Orion’s Defeat*

images-4.jpg

Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and her son.

 

Orion rises over the mountain

The Great Bear races towards the northwest –

Deer are stalked in grim silence.

Bear pad soundlessly through bruised leaves,

dead branches, hyper – aware.

The birds are still except for black crows

whose shrill warnings track madmen.

 

The She Bear circumnavigates the night.

Her son is a compass pointing North.

The Circle of Life, Guidance,

Clarity and Compassion

are gifts offered by patterns

written into the stars overhead.

 

But where are the men who once gazed skyward?

Men who ritualized the story

of the hunter and his prey

taking only what was needed,

begging forgiveness from the animal

that died, people who gave thanks

for the gift of an animal body?

 

Today no one reads the night skies in November.

Instead, a human induced re-enactment –

blood orange and grim

plays out on the stage of the forest floor.

Humility has been replaced by Hubris.

Deer and bear are stalked and shot

not so that others might live, but

to demonstrate the loss

of human compassion and dignity –

to celebrate the sovereignty

of the right to kill.

 

The air is split by shrill blasts of gunshot.

Animals, young and old stagger and fall –

the wounded will suffer and starve in silence.

Others, more fortunate, lie dead.

Stuffed animal heads with horns appear on living room walls –

mirrors for crumbling egos – fractured self images.

 

The trees are keening for animals they lost.

Sapling children bend low in grief.

Frightening Old Women appear as Furies

turning red blood

into haunted night shrieks for Justice.

I screech obscenities or weep,

mimic the screams of

Great Horned owls.

 

When are these stupid men going to get it

that hunting is a “tradition” that is dead?

 

*Although the Great She Bear is chased by Orion as he rises in the eastern sky in the Northeast, he is never destined to catch Her. And as the season passes, Orion descends below the horizon while the She Bear continues her cyclic round.

 

Working notes:

 

Last week I was walking up a familiar wood’s road and noticed a tent – like structure hidden in low brush. When I went over to investigate I discovered to my profound distress that deer grain had been placed on the forest floor to lure deer to the spot. Worse, I knew that deer routinely crossed at this point. Then I saw the camera.

 

I concluded that a man I knew erected this tent as a blind for his seven year old son to help the boy shoot his first spikehorn (a young buck) because he told me that he was tracking the young buck’s movements for his son with a camera. But what stunned me the most was the presence of grain that was being used as bait.

 

Revolted, I kept my feelings to myself. This man’s grandfather was my friend, now 101, and when Roy was young he hunted to put food on the table retaining a hunting ethic of fair chase that I had grudgingly come to respect (my respect was forever tarnished when I learned of the white deer but that is another story). I believed up until last week that Roy’s hunting ethic had been passed on to his grandson. I was wrong.

 

Once, the hunter’s idea of fair chase pitted man against the animal without stacking the deck. Today, all hunting techniques do stack the deck. Web cams have become the eyes of the hunter. The masking of human scent is routinely practiced. An impressive array of technological gadgets are used to help the hunter achieve his goal. Instead of walking, men use four wheelers to reach more inaccessible places where animals might be hiding out. Every hunting season opens when the animals are at their most vulnerable either needing food in order to survive hibernation/winter, as is the case for bears, or during mating season when animals like moose, elk, deer are distracted by their own hormones. Bear hunters use bait, hounds and steel traps to ensure a kill. “Just knowing I can shoot an animal makes me high” one hunter told me without apology.

 

Gradually, as the knowledge of the use of deer baiting to satisfy a seven year old’s pleasure in his first kill seeped into my body, I began to boil with anger. It was illegal to bait deer with grain or food of any kind. Abruptly, I slammed the door on the circle I had once opened with such difficulty. I was a naturalist who loved all animals, wild or tame. When I moved to these mountains thirty years ago I was confronted by the realities of routine animal slaughter each fall. Deer and moose hung outside hunters’ homes on nearby trees bleeding out. Stunned and repelled on a visceral level, I struggled hard not to become as militant as these men apparently were. I made friends with hunters and tried to see their point of view. I learned to respect some although as an animal lover I never surrendered my personal stance. I continued to side with the animals, but I also created space for the hunter’s perspective and in that process surrendered my hatred for these men choosing tolerance instead.

 

With this vignette I come full circle returning to my original position that killing of wild animals is morally and ethically wrong. But what I had learned by painfully traversing the circle is that although I could feel rage without censor on a temporary basis, I couldn’t allow myself to stay there. To do so would align me with animal killers, inside and out, albeit unconsciously (it takes two halves of love/hatred to make a whole). I needed to open and step outside that circle long enough to attempt to include the “other,”

 

While the hunting season continues I feel hopeless rage and grief that so many will die to boost faltering male egos. I make the choice to create space for my hatred of these egregious practices and when the time comes I will also let that hatred go – not for them but for me. This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from living in these mountains.

 

I hold the following position without apology:

There is absolutely no reason for any person to kill an animal or bird even to put food on the table. We have supermarkets for food and programs to assist those who need help with feeding their families (unless that changes no one has an excuse to hunt). Killing any animal for “sport”(a euphemism for fun) or the hunter’s addictive “high” is totally unacceptable because it supports the belief that humans can kill without negative consequences, including the development of potentially lethal addictions the most serious of which is an addiction to war.

 

Although hunters rationalize that that many of them eat what they kill I say – so what? When they whine that hunting is an American tradition I state “change is the only constant.” And when they speak of their “right” to kill animals I know that permission has been tacitly given to kill all other forms of life including humans and that permission is passed on inter –generationally from father to son.

 

Think about my closing sentence the next time you support a hunter’s right to slaughter an innocent animal that has as much right to live as the rest of us do.

Advertisements

The Turning of the Wheel

IMG_2269.JPGIMG_3299.JPG

Today heavy mist shrouds the apple trees and rises like puffs of smoke over the mountains. Every twig is still covered with lush green leaves and every time I look out a window I feel that gratitude pulsing through me – the wonder of being alive. A brilliant green frog inhabits my toad pond. Last night a Datura blossom literally opened before my eyes etched with pale lavender – a moonflower of exquisite fragrance and beauty, and if anything, I appreciate these moon blossoms here more than I did in the desert.

IMG_3296.JPGMy shrinking garden, (now taped in lime green to remind Spencer that flowers grow here along with grass!) has exploded into raucous crimson, deep orange, yellow, pink, a cacophony of color and sound. I say sound because I can imagine that I can hear the flowers singing a song of abundance, gratitude, and praise to all there is…

The first lemon lily pods are ripening, green apples bend the trees low, grapevines are heavy with new fruit, wheat colored celandine spikes are bursting with seed, queen anne’s lace makes nests full of seed, diminutive pale pink poppies keep popping out of a tangle of ajuga runners and fledgling grosbeaks hug the feeders while little gold birds flit back and forth, sunbursts singing up the dawn.

The light is changing. High sun – dappled shade slides into deeper shadow as the sunstar slips lower on the horizon. We have already lost 45 minutes of sunlight to a sultry dusk; that steel sword edge of white summer light is softening, although here in this sanctuary of trees the thinning grassy hair of the Earth’s body is still active growing new shoots and creating more carpets of velvet moss. I can still hear the brook flowing but the sound is muted now. The water table is low from ongoing drought, although this July has given us a lovely reprieve with so many cloud driven days, some with real rain.

I have eaten the first blood red beets and greens from Kathy’s garden and my basil is providing me with salads and pesto that delight my tongue. The scarlet runner beans have bright orange blossoms and early this morning I watched three deer, an aunt, a mother, and a delicate spotted fawn grazing in their bountiful “kitchen” around the house. The fawn trotted down the mossy path as if he knew safety awaited him in the lush pine thickened hollow below.

I have to remind myself that everything I planted here was for the animals…especially when I see the place where my guardian cedar once stood so proudly until the deer stripped her of bark and leaves irreparably mutilating her. When I cut her down, I grieved the loss but accepted it too. I planted this tree as a seedling. I believe that she knew she was loved – oh so deeply – and I hope that was enough.

I have once again become a hermit, except for spending time on the pond watching the eagles take flight from the nest high in a red pine, and walking through this peaceful forest when the gunners sleep.

IMG_3577.JPG

I also write on behalf of bears because the killing season will soon be upon us…Knowing that educating the “white” (death oriented) people around here about these gentle creatures is hopeless I do it anyway for Bb who has suddenly become a night bear… May the Spirit of the Bears step in to redress an imbalance that runs so deep in the hearts of these people that I am left without any hope on a rational level… nothing short of divine intervention can help these intelligent animals who are at such risk. I feel flickers of hope when I think about New Mexico, because they kill bears there too but not with such vengeance and cruelty.

For every season there is a sacrifice and this year my cedar took the fall at my own hand…

The Corn Mothers come into their own at this Feast of the New Grain. Corn is the mother of the Pueblo people… and this year my heart is with the Tewa who are celebrating the coming harvest, giving thanks for whatever rain has fallen, and saying goodbye to the Katsinas who are returning to their mountain homes.

Blessed Be this Mother of the Corn, and the abundance that comes with her Presence, first as Seed Maiden and now in readiness for the coming harvest.

At this Feast of New Grain I give thanks for being alive, for the gift of my beloved dogs and bird Lily B., for the generous hearted people who have stepped in to enrich my life in ways that I could have never imagined, for finally coming to the understanding that I have two home places, not one.

I also cut away what is no longer needed…

Blessed Be.

Shattered

IMG_3233.JPGIMG_3234.JPGIMG_3231.JPG

 When I saw the smashed plate, all its beautiful Mexican pottery shards shattered beyond repair I wanted to weep.

“It was only a plate.”

Oh, but not for me.

An artistic story was painted over red clay, one on each of the plates. These dishes had sustained me for so many years with their astonishing brilliant colors and creative designs – each one unique – their stories held dreams, kept me close to my longing for red earth…

A bad omen, I thought as I threw the shards away (only to retrieve them reverently), thinking suddenly of the pale green Luna moth who had struggled at the window just the night before while I was feeling so ill. In the cool July night the moth frantically sought light from a lamp inside my living room that could not sustain her in her death throes. Oddly, this same lamp once belonged to this great aunt (Baba Willie) and her sisters.

My three plates were created by an unknown artist who is now probably dead. I couldn’t afford them then (or now) but I bought three when I moved into the log cabin I had built, and each time I used them I dreamed of living in another place for the winter – a place where diversity was celebrated – a place where love and a sense of community were actual possibilities – a place where I could once again feel child-like joy in friendship.

Ridiculous you say to make such a fuss out of losing a plate…

Oh, but not for me.

I remembered a childhood story… One of my great aunts had a single dish made of the finest translucent bone china that she treasured. It sat on a finely waxed cherry coffee table in my aunts’ Victorian living room. My little brother and I were allowed to hold the plate to examine its milky texture, to see a white moon streaming through its thin shell…or that’s what we imagined. One day, we were playing and I hit the dish with a small ball by accident. The delicate oval shattered into a thousand small pieces. When my great aunt knelt on the floor to pick up the fragments she couldn’t stop weeping… Catapulted out of my eight year old body I hung helplessly in the air hovering over the scene, horror stricken – How could I have done this terrible thing? A cloud of grief became my shroud.

After my aunt carefully deposited the pieces in the garbage my little brother and I carefully gathered up the fragments from the pail and tried to glue the dish back together. But of course, it was too late.

That summer I “worked” for my grandmother. For every Japanese beetle that I picked off my grandmother’s roses I received a penny. By the end of the summer I saved up twenty dollars (which seemed like a huge amount of money to an eight year old) to buy another “perfect” china dish for my aunt. When I gave her my secret savings as a surprise she wept again as she held me in her arms. I never asked her why this dish was so special (I was too ashamed) but somehow I understood that this oval dish was not a piece of china but a dream that had been lost.

 

 

The Bosque

IMG_1685.JPG

The Bosque

IMG_1697.JPG

Young Cottonwoods

This morning I put on my boots to walk down to the Bosque where the Cottonwoods with their fluttering heart shaped leaves that rustle in the slightest breeze tower over the Russian olives, wolfberry, and gray-green willows. As I open the rusty gate, tufts of white cotton drift down around me carried by a faint breeze because the cottonwood is seeding the moist ground. Here, at least, in this small sanctuary, the trees will regenerate and these elders are already being followed by strong young saplings.

In this magical mystical ephemeral landscape the river’s song is infused with those of a multitude of nesting birds. The Red-winged black birds and Bullock’s orioles are nesting in the giant cottonwood above me and both males announce my presence with warning calls. It’s hard to believe that this magnificent tree is probably only a hundred years old.

Hummingbirds chirp and tweet, well hidden in the tall willow – strewn thickets. As I close the gate I glimpse orange day lilies opening on one side of the path and a clump of Japanese iris blooming with their feet under water almost opposite but nearly hidden in a tangle of vines. The delicate iris are tall and thin with sword-like leaves; the lovely flowers shine like the sun – a golden yellow – some repeat a tricolored pattern with three etched sunbursts inked in pale brown on the tops of the outer three petals. The wide swampy path is partly under water, and I step carefully around ancient horsetails, one of the earth’s first plants, scanning for toad eggs. A little wooden bridge takes me over a small clear stream that feeds into the churning river. The emerald green grasses sway as I pass by, each bending with ripening seed.

IMG_1690.JPG

When I reach higher ground I see the first wild roses, single blossoms, pale and deep pink they open under the sun dappled shade. I marvel that these same small roses also grow almost wild at my home in Maine. Originally I planted one small bush and now these lovely fragrant roses have sprung up everywhere in my own riparian woodlands.

The cat tail marsh

IMG_1684.JPG

For a short time the path is straight and then abruptly turns right. I stand on the wooden bridge that goes nowhere that I can discern and gaze out at the beautiful marsh with its papery wheat colored remnants of last year’s cattails and lovely gray Russian olives in various stages of growth that provide such a lovely contrast to wheat and verdant green. Oh, the Japanese iris are all in bloom at my feet on both side of the wooden board. A hummingbird startles me, hovering above a silky cattail tuft, capturing some of the soft material in her beak and then disappearing in a flash into a tangle of wild clematis.

IMG_1699.JPG

Japanese Iris

IMG_1700.JPG

Retracing my steps from the board back to the path I am led to yet another part of the swamp, one that allows me to cross the bog because carefully placed stones have been placed there. I walk over the damp places just above the waterline. More swamp iris herald the coming summer season clothed as they are in sun gold. Once I pass the cattails I find myself knee deep in emerald green. More wild roses are opening and hummingbirds and thirsty bumbles sip sweet nectar. The Bosque is bursting with the sound of crickets, and the turbulent waters of the river are just beyond to the left.

Arizona Cypress

IMG_1703.JPG

I am stopped in my tracks by the smooth skinned serpent draped gracefully around a clump of willows. The snake watches me intently with one glittering orange eye, while listening to my softly spoken words. “I will not hurt you,” I say as I pass by this magnificent silky skinned copper colored snake – a red racer – people call them. (On my return the snake is still watching me from upside down – his tail and lower body are coiled around the upper willow tips and his head is hidden below in the lower branches!) Who is going to become his lunch I wonder.

Red Racer

IMG_1680.JPG

 

I spy a small oak tree, ringed with stones that are chosen with care. When I come to the wooden sign it too stops me in my tracks because I am not expecting it! The path I have been on is Wildhaus and to continue on San Diego road is where I am headed; the sign points straight ahead. “Home” a third sign gestures to the right with a wooden finger. I choose not to explore this latter pathway; I don’t want to intrude. I linger here for a few moments thinking about the woman who cares so deeply for this natural landscape that together they have become co- creators.

Her gentle touch is evident in the small fruit tree she has staked and ringed with wire, the Arizona cypress and Junipers, the ringed stones, the almost wild flowers, the clearing of this path (which I know from personal experience) takes a huge amount of time and effort. Love seeps through this Bosque, a holy presence that is palpable. Silently, I thank my friend for this priceless gift, before moving on.

The ground is higher now and opens onto a sandy plain of sorts; in the distance a huge clump of Apache Tears stands out, a massive white cluster of primrose blossoms hugs the ground and bright yellow salsify stalks are blushing as they are being pollinated by bees. A massive rock pile captures my attention, and I pick up a few to examine them more closely.

The river is visible now; it’s turbulent coffee colored waters make the most soothing background music of water rumbling over stone. I notice a couple of old beaver sticks pointed at one end. Suddenly, a Great Blue heron is flying overhead, his massive wings moving in slow syncopated rhythm –another ancient relic from the deep past.

IMG_1694.JPG

The River

When I come to the wire fence that defines the edge of this property, I happily retrace my steps allowing the power of the Bosque to flood my senses once again. Each time I come here, I leave with a feeling of renewal, knowing that there are some natural places that are cared for as deeply by others as they are by me. To my mind, places like the Bosque speak to Nature’s Grace incarnating in ordinary time.

What the Red-Winged Blackbirds Say

male+Redwinged+Blackbird-2.jpg

 

Yesterday it snowed. Great white flakes fluttered down like butterflies from the sky and stuck to every leaf and thorn – covering the red earth with a delicate lace shawl. A spring snow is a benediction.

I opened the door and was serenaded by black robed women with wings, singing with wild abandon from the nearest cottonwood tree, as a coffee colored river rushed by… Nature is crafting her own harmony,

Red Willow River is the chorus.

Red –winged blackbirds soar, their high- pitched trills creating a symphony of sound.

Flashing crimson wings whir like fans as they fly by.

I feel hope pulsing through each cell of my body as I join the crowd.

My mind falls silent as I breathe in deep peace…

Oh Daughters of the Night, gift us with your blessing; for you teach us that only the present moment matters… that cycles of becoming are what is – and participation is always our choice.

We must not forget that our strength comes with numbers –

that each life matters.

Life births life,

as death sleeps soundly in the heat of the rising sun.

winter+flock+Redwinged+Blackbirds.jpg

 

Working Notes:

Spring in the high desert is a wondrous event, and I have been blessed by living on Red Willow River close to those who carve relationship out of song.

Spring in the high desert brings wildflowers – primrose and globe mallow – “forget – me –not’s” dressed in delphinium blue – big gray green sage captures all but the most numb through intoxicating scent – and every day births a seed for becoming.

The arrival of the red winged blackbirds ushers in the season of love.

I germinate Datura seeds…

And plant twigs with roots.

We circle big sage with prayer.

Black birds remind us that Nature is both –

fragile and tough.

Nature is Love.

 

Spring Rain

IMG_2918.JPG

For the last couple of days we have had cloudy weather with a few irregular cloudbursts bringing much needed rain to our Juniper clustered high desert…When it rains earth tones deepen and the stones that line my paths standout like people. Perhaps they are Kachinas, after all.

Katchinas are on my mind because these holy people come down from the mountains to help the Tewa invoke the rain – gods that will help the crops grow. Squash, corn, and beans remind me that the Three Sister’s technology lives on. The Katchinas have been around since the winter solstice but they stay hidden until the spring dances begin…

IMG_2929.JPG

Acequia (above)

Some fields are already plowed and the acequias are brimming with rapidly flowing water. Every morning I awaken to the sound of my dove Lily B’s cooing and as soon as I step out the door I am serenaded by the song of flocks of red winged blackbirds and the rasping sound of cactus wrens. The cacophony is so intense that it drowns out the mating songs of the white crowned sparrows, finches, chickadees, nuthatches, canyon and spotted towhees, white winged and collared doves. But the magpie announces himself in a startling way, not just by his stark black and white coat, a dress with tails, but also by his sharp staccato call. It seems as if the birds take over the earth as the seed moon and spring equinox pass by in March. Last night’s crescent moon sliced through a midnight blue night sky.

I am obsessed with frogs because at this time of year the wood frogs are already croaking if winter in the northeast has been mild. This one has not. Last year I arrived in the desert too late to listen to the frogs that only appear during the first monsoon flooding of early summer. Frogs and water are intimately related, and all frogs and toads begin their lives in still pools, as eggs that hatch with the heat of the rising sun star. May the frogs live on!

IMG_2936.JPG

Red Willow river overflows her banks, whitecaps whirl in spirals as she rushes by in the morning mist. This river brings precious moisture to germinating seeds who will soon be emerging from winters’ sleep.

I am preparing Datura seeds for planting, imagining the lavender tipped trumpet shaped flowers, glowing pearl white at twilight while thanking the sky with their scent. Every drop of water that falls from the sky is a prayer for life.

Below: Sunset

IMG_2934.jpg

I weave bits of big sage into my braids so the perfume wafts into my nose, even as I breathe in the sweet scent of spring. I am filled with gratitude to be living in a place where the songs of birds, the planting of seeds, a warming sun, and the greening of sage and desert scrub fit together like a mosaic whose pieces complement one another with such perfection. Nature is the artist whose cycles of creation never cease to amaze me. Filled with wonder I give thanks for life.

Postscript: When I finished this post I went for a walk along the river and on a bench sat two stones that weren’t there before. I think the Katchinas must approve of this prose because they left me evidence of their presence!

River Muses

IMG_2904.jpeg

As the river rises with spring melt from the mountains, Abiquiu dam opens flooding the river to overflowing. The men come to clean the acequias or ditches that will bring life bringing water into the fields to irrigate the crops. All the farmers share this precious water, and having “water rights” determines whether crops will thrive or perish…

Every morning a shimmering golden orb mirrors the river whose serpentine shape and echoing voice welcomes me as I walk out to feed the birds and walk my dogs. I respond to her rumbling roar of water on stone with a prayer of thanksgiving for the gift of water, the rising sun, and a new day spent in this place of unimaginable beauty.

I have fallen in love with a river.

What Spirits decreed that I might live here for a time?

For months I climbed to the ruin of Poshuouinge to glimpse the serpentine path of water meandering below wondering what stories the river held close to her heart. Generations of Tewa speaking Pueblo peoples lived here along the river’s banks, women digging mud, shaping pots out of wet clay, creating art with agave brushes, men carving swiftly flying arrows, clearing the acequias, planting, harvesting, hunting giving thanks for the river’s generosity…people struggling to live in harmony with the land they called “Mother.”

Yet there was much suffering too. Too much blood was shed. Children and women were stolen by those who believed they had more “rights” than others, people who used other people and earthscapes for personal gain. Yet the People endured and some live on today in Pueblos scattered along the river.

Is this why the river tells me that I too must be steadfast, make peace with a troubled past, leave land that I love deeply, come to live here as a child would, trusting the river’s ebb and flow?

Is this why I have met such generous hearted people, people I could come to love?

Did the river draw them to her just as she calls to me now?

These questions haunt me because Place has a kind of Power that works invisibly through Fate and body/mind pulling a person into relationship with a particular element – like the water of this river – but this power never uses words to communicate. Instead, Nature calls her red winged blackbirds to sing their hearts out as I listen fervently for confirmation.

These black robed muses are answering my call.

It is up to me to make the choice to believe these birds whose Presence I see and hear, but whose message I cannot as yet feel.