Dear Mary

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When I responded to a post on feminism and religion this morning I wrote that you were my first goddess. As a child I knew little beyond that you were the “Mother of God,” and I found your presence immensely comforting, even seeking you out in secret, entering your rose garden in a local monastery. I needed you so.

 

Early in adolescence I learned that your life was one of purity, sacrifice, and loss. Your purity left me bereft. How could a young Victorian girl be “good enough” to serve such a figure? I was fierce and passionate – a thorny red rose – with an empty hole in my heart.

 

Sadly, I released you and chose your sister the whore, the Black Goddess in disguise… but I didn’t know that then; I only knew that the “black” woman succumbed to her flesh as I did, covered herself in shame…What lies Patriarchy tells…

 

Mary, I kept your starry blue image on the mantle as I mothered my children. I thought of you as a model of female perfection, an idea so antithetical to who you are and what you embody that today, I am appalled. Eventually, I came to believe that you abandoned me, not realizing that I was the one who abandoned my soul and spirit along with the body of a beautiful girl that I despised.

 

Sudden death and intolerable grief opened the door between us again; you became the Mater Dolorosa. I wondered how you survived the death of your son. I don’t know when I realized you had no voice. It disturbed me that you disappeared into obscurity after your son’s death as if mothering was all there was… meanwhile, held captive by the Underworld my life dragged on with me as its victim. More, many more losses, would follow…

 

As my life deteriorated I retrieved you again and again trying to understand… Eventually I saw that an old white god had all the power and you were acted upon by him just as I seemed to be acted upon and held captive by an unholy darkness. Neither of us had a voice. You were not worthy enough to become a saint, let alone god’s equal – you were consigned to act out the role of intercessor – becoming a bridge between humans and the divine. You were always a servant. You grieved loss without reprieve. In retrospect I see clearly that during the first half of my life I lived out your life as I understood it – always passive, always trying to please, making a sacrifice of myself, unable to use my voice, accepting grief as a way of life. Never good enough. Your patriarchal victimhood was my own. What lies Patriarchy told about you, my Beloved.

 

The strange part is that even then I noticed that many people, women and men, my own father included, prayed only to you. I developed a deep respect for your role as intercessor…

 

At midlife, I discovered you in Italy, as the starry Queen of Heaven, in the form of the doves I had loved as a child, as the scent of a thousand lilies, and although your ‘dark’ sister, Mary Magdalene and I still carried the burden of my deep sexual shame, I loved her too because through her I had been able to keep my connection to you alive and intact as an adolescent. In Assisi you finally appeared to me as the Goddess, loving me just as I was. This time I refused to choose one sister over the other and the two of you merged into a fully embodied divine figure in which light and darkness were One.

 

When I left Christianity soon after, I took you with me to begin a new life; this time with Nature as my muse. Of course Mary, you were Nature, my Beloved Earth and each of her creatures and trees … so the thread remained unbroken.

 

Today a silver Guadalupe, the Indian Goddess of the America’s, hangs on the wall as you enter this house; Guadalupe/Mary/ the Black Goddess finally elevated by the “god boy” to her rightful place: She is Mother of All. Each of the Nichos in this house holds images of her divine manifest expressions… owl feathers, potsherds, a bear claw for protection, chert, and the antler of a deer. Divinity is expressed through the spark of each individual species; for me this momentary (usually) experience occurs primarily through animals like a bird, dog, or tree, but for others it takes a human form…

 

Lately Mary, you have become a Crane, and I have been desolate because flocks of you are leaving for the season. I feel bereft and full of fear. Have I lost myself again?

 

I read that Cranes are vigilant and keep watch at night for predators.

 

Last night I dreamed two words “Dear Mary,” and this morning after responding to a post written about you, it hit me. I had to write you a letter.

 

I fear losing you – falling victim to the underworld. I need your protection… Will you intervene on my behalf as Bear, goddess of spring?

 

I remind myself that you, the Mother of All Creation stand behind each particular bird, animal, tree, person that I experience as an expression of (your) divinity, and that although I mourn the leave – taking of the Cranes there will be others that will come to manifest your Grace, because you, are both the Source and Context of all that is, and also the Bridge between.

 

I love you, Mary.

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A little bear story

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Yesterday a bunch of us attended a community art – making project. An artist we know is creating a giant nine – foot corn mosaic made out of clay tiles that will adorn an outdoor wall on a building in Espanola New Mexico. There are over 400 pieces that comprise this mandala and Sabra invited those who are interested to join her to draw and paint as many corn kernel tiles and/or circles with images of their own choosing for this collective mosaic.

 

Celebrating corn is celebrating the Indigenous “Summer People” and the food the people of New Mexico thrive on. Corn is the Mother of all other plants.

 

There is something about individuals collaborating to create art, writing, or to sell local produce that feels very satisfying to me probably because any of these activities seem to enliven the ideal of community in a very concrete way.

 

It was also fun! What the little girl liked the best was being able to participate in this gathering without any artistic pressure.

 

Because it was “Bear’s Day” I already knew that I would be drawing bear paws… What I didn’t know was that I was going to create a third tile, one in which a little girl’s story would come to light.

 

In this tile the little girl drew a bear created out of an indigenous bear fetish heart-line that was also the bear itself. When she drew cave walls around her bear, rather than the sun (that I imagined would represent the warming spring light), I was surprised. She painted the cave around the bear black; a womb-like cave. In the top center she drew a very small yellow spiral to represent a sun that barely radiated warmth and then she surrounded the sun in deep cobalt blue – a blue she wished was even darker – as if it was still night. Beneath the bear cave, water flowed by in verdant greens…

 

No doubt about it. This was my favorite tile of the day. I was intrigued by the story that emerged out of the images the child had drawn. Bear’s Day occurs at the time of “first light,” a time when cultures throughout the world acknowledge the powers of the intensifying light and warmth of the sun, just as bears emerge from their dens if days are mild.

 

But this bear had another agenda. Instead of choosing emergence, this little fellow (even the little girl seemed surprised that he was a boy – she thought maybe he might be her little brother or some other child) retreated to his lair in the hopes that the seasonal change would take its time coming, giving the little bear more time to adjust to the changes that would also be coming for him personally. The bear knew that an early spring would mean that he soon would be floundering in fierce heat that would spike the temperature of his shiny black fur coat up to 180 degrees F. He would have to migrate north in order to survive. The little bear was resisting change because he loved where he was, living under a miraculous dome of starlit skies, complete with sky stories like those of his relative, Night Sky Bear, long still nights and best of all cool temperatures. This little bear loved his present desert home fiercely and wanted to stay put within its inviting mud walls. He needed more time to dream his dreams.

 

He also hoped the water would come to his desert to nourish the plants that withered so pitifully last year driving him down from the mountains to seek food at the river’s edge. One of his relatives had just visited the river three days ago leaving deep claw marks sunk in wet mud… Bears love water even when their dens get flooded. Perhaps a spring flood would eventually drive little bear from his cave, the little girl wondered, though she couldn’t quite imagine flooding waters…. The desert had been parched for a long long time. She also hoped that he would emerge on his own if given more time.

 

After listening to the story the little girl told me I promised both children that I would give the little cave bear the time he needed, while the rest of us entered the spring season with gratitude for the waxing light reminding ourselves that without summer heat the corn will not grow.

Winter River Reflection – 2019

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We are approaching the end of January here in Northern New Mexico and already the light is becoming more fierce, but the nights are still long, the blood moon has passed, and clusters of stars are strung like pearls into patterns that speak to ancient stories, so this precious time to reflect and dream is very much with me. Winter brings a sense of peace unlike any other.

 

This year it has also brought us a reprieve from drought. This morning a thin layer of snow once again coats the grasses while birds flock to my feeder in record numbers. Although each layer of snow doesn’t amount to much more than a tenth of an inch of rain, it is still something. Last week we even had real puddles of standing water, and slippery mud that oozed in places when the sun warmed the ground.

 

Coming from the North Country I have never been able to appreciate mud with the kind of enthusiasm I have for it here. Mud means moisture, and water is life and here in the high desert rain and snow may bring sage green scrub back to life if we continue this trend…

 

Reprieve from drought is a form of Grace.

 

In the distance the mountains wear white tufted caps – Perhaps this year Red Willow River will once again overflow her banks serenading us with songs as snow melt sings to disappearing stones.

 

Is it too much to dream that frogs will come, rising up from moist red ground to breed?

 

As I kneel before the wood stove kindling my daily fire, I am keenly aware of the deep gratitude I feel for the gift of life and for each drop of water even when these aging bones ache in dampened air.

 

I wonder where my afternoon walk will take me? No matter where I go I always end up back at the river’s edge listening to water on stone while scrying the sky for the Sandhill cranes. The river has always been my lover, long before I arrived here… A tangle of blushing willows greets me as I bow low to walk through their arching branches into the old overgrown field, lumpy with gopher mounds.

 

This winter I have started to cook again with joyful child-like abandon. The intoxicating scent of yeasty bread no longer brings a wave of grief for lost children but simple joy in the rising…some say that cooking is a form of transformation. So it may be for me.

 

Moving into “old age”, the years of the crone, my elder years snaps the constricting steel ties that threatened to suffocate my body, and shredded the caul of the “mother hood” – an unwelcome veil I wore for too many years, one that was too heavy with grief; grief that eventually came to threaten my life. Now, because of the shadowy presence of an Old Woman who comes to me as an Owl, a star child begins to shine.

 

Bear’s Day is approaching, that time of the year when the wheel turns once again towards the coming light, and Brigid’s Crown of Fire speaks to new life bubbling from beneath the ground. Already bulbs are stirring from deep sleep, tree roots are absorbing precious water as they begin a new growth phase, and black bear cubs are being birthed by attentive wild mothers…

 

Soon the Sandhill cranes will be migrating North as will the flock of golden evening grosbeaks that have taken over my porch, all in search of summer breeding grounds.

 

As I approach Bear’s Day, and the Feast of “First Light” I feel ambivalence, for each lengthening day brings me closer to the time of my own birthing into spring, and the necessary migration I must make to go North. It is hard to be caught between worlds. I have a homeplace here in the South and another far North.

 

I must place my trust in myself, and the Old Woman. Bird-like, I will migrate too, before spring light births a bitter orange sun, fierce and deadly west wind, and a wall of intolerable heat.

The Magic Boat

 

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( from top to bottom author’s craft setting to sea… dragonfly illusion…the magic boat)

 

My friend has a tradition of making and sailing away little boats on Red Willow river and yesterday, new year’s day, people gathered to create wish boats. It was a frigid snowy afternoon but the studio was warm and friendly as I set to work. All I knew was that I wanted to create a little boat that offered hope for all the animals and plants that were going extinct, or were functionally extinct because so few of them were left. In my imagination this little boat full of seeds, tree branches, acorns for the animals would sail down the river into the sea to find a better place for life to exist without humans destroying other species out of greed, insensitivity, stupidity, indifference, or a need to control Nature just because She is.

 

I glued seeds and wild grasses to a milkweed pod, but couldn’t find the right materials to make an animal to represent all mammals, so I imagined putting them there; they were just invisible. Then a Raven flew into my mind. Raven would be the sail and because he was a Messenger from the Beyond as well as being a magician; Raven was the perfect creature to guide a boat filled with such important intentions…

 

From the top my raven looks like a dragonfly – symbol of illusion for some Indigenous folk – but from below Raven’s ebony eyes and body appear under his dragonfly cloak. I believed he might know just where to sail the boat. I placed some tiny shells on the prow to guide the diminutive craft to reach the sea…

 

When it was time we walked down to the frigid river’s ice encrusted bank to set our boats onto the waves… At that point I let go, knowing that I had done what I was instructed to do, and the rest was up to Nature’s Grace.

 

Amazingly, when my little boat set sail it flipped once and then righted itself and floated downwind with the current along with Bruce’s boat.

 

We left then; it was so cold, but I carried a wonderful sense of satisfaction because my intentions had been made manifest, and my imagination allowed me to remain in the place of possibility – that crack in reality where anything can happen, especially if you enlist a divine trickster who embodies Life, as Raven does.

 

Last night I had a one-word dream – just the word “Reprieve.”

 

That word carries hope, not for the future but for now. Hope that even with the ravages of Climate Change upon us, those of us who are in such deep mourning may find temporary peace in this moment, where for example, the desert has gotten some snow. Not enough to interrupt the terrible drought under whose veil we now live, but enough perhaps to help the roots of precious trees and plants survive one more year…

 

Most humans are not yet aware that we have entered a new age – some call this the age of the Anthropocene – an age characterized by dominance of the human species at the expense and loss of all others. Of course, even humans will not be able to survive this global holocaust for long, but few seem to care.

 

Because I am so aware, a great loneliness permeates my everyday awareness as I witness the diminishment of other non – human life forms and the total absence of others. I know that I am powerless to change what is, but creating a magic boat of intentions allows me to dream a new reality if only in my mind.

 

Some say Raven gave the First People fire, perhaps he can also interrupt the great dying – who can know.

An Unexpected Gift

 

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(Lily and Hope – photo credit: Dr Lynn Rogers – American Bear Center/ WRI – bear.org)

 

a christmas elf appeared

at her door,

let himself in

as she baked an apple crisp

surprise.

Unwrapping simple gifts

Tears pricked her eyes –

Her red heart burst.

How could he have known?

 

She let him place

a small silvery bear paw

circlet around her neck,

a numinous abalone eye piercing

veils of ancient Memory…

 

She flowed with the river

dissolved into the sea…

 

A small child surfaced then,

roamed free through

a magical day

when two old people

became children

exchanging priceless

gifts – Love and Respect

freely offered.

Kindness births Flowers.

She flowed with the river

dissolved in the sea…

 

He wore his ears for her…

She cooked a feast for him

though she felt quite ill.

Together they shared thoughts,

watched Ravens in flight,

much loved dogs gnawing bones,

spoke of times passed by,

without poignant longing;

They had each other.

 

Two old people flowing with the River

dissolving into the sea…

 

Could he feel the Presence?

A Great Bear Spirit kept watch

as they sipped tea

by the fire in the cups

that bore His name.

 

The Bear held them close

like only a Bear Mother can

embrace her children –

loving them both

Unconditionally.

 

As they flowed into the river

And dissolved into the sea.

 

They parted at dusk –

Reluctantly –

thanking each other

for a heart centered day.

 

As they flowed into the river

And dissolved into the sea.

For Love of Dogs

 

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(Hope in the Foreground, Lucy at the bottom of our bed)

 

End of the year reflection….

 

I have been a naturalist all my life and except for the years I spent as an undergraduate I have always had dogs. Dogs were the first animals that taught me about unconditional love. They routinely demonstrated that I was always good enough, and always accepted for who I was even if I was “different,” severely directionally dyslexic, failed every math class, couldn’t remember which side of the road I was supposed to drive on when I first got my license, was harshly criticized by patriarchal parents, and later, after my little brother’s suicide, overcome by guilt and grief so overwhelming that it catapulted me into the underworld for ten years.

 

During this period except for waitressing, and attempting unsuccessfully to mother young children, I withdrew from the world. I couldn’t bear to spend time outdoors because every tree, frog, stone, reminded me of my beloved companion, the brother I lost. If I hadn’t had dogs when my brother died I wonder how I would have survived at all. Their sensitivity to my moods astonished me and for a long time I believed that “something” had graced me with the brightest, most loving, most attentive canine friends in the world.

 

Totally isolated from people and from the rest of Nature, my dogs slipped through the crack and accompanied me on my deadly journey. They slept beside me at night, and when I awoke from endless nightmares in unspeakable grief and hopelessness or blacked out in despair I would run my hands through thick fur as they snuggled up even closer to me covering my face with kisses. Even through the dense fog I felt their love permeating my body – a great underground river of love with a capital “L”.

 

Sammy, a malamute became my first “teacher” as I began the mountainous climb out of suicidal darkness. I had been numb for so long, and now that I was beginning to grieve my brother’s dying, she helped me stay with the agonizing process. Together we began to walk into the forest, down by the sea, often late at night after I returned from work. She was my protector, I believed.

 

One September afternoon while racing around in a haze of mindless mother frenzy I happened to notice her lying in the tall grass outside the window, scenting, silent, alert, her nose to the wind. It was a beautiful blue and gold fall day and I wanted more than anything to be out there too… I asked myself how I could begin to make sense of my stupid life – as a single mother I was drowning in boredom and busyness – The moment I asked the question Sam turned her head towards mine and answered clearly. “ Be present for this moment.”

 

Disbelief permeated my being but was not powerful enough to dismiss the message. Sammy was reading my mind. I tried to rationalize what had happened and couldn’t so I concentrated on the message. What did she mean I pondered for weeks afterwards, gradually reaching the conclusion that ‘being in the moment’ meant that I had to begin to create space for a person I didn’t even know, myself. What a terrifying thought. This was a radical notion for someone who had up until that point been a robot, following the culture’s dictates, had no sense of having personal autonomy, and failed to “fit in,” to the society she was socialized into. Choice was simply not real to me. No one was home.

 

What I had no way of knowing was how this message from my dog would begin to affect the remainder of my life. Sam not only opened the door to the void in myself but she helped me acknowledge that there was something called interspecies communication, and that I had been ignoring the messages I had been receiving from plants and animals ever since I was a child playing in the woods with my little brother… Although it would take years to believe what I intuited and was told by animals and trees as an adult, (my western conditioning constantly interrupted my experiences, discounting them), a path through the forest had opened. My dreaming body helped lead me, as did Nature who began to speak in tongues of fire at each new dawn.

 

Dogs remained my constant companions as I struggled to discover who this woman was as she emerged from beneath a death shroud to traverse the spiral way, sinking under the waves, surfacing, and being swallowed again. Lacking clear conscious direction I turned turned more and more towards Nature for clues and confirmation and was never disappointed although I frequently mis – read messages, a vulnerability I carry to this day. If I was on the right track I often received dreams of confirmation that helped. But without the constant presence of dogs my intense loneliness would have defeated me, for mine was a path few traveled, and this remains true today.

 

At midlife I fell into the underworld for the second time when my first grandson was born, and I was prevented from seeing or becoming a grandmother to him. The grief from this second intolerable loss threatened to unhinge me, and had I not had my beloved dogs and Nature as a whole to sustain me, I believe I might have died from grief.

 

Coming to terms with a lifetime of loss of children and grandchildren gripped and literally almost crushed the life out of my soul- body self for the second time. This time though, because the deaths weren’t physical I hung on to hope, refusing to give up. I made every conceivable effort to repair the damage even when waves of hopelessness tumbled me into predictable cycles of depression that worsened as time wore on. Finally in the year of 2011 after a horribly abusive and ongoing rejection by my youngest son late in December, I reached the point where I was forced to conclude that nothing was going to change because both my sons were getting something grim out of blocking my every attempt to reconcile. With a stunned horror engulfing me I suddenly understood on a visceral level how much pleasure my anguish and torment was bringing them. How could I have been so blind? I had reached the end of my “long winding road”… Now the question became: was I going to be able to survive these losses too. The loss of four more children seemed too much to grapple with. Was it even possible to move beyond this ocean of mother grief?

 

Up until this point discovering the scholar, accruing degrees, teaching, writing, and counseling, my love for my dearest canine companions and the rest of Nature had sustained me. I loved the peace of my own company and joyful moments were frequent as I communed with non – human species, wild or tame. Being with Her kept me in balance. I had crafted my own life and the better I got to know myself the more respect I developed for this courageous woman who had emerged out of deep suffering, triumphant, and willing to stand alone.

 

But I couldn’t ignore the signs year after year… During the spring and summer the rains didn’t come, and the water level dropped in my brook to an alarming low. My beloved trees were showing signs of stress, dropping leaves too early. The poplars were diseased. A couple of my fruit trees stopped blooming. Maine was logging so many forested areas that we had only 16 percent ‘mature’ forest left in the state. A mature tree was considered to be 30 years old, not even adult enough to produce nuts or fruit. I noticed that a number of species of birds had disappeared. Bears were becoming scarce because so many had been shot.

 

Most baffling were my dreams that had been dark and ominous since I had first moved to this precious Earth – a small oasis bordered on three sides by a brook and peppered with a mix of deciduous and conifer forest, embracing an old field and 20 acres. In these dreams which began almost immediately disappearing brooks, slaughtered trees, barren granite mountains and mean neighbors whose cold hatred of me astounded me all forecast a future that was incomprehensible to me even as the Earth continued to communicate her deep distress. In 1994 neighbors moved in…

 

Every attempt I had made to reconcile with sons, was now being mirrored by these terrifying neighbors, whose viciousness made me cringe. I was forced to face human ugliness on a level that mirrored my children’s behavior: these people also took pleasure out of tormenting me. I couldn’t grasp the implications behind the torture because I didn’t believe in evil. The question that haunted me was why…I spent years trying to get along with all of them and failed. There had to be something wrong with me…

 

Nothing made sense and by the spring of 2012. I began to flounder. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Unbeknownst to me, my dog Star developed cancer that summer although I didn’t dream her illness until the following September when it was too late. Although my beloved Vet operated on her immediately, the first night we slept together on the floor after her operation I saw a falling star and knew she would die… Four more intolerable months of hell followed before her death.

 

I acknowledged then that I needed a dog more than one would ever need me. I lamented. As soon as the monstrous grief peaked and let go, I acquired Bridgee who almost died in a fire the night before I got her and had stomach issues when she arrived that ended in her death as a young dog…Then I found Hope who came to me in the form of a three pound Chihuahua. Together, we survived the following winter during which time I came to the realization that grief had been pouring out of every cell in my body for so long without reprieve that my nine year old dog absorbed it, and had become ill and died. When I chose Bridgee, I chose a dog who was already compromised… ( again the haunting: was there something wrong with me?) I did not blame myself. But I asked Nature what I could do with this knowledge. I wanted Star’s sacrifice to matter.

 

Anyone who has had canines knows that dogs love unconditionally as a matter of course, and when their people are experiencing intolerable distress they take on their pain. My anguish manifested in Star as cancer, and it killed her (with Bridgee I didn’t know). I kept this information to myself because I knew that no one would believe me if I said that dogs can die not only from grieving for their lost humans, but also from carrying human pain, but I knew it was true.

 

I vowed to keep this knowing close; to stay aware, to make sure that I didn’t unknowingly create a situation in which I ignored my Hope at her expense. I took great pleasure in our daily playing, made certain she never got left home alone, mentally attempted to create a boundary between my pain and this dog. When Lucy, another unwanted Chihuahua needed a home I agreed, hoping that having two of them might lessen the intensity of my need for a deep human- dog relationship which might give them some protection, or at the very least they were company for one another. Maybe having two might help keep them safe from the ravages of depression and grief that I couldn’t control? I also began thinking I needed to leave Maine…

 

To digress a moment, it is not well known that there is impeccable scientific research being done on the relationships between dogs and humans. Dogs can sniff out cancerous growths in the people they love and others, they can find human bodies under mountains of debris as the world witnessed in 2001, they can predict earthquakes and changes in weather; they heal people with mental illness, help those diagnosed with PTSD (like me) deal with anxiety, provide steadfast companionship without betrayal, they ease the loneliness of the aged, relate to autistic and abused children. In short dogs are Animal Healers who will literally give their lives to save humans from further suffering, as Star did for me.

 

I began to dream of returning to the desert…I needed to find a way to make my life meaningful to me again, and once before the desert had helped heal me enough to go on after a painful divorce.

 

It took three more years before I moved to Abiquiu, New Mexico with Hope, Lucy, and Lily b my telepathic Dove. Initially, I fell in love with sky and stone, the ways of the Indigenous Tewa. I have been here two years, and have recently moved into a little adobe that I have made my own. I have made new friends, and over two years have developed as intimate a relationship with the scrub, juniper cottonwoods and Red Willow river as I had with my patch of land in Maine.

 

The first year I thrived. Skies that caught fire at sunset, wild and unpredictable summer rains, seductive Datura, tufts of wildflowers popping up in unlikely places, impossible sand cliffs, snow tucked safely in the mountains, the winter sun, all became my lovers…

 

This last year has been just the opposite. I have been ill with diverticulitis for much of the time, a condition that is chronic as well as becoming antibiotic resistant. Most of last winter, spring, and early summer I spent housebound. Living on a new edge with ongoing stomach issues, including attacks of severe colitis, resulted in me making a physical adjustment. It is uncertain if I can ‘manage’ my diverticulitis without surgery. I have never been more aware of my mortality, or that I am living the last segment of my life.

 

For the remainder of last summer I became housebound for another reason. I discovered that I cannot tolerate the wall of heat from a merciless summer sun, and as it became clear that the drought I thought I left behind me in Maine was manifesting in front of me because I was living it. I crumpled. The dark side of the desert is its killing heat, which is so deadly without rain. Daily I witnessed the withered scrub, shrunken wildflowers, squawberry bushes dropping leaves in July, dead rabbit bush, wild grasses, and snakeweed, stones appearing in what was once a rushing river, heard the cries and felt the desperation of the cottonwoods and junipers as they sunk roots deeper into parched desert ground… At night cicadas screamed. When the trees caught fire by the millions I couldn’t breathe, whether for them or me, I do not know. Only the ‘edge woman’ lived – the one that rose long before sunrise, dragging herself to the river in the dark, mourning the loss of cover in a dried up bog, aching for the sight of even one frog. Where were the Cloud People; where was the rain? Each trip outdoors opened the doors to hell; I felt dazed and dizzy; some days I could barely stand up and I wondered then if I was dying too. I remade my will prepared for the event should it happen. For a while during summer torment my stomach issues abated, then…

 

When Lucy became desperately ill in August with what turned out to be colitis all my alarm bells went off. Oh no, not again. I have done everything I know to keep my illness my own… but Lucy is so sensitive, and so dependent upon me, perhaps the more vulnerable of the two dogs. One more attack followed two months later. The Vet here does not know what’s wrong with her but I think I do. I pose the question to Nature: Is there anything I can do to protect these dogs from illness that doesn’t belong to them? I adore my animals. I do not want my dogs to sacrifice their lives for me. Nature does not answer. But my stomach issues returned in November…

 

I think of years past, when Sammy had convulsions while I was beaten up, when Rinkie developed irritable bowel disease and died from it after I lost my grandson. Star developed cancer of the spleen after Dee’s brutal 2011 betrayal. Bridgee came to me barely surviving a fire, had stomach issues and died from unknown causes that also were stomach related. And now stomach issues may be threatening my life. It’s almost as if each dog was carrying some element of my grief in their bellies for years before it manifested in an illness that one day would become my own.

 

We know that there is something called a gut brain.; that we think and feel and sense truth from our bellies. My truths were deeply hidden in the bowels of hell and although I have spent a lifetime uncovering what is real, and am doing everything I can to heal my own mind body split, will it be enough to help us all survive?

 

I have no answers; only more questions.

 

Now that the winter season is upon us I can look out the window and remind myself that the plants are resting. I continue to water my trees in the ongoing drought, but I don’t have to witness the withering… I wake up before sunrise and bring the day in with gratitude through deliberate and joyful attention. I can walk outdoors any time I want, and have the freedom to hike where I choose – the gift of winter’s repose. I never tire of kneeling before the wood stove, lighting a fire from wood that was dead when it was gathered, while giving thanks for trees. Each day brings more joy as the sun warms the tiles on the floor and casts rainbows through the crystals hanging in the windows. My indoor plants are thriving, green and lush, especially my Norfolk Island pine who has grown a foot in the last six weeks since beginning my winter ritual of celebrating the Tree of Life, and the life of every tree on this planet. Lucy and Hope are happy to have my attention whenever they need it, and I am thankful for each passing day. With the solstice turning only two days away I am acutely aware of changes that will come… for change is the only constant.

 

Winter is our brief reprieve – Nature’s and mine… Soon we will be facing the heat of a merciless spring sun that without adequate rain (and this is the pattern) continues to kill the desert plants as they struggle to return to life.

 

When I put my house up for sale last summer I had no sense of wrongdoing. I was leaving Maine behind, I thought. But to my surprise in the interim I have become homesick for the North Country and I long to return to my other home to hear the songs of frogs, to visit with toads and deer, to be with my little forest of trees, to be able to walk out my front door without running into a fiery wall of intolerable heat, to walk in occasional rain, to visit with my cardinals… Of course the desert has made the choice for me because my poor body cannot endure 90 – 100 degree temperatures or the ravages of forest fires. But this time I will return to Maine for the summer with a new level of acceptance. I realize now that the anguish of ongoing personal and Natural grief pushed me over the edge. I came here in part to escape drought and walked into a burning furnace. How ironic.

 

I know now there is no place to go.

 

I must find a way to adapt – to allow the grief of what is happening with me and my beloved planet to flow through me without denial or hope for unrealistic change. My equally deep love for the desert has been tempered by its dark side. This is a hard place – a harsh place of wind, sun, and stone. Wild beauty abounds and the sky is cracked with stars and my love for cactus is deeply personal because I need to become one to survive! Thicker spines and a tougher exterior are much needed; No wonder I love them so!

 

In the two years I have been here I have also witnessed the dominant culture embrace hatred as normal. Because I am precognitive, I understand that what I endured at my children and neighbors hands was probably a precursor of what would come to be a cultural reality for all, just as the loss of my brook water and trees mirrored by Climate Change. Once again I remember the dreams that forecast it would be so.

 

In my 74th year I remain an outsider but am a woman who speaks her truth, always unvarnished and often unwelcome. We are short on staying in the truth of what is, these days, and expressing my truths, which are inexorably tied to those of the culture is what I have to offer. Weaving back and forth between the two, I continue to advocate for women (and myself), especially the victims of sexual assault without apology. And my love for this beloved Earth, her creatures and trees is the driving force behind every word I write.

 

And yes, my grief lives on too, the greatest underground river of all, but when I stay in the truth of what is, deep joy is the gift I receive from all Nature and in particular from the unconditional love from my dogs…

 

I also remember my tale is only one of millions, and the eventual outcome of our personal stories and the ravages of Climate Change which are intimately connected, like it or not, is as yet unknown.

 

Meanwhile, Blessed Be the Animals, and especially our steadfast companions, all dogs….

 

 

 

On this coming solstice night as the Earth turns towards winter, I look to Her for comfort and winter peace even as I scry starry night skies searching for the old woman in an ancient Italian tale who comes riding on her broomstick leaving gifts for all, a story that is thousands of years old – predating “Saint Claws” by millennia…

A Murder of Crows

 

 

fotoliacrow.jpg

(Wily Black Crow)

My grandmother fed the crows every afternoon and I can remember their cries of anticipation as she walked out into the field with a pail full of scraps. After my grandmother’s death, it was many years before my mother began feeding her crows. But after she started my mother often remarked that she heard them say, “Oh here she comes!”

 

Up until recently I didn’t know why my grandmother and mother had a penchant for crows – I wish I had asked for personal explanations. But my neighbor Rose in Maine has been feeding her crows for ten years, and last week when I learned that all of her crows had been shot by hunters on her own land, I was enraged by this injustice. Rose loved her crows; She was devastated.

 

First, I discussed the problem with Raven who was perched in a cottonwood tree outside my door. He listened intently to my plea for help while peering down at me with one beady eye.

 

Normally, I do not have crows around here so ten minutes later when a “murder of crows” appeared screaming over my head as I walked down to the river I knew the raven had passed on the message. I repeated the story to the screeching crows asking that they inform other crows in Rose’s neighborhood that she was in crow mourning. Would they consider asking others to visit her? I took their collective cries as a yes.

 

Returning to the house I was stunned to see another cluster of crows perched in one tree engaged in raucous conversation with at least 4 magpies that had joined them. The raven had been joined by its mate (A bevy of crows, two ravens and four magpies stayed around the house for 3 days).

 

Convinced that I had been heard, and that something would come of it, I immediately emailed Rose telling her not to give up, to keep leaving scraps outside, and to begin to “call” new crows into her yard. She was skeptical, but did as I asked. As a personal thank you I began to leave tasty tidbits for the crows, ravens, magpies around here.

 

One week later Rose has seven new crows to feed! The skeptic will immediately counter the obvious: namely that the crows intervened, with reason and logic. The crows returned by coincidence or because at my request, Rose continued to leave food out for them. There’s one major flaw in this thinking: Crows routinely demonstrate to researchers that once one of them has been killed the rest will avoid a favored feeding area for up to two years. “Something” intervened to reverse this normal crow behavior, allowing the crows to return, and I believe it had everything to do with (crow –human) interspecies communication.

 

Although I wouldn’t have begun feeding crows on my own, outrageous crow slaughter had changed my mind! Armed with the knowledge that birds and animals can communicate telepathically through space/time, I never doubted that help would come. If one understands as I do that telepathy is a biological survival strategy that allows animals to stay in touch when they are separated then it isn’t a stretch to believe that these crows communicated with their Maine relatives. (Please go to biologist/plant physicist/author Rupert Sheldrake’s site to learn more about the extensive research that has been done on telepathy in animals https://www.sheldrake.org).

 

Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal act resulting from a formal treaty signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, under this act, crows may be ‘controlled’ without a federal permit when found “committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.” What this means practically is that anyone with a gun can shoot a crow because humans have all the rights. Hunters like to kill, and crows make great target practice.

 

Crows are amazing opportunists who can adapt easily to changing environments. Crows are extremely intelligent and use tools to help them obtain food. Crows not only use tools but they also make them! They are excellent mimics who deliberately confuse other birds by copying their calls. They steal food from other birds and shiny objects from humans including car keys left in an open car highlighting their deceptive trickster-like nature. Crows are busy bodies paying close attention to what their neighbors are doing, human and otherwise. They can be bullies who mob a sleeping owl during the day. They eat garbage of all kinds, and exhibit loud and raucous behavior. They have big mouths that alert other species in field and forest to the presence of unwanted hunters and others. Crows are also black a color many modern folks associate with racism and/or “evil” especially during this ugly cultural reign of “white” supremacy. These qualities of adaptation, intelligence, tool making/using, deception, mimicry, curiosity about others, bullying, ingesting garbage including dead animals/humans, raucous behavior in crowds, the big mouths of certain individuals, and the fact that they are black, the color most commonly equated with evil in western culture leaves Corvids suspect and extremely threatening to some. Crows exhibit all kinds of behavior that is human-like and people despise them for this tendency. Crows reflect the shadow side of today’s culture much like the coyote does.

 

In reality Crows are a fascinating species of birds with a very complex family system. Crows mate for life and both parents are actively engaged in parenthood. They care for their young for a period of up to five years with the help of “aunts,” siblings, and older youngsters who protect the youngest birds after hatching (3 or 4 eggs). Baby crows fledge in about a month after being fed all kinds of insects (any crop damage that is blamed on crows is offset by the millions of crop damaging insects these birds consume). During the nesting period and long afterwards the guardian crows watch vigilantly for hawks, eagles and other predators who are a threat to the youngsters. Even with this kind of vigilance fifty percent of the fledglings die before reaching adulthood. The crow’s worst threat is humans who kill them indiscriminately by shooting them, poisoning them, trapping them or deliberately running them over with automobiles or trucks. As previously mentioned, in today’s culture man can’t stand the sight of his own shadow.

 

These remarkable birds have been able to adapt to virtually every environment on earth with the exception of Antarctica and are as home in cities as they are in the countryside. In cities they learn the garbage truck routes and pick through refuse for tasty offerings! They raid cornfields without guilt. They do the rest of us a favor by ingesting carrion that would otherwise smell as it rots. Crows honor their dead by gathering together in large numbers and stay with a deceased crow for hours, sometimes days, before moving quietly away.

 

Crows spend a lot of time studying people with their bright beady coal black eyes. They recognize the faces of those people who have killed a crow. They communicate this threat to the others in their flock and can also educate the next generation of young who will also avoid the people who would harm them. Crows have at least 20 distinct vocalizations. Some like the “caw” are public but most occur between individuals.

 

Crows will abruptly change migration routes to avoid predation. In most areas in the US the crow is a permanent resident but many Canadian birds will migrate southward during the winter months. Once the mating season is over crows gather in large groups (in some places they gather by the thousands) to roost communally at night.

 

American crows are monogamous as previously mentioned. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals that are all related and remain together for many years. American crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years.

 

The nesting season starts early, with some birds incubating eggs by early April. Crows build bulky stick nests nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. Most predation of crows (with the exception of humans) occurs at nesting sites. Besides hawks, snakes, raccoons, ravens, domestic cats and great horned owls also eat eggs and nestlings.

 

Adult crows are omnivorous eating mice, frogs, seeds, eggs, fish, corn, wheat, and grains as well as gobbling up destructive insects. During the autumn and winter they gravitate towards nuts and acorns. We know they scavenge at landfills. Along with their attraction to grains as food, this tendency earned them the name “nuisance” birds giving hunters an excuse to shoot them when all the crows are doing is trying to earn a living.

 

Crows have been killed in huge numbers by humans, both for ‘recreation’ and as part of organized campaigns of extermination, none of which have worked to decimate the populations. Like the coyote they continue to thrive!

 

The easiest way to distinguish between crows and ravens, two closely related species, is to note whether the crows are flying without flapping their wings every few seconds. Ravens soar on the thermals. Another difference between crows and ravens is the shape of their tails. Crows have rounded tails while those belonging to ravens are wedge shaped. If seen flying at a distance the distinctly larger ravens have larger heads. Ravens also fluff their throat feathers when calling from the trees.

 

Crows lifespan in the wild is about 7-8 years but those in captivity can live more than 30 years.

 

Because they are opportunists and so adaptable crows are one species that is not on the endangered species list. What a relief. My guess is that they will outlast humans.

 

Unlike today’s culture, crows were once respected and revered for the remarkable qualities they exhibited. Indigenous peoples of the Americas understood that crows were special.
For the Tlingit (North-West of the Pacific), the crow is the main divine character. He organizes the world, and creates both civilization and culture.
For the Haïda (North-western coast of the Canada), the crow steals the sun to give it to the People. Crow and raven have a magic canoe that can become big enough to contain the whole universe.
In the south and Northwest Crow flaps his wings generating wind, thunder and lightning.

 

In ancient European mythology- the cult of Mithra is a prime example – Crow fights evil and has the capacity to break dark spells.

 
Scandinavians legends show two crows, perched on Odin’s chair : Hugi, the Spirit, and Munnin, the Memory. Both crows symbolize and embody the principle of creation, the power of Nature to create and form patterns of becoming and through memory. In much same way, these birds are the companions of Wotan who is also named the god of the crows.

 

As a feminist I am particularly interested in the relationship between crows and old women, both of which have been demonized – old women are frequently called ugly old hags while old men are “distinguished”, and rarely referred to as old. Another example is the phrase “those old crows” which is often used to describe old women. In western culture we worship the young, the “heroic”, fear aging, and split ourselves away from old women and death demonizing both in the process. And yet in mythology we see the power of old women and crows.

Baba Yaga, the greatly feared Slavic goddess of the Forest who lives alone in a house (with her animal familiars) that that moves around on chicken legs, is a perfect example. Baba Yaga transforms into a crow whenever she chooses. This powerful figure embodies Nature’s wisdom, the wisdom of heart – body instinct; she is also a trickster who is unpredictable in her actions. She is an aspect of woman centered Nature, a protector of all forest wildlife and she has a penchant for all black birds.

Dhumavati is the Hindu goddess of “the great void”- the place outside time, (as humans experience it). She is associated with death and therefore transformation. Many of her drawings and paintings depict her on a cremation ground and often she looks like death itself, and is depicted as an ugly old hag. Note the correspondence between old and ugly. She carries the horn of the death god Yama, and sometimes wears a garland of severed heads. It comes as no surprise that Dhumavati’s animal guardian is a scavenger bird – the crow. Dhumavati is depicted as either riding a large crow or being pulled in a chariot by two blackbirds. Crows are known to be scavengers on the battlefield, and hence have been associated with death since ancient times.

The Morrigan is an Irish Celtic goddess with the ability to shapeshift. She was known as the Phantom Queen. She is also said to be one of a trinity of sisters (daughter, mother, crone). The Morrigan is most well-known for being a goddess of Fate and a warrior; she was able to predict death which made her presence terrifying. Most commonly she shapeshifted into a crow, although she could take the form of any animal she chose. She is known for her role in battle, her ability to triumph over “evil.” The fact that the Morrigan shifts into the form of a crow while on the battlefield reveals her dominion over death. It is said that she will often fly above a battle, her cry bringing courage and encouragement to her warriors, whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Sometimes she will join in the battle in her human form. She speaks of the battlefield as ‘her garden,’ a place to consume the dead for re birth. One of her names, Badbh, means Crow.

Nephthys the Egyptian Goddess of the Dead is another example of a goddess who manifests as a crow. In the myth, Nephthys marries her brother Set who is the god of disorder, the desert, and storms, birthing Osiris who literally rises from the dead.

While Nephthys is often depicted as a woman with falcon-wings, she also appears as a crow or the crow is her companion. She oversees funerary rituals. Nephthys represents part of the life cycle that is death, while her twin sister Isis represents birth (note how death and life are never separated).

Again and again in the stories about old women in their crow aspect we see the same archetypal pattern emerging. These much feared death goddesses are both manifestations of death and are the harbingers of new life. Without old women “crows” there would be no new life.

When I think of my mother and grandmother feeding the Corvids it occurs to me that these two were participating in the life death life cycle of Nature… As I put together an offering for the crows and walk out my door I carry the awareness that like my mother and grandmother before me, I too am now participating in the Great Round, serving the continuation of Life for all.

I end this essay with a caveat: to mindlessly slaughter crows is to incur the wrath of Nature, She is more than capable of retaliation for harm done as we are starting to see with the ravages of Climate Change…Another way to state the same idea is to state that by refusing to own our “dark sides” on a collective level we will invoke consequences that are devastating to all. On a personal level folks may also find that un – integrated personal “Shadow” turns back on them in terrifying ways they cannot anticipate.

I think I just heard the cawing of a murder of crows…