The Amazing Scarlet Runner Bean

 

IMG_1503.JPG(Phaseolus coccineus) – photo from my garden

 

About 30 years ago I was visiting a neighbor for the first time early one August when I spied the most extraordinary vine of brilliant orange pea sized flowers cascading from an emerald climber that stretched across the entire wire wall of a huge vegetable garden. Eileen left an eight foot arch open by tying back some of the vines for an entrance. The vines were massive, at least 12 to 15 feet high and at least 100 feet long, and I could see and hear the sound of joyful ruby throated hummingbirds as they buzzed from one blossom to another as millions of bees, swallowtails, and monarchs swooped through the air lighting upon loose tendrils that were attempting to find purchase somewhere by climbing on the backs of their neighbors. To say I was transfixed by the sight is an understatement. I lost time in the blue and gold mountain field in Western Maine as I stood there astonished and bewildered by such abundance and beauty.

 

Returning to ordinary time, and gathering my wits about me, I asked my new friend about the vine and was only then I was formerly introduced to the magnificent Scarlet Runner bean. As we wandered down the fence line Eileen told me that she had grown up in the south and had been surrounded by these vines since she was a child; she was then a woman in her late sixties. As we peeked into the plethora of leaves I was delighted to see small green beans developing from the flowers and was told that these beans were delicious to eat, especially when picked while still young. I had been a gardener all my life – how had I missed learning about such a plant?

 

By the time I left Eileen’s house that afternoon I had a whole handful of shiny deep mauve and black kidney shaped beans in my hand for next year’s planting. These were heirloom seeds that Eileen had been given by her own mother. I was ecstatic.

 

This was the beginning of my love affair with Scarlet Runner beans, an affair that continues into the present. The first year I grew them they took over the entire back porch. I soon learned to plant even more vines like Eileen had so the deer could feast on the bounty too.

 

One spring a black bear watched me place my seeds into rich loam from behind his spindly screen of bushes, and that very night Little Bee came back and dug up every bean that I had planted (An endless curiosity is a fundamental aspect of friendly backyard bears)!

 

As the years passed my own wild unkempt garden was covered in more and more Scarlet Runner vines, flowers, and beans. I discovered to my surprise that black bears also loved to eat the blossoms and seed pods. Even with all the competition, I had plenty of fresh green beans and took endless joy out of watching so many bees, butterflies, bears, deer, and hummingbirds feast along with me.

 

About ten years ago when colony collapse devastated the honey bee population the bumblebees took over, but I couldn’t help noticing that overall there were less and less bees and butterflies drinking sweet nectar. Diminishment of various species is invisible to some. Only during the last two summers I spent in Maine did I have fewer hummingbirds…

 

Every year after the harvest I gathered and gave away seed gems to friends who seemed to appreciate them as much as I did – passing on the priceless gift of un contaminated heirloom seeds – seeds that held a future free of human manipulation within each be- jeweled skin.

 

When I moved to New Mexico I brought a few beans with me and my friend Iren was the first recipient of this precious bounty. She, in turn, passed some seeds onto others. Last summer her entire back fence was covered in gorgeous plants. Here in New Mexico the vines don’t grow quite as tall but they are still abundant, and during July deer and elk ate some of Iren’s blossoms (but there were plenty left for her to harvest).

 

Here, I planted my beans in a pot above ground. I do not recommend this practice. These beans need ample water and need to be planted in the Earth to thrive (mine had yellowing leaves). I also noted the effect the intense heat had on the beans. The plants didn’t start producing beans until August though we planted in mid – May, I believe. It’s important to know that Scarlet Runners will not survive frost. What I did notice is that butterflies (swallowtails) and a number of different bees flocked to the flowers. Hummingbirds loved them!

 

Imagine my shock when I discovered that the history of Scarlet Runner beans began in North America. These beans are native to the highlands of Mexico, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years.

 

This climbing plant is one of the oldest documented beans known to humans!

 

Native Americans consumed almost every part of the plant including the starchy root. Some Indigenous tribes regard the Scarlet Runner bean as a sacred plant. The plants seem to pulse with the life force, at least for me.

 

Today, Scarlet Runner beans are usually grown as annuals for the obvious reasons – their showy flowers and their edible pods and seeds. I recently learned that they are unusual among bean species because they are perennial in places where the ground doesn’t freeze and they climb in a clockwise direction. In retrospect I wondered if they were grown as perennials in the south where Eileen once lived.

 

I remember Iren asking me if you could cook the dried beans. My friend Eileen had never mentioned the practice so I didn’t know until I did this research that here in the U.S. consumers, up until recently, were more likely to find the shelled dried beans to cook than seeds to plant! Mature dried Scarlet Runner beans are ¾ inch in length. They can be cooked like Pinto or Pink beans and used in dishes such as soups and stews. Scarlet Runner beans are less starchy than Lima beans with a nutty garden-fresh flavor. These beans are also known by the common names of Scarlet Conqueror, Fire beans, Mammoth beans, Red Giant beans, and Scarlet Emperor beans.

 

Today, of course there are many cultivars to choose from but I prefer the lineage I have because I know those seeds originated at a time that preceded spraying etc.; they also have sentimental value. If anyone is interested in the gift of a few seeds please contact me at Sara@megalink.net.

 

With that much said so much is happening with seed savers across the country that it is now possible to buy heirloom seeds from a number of companies. This year when I attend the Tewa Women’s Seed Exchange I plan to bring some of my Scarlet Runner beans from last year’s harvest. My guess is that Iren will do the same!

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Snowy Comes to Maine

 

 

719e8726-ac9c-11e3-bdba-8d0644e09485-850x478$large.jpg“who whoo WHOOH…”

I will never forget the first Snowy owl I ever saw… I was living in Andover, Maine when a huge white bird appeared in January and soared over the lower fields. It was a very cold winter in 1993 and a pair of these birds became part of my winter bird watching. Their courtship call is quite distinct – three hoots with the loudest whooh at the end. I heard other sounds too but don’t remember the details. When I got my first close up look at one of these magnificent owls I was stunned by their beauty – intense yellow eyes, a black beak and oh, all those pearl white feathers. One had mole brown bars. The Snowy is one of the largest species of owl in North America, and is on average the heaviest owl species. The adult male is virtually pure white, but females and young birds have some dark spots; the young are heavily barred. I believe it was an adult male that I saw at close range. Occasionally one would fly ahead of the car as I drove out of my solitary mile long driveway, a behavior that intrigued me…

Well, Snowy owls are back in Maine! At the Portland Jetport, as many folks know, these owls and those that love seeing them are causing a “problem.” The owls are just trying to make a living but humans are apparently blocking emergency exits.

Many of us will recall that there was a boom in the Snowy population starting around 2011. One owl could be seen perched on a telephone pole between Bryant Pond and South Paris for much of the winter. Recently these birds are becoming uncommonly common! They have popped up in Aroostook County, the mountains of Acadia in Maine, and have been seen as far south as Florida and Hawaii and this year Snowy has made it as far south as New Mexico!

The Snowy owl is typically found in the northern circumpolar region, where it makes its summer home. However, this species is also nomadic because lemming population fluctuations force it to relocate to find food. Recently we have learned that the Snowy has been known to breed at more southerly latitudes

Snowy owls “normally” (is there such a thing today) nest in the tundra of Northern Canada and Europe. Snowy owls are attracted to open areas like marshes, open fields, coastal dunes, and prairies that appear somewhat similar to tundra. During the years when they are found in the Northeastern US, juveniles frequent appear in developed areas so keep your eyes out for a sighting. All ages spend a fair amount of their time over water in the Great Lakes and Atlantic Ocean, mostly on ice floes.

When perched Snowy owls often face the sun; Snowy owls appear to orient themselves into the sun or wind depending on prevailing weather conditions. No doubt they are happy to bask in whatever source of heat comes their way.

This species of owl nests on the ground, building a scrape on top of a mound or boulder. A site with good visibility is chosen, such as the top of a mound with ready access to hunting areas and a lack of snow. Abandoned eagle’s nests and even gravel bars are used for nesting. The female scrapes a small hollow before laying the eggs. Breeding occurs in May to June, and depending on the amount of prey available, clutch sizes range from 3 to 11 eggs, which are laid singly, approximately every other day over the course of several days. Hatching takes place approximately five weeks after laying, and the pure white young are cared for by both parents. Although the young hatch asynchronously, with the largest in the brood sometimes 10 to 15 times as heavy as the smallest, there is little sibling conflict, a fact that I find fascinating and somewhat unusual. Both the male and the female defend the nest and their young from predators sometimes using distraction as a ruse. Males also defend the nest by standing guard nearby while the female incubates the eggs and broods the young. Both sexes will attack approaching predators, dive-bombing them!

As previously mentioned this powerful bird relies primarily on lemmings and other small rodents for food during the breeding season. They are opportunistic hunters and prey species may vary considerably, especially in winter. Some of the larger mammal prey includes rabbits, hares muskrats squirrels (we could use lots of these birds) raccoons moles and mice. Birds preyed upon include ptarmigan, ducks geese shorebirds and songbirds as well as other owls and raptors. Most of the owls’ hunting is done in the “sit and wait” style; prey may be captured on the ground or in the air; fish may be snatched off the surface of bodies of water using sharp talons. Unlike most owls that hunt at night Snowy owls are diurnal hunting in darkness and in light.

Snowy owls, like other carnivorous birds, swallow their small prey whole. Strong stomach juices digest the flesh, while the indigestible bones, teeth, fur, and feathers are compacted into oval pellets that the bird regurgitates 18 to 24 hours after feeding. Regurgitation often takes place at regular perches, where dozens of pellets may be found.

Previous population estimates of about 200,000 individuals are now regarded as substantially overestimated, and a total population size of 28,000 individuals is probable.

Catastrophic Climate Change guarantees that unless we radically reverse carbon emissions in the next twelve years Life as we know it will be over. The absence of Snowy will become just one more statistic on a planet that has lost its animal populations. So, if you are fortunate enough to glimpse one of these magnificent owls, remember to say goodbye.

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…

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…

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

Portals…

(portal made of willow fronds)

 

Lately, as I meander around the Bosque and down the paths to the river I am seeing portals everywhere I look. I walk under one made of golden cottonwood boughs, another graced by willows, a few created by rusty iron or wooden gates – all pathways to the beyond.

 

Portals are gateways or doorways into other worlds, or a different way of seeing and it is not lost on me that perhaps I am “seeing” portals everywhere in Nature because according to the Celtic/Native American calendars we are approaching the end of the wheel of the year here in Northern New Mexico as well as elsewhere. Perhaps I need to discover a new way of seeing. I can set this intention for the coming year even as I pass through each gate…Climbing through this mountainous twelve month cycle of steep ascents/descents has exhausted my soul, body, and spirit.

 

All Hallows, the Feast of the Dead, All Souls day, mark the end of the yearly cycle for many including me.

 

Then we will enter the space in between to emerge at winter solstice…

 

Although Indigenous people’s calendars are more fluid, around here, for example, the Tewa speaking peoples will tell you that in November “they do nothing” as one man from Santa Clara Pueblo recently quipped. The Harvest is in. Frost is on the horizon. There are no tribal dances until the winter solstice. Around us our beloved Cottonwoods are slowly losing their golden canopies. The owls are silent. Migrating Sand hill cranes serenade us with their haunting collective cries. Only the tracks and scat of animals remind us that our wild companions are still out and about.

 

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Some Indigenous peoples from the North call this full moon “the leaves falling moon” or “the white frost on grass moon” names that seem particularly apt when describing what is happening. I could also name this moon “making tracks in the mud moon.”

 

The period that we are about to enter in about a week is a space where the veil lifts… It is a time of rest and reflection, a time to dream the world (and ourselves) into another way of being, perhaps. A mystical time for those of us who are sensitized to All That Is.

 

It is my favorite time of year.

 

In Northern New Mexico it is also the ‘season of light’. The dance between the sun star and her shadows is a source of ongoing amazement, exhilaration, and deep wonder, peaking at dawn and at eventide with each becoming a portal into the other.

 

As scalloped hearts and bear paw leaves drift to the ground and branches (some curved like claws), stretch their limbs and fingers towards an ever deepening blue or shark gray sky, I watch juncos, sparrows, and nuthatches feasting on fluffy chamisa and golden aster seeds. Last night the almost full moon hid her face behind rose pearled clouds.

 

I create a conscious intention beginning with this poignant and oh so beautiful “leaves falling in drifts” moon to find a way to move through this next year with more grace and less chaos in my life acknowledging that I am not certain how to Earth myself in a more generous way except by developing a new way of seeing.

 

Extremes of every sort have defined my days this year with me plunging into despair and grief over climate change and woman hatred.

 

Eerily, my concern for the Earth has often been mirrored by personal crisis. The veil between Earth and self seems to have evaporated like the mist that rises over the river in delicate plumes reaching towards a now golden sun or ever deepening dusk. I can’t help wondering if this merging might be a natural response to aging and/or my heightened sensitivity, a result of being in such an intimate relationship with Nature?

 

Perhaps as Earth Chaos intensifies I will continue to experience my own extremes even more deeply? If the latter is the case my hope and intention is to carry the awareness that this state is “natural” under the circumstances.

 

To accept what is, might be I the greatest challenge I face.

 

One portal to acceptance as I already mentioned might be to shift my awareness into a different way of seeing. I can create this intention without knowing exactly what I mean…

 

As I pass under the portal of the end of this year entering “the space in between” my earnest hope is that I will not lose myself, even when I stand alone in a sea of humanity whose (personal and political) behavior mystifies me, or that I will not succumb to despair, or make an unnecessary descent into rage or sorrow.

 

I remind myself that to stay with the truth of what is, as I experience it, is also heroic (although I never feel this way) and that others who cannot be present to their lives in a meaningful way will try to dismiss my life as inauthentic (too emotional, too sensitive, too fill – in – the blank, blah, blah, blah,) because witnessing human horrors is too threatening to them.

 

Rape is still rape regardless of disbelief.

 

Like the deer in my dreams who bed down in tall grasses before the open gate may I too surrender to what is, and to that which is unknown. Animal Peace is the gift offered when we are present to the moment.

 

And like the worms living in my compost heap who create ‘black gold’ in the process of living out their lives, may I find a way to do the same… perhaps through a different way of seeing.

 

A lot to ask for, I know.

 

Still, as I pass under this next portal the help I need is near… All I need to do is to follow the tracks of the animals that are so dear.

The Compost Lizard

IMG_7699.JPGIMG_7710.JPG

(  Top picture is one taken of one of the house lizards a while back – 2nd picture is one of the house lizards sunning himself today (his mate disappears every time I go to take a picture but she’s out too), and the 3rd picture is the little compost lizard in his lair taken at noon. All are sunning themselves as I write!)

 

There is a wily sagebrush lizard

peeking out of star dry flowers

sunning himself on

brittle decaying leaves.

All but two of his

kind have disappeared

since the night freeze settled

kindly,

blackening few tender plants.

How brilliant that he

should choose such a practical

abode, a circular container

warmed by an autumn sun,

full of rotting greenery!

Assured of food from insects

for a while yet,

his eyes are narrow slits when

he slumbers, dreaming his next meal.

Imagine

the variety of bugs

who still visit this

compost heap in

wild abandon,

buzzing madly

at high noon,

oblivious to Lizard’s

canny presence in their midst!

 

It is mid October (10/18) and the mountain peaks wear snowy hats. Here in the valley we have had more rain in the last ten days than we have had all year … the first flakes swirl. The dark eyed juncos have arrived. For the last few days I have been noticing the absence of my house lizards who seem to have vanished with the heat. There are only two left out of the original 6 and these two hide behind the slat closest to the door, slipping out to sunbathe when the sun warms my adobe walls.

 

When I first met the “compost lizard” I knew he wasn’t one that lived here all summer. Earlier in the season I had a large compost lizard that moved to the south wall as it got cooler. So where did the small compost lizard come from, clever little fellow? A compost heap is a lizard heaven of sorts with all the leftovers watered routinely to keep the worms happy, and with heat trapped in a round plastic cylinder the wind is kept at bay. At noontime I go out to visit him noting his blue belly hoping that he will stay around a bit longer, perhaps fattening himself up for an intermittent winter sleep. I would like to think that he will find a safe burrow in this mountain of debris, and that we shall meet again in spring.

 

I recently read that adolescent lizards are more active in the fall, this might account for the sudden appearance of the compost lizard. I also learned that occasionally lizards will “hibernate” together… I wonder if this might be true for my two house lizards who are currently hunkered down behind the slats and the house… I will be watching to see how long they stay there.

 

Lizards are not active during winter; they enter a state of dormancy called brumation which is not the same as hibernation. With both, metabolic processes slow down but with brumation the lizards alternate dormancy with activity. They need to drink water to avoid dehydration. Lizards build up a high level of glycogen (sugar) that can be used for muscle activity. They also need less oxygen to breathe and this is a good thing because some dig holes in mud where oxygen levels are lower. Other lizards will hide underground in old burrows, in a hole in a tree or under leaves. I love knowing that my lizards will still be around even if I don’t see them!

Our Amazing Junipers

(Author’s Guardian Juniper Tree)

 

Tomorrow we are supposed to have the first freezing temperatures and I am watering my adopted juniper, the first tree species that I fell in love with when I came to Abiquiu, because of its fantastic myriad of shapes, its tenacious ability to cling to cliff edges and because so many of these trees are allowed to live out their natural lifespans of a few hundred to a thousand years or more. Now my love and amazement for these drought resistant trees has deepened into genuine concern because this summer’s drought has turned clumps of needles brown on most of the junipers on the mesas and many appear to be dying unnaturally (very old trees do have a strange half dead look that is normal). Anyone with eyes can see how dis – stressed these trees are.

 

Water is Life. Here in the river valley, including the Bosque there are fewer dead patches but little or no new growth on the junipers. A few days ago I took a tape measure to measure new spikes on the solitary juniper that I water, noting that most fronds had bright blue green spires measuring twelve inches or more. Although I am happy for my tree I am also frightened because it is clear that we are now living the ravages of climate change and most of the junipers around here have little or no new growth and are not doing well.

 

Western junipers are an “indicator species.” If they are showing signs of stress from lack of water then other less resilient trees are even more threatened. Not to take heed of this juniper tree warning would be a grave mistake. For me, the upside of this knowing has validated my belief that I must stay with native flowering plants and because of what the junipers are saying instead of planting fruit and other trees I am going to choose more junipers. Fortunately, there are many beautiful cultivars to choose from. My neighbor Bruce has a gorgeous blue green gray green teardrop shaped juniper that is definitely on my list. It even has a huge bird’s nest hidden within its boughs.

 

Western junipers are dimorphic, meaning that they have two growth forms. One is upright (like my tree), and the other, much more common is bush-like opening to the sun like a flower. Even the biggest trees are not taller than 40 feet. The seedlings especially bear bluish green awl shaped leaves that are pointed at the tip. Mature leaves are a darker green and scale – like in appearance. The older leaves are borne in pairs or whorls of three and are rounded at the tip. The arrangement of the adult “leaves” in a circular pattern gives the twigs and uncanny resemblance to coral.

 

Although juniper and cedar are related – both belong to the cypress family – cedars produce small woody cones while junipers produce a bluish berry –like cone. Most junipers are dioecious, meaning that male and female cones are found on separate trees and once you observe the difference it is easy to differentiate between the two (to make things confusing some junipers have both male and female cones on one tree). The male cones are brownish in appearance and very small. These latter produce pollen sacs that release pollen grains in spring and summer, as many people that suffer from allergies know. The female cones look like berries. As the trees age some of the trunks become twisted and gnarled.

 

Junipers are one of the top ten plants for wildlife. Many birds love their berries and around here the Cedar waxwings, the Townsend solitaire, and American robins flock to the juniper cluster that shades the ground. I also see Dark Eyed juncos, Canyon towhees, and House finches scratching the ground under the tree. Collared doves, Pinion jays, Magpies, sparrows, and Western bluebirds to mention a few, gather in these trees for protection from hawk predation. And when winter winds are fierce and deadly, birds of all kinds seek protection from the bitter cold in the junipers’ thick branches.

 

To survive in dry climates, western junipers have long taproots and extensive lateral root systems that can efficiently obtain moisture where none seems to exist. They are intolerant of shade, so if you are going to plant some give them space and lots of sun.

 

Of particular interest to us during climate change is the way Junipers use water. Rain falling on a juniper canopy is partially intercepted by the foliage, branches, and trunk (this of course is also true for other trees but less so if their canopies are not dense). In brief storms like the few we had this summer much of the intercepted moisture evaporated and did not reach the ground so the tree roots were never watered. Wind has a negative impact during storms also lessening the possibility of the trees’ ability to absorb moisture and we had wind with every brief rain.

Transpiration nourishes the trees and is the process by which water is carried from roots and trunks to the small pores on the underside of leaves, where it changes to vapor and is released to the atmosphere. Transpiration cannot occur in soil that is devoid of moisture so without rain or during brief deluges most of the water becomes run off and even the lateral roots of Junipers (and other trees if they have them) receive little or no water. Transpiration ceases as the Junipers try to conserve what water they already have. In Abiquiu all of our un -watered Junipers (as well as other trees) have been literally starving for water. It is no wonder leaves/ needles withered turned brown and dropped to the ground.

 

Now that it is October and we are getting the first real rain of the year we need to hope that the air temperatures stay mild enough to keep transpiration occurring. Soil water uptake is reduced when the soil temperature is below 50 degrees. If air temperatures are near or below freezing, then very little or no transpiration occurs at all.

 

Adult junipers define our unique landscape with their glacial growth and fragrant aroma. These trees are active during much of the year, and are able to absorb spring runoff to begin transpiration. They are also able to take advantage of soil nutrients long before other trees are awake, making junipers the ideal tree to plant in times of unwelcome planetary change.