Cicada Symphony

Each evening

I sit in gathering shadows

listening for the nighthawk’s peet,

the owl softly hooting.

Peering into the dense cottonwood canopy

I await the symphony…

 

How do they know

just when to begin

in perfect synchrony?

Punctual to the minute,

the swell is deafening

This music of the spheres

saturates my body

with song as I breathe

into the wonder of

Nature on the wing.

 

 

Postscript and Natural History

 

Every night I sit on the porch at dusk listening to night sounds. At precisely 8:30PM the symphony begins as the arching boughs of the cottonwoods come alive with song. When it’s really hot the cicadas are so loud that when I stand underneath the cottonwoods I am transported to another realm.

 

One night they surprised me. A few drops of rain fell and instantly the choral overture began. It was 8:15 PM and this uncharacteristic early beginning seemed to have everything to do with the rain which only fell for a few minutes although the insects sang on… perhaps the cicadas too are singing to the Cloud People, praying for rain.

 

I listened to many recordings before identifying the cicadas that are singing from these cottonwoods! Mine are “cactus dodgers” that are known for their affinity for cacti during courtship because they can dodge deadly spines during frenzied mating! They are primarily black, gray, white, and beige colored; well camouflaged for the desert.

 

Cicadas in general are an order of insects distinguished by piercing and straw-like sucking mouthparts.  Worldwide, cicadas comprise about 2000 species, which occur primarily in temperate and warmer regions.

 

Like all insects, the usually dark to brownish to greenish cicada has three body parts—the head, the thorax and an abdomen.  It has six jointed legs, with the front pair adapted for digging—a reflection of its underground burrowing life when a nymph.  A strong flyer, it has two sets of transparent and clearly veined wings, perhaps its most distinctive feature.  At rest, it holds its wings like a peaked roof over its abdomen.  It has bulging compound eyes, three glistening simple eyes and short bristly antenna.

 

The male cicada has on its abdomen two chambers covered with membranes – “tymbals” – that it vibrates, when at rest, to produce its “song.”  It can make various sounds, including, for instance, an insistent call for a mate, an excited call to flight, or a hoped-for bluff of predators.  Both the male and female cicadas have auditory organs, which connect through a short tendon to membranes that receive sound.  The male produces a call distinctive to his species.  Ever faithful, the female responds only to the call of a male of her species.

 

The cicada often makes its home in the plant communities along river bottoms and drainages but can be found in many different desert ecosystems as well.

 

The cicada falls into one of two major groups, one called “dog day,” the other called “periodical.”  The dog-day cicadas, which usually appear during the hottest days of summer, hence the name, include all of the several dozen species of the Southwest.  They have a life cycle of two to five years. The periodical cicadas, which include several species, all east of the Great Plains, have a life cycle of 13 or 17 years.

 

Once one of the Southwestern female dog-day cicadas answers the call of a male cicadas and the two mate, she seeks out an inviting, tender twig or stem on a tree or a bush.  She uses the jagged tip at the end of her abdomen to gouge into a twig.  She lays eggs, each shaped like a grain of rice, into the wound eventually laying several hundred eggs.

 

Once a cicada nymph hatches, it drops to the ground, immediately burrowing into the soil, using its specially adapted front legs for the excavation.  It seeks out a root and uses its specially adapted mouthparts to penetrate through the epidermis and suck out the sap.  The cicada spends much of its time in its underground chambers.  Once grown, it tunnels upward, to near the surface, where it constructs a “waiting chamber.”  Upon receiving some mysterious signal, perhaps a temperature threshold, our nymph, along with its multiple kindred nymphs, emerges in a synchronized debut, one of the great pageants of the insect world.  It climbs up nearby vegetation, molts for the final time, emerging from its old nymphal skin as a fully winged adult, beginning the final celebration of its life.

 

The cicadas struggle for survival through their final days because they are nontoxic and relatively easily caught, especially during the final molt, and must deal with a crowd of potential predators, including birds such as boat-tail grackles, various woodpeckers, robins, red-winged blackbirds and even ducks; mammals such as squirrels and smaller animals; reptiles such as snakes and turtles; spiders such as the golden silk spider; and other insects such as its especially fearsome arch enemy, the cicada killer wasp.

 

Of course, the cicada does have certain defenses.  Once it has molted, it can fly swiftly to escape some potential predators.  The raucous male alarm call may startle some predators, especially birds.  It may occur in such numbers that it overwhelms the collective appetite of predators.

 

In perhaps its most novel defense, the desert cicada has developed an extraordinary ability to remain active throughout mid-day, when most would-be predators have to seek shelter from the desert heat.  Notably, the cicada, unlike any other known insect, can sweat, which helps it dissipate heat.  When threatened with overheating, desert cicadas extract water from their blood and transport it through large ducts to the surface of the thorax, where it evaporates.  The cooling that results permits a few desert cicada species to be active when temperatures are so high that their enemies are incapacitated by the heat.  No other insects have been shown to have the ducts required for sweating.

 

While the cicada may cause minor damage to the plants on which it feeds during its life cycle, it contributes in important ways to the environment.  Studies of the cicada in Colorado River riparian communities revealed the ecological importance of this species.  Feeding by the nymphs influences the vegetative structure of mixed stands of cottonwood and willow that occur in certain habitats.  Excess water removed from the host’s water conducting tissues (the xylem) during feeding is eliminated as waste and improves moisture conditions in the upper layer of the soil.  Xylem fluids are low in nutrients and the nymphs must consume large amounts of it to accommodate their energy needs.  Most of the water is quickly excreted and becomes available to shallow rooted plants.  Additionally, cicadas comprise an important prey species for birds and mammals, and the burrowing activity of nymphs facilitates water movement within the soil.”

 

The cicada has entered the realm of folklore across much of the world, possibly because its periodic emergence from darkness into light and song has been equated with rebirth and good fortune.

 

In one myth Cacama was the lord of the Aztec kingdom of Tezcuco who met his end at the hands of Spanish conquistadors. Cacama lives on in these winged desert treasures.

 

A Greek poet once wrote,  “We call you happy, O Cicada, because after you have drunk a little dew in the treetops you sing like a queen.”

 

An Italian myth held that “one day there was born on the earth a beautiful, good and very talented woman whose singing was so wonderful it even enchanted the gods.  When she died the world seemed so forlorn without the sweet sound of her singing that the gods allowed her to return to life every summer as the cicadas so that her singing could lift up the hearts of man and beast once again.”

In our desert Southwest Zuni mythology, the cicada outwitted the traditional trickster, the coyote.  The insect produced heat in Hopi mythology, heralding the arrival of summer, and it is “the patron of Hopi Flute societies in charge of both music and healing,” according to Stephen W. Hill, Kokopelli Ceremonies.  The cicada played a key role as a scout and a conqueror in Navajo creation myths.  It brought renewal and healing to other tribes.

Across the Southwest, from prehistory into historic times, the cicada became identified with the hump-backed flute player, or Kokopelli, a charismatic and iconic figure portrayed in rock art and ceramic imagery.

Kokopelli risked his life to lead the Ant People from mythological inner worlds to the present world, where they became The First People, after agreeing to follow the teaching of the Great Spirit.

“Kokopelli’s transparent wings have now unfolded and dried, and he is able to take to the sky.  Kokopelli’s reward is flight.  His continued gift to us is his reminder to be grateful that we no longer live in darkness.

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Words from Barbara Mor

…& who is jesus what else

does he do    can he sing

can he plant corn    i saw

a picture of him once on

the dome of the sky looking

down dark & fierce at the

green earth   & who is jesus

what else can he do   can

he scrub floors can he make

the bread      they say  he

suffered 9 hours of pain

for the world   tell that

to any mother    what man

son of what father   king of

what desert    saver of what

flesh   can he mold pots

can he make the rain come

can he find  his way home

naked after being raped

can he wail like janus can

he burn in fire   after

2000 years of dying can he

laugh & hand Death a beer

can he smash the last

mirror  can he know me  who

is this jesus   what is

he: next to any woman’s

blood-red truth   no wound

in a man  is big enough

to birth a world   to

return an earth

so now here is our old mama   in the junkyard…

(from “A Song A Song For Tralala,” 1975-1997)

 

Comment:

I didn’t read Barbara Mor’s “The Great Cosmic Mother” until graduate school at mid life, and this book along with Griffin’s “Woman and Nature” validated every intuition I had ever had, made sense of my dreams, and helped me believe in my own ideas. Barbara’s life was difficult and she was and remains a visionary… a beacon for those of us who are attempting to survive the destructive chains of 4000 years of domination by patriarchy and a woman hating culture.

Refuge

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At 98 degrees

the stones

catch fire

beneath my feet –

fry tumbleweeds.

Even the hardiest

desert flowers weep.

The Earth cracks

along invisible fissures

and all I can feel

is gratitude for this

home. Inside

cool walls and

tile floors, low light

and lemongrass

scents open space…

Grateful plants send

out new shoots.

Outside, hummingbirds

gather like bees

under the shaded portal

for sweet nectar

while most birds sleep.

A dust devil

swirls in the distance,

and cottonwood hearts

dance like butterflies

in a fierce west wind.

A sagebrush lizard

clinging to the

shaded

adobe wall

pierces the heat

with one eye.

Even he isn’t moving.

Houses made of mud

and straw

provide refuge.

The orange eye of the sun

can’t penetrate these walls.

The Old Ones knew.

“The Cottonwood Dance”

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(The Cottonwoods outside my window)

 

A couple of days ago I went to a late spring Corn Dance at Okay Owingeh Pueblo. For the Tewa, spring, summer and fall are dedicated to the seasonal agricultural round and the late spring dances acknowledge the necessity of adequate rain for the newly planted corn to grow. Because the Tewa people have a living tradition each dance is unique although a general pattern is followed – one that has ancient origins. The point of these dances is to pray for rain, help the corn and other crops grow through dancing prayer, and to keep the Earth and her people in balance. One experiences the dance; no words are spoken. Drumming is an integral part of this ritual cycle.

 

There were many participants, men women and children, and a number of clay striped clowns who wore turtle shells on their legs. Both the women and the men also carried and shook gourds that sounded like rain. Both men and boys wore kilts trimmed with bells and shells and turtle shell rattles on their legs. The men also wore brightly colored arm – bands some of which were yellow. Most had feather top knots. The women wore white wrap around high legged moccasins made from the softest deer skin, beautifully belted dresses, predominantly rose patterned shawls, their shiny long black hair hanging down their backs. The men danced in moccasins trimmed with skunk fur. Some of these moccasins were dyed a bright yellow and I wondered if the color had something to do with the corn. Skunks love water so even the footwear that touches the Earth becomes a prayer for rain.

 

Each set begins and ends in one of the four plazas to honor each of the Four Directions with breaks between each set. I attended the first set and at the end of the dance all the dancers (there must have been a hundred or more) entered a ramada for a blessing and then filed into one of the two kivas where secret rites are completed in private.

 

Because it was getting hot I had not planned on staying for more than one set. I knew that the dance would be repeated in exactly the same way in each plaza until each of the Four Directions had been honored and the dance ended.

 

The rhythm of the dance had a hypnotic effect on me that by now I had become accustomed to experiencing. I find these dances deeply moving, perhaps because I have Indigenous roots, and because my life is so tightly woven to the cycles of Nature. I also understood that the Tewa believe that participating in these dances, even as a spectator helped the rain come and the corn to grow, probably the only reason the Tewa allow outsiders to attend the celebrations. These people are fiercely independent and do not share their traditions with strangers beyond allowing visitors to attend the dance. By maintaining this kind of vigilance they have managed to keep ancient traditions intact. One is left to interpret what one sees and experiences…

 

The striking aspect of this particular dance for me was the lack of corn imagery. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw men wearing wreaths of cottonwood, something I had never witnessed before. In addition, the women and children each carried sprigs of cottonwood branches. Fascinated by this change I called the pueblo the next day to find out if I had seen a corn dance. Yes, I was told. I knew enough not to ask impertinent questions about cottonwood branches. Instead I reflected upon the possible meaning of what I had seen, and what it might mean. That night I fell asleep listening to muted cottonwood conversation…

 

I am presently living in an adobe house that is situated under a giant stand of cottonwood trees, trees whose leaves flutter and rustle beguiling me to listen to their songs. Sometimes at night I imagine I hear rain falling…it takes me a minute to recognize that what I am hearing is the sound of cottonwood leaves communing above my head.

 

A day or so later it dawned on me that using the cottonwood boughs, a sacred tree to the Tewa and other tribes because it is associated with water, might have been incorporated into the dance as an additional form of prayer to call down the rains.

 

In Northern New Mexico we are experiencing an unprecedented drought. We had no snow or rain this winter, and thus no spring run off. Fires are burning out of control throughout the region and the National parks have been closed to camping and other forms of recreation. How this is going to affect the corn and other crops that these people depend upon for sustenance is unknown. The Rio Grande is low, and no longer reaches Mexico. A Mexican friend, and builder friend of mine finds this state of affairs confusing because as he asks “Doesn’t the water belong to all the people?” Apparently not, our Government decrees.

 

Meanwhile, I listen to the cottonwood trees with rapt attention adding my prayers to those of the people.

 

May the rains come.

Postscript: Curiously we had our first real rainstorm just a couple of days after the ‘Cottonwood Dance’ and who can know if the trees were listening and helped bring down the rain.

Cottonwoods, by the way have enormous taproots that seek the water table and must reach it in order to survive. Today, young cottonwoods are struggling because the water table has dropped. It is heartbreaking to see how few young trees are actually growing.

Water – Sky Woman

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(Photo taken by Iren Schio at Abiquiu Lake)

I am a woman who is in love with the Water and Sky!

This photo was taken a few days ago when Iren and I went to the lake to swim – it captures the joy of the moment.

Last night we had real rain – the kind that soaks the desert ground and brings even the most withered plants to life.

Here in Northern New Mexico we are suffering a terrible drought that has chilling implications for the future. Living by the river under the cottonwoods I am spared the  visual reality of drought, although it is impossible to ignore the dry cracked earth beneath my feet, or the scarcity of wildflowers.

The light rain we had yesterday morning wasn’t enough to keep me from watering thirsty seedlings and plants… but the birds were taking baths on the wire fence and I had a flock of western bluebirds, phoebes, flycatchers and towhees that all participated. The first fiesty Rufous hummingbird appeared at my feeder.

Last night, as if in anticipation of heavier rains the great horned owl hooted just outside my window at dusk – twice. The nighthawk identified himself  by his high pitched peet.

When the skies opened last night it seemed like a holy thing. This morning on my walk to the river mist rose off the water obscuring the mesas.

The thick gray cloud cover keeps the scorching solstice sun at bay, and all my windows are open allowing inside and outside to become parts of one whole.

Unlike so many this time of year is my least favorite because of the heat of the sun, so to have two mornings of reprieve seems like the greatest of blessings and my gratitude overflows…

After the Dance

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The Pueblo men

wore cottonwood wreaths,

women and children

carried heart shaped boughs

men wore skunk fur moccasins.

(Skunks love wetlands)

All danced for rain…

Tuning my heart to the drum

I still can’t escape the

feeling that cracked earth

claims body and mind.

So much yearning

for a sky full of water

It certainly fills mine…

 

Back home

Under Threat

the fire of the sun

burns holes in parched ground.

Even cottonwoods droop

under a waxing solstice sun –

still a week away…

Spiral dust rises

in a cloudless sky.

Where is Spring Green?

Chimisa bend low

and magenta cholla wilt.

Even cactus protest.

When clouds billow up

I ignore the signs –

I have been tricked by hope

too many times…

Falling asleep after the dance

I am awakened abruptly

startled by

rumbles of thunder.

I leap up – the cloud cover

a gift too precious to ignore.

I’ll water now…

Once outside the shifting gray skies

deadens thick heat like a blanket.

This blessed air is cool.

Not a moment to lose!

I turn on the faucet

filling buckets by hand

swiftly pouring gallons

of water on potted plants

newly planted trees

wildflower blossoms

just waiting to burst.

When the first raindrop

hits pink granite stone

amazement floods me

for I have returned

from a dance for rain –

a holy prayer sung with

rattles, bells, drums

holding the heart of a People

who walk lightly on this land,

(Giving thanks is their way of life)

I keep watering.

Soon my clothes are damp.

Feathery Chimisa spring to life.

Wildflowers uncurl tiny buds

brilliant points of yellow emerge…

And I keep watering.

This intoxicating music

is magic –

Drops of precious liquid

stream into thirty buckets.

Hummingbirds perch on bushes

to bathe and preen.

Reveling in wet wonder

falling from the clouds

desire surges through me

and is assuaged…

Taking joy in the moment –

I too give thanks

Like the dancers do

for the Cloud People’s gift of rain.

The Terrifying Power of Denial and Commentary

 

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(my photo)

The Wings of a Butterfly

Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente

Denial is a silent violence that aims to make invisible a trauma maybe evident or not, to make it acceptable as normal and allow the victims of this trauma to be exploited from a system of oppression or people in power. Denial is that voice sugarcoated with correctness that asks us to shut up and sit down on our own pain so as to not disturb anyone. Is a silence that yells loudly, because sooner or later it will speak through the different ways we hurt ourselves and others.

It is not a mystery that women all over the world are subjected to a variety of violence and oppression. Women and girls are hijacked, raped, assaulted, murdered, their experiences mocked or banalized and their bodies thrown around like trash. People get outraged asking how this is possible? Well, this is possible because when a girl is born, she is “bestowed” the foundational denial that will allow the normalization of this violence and belittling during all her life: The denial that she is a human being.

Women in patriarchal societies are not people: we are bodies, objects, “pussies” but not individuals. The society not only allows this, endorses it and benefits from, by keeping women in the denial of our personhood and humanity making sure we accept this situation through the process of socialization. Women have been taught to live in denial to support a narrative that oppresses us. We learn to accept the denial of our humanity and to sustain the denial of the humanity of other women. A woman who doesn’t embrace herself and other women with empathy can’t be free and the system is everyday at work to prevent women from loving ourselves and each other. We are the result of centuries of pedagogy that creates mistrust between women, and the validation and reproduction of our oppression and conditioning towards mutual competition.

All the violence a female will live along her life, both in the personal and public sphere are expressions of the denial of her humanhood as a political mechanism of control on her, because all oppressed bodies, as women bodies are oppressed, are social spaces. The denial of human-hood for women and how this expresses through our bodies get a broader dimension for the trauma inflicted by denial if we consider that nothing we experience is foreigner to the body: All happens in our bodies: ideas, tastes, sensations, laugh and sorrow, reproduction, pleasure, feelings and spirituality…. Who controls women´s bodies, controls society. The violence that terrorizes us today is the projection of an accumulative process that can be tracked centuries ago. The system we live in is designed to produce this violence against women, but it’s in denial of its own participation as enabler and this makes it very difficult to achieve the very needed changes to stop it, because denial can only perpetuate abuse.

Talking about intergenerational trauma I had to link that phenomena to women’s lives as oppressed group. Women are receptors and transmitters of trauma and denial. Assuming that my history is similar to the history of other women, both at existential and biological level, I wonder: What of the traumas that my body expresses belong to my life story and which ones mirror other women’s pain – my mom´s pain, my grand mother´s pain and my female ancestors? Which of my sufferings will my daughter express? How much of what has been written on my body and what of what has been denied will people read in the eyes of my granddaughter, if I have one, someday?

I have a tattoo on my right shoulder. It’s the simple drawing of a butterfly with open wings. It makes me remember everyday that no matter how hard and ugly experiences you might live through, you always can become something beautiful and shiny by yourself. 10 years ago I was raped by a man I was dating. What happened to me from the day after was a journey through denial: The denial of the police that what I had lived was rape. The denial of justice, since my perpetrator was never prosecuted. The denial of people around me who didn’t give me space to talk about. The denial of my humanity from other women who said that, in a way, I deserved it.

Dismantling a system of oppression starts from doing it within each of us from what we have all been shaped at its convenience and resemblance. For women this means to break the glass wall of denial, to demand our and other women’s human-hood, to develop empathy among women in the context of oppression, which allows us to see ourselves as people and see ourselves in other women, to build a sense of community to resist the violence that means to survive in misogynist societies. Any idea of social equality that aims to be serious must be based in the radical notion that women are people. This notion, deliberately absent or suppressed so far, has power to transform our lives, our relationship with other women and society from the very basis.

My butterfly, ready to fly is a reminder that I have survived sexual violence and the violence of denial, to claim my fundamental act of justice every day: Stand up every new morning, face up before the world with my story, with a voice that clearly speaks up its truth, embracing my personhood to walk wrapped in authenticity on my way through, leaving a trace of courage, resilience, and love.

Here is to women who challenge denial to rise from the ashes of trauma and gather their courage to survive, to release, to heal, to thrive, to break free; who won’t be silenced, rather awake and loudly thriving.

Those women deserve what they dream.

Wings and Power to you.

 

(All bold italics highlight sentences or paragraphs that struck me as most meaningful)

My Commentary:

Every now and then I read a piece of writing that simply screams to be noticed. Vanessa’s writing is a perfect example.

Denial is one of the most destructive and effective strategies used by humans to destroy one another. It is also the most invisible, and in my opinion because of this characteristic, the most frightening….

Having been socialized into denial as a way of life as a child I have struggled mightily to throw off this deadly cloak throughout my life and have succeeded… Pain incites the fires of transformation.

I encounter denial on a daily basis with people I know well, family members included. Both women and men use this strategy and think they get away with it, but of course they don’t because eventually everyone loses.

There is no way through. Denial is a wall made of cement. Nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

It is because of denial that we find ourselves on the edge facing human extinction.

No small thing, that.

I chose the Luna Moth as an image because these moths have eyes in their bodies that see through delusion, and they take flight at night.