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…

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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.

Renewal?

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(author’s story as told by the child… note the Raven in the plant)

 

Renewal?

 

Just that one word dreamed as a question the night of January 1st.

 

Last evening all my Bear Circle animals gathered in front of the 8 flickering candles (intentions I had set for this coming year) – Most were about the loving the Earth, my body, the bodies of animals and trees, giving thanks for gifts offered in 2018.

 

The animals were walking towards the evergreen wreath, my Circle of Life, soon to enter the Great Round. My fervent hope was that during this human induced ‘sixth extinction’ some would find a way to survive…

 

Telling stories through stone animals is something the child has been doing for almost 40 years when I first dreamed the “Bear Circle”… Sometimes these stories ‘work’ and sometimes not. But I never stop the child’s meanderings for often she knows more than I do…

 

As I spoke my intentions, opened my palms and sang my song, Lily b offered his Blessing.

 

Heat pulsed through my upraised hands.

 

I had been heard.

 

Staring into the flames of the candle at the center of the wreath, I imagined the animals walking through to a kinder place where all creatures and trees were loved.

 

Even as my heart broke.

 

So many losses and more to come.

 

Renewal?

 

Even in the dream the word remains a question… perhaps opening to unimaginable possibility?

 

This morning there was no sunrise.

 

Eight Ravens brought in the day.

 

Messengers from the Beyond witness what is, will be.

 

 

Postscript: Many Indigenous peoples believe Raven is a messenger from the ‘Great Beyond’ who brings news – good or ill. What’s curious is that I lit 8 candles last night and this morning there were eight ravens sitting in near by trees…

For Love of Dogs

 

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(Hope in the Foreground, Lucy at the bottom of our bed)

 

End of the year reflection….

 

I have been a naturalist all my life and except for the years I spent as an undergraduate I have always had dogs. Dogs were the first animals that taught me about unconditional love. They routinely demonstrated that I was always good enough, and always accepted for who I was even if I was “different,” severely directionally dyslexic, failed every math class, couldn’t remember which side of the road I was supposed to drive on when I first got my license, was harshly criticized by patriarchal parents, and later, after my little brother’s suicide, overcome by guilt and grief so overwhelming that it catapulted me into the underworld for ten years.

 

During this period except for waitressing, and attempting unsuccessfully to mother young children, I withdrew from the world. I couldn’t bear to spend time outdoors because every tree, frog, stone, reminded me of my beloved companion, the brother I lost. If I hadn’t had dogs when my brother died I wonder how I would have survived at all. Their sensitivity to my moods astonished me and for a long time I believed that “something” had graced me with the brightest, most loving, most attentive canine friends in the world.

 

Totally isolated from people and from the rest of Nature, my dogs slipped through the crack and accompanied me on my deadly journey. They slept beside me at night, and when I awoke from endless nightmares in unspeakable grief and hopelessness or blacked out in despair I would run my hands through thick fur as they snuggled up even closer to me covering my face with kisses. Even through the dense fog I felt their love permeating my body – a great underground river of love with a capital “L”.

 

Sammy, a malamute became my first “teacher” as I began the mountainous climb out of suicidal darkness. I had been numb for so long, and now that I was beginning to grieve my brother’s dying, she helped me stay with the agonizing process. Together we began to walk into the forest, down by the sea, often late at night after I returned from work. She was my protector, I believed.

 

One September afternoon while racing around in a haze of mindless mother frenzy I happened to notice her lying in the tall grass outside the window, scenting, silent, alert, her nose to the wind. It was a beautiful blue and gold fall day and I wanted more than anything to be out there too… I asked myself how I could begin to make sense of my stupid life – as a single mother I was drowning in boredom and busyness – The moment I asked the question Sam turned her head towards mine and answered clearly. “ Be present for this moment.”

 

Disbelief permeated my being but was not powerful enough to dismiss the message. Sammy was reading my mind. I tried to rationalize what had happened and couldn’t so I concentrated on the message. What did she mean I pondered for weeks afterwards, gradually reaching the conclusion that ‘being in the moment’ meant that I had to begin to create space for a person I didn’t even know, myself. What a terrifying thought. This was a radical notion for someone who had up until that point been a robot, following the culture’s dictates, had no sense of having personal autonomy, and failed to “fit in,” to the society she was socialized into. Choice was simply not real to me. No one was home.

 

What I had no way of knowing was how this message from my dog would begin to affect the remainder of my life. Sam not only opened the door to the void in myself but she helped me acknowledge that there was something called interspecies communication, and that I had been ignoring the messages I had been receiving from plants and animals ever since I was a child playing in the woods with my little brother… Although it would take years to believe what I intuited and was told by animals and trees as an adult, (my western conditioning constantly interrupted my experiences, discounting them), a path through the forest had opened. My dreaming body helped lead me, as did Nature who began to speak in tongues of fire at each new dawn.

 

Dogs remained my constant companions as I struggled to discover who this woman was as she emerged from beneath a death shroud to traverse the spiral way, sinking under the waves, surfacing, and being swallowed again. Lacking clear conscious direction I turned turned more and more towards Nature for clues and confirmation and was never disappointed although I frequently mis – read messages, a vulnerability I carry to this day. If I was on the right track I often received dreams of confirmation that helped. But without the constant presence of dogs my intense loneliness would have defeated me, for mine was a path few traveled, and this remains true today.

 

At midlife I fell into the underworld for the second time when my first grandson was born, and I was prevented from seeing or becoming a grandmother to him. The grief from this second intolerable loss threatened to unhinge me, and had I not had my beloved dogs and Nature as a whole to sustain me, I believe I might have died from grief.

 

Coming to terms with a lifetime of loss of children and grandchildren gripped and literally almost crushed the life out of my soul- body self for the second time. This time though, because the deaths weren’t physical I hung on to hope, refusing to give up. I made every conceivable effort to repair the damage even when waves of hopelessness tumbled me into predictable cycles of depression that worsened as time wore on. Finally in the year of 2011 after a horribly abusive and ongoing rejection by my youngest son late in December, I reached the point where I was forced to conclude that nothing was going to change because both my sons were getting something grim out of blocking my every attempt to reconcile. With a stunned horror engulfing me I suddenly understood on a visceral level how much pleasure my anguish and torment was bringing them. How could I have been so blind? I had reached the end of my “long winding road”… Now the question became: was I going to be able to survive these losses too. The loss of four more children seemed too much to grapple with. Was it even possible to move beyond this ocean of mother grief?

 

Up until this point discovering the scholar, accruing degrees, teaching, writing, and counseling, my love for my dearest canine companions and the rest of Nature had sustained me. I loved the peace of my own company and joyful moments were frequent as I communed with non – human species, wild or tame. Being with Her kept me in balance. I had crafted my own life and the better I got to know myself the more respect I developed for this courageous woman who had emerged out of deep suffering, triumphant, and willing to stand alone.

 

But I couldn’t ignore the signs year after year… During the spring and summer the rains didn’t come, and the water level dropped in my brook to an alarming low. My beloved trees were showing signs of stress, dropping leaves too early. The poplars were diseased. A couple of my fruit trees stopped blooming. Maine was logging so many forested areas that we had only 16 percent ‘mature’ forest left in the state. A mature tree was considered to be 30 years old, not even adult enough to produce nuts or fruit. I noticed that a number of species of birds had disappeared. Bears were becoming scarce because so many had been shot.

 

Most baffling were my dreams that had been dark and ominous since I had first moved to this precious Earth – a small oasis bordered on three sides by a brook and peppered with a mix of deciduous and conifer forest, embracing an old field and 20 acres. In these dreams which began almost immediately disappearing brooks, slaughtered trees, barren granite mountains and mean neighbors whose cold hatred of me astounded me all forecast a future that was incomprehensible to me even as the Earth continued to communicate her deep distress. In 1994 neighbors moved in…

 

Every attempt I had made to reconcile with sons, was now being mirrored by these terrifying neighbors, whose viciousness made me cringe. I was forced to face human ugliness on a level that mirrored my children’s behavior: these people also took pleasure out of tormenting me. I couldn’t grasp the implications behind the torture because I didn’t believe in evil. The question that haunted me was why…I spent years trying to get along with all of them and failed. There had to be something wrong with me…

 

Nothing made sense and by the spring of 2012. I began to flounder. I couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. Unbeknownst to me, my dog Star developed cancer that summer although I didn’t dream her illness until the following September when it was too late. Although my beloved Vet operated on her immediately, the first night we slept together on the floor after her operation I saw a falling star and knew she would die… Four more intolerable months of hell followed before her death.

 

I acknowledged then that I needed a dog more than one would ever need me. I lamented. As soon as the monstrous grief peaked and let go, I acquired Bridgee who almost died in a fire the night before I got her and had stomach issues when she arrived that ended in her death as a young dog…Then I found Hope who came to me in the form of a three pound Chihuahua. Together, we survived the following winter during which time I came to the realization that grief had been pouring out of every cell in my body for so long without reprieve that my nine year old dog absorbed it, and had become ill and died. When I chose Bridgee, I chose a dog who was already compromised… ( again the haunting: was there something wrong with me?) I did not blame myself. But I asked Nature what I could do with this knowledge. I wanted Star’s sacrifice to matter.

 

Anyone who has had canines knows that dogs love unconditionally as a matter of course, and when their people are experiencing intolerable distress they take on their pain. My anguish manifested in Star as cancer, and it killed her (with Bridgee I didn’t know). I kept this information to myself because I knew that no one would believe me if I said that dogs can die not only from grieving for their lost humans, but also from carrying human pain, but I knew it was true.

 

I vowed to keep this knowing close; to stay aware, to make sure that I didn’t unknowingly create a situation in which I ignored my Hope at her expense. I took great pleasure in our daily playing, made certain she never got left home alone, mentally attempted to create a boundary between my pain and this dog. When Lucy, another unwanted Chihuahua needed a home I agreed, hoping that having two of them might lessen the intensity of my need for a deep human- dog relationship which might give them some protection, or at the very least they were company for one another. Maybe having two might help keep them safe from the ravages of depression and grief that I couldn’t control? I also began thinking I needed to leave Maine…

 

To digress a moment, it is not well known that there is impeccable scientific research being done on the relationships between dogs and humans. Dogs can sniff out cancerous growths in the people they love and others, they can find human bodies under mountains of debris as the world witnessed in 2001, they can predict earthquakes and changes in weather; they heal people with mental illness, help those diagnosed with PTSD (like me) deal with anxiety, provide steadfast companionship without betrayal, they ease the loneliness of the aged, relate to autistic and abused children. In short dogs are Animal Healers who will literally give their lives to save humans from further suffering, as Star did for me.

 

I began to dream of returning to the desert…I needed to find a way to make my life meaningful to me again, and once before the desert had helped heal me enough to go on after a painful divorce.

 

It took three more years before I moved to Abiquiu, New Mexico with Hope, Lucy, and Lily b my telepathic Dove. Initially, I fell in love with sky and stone, the ways of the Indigenous Tewa. I have been here two years, and have recently moved into a little adobe that I have made my own. I have made new friends, and over two years have developed as intimate a relationship with the scrub, juniper cottonwoods and Red Willow river as I had with my patch of land in Maine.

 

The first year I thrived. Skies that caught fire at sunset, wild and unpredictable summer rains, seductive Datura, tufts of wildflowers popping up in unlikely places, impossible sand cliffs, snow tucked safely in the mountains, the winter sun, all became my lovers…

 

This last year has been just the opposite. I have been ill with diverticulitis for much of the time, a condition that is chronic as well as becoming antibiotic resistant. Most of last winter, spring, and early summer I spent housebound. Living on a new edge with ongoing stomach issues, including attacks of severe colitis, resulted in me making a physical adjustment. It is uncertain if I can ‘manage’ my diverticulitis without surgery. I have never been more aware of my mortality, or that I am living the last segment of my life.

 

For the remainder of last summer I became housebound for another reason. I discovered that I cannot tolerate the wall of heat from a merciless summer sun, and as it became clear that the drought I thought I left behind me in Maine was manifesting in front of me because I was living it. I crumpled. The dark side of the desert is its killing heat, which is so deadly without rain. Daily I witnessed the withered scrub, shrunken wildflowers, squawberry bushes dropping leaves in July, dead rabbit bush, wild grasses, and snakeweed, stones appearing in what was once a rushing river, heard the cries and felt the desperation of the cottonwoods and junipers as they sunk roots deeper into parched desert ground… At night cicadas screamed. When the trees caught fire by the millions I couldn’t breathe, whether for them or me, I do not know. Only the ‘edge woman’ lived – the one that rose long before sunrise, dragging herself to the river in the dark, mourning the loss of cover in a dried up bog, aching for the sight of even one frog. Where were the Cloud People; where was the rain? Each trip outdoors opened the doors to hell; I felt dazed and dizzy; some days I could barely stand up and I wondered then if I was dying too. I remade my will prepared for the event should it happen. For a while during summer torment my stomach issues abated, then…

 

When Lucy became desperately ill in August with what turned out to be colitis all my alarm bells went off. Oh no, not again. I have done everything I know to keep my illness my own… but Lucy is so sensitive, and so dependent upon me, perhaps the more vulnerable of the two dogs. One more attack followed two months later. The Vet here does not know what’s wrong with her but I think I do. I pose the question to Nature: Is there anything I can do to protect these dogs from illness that doesn’t belong to them? I adore my animals. I do not want my dogs to sacrifice their lives for me. Nature does not answer. But my stomach issues returned in November…

 

I think of years past, when Sammy had convulsions while I was beaten up, when Rinkie developed irritable bowel disease and died from it after I lost my grandson. Star developed cancer of the spleen after Dee’s brutal 2011 betrayal. Bridgee came to me barely surviving a fire, had stomach issues and died from unknown causes that also were stomach related. And now stomach issues may be threatening my life. It’s almost as if each dog was carrying some element of my grief in their bellies for years before it manifested in an illness that one day would become my own.

 

We know that there is something called a gut brain.; that we think and feel and sense truth from our bellies. My truths were deeply hidden in the bowels of hell and although I have spent a lifetime uncovering what is real, and am doing everything I can to heal my own mind body split, will it be enough to help us all survive?

 

I have no answers; only more questions.

 

Now that the winter season is upon us I can look out the window and remind myself that the plants are resting. I continue to water my trees in the ongoing drought, but I don’t have to witness the withering… I wake up before sunrise and bring the day in with gratitude through deliberate and joyful attention. I can walk outdoors any time I want, and have the freedom to hike where I choose – the gift of winter’s repose. I never tire of kneeling before the wood stove, lighting a fire from wood that was dead when it was gathered, while giving thanks for trees. Each day brings more joy as the sun warms the tiles on the floor and casts rainbows through the crystals hanging in the windows. My indoor plants are thriving, green and lush, especially my Norfolk Island pine who has grown a foot in the last six weeks since beginning my winter ritual of celebrating the Tree of Life, and the life of every tree on this planet. Lucy and Hope are happy to have my attention whenever they need it, and I am thankful for each passing day. With the solstice turning only two days away I am acutely aware of changes that will come… for change is the only constant.

 

Winter is our brief reprieve – Nature’s and mine… Soon we will be facing the heat of a merciless spring sun that without adequate rain (and this is the pattern) continues to kill the desert plants as they struggle to return to life.

 

When I put my house up for sale last summer I had no sense of wrongdoing. I was leaving Maine behind, I thought. But to my surprise in the interim I have become homesick for the North Country and I long to return to my other home to hear the songs of frogs, to visit with toads and deer, to be with my little forest of trees, to be able to walk out my front door without running into a fiery wall of intolerable heat, to walk in occasional rain, to visit with my cardinals… Of course the desert has made the choice for me because my poor body cannot endure 90 – 100 degree temperatures or the ravages of forest fires. But this time I will return to Maine for the summer with a new level of acceptance. I realize now that the anguish of ongoing personal and Natural grief pushed me over the edge. I came here in part to escape drought and walked into a burning furnace. How ironic.

 

I know now there is no place to go.

 

I must find a way to adapt – to allow the grief of what is happening with me and my beloved planet to flow through me without denial or hope for unrealistic change. My equally deep love for the desert has been tempered by its dark side. This is a hard place – a harsh place of wind, sun, and stone. Wild beauty abounds and the sky is cracked with stars and my love for cactus is deeply personal because I need to become one to survive! Thicker spines and a tougher exterior are much needed; No wonder I love them so!

 

In the two years I have been here I have also witnessed the dominant culture embrace hatred as normal. Because I am precognitive, I understand that what I endured at my children and neighbors hands was probably a precursor of what would come to be a cultural reality for all, just as the loss of my brook water and trees mirrored by Climate Change. Once again I remember the dreams that forecast it would be so.

 

In my 74th year I remain an outsider but am a woman who speaks her truth, always unvarnished and often unwelcome. We are short on staying in the truth of what is, these days, and expressing my truths, which are inexorably tied to those of the culture is what I have to offer. Weaving back and forth between the two, I continue to advocate for women (and myself), especially the victims of sexual assault without apology. And my love for this beloved Earth, her creatures and trees is the driving force behind every word I write.

 

And yes, my grief lives on too, the greatest underground river of all, but when I stay in the truth of what is, deep joy is the gift I receive from all Nature and in particular from the unconditional love from my dogs…

 

I also remember my tale is only one of millions, and the eventual outcome of our personal stories and the ravages of Climate Change which are intimately connected, like it or not, is as yet unknown.

 

Meanwhile, Blessed Be the Animals, and especially our steadfast companions, all dogs….

 

 

 

On this coming solstice night as the Earth turns towards winter, I look to Her for comfort and winter peace even as I scry starry night skies searching for the old woman in an ancient Italian tale who comes riding on her broomstick leaving gifts for all, a story that is thousands of years old – predating “Saint Claws” by millennia…