What the Red-Winged Blackbirds Say

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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.

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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

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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…

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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!

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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

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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

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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.

The Seed Moon – A Time for Ritual and Reflection

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Guardians…

Early Sunday morning the moon will be full and if I am fortunate I will be able to watch her rise over Red Willow River… a river that I have fallen in love with… (I did)

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I think of the Indigenous peoples who have marched in Washington in protest of a pipeline that if completed will pollute their drinking water. The political situation has never seemed more frightening than it is today.

Water is Life – simple and profound.

Every spring I honor the rising waters… and the importance of this element to all living beings. All sentient beings including humans are made of water.

In Maine where I come from, the dreaded white gaze of a March sun is reflected on heaps of snow. The noonday star hurts my eyes and brings on another round of depression because of the ongoing drought… every single year.

Here in Abiquiu I feel joy and I think about water because there is so little rainfall over all. Even desert plants need water to thrive. Each day I see that at the base of many plants there is new growth. I have already seen diminutive wildflowers in bloom. At the monastery big sage has 4 inches of new growth and the scent of this plant is intoxicating.

Two of these big sage plants sit outside my door listening to the river’s song.

Last weekend I saw an Indian man rub the sage onto his hands and body like a prayer. I repeat the gesture with big sage, giving thanks for the changing seasons.

This is the month to celebrate the rising of the waters. This is the month to pray for rain… Here in the southwest I don’t feel alone because the Pueblo peoples have ceremonies that call down the rain gods every year beginning with the Katchinas that arrive around the Winter Solstice, but remain invisible until First Light, when they appear as part of the purification process…In March the night dances dominate, and these are secret ceremonies that no doubt have everything to do with water. Next month the dam will open, and the acequias will be cleaned, so that the precious river water can flow into the ditches to irrigate the fields in this valley. How can I not be aware of how critical water is to all life…?

The Redwing blackbirds have just arrived. Robins are singing from the cottonwoods as talkative and clown-like magpies in black and white coats swoop down from those same branches. I don’t know if the redwing blackbirds will move on, but I hope not. I long to hear the songs of these black robed women with wings… The desert floor is covered with tiny bird prints – bird hieroglyphics – towhees, sparrows, juncos, nuthatches, woodpeckers, chickadees, cactus wrens, scurry around drinking water, swallowing seeds, pecking fat, seeking temporary safety and shelter in the prickly shrubs and vines. The shining rust colored feathers of the relentless redtails soar overhead hoping to spot an unwary avian relative. Yesterday a kestrel flew into the thickly branched tree (whose name I don’t know) scattering well hidden white crowned sparrows. Interesting technique!

I am happier here than I have ever been…I have a life with Nature, with her flowing river waters, her white moon, her wild birds and with her people – I am not alone – even the politics of this place seem to suit me.

 

  • So let the desert and the moon and stars know than I feel gratitude flowing through me on this Watery Full Moon. I give thanks for my beloved dogs, for Lily B who is napping on his perch in our bedroom, for finding good and generous friends…I call out greetings to a white moon who rises in the east and brings the birds home…

 

  • I ask to stay with the process I am in… to be present for myself.

 

Keep me honest with myself… to keep listening to the truth of my body…

 

I honor Grandmother Moon and her grandsons. remembering my own beloved grandmother, thanking her for loving me fiercely.

 

I bless each of us with water from Red Willow river and thank her for bringing us to this place.

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Spring on the Wing

 

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Northern Flicker

 

Three long- necked Sand -hill cranes fly over the house.

V shaped flocks of geese sound a collective cry.

Woodpeckers drum.

 

Magical flying dragons are stirring….

 

All who listen hear that that the skies are shifting, avian travelers are underway.

Juncos, cactus wrens, sparrows, doves, towhees, peep and scratch

in a tangle of vines, rosy willows, and old papery leaves that tumble around under bare –leafed trees.

 

Magpie replies to inquiries made about his health,

a study in black and white, he mimics Katchinas

who have been biding their time in volcanic hills and calderas, conversing with deer…

 

I leap out of bed to glimpse an orange globe rising

Lily, my house dove, Lily rings in the hour.

 

Delicate sea green rosettes appear, mandalas spiraling on the desert floor.

Tufts of fury gray blue sage emerge – still wrinkled from sleep.

 

Red Willow River sings her love song of life bringing water

to the fierce white heat of a morning sun.

 

3/4/17

 

Working notes:

I wrote this prose after seeing the Sand –hill cranes flying over sand colored earth and the blue – green river while I fed my birds yesterday morning. Birds always usher in spring before anyone else seems to notice with their songs and also because many of our bird species migrate. This year I just learned that the northern flicker that migrates from here in the Mountains of Northern Mexico is not the same one that comes to Maine! Northern flickers that fly east have bright yellow underwings, while those that go west are painted a brilliant orange.

After too many long Maine winters I am delighted to be experiencing spring –like temperatures in early March. Here in New Mexico the first buds are swelling and desert perennials (some with spikes!) are greening up from red, buff, or sand colored earth. As an earth person, by which I mean a woman whose body/mind is exquisitely tuned to the nuances of each season, I am particularly grateful to be experiencing a warming sun, buds swelling, a river flowing, and birds singing during this “Month of the Mothers” without a thick white crusty blanket of snow covering the ground.

March is the month when the waters begin to rise… In ancient times The first Mother’s Day was celebrated March 25th, just after the spring equinox when longer days and increasingly intense light awakens plants and animals from their winter sleep.

 

Below: Artist Iren Schio’s partial rendering of a dragon… his long body is hidden from sight.

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Red Willow River

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Winding through the valley the river tells ancient stories about the peaceful people who lived along her red willow banks, long ago… I can almost see the women who gathered slender branches and made spiral baskets as the horned owl stood watch from the heavily ridged bark of the cottonwood trunk, perching so close to her center that his presence went almost unnoticed.

Softly rounded clay pots were fashioned from the clay in these waters by these same women whose handprints also remain on the adobe walls they plastered in the pueblo just across the river. Distinctive pots stored precious corn, squash, and bean seeds dried and ready for spring planting. Preparations were under way by the men who would still be practicing for the last of the winter hunting dances. Each animal acknowledged as a relative through the footsteps of each dancer – turtle, deer, antelope, and buffalo – each song a prayer of gratitude for the animal who sacrificed itself so the people could have meat to nourish their bodies, to keep them strong. Soon the men would begin clearing the ditches of winters’ debris. Each spring snow melt from the mountains floods the river to overflowing and these ditches will irrigate gardens and orchards, germinating new seeds.

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The Tewa once pecked pictures of the serpentine river on high desert stones and named him Avanyu. The serpent flicked tongues of lightening, spit thunderous roars and called down the rains with the holy people who came down from the mountains to help the people grow their precious crops. In the spring the Bow and Arrow dance was performed in his honor, and this tradition continues in Nambe today.

Water is life and the Pueblo people have not forgotten the importance of this essential element to all those who inhabit her desert, especially in the spring. Knowing that the elements of water, fire, earth and air continue to be honored by others as well as by myself offers me hope that the Gift that is Life will not succumb to the now catastrophic death-seeking human climate…

At dawn the sun bleeds red roses into the river and overhead the geese are climbing into a blushing sky; they too follow the curves of the deep blue green river… Mallards skim the surface of her waters, and a golden eagle soars out of an old cottonwood tree nearby.

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When I walk the little path I am lining with stones broken pottery shards appear out of red earth at my feet. A bevy of birds skitter through wiry thickets, perching in bushes and small trees waiting for me to break the ice and fill their water dishes. Nuthatches, chickadees, towhees, juncos, finches, sparrows, the magpie – In the brief time I’ve been here I count sixteen new species, not including water – fowl. Sandhill cranes spread the word that spring is coming with their haunting songs joining the rest of the aerial crowd flowing with and flying along the river. In my mind I imagine that I can see with the eagle’s golden eye this wending stream, a path made of water, snaking her way to the sea.As I approach and open a rusty rose sculptured creaking gate some geese and ducks are resting on stones that form riffles and ribbons of quicksilver under a shimmering sun. Far away to the west the wind begins to blow… I am a woman in waiting. The rising waters of the coming season seem to be flowing through my body too.

River of Life

In the Beginning, First Light

 

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Avanyu, the Horned Serpent belongs to the Tewa Pueblo people of New Mexico. He is the Spirit of Water and Life and he begins moving up from the underworld or Sip- pa – pu at this time of year.

The underworld is not a negative place in Pueblo mythology. All spirits rise up from below. The spirits of Tewa speaking peoples return to the underworld at the time of their deaths.

Avanyu is a powerful Serpent. He is unpredictable and presides over endings and beginnings, changes, transitions. He is also the Spirit of transformation.

The Tewa say that Avanyu once fought the evil spirit of drought, a fiery comet that spiraled down from the sky. Victorious, Avanyu brought the rains that fell upon the Earth and created the rivers that were shaped like Avanyu’s body.

Each spring at the Tewa pueblos the Bow and Arrow dance is held in his honor.

First Light is upon us. The days grow longer, birds are singing and the sun’s heat will soon awaken sleeping seeds. Like the Tewa,  I turn towards the river seeking solace and feeling hope when I hear the sound of water flowing over stone.

At the river’s edge I honor you, Avanyu, as the Spirit of Life that manifests through rising waters.

Avanyu,

The Tewa pray to you by dancing your sinewy body. I invoke you through words.

At dusk alpine glow burnishes your reptilian body, still frozen by blue waters.

Will you thaw and bring the rains to our thirsty desert, transforming dull grays to sage green?

Will you awaken the seeds of sacred Datura who need the sun’s warmth and your precious moisture to germinate?

Will I find your faded serpentine image on another canyon wall?

Your thunderbolts strike without warning – crackling lightening seeks grounding in dry dusted earth.

I fear you – yet you are the Spirit of Life rising out of troubled waters – you bring hard rains to soak thirsty rabbit brush, desert grasses, fragrant juniper trees and pinion pines.

I hear your rasping voice tell me that change is all there is. But I can choose to seek higher ground when your floodgates open…

I pray that the Spirit of Life be birthed in this woman’s body to strengthen her for what will come.

Snakes and women are wed as one…

And like you, I too would like to wear more than one skin!

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