Mother Tree Meditation

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A couple of days ago after an exhausting day of chores I lay out in the sun in my snow pants under the tree I call the “Mother Pine” because she shelters so many creatures from birds to bears. It was late afternoon and the sun was sparkling like a cracked diamond through a myriad of branches over my head. I closed my eyes and listened to an evergreen symphony. The songs produced by pines and other conifers as needles sway and touch soothed me. How much I appreciated the sound of light winds slipping through the trees.

 

I had recently returned from the desert where these sounds are totally absent. Instead, ferocious west winds hurl and churn dust and dirt in my face making it impossible to be outside in the winter and spring on many days. Because I have emphysema, I am too often trapped in my house by polluted air… To be present in this precious breezy moment allowed me to feel a deep abiding gratitude for all the songs of trees … and for this patch of land I call home.

 

While lost in this reflection I was startled as a small object dropped onto my chest. I opened my eyes to a nuthatch (who was perched on a branch overhead) who promptly released another piece of bark that fell on my belly. Laughing, I was tempted to believe the nuthatch was trying to get my attention…

 

However, the most probable cause was that the little upside down bird was hunting for insects. Either way this delightful creature had gotten my attention! I gazed up into other branches of the old field pine and counted about 10 nuthatches all ferreting out tasty insects. I noted a bevy of robins; the chickadees were chirping on twigs, or using the tree as a lift off pad to reach the nearby feeder. During the summer, a pair of Red winged Blackbirds nested here and the Cardinals camouflaged their scarlet coats in deep green needles as they too readied to visit the feeder. Last year a lone Grackle made a home in Mother Tree’s branches.

 

I shuddered, remembering how I had considered taking this tree down thirty – five years ago because it blocked my view to a few of the undulating mountains beyond, at least when I was sitting on the porch. Nature intervened by placing a double set of deer antlers just beneath the tree just a day or so after I had this thought. Since white tailed deer were aspects of the Beloved finding those antlers settled the matter permanently…

 

Above me the tree limbs and needles disappeared into a deep cobalt sky and as I lay there a deep peace flowed through my body and quieted a mind cluttered with fear over the Corona virus, other health issues, and a crumbling house foundation.

 

I breathed in the sweet scented mountain air …

 

Then lightening struck. Here I was lying under the Mother Tree on the same day my mother died in 1993. And I hadn’t remembered.

 

In the intervening years I had come to forgive my mother for her harsh treatment of me. I was never good enough, bright enough, kind enough… I spent my entire life trying to please her.

 

Only recently have I been able to face the stark truth. My mother did not love her daughter; and now it no longer matters why.

 

As I continued to peer up through the thick green and blue the peaceful feeling returned. I acknowledged my mother’s death day … thankful that despite her feelings for me, she had opened the door to that greatest Mother of All – Nature. And because of this gift I lived.

Voices: Part 2

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Passionflower Vine climbing the screen

 

My first unusual experience with a plant occurred when I was a baby. I had been set upon a blanket and left in the summer sun. Above me a large sunflower bowed her head. As I gazed up at the disk it suddenly began to expand growing larger and larger and then shrunk again, over and over. What I remember best is that it seemed to be pulsing both inside and outside me at once. I was fascinated but totally accepting of my experiential reality.

 

I don’t remember when I started to talk to plants but I was gathering flowers as a toddler. By the time I reached adolescence I knew that my love for plants was reciprocated; but I certainly couldn’t talk about this intimacy because high school science taught me that these relationships didn’t even exist. Secretly, I reached the conclusion that I must be crazy.

 

It wasn’t until my late thirties that I began to hear tree and plant voices. They either spoke to me through dreams or through that same peculiar physical sensing or feeling/sense that seemed to come from inside and outside me at the same time. When they began uttering a simple word or phrase in response to questions I was thinking about or asking I was non – pulsed, dis-believing.

 

I rarely understood what the plants were trying to tell me. Trees were the exception; they told me in dreams (and through my physical senses by that peculiar pulsing) that because of humans whole forests were dying. I was also warned that the animals were going to disappear for good. These dreams and thoughts terrified me and I kept them to myself.

 

And then one day almost 40 years ago I became a plant. The dream seemed so utterly fantastic that I never forgot it:

 

I was a beautiful green vine that hugged the earth even as I crept along the ground; my tendrils seemed to be directing my movement along the forest floor but I had no idea what kind of plant I was or where I might be going.

 

By mid-life I was still dreaming catastrophic dreams about dying trees and animals but I had become a writer and began to advocate for nature in a creative way, an endeavor I continue today. Writing grounded me in my body and helped me to believe that someone might be listening. Maybe I could help the animals and plants survive?

 

I received a grant to study medicine plants with local shamans in Peru on one of the tributaries of the Amazon (I had become an herbalist early in my adult life), and two nights before my departure I dreamed a second vine dream:

 

I was the emerald green vine hugging the ground as I moved, only this time each of my leaves had huge eyes that were combing the forest floor.

 

During the course of these trips (I made three in all) the shamans “saw” that I was seer, someone who could read the future. Their recognition stunned me, especially since I didn’t really believe it myself. I eventually gained enough confidence to ask my teachers what the vine dreams might be trying to convey to me. Each shaman told me I needed to take Ayahuasca to find out. Dismay overwhelmed me. Two early experiences with marijuana had resulted in my having hallucinations in safe places. Here, I was alone in the jungle of Peru. I backed out.

 

A few months after my return to the states my neighbor gave me a passionflower cutting. I was thrilled! I had seen so many passionflower vines cascading over the river intertwined with a fantastic forest of trees and shrubbery. I kept passionflowers in my room in Peru and attempted to bring one home but the cutting froze en route.

 

There was something about the vine with its spiral tendrils that pulled me into a deeper relationship than I had previously experienced with any plant – or at least I was more aware of the strength of this particular relationship between the plant and myself. Some mornings I watched my passionflower climb through thin air her tendrils waving as she stretched towards the light. During these times it almost seemed to me that we shared a single mind. She moved almost imperceptibly and I would slip into a light trance to breathe with her as she crept along a ledge or window.

 

By the time I arrived in the desert I had a daughter plant and both mother and daughter vines came with me. I gave one away to a friend, and then the other one lost leaf after yellowing leaf, lingered, and then died ‘inexplicably’ with me begging her to live. During this period I was also in personal crisis and eventually became ill. It was impossible to escape the sense that this vine and I shared not only a mind but also a body.

 

I took a cutting from the “mother plant” and it rooted. Passionflowers re – entered my life and I was profoundly relieved. However, they no longer flowered for me with any regularity, or didn’t until I went home to Maine last summer. The one I nurtured there had a hundred blooms ready to open but a last minute crisis prevented me from bringing her back. I notice that although I love the flowers, that these days, it’s the presence of the vine that is so important to me.

 

Three weeks ago I potted cuttings that were pruned from one of the vines that had almost died during last summer’s absence (when I believed they were being cared for by someone who clearly neglected all my plants). I put the pot on the kitchen windowsill and within a week one tendril started up the screen and this is when I started asking all the cuttings to cover the area to help keep the late afternoon sun from streaming in because it hurt my eyes.

 

Of course, the vine is phototropic (it normally grows towards the light) so it is no surprise that the vines started to climb the screen but I am asking them every morning to climb to the right, not towards the south where the most sun shines, and the cuttings are complying with my request as I shower them with loving words, attention, and gratitude. Two days ago one tendril reached the top of the window and I asked her to turn right again. She did. I have absolute trust that this collaboration between us will continue.

(But what will happen to my vines when I leave again for Maine? This is currently my deepest concern. They seem to need me to be present for them on a physical level; reinforcing the reality that there is a very complex mind-body relationship between this plant and me).

 

Here in the house I am surrounded by green plants and two trees. Outside I have the Bosque. Every morning in the predawn hours I walk down by the river and into the bog with its cottonwoods and cattails, its scrub and wheat colored grasses. Pre dawn meandering allows me to enter an altered state as I traverse the Bosque in circles listening to faint tree murmuring, feeling Life bubbling up from under my feet. It wasn’t until I came to the desert that I learned that I have to have trees and plants around me to thrive, and outside the Bosque provides me with trees that tower over my head. Frequently, I have illuminations or the meaning of a dream becomes crystal clear in this tree and plant refuge.

 

The day before yesterday I had revelation in the Bosque that stunned me.

 

I “saw” the leaves of the emerald vine/self of my two dreams the first of which, I had almost 40 years ago. I was a passionflower snaking her way along the jungle floor!

 

I suddenly understood exactly what those vines were trying to tell me. I needed to seek truths about my life and the future by putting my plant eyes and ears to the ground, allowing the emerald vine/self to take the lead. (Humans, including myself cannot see. My plant dreams were trying to convey that open spaces like the sky where transcendence replaces embodiment take us out of our bodies when we need desperately to inhabit them and turn our attention towards the Earth. Had we done this in time it might have made all the difference). The eyes and ears of my heart were embedded in the passionflower plant body who was not seeking outer light but rather darkness, a place of germination/birthing beneath the jungle floor. My plant was directing my attention to the inner light, a light only visible when surrounded by darkness. My present job is to continue this process –and to turn my attention to that which lives below to prepare for further instructions.

 

First, I need to deal with the reality of the inevitable extinction of a species that includes myself (how do we imagine not being?).

 

Then, when it’s time, New Life will begin to emerge from below the forest floor.

 

 

Postscript:

 

I wonder in retrospect if taking any drug could have helped me unravel the meaning behind these dreams earlier in my life. I draw the conclusion that ingesting a substance probably would have not have made a difference because I was still being drawn to the sky gods – the transcendent ones. Embodiment was a word that had not yet entered my vocabulary on a feeling level. Even though I was in love with the Earth I couldn’t allow myself to be “known” by her. Even today I still fear being held captive by the underworld of my dreaming body, just as I fear death; so it appears that I have to continue my life’s journey in hopes of learning how to come to terms with these two personal fears…

Sand Hill Cranes 2019

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(early morning at Bosque del Apache)

 

All month I have been on alert listening for the calls of the Sand hill cranes as they continue their migration south. Last year a good number of cranes spent the winter here landing in the neighboring field to find food, and roosting down by the river in the riffles…

 

This year, except for a few sightings and an occasional singular “brring” call by a few, the cranes have been absent. The artificially controlled river is so unnaturally high that it is ripping the shore away in chunks; the torrents of raging water are drowning the riffles where shorebirds once landed to rest or fish. Even the solitary heron has moved on. It is hardly surprising that the Sand hill cranes are not staying overnight even if they pass by overhead.

I also suspect that the cranes’ migratory routes have shifted.

Sandhill Cranes have begun breeding in the fields around the Saco River in Fryeburg, Maine, not far from my home. Some research suggests that these birds have broken away from the eastern flyway. They were first sighted in Maine about 20 years ago and I am delighted to know that some may be making Maine their breeding ground.

We do know that one of the consequences of Climate Change is that many migratory birds are shifting their routes or not traveling as far south as they once did. The cranes used to have three distinct flyways that flowed into one great artery the further south they traveled, and conversely fan out with some cranes flying as far as west as the eastern coast of Siberia during the northern spring migration. These days it is hard to predict what may be happening.

 

Although it is almost the end of November I have only seen one good size flock of twenty cranes flying over the house; this group was traveling due west. I have seen a few in very small groups of two, three, and five in number, and my neighbors and I had a couple in their field.

 

Seeing and hearing Sand hill Cranes has to be one of the the greatest joys of living near the river in Abiquiu, and I keenly miss their presence and haunting calls.

 

This year’s trip to the Bosque del Apache assuaged my loneliness. For one whole day I was steeped in wonder and gratitude that such a place even existed (I almost forgot that this refuge is also open to hunting. This “create a refuge and then shoot the animals” is normalized behavior for all state Fish and Game organizations).

 

To have so many cranes and snow geese along with harriers and other raptors, eagles, ducks, herons, sliders, fish, deer visible all at once while listening to crane and geese cacophony put me in state that I call “Natural Grace,” where nothing but the immediate present matters. At one point I met a couple who asked to take my picture. When I asked why they both said in union -“Why, you are so beautiful, you look like you belong here.” Evidently, the cranes had transformed me! The day was perfect – absolutely no wind and temperatures that were so mild that I was able to sit on the ground watching cranes/snow geese through my binoculars until the sun finally set,and many groups of cranes and snow geese had taken to the sky. I recorded the birds calling out to each other, and now whenever I listen to my tape I am transported back in time to that wondrous day. I am so grateful to have been there.

We know from fossilized records that the Sandhill Cranes are one of oldest birds in the world, and have been in their present form for 10, 30, or 60 million years (depending on the source). They have apparently maintained a family and community structure that allows them to live together peacefully and migrate by the thousands twice a year when unfortunately many are shot along the way. Sandhill Cranes mate for life, and in the spring the adults engage in a complex “dance” with one another. During mating, pairs throw their heads back and unleash a passionate duet—an extended litany of coordinated song. Cranes also dance, run, leap high in the air and otherwise cavort around—not only during mating, but all year long.

In their northern habitat, the female lays two eggs a year in thick protected areas at the edge of reed filled marshes. Before nesting these birds “paint” their gray feathers with dull brown reeds and mud to reduce the possibility of being seen by a predator. Born a couple of days a part, the second chick rarely survives. The fuzzy youngster that does (if it survives the first year – delayed reproduction and survival rates factor into the difficulties inherent in crane conservation and to that we must now add Climate Change) stays with its parents for about three years before reaching sexual maturity and striking out on its own, but even then the adult stays within the parameters of its extended family, and it is these families that comprise the small groups of cranes that we see flying together. During migration, a multitude of these groups travel together. There are no leaders and often it is possible to observe what looks like an unorganized random group or diagonal thread made up of cranes flying above the ground. In every roosting place there are a few cranes that remain awake all night alerting their relatives to would be predators.

I think it’s significant that these very ancient birds have survived so long in their present form. I’ll repeat my original question: Could it be that the cranes understand the value of living in community in a way that has become foreign to humans who seem hell bent on embracing the values of competition, power, and control on a global level? Perhaps we could all benefit from watching Sand hill cranes with rapt attention.

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Nature’s Most Industrious Builder

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(photo credit Lynn Rogers)

“Yesterday I wondered why the beavers were making paths up the outside of their lodge. Today, they spent the day showing me. Three beavers repeatedly dove down and grabbed vegetation and mud from the bottom of the lake and walked armload after armload of it up the paths to the top of the lodge. They emerged from the water walking upright, using only their back legs to walk up the steep sides of the lodge with their very short arms holding the load against their jaws and cheeks. The picture was taken from over a tenth of a mile away… At one point today I saw two beavers walking up a path side my side, both on their hind legs.

One of the beavers also spent time on the food cache eating branches that were above water. Later they will be swimming out from the lodge underwater, nipping off branches, and carrying them into the lodge to eat the bark and cambium as we observed on a beaver cam (webcam) that was in this lodge 20 years ago. Scenes from those old videos now play in the Northwoods Ecology Hall of the Bear Center (NABC) after playing for years in the Duluth Aquarium.”

The above excerpt was taken from Dr. Lynn Rogers “Daily Updates” from the Wildlife Research Center in Minnesota (WRI). I have been following this beaver story with great interest remembering my own experiences with beavers while living in Andover, Maine 35 years ago…

A wide slow moving stream meandered its way to the sea below the house on the hill and beavers had made a solid dam and erected a domed lodge in the center of the stream. Early in the summer the parents would swim up to me with their kits as I sat quietly on my bench by the water (a bench my father had built for his daughter.) Watching those furry little heads with bright beady eyes peer at me curiously as they swam next to their parents is a sight that I will never forget.

I soon learned the lodge was occupied by three generations of beavers. The beavers spent part of each summer “logging” the poplars at the edge of the stream. They created open mud slides that led to open water and every night I would sit on the little bench and watch these industrious creatures cut off the branches and swim with their small logs to the dam. Upon arrival they gnawed smaller branches off the logs divesting them of most of the leaves which they ate. They took some to the dam to shore it up and repair any leaks. As long as I sat quietly the beavers went about their work as if I wasn’t even there, but if I stood up suddenly or tried to rid myself of mosquitos by waving my hands, one beaver or another would slap his tail making a great fuss!  By midsummer the little kits could be seen swimming with a slender stick or two towards the lodge imitating their parents. There was something about those bright-eyed little kits that stole my heart. Later in the summer the beavers began to disappear under water with tender poplar branches. Those tasty leaves and sticks would feed them throughout the coming winter.

Perhaps the most astounding experience occurred the night an adult beaver climbed out of the water and stood up only a few feet away from me. I froze, barely breathing, but spoke to this adult in a low voice thanking him for the trust he and his extended family had showered upon me by giving me such a spectacular glimpse into the beavers complex world.

As fall set in that first year and every year thereafter beaver activity increased and many evenings I witnessed the beavers walking up their lodges in exactly the way that Lynn describes. I also watched the slow moving stream slide under skim ice. I observed the beavers from my bench for shorter and shorter periods now because of the cold, huddled in my winter coat.

The first year I spent beaver -watching my father died suddenly on November 9th (the anniversary of his death is today, just three days before the full beaver moon). Just before I got the call I awakened from a dream that simply said:

“Your dad has become a beaver.”

As the shock wore off and grieving set in I thought a lot about my father’s life. By profession he was an aeronautical engineer who founded his own international packaging company. He was a driven man who had alienated his children with his unpredictable violent outbursts, and it wasn’t until mid life that he began to be accountable for his behavior. It was then that I was able to see for the first time that my father also loved both of his children deeply. Family violence had destroyed my brother’s and my earlier relationship with him, acts that would have tragic consequences for my brother who turned that violence upon himself – dying by a self inflicted gunshot wound after graduating from Harvard with honors. My brother was also an international runner of great acclaim. This same violence destroyed my nervous system for life.

After my father’s untimely death I thought a lot about the relationship between my father and the beavers. The one hobby that my father cultivated when he wasn’t working professionally was carpentry. He was what I would call an extraordinary builder and finish carpenter in his spare time. He and my grandfather built one of the homes we lived in and my father designed and engineered the entire enterprise.

To dream that my dad had become a beaver on the day of his death after I had spent an entire summer submerged in the beavers’ world seemed uncanny, prescient. After he died whenever I watched those beavers I also saw my dad, remembering how hard he worked, how generous he was to others in need, how loyal he was to his family. To think of my dad as a beaver brought me enormous comfort and gave me some hope that something of him lived on in a positive way.

As thanksgiving approached that first year I knew that I would be spending the weekend alone except for the beavers, who by this time, had disappeared under ice. I decided to honor my father and the beavers together by giving my friends a present. So on thanksgiving day I took my handsaw and chopped down two tender poplars after asking for permission to do so… Next I took a crowbar and bored a big hole in the ice not far from the lodge and stuffed the first poplars into icy black waters. Late that day I sat on my frozen bench and called to the beavers, telling them that I had a present for them. I stayed there until almost dusk half frozen – hoping for a sleek brown head to appear, but of course no one did. Yet, when I walked up the hill, I felt as if I had done something important that mattered.

That night I lit a candle for my dad next to the box of ashes that I alone was responsible for burying. The place I had chosen was in a cedar grove next to a mountain brook, but I had not yet finished clearing and preparing the spot.

The next morning I raced down the hill to the stream, and to my amazement and joy, the poplar branches had disappeared! For the next three days I repeated poplar gift giving after reopening the hole in the ice, though I never glimpsed my friends.

In a few days the cold set in for good and a light covering of snow covered the lodge. I loved the fact that the beavers were warm and toasty in their house under the ice. For some reason just knowing they were there brought me an amazing amount of comfort, and all that winter not one day ever passed when I didn’t think of my dad with love.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE FOLLOWING RESPONSE – AMAZING!

Check out this article «BEAVERS AND FATHERS REMEMBERED»: https://www.martinezbeavers.org/wordpress/2019/11/11/beavers-and-fathers-remembered/

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 and a 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.