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…

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Norfolk Pine: How to Save a Tree During the Holidays

Close up of author’s “Tree of Life”

 

As a young child I remember going to tree farms to choose the beloved Christmas tree of the year. The fragrant scent of balsam was the last gift the annual tree presented us with as her needles dried, turned brown and dropped. I always remember feeling so sad that the tree was left to die after lighting up the house with twinkling lights.

 

When I married and moved to Monhegan Island, ten miles off the cost of Maine, I cut down my own Christmas tree in the forest. Since we had no electricity the tree was festooned with candles and homemade ornaments – I can still recall how beautiful that first tree was and after Christmas I couldn’t bare to throw it out so I made all kinds of bird treats and placed them on the tree outdoors, a tradition I continued until the day came when I couldn’t stand to cut one more tree to the ground…

 

At this point the first live tree, a Norfolk Pine, came to live with us. With a profound sense of relief flooding me, my new friend also became our Christmas tree, a tree that lived on long after the season ended. I didn’t miss the scent of balsam because I continued to go into the forest every year to tip boughs for at least three wreaths – one for outdoors, the other two to use in the house (proper tipping actually encourages new growth). I was astonished and delighted by the tree’s beautiful weeping branches and straight trunk, although I was a bit astounded at how fast she grew. I loved that tree and was also so grateful because she had solved the problem of tree slaughter for me.

 

When I first began celebrating the winter solstice after my children were in late adolescence, the tree complied quite happily. I still had my grandmother’s miniature white lights that always stayed cool when lit, so every year she continued to light up the night… I now understood because of my academic study of world mythology, that for me, this indoor tree embodied so much more than the season’s turning – She was the “Tree of Life.” No wonder I had such difficulty chopping down and throwing out trees, year after year.

 

When I moved from the coast to the western mountains of Maine that tree went with me. She was getting too big for me to lift, and I had to get help re –potting her. In the summer she loved being outdoors although the first year I gave her a sunburn by accident. I discovered she preferred the north side of the house.

 

Divorced, with absentee adult children I continued to drape her with lights for each winter solstice until the year my grandmothers lights stopped working. After that I stopped lighting my tree because I was afraid the new hot lights would stress and burn her needles. Instead I placed small animals and birds among her branches and hung crystals from her boughs.

 

Most exciting to me this year is that my new Norfolk Pine (who is actually a small forest of trees given to me by friend Iren) has chosen to sprout new growth in the fall instead of during the spring, possibly because I re-potted her in June, or because this tree “knows” that this is the season I celebrate all trees. Maybe both. The edges of her fronds are deep emerald green and bushy green sprouts top each tree. My bond with her/them runs deep, like a great underground river of song. I mist her every morning, touch her fronds and talk to her. With long starry nights upon us I have ringed her base with lights as I celebrate the joy of loving all trees even as the trees outdoors slip into their winter sleep…

 

With the holiday season approaching I am asking people who do buy live trees for their houses in the U.S. to consider a Norfolk Pine as their tree of choice. Large numbers of Norfolk Island Pines are produced in south Florida for the houseplant industry. The bulk of these are shipped to grocery stores, discount retailers and garden centers during November so these trees can be found everywhere. One caveat: Many are sprayed with a light coating of green paint or sliver/ gold glue prior to sale. Beware of spraying. This process will weaken and eventually kill the tree because it cannot photosynthesize. Also be aware of the fact that even a tabletop tree will eventually need more and more space. The one I have now is about as tall as I am and it occupies a pot that sits on the floor.

Here are a few tips from a plant woman who has been growing these trees for 40 some years:

Norfolk Pines need protection from direct sunlight especially in the southern states. They love a room full of indirect light, skylights etc. but will not tolerate direct sun unless it’s in the winter (or unless you are willing to expose the tree very gradually to sunlight over a period of weeks). Feed your tree a good fertilizer every three months except during November, December, and January, the months trees need to rest. Be careful with watering. Pay attention to your tree! Don’t let your pine get too dry. Don’t leave standing water in the pot that lasts more than a few hours. An over watered tree will slowly lose precious roots to rot. At first you will note that the tree has little or no new growth during the spring months, and finally one day (this can take years) you will find it has fallen out of its pot quite rootless. In the winter especially, mist your tree daily; the tree will appreciate the moisture. I re pot only when the tree’s roots are sticking out of the bottom of the container, preferably in the fall. Once a tree gets too large re- pot in the same sized pot after pulling away some roots to make space for new soil. If you follow these simple steps you will have a tree purifying the air in your house, and a delightful Christmas/Solstice/ Tree of Life to accompany you through those long winter nights for years to come.

Thanksgiving

( My Norfolk pine(s) soaking in the sun…)

 

Each November as we enter the dark time of the year I begin my celebration of the trees. In retrospect this honoring of trees probably began when I was a small child who followed her mother into the woods each November to tip and gather branches from the evergreens to make a wreath.

 

By the time we return to Nature’s time I have gathered graceful boughs, arranged them around the house and placed miniature lights on the surface of the fronds. This year I have a Norfolk Island Pine whose base is also ringed with white lights. When the sun makes its descent and dusk gathers me in her embrace the twinkling blue, green (to symbolize my love for earth and sky) and white lights ( to symbolize winter) of the boughs bathe the house in a warm glow as I give thanks for the life of every tree on this planet. This year the house is festooned with greens from juniper, pinion, spruce, and cypress.

 

This lighting of the boughs and intentionally giving thanks will continue each night for me until “First Light,” or “the day the Bear Returns to Life,” an ancient Indigenous feast that occurs on or around February 2nd, the first celebration after the wheel turns at winter solstice.

 

In addition to the boughs I recently constructed the frames for the two wreaths that will  soon grace this house just as they have every other home we have lived in.

 

My “Thanksgiving” consists of lighting all the tree boughs, sitting on the floor by the wood stove, weaving evergreen branches into a wreath, and remembering special trees that I loved, some that I lost…

 

My grandmother’s golden apple tree was the first…As a child my grandmother would awaken me on moonlit nights to gaze at the deer that gathered round to eat the golden apples that fell to the ground each fall. Memories of the bountiful tree, a white moon, the silhouettes of the does or bucks (they didn’t come together) must have transported me into another dimension because that memory is etched so vividly in my mind. When the old tree began to lose branches my grandfather chopped her down, and for years after I “saw” a tree where none existed.

 

The summer before last I returned to Maine and discovered to my horror that the cedar I had planted as a seedling about 15 years ago had been so decimated by hungry deer that virtually all her leaves were gone. Only a parched skeleton remained standing. I knew what I had to do. It takes trees a long time to die, and to shorten her suffering I took my handsaw and felled the tree with such a multitude of tears flowing that I couldn’t see. I not only had lost a dear friend but I lost my House Guardian, for this tree had been planted with this clear intention. Like the golden apple tree I “saw” my cedar every time I walked out of my house for the four months I stayed there. Tree spirits/souls are powerful beings and their presence remains long after their death.

 

That same summer, about a week before leaving for Abiquiu I was walking in the woods when a cedar seedling spoke to me; “uproot me, I will come with you,” she whispered in a small voice. I listened. Following her directions I bent over and gently nudged the moist soil with my fingers and just as she had instructed the tree dislodged itself almost without assistance. Frankly, I was stunned, but knew too this tree would be coming with me no matter what (by the way, the last thing I needed was another plant in my car). Presently she reposes in a pot on the windowsill behind the pine. Trees like company. This little cedar has doubled in size within the year. So here in Abiquiu, I have two trees living inside the house and the story of how the pine came to me is a particularly joyous one that I want to share…

 

When I moved into this adobe my very sensitive and caring friend Iren showered me with gifts… three of her magnificent paintings hang on these walls, and she also gave me her tree!

 

The hardest part of leaving Maine was leaving my Norfolk Island Pine behind. She had been with me for so many years and now here she was again in another incarnation! I couldn’t believe it. I immediately re – potted my new friend and that’s when I realized that like my other pine, this one was actually a miniature tree forest with three trees in one container! All summer I talked to her/ them, touched multiple fronds lovingly, and looked for new growth. But it wasn’t until September that I noticed the first emerald sprouts. Delicate lacy fronds were inching towards the light. Since then top knots have doubled in size and each of the three trees has new luminous green growth. I am so thrilled, so grateful; those three trees and I have become part of each other in a very short time.

 

I can’t finish this tree reflection without including my outdoor tree, a newly adopted juniper that is about the same size as the cedar I lost in Maine. Last summer was the most devastating season I have ever lived through in 74 years. The heat was intolerable. The terrifying drought withered grasses, trees and bushes lost leaves prematurely, wildflowers ceased to bloom, sagebrush and scrub stayed gray with thirst and worst of all for me was the fact that I could hear the trees screaming for water. All plants can live without nutrients for a time, but none can live without adequate moisture. Trees by the hundreds of thousands were also burning in wildfires that were out of control and the smoke from dying trees made me physically ill. With death stalking me from every direction, I was overwhelmed with fear and grief.

 

In feeble protest, before the dawning of each day, I watered my solitary juniper. I couldn’t save them all but maybe I could help this one… it seemed like such a hopeless, even pitiful action, yet I continued watering. Today I look out the window at a thriving juniper, one who has added a foot to her girth and height and I remind myself that even saving one tree means something

 

This year my prayer for the trees is that they receive enough moisture to set buds, continue to photosynthesize, transpire, to find and absorb enough water underground to sustain them, to communicate through their complex root systems perhaps developing new strategies for surviving Climate Change – or not. Most of all, I hope that each tree can rest; the drought has stolen so much of their precious life energy…

 

On my Thanksgiving day as I weave each bough into the Circle of Tree Becoming I will be saying a prayer for their continued existence, reminding myself that without trees to provide us with oxygen to breathe, life as we know it will cease to exist.

 

In a couple of days when November’s full Beaver Moon rises over the trees I will also ask for a World Tree Blessing.

Birds from the Beyond

(Above: Snow geese in flight)

 

In the eastern pre-dawn glow I watched the Sand hill Cranes drift out of the pale blue, their gracefully downward curved gray wings and extended feet gently touching the field as the Earth and I witnessed this most gracious of descents. Their haunting cries strike a note like no other, leaving wonder in their wake…

 

To begin this day with roses in the sky, the appearance of these birds, followed by a luminous sunrise was a gift that transported me back to the Bosque del Apache where I witnessed these birds as individuals and as huge flocks soaring over my head by the hundreds, their long graceful necks and heads, full bodies and great gray outstretched wings responding to some collective cue that determined their immediate direction.

 

What struck me forcibly was how these birds interact intimately, as individuals and as a group. My first moments at the Bosque were spent at one of the ponds where I was able to listen to individuals calling out to each other from at least four directions while being answered by those on the water, long before small groups appeared on the horizon to join the twelve in front of me. Their individual conversation is as astonishingly musical, and so constant that I am left marveling over what these exchanges might mean…

 

Collectively these birds do not exhibit any particular flight pattern as they fly in pairs or groups from one feeding place to another on the sedge covered, cattail tipped, rust colored marshes, but then most will winter here until spring migration calls them home to the North…

 

The Snow geese were another matter entirely. Whenever they took flight they did so en masse and to see hundreds – even thousands of these birds circling in the air a number of times before deciding upon a direction – pure white feathers against an azure sky – was bewildering, almost beyond comprehension.

 

The “bird woman” in me has never had an experience that could compare with visiting this Refuge. I spent the entire visit in a state of mind-body awe. Not only is the location astonishing – great brown reptilian dragons stretching across the plains – deep blue, and apparently endless marshlands mirroring the sky, coupled by the many species of birds that winter over in this place made bird watching a Miracle of Life.

 

Before the trip I asked myself what was most important to me about this upcoming adventure into bird – land. I could answer this question with ease: Being fully present for the experience. Armed with the knowledge that my good camera and binoculars would interfere with being emotionally present I wisely left both behind. I took my IPhone to snap a few effortless pictures.

 

In retrospect I am even more grateful than I could have imagined about making this choice because I carry the sight and sounds of this ‘Vision of Bosque’ in my body and mind on a level that allows me to return to the Refuge, a place where time ceases to exist, without effort.

 

This morning the appearance of these same cranes was the trigger, but I note that almost any natural occurrence acts as a pathway to the birds at the Bosque – the willows that have turned rose red with the first frost outside my window, or the daily appearance of my flicker are perfect examples.

 

In a very real sense some part of me found a home at the Bosque del Apache, and remains there with my avian friends; a woman with wings who takes to the air as a new dawn draws near…

IMG_8299

(dawn at the Bosque – cranes on the water – snow geese in the air)

A Crack Between Worlds?

 

The day after the November election I found parts of a road-killed owl after walking just a short distance beyond a bird that hadn’t been there minutes ago. Oh no, not an owl. Initially, although I was deeply distressed that I had found a dead owl, I was relieved that it wasn’t a great horned owl, my latest familiar.

 

Owls, women, and wisdom have been an aspect of our mythology millennia before the Greeks created Athena, goddess of war, (born from Zeus’s neck). How can any male identified woman become a “goddess of wisdom” when only a male perspective is acknowledged? Leave it to the Greeks I thought in disgust. We are still stuck with Plato and Aristotle…

 

All that was left on the road was one bloody but still perfect wing and one talon; both were still warm. I carefully picked both body parts up and brought them home to clean and dry. The outstretched wing of the Saw Whet owl now occupies a place of honor below the Nicho that contains broken potsherds of the Anasazi and a broken micacious pot I bought for myself on my birth day. The South is the direction that makes sacred the fragments of broken cultures and bodies, past and present through witnessing and feeling what is, both joyful and horrific.

 

For the past year I have been in an intimate relationship with great horned owls that sang to me from the white pines in Maine and followed me here to New Mexico hooting from the Cottonwoods. And during this period because of my relationship with owls I have been able to make a final peace with the woman, my mother, who betrayed her only daughter by being male identified, teaching her how to do the same…

 

As I cleaned the wing I remembered the little dream catcher that I had made for my mother on her birthday long ago… I used the feathers of a dead Saw Whet owl that had been road killed. My mother loved that present… Women and all owls, I reminded myself have been intertwined since the dawn of humankind with one shapeshifting into the other, and owls are women with wings who see through unholy darkness and delusion.  It is these women who are capable of attaining wisdom.

 

The synchronicity associated with finding the dead body of any owl the morning after the election left me uneasy but finding this particular half eaten owl seemed to have a personal aspect to it. Long ago I had learned that I frequently tapped into the collective through personal experiences with Nature. If I had what was the message? Then I remembered a poem I had written about owls coming through the crack between worlds… manifesting in ordinary time. (I hoped that finding the owl didn’t mean that I would lose my new psychic connection to my dead mother- if I did who or what was going to fill that void in space?) The dead owl might indicate that my mother was starting to manifest in some concrete way and also that collectively woman’s power was on the rise. Although finding only one wing and talon indicated that my mother’s influence might only be periodic, and on a cultural level woman’s power was still very damaged with half the female population betraying the other by remaining male identified or indifferent it was still something. Out of death comes life…

 

The election results still lay over me, heavy like a shroud, wrapping me in a sticky white spider’s web of fear. I wanted to pull genuine hope out of what had happened. I hung onto the thread that some women had been elected to the House, that two were Indigenous, some Black, others Latino – Diversity was inherent in these choices but I also knew that women’s solidarity was sorely lacking, and it remained to be seen whether these women would act as woman – centered individuals.

 

The few token women in politics seemed to be male identified, siding with the “good old boys” who held most of the political power. I didn’t know the statistics yet but I guessed that similar to the horrific 2016 Presidential election most white Republican women voted for power over (still true). These women “stood behind their men”, mimicking their positions and excusing egregious actions because they were unable to stand alone. Emotionally bankrupt and dependent, they lived their lives through the men they supported betraying women as a group and as individuals in the most painful of ways even as they betrayed themselves. How many strong, bright, competent, brilliant women did I know that allowed a lesser man lead them around by the nose? Too many.

 

After having been a woman’s advocate for so many years I had just come through a personal crisis thanks to the Kavanaugh travesty that forced me to take a new position towards women who betrayed themselves and other women by taking a neutral position regarding rape, or even worse supporting perpetrators directly or by making excuses for the one male who had endured abuse from an angry abused woman. Rape of any woman was a crime against all women. Rape of any woman was a crime against all humanity. I was finally able to give myself permission to separate from these female impersonators without guilt. What I was also able to do was to forgive them, knowing that but for some grace, intense personal suffering and an enormous amount of work I might still be one of them…

 

Along with the mountains of grief that I had been carrying for so long over betrayal of women by women and the rape of the earth I was also able to feel my rage, and hoped I could use this friendly red dragon wisely.

 

Rage allowed me to tap into my own power, and galvanized me to keep writing on behalf of abused women and the planet. It also helped me with crushing depression. Over the past two years I had fallen deeper and deeper under the spell of a madman and his minions who were running this country, riding the horses of unbridled power, hatred, and misogyny.

 

Thinking about woman – centered women coming into office offered me a flickering light in the growing darkness of humanity. But I also knew the chilling fact that the Senate had gained Republican seats. This suggested the obvious – that power and hatred were still “winning” in spite of the apparent successful takeover of the House. (So many seemed to be inexorably drawn to a power driven demented man that cared nothing for humanity and openly despised women and the earth).

 

As things stand now we are headed towards another holocaust.

 

I had to face it. The future still looked dark but the manifest presence of even one wing and talon of the owl now suggested to me that “the women with wings,” women centered women, might be manifesting in a concrete new way. The flickers of hope fanned more flames…

 

At the time of this writing I am choosing hope as I put my faith in owls and “the women with wings,” the women who, if they can garner more female support, can lead us out of this unholy darkness into the sweet stillness of long winter nights.

 

It is with deep humility that I throw myself on the mercy of Nature asking for her support. I need to hold onto this awareness to keep on advocating for women, for animals, for trees, for the Earth, not with guns, not by murdering innocent people, not by building more walls, not through war but through interconnectedness – and by remembering who I am – a woman who loves women – a woman with wings of her own – a woman who deeply respects the woman she has become. Compassion, forgiveness, and ruthless honesty are the weapons I wield; these are the bones of my authentic woman – power.

 

I make this commitment on one of the two holidays we celebrate for the “heroes of war,” Veteran’s day… one of only two days a year American’s celebrate their dead… Let’s remember that as we celebrate this day we also tacitly support the normality of rape in war.

 

The irony does not escape me.

November Reflection

White frost covered grasses and the warmth of a rising sun streams in through the windows at dawn as I kindle smoldering coals in my wood stove. The bare trunks of the cottonwoods bend charcoal against the horizon as golden light flows onto the floor heating cool tiles. A passionflower blossom is a feast for hungry eyes. Tonight, artificial time ends as we reclaim lost mornings, Nature’s original intention. Early nightfall births a sky full of cracked stars revealing ancient patterns for all to ponder.

 

What is it about darkness that modern westerners find so frightening? Is it the anxiety that comes from never taking the time to reflect upon one’s life? The fear of letting go? Or is more about dread? Encountering one’s own shadow is surely western culture’s greatest challenge. For me, it’s the reality of the opening of the Great Void of empty space that may be pregnant with potential but is also full of black holes…

 

Yet, this time of stillness, uncertainty, emptiness, and darkness allows me to tap into ancient Earth rhythms as I make the transition from “the going out” “to the return.”

 

Two days ago I earthed some bulbs in my half moon garden. Planting bulbs that will spend the winter gestating in darkness is a promise of life to come. Perhaps this is why I find this process so rewarding – even joyful.

 

Yesterday I cleared away the last of the frost withered flowers replacing them with natural mulch. My baby house lizard emerged from his rock lair to peer curiously at me as I gathered the last nasturtium seeds and dug deep into the soil preparing it for spring planting, laying down heart shaped leaves as Nature’s blanket. The compost lizard with his newly shed skin has just joined him… How do these young lizards know where to find the very best place to spend the winter? My half moon garden against the south side of the house is surely the most inviting habitat around!

 

A great horned owl soars low in the field with outstretched wings searching for food, and later, the haunting cry of the Sand –hill cranes allows me to witness their brief descent onto bare ground to feed before they take to the air, flying over the house towards the river that will, perhaps, help guide them south. The great mystery of bird migration characterizes this month of rapid changes and here in New Mexico the arrival and departure of the Sand hill cranes reminds anyone who pays attention that winter is on the horizon.

 

I moved my bird feeders from the trees (that until recently provided good leaf cover) to the covered porch. The birds are reluctant to make this shift from tree to human space, but I am patient; this change will take time but I hope that by the end of November the birds will eagerly flock to this protected space to feed.

 

This morning was brisk and windy and so I was surprised to see baby lizard still clinging to the wall as I began the herculean task of pulling apart a temporary pond that I had dug into the ground and ringed with sandstone last June as an experiment. I dearly wanted to attract toads and frogs to this small oasis. After watching lizards basking on warm pink rocks, bees, butterflies, a garter snake, not to mention birds flocking to this location I was impressed but it wasn’t until the giant toad appeared at the end of August that I was convinced a permanent pool was a necessity. As I dug through the waterlogged mud and slung it into my wheelbarrow, placed the round container in the large hole, began to back fill and replace the ring of stones I called out to the toads and frogs! Please come by next spring, I implored them, knowing of course that so much depends on rain… Then I seeded the area with poppies and blue flax, early blooming flowers, and covered the whole area with golden cottonwood leaves… Completing this job was the last project on my short list and I felt absurdly happy!

 

These days I am content to create two small gardening spaces, plant a tree or two and create one little pond because less has become more.

 

After the morning’s stiff breeze ceased I opened the doors to let the fresh air in…

 

November is the month when natural changes seem most dramatic. Just a week ago the leaves were on the trees and the air was still, and now I feel winter’s chill soaring towards me on wintery winds. We had intolerable temperatures from May to October. Unable to get away, and too sensitive to heat and the smoke from forest fires, I spent months trapped inside my house. For a woman whose life is predicted on her direct relationship with Nature, I lived through hell but learned too that neither body or soul can endure living here year round – an important thing to know…

 

Some think of this month as “the space in between” worlds. Once, most cultures acknowledged this time that is predominated by the emptying out and by sudden changes and reversals; Indigenous peoples and those with pre-christian leanings still do. Last night I dreamed that a hole opened up in the earth on the west side of the house. This dream reinforces the reality the void that opens in November for those of us who are sensitive enough to feel it – an uncomfortable time.

 

Completing outdoor chores like gathering seeds and wood and preparing gardens for spring planting helps me prepare for turning inward… Some still gather round the fire for reflection and storytelling, thinking about those who have journeyed this way before. I review my dreaming journal and gather greens to celebrate the first night of winter darkness by arranging them in my giant Mexican frog. Draping miniature white lights around the boughs and then lighting them bathes the room in such a friendly glow that I can barely wait for dark! The first greens for my wreaths are waiting to be woven into a Circle of Becoming. I watch the Great Bear circumnavigating the sky wishing the hunt was over.

 

Temperate days, frost covered ground, brief gales, and snow on the mountains speak volumes to any who witness this time of stark changes.

 

I listen to Nature’s voice on the wings of migrating birds, acknowledge and honor the space in between, accepting this cycle of letting go – even as I refuse to accept the continued rape and desecration of the Earth by those who remain indifferent to a Fate that is their own.

The Bones of November

Yesterday I was talking to someone who had never heard of the three day Festival of the Dead that occurs in almost every culture in one form or the other at this time of year from October 31 through November 2nd. How is this possible I wondered until I realized that I have been a student of world mythology for almost forty years and have studied these cross cultural traditions extensively noting their startling similarities as part of my academic background.

For example, the pagan, pre – christian Celtic tradition of Samhain means Summer’s End marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of the winter cycle and “darker portion” of the year. It is believed that the veil between the living and the dead lifts during this liminal time and the dead walk amongst us so that communication occurs easily if one is sensitized, open to such thinking/sensing/feeling. This is a time to honor all the ancestors, to pay respect, and to commune with them…

In western culture we generally scoff at such ideas making a joke or creating macabre distortions out of All Hallows, All Soul’s Day, the Feast of the Dead, perhaps to deal with our personal and collective discomfort with death. It is a fact the only days allotted by Americans to honor the dead occur on Memorial and Veterans Day when we honor soldiers who died “ in service to their country” – but then we are a violent patriarchal culture that acknowledges/celebrates death only as heroic, and in the context of war. It is up to the rest of us to honor those who have gone before alone, if we do so at all.

I have adopted the Celtic (eight spokes) Wheel of the Year because it follows the natural cycles that I see occurring all around me in Nature. For example, I can look out my window and watch the golden cottonwood leaves fluttering to the ground to become compost, even as a hole opens under the fallen canopy in the east allowing the rising sun to enter the house at dawn. Snow covered mountains and fall rain brings life to the high desert even as she prepares for winter’s sleep. Indoors, I gaze at the mountains I think of as Grandmothers as I recall that in most cultures the Old Woman, Hag, or Crone reigns during the dark half of the year – She who presides over death and creates new life. I light the first fires to keep us warm and my beloved dogs and I bring in the night leaning into the comfort and warmth of early darkness. I think this is a time to reflect upon the passing away of people and cycles because like the Celts and many Indigenous folk I believe the year comes to an end as the bears go Earth to sleep…

I feel that I am an integral part of an ancient cross – cultural tradition, even as I set intentions for the coming year. In many of these traditions there is a break between the end of one year and the beginning of another and this liminal period extends until winter solstice. I note that All Hallows/The Feast of the Dead creates the space for new insights to occur so I acknowledge the “space in between” as part of my own practice.

I also take time to give thanks for every gift given over the past year, the winding river and streams, the cedar outside my door, my beloved animals, this house that offers me a window into Nature three seasons out of four (in summer I have to keep the shades down to keep the fierce white heat of the sun at bay). I honor my dead, and give thanks for the people who enrich my life through friendship. And most of all I give thanks for the Unconditional Love I receive from the Earth through any of her manifestations. S/he is my mother, my father, my lover, my sister, my brother, my child and grandchild, without whose constant presence I would be bereft.