The Kind Neighbor

 

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In the dream I am underground in a dark mucky muddy tunnel thinking that I have found a path through but as I keep going it becomes apparent that I will not be able to go on. I reverse directions to no avail; the way is closing in around me and there is no way out.

 It would be one thing if this dream was simply an isolated nightmare, but the theme of ‘no way out’ has taken up permanent residence in my psyche. I have reached the point of fearing to have yet another bad dream with no hope of escape.

I have relied on my dreams as friends for most of my life; they impart truths I could not have imagined. And yes, some have alerted me to physical danger or death for me and for those of my beloved animals, both wild and tame.

Something has gone very wrong because over these past two years my dreams have become demonic, almost as if there has been some kind (of internal – external – both?) takeover by an “enemy” whose identity remains veiled. I have reached the point where I dread having dreams. And I am bereft because I feel as if I have lost a precious compass that helps directs my life.

In my day life I have been struggling with physical illness for two out of the three years I have been here in New Mexico. This illness began about eight months after becoming friends with a neighbor.

I met ‘kind neighbor’ the first year I spent here. Although there was never any possibility of a sexual relationship – I made that much clear – he seemed nice enough, and was very kind to me. I believed then a genuine friendship was possible. I returned to Maine that first summer with the idea that I might move here permanently. But when I returned the following November the craziness began. The moment I moved into his house – I was waiting for a casita to be finished – owls started hooting at night. I was forced to move out in seven weeks because I couldn’t keep up with the bizarre shifts in moods or vindictive behavior I was witnessing, or my escalating rage towards this man. I experienced what I call his “dark side” as a sickening betrayal.

I was stuck. It was mid –winter. The house was shut up. I couldn’t return to Maine. Then I became ill. This physical illness left me weakened in body and soul. Somewhere inside me during those terrible months I hung onto the belief that some kind of genuine friendship was still possible, a friendship that would allow me to stay because I loved New Mexico. To this day I do not know if this was pure delusion. I do know I spent the whole winter trying to figure out what had gone wrong between us while he thwarted me at every turn.

By spring I was ready to return North permanently when suddenly he shifted gears and once again became “kind neighbor.” Black or white. I bought the ruse if it was one, because I wanted to stay and I hoped that we had reached a plateau of mutual acceptance. I moved into the casita and stayed for another year barely surviving a monstrously hot summer that left me housebound from the intolerable heat for five months.

During that period I had two dreams both of which told me that I must return to Maine.

By the end of that deadly desert summer I was convinced that my dreams had been right.

The following spring I returned to that home, falling in love with luminous green, rain, my blossoming fruit trees, wetlands, a brook, a forest full of the animals I loved, realizing finally that I would never move to the desert permanently even if heat and illness hadn’t been an issue.

For about a year prior to my return North I had also been wondering if the altitude in NM also had something to do with my inability to sleep, rapid heartbeat, unrelenting headaches, wooziness. Apparently I had been right to some extent.

Physically I felt so much better, I was able to walk, swim, kayak, write prolifically and attend to a small garden. It was then that I was diagnosed with emphysema, although it didn’t seem to affect my ability to wander through the woodlands.

I became ambivalent about returning south, wondering if my health would suffer. I also worried with respect to ‘kind neighbor’ whose mean streak continued to frighten me. I never knew when these (apparently?) unwarranted attacks would occur because he was never honest with me regarding his feelings. Naturally, the resulting confusion left me with a permanent sense of “dis –ease” that made it necessary for me to keep a solid distance between us.

My neighbor and I are opposites. I am a daughter of earth and fire. I am in love with the natural world, a writer who must use a pen to save her life and to educate others, most recently to the precarious state of the planet that is struggling to save her own life at least in terms of the non – human species that are still extant. I am also a woman with integrity; I am honest to a fault and willing to be accountable for my mistakes. I also have a volatile personality; my worst flaw is that I do get angry easily and openly express my negative feelings, sometimes without tempering my anger with rational thinking. Instead of using restraint I explode, not a quality I admire. As a woman with deep feeling I am also a woman with a deep need to communicate with others on a meaningful level with some consistency.

By contrast, my neighbor is the original stone man who lives his life in his head as a detached and self – centered intellectual turned artist who is basically indifferent to others or their needs. He doesn’t care much for nature. He’s quite deaf and pretends to hear what people say. He has a superficial persona of helpfulness even “sweetness” that I personally find cloying, especially since he is in truth also an arrogant man who believes that he is better than others. He keeps this quality well hidden. At the same time he can also be decent and very kind. This is the crazymaker.

With all these differences on the table I made plans to return to Abiquiu for one more winter on a tentative basis. Then a heart abnormality showed up on a final test my doctor had ordered just before I left Maine this fall.

In addition I discovered a week before leaving that I had a crumbling foundation that would have to be repaired. A monstrously expensive undertaking, one that I could ill afford. I was fortunate to be able to get the necessary financing but the work won’t begin until spring. To say I was and am stressed out with worry would be an understatement.

With all these new problems mushrooming, my neighbor insisted upon flying up to Maine to accompany us to New Mexico.

He then began to behave very strangely – suddenly refusing to bring back the car – a car I needed for winter transportation.

Uh – oh I thought.

On the way to the airport I asked him to pass me my backpack that held my computer. He was sitting in the front seat and literally threw the entire 50 lb pack over his head where it hit the floor of the back seat with a sickening thud.

In the airport he went berserk hurling an open can of dog food across the entire room when I told him that he could not check this item. A man who witnessed this behavior came up to me and said “that man should have been arrested; he’s crazy.”

Since our arrival he has been so mean that I am angry and exhausted with him and myself in equal measure. I am the kind of feminist who quite naturally responds to injustice with fury so I want to repeat that I am not an innocent victim here. Initially, I fought back meeting his hostility with my own. As I see it, I need to be accountable for my anger that hooks in to his selfishness and dishonesty, his astounding lack of accountability. The mean streak is another matter. I find it deadly.

At present I am struggling to make a sane decision regarding my future. I am currently awaiting further heart testing to determine what happens next. In the meantime I have been ill every day since I arrived. Altitude sickness?  Certainly depression.

Because of the construction work that must be done on my house I will be forced to leave here by April to deal with my neighbor’s car, a vehicle that will obstruct construction before it begins. Another huge expense is winter plowing that I must do so that the road remains open to my house. I am dealing with the present situation as best as I can, weighing my options carefully

And this returns me to last night’s dream. It is impossible for me not to make the correlation between two plus years of bad dreams, my worsening physical condition, and this peculiar relationship between my neighbor and myself. I ignored the first two dreams that told me to leave New Mexico after the first year I spent here, and now I dream that no matter what I do the walls are closing in.

I wrote this soliloquy to help me understand how I reached this point and how to proceed from here. Blaming is useless. It is chilling that this last dream leaves me without alternatives. Is it really possible that there is no hope?

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Making the Choice to Go On

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Yesterday was my birthday. Because I have spent so many alone, going on a picnic to a mountainous place with Iren made this day very special. We listened to the sound of rushing water as two streams cascaded down the reptilian junipered mesas to meet just in front of the spot where my friend spread a blue and white checked tablecloth on the ground… afterwards we explored the surrounding streams marveling at the emerald green watercress that grows in such abundance here. Historically watercress grows only in pure waters so I am a bit baffled by the fact that this crystal clear water is apparently polluted.

 

Some boys caught rainbow trout, luminous fish left to gasp for air even as I begged the one to kill the fish. As usual, my request for mercy was dismissed… I should be used to not being heard; naturalists are not taken seriously because we do our work in the field…but each dismissal diminishes the life force in me in some indefinable way. I am growing weary from a life spent advocating for non – human species…

 

There are dancing junipers growing here. Their gray green feathery needles seem more like leaves as they sway in light breezes. These junipers must have adequate water to thrive, and those that were growing around us were blossoming – their bell –like shapes stand out from all the other trees.

 

Iren and I examined the woodbine that had wound itself around a tree. This vigorous plant has bright red stems of deep blue or purple berries and the leaves turn crimson in the fall. Here in the high desert this deep red rivals that of the swamp maples in the northeast and provides a sharp contrast to the deepening gold of the cottonwoods.

 

Each day I have been looking for the first signs of summer’s waning… and the gift I received from Nature yesterday was to glimpse bunches of gleaming golden splotches of heart shaped leaves that were visible on Cottonwoods in every direction…

 

Ah, the turning has begun though the hot summer temperatures continue. An early morning greeting from my two house lizards reminded me that the day would be too hot, and it was…but nothing could diminish the simple pleasure of this simple repast by the waters…

 

Later, when the sky began to darken I sat outside listening to a symphony of cicadas reflecting upon the day and feeling gratitude that I was able to be present for the gifts that had come my way. My thoughts drifted to the Black bears I love so much and an old man who has spent his entire life advocating for these wild creatures without ever giving up, although professionally his visionary perspective has created almost impossible difficulties for him…

 

I recalled a conversation we had last summer about enduring during times of great distress. The words he spoke have stayed with me.

 

“What else can we do but go on?”

A Valley Steeped In Rain

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Sweetly scented falling rain is one of the greatest gifts of early summer. The canopies of luminous green deepen their shades with each drop; my chimes ring softly. The brook swells tumbling over moss covered stone, as I listen for the first tree frog and toad trill. There is a peace in me, a need to stay in this moment in this fog filled valley sweetened by lilac and flowering crabapples. To be fully present to the sound of water cascading from the roof, soaking in the moisture, breathing as the frog does, through her own skin, feeling my breath rise deep out of my belly instead of high in my breast – the fragrance of rain; these are the greatest presents Nature can offer me…

 

While listening to the stillness that rain brings I reflect upon the fact that the madmen of this world with their stupid guns, screaming cars, relentless killing machines don’t like streams of water. It seems ironic that these bullies are silenced by this element that so nourishes the Earth (this statement is not biased – women and girls around here are not doing these things – boys and men are).

 

Perhaps this is one reason I love rain.

 

But there are others…

 

My too sensitive eyes feast upon the shadowy greens of the forest that surrounds me without a need for glasses. Dreaming. Last night’s dream reminded me that, no matter what, I need to feel gratitude for the circle of stones that I see before me in this woodland forest.

 

Lately, gratitude has eluded me. With the sun reaching high in the northeast dawn comes too soon. Even here, the days seem endless. Lack of sleep and illness sap my soul – body of strength, just as superficial conversation drains me. I am too much alone here, and forget why it’s often by choice.

 

People may be absent but Nature is ever present and always ready to converse with me through leaf and flower, bird and bear. Last night’s visit from Tree Bear was especially satisfying because of his own accord this yearling has ceased to fear me unless I get too close to him with my camera. When he moans or clacks his teeth in frightening dismay I move quickly away. I too suffer from an overload of anxiety so I am always talking, reassuring him that he’s safe with me. Yesterday, for the first time, when he trotted towards the forest for safety, he turned back at the sound of my voice, reversing his direction. Recently separated from mother and sister perhaps like me, he needs a new friend. Being with bears keeps me present to the moment much like rain does.

 

Cardinals have the same effect. This morning the cardinal sang just outside my bedroom window. And just as if I hadn’t been absent for three years I knew he was calling me to scatter seed on the ground for him, which I promptly did. Now I am remembering when the first female cardinal arrived clicking at my window to get my attention many years ago…

 

Although I kept birdseed in the feeder cardinals prefer to eat on the ground. When I stopped putting seed down because of too many squirrels the cardinals disappeared for months. I was bereft but felt that I had no choice. My only recourse was to trap more squirrels, and by then I knew this was not the answer.

 

The following fall a female cardinal appeared outside my bedroom window clicking, it seemed to me, with excitement. I quickly went out and put a small amount of seed on the ground feeling astonishment when the female arrived in seconds to feed. This incident became the beginning of a new story and pattern of relating between the cardinals and me, and the female cardinal led the way.

 

Even though the story continued with others who joined the female when they wanted food, I never moved beyond the initial amazement/awe I experienced when one female cardinal solved the problem for all of us so effectively!

 

When I left home for New Mexico in August three years ago I knew that this time the cardinals would not be following me because there were none in the Southwest.

 

Imagine my joy when I came east almost four weeks ago and discovered a bevy of cardinals singing in a lush forest glade in Virginia. I couldn’t escape the feeling that they were welcoming me home.

 

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On the second morning of my return I heard a male cardinal singing nearby. I promptly and hopefully dispersed seed on the grass and was stunned to see a crimson jewel fly down to feed. The male cardinal has been visiting at different times during the day ever since, and always at dusk. Two days ago when the male clicked and whistled his beautiful song I sprinkled seed as usual, and then I heard a tiny voice singing the identical song in a tinny high-pitched tone. It took me a minute to understand what was happening. The male was teaching the youngster how to capture my attention for food. How wondrous! I realized then that I was witnessing one way the cardinals passed information onto their youngsters (another way might be through a paradigm that was established by cardinals who knew the original instructions –“both and”). I am so grateful that at least one resident cardinal still knew the story and was paying it forward.

 

Although the summer solstice is on the horizon with its raging bouts of heat and noise, at least for today, I am cradled by a valley steeped in rain…

April’s Frog Moon Resurrection

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The Frog Moon Mystery

 

April’s second spring moon was almost full as she rose through the cracks of the cottonwoods. The acequias were filling across/down the field and a small amount of rain had fallen two days earlier. Diminutive lime green leaves feathered the trees. I was just walking in the house when I heard the call.

 

I stopped dead in my tracks, stunned. Then wondered if I was having some kind of audio – hallucination. A paracusia, or audio hallucination is a form of hallucination that involves perceiving sounds without auditory stimulus.

 

After all, it had three years since I had heard one of the most beloved sounds that I associate with spring…I kept listening, sat down on the steps, my ears on fire. The unmistakable trill.

 

After a timeless pause, the practical side of me took over. I entered the house, got my recorder, and began recording the song.

 

I have been listening to the musical trill of tree frogs since I was a child, and I knew this song by heart. A gray tree frog was singing just beyond what I call the magic portal, a natural cathedral framed by bowed cottonwoods that opens into the next field.

 

After about an hour of listening and recording even the skeptic in me was forced to accept that this really was a gray tree frog. Sadly, I never heard a female’s answering call. It was also clear that this male frog was not being challenged by other tree frogs (who call out to establish territories as well as to attract females) because there apparently were no others in the area.

 

This latter fact did not surprise me. All frogs have been endangered since the 1960’s and many have become extinct.

 

“In Silent Spring” written in 1962 a brilliant and dedicated biologist, and true “mother of the environmental movement” warned us about the Great Silence that was about to descend upon us as a result of indiscriminate pesticide use, and no one listened.

 

Frogs and toads are the canaries of water, land and air. Because they breathe through their skin they are indicators of the massive amounts of pollution we are allowing to consume our planet “forgetting,” of course, that eventually these pollutants will kill humans too (the ultimate dis-connect).

 

Just before I went to bed that night I opened the door and heard the solitary tree frog crying out to the moon.

 

The next morning I compared my recording with the songs of grey tree frogs online, and of course they were identical.

 

For two days I researched every New Mexican tree frog and listened to about 50 recordings and came up with nothing that sounded like the recording I had.

 

How could this be? Grey tree frogs are denizens of the wetlands and forested areas of the northeast – east of the Rockies.

 

Meanwhile, my beloved gray tree frog is still singing his heart out even during the day, something I have never heard any of the Maine gray tree frogs do unless rain or heavy mist blanketed the mountains. At these times they sing periodically.

 

As of this writing, even in the wind my little friend is still calling – the voice of yearning crying out in the wilderness… Three days in a row.

 

At present I have no answer to this particular mystery and welcome any commentary the reader might have.

 

What follows is a little natural history on these one to two inch frogs that come in every shade of gray to green, depending upon the vegetation they inhabit.

 

The gray tree frog’s scientific name is Hyla versicolor. The frog’s ability to alter its skin color also changes with respect to the time of day and the surrounding temperature. When my brother and I were children we would capture these frogs and place them on leaves, lily pads, wild grasses, bark, lichen etc. just to watch how fast they could change color! Their skin becomes much lighter at night and darker during the day.

 

Gray tree frogs hibernate in the winter by taking refuge in trees. They survive sub -zero temperatures by producing glycerol to “freeze” during which time they also stop breathing while still being able to maintain interior metabolic processes. A virtual miracle, that.

 

Supposedly the gray tree frog’s range covers much of the eastern United States, from northern Florida to central Texas and north to parts of southeastern Canada but obviously, some of these frogs are moving west, or were here in the first place. Tree frogs are an arboreal species that occupies a variety of wooded habitats. They are most often found in forests, swamps, on agricultural lands and in wooded backyards.

 

All need access to trees and a water source. I don’t know when it occurred to me that I am surrounded by the perfect habitat here as well as in Maine. When gray tree frogs are young and newly metamorphosed, they usually remain near the forest floor tucked into bark, detritus, or high grasses; later they transition to the forest canopy. As an adult I have captured some that like to hide in the rough bark of the white pines next to my brook (Maine).

 

Adult gray tree frogs mainly prey upon different types of insects at night because they are nocturnal. Mites, spiders, plant lice, snails and slugs are common prey. They may also occasionally eat smaller frogs, including other tree frogs. They search for insects in trees, where they can climb vertically or move horizontally with their fantastic toe pads that cling like suction cups.

 

The males begin trilling in early spring, shortly after emerging from hibernation. In the mid-range areas males begin calling in late April to early May. In Maine I don’t begin to hear them until late May. Males call to females from trees and bushes that are usually close to overhanging streams or standing water.

 

The exact timing of breeding for gray tree frogs varies based on temperature and their location throughout the range. Most reproduction takes place early on, although the musical trilling lasts from late April to early August (May through September in Maine). Individuals may mate up to three times in a season.

 

Males are very territorial and will fight other males to defend their area. Fights may last 30 to 90 seconds and consist of wrestling, shoving, kicking and head butting until the subordinate male retreats. Females are sexually di-morphic (bigger) and initiate mating by approaching a calling male.1,000 to 2,000 eggs which are externally fertilized by the male. Since actual mating occurs while the frogs are floating in water, eggs are deposited into the water in small clusters, attached to a reed or some kind of floating debris. Tadpoles usually hatch after three to seven days, depending on the water temperature. As youngsters, these frogs are painted scarlet or orange-vermilion with black blotches around the edge of the crests, so unlike other species they are easy to identify. Bodies and tails are patterned with many specks of black and gold. Like most tadpoles, they eat algae and organic detritus found in the water. Tadpole development depends on water temperature and is variable, but vernal pools must have standing water for some time, a real challenge here in Abiquiu.

 

After three days of trilling this poor little frog must be exhausted. I can only hope that there is one female that will hear his call…

Personal Note:

I wrote the above piece for a publication after having what for me was and continues to be an extraordinary experience  with a tree frog that doesn’t even belong in the desert – a frog that is so dear to my heart.

My childhood memories are permeated with frogs. While most kids had dolls I befriended a large squealing amphibian which i took to bed with me at night. Additionally my little brother and I loved caught, and studied these remarkable amphibians and I cannot think about frogs without conjuring up my brother’s spirit from the deep. Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day I finally buried his ashes on my land in Maine (just below the house), nestled against a glacial  granite boulder covered with lichen moss and ferns, the resting place situated just beyond the brook. This burial of his ashes occurred after a waiting period of 32 years… I had no idea at the time that it was Earth Day because i never celebrated it – every day is an Earth Day for a naturalist like me.

Each year around Davey’s burial day I have unusual experiences – usually with a hawk – and indeed one occurred yesterday when a Kestral landed on the porch and just hung out there for about ten minutes even though the bird could clearly see me moving around. I thought, oh, Davey’s spirit is moving close by. I don’t believe in god or any kind of after life, but my lifetime experiences have taught me that something of the person must live on – or can be accessed after death. For me, these apparitions occur as an encounter with some natural force – an animal bird etc and I am always moved from one perception of reality to another – beyond or outside time – this is what mysticism is all about.

It wasn’t until I wrote this article that I realized that the visit from the hawk was only part of this year’s Davey encounter and that another one was already in progress with the coming of Gray Tree Frog. The hawk is a visceral presence year after year reinforcing the power of the relationship between us. But the frog signifies  – dare I say the word? – resurrection from death to life, transmutation, transformation, rebirth, are all part of this creature’s animal powers and are inextricably woven into this story about Davey and me. So, something is shifting here on a personal level, although I don’t pretend to have any idea what it is.

Add to this “holy week”. I have been writing about Earth’s crucifixion every day – submitting a few articles for publication even though I knew how radical my ideas would be perceived. Not surprisingly, only one essay was published – silence – around the others.  Evidently to write about Earth’s Bodily crucifixion during holy week just doesn’t sit well with the DOMINANT christian overlay, the SPLIT OF MIND AND BODY, the SPLIT OF SPIRIT from the BODY OF THE EARTH and the power of its flow even in otherwise broadminded venues… oddly I am not upset – especially because this gives me insight into WHAT IS.

But there is something to the fact that this frog who doesn’t belong here in the first place and surely will not be able to breed here is still crying out on resurrection day.

‘Ugly Pond’

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(ditch as yet not really dug from the gutter to the pond and ‘ugly pond’ trnasforming)

 

It is the second day of March, the first day (2019) our high desert has been gifted with rain. Thick clouds hung heavy over a shark gray sky this morning obscuring the sunrise, and imagining a few drops of water, I spread some wild seed on cracked bare ground and raked it in with a kind of wild hope while I was waiting for Andrew to arrive.

 

My dear young friend unloaded some river stones to ring the two baby pear trees. We also planned to use some around the “pond” after Andrew finished digging and sinking the whiskey barrel into the ground. My gratitude for Andrew runs deep. I cannot do the kind of heavy garden work I used to, and to have a friend who can and has the same sort of vision that I do about the way to work with Nature and not against her is such an astonishing gift.

 

After sinking the barrel we began to place some stones around the round mud filled depression and then I added some Chert (flint) that I had collected from Changing Woman’s Mountain. That’s when I suddenly saw it, the way the pond was supposed to look when finished. Mixing hunks of rusty red, ebony, smoke gray, pink, deep orange and luminescent pearled chert with round river stone created a kind of cascading effect around the tiny enclosure – a waterfall of stones circling (temporarily) muddy water.

 

For almost a year I have been looking at the original depression I had dug with a kind of ongoing despair – it was so ugly! Yet zillions of hummingbirds dipped down to take a drink last summer, bees loved the tiny river flowers I planted in the mud bottom, insects crawled over the cattail, lizards basked in the early morning sun, and all winter the birds choose this depression as their primary drinking place waiting until the sun warmed the skin of frozen ice turning it to water. All this activity all at the edge of ‘ugly pond’ – so who was I to say what mattered?

 

I had created this watering place last summer hoping to draw in everyone who might benefit from such a small oasis, but toads and frogs in particular because I loved and missed them so, and because almost every species is threatened with extinction. Finally, a giant western toad made an appearance last August, convincing me forever, that no matter how hideous my pond looked some kind of water filled depression belonged here.

 

Last fall I replaced the white plastic that I had lined the original depression with (as an experiment to see if my idea would work) digging out the mud, and putting in a black rubber container which turned out, if possible, to be more visually offensive than the temporary experimental plastic. I worried too about that plastic because it is a toxic substance for humans and non – human alike… any toad or frog that might bury her/himself here might absorb poison through its skin. The solution was an oak wooden barrel that I just acquired two weeks ago…

 

After Andrew left today a little rain did come, and I watched with deep pleasure the way the roof gutter spilled water into the unfinished trough that led to the pond up filling the sunken barrel, another idea whose genesis is Andrew’s very creative mind.

 

I loved the fact that rain would fill the little pond any time we had a brief shower – five minutes seems to be the new current Climate Change norm with ongoing drought (today was no exception), so every drop is more precious than ever before. Few, besides Indigenous folks know that water from the sky nourishes plants in ways that ground-water does not.

 

One thing I have learned from living here for almost three years is that every living thing is tuned into falling rain – rain that comes from the Cloud People. Trees open stomata, desert scrub turns luminous sage (if the shower lasts long enough), frogs emerge from the underworld to breed during the summer, and the birds welcome every drop for a bath with a song. I breathe in the moisture – laden air with a hunger I would have never believed possible before I came here. All of Nature knows that Water is Life but the desert’s knowledge is like no other….

 

Looking out at the half finished pond for the hundredth time I experience a profound sense of relief. It doesn’t have to be ugly, after all! I feel joy rising as I imagine toads emerging from the deep to hide in stony crevices. But mostly, I feel gratitude for this day, for ‘the little rain’, for the help I received, for the hope that comes with having a friend that understands that co creating with Nature is life sustaining for all.

Winter River Reflection – 2019

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We are approaching the end of January here in Northern New Mexico and already the light is becoming more fierce, but the nights are still long, the blood moon has passed, and clusters of stars are strung like pearls into patterns that speak to ancient stories, so this precious time to reflect and dream is very much with me. Winter brings a sense of peace unlike any other.

 

This year it has also brought us a reprieve from drought. This morning a thin layer of snow once again coats the grasses while birds flock to my feeder in record numbers. Although each layer of snow doesn’t amount to much more than a tenth of an inch of rain, it is still something. Last week we even had real puddles of standing water, and slippery mud that oozed in places when the sun warmed the ground.

 

Coming from the North Country I have never been able to appreciate mud with the kind of enthusiasm I have for it here. Mud means moisture, and water is life and here in the high desert rain and snow may bring sage green scrub back to life if we continue this trend…

 

Reprieve from drought is a form of Grace.

 

In the distance the mountains wear white tufted caps – Perhaps this year Red Willow River will once again overflow her banks serenading us with songs as snow melt sings to disappearing stones.

 

Is it too much to dream that frogs will come, rising up from moist red ground to breed?

 

As I kneel before the wood stove kindling my daily fire, I am keenly aware of the deep gratitude I feel for the gift of life and for each drop of water even when these aging bones ache in dampened air.

 

I wonder where my afternoon walk will take me? No matter where I go I always end up back at the river’s edge listening to water on stone while scrying the sky for the Sandhill cranes. The river has always been my lover, long before I arrived here… A tangle of blushing willows greets me as I bow low to walk through their arching branches into the old overgrown field, lumpy with gopher mounds.

 

This winter I have started to cook again with joyful child-like abandon. The intoxicating scent of yeasty bread no longer brings a wave of grief for lost children but simple joy in the rising…some say that cooking is a form of transformation. So it may be for me.

 

Moving into “old age”, the years of the crone, my elder years snaps the constricting steel ties that threatened to suffocate my body, and shredded the caul of the “mother hood” – an unwelcome veil I wore for too many years, one that was too heavy with grief; grief that eventually came to threaten my life. Now, because of the shadowy presence of an Old Woman who comes to me as an Owl, a star child begins to shine.

 

Bear’s Day is approaching, that time of the year when the wheel turns once again towards the coming light, and Brigid’s Crown of Fire speaks to new life bubbling from beneath the ground. Already bulbs are stirring from deep sleep, tree roots are absorbing precious water as they begin a new growth phase, and black bear cubs are being birthed by attentive wild mothers…

 

Soon the Sandhill cranes will be migrating North as will the flock of golden evening grosbeaks that have taken over my porch, all in search of summer breeding grounds.

 

As I approach Bear’s Day, and the Feast of “First Light” I feel ambivalence, for each lengthening day brings me closer to the time of my own birthing into spring, and the necessary migration I must make to go North. It is hard to be caught between worlds. I have a homeplace here in the South and another far North.

 

I must place my trust in myself, and the Old Woman. Bird-like, I will migrate too, before spring light births a bitter orange sun, fierce and deadly west wind, and a wall of intolerable heat.

The Blood Moon: In Memoriam

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(Blurred photo taken this morning speaks to how memory blurs and creates a timeless clarity)

 

 

Yesterday was the anniversary of my little brother’s death. It was such a beautiful day with a lovely rose and crimson sunset and a white blossoming Little Bear Moon rising high through the trees. Best of all, the last twenty-four hours have been framed by the Great Horned owl’s call before dawn each morning. This most beloved of owls…

This morning I stood chilled in the blood filled pre-dawn riveted by that deep whoohing… After listening to the male’s courtship song, I could still hear the sound of that resonant whoohing in my body, though my mind was telling me that I was imagining it. A call to Love. I felt some strange power pulsing through me.

Great Horned owls attach me to my mother and my Motherline, but today the call seemed unusually poignant until I read the words below.

Owl always creates a resonance for me that literally bridges worlds.

 

“I was young and he was younger.

they cut him down before his time.

time took me far from him and farther, his

falling body, there in the distance, that shadow,

here in my heartbeat forever, that horror.

him underground and me under leaves,

years and years of fallen leaves.”

(Elizabeth Cunningham)

 

When I read these words the terrible grief surfaced flowing through my body as I “re- membered” how my brother simply disappeared into thin air…catapulting me into the underworld for more than a decade.

It was 32 years before I was finally able to bury his ashes under an emerald moss -covered stone named Trillium Rock, a boulder that the glacier left next to my brook. It was a raw rainy April “Earth Day.” Today, wildflowers cover his grave along with a fossilized spiral, a large ammonite that is perched in a niche in the stone.

Red Tailed Hawks, my brother’s favorite birds, bore witness for an entire week after his burial. They kept watch sitting above the brook in trees regarding me with piercing yellow eyes whenever I approached the heavily forested area. Red tails normally like open spaces …

The terrible dreams that I had each year on or around his death day – the ones in which he was always wandering and could find no rest – stopped.

No one’s ashes should be abandoned and hidden in an attic for 32 years.

Each year I accept that the cycle of grief will live on, perhaps beyond my death. For me this sorrow is written into the stars and the Earth beneath my feet because my brother was my Beloved.

Unlike the words in the poem there is no horror attached to this burial.

I scattered my brother’s bones in a small depression that I had carved out in the half-frozen ground next to the rock. His ashes lay amongst dead leaves. I gathered a few fragile bluish bone fragments to scatter in the rushing spring brook. The Earth took him to Her and loved him.

And finally, I believe, we both found peace.