermost branches of the white pines that swayed precariously when the wind blew too hard. These old trees also “whispered” when their needles touched and I imagined then that they were speaking in tongues that I could decipher with ease. The scent of pine pitch is a fragrance I cherish to this day. Many of these magnificent White pines were scattered around the 50 acre pre-Revolutionary farm that belonged to my grandparents, and like the 200- 300 year old sugar maples that ringed the field and shaded the house in summer, I loved those old trees but took them for granted.

 

By mid- life I no longer took any tree for granted. Maine logging was devastating the trees around me. I became a fierce tree advocate writing articles to address destructive logging practices and to educate the public in the hope that these practices would help save Maine trees… all this writing occurred in between the spaces of teaching at the university level, accruing further degrees, and counseling.

 

When I first purchased ‘my’ land in western Maine thirty – five years ago, the mixed conifer and deciduous forest had been cut just a few years before and many saplings were slowly regenerating. An open field stretched down into the valley to meet one of the three brooks that bordered the property. This area was also protected by the forest. A clear spring bubbled up in a nearby copse of trees.

 

I promised the trees then, that as long as I lived on the land this forest would remain untouched, and that I would allow nature to take the lead. A commitment I kept.

 

Nature chose to create a white pine forest that sprung up as if by magic populating the old field with pine seedlings. White pines grow fast when they are young, and soon I was creating a complex web of pathways so that I could continue to walk and snowshoe as the forest grew and flourished. As the pines arced over my head emerald mosses covered the ground beneath my feet. My beloved Black bears began to use these paths so regularly that a thin line appeared in the center of the well-shaded and protected trails.

 

Even on the hottest summer days I continue to meander through the pines that keep the ground moist and fragrant. One path borders one of the brooks, another opens into the remaining field, a small area bordered by wild apple trees, chokecherries, wild cherries, beaked hazelnut, and hobble bush. This protected open place has a northeastern exposure that allows me to converse with the stars and a rising full moon. In the winter the mountain catches fire as alpine glow spreads her wings across the horizon.

 

During the days of spring and summer the heart shaped leaves of white violets with their striped lavender tongues, masses of lupine, lemon lilies, deep blue iris, milkweed balls, goldenrod, and finally deep blue fall asters provide me with continuous blooming until once again I mow the field so that the deer and rabbits can graze until snow blankets the wheat colored ground. Around my log cabin white pines provide mothers with “bear trees” and a myriad of fruit trees and maples provide deep summer shade, the latter creating the most beautiful autumn colors – gold and crimson leaves that are a sight to behold.

 

My life is inextricably woven into the weft and warp of the trees around my house (and trees in general – here in New Mexico where I am currently spending the winter it is the cottonwoods that I fiercely advocate for), and I am so grateful to nature who creates tree sanctuaries for me and for all the animals and birds that so depend upon them for life.

 

Just a few days ago I saw a video on You Tube about bear biologist Dr. Lynn Rogers who is a friend and also a mentor. In the video we learn that Lynn has a white pine (located in Mohawk State Forest in Massachusetts) that has been named after him. This tree has a girth of 11 plus feet and is a hundred feet tall.

 

Back in the nineties Lynn formed the White Pine Society to save the remaining 2 percent of the white pines in Minnesota. He wrote a bill that did not pass but helped to raise public awareness about the relationship between Black bears and white pines. Female mother bears gravitate towards these trees for a number of reasons. They provide an open area free of snow early in the spring, and with their rough bark are ideal trees for cubs to climb to escape predators, and to hone their climbing skills.

 

The Wilderness and Parks Coalition honored Lynn for “crusading to preserve and regenerate Minnesota’s depleted white pine forests.” At the same time the Eastern Native Tree Society named the giant pine (mentioned previously) after him.

 

It is heartening to know that during this time of earth devastation, climate change, and general disregard for nature that men like Lynn and women like me advocated for and continue to advocate for those trees and creatures whose voices have been stilled by corporate greed and indifference.

Sand Hill Cranes 2019

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(early morning at Bosque del Apache)

 

All month I have been on alert listening for the calls of the Sand hill cranes as they continue their migration south. Last year a good number of cranes spent the winter here landing in the neighboring field to find food, and roosting down by the river in the riffles…

 

This year, except for a few sightings and an occasional singular “brring” call by a few, the cranes have been absent. The artificially controlled river is so unnaturally high that it is ripping the shore away in chunks; the torrents of raging water are drowning the riffles where shorebirds once landed to rest or fish. Even the solitary heron has moved on. It is hardly surprising that the Sand hill cranes are not staying overnight even if they pass by overhead.

I also suspect that the cranes’ migratory routes have shifted.

Sandhill Cranes have begun breeding in the fields around the Saco River in Fryeburg, Maine, not far from my home. Some research suggests that these birds have broken away from the eastern flyway. They were first sighted in Maine about 20 years ago and I am delighted to know that some may be making Maine their breeding ground.

We do know that one of the consequences of Climate Change is that many migratory birds are shifting their routes or not traveling as far south as they once did. The cranes used to have three distinct flyways that flowed into one great artery the further south they traveled, and conversely fan out with some cranes flying as far as west as the eastern coast of Siberia during the northern spring migration. These days it is hard to predict what may be happening.

 

Although it is almost the end of November I have only seen one good size flock of twenty cranes flying over the house; this group was traveling due west. I have seen a few in very small groups of two, three, and five in number, and my neighbors and I had a couple in their field.

 

Seeing and hearing Sand hill Cranes has to be one of the the greatest joys of living near the river in Abiquiu, and I keenly miss their presence and haunting calls.

 

This year’s trip to the Bosque del Apache assuaged my loneliness. For one whole day I was steeped in wonder and gratitude that such a place even existed (I almost forgot that this refuge is also open to hunting. This “create a refuge and then shoot the animals” is normalized behavior for all state Fish and Game organizations).

 

To have so many cranes and snow geese along with harriers and other raptors, eagles, ducks, herons, sliders, fish, deer visible all at once while listening to crane and geese cacophony put me in state that I call “Natural Grace,” where nothing but the immediate present matters. At one point I met a couple who asked to take my picture. When I asked why they both said in union -“Why, you are so beautiful, you look like you belong here.” Evidently, the cranes had transformed me! The day was perfect – absolutely no wind and temperatures that were so mild that I was able to sit on the ground watching cranes/snow geese through my binoculars until the sun finally set,and many groups of cranes and snow geese had taken to the sky. I recorded the birds calling out to each other, and now whenever I listen to my tape I am transported back in time to that wondrous day. I am so grateful to have been there.

We know from fossilized records that the Sandhill Cranes are one of oldest birds in the world, and have been in their present form for 10, 30, or 60 million years (depending on the source). They have apparently maintained a family and community structure that allows them to live together peacefully and migrate by the thousands twice a year when unfortunately many are shot along the way. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, and in the spring the adults engage in a complex “dance” with one another. During mating, pairs throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating, but all year long.

In their northern habitat, the female lays two eggs a year in thick protected areas at the edge of reed filled marshes. Before nesting these birds “paint” their gray feathers with dull brown reeds and mud to reduce the possibility of being seen by a predator. Born a couple of days a part, the second chick rarely survives. The fuzzy youngster that does (if it survives the first year – delayed reproduction and survival rates factor into the difficulties inherent in crane conservation and to that we must now add Climate Change) stays with its parents for about three years before reaching sexual maturity and striking out on its own, but even then the adult stays within the parameters of its extended family, and it is these families that comprise the small groups of cranes that we see flying together. During migration, a multitude of these groups travel together. There are no leaders and often it is possible to observe what looks like an unorganized random group or diagonal thread made up of cranes flying above the ground. In every roosting place there are a few cranes that remain awake all night alerting their relatives to would be predators.

I think it’s significant that these very ancient birds have survived so long in their present form. I’ll repeat my original question: Could it be that the cranes understand the value of living in community in a way that has become foreign to humans who seem hell bent on embracing the values of competition, power, and control on a global level? Perhaps we could all benefit from watching Sand hill cranes with rapt attention.

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