Passionflower Muses

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When I pulled the shorn Passionlower out of her pot I winced, experiencing the familiar anxiety and grief because I have known for a long time that plants feel pain. I had already traumatized the Passionflower once the week before when I had clipped the plant’s graceful spiraling vines with their three lobed leaves close to the plant’s central stalk leaving only one vine and a few tendrils intact. By cutting her back I have made it possible for her to make the long distance trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico safely (She has to be covered in order not to freeze).

 

For the second time in a week I apologized to the plant profusely for the trauma explaining that I had to re-pot her in the same size pot because I couldn’t lift anything heavier. In order to create enough space for new soil, I had to rip away tender roots. The plant responded almost instantly with drooping leaves and wilted tendrils. My plant was in shock. I silently begged her to forgive me as I quickly packed new soil around the remaining ragged roots, watered, fed, and placed her back in her window, noting how similar her bent posture was to my own when I am grieving… I told her I loved her.

 

Four hours later I returned to see that my Passionflower leaves were spread out plump and evenly, shimmering emerald in the late afternoon sun. A few tendrils were climbing through the air searching for purchase. I tenderly turned them towards the center trunk in a spiral fashion knowing that this would keep them safe during the trip but also aware that these vines had minds of their own and would try to thwart my attempts to control them even for a brief moment in time!

 

When my impossible bird, Lily b. ripped off a tasty leaf to eat I hid the new growth behind two cactus plants that I hoped would deter him from creating further damage. With two days to go until we leave, I hope my bird continues to behave himself.

 

Now every time I inspect my Passionflower I feel gratitude that she seems to be thriving and relief that the trauma is over for both of us.

 

Most folks find my relationship with plants very strange, and yet plants grow for me in ways that are sometimes astonishing even to me! I treat plants with the same respect I accord to animals, believing them to be wise ones, teachers, and guides. After all, plants have existed in some form on this planet for 450,000 thousand years, animals for 350,000 years and in my way of thinking, they are literally our “elders.”

 

For most of my life my “anthropomorphizing,” that is attributing human characteristics and feelings to non – human beings, has brought me skepticism and ridicule, but my feeling/sensing body has not lied.

 

Recently, groundbreaking research informs us that trees in an untouched forest experience pain, have memories, communicate extensively with each other, develop close relationships between parents and children, and in some cases when the elders are cut down children continue to send the stumps sugar nutrients and water to keep the remnant of a once proud and stately tree alive for generations. In a natural forest community trees and plants need each other. The prestigious science journal Nature has coined this interdependence of forest species the “wood wide web.”

 

I feel vindicated at last.

 

My intimate relationship with plants stems back to my earliest childhood years. Plants and trees seemed to speak to me through my senses without the use of words. As I matured I never lost that sense that plants/trees and I were engaged in relationship even though I didn’t know the specifics. Eventually it became clear to me that they thrived on being loved. I trusted plants, much the way I trusted animals and unlike humans, they have never let me down.

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The Geography of Hope

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(Tree ruin – note the wintergreen berries on the right)

This morning I meandered through dried papery leaves, frost bitten sedge grasses, and stepped over fallen birches that crisscross animal paths on the land that I love. Everywhere dying ferns and drifting leaves remind me that the Earth is preparing for her long winter’s sleep in spite of unseasonably warm temperatures and annoying insects.

 

Tiny evergreen seedlings poke their heads out of the woodland detritus while the mosses retain their various shades from sage to emerald green. I see crimson partridge and wintergreen berries hugging the ground, food for wild turkeys, bears, deer and grouse. In the open lowlands winterberry bushes abound, a feast of scarlet sweets for those that love them. Wild apple trees drip with rose red fruits.

 

Around the house pendulous red honeysuckle seeds capture my attention. A bevy of migrating robins, at least two-dozen, perch in my crabapple trees feasting on brilliant red fruits. As the robins regard me with white ringed eyes I am suddenly struck by the thought of how much the color red defines a New England fall. On wind protected logging roads scarlet leaves still cling to some tired red maples. Fire on the mountain is more than metaphor or a descriptive phrase. It is also the color that marks the end of the growing season and for many peoples, the end of the year… The flames of autumn precede winter white.

 

For me this pigment holds both ambivalence and poignancy. Red is the color of blood. It is often the hue used to evoke rage, suffering, and sorrows of the heart. The other side of red is devoted to the joyful aspect of love – the capacity to love and be loved. Together these two create a whole helping me to understand why I am so affected by this color. On a personal level I am living both sides of red.

 

While examining diminutive plants emerging out of an old tree stump, one that includes wintergreen berries I am startled by a second insight. The flashes of red berries on this tree ruin, the forest floor, the ripe berries and fruits on living trees, the scattering of scarlet leaves also bring me to the edge of hope, for red is also the color of rebirth. It is the color that Nature uses to remind us that as she falls asleep, the seeds of the future will be planted among her roots.

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(author walking up an old logging road where the leaves are still full of color)

Witch Hazel Comes to Call

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Through the Looking Glass…

 

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Above: author’s witch hazel tree blossoms

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A scalloped witch hazel leaf highlights this beautiful shrub

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Returning to Red Willow River… Photo Bruce Nelson

 

In Celtic and many other pre –Christian and Indigenous traditions when All Hallows occurs on October 31st the year is coming to a close. What I find most compelling about this ancient nature based religion is that it follows the seasonal round. For example, as I look out my window the fading colors of falling leaves remind me that the Earth is preparing for her winter sleep. In the woods the bears will eat and move less, becoming lethargic as they dig their dens for winter hibernation.

 

After All Hallows, the Feast of the Dead, and All Soul’s Day (a three day festival still celebrated in every country but the United Sates), a space opens up for a number of weeks during the darkest months of the year that doesn’t close again until the winter solstice when the sun reverses his direction. In that “space in between” the veil is thin. It is a time for dreaming, reflection, tying up loose ends, creating intentions for the future, and feeling gratitude for the gift of life. Unfortunately, trickery also thrives in this place, so it is important to stay awake and wary during this darkest time of the year. I follow this ancient tradition because in my world my inner life seems to reflect that of the outer seasonal round and those mysterious spaces in between.

 

This month I reflect upon the last year, re –reading my journals for new insights, identifying old patterns that continue to keep me spinning (some of which I have never been able to change – it seems to me that I have always lived my life on the edge). It takes a certain amount of grit to return to the past, since overall, this year my life has been in a state of chaos and “not knowing” with so many changes taking place – some seemingly miraculous. Yet, deadly repetitions also plague me. This ongoing de-stabilization is not doing much to keep me on an even keel. Each day seems to produce another reversal, a deadly new silence without explanation, or crazymaking confusion that leaves me enervated. I am tired a lot.

 

However, when I peruse my journals or look out the window I recognize that there have been two stabilizing influences in my life that act like the keel of a boat. Human friendships have grown deeper roots, and because for me, Friendship is the taproot of Love, I am grateful indeed for those few people with whom I have come into deeper communion. They know who they are.

 

The other calming influence has been my relationship with my dogs, Hope and Lucy, my dove Lily B, and my enduring love for all Nature. This love is woven through my journals, my dreams, my days and nights, a thread that has sustained me for many years. My curiosity about whatever creature/ tree / plant captures my attention drives most of my writing since Nature also provides the mirror for what is occurring in my life sometimes in uncanny ways. When I write about an animal or plant, even when I am unaware of it, I am also writing about a part of me.

 

And this brings me to Witch Hazel, a plant that I have loved since I was a child. My grandmother always kept a bottle in her medicine closet. Whenever we succumbed to poison ivy blisters, my little brother and I would scratch our skin until it was bleeding and then slather the wounds with witch hazel for instant relief; we loved its smell! And it healed wounds in days.

 

As an adult I have continued to use this plant – based alcohol as a cleanser, an astringent, and to stop bleeding. Recent studies have shown that the active compounds in witch hazel – flavonoids, tannins, and volatile oils act as cleansers because of their astringents and do stop bleeding but Indigenous people had other ways of knowing and understood the healing properties of this plant long ago. In this country they drank witch hazel tea to stop internal bleeding, steamed twigs to soothe sore muscles, and to treat colds and coughs. Today, witch hazel is one of the few medicinal plants actually approved by the Food and Drug Administration as a non – prescription drug ingredient, which unfortunately does not enhance its credibility to me, since the FDA routinely approves potential drugs it has not tested adequately.

 

Indigenous peoples, especially North American tribes also discovered that Y shaped witch hazel sticks could be used to find underground water. Dowsing for water is a skill that I am familiar with because I have used these sticks to tap underground water sources in the past. When the forked stick bends suddenly it is always a surprise, but the water woman in me just smiles.

 

“Water is Life.” Many of us are learning this truth in this time of planetary crisis, but for me that knowledge has been embodied ever since I can remember. Living near/on water has been a necessity, there’s no other way to put it. The only time I lived any distance from this element was during a period in my childhood when we lived in New York, but even then the Hudson was never far, and once back in the country my brother and I had access to my grandparent’s brook where we spent most of our spring, summer, and fall days in play.

 

This “Borderland” tree has magical attributes in both Indigenous America and in Europe, perhaps a quality I may have sensed as a child. The ancient Celts considered it to be the tree at the heart of the Otherworld. In Norse mythology it was known as the Tree of Knowledge. The Greek god Hermes was believed to make himself invisible by using an upright twig of this tree. The witch hazel’s connection to the well of wisdom present in many mythologies is strengthened by witch hazels’ presence around wells, which even today are festooned with votive offerings in Britain and Ireland. The name witch hazel has its roots in wych, an old Anglo – Saxon word that means to bend or shape.

 

As might be expected the witch hazel tree is also associated with women – especially old women, who are both feared and condemned by various cultures but continue today to practice their craft of healing, midwifery and prophecy. The infamous witch burnings in both Europe and America attest to the fear, hatred, and disgust that led to the slaughter of thousands, perhaps a few million innocent woman healers who were considered to be witches. In a peculiar reversal twigs of witch hazel are still used as a form of protection from the witches themselves! Witches are usually women who live alone on the boundaries of their respective cultures and they have intimate relationships with various aspects of Nature including the element of water…

 

The magic powers of witch hazel live on today whenever a water diviner uses a hazel branch to dowse for water. It is believed by some that as the branch bends to reveal water hidden within the ground it is also straining to connect with the ancestors hidden deep within the memory of Earth herself. As a self proclaimed water witch I think there is truth in the above statement.

 

Many years ago when I first bought this land I planted a witch hazel tree down next to my brook. When I built my house I planted a second tree next to my well, and when my brother’s ashes finally came to rest here under Trillium rock, I planted a third tree for him.

 

For the past couple of days these trees have been on my mind because it is almost time for them to bloom. Clusters of small fragrant pale yellow blossoms with finger like petals hug the twigs of this tree – like bush (Hamamelis virginiana) and I wanted to see if any flowers were visible. When I checked the two below the house my brother’s little tree had leaves that were still green, the one by the well had turned yellow… Not surprisingly, blossoms were not present on either plant because neither had lost their leaves.

 

However, when I visited the first witch hazel I planted, now a large graceful vase shaped bush, I was delighted because most of the leaves had fallen and the tiny yellow flowers were in bloom. The blossoms are equipped with both sets of reproductive organs but act as either males (producing pollen) or females (producing fruit)! Small bees and (annoying) gnats are pollinators. Each seed pod has two tiny shiny black seeds which are ejected from  small pods during the following spring.

 

I lovingly trimmed back a few dead branches and made a “Y” shaped stick from one to bring back to the house. Then I photographed a blossom for this blog. In the background the sluggish brook water barely moved over its stony path. Drought is very hard for me to deal with, psychically and physically, so seeing the healthy tree with its new shoots made me very happy. American witch hazel (also imported to Europe) is not really a tree, it is more like a shrub developing many stems as it ages. It attains 15 – 30 feet in stature. It has a number of traits I love including smooth gray bark and an architecture that defies convention. It’s branches zigzag in every direction at once as it roams for light, which it is, because it is an under story tree that thrives in forest openings. It is also one that loves living near water.

 

When I said goodbye to my witch hazel I brought the forked stick back to the house and left it outside the door to remind me of  witch women, women with wings like me who are readying for the transition from one world to another… When I heard the Great Horned Owl call outside my window last night, I thought of my sturdy witch hazel branch… Is it my imagination that the spirit of the old women, witch hazel trees, and owls are all calling me to be present for an important change?

 

Early next month I will be traveling across country to Abiquiu, New Mexico hopefully to enjoy a second fall and a milder winter just as Nature in this part of the country prepares for her long winter sleep.

Maple Fever

 

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My mountain… note leafless birches etc in front

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Sugar maple

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Looking towards my brook in the rain…

 

Last night I had a dream that the season was coming to an end. In the vignette I am looking in my wheat colored garden and queen anne’s lace, once a lovely pearl white wild flower has fallen over, her bird’s nest, full of fuzzy brown seeds scattering on the ground.

 

Indeed with dark cloudy mornings keeping us in bed until 7 or 8 AM my dogs, bird, and I are adjusting to this change of seasons that descends upon us so quickly in Maine. There is a brief period of stunning colbalt blue skies and the hint of changing color that occurs around the end of August into mid September but rapidly fades into deep autumn shadows after the equinox and the encroaching darkness that defines a Maine fall.

 

In just the last two two days the landscape has shifted from dull lifeless dry and diseased trees to a riot of color. I had no intention of missing the beauty that Nature offers so graciously for a few brief moments in time. So, yesterday, although it was cloudy, I took what has become an annual meander, walking through the woods and trails around my house and forest to enjoy the foliage that is peaking now because all the maples have caught fire, or have lemony yellow or sunset orange leaves that provide a brilliant contrast to dark green heavily pine – coned conifers.

 

This intentional cyclic fall meander, never a hike, allows me to focus on the maple colors that move me the most, those that are framed by a blue or gray sky – maples are my favorite fall trees! And yet, I have taken them for granted too because I thought red maples would always be around, and now they are succumbing to disease. I didn’t realize until I researched them this morning that the swamp maples that dropped their unnaturally curled dead leaves prematurely in early September were the same species as the red maple that is flaming on the mountains today. Red maples may be softer wood but are such adaptable trees growing in both wet and dry areas.

 

This year especially, I am astonished and grateful that the rest of the maples are dressed so brilliantly because we are deep into years of drought. It was eerie as well as depressing to witness so many diseased leaves drift to the ground early in September. Many maples have been bare for a month or more.

 

But the ones that are hanging on are heralding the change of seasons speaking through vibrant color. Of course, the birch, beech, wild cherry, poplar, alders, and oak (that haven’t already dropped their leaves due to drought), will add shades of the palest yellow, ochre, and various hues of brown to the mix at the “peak” of fall color which according to weather sources hasn’t arrived yet.

 

In this area we have red maples, sugar maples, silver maples, and moose or striped maples (as well as some ornamentals). All of the above belong to the family Aceraceae but we also must include the Norway maple that originally was introduced from Europe but has established itself here. Crimson king, with its deep maroon leaves is a popular species, but others resemble both the sugar and red maples except that their leaves are more golden in color, not the brilliant oranges, scarlet, crimson, typical colors of the red and sugar maples. The silver maple is found along riparian wetlands and the rivers. This tree with its deeply toothed leaves turns pale yellow. Moose maple hugs the lowlands, a small under – story tree whose giant leaves turn sunshine gold, literally lighting up the forest.

 

This morning it is raining for the first time in two months – a light rain that makes the still green leaves of my apple tree shimmer creating a mirror like effect. A host of sugar, Norway, moose, and red maples can be seen from any of my windows; their colors are spectacular – each leaf has different hues woven into a unique pattern, and yet the leaves of all the maples share similarities.

Simply gazing out my windows is a source of ongoing wonder to a naturalist like me.

Little Wild Hedgehog

 

 

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(Above: The Crowning)

When I first moved to Abiquiu in 2016 I was living in the hills and was exploring the arroyos and surrounding Juniper scrub when I discovered a desiccated little hedgehog cactus somewhat hidden under a Juniper’s canopy. Thus far I hadn’t seen any cacti at all except for cholla and prickly pear so I was somewhat surprised by this hedgehog’ s appearance. I decided to transplant the cactus into a pot and dug it up, watered it, replanted it and left it on my outdoor step in partial shade (now I know that it is wiser to uproot the cactus and lay it on its side to rest in the shade for about a week before re-potting to insure that the roots heal to protect them from parasites). For the rest of the fall and winter it just sat there sort of shriveled on one side and I wondered if I had made a mistake.

When we (my dogs and telepathic bird, Lily b) were finally forced out of this inhospitable rental (without heat or a stove to cook on) in mid February by a terrifying fire I took the cactus with me, not wanting to leave it in such an unfriendly place. I re-potted it again, this time in a smaller container and left it outside at our new home by the river. Soon I discovered more wild (pincushion) cactus growing on the mountain slopes, dug them up along with bits of their rocky soil and added them to the solitary hedgehog who sat on a bench outdoors (Each cactus was surrounded by bits of rock that I had taken from the site where I found them, along with their native soil). I inspected the little cactus community each day when I stepped out of the trailercita. Was it my imagination or were the cactus responding to my attention? I watered them sparingly and gave each some fertilizer. By early April, I noted an amazing change in the hedgehog. She grew plump and turned a brighter green, her damaged tissue on one side seemingly repairing itself. I was absolutely thrilled. This little cactus had decided to live! Showering heaps of attention on all my spiny companions, the rest of which were also doing well (I had five in all), I often reflected upon how little it takes to make a plant or animal thrive. And how heroic these wild plants are, subsisting on so little taking what minerals and other sources of nourishment they can from the rubble around them, while leaving the cactus vulnerable to whatever the weather might bring – harsh winds, thirst, hunger, snow, or ice.

It seemed to me that these tough little cacti were a model for survival that a person could emulate if s/he chose.

Imagine my astonishment when I first discovered the tell tale bumps on the two wild pincushion plants that would one day become flowers. It was mid April now and the sun was hot and each dawn broke into deep cobalt blue skies. I began to water my cactus family weekly with child-like anticipation as more bumps appeared.

When my now not so little hedgehog developed two bumps around her crest  in late April, I simply couldn’t believe it. This cactus had undergone a reversal – from death to life – and now she was going to bloom!

The first two deep pink – almost magenta – blossoms with their bright yellow centers took my breath away.

Little did I know that this was only the beginning. My hedgehog cactus bloomed four different times between May and the end of June. The third time she blossomed she had five flowers in all and wore her wreath like a crown (Although I have researched these plants all the sources say that they bloom just once a year).

I was leaving Abiquiu to make a trip east for the summer and couldn’t bear to leave the hedgehog cactus behind, even for a few months, so she came to Maine with me with one other cactus. My hedgehog bloomed once more about a week after my arrival as if to let me know that she appreciated the fact that I had not left her behind…

Over the summer she thrived and grew positively rotund, her damaged side now completely healed. She turned a brighter green, now resembling the rest of the Maine foliage that surrounded her.

About two weeks ago I brought her inside because the sun is so low on the horizon that it is no longer shining anywhere around my house for more than a few hours a day, and knowing that she was a New Mexican native I feared the lack of sunlight might harm her. Placing her on a western windowsill in an upstairs window, I decided to let her soil dry out to prepare the plump cactus for dormancy, and reminding her that we would soon be returning to Abiquiu where she would once again feel the warmth of a sun star that was closer to the equator… “This dull sky is temporary” I remarked repeatedly, to reassure her.

Because I rarely use the upstairs, I didn’t see her every day, although she’s not alone because she sits next to the other cactus that I also couldn’t bear to leave behind. When I went to water my hedgehog last week, just a few days before my birthday, I had another shock. Where once all her flesh seemed evenly distributed I now noted an egg shaped bump on one side. Could this be a fruit?

Excitedly, I opened my computer to find out and discovered that indeed my now very robust hedgehog (she has doubled in size) was putting forth fruit! Reading on eagerly, I discovered that the fruit would ripen to a dull orange and that these fruits were edible. Not for me! I am going to let the fruit ripen and collect the seed. I have visions of teeny little cacti that will grow from the seeds that are already forming inside the egg shaped capsule with its black top knot. Once again, I am thrilled! In one year, this plant has completed an entire life cycle and is putting forth new life – all this might not have happened had I not come upon this little cactus in the first place.

Now I am visiting with my hedgehog every single day to keep a sharp eye on her fruiting body. The day before my birthday while peering at her spiny skin I suddenly noticed another bump forming. More excitement! Altogether, I discerned that there are four in all; the others were barely noticeable as yet, but the protrusions are there. And because I want them to keep developing I think I will water a bit more frequently… Yesterday, on my birthday, a second egg was quite visible.

(Below, a picture taken yesterday. There are two distinct “eggs” visible, but you have to look carefully! to see them)

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The fact that my little hedgehog chose last week to show me her fruiting body seemed like an amazing birthday gift. I had another when the Great Horned owl family’s deep and resonant whoohing surrounded the house, lasting for about an hour the night before my birthday. Since, these days are always poignant with longing because I have spent so many birthdays alone, I am particularly grateful to Nature who always remembers and brings me gifts that I could never imagine. Lily b sings at this very moment reinforcing this thought.

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And then again, on my birthday, another little jewel came by air.

Turn, Turn, Turn…

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We are approaching the Fall Equinox, a time of year that is perhaps more poignant than any other, and also my favorite season. As the days shorten and the trees are heavy with golden or rosy apples, with every kind of maple turning a different shade of crimson, rust, gold and olive green, with papery brown beeches rustling in light wind, and white pines dropping needles in abundance as I prune back the juniper that lines my woodland paths for another year, I am thankful simply to “be.”

 

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The Datura plant that has now gone into the ground (with my help – I never thought I would get this plant out of its pot!) surprised me with a shower of ripe seeds falling from bright green prickly pods just two days after I dug it in. I covered the windfall with soil hoping that some new seeds will sprout along with their year old sisters after a long winter’s sleep under a blanket of thick mulch and snow. I am still collecting nasturtium seeds from my seemingly impossible patch of ever blooming flowers, whose peppery blossoms I love to eat, if only I can bear to spare them from becoming a riotous bouquet for my table! The last of the scarlet runner beans have giant pods almost ready for harvesting for next years seed.

 

On quiet nights I sleep with my head under the open window closest to the brook whose waters are barely tr, audible and yet the drought seems less threatening because it is normal to see the brook low this time of year (unfortunately this is only illusion). My vernal pool is finally drying up and I am delighted to see that no wriggling tadpoles are left…all have transformed into amphibians that live in two worlds instead of one (rather like me!) Tree frogs trill throughout the night singing love songs and everywhere tiny gold wood frogs hop through grass that I deliberately leave unattended so that they, and the small slower hopping toads, are not killed by a mindless mowing machine.

 

I revel in the spreading carpet of emerald green moss that is gradually replacing the grass in most places because shade dominates my little patch of woodland around this house. My pearl white hydrangea blooms on and is a joy to behold, she is so full of bumble bees. I could stand under her for hours counting different varieties of this one species. After a summer without bees I am in love with these humming blossoms.

 

The squirrels are caching nuts, during this year of acorn and pine cone abundance and even their chittering seems less annoying. I can smell the fermenting apples outside my window and at night listen for the sound of creatures coming in to feast… Last night, the source of the great thud I heard as some animal hit the ground from the apple tree remains a mystery. Why anyone would bother to climb this tree now is a question that remains unanswered. There are so many apples covering the ground that I need to walk under the drooping boughs with care. I note with pleasure that many small native bees like these sweetest of wild apples as they begin to rot on the ground. This year, instead of raking them up I will leave the fruit to fertilize the Earth for next spring. In time, the deer will return to feast on fermented apples and crabapples that pepper the ground under their various trees.

 

What a season this has been! Never do I remember such abundance but perhaps there have been other years almost as good as this one. It may also be that each year my appreciation deepens. I am still waiting for the first partridge to appear in one of their favorite crabapples, and daily I watch for the flock of cedar waxwings that lay over here for a feast on their southern migration. The flickers have yet to arrive for a stopover but two mornings ago I heard the first flock of geese flying over the house. Some Indigenous tribes call this this month the time of the “ducks flying away” and some are already on the wing.

 

The fox grapes are ripening in great globular clusters just outside my window, although a hard frost will be needed to sweeten them for my taste. The birds aren’t as fussy and neither are the foxes.

 

The time of natural harvest is particularly special to me because I know that I am providing much needed food for my non – human friends – a gift to those who have both witnessed and loved me… Every plant and tree on this property was planted with the idea that someday animals/birds/insects would find an abundance of food here, while in other more manicured places, it might become more scarce. I am glad to have lived long enough to experience this dream coming to pass.

 

As I lean into the coming darkness, I do so with gratitude for this season, and for the few moments of balance that we will experience as the equinox moments pass by, moving us from now pale early morning light into quickening dark nights, and the coming of the winter months…I remind myself that moments of balance are always temporary in Nature and in myself and that both need to be cherished.

 

As fall begins so does the hope for soaking rain – precious water that will nourish the earth, fill brooks streams, rivers and dug wells. Trees caching fire and gold in their leaves are also preparing for winter’s sleep. Hopefully high winds won’t take the flaming canopies too soon.

 

Lily B is usually quiet not singing until mid – morning. I sleep late, the mourning doves and finches don’t appear until after 7 AM, and my dogs are reluctant to leave our warm bed. All of us are turning with the wheel as Nature prepares herself for another winter’s sleep.

The Hawk and the Dove

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I have had personal relationships with both these birds for my entire life. Hawks were my little brother’s favorite birds, a predilection that escaped me until after his untimely death, after which these birds started circling in the sky over my head. One of these, the Red-tailed hawk became a kind of guide appearing to me at propitious times. I couldn’t help thinking, and eventually came to believe (after struggling with years of self doubt even when extraordinary experiences occurred) that he was somehow the spirit of my brother incarnating through this bird.

I think I fell in love with doves as a small child. I was intrigued by the doves in stained glass windows. The idea that Mary was visited by a white dove entranced me long before I understood Christian church doctrine around the “virgin” birth, a belief that simply repels me today although I still gravitate towards those beautiful stained glass images… Doves incarnated as spirit birds when I was in Assisi Italy. One morning at dawn while sitting on a circular stone table in the church plaza, hundreds of white doves settled around me in a circle. Astonished, I was transported into another dimension.

Mourning doves flocked to my yard as my children were leaving home…

Both these birds have acted as messengers from the Great Beyond in both personal and impersonal ways. For a long time I didn’t understand that they sometimes carried information in both ways which created a lot of confusion as I poured through my journals trying to understand what message was being expressed through various incarnations.

Three days ago, on a still, flaming maple leafed September morning I witnessed a sharp shinned hawk devouring the bloody carcass of a mourning dove outside my door. The night before I had a dream that there were too many doves falling from the sky. Because it is not unusual for me to dream about an animal or bird and then see one I wondered what message was being conveyed by this scene.

I still don’t know. On a collective level I see the dove dismemberment as a metaphor for what is happening in this country, a country I do not belong to. On a personal level I think of my children.

To be sarcastic has roots in “tearing flesh” and I have been the recipient of this behavior with children who disapprove of me as a human being. “I do whatever I want to” is a perennial complaint, as if to do so was some sort of crime.

As a naturalist I do not take a position on any predator that must prey on another in order to survive, although I experience personal feelings of heartbreak, as I did witnessing the hawk dismember the dove. I did photograph the hawk, note the brilliance of his amber eyes, as he peered first in one direction and then another in between breaks of tearing apart red flesh.

September is the month of my birth, a month I used to love until I moved to the mountains and came into close contact with trophy hunting for sport – not food. Now, this month carries with it the poignancy of loss – loss of the lives of innocent animals, and the losses I have sustained as part of my life process.

And yet, each day as I watch the maples lose more chlorophyll, turning yellow and gold, or to crimson fire in the late summer sun, I feel peace enter this body for acceptance of what is. The cycles of abundance and attrition comprise one whole in all lives, not just my own.

That I am part of a great cycle of coming and going is a source of great comfort and containment, although as I think about the hawk sustaining himself on the body of a dove, I also think of the precious life of one young bear who I fervently hope escapes the wrath of the hunters’ gun. That I am choosing life for this one animal is symbolic of my attention/intention to align myself with Life, regardless of the outcome.