White Lily

IMG_1728.JPG

IMG_1727.JPG

An oriental lily

wafts sweet scent

through thin air.

Speaking clearly

her spicy perfume

captures

my attention,

clouding

the white haze

of my grief.

 

White, the color

of death –

a dying flower

wrinkled,

paper thin,

yellowed,

her edges shrivel.

Only an emerald

pistil still

stands tall.

Brown pollen

Drifts aimlessly,

stains the luminous

pearl moon flower

that once was.

whole.

 

 

Working Notes:

I was given a bouquet of these most beautiful flowers a couple of days ago.

That same morning I dreamed that hope was dead.

The Fire moon was full this morning.

I am in mourning – for I must let go of a vision I held, perhaps, too close to my heart.

Grief has no boundaries, it swallows one whole.

I have disappeared down a rabbit hole

in the void of dark space.

 

Postscript 2

The male parts of a flower are called stamens and they usually surround the female pistil that contains an ovary at its base. The pollen from the stamens is carried by the wind and sticks to the sticky top of the pistil fertilizing the flower as it’s dying.

It interests me that the female parts of the flower dies last.

Summer Rain

IMG_2830.JPG

 

The sun burnishes the horizon

in spun gold, as he slips beneath

flat topped mountains at dusk..

The summer solstice

is nearly upon us;

Earth is heating up.

The merciless sky is

bleached bone at noon.

 

The third week of June

marks the end of the sun’s

relentless journey

to lengthen Earth’s days.

Sun seems oblivious to Shadow.

Twilight shrinks in his wake.

For a time it will seem like the star stands still,

Then a gradual reversal of directions

reinforces Nature’s truth –

Change is the only constant.

 

With his northern journey completed,

the sun will soon arc to the south.

His coming and going is both

Earth process, and cosmic event.

 

Within a month or so

after the longest day of the year has passed

silvery sheets of rain will slip

through thick gray clouds.

Instantly the earth turns green.

The summer rains are an act of becoming.

 

Who puffs up the clouds?

Some say Thunderbeings

stir the sky into frenzy.

Bolts of jagged steel lightening

strike randomly,

zapping parched cracked ground.

Rumbling ominously,  storm clouds

threaten to erase the line

between horizon and mountain.

Roaring arroyos fill,

spill over, flood fertile fields.

 

Did you know that an inch

of pure rain water

nourishes the Earth

more efficiently than

any water drawn from the ground?

 

This dance between the sun

and his lady,

Keeps the Earth in Balance.

Gardens explode with chilies, corn and beans!

When Cloud Woman weeps,

tears heal wounds.

Frogs and toads hum.

A flaming orange oriole

nests by the river

and sings from the Bosque

at twilight.

Women sing love songs

to honor our Blessed Mother

who brings the Gift of

Summer Rain.

IMG_2719.JPG

 

Working Notes:

 

The term “Blessed Mother” is used as a metaphor for the Soul of the Earth, and has nothing to do with religion.

This is the time of year that I find myself longing for twilight, that space in between, where light from the sun meets the one who dims the light.

I also dream of rain.

I have practical reasons for wishing that dark and light weren’t so extreme at this time of year. My eyes ache from being exposed to the fierce sun, even with sunglasses. I don’t sleep as soundly, or dream as deeply during the late spring and summer months. My energy shifts without warning. The mid -afternoon fiery heat is too intense and lasts too long into evening.

I also miss the shadows that are cast over the mountains during other seasons, revealing sharp contours and a depth that is no longer visible during the late spring or summer. Here in New Mexico the absence of rain often characterizes spring, although heavy winter snows at high elevations bring forth the most beautiful spring wild flowers, flaming orange globe mallows, crimson, purple, and sky blue penstemon, fiery Indian paintbrush, cornflower blue flax and the delicate gilia, purple mat, heron’s bill, violet vetches and an endless array of buttery yellow flowers. These lovely long months of spring are also sometimes clouded by fierce winds that blow in from the west stirring up spiraling tunnels of dust and debris. And tender seedlings curl inward crushed like paper under the shock of sudden frost.

And yet, whenever I am tempted to complain too much about the sun’s fiery rays and light that lingers too long, I remember that without the searing heat of this star, life would cease to exist. Plants and flowers couldn’t blossom, or produce seeds, or pods. The wild cactus wouldn’t swell with magenta, pink, yellow or red buds. The trees wouldn’t leaf out gifting us with precious shade like the elephant arms of the cottonwoods do as I pass under their cool canopies on my daily morning walks. The rabbits wouldn’t give birth and lizards couldn’t bask on rocks warmed by early morning sunlight.

I appreciate all the seasons for different reasons. Today we know that the solstice is an astronomical event caused by the earth’s 23.4 tilt on its rotational axis and it’s elliptical orbit around the sun. In the northern hemisphere, midsummer, or the summer solstice marks the longest day of the year, the day when the North Pole is leaning closest to the sun. As the earth orbits the sun the position of the two hemispheres change in relation to their starry center. At this time of year we lean towards the sun and summer begins, while in the southern hemisphere the earth is tilted away from the sun creating winter. A solstice happens at the same instant for all of us, everywhere on earth.

Oddly, it isn’t until after the summer solstice that the earth really heats up even though the days are already shortening in duration. This phenomenon is called the lag of the seasons. It’s the same reason that it’s hotter in mid-afternoon than at noon. Earth takes time to warm up. Even in June ice and snow still blanket the earth in some places. The sun has to melt the ice and warm the oceans before we experience summer heat. With global warming this process has been speeded up so we are, on the whole, experiencing hotter weather throughout the world. Our once permanently frozen polar ice is melting, flooding the oceans with more water and raising the water level on each continent.

As I approach summer I look forward to astonishing sunsets that stain the sky purple, crimson, gold, and midnight blue. I will walk through cool blue mornings. I imagine the clouds puffing up like tufts of thick cotton appearing on the horizon sometimes before noon, billowing skyward, nature’s balloons. Every afternoon there’s a chance for a shower, and this year I long to hear the Spadefoot toads that have been buried underground who appear like magic, with the advent of the first monsoon. I missed this serenade and no doubt, those of other amphibians, last year.

What I love most about summer is the rain. Indigenous Pueblo peoples believe that when thunder and lightening rule the skies a torrent of “male rain” floods even the high places. “Female” rain falls gently from a slate gray sky soaking every root, leaf and flower transforming the desert into an oasis teaming with life. Have you ever noticed that after any kind of rain the birds sing their hearts out, hummingbirds chirp wildly, and bees hum even at dusk?

Certainly a marriage between the two is needed to sustain life on this precious blue green planet.

Personally, I think the gender of the sun is male, while rain feels like a female element. Some would disagree unless they were eco – feminists like me! An eco – feminist, not a popular term today, links the abuse of women to the destruction of our planet. For example, I come from the northeast where the rape of the forest is ongoing, while U.S. statistics tell us that rape of women is on the rise. Women have been associated with trees in myth, story, and cultures since the dawn of humankind. No coincidence here.

Sanctioning one form of abuse seems to promote others. Our present U.S. political situation supports horrific abuse of all kinds.

Bufo americanus

752px-Bufo_americanus_Toad-1.JPG

 

I recognized him at once

as he limped, one mangled leg,

one eye bleeding,

dragging himself across a dirt road

in search of a place to die.

 

The day went black

with sorrow.

 

Oh no, I keened,

stopping in front of him.

His mouth was open and closing,

– gasping –

with each labored breath.

Did he know how much

it mattered to me that he was hurt

so badly that there was no way

I could save him?

 

Bearing witness never seems to be enough.

 

It was hot – too hot.

Fierce sun dehydrates even

the toughest skin of toad or frog.

I couldn’t bear that he would die

of injuries compounded by thirst.

 

I ran back to get the car.

My intention was to

run him over, to

end his suffering.

But when I drove the car

down the dirt road

he was gone.

 

If only I could glimpse a toad

basking in the desert sand,

I thought until today.

Never imagining this…

 

I was going to a local seed exchange.

Seeds are about beginnings

but I was mourning a dying toad.

What salt – bush sheltered him?

Even purple seed corn kernels

left me joyless.

My soul was with that toad.

 

I was tired – too tired.

I left early, driving down

the winding red dirt road.

My only hope

was that by now

death had claimed the toad.

 

He would never know

that for the last month

I spent each night listening

for amphibious musical trills.

 

Later in the afternoon

I walked to the place

where I had last seen the toad.

And there he was,

quite still, squashed flat

by the only car

that could have hit him –

my own.

 

I buried him in the sand

that once warmed his flesh.

I closed his golden eye.

Sprinkled cornmeal…

How does one ever say goodbye?

 

Although we’d barely met,

I loved him.

Even in death

his life mattered

to one who would

have mothered him,

healing his wounds,

if only she had the chance.

 

Postscript:

Ever since coming to the high desert last August I have been hoping to catch sight of a toad or frog. I missed the early monsoon season when in one night the frogs emerged from hiding, sang love songs, and laid their eggs. I never met a toad. Last summer I lived back in the hills so perhaps toads don’t like it much up there. However, now that I am staying in this riparian sanctuary, situated near a flooded acequia and raging river, I believed toads and frogs must be around somewhere, and yet until today I never met either.

Bufo americanus, or the western toad looks exactly like his northern cousin in the east. In the spring toads are diurnal hunting during the day; in summer they become nocturnal. This was a large toad, probably 3 inches long. And he was actually a she because females are larger than males.

There is a small lily pond on this property that may eventually harbor black toad eggs laid in a double string of jelly below the surface of the water. However, this toad may not have had a chance to become a mother…I say this because the musical trills of this particular toad are very familiar to me, and I have not heard them during the day or at night. (Trilling occurs primarily at mating time and before and during egg laying).

To meet my first toad in the desert under these circumstances was very difficult for me because I have loved these amphibians since I was a small child, and in Maine, where my home is, I created a vernal pool for the toads that is situated next to the brook. Above on the hill in my flower garden, there is also a small lily pond for frogs and toads.

The synchronicity involved in this incident was also startling. The toad was initially run over by a friend of mine, who would be deeply upset if he knew. When I went back to get the car to kill the toad quickly to put him out of his misery, he simply wasn’t there. Unable to think about anything but the dying toad at the seed exchange, I returned home early and I must have been the one that finally ended the toad’s suffering without knowing it by running him over because this is a private road. Discovering the flattened toad helped me deal with my sorrow because the animal was no longer suffering.

It is also strange that I called the toad a male in the poem since I know large toads are all females and potential “mothers.”

To have this incident occur the day before “Mother’s Day” seems particularly poignant because I have spent a lot of time rehabilitating wounded animals etc., and there was nothing I could do to save this toad’s life.

With that much said, I am honoring Nature as the primal “Mother of All” on the eve of Mother’s Day.

I also honor myself.

I am also grieving with all mothers, who have lost “children,” human, or otherwise.

Rainbow Goddess

IMG_1587.JPG

 

IMG_1586.JPG

Winged Iris flew over earth and sea.

Rainbows luminesced in her wake.

Messenger from the clouds,

she gathered up the rain,

pouring it on dry cracked ground.

 

One transplanted rhizome bore

three green swords, and

a single grassy stalk,

unfurled ruffled velvet blossoms.

Furry lemon tongues lured

hummingbird and bee…

Iris thrived, spreading a delft blue sky

amid flaming orange mallow.

 

Working Notes:

Early this morning when I went out to water my plants I experienced a moment of wonder. The single stalk and leaves that had grown out of a rabbit ravaged Iris rhizome that I had rescued, was unfurling its first bud. The unexpected sight of this large delicately fluted blue flower in the early morning light sparked a moment of pure joy as a hummingbird hovered over her … Bright orange Globe mallow is an astonishing wildflower that springs up without assistance and it covers my desert backyard making a delightful contrast of colors.

In Greek Mythology Iris was goddess of the rainbow and a messenger from the gods. She was also a goddess of sea and sky. Her father was a god of the sea. Her mother was a cloud nymph. For the coastal dwelling Greeks the rainbow arc spanned the distance between cloud and sea, and the virgin goddess (as in one unto herself having nothing to do with being celibate) Iris replenished the rain clouds with water from the sea.

The Woman Who Listens

Canyon-tree-frog.jpg

 

Oh, the sun is burning up the sky

turning it white under smoke heavy air.

Crackling tree bark keens but no one listens.

It’s just another “burn.”

 

I am a woman who listens.

 

Twilight lays down her starry blanket.

A half moon floats through the sky.

Desert air turns cool.

The Canyon towhee and white crowned sparrow

Converse, quenching thirst at a shallow well.

 

I am a woman who listens

 

Hummingbirds

dive and climb, wildly whirring wings

speak to a multitude of avian presences.

Fierce and vulnerable in the extreme,

humming and buzzing they call my name.

 

I am a woman who listens…

 

A long guttural trill breaks the silence.

He sounds like a tree frog!

Is he singing a song for his lady,

under sun warmed stones?

A desert oasis is a holy place,

for a woman who listens.

 

Working notes:

Yesterday, the sun was fierce and the air thick with smoke that didn’t clear until twilight. I ached for burning trees. It was so hot that I went for a dip in the river. And then after dark I heard him singing from the little pond. I don’t know what kind of frog sounds that long guttural trill but just knowing that he was out there singing allowed me to sleep.

The “Uncommon” Sagebrush Lizard

 

IMG_2960.JPG

Above: Leo

One of the reasons I love living in the desert is because I share half the year with lizards. Although the sagebrush lizard is “common” in that it can be found in most western states, I have had a couple of uncommon experiences with them.

The first occurred last summer after I moved into a (former) rental. One day about a week after we moved in a sagebrush lizard appeared in between the slats of the screen door on the inside. Had he been living in the house before we arrived? Each day he appeared in the late morning, seemingly from nowhere, to bask on the stone windowsill inside the house. He spent most afternoons on the inside of the screen door somewhat hidden behind its slats. A house lizard has come to live with us, I thought, with pleasure. I’ll call him Shadow.

My Chihuahuas were astonished by this small creature that snapped up ants, and moved at lightening speed from one end of the house to the other! Shadow befriended Hope and Lucy tolerating their curiosity when they nudged him on his stony plateau. Lily B, my dove kept a sharp eye on him too, sometimes flying down to inspect the floor after Shadow streaked by.

Whenever I saw the lizard during the day I would speak to him telling him how happy I was that he joined our little family. During our “conversations” Shadow peered me with bright almond shaped eyes, cocking his head from side to side and behaving as if he understood what I was saying. Perhaps he did. He certainly responded to my attention.

Researching Sagebrush lizards I soon learned that males had two bright iridescent cobalt patches on their undersides. When I went outside to peer at Shadow clinging to the screen from the inside, I saw the astonishing blue patches. Shadow was a male.

Alas, three short weeks later, the property manager who neglected to respond to my warning, twice, crushed Shadow in the door killing him instantly. I was totally bereft. After his death even the female lizard that unexpectedly bowed to me as I buried Shadow outdoors under his window made me sad… Later, I wondered if the little female had been Shadow’s mate because she stayed around the house and often basked in the same window that Shadow did (only on the outside) until the cool temperatures and a sun slipping low on the horizon sent her into hibernation in October.

IMG_2585.jpg

Above: Shadow on the inside of the screen

It was a steamy April afternoon four months later when I went out the back door of our little river house (having moved in February) to sit and to shell some Redbud pods.

When I sat down on a little wooden bench near the door a Sagebrush lizard appeared out of one of the wooden slats of a square slatted plank that served as a bottom step. I held my breath as I looked for blue patches and saw none. But he seemed like a male. When the lizard started bowing to me I stood up and bowed back while calling to him (?) softly. The lizard regarded me with one beady eye. “I’m glad to meet you” I said, delighted that my voice didn’t scare him. I had a sudden pure burst of joy as he and I conversed, me with words, him by using his body to respond by bowing to me after I spoke!

I recalled the little female who had made this apparently formal bowing gesture towards me as I buried Shadow under the window with some Prairie sage last fall…

This was the second lizard I had met that liked wooden slats I thought to myself, surprised by the apparent coincidence. I decided to bring him some water. After making sure he had plenty of stones to reach into shallow the water-dish, I bid him good day. “Please stay,” I finished, before rounding the house.

When I lay down to take a nap that afternoon a name popped into my head “Leo” I heard myself say. Perfect!

Later that afternoon I went out to see Leo, and sure enough, he was still basking in the sun. I saw a flash of blue although he disappeared when I took a picture. He’s going to stay, I thought, and believed it.

The next morning when I came around the corner there was Leo basking on one of the slats. “Hi Leo” I spoke softly. In truth I had no idea if this lizard was male or female (because a female could have pale blue patches too in some cases) and at that moment I didn’t care. I returned to the house for my camera and snapped a picture. Suddenly, A smaller lizard appeared out of the out of one of the slats and Leo bowed to the little lizard first, and then turned to bow to me! Absurdly happy but still stunned, I stood there gaping. I named the smaller lizard Liza.

Bursts of pure joy flooded me. Just knowing that I might have two lizards moving into this outside space was enough. My gratitude overflowed because their presence was also a healing experience that allowed me to fall in love with Sagebrush lizards again.

IMG_2951.JPG

Above: Liza and Leo – from left to right

Working notes:

After this second lizard experience occurred I did more in depth research on Sagebrush lizards, a common species throughout the Southwest. I was fascinated by the bowing behavior and wondered if it might be part of the sagebrush mating ritual. Sure enough, head bobbing (a single bob) and shuddering (repeated head bobbing) are part of the male’s mating behavior towards a female. (A male might do head bobbing 24 – 60 times an hour while courtship is in progress). Males are territorial and mate with more female, although they have a preference for certain females and court them frequently. Lizards also use chemical and visual cues to select a mate. The brilliant blue patches on the undersides of the male attract the females, and sometimes the female rejects a male suitor for unknown reasons. After the male impregnates one female she develops an orange belly indicating that she is carrying eggs. Her mate then moves on to another chosen female in his territory. Mating usually takes place in May or June, and one or two clutches of 2 -10 eggs are laid about an inch underneath the base of sagebrush in June or July. Incubation lasts for 40 plus days and sometimes the young appear as early as late July. I saw many very small Sagebrush lizards last August.

Sagebrush lizards are very eco – friendly eating ants, beetles, termites, grasshoppers, spiders and scorpions.

The males are bigger than the females.

Lizards are diurnal and are most active in the late morning and afternoon. They are fond of open spaces where they can bask in the sun, but are never far from some form of protection. Roadrunners love to eat them and many other animals and birds like the badger, snake, and hawk do too. If fortunate, a Sagebrush lizard will live about four years in the wild.

Although fascinating from a natural history perspective none of this information explains why any Sagebrush lizard would spend time “bowing” to me!

Emergence: Poem to a Plant Goddess

IMG_2510.JPG

Her name is Datura.

Delicate fluted deep-throated trumpets open to

hungry honey bees and summer rains.

She communicates through scent.

 

In the fall I collect her sharp-needled pods.

They rattle like dry bones.

I chill them.

In the spring I coax seeds to sprout

wrapping each in papery white cloth,

sing love songs – siren calls

to rouse each root from winter’s sleep.

 

I am patient…

a woman in waiting for the heat of the sun

and the mystery of becoming

that is re-acted in spring.

Only seeds know when to swell and burst.

IMG_2942.JPG

 

Wooly hairs branch out from a single root.

Curling themselves into screw like shapes,

They leave it to me to untangle head from foot!

 

I hear the Old Ones call her Sacred

West wind whips red sand into my face,

as I place each sprout in well dampened soil.

 

Within a week green wings unfold

– twin leafed plantlets

lean into the fierce light of a golden eye.

 

Each seedling seeks its own form.

DNA meets the pattern of becoming

held by cosmic forces in a spiral round.

 

I imagine a bush of sensuous pearl white trumpets

– lacy lavender tipped edges unfurling at dusk.

Datura converses with the Hawk moth under a blossoming moon.

 

An ancient plant with unknown origins

Datura bridges continents,

passed on by Indigenous story and feet.

A muse full of secrets

she is known by those

(who have been initiated into her ways)

as “Grandmother,” whose poison is deadly.

She is also a visionary and healer.

 

She comes to some through dreams.

The un- initiated fear her.

 

They call her devil, thorn apple,

witches wildflower, in woeful ignorance

of the breadth of her power.

 

“Dementia!” they sling arrows of ignorance,

accuse her as one who would kill or maim.

 

As well she might.

 

To those who would use her

without respect or care,

she mutters a warning:

Beware.

 

Working Notes:

Datura flowers are startling, huge, trumpet shaped – pearl white and luminous, tinted with pale to deep lavender around the edges – and in northern Mexico, intensely fragrant after rain. Last summer, like the bees that hummed around the flowers from dawn to dusk, I too couldn’t get enough of the sweet scent of literally hundreds of undulating lace edged trumpets that opened each morning or evening after a rain. These wild plants are also known as devil’s trumpet, moonflowers, devil’s weed and thorn apple.

 

Late last fall I collected prickly seed pods and stored them over the winter. This spring I coaxed seeds to sprout, planting them here and there, imagining a summer desert filled with clumps of fragrant blossoms.

 

Datura has the ability to shapeshift – literally. Depending upon growing conditions this plant can develop into a large four or five foot bush, or spread its small umbrella of pointed leaves and flowers over a dry desert wash, barely reaching twelve inches in height. The plant can change its shape as well as the amount of its toxicity which confused botanists for years!

 

In service to Life Datura removes lead from the soil and stores it in her roots and leaves. While the plant provides nectar for bees and other insectivores it forms an intimate partnership (mutualism) with the Hawk moth, an insect almost as large as the human hand. Datura furnishes the moth with nectar and shelters its eggs (newly hatched larvae are served a tasty leafy meal by this mothering plant). But in return pollen is transferred from moth to flower enabling fertilization to take place. With the help of the moth, Datura can then produce fruit and seeds for another year.

 

Datura belongs to the classic “witches weeds” according to Wikipedia, along with deadly nightshade, henbane, mandrake, hemlock and other toxic plants. “It was well known as an essential ingredient of potions and witches brews,” according to this  source.

 

Indigenous peoples across the globe have been using this plant for millennia to seek spirit helpers through visioning. All parts of this plant are lethal and only those that are initiated through the (secret) oral traditions know how to neutralize the poison.