She’s a Lover of Bears

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She’s a Lover of Bears.

A poet, a dreamer,

enamored by beaded eyes

black and brown fur,

rotund bellies.

Heartrending cries.

Grunts, moans and huffs –

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

She knows that

a Universal Language

is spoken by bears.

Each nuance

and gesture deepens

a story that she

longs to share…

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

She slides

into a secret dimension –

slips through the veil into

thick green forest

where Bears

make their living,

make love,

dig dens,

have cubs,

sleep deeply and well,

live out their

days

in relational

Peace.

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

(If bears ruled the world

there would be no wars.

No wonder

She’s a Lover

of Bears!)

 

She dreams of them

in between the cracks

of the anguish

she feels

over the haunting

that overcomes

her each fall –

Too many will die

to become a rug

on the wall –

A snarling trophy

for

those

who must kill

for the high,

to feel

their own

life blood pulsing.

 

She yearns for

the sight of raggedy coats,

sleek new coats,

fur dipped in cool waters,

acorned – hazelnut fat bears,

each facial expression

so ancient with knowing…

 

She’s a Lover of Bears

who enter her heart – body –

soul

to be received

like a prayer.

She wants to climb

into those arms

to be held like a child,

Loved like a woman.

 

She’s a Lover of Bears.

 

8/10 /19

 

Working notes:

 

I recently attended a Black Bear Course at the Wildlife Research Institute in Ely Minnesota. Although I have been enamored by, and have studied Black bears for 20 years nothing prepared me for this total immersion into the bear experience.

To visit with so many wild bears in a place where humans choose to co-exist with bears was a revelation. I have never felt such peace being in the company of bears. For the most part these shy intelligent animals are allowed to live out their lives on their own terms (except for the fall hunting season that lasts six weeks, during which time any of these animals can be shot).

 

I was literally catapulted into another dimension, a timeless world in which only the bears, the Founder of the Wildlife Research Center, bear biologist Lynn Rogers, and I existed. Oddly, I experienced the other nine participants through a peculiar kind of haze.

 

Lynn’s groundbreaking trust based research challenges every fear based person and state wildlife agency’s “killer bear” concept in concrete ways, proving that bears and humans can co –exist peaceably.

 

Lynn thoughtfully answered so many of my questions and, of course, generated hundreds more. Although we have corresponded for about 15 years I had never met my mentor and friend until last week.

 

Returning to Maine I am confronted by the reality that our Maine bears are being lured to bait sites as I write these words. A three – month long hunting season will begin before the end of this month.

 

As a ‘Lover of Bears’ I feel this grief on a visceral level, but this year it has been tempered by this extraordinary experience that is open to anyone who wants to learn about these amazing animals.

 

Please visit WWW. Bear.org for information on courses, Lynn’s extensive research papers, daily updates, and to learn about the North American Bear Center.

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Independence Day?

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She haunts me

little bear,

too slight,

too wary

to seek

seed I cast

for her

under

White Pine

in whose strong arms

she finds

comfort and safety,

if only for one night.

 

The animals are innocent

 

Where was she when

exploding fireworks

whitened a black velvet sky

split stars night after night?

Where was she

when mindless drones

spewed raging gunfire

screaming for Right?

Who comforted her

in her fright?

 

The animals are innocent

 

The deafening noise

punctures holes

in our bodies,

fractures cell walls,

jamming synapses

freezes thought

muddles our brains.

Caught in a vise

of metal rain

our terror increases

with each act of aggression –

mindless booming,

Indifference.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

So much for July Fourth –

the golden mean

of manifest violence.

Fraudulent strength.

I can’t even imagine

the terror a small bear must feel.

Her senses are so much keener

than mine.

 

The animals are innocent

 

How is it that we dare

celebrate freedom

in a country

where “independence”

is reserved only

for those

in power?

 

The animals are innocent.

 

The rest of us

lay low, desperate,

praying to deaf gods

for relief.

Bound by fear and abandonment

lack of integrity

choice is not real

for those whose trees

have been cut down,

whose health

is compromised,

whose money has run out.

Make no mistake – these

endings do not create

new beginnings.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

One night she

clawed her way

up rough barked pine

climbing high

into forked branches.

Peering down

hot coals

bore through

fragile skins

of difference.

The littlest Bear

and her woman bend light,

twist roots.

A common plight is exposed.

The glue that binds us both

is made of pitch.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

I try to comfort…

but her fright

meets my own

Towers of Steel

and Silence

insure

our anguish

remains un named.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

We are haunted,

and hunted…

bloodied by sharp yellow talons

we do not weep or moan

but swing helplessly

in a darkening

bitter orange sky.

 

The animals are innocent.

 

How do we accept what is

when we have been chosen

by America’s Eagle

to become its next prey?

 

 

Working Notes:

 

This poem has a number of themes – one is about a shy little bear who is too frightened to come for food when she needs it. I first met her the night her mother left her to mate towards the end of May. Too anxiety stricken to function effectively she was unable to relax enough to eat. Instead Rosie Marie dove into the trunk of the nearest white pine, climbed into its upper branches and remained there wailing pitifully for about 45 minutes. This bear was too small, weighing less than 40 lbs which puts her at risk for survival, as does her unbearable anxiety. When she disappeared I didn’t see her for a whole month and believed she might be dead.

 

When she re-appeared her extreme nervousness still prevented her from eating more than a few mouthfuls of the seed before racing to her tree for safety; the tree had become a surrogate mother. I have never seen this little bear relax enough to sit or lie down as her relatives do when eating. Although she isn’t afraid of my voice/endearments she runs the moment I step out the door and recently has taken to becoming a “night bear”. If she eats at all, she does so after dark. After spending just a few precious days with her she has become invisible for a second time. I think about her constantly, seeing those haunted eyes that first evening, hearing her keen… With the bear hunt looming I wonder somewhat hopelessly, how a little bear can survive alone in this hostile hunting climate? There is no one help her.

 

A second theme is that about the Fourth of July – and the flag waving “patriots” that force the rest of us to our knees under gunfire blasts that last until the last drunk passes out. Those boys (not men) that assault people with deafening noise from exploding fireworks, raging motorcycles, and semi- automatic rifles do it just because they can. The founding fathers of this country created laws that have given them the power to do so. After all, they are the righteous right – the good ol’ boys who respect no boundaries, stick together, regardless of age. Compassion, decency and integrity are absent. Where are the protectors, the men who model kindness, respect and restraint?

 

And what can we do but endure while our animal bodies and souls are shot full of holes? These bodies, human and non-human alike are in the fire and under assault just as the Earth is.

 

A third theme is about interspecies relationship and how one woman and a bear are bound by mutual commonalities.

 

A fourth theme involves the eagle. The bald eagle has become a corrupted symbol for power that our “democracy” has stolen from its original inhabitants along with its mythology.

 

For Native peoples the eagle is a literal messenger from the gods who watches over the people.

 

For Americans the eagle has become a symbol that celebrates power over and the belief that this country has been divinely chosen (with god on our side) to be a world leader. It follows, of course, that we are better than others. We talk democracy and demonstrate with power over – our words and actions don’t match up.

 

In the wild, eagles soar high in the air, “close to the gods” as Indigenous peoples once believed. What we don’t want to see is that these birds are also are top predators, treacherous bullies who rule the skies, birds who tear flesh without mercy. The natural history of the eagle along with its corrupted mythology should give us pause… When Americans stole the eagle they killed the “messenger of the gods” and “birthed” his dark side, a rapacious killer.

 

This is Independence?

Two Friends

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Iren by Iren Schio

 

Root Woman

Tree Woman

Sky Woman

Dear friends

Greet,

converse with one another

on the steely silver edge

of Truth and

Change.

Weaving together

roots

twigs, leaves,

clumps of dirt,

the two carve out

an underground story.

Mythic toads instruct them

about the Ground Way

of Being:

“Breathe

sweet summer rain

through leaf and root,

translucent skin.

We are all related.

Sing to the Earth

And S/he will comfort you.

Breathe …”

 

 

Working notes:

 

When I saw this picture that my friend Iren took of herself I knew that a poem would be forthcoming because I was struck by meaning at least for me. Iren sits amongst tree roots. I catch toads. We are both dealing with uncertainty, transitions, and deaths of one sort or another.

 

Trees are, above all, protectors sheltering the living from storms; even when uprooted they provide comfort. Under their gracious canopies new life begins…

 

In myth toads are almost always associated with women, older women in particular. Sometimes wise woman. Neolithic toad images are associated with death and signify the capacity for new birth. Toads live on the edge.

 

Toads shed many skins during one lifetime ingesting them in the process. This peculiar toad habit of eating one’s one skin after shedding it suggests to me the wisdom of not trying to escape one’s past. Being able to let go while incorporating what was into the present as part of the whole is a paradox, but one worthy of our attention.

 

The key to moving through transitions is to breathe through them, to stay as much in the present as possible, to be flexible, to know when to hide out, “to bend like a willow and flow like a river” (the latter phrase belongs to Iren).

I capitalize the word Nature to emphasize the importance of allowing the natural world to teach us how to become more human. We are the youngest species on the planet and definitely the one most lacking in wisdom.

Sons of Power

 

Scorched,

by

the merciless

sons of patriarchy

some rebel,

wear flaming orange

to express helpless outrage,

 

But the Sun is at its Apex.

Ultimately,

We will choose

“the right to bear arms” –

seduction by the righteous right,

continue to slaughter

without accountability.

 

Guns speak.

And when held

in the hands

of irresponsible boys

(of whatever age)

permit the weakest to reign.

 

We celebrate violence

as ‘Masters of War,’

rape women,

shoot children,

innocent animals,

pollute and

plunder the Earth,

worship

Power and Might

Even as the Night closes in.

 

Working notes:

There was a time when I would have protested gun violence…but during the last few years I have been struck by the futility of protest. The lords of power have no conscience and are not interested in negotiation of any kind. Men, powerful special interest groups like the NRA and our state wildlife agencies support the right to bear arms at any cost as does the madman I can barely name as president.

Late last night I was assaulted by a round of semi-automatic gun blasts – unfortunately a common occurrence in this area. More blasts follow this morning. I wish I could say that this behavior on the part of my Maine neighbors was triggered by the protesting. But I know better – any excuse will do to shoot up the neighborhood. It’s NORMAL

Lizard Love

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The lizard I write about is the male in the foreground of his cottonwood house. Note the cobalt patches on his neck… He looks as large as his mate but this is a visual distortion – In actuality his mate is larger. I took this picture just after the two mated.

 

He was splayed out

in the pail,

waterlogged.

I gasped.

How long had he been there?

Placing my

hand under his

limp gray body I

laid him out

on a strip of sun warmed

cottonwood bark

noting his cobalt

underbelly- shimmering

emerald silk.

 

Identifying him as

one of the new mated

males, I blamed myself.

for his death –

It had rained the night before.

I hadn’t remembered

the upright pail.

 

Moments later

a gold rimmed eye

opened

into a slit.

 

Filling my lungs

with air

I ceased all

thought,

opened

my body

to the beyond,

(the place where living

and dying co- exist

in unbroken wholeness)

breathing life

into his exhausted

animal body,

walked away,

accepting uncertain outcome.

The sun warmed ashen flesh.

 

Five minutes later

I return to check,

Lizard raises his head

peers about,

his skin is regaining its pattern

of stripes.

I wonder how long

it has been since he has eaten?

He gazes at me intently as

I welcome him home…

 

 

Working notes:

 

Last year when I moved into this adobe house I made friends with each of the sagebrush lizards who lived here. I was privileged to get to know each one by sight as they greeted me in the early morning by appearing the moment I stepped outside the house. Just knowing they were with me helped me survive a summer of such intense heat that I was housebound for months.

 

Last fall I built a half moon garden on the south side of the house and all seven house lizards moved in for the winter, including baby lizard who was born in late August. I was thrilled, knowing that I had created an unintentional haven for these reptiles! During the winter I thought about lizards sleeping just beyond the adobe wall… I loved knowing they were nearby. When my friends emerged this spring (March) I noted that I hadn’t lost one!

 

One surprise was that soon I noticed new sagebrush lizards that were also making their home here (was some kind of lizard grapevine working behind the scenes?). The newcomers were shy, and it took me a while to show them that I could be trusted. One new pair also took up residence on the garden wall. The male had taken a special liking to me and often appeared from a crack in his cottonwood abode whenever I came by and spoke to him.

 

When the lizards began to pair off this month (May) I watched two pairs mate; one was the male that fell into the pail. I am happy to report that the mated females are pregnant and the couples continue to hang out together on different parts of the adobe house, some in the east, some in the south, two pairs on the garden wall. I placed rounded pieces of cottonwood bark as extra lizard houses on the top of this parapet. The lizards can bask there in the sun, hunt for ants, and disappear in seconds if need be. It was on the surface of one of these bark houses that I placed the lizard I thought was dead.

 

To find him floating in a pail of water horrified me not just because I knew I was responsible, but because the lizard was my friend.

 

When a lizard is dying his very distinct markings fade into a dull uniform dark gray; I was barely able to identify this one. That the cobalt patches turn to emerald was another surprise.

 

I am not sure how I learned that sometimes I can help an individual by setting an intention for Life, clearing my mind, cultivating deep breathing, and letting go of the outcome, but learning this technique has helped me at times to save lives.

 

As I watched the lizard recover I viscerally felt and sensed the power of interconnection to effect outcome.

 

I call that power Love.

Wandering Mystic

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We are

the golden sun

as it rises

over the luminescent

leaves

casting a lemony

haze over

sharply etched veins –

Sap is rising.

 

We are basking

in the early morning

light, saluting

each other

as lizards

in a universal language

we both comprehend –

Knowing too that

the steep price of intimacy

is loss..

 

The present is

my refuge

as I weave

through lime green

bushes and pale

gray scrub.

Delicately perfumed

magenta, deep purple,

salmon, and

buttery wildflowers

cry out for life as

we burst through

chalky alkaline soil

softened by rain.

Graceful giants, we

stretch our bowed limbs

Earthward,

gifting some with blessed shade.

Our roots

are starving sponges

soaking up

puddles of standing water.

 

I feel wonder at the stillness

that allows for Nature’s

Voices to be heard.

Towhees,

white crowned sparrows

doves and nuthatches

chant in harmony.

One cicada strums.

 

High Praise is offered

to Life in all

its complexity

without hesitation…

I envision the wolf

that licks my face,

a tangle of black snakes,

wiggling tadpoles,

pear trees birthing the fruit

of dreams?

 

 

These mental sparks

cast too dark a shadow

of separation,

and I breathe

deep

sliding back in.

 

 

Then I hear him:

My gray tree frog,

his throat blown into

a translucent bubble

trilling just beyond the veil…

 

 

I am both – him and me,

self and whole,

spinning Nature’s web.

I am the living land,

overflowing with her grace.

Breathing in like my frog does

intoxicating feeling,

sight, sound, vibration,

through fragile wrinkled skin –

open to impermanence,

‘predictable pain’,

and this precious moment

of Becoming.

 

 

Working Notes:

 

Recently, I wrote that there are not enough visionaries and mystics left in our culture, let alone in the world. Sometimes I write to find out what I am really thinking/feeling and I realized when I penned these words that I had uncovered a belief I didn’t know I had. I do believe that modern culture has lost access to its visionaries and its mystics. We dismiss these people as folks who are at best impractical, unrealistic, at worst delusional or crazy. It occurs to me that without including visionaries and mystics any culture will eventually self-destruct from lack of Imagination and lack of Love.

 

One definition of a visionary is a person that thinks about the future in a creative and imaginative way, a person with keen foresight. Many artists and writers are visionaries. This kind of person often lives in what I call the crack between worlds, inhabiting a space that is outside time or ahead of linear time as most of us experience it. If non –conventional or radical ideas are not acceptable then individuals will be forced to live in exile. A good example of a visionary who went through this phase is the poet Bob Dylan who had a pulse on the culture of the sixties and beyond, and was despised for speaking out during the folk era that was so focused on a change for the better. When I listen to Dylan’s early songs it is clear to me that he knew “something” was coming but it wasn’t necessarily a positive development. A careful reading of Dylan’s early work, (The Times They Are A-Changin’ is a good example) will initiate the reader into the visionary’s perspective.

 

There is a relationship between being a visionary and a mystic but there can be differences too. Visionaries “see” what’s ahead but may or may not understand what they are seeing, mystics actually “enter” other realities to experience them. I believe Bob Dylan did both.

 

Visionaries may survive as artists of one kind or another but today mysticism has no place in global culture as it is generally experienced, with the possible exception of the probably insane person who is directly tied to a particular religion who is also tagged as a mystic.

 

Some partial definitions of mysticism that made sense to me focused on those who seek by contemplation and self-surrender to obtain unity with or absorption into the absolute. Direct experience/intuition/apprehension or its opposite – an experience of nothingness seem to be intrinsic to the mystic’s experience. What isn’t mentioned here is that we are also talking about the experiential aspect of Love.

 

I personally like William James’s viewpoint which suggests that during mystical states we become one with the absolute and/or become aware of our oneness. This perspective contributes to the interpretation that mysticism is a distinct experience that highlights the importance of the senses to attainment of unity with the ‘divine’ however ones defines that word.

 

According to James mystical experiences have four defining qualities: They are ineffable; they cannot be explained in words. There is a noetic quality to these experiences; any insight into the depths of truth cannot be apprehended by the discursive intellect. Thirdly, these experiences are usually transient but their effect persists. And lastly, mystics do not come to these experiences as active seekers, but as passive recipients. It’s important to note that for James there was nothing inherently theological in or about mystical experience.

 

It is also argued by some that mysticism is part of the process of perception, not interpretation; that is to say that the unity of mystical experiences is perceived, and only afterwards interpreted according to the perceiver’s background. This may result in different accounts of the same phenomenon. For example, a nature mystic seeks union through objective experience, an individual mystical experience of union can also occur in the Great Void.

 

Visionaries and mystics allow us to perceive possibilities or actualities that are beyond our very limited human androcentric understanding. They also teach us about Unconditional Love. They lift us out of ordinary time, not through intellect, obfuscation, or denial but by opening a door through the present moment into a place where experiences have no past or future. The Now is all there is.

 

I have spent my life trying to function in a foreign culture that has remarkably little meaning for me; a culture totally disconnected from that of the natural world. Personally, Nature is both source and container – the place where both the visionary and the mystic originate and thrive because we are one. On-going communication with non-human species is a natural part of this way of being in the world, and all language, human and non human a like, is directly mediated through my body, which is, I repeat, also the body of Nature.

 

I always capitalize the word Nature because S/he is generally ignored, dismissed, despised, exploited (read raped) by humans; I seek to re-dress that imbalance by highlighting her importance, and not because I perceive her as some kind of deity.

 

The little poem I wrote attempts to illustrate how fluid this natural connection is for this nature mystic, and how easily I slip from one way of being into the other. It is also a reflection on what it means to be ‘in love’ in the largest sense of the word.

 

I should probably add here that I am severely directionally dyslexic – the universe does have a sense of humor – navigating the natural world may be effortless (although I am never the one orchestrating these experiences/relationships), while I am literally lost at sea in the violent culture I was born into.

 

As a dedicated naturalist and a nature mystic I also can’t help wondering how entering into an intimate relationship with Nature might change our attitude towards the planet we depend on for life. Perhaps instead of seeking transcendence we need to choose immanence?

 

 

Blue Truck and Open Sky

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I waved goodbye

gazing into

blue space

as rattling metal

dissipates,

leaving

dust

in its wake.

 

‘Change is the

only constant’

I remind myself

as I turn back to the adobe

to prepare for

my own leave – taking

with a hole in my heart.

Am I always saying goodbye?

 

The next day

I cannot get out of bed.

Is it too much to expect

that I can continue

to endure these ruptures

that catapult my body into

a coal black cosmos,

even as a spring veil

casts her grace

over the land?

 

I have no answers

to these questions.

I lean into gray – green

imagining warm rain

that falls quietly for hours

aligning myself

with elements

I trust – hoping

for insight.

 

I dream about Black bears,

those primal mystics of the forest.

Like them I must have a Tall Tree

to sleep under,  to lean upon…

 

On the outside

I endure

my body exhausted,

wrung out, as

I throw a furry coat

over a shivering child

who no longer trusts

that dawn will come.

 

Postscript:

I am struck by the personal truth that childhood abandonment creates its own powerful reality – a closed system that even the most self -aware adult cannot shift. Developing keen awareness regarding this issue may even make this ‘knowing’ more difficult because it becomes impossible to medicate this void with denial or any other kind of drug* induced coma. What is left is to endure. This is the position I find myself in as I attempt to create a bridge to move from one beloved earth-space to another.

*I use the word drug in the cultural sense not restricting myself to medical/ recreational drug overuse, although, of course, I include these with the others. We often cite medical/or recreational drug users as the core problem while the rest of us appear to be numb to the fact that unhealthy addiction includes any behavior that is taken to the extreme in every day life. It’s also important to recognize that we live in a culture that celebrates “doing” (read as addiction) as the way of life. In this way of thinking if a person is not actively engaged with some activity or machine every second of her/his time then there is something amiss. Being alive isn’t enough. Healthy doses of silence and self-reflection are not considered useful.