June Moon: The Berry Moon

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I watered the soil thoroughly because it was so dry. I intended to plant my seeds and May has been a month of bizarre weather extremes. The last waxing moon frost occurred this week with temperatures in the mid 20’s. Finally, it was time…

 

When I awakened during the night a light drizzle sweetened the air as a solitary gray tree frog trilled from the brook. At dawn I was disappointed that rain had barely wet the leaves and yet the sky was soft with dark gray clouds, and it was delightfully cool, a perfect day for planting.

 

I felt excitement rising as I gathered my chosen seeds and began raking smooth the damp sweet earth, marveling of the fact that each seed contains the miracle of its own becoming. I was imagining the riot of color that would be visible by early August as I poked each seed into its home, tamped it down, and afterwards, watered again. Nasturtiums and Scarlet Runner beans would provide the back-drop for the perennial flowers in the lower garden all of which had escaped the frost. I was well pleased. Because of the light drizzle the seeds would not dry out today, I thought, with some satisfaction.

 

Finishing with the rock garden I moved up the hill to my herb patch. I planted four basil plants, the dill seedlings were nestled next to the lettuce, with parsley in between; happily the lemon thyme was recovering from its winter ordeal. Finally I seeded more basil directly into the soil and poked more trailing nasturtiums around the lettuce because the latter would be gone before the nasturtiums were big enough to shade the plants.

 

This simple little herb patch gave me as much pleasure as having a big vegetable garden once did. It was the relational act of co creating with the earth that mattered.

 

Afterwards I walked to the pond in the still gray air. I love humidity when it’s cool because the moist air holds the scents of so many trees plants, bushes and flowers. The combined effect is intoxicating. Especially now with the lilacs.

 

When the rain began I was back in the house. Instantly my eyes witnessed electric green emanating from the trees – all plants were breathing, saturating themselves with moisture. The evergreens stretched their fingers out, and the deciduous trees turned their leaves upward opening them to the sky. The grosbeaks, red wings, and cardinals sang love songs. Everyone loves the Cloud People.

 

Seeding in officially marks the end of heavy garden work for me. For two months I have been digging and moving plants from the big cottage garden into a smaller one that I can see from our screened and glassed in porch, our summer living room.

 

Reflecting over the past few years I remembered becoming disenchanted with gardening – the work was becoming too hard – so much so that I thought I was ready to let go. I was wrong. When the grass began to crowd out the delicate spring flowers and other old fashioned perennials so dear to me I realized I was missing my old friends.

 

At that point I left for the NM desert where I tried to garden in a hostile environment on land that did not belong to me. After attempting to create an oasis in impossible heat and wind I was forced to give up gardening for a second time, this time out of necessity. In that process I had developed a new perspective on gardening in Maine. It might be hard work but the rewards were worth it. I was ready to try again.

 

When I returned home this spring I knew that necessary construction would ruin what was left of the old fashioned overgrown cottage garden. Trusting that this work will happen ‘sometime’ motivated me to move plant after plant – choosing carefully what to keep and what to let go. The result is that I have created a lovely cottage garden that contains my most beloved perennial flowers. Hopefully I can care for these, at least for a few more years. It’s been quite a process, and I have learned the hard way that gardening is as necessary to me as breathing.

 

June’s full moon is upon us. Because so many wildflowers are sprouting fruiting bodies besides strawberries I have re named this solstice moon the Berry Moon… There is an old purple Berry Woman that lives in this forested wood inside an Elderberry bush I recently planted who can be coaxed out of hiding if the need is great. I hope she will help me break out of the paralyzed state I find myself in. I need help believing that I can find the builder, the help I need…

 

Once, a few years ago she left me a seed…

Trusting what we have been given?

It is hard to

witness the drought

steal lime green

shrink maple leaves

distort wildflower buds.

When I stand under

the apple tree

white snow petals

drift

around me,

I long to stop time

until the rains come.

Vernal pools

are disappearing.

This scalding gift

kills wiggling tadpoles

by the millions –

froglets not to be –

Frantically, I scoop

a thousand or more,

race to the pond,

make an offering

of reprieve –

Time to Breathe.

Afterwards

I reflect.

Murder by a scorching sun

is part of the story

but not the Whole.

This frog holocaust

is also Nature’s way.

S/he births life,

allows death

to have its way.

 

Working notes: This piece was written in response to a prompt given by a friend/facilitator before we met collectively on zoom (hideous name) – writers who need to keep on questioning and learning… that day I had witnessed thousands of tadpoles struggling to survive as their vernal (temporary) pools disappeared in the terrifying 100 plus degree heat wave in a month when all life is just beginning – May – Unable to stand by when I knew that frogs are the most endangered species on earth, I scooped up about a thousand and released them in a nearby lake, in my vernal pool, and kept a few to watch in a fish bowl knowing that bringing these last few to adulthood will probably give them a chance to survive. Frogs don’t need a heat wave to kill them. As it is only four percent make it to adulthood under the best circumstances. In that one pool  alone thousands more perished under a relentless solstice sun.

Not surprisingly, I didn’t get much feedback from my “non – poem” someone called it -unfortunately even sensitive writers aren’t tuned in to the ways of Nature…at least not like I am. In the scheme of things frogs don’t matter – and yet here we are in the midst of a virus crisis that kills impersonally… I see an intimate relationship between the frogs and people who are dying…

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The Pear Tree

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She was more

than a sapling,

so robust.

One summer she

bowed

her tear shaped body,

offering

a hundred sweet pears

to any creature

that sought her gifts.

Did the deer remember?

Fruit that fermented became

fertilizer for hungry plants.

 

When they

girded her slender trunk

that winter

I felt betrayed

by the herd of graceful creatures

I fed…

 

She was dead.

Her sweet cambium

stripped away

under rough bark.

Unable to carry

nitrogen, water, nutrients

from trunk to twig

the tree succumbed.

 

I would have cut her down

but she was hidden

below the house

in the lower field,

out of sight.

So the tree still stood –

skeleton gray against

new green

and wheat.

 

I continued to visit her –

murmured endearments,

stroked the scarred

trunk

“re- membering”

her life,

the wholeness

she once embodied.

 

Every fall I cut the field

Each spring I walked the

Round.

 

It was during

a May meandering

that I drifted

towards the tree –

startled when

lime green

caught my eye.

A few stunted leaves

were unfurling…

How could this be?

 

Bearing witness

to the struggle,

I cried out,

laid my head against

her trunk, caressed

a branch or two.

 

Some life force

had not surrendered –

 

During the summer

more leaves appeared.

I honored her tenacity,

placed protective wire

around her girth

under Autumn’s chill.

The philosopher held

the inevitable question…

How?

 

When I approached her

this spring

plump buds had formed

on branches over my head.

The Red Winged Blackbird

courted us both

from one of Pear’s

blue sky limbs…

 

After the heat wave

I couldn’t wait

to see her again…

 

Strolling down

the pine scented path.

I peered into the field

walked towards her

gasping in amazement.

A brilliant White Earth Star

stood there before me

festooned in

Bridal blossoms.

Honey Bees hummed

from every pearl -like petal.

 

“How did you do that?”

I queried in wonder,

recalling suddenly,

that I knew –

all trees communicate

underground,

ask for help,

exchange information

through rootlets,

mycelial networks,

miles of fungi,

woven into a tapestry

from tree to tree.

Did nearby white pine

or crabapple

nurture her

roots and trunk

when all seemed lost?

 

Miracles occurred

with regularity.

 

Like this one.

 

I was standing next to

a blooming pear tree

who would one day

bear sweet fruit!

 

Life had triumphed

for a cosmic moment.

 

Woman and Tree

were both transformed

by relationship

running deep.

 

 

Working notes:

This piece of prose was generated by the question of how much difference my love for this tree might have had on her return to life. Obviously there were biological/ecological forces that helped the tree recover, but my sense is that my love for her also helped in some mysterious way.

 

Developing a relationship with a tree or lizard or dog seems to create a reciprocity that strengthens both participants. And trees and women have an ancient relationship that stretches back through mythological time.

 

When we “re – member” some part of us brings what appears to be the past and the present together – my sense is that there is a wholeness inherent in remembering that also blurs the boundaries between the living and the dead.

The Endearing Phoebe

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The Phoebe that helped me solve a mystery

 

Last year when I returned from New Mexico I found an Eastern Phoebe’s nest under the eaves above my front door. I witnessed the three nestlings mature with deep pleasure, happy because the phoebes have only nested on the house once before, though this little valley has been home to these endearing birds ever since I built the house. Every year I watch them hunt from the wild apple tree with its golden apples that spans the entire southern wall of the house and overlooks the brook. In fact I am watching a phoebe hunt as I write these words. In years past I always looked forward to their arrival in the early spring after a long Maine winter.

This spring the phoebes chose another nest site, probably one of their old ones, perhaps because last year I removed the dormer that protected their nest; I can’t be sure.

Two days ago I watched a phoebe fly from a nearby crabapple towards the very spot above the door where the birds had their nest last year. I was baffled by this strange behavior and when I investigated I found the answer. Phoebe was hunting hungry mosquitos – there was a whole cloud of these little monsters that had convened there apparently while waiting for me to open the door! Insects are smart, and this convocation is a perfect example of insect brilliance. No wonder the bugs were getting in. I thanked my little friend for his help before rubbing peppermint oil on the wood to discourage the mosquitos, who then vacated the area. Because I am repeating this application the phoebes are no longer hunting around the front door, but have returned to their previous hunting ground, the apple tree. When I posted a couple of phoebe pictures my friend Carol Bondy mentioned that she had some nesting on their house. I hope at some point to see some of her pictures.

In Abiquiu I hear phoebes in the gracious Cottonwoods during the winter but I rarely see them and whenever I do it is always just a glimpse of a wobbling tail or bobbing. After hearing about Carol’s experience it suddenly occurred to me that these New Mexico phoebes might be a different species. And of course they are. The reason I had never thought about this issue before is because their calls sound alike to me although the literature states that there are distinct differences. I was baffled by this apparent inconsistency. When I actually listened to the two species singing I noted that The Says phoebe has a shorter call or peep, though it sounds similar to the call of the Eastern phoebe, a sound I have heard all my life. At least one of the sources I consulted said that the ranges of these two species can overlap Is it possible that both species inhabit the Abiquiu area? If they do I would love to know.

The primary difference between the Eastern phoebe and the Says Phoebe of New Mexico is that the former have a pale belly as opposed to the cinnamon – washed belly belonging to the latter.

Both species of flycatchers migrate north in the early spring and are noted for being early arrivals. Unlike many other birds both species reuse nests. With that much said it is also true that Phoebes that are breeding in the Southwest do not migrate and are present year round.

In the east the phoebes place their mud-and-grass nests in protected places like houses, barns, under bridges or around here in nests placed close to the brook (the one on the side of the cabin was made with a lot of moss). They gravitate to protected woodlands.

The Says phoebe will also nest on houses and buildings but otherwise “is an open country bird”. The literature says these phoebes perch on fence posts and pasture wire but I have not seen this behavior although both wire and fence posts border the casita on the riverside. It seems to me that phoebes in Abiquiu would be drawn to the Bosque because this is where there are more insects to eat. Out of season they are fond of berries. They are supposed to lay two clutches of two to six eggs. Here, the family that nested under the eaves only raised one.

Both species seem to tolerate and even befriend humans who pay attention to them. This has been my personal experience with the phoebes that hunt from the wild apple tree. They watch me through the window with beaded eyes while bobbing up and down and wagging their tail feathers in that characteristic phoebe way. They do not fly away, even when I approach them; they respond to the sound of my voice with apparent interest.

Happily, according to Audubon both species appear to be maintaining a stable population.

The Eastern Phoebe became the first banded bird in North America. John James Audubon attached silvered thread to an Eastern phoebe’s leg to track its return in successive years.

The Eastern Phoebe is a loner, rarely coming in contact with other phoebes. Even members of a mated pair do not spend much time together. They may roost together early in pair formation, but even during egg laying the female frequently chases the male away from her. I didn’t find similar information about the Says phoebe but my guess is that the two behave in much the same way. I never glimpsed more than one at a time in Abiquiu.

Say’s Phoebes have been in the U.S. since the late Pleistocene. Paleontologists discovered Say’s Phoebe fossils in Arizona, California, New Mexico, and Texas dating back to about 400,000 years ago.

The Say’s Phoebe also breeds farther north than any other flycatcher and is seemingly limited only by the lack of nest sites. Its breeding range extends from central Mexico all the way to the arctic tundra.

I know from personal experience that befriending these little birds is a worthwhile endeavor providing the viewer with hours of entertainment – sometimes at the expense of work that has to be done! The little fellow outside my window keeps interrupting my train of thought with his aerial dives.

For Leslie

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She made me

a birdhouse

from old wood

whispering stories.

Together

we walked to

the edge of

my open field.

She dug

the post in,

creative hands

working

rich soil.

I witnessed

with a grateful heart…

I wondered then

who would come

to nest in this

forest jewel…

dreamed of wrens

or chickadees

peering out

of black holes…

This morning

I realized

that by our actions

we had created

a living prayer…

Like the birds

we too

are seeking

safe homes –

peace for

tortured

minds and

bodies

torn asunder

by a culture

gone insane.

All Shall Be Well Again

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Just one mutilated tree stump…

 

Destructive behavior seems to have become a socially accepted “American Way” for many people in this country. Up the road from me I have a retired neighbor who exemplifies this attitude. When the couple first moved here he built a bridge over my brook with trees that he cut from my land without my permission… and that was just the beginning. There were other misunderstandings that followed. Most occurred behind my back.

 

In 2012 I approached him hoping to make amends, offering peace if not friendship. I told him then that we shared a physical boundary and that it made sense to be civil to one another. According to him I had betrayed him “three times” – What? He sounded like he had been bewitched by a bad fairy tale. He rejected my offering, choosing outright hostility instead.

 

This winter while I was away this man and his wife used my property as their personal ski area, obviously, without my permission. This man also took the time to destroy a garden wall that sheltered a tree seedling. Fortunately, I caught these egregious actions on camera and am now in a position to press charges.

 

I am equally fortunate to have genuinely kind and helpful neighbors nearby. It has also been such a positive experience for me to spend winters in an area in New Mexico where next-door neighbors actually like each other! Here at home, I have come to accept the situation with unpleasant, untrustworthy neighbor as it is. And I have been educated by him…

 

This man taught me a lesson I wished I had learned much earlier in my life – namely that some people take great pleasure out of creating misery for others, particularly those they believe are vulnerable. It was hard for me to understand that these people need an enemy, someone they think they can torment. That their behavior had nothing to do with me personally and was all about them was not evident for many years because I kept trying to make peace.

 

Today I see this neighbor issue as a microcosm of a situation that has become rampant in this country and throughout the world. Human selfishness, dishonesty, and arrogance, the inability to form genuine relationships, the pervasive need for power over at any cost, the addictive need to exert that ‘bully’ power to deal with personal inadequacy, the need to have an enemy or create one that doesn’t exist has never been more apparent than it is today. It might be important to add that bullies are always cowards at heart.

 

The underbelly of the American Beast has been exposed and it is depressing to behold. It is not lost on me that like our pitiful excuse for a president it is people like my neighbor who get the attention…

 

A number of years ago this man began to take his powerlessness and pathological hatred out on trees. He owns what used to be a beautiful sloping mountain field bordered by evergreen woodlands. Initially, he allowed his white pines to flourish but eventually he began to destroy his trees from the top down, hacking off crowns, chopping side branches away until there was nothing left but bleeding stumps. Finally, he dragged the dying limbs to the road that also functions as my driveway (he continues this practice today). Then, bizarrely, he planted new “perfect” trees in more obvious places near the main road where they would be seen by the general public.

 

At first I was dumbstruck by this behavior; it seemed to make no sense. That it hurt and eventually (mercifully) killed the living beings we call trees was obvious. After witnessing such malevolent obliteration I reached the conclusion that this man’s mental health was in jeopardy. And, of course, to this day virtually anyone who drives down the driveway asks me what is going on with the “holocaust” next door. As if I had inside information. Now I simply reply, “the man is crazy” and let it go at that. If he only knew what people thought…

 

Long ago I made peace with the dying trees. They know that if I had the choice those magnificent Beings would have been left to live or chopped down mercifully… Today whenever I walk by the ugly stumps it brings to mind man’s inhumanity to man and the natural world as a whole and how weary Nature must be of man’s ongoing need to control and destroy the integrated living organism we call Earth. My revengeful neighbor is only one of those destroyers…It is always helpful to put a person’s actions in a larger context and I have done exactly that with this man.

 

I am filled with compassion for mutilated trees, animals, plants, and for people who are suffering or dying. I am also comforted because I know that Nature has begun the process of re-dressing the human induced imbalances with the first of her pandemics. S/he has been desperately attempting to get our attention as her trees are slaughtered and burned, her waters poisoned, her air and ground polluted, her animals and plants becoming extinct. Few have paid attention. We seem to have forgotten that Nature is reality. Life on this planet is 450 million years strong; humans have only been around for 200,000 years. Today our socially constructed “reality” is cracking and a great void looms above and below revealing that humans are more vulnerable than they ever imagined. It is a relief to know that in time Nature’s Way will prevail:

 

“All Shall Be Well Again.”

Restoration

TB IN TREE STICKS

 

At dawn

I look for sign.

You are orphaned –

without a mother

to guide you.

Did you find

my offering?

 

Friendship

for one

wearing bearskin

is a risk

you can

no longer take.

 

To be shot at,

trapped,

run down by

stupid men who

fear their own

black souls

is no excuse.

 

Murdering mothers

and children

constitutes atrocity –

like Tree Slaughter

I am forced to witness

the horrors of

human insanity.

 

I wonder

If you know

That Nature

Is starting to

retaliate

on your behalf?

 

This virus

is just the beginning…

Humans will

orchestrate

their demise

through continued

indifference

selfishness…

suffering and dying

just as you have.

 

Unlike your kind

our old ones

will meet death first,

but the tide

is shifting;

Earth seeks wholeness,

redressing imbalance,

And S/he too

can be ruthless

when culling…

 

You are wise

in the ways of Nature

called “Root Healers”-

still reverenced

by some.

 

One day

bears will

thrive in newly

forested landscape,

raise yearlings in peace,

live free of torment,

because the species

that once hunted you

has finally been erased

from the Book of Life.

 

Her Evolving Story

is a Fountain of Hope.

Collapsing Foundations

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The slow greening of the spring…

 

I was writing an article when a sharp crack slammed through the house. I jumped out of bed to identify the frightening sound and found nothing. It wasn’t until I was in the bathroom that I saw that the floor had separated from its molding. Frightened out of my wits I crawled into my cellar to discover a supporting beam had collapsed. Others would follow. I was leaving for New Mexico in a week.

Frantic, I called around to find a foundation contractor, and cancelled my plans to go south. Why was it that every trip to New Mexico was preceded by omens, bad news and now a crisis? PTSD struck and I was walking on air. Uncomfortable with the person I found I managed to get the foundation propped up temporarily and left thinking I had someone who would do the work in the spring…

I arrived in New Mexico to a horrific jungle that had once been my garden, spent three weeks clearing a path to my front door (ending up with bloody hands from hand cutting and ruining two pairs of shears) eventually untangling and clearing an indescribable mess. Not one person had warned me… My closest neighbor would come over on some pretense or another and stand there watching me work in the intolerable heat of the sun never offering assistance. I succumbed to altitude sickness and 90 plus degree heat becoming ill within a few weeks. I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was not welcome here, although some acquaintances appeared friendly enough. One friend was kind enough to shop for me In Santa Fe, a city I could not go to on my own because of severe dyslexia.

So began my winter in Abiquiu. In time I adjusted to my isolation, took deep pleasure from my pre-dawn walks to the river, listened carefully to messages I received from the cottonwood trees and bare winter ground. Friends, I thought I had, disappeared. But I was no stranger to loneliness and had resources like my writing, occasional brief visits from my neighbor, and my love for Nature.

The previous summer I had been diagnosed with emphysema and I noted that the high altitude was affecting my breathing keeping me too aware that at some point this disease would kill me. I continued to long for the scent of pine and the clear air in Maine and burned balsam oil to deal with my breathing issues.

It wasn’t just that the foundation of my house in Maine was collapsing… there was a relationship between the state of my little cabin and what was happening to my aging body. And soon I would note a third correspondance.

I spent time in the present appreciating what I could. Sunrises, trees, early evenings and winter’s ground supported me. I felt deep gratitude flowing. Of course, gratitude is ephemeral and one cannot force it, so some days I simply endured, stuck in either the past, or the now, more terrifying unknown future.

During the fall I had frightening dreams that were personal and impersonal in content. I consciously worked with dread relying more and more upon the present moment for relief from suffering.

I reached a point in my writing when despair finally overcame my ongoing attempts to educate people about the abuse of the Earth. I had been an advocate for so many years, and it seemed to me that my life’s work had come to nothing.

At the winter solstice I had an extraordinary reversal occur after listening to a storyteller tell an audience that humans as a species had run out of time. When I heard these words, I felt like I had been struck by lightening. As the searing truth severed years and years of false hope that I had clung to in my need to save my beloved Earth I let go; felt my entire body lean into a peace I had never known. I had done enough. It was over. I was free.

At first my dreams were jubilant, their meanings crystal clear. Humans were an expendable species whose arrogant selfish behavior would lead to our demise – my gratitude knew no bounds.

In one dream I held a clear bubble in my hand. I quickly opened the sphere to allow the contents to breathe and when I did I saw the most amazing scene. There were thousands of animals, birds and trees of all kinds scattered over magnificent emerald green ground. I was stunned, riveted, and it took me a few moments to take in what I saw. This was a whole new earth waiting to be born! Then I saw an ark. An ark? But this ark had no people, just animals birds butterflies worms – all manner of living creatures streaming out of its center. Mesmerized, I peered into the sphere. This earth was free of humans and their destructive manipulation. I awakened weeping with joy.

In a 2nd dream I was walking through the Bosque in the pre-dawn hours when I had a vision. My beloved dying cottonwoods had disappeared but in their place were giant pinecones that had become trees that were securely rooted in the ground. They were already 5 feet tall and growing very fast! These weren’t ordinary pinecones; they were crane –cones, cones like those that I had picked up at the Bosque del Apache (Cranes are spirit birds for me). “The trees will live on; they will just change forms” a dis-embodied voice told me.

I awakened feeling a profound sense of relief because I loved all trees and had witnessed such heartrending tree destruction by logging and burning, and in Abiquiu, I lived with thirst driven trees that were succumbing to desertification.

For a month I stayed in what can only be described as an altered state of consciousness – ecstasy. My whole world had shifted. I began to write about trees and couldn’t stop. The primary emphasis was no longer on advocating for the life of trees but rather to invite people in to examine trees as remarkable living beings four million years strong! I wrote and wrote and wrote with joy in my heart.

When my dreams suddenly turned dark again at the end of January I was baffled, unsettled. Trees were losing their bark; there was a new threat on the horizon. Two dreams haunted me. In one there were just the words: a malware virus will strike. In the second, bugs were flying horizontally past my window. As is my custom I wrote P for precognition across the top of the two dreams and let them be. My unease turned to raw fear; I knew something was coming.

A month later the C/virus slithered into awareness through thin air. I recalled a troubling dream I had the previous November about a giant multi-colored python that was snaking its way down the river and bearing down on us. I awakened knowing that whatever this was it involved the culture as a whole. Beyond that nothing. In retrospect it was easy to see that the presence of the menacing serpent was the first warning…

The time was also approaching for me to return to Maine. I had trouble sleeping; my plans to fly suddenly took on ominous overtones. My neighbor who planned to accompany me on the flight told me that he didn’t want to fly under the circumstances. I called my doctor for a recommendation: do not drive. With emphysema I am in the highest risk category, and I was aware that the disease had worsened during the winter. We would drive instead. I needed to see my doctor (New Mexico is not known for its medical expertise I had learned the hard way). I agreed, though with some reservations… We were fortunate to make the trip safely by taking extreme precautions.

Arriving home so early in the spring was joyful. The first frogs were singing, the birds I so missed in Abiquiu were here in abundance and are still arriving as of this writing. We had a couple of spring snowstorms that bowed the evergreens, covering them in delicate white shawls. My woodland paths turned into a fairyland forest. I dug and manured my vegetable garden and began to reclaim my grass-choked perennials, a job I continue to this day. Because it has been cold the leaves on the trees are unfurling craftily. They know enough to pay attention to the unpredictable moods of Nature. Spring greening has begun…

Now it is mid May and foundation issues are still looming. The contractor backed out. So far I have not been able to find someone to do the work, although I have made inquiries. In this area people are very responsible about the C/virus so the threat is lessened. I am very grateful that our town, not to mention our Governor, has been put laws into effect that will help protect the people if we do our part. Unfortunately, this C/virus is creating a Catch 22 situation. People have to work so the restrictions will have to be lifted at some point, and when they are we can expect a resurgence of the virus and more deaths.

I think it is becoming clear to some of us that the virus is changing the way people can relate to one another, and that this change is not temporary. Yet I rarely hear anyone mention that if we had paid attention to Nature, respecting her needs instead of mindlessly using her as a disposable resource that we would not be in this position today. Humans unleashed this virus by their actions, and now we are beginning to take the consequences.

I am no stranger to fear having endured PTSD for almost my entire life but this virus has added another threatening layer because I am also dealing with the reality that I suffer from a terminal disease. I know it, but I am only in the early stages of feeling it. One day I shall wake up and be unable to breathe my sweet mountain air… Because of the C/virus much needed tests I need to have to be put off, so once again I am walking on air.

The future has become uncertain. The artificial socially constructed cultural reality that people call “the real world” is an illusion that is breaking down as Nature claims sovereignty. I am struck by the relationship between my house problems, worsening health issues, and the breakdown of the culture under the threat of this pandemic and those that will follow. I am quite certain I am not the only person experiencing collapse on both a personal and collective level.

Meanwhile, my strategy for dealing with fear and uncertainty is to take refuge in the present as always. Fortunately, my love for Nature provides me with a seemingly endless resource… the next unfurling leaves and flowers – bloodroot and wild violets, the songs of birds – the drumming of the grouse, the bittern’s guttural call – the orioles whose luminescent coats are brighter than the oranges they sip nectar from – emerald green mosses, tufts of lime green grasses, peepers singing at twilight all remind me that each day is a gift – and that it’s up to me to be open to receiving what is offered.

Last night I participated in an online conversation with a number of other women all of whom were writers like me. Again and again I heard words about the importance of being able to withstand this slowing down, the benefits of achieving a state of stillness, and how participating with Nature allowed us to enter a state in which it is possible to feel peace during this very difficult transition.

Words to Live By.

Ruffed Grouse – A Mother’s Day Gift

 

 

20200207_Ruffed_grouse_David_Setterholm

On Mother’s Day just before dusk I saw an amazing sight just outside my front door. It had been a cold gray wind driven day, so the birds at my feeder were scarce, even here in the hollow. To see the male grouse displaying his beautiful feathers on my front step brought tears to my eyes. Such a lovely visitation!

 

I had been listening to the grouse drumming for a few days. Every year this beautiful woodland bird calls from the same direction in the deciduous part of my forest. This practice began the first year I lived here – many years ago now. Some years the female nests very close to the house and I am treated to a family parade of fluffy miniature grouse pecking their way through the high grasses during the late afternoon. I deliberately leave high grass close to the brook for these ground – loving birds – turkeys appreciate the cover too.

 

The plumage of the Ruffed grouse is subtly and exquisitely marked in a way that blends so well with their habitat that even when you see one it can disappear before your eyes. The broad black band of the fan-like tail feathers and the patch of dark feathers on both sides of the ruffed grouses neck can be expanded into an umbrella-like ruff. In the field, it is supposed to be possible to tell the difference between a male and female by tail length – the male’s tail appears longer. However, unless I see chicks or witness a display I find the two sexes indistinguishable. There are two color phases of ruffed grouse, red and gray. The gray phase is predominant in Maine, although I have seen both phases here.

 

We have another grouse in this area (Grafton Notch), the Spruce grouse, that folks say can be confused with the Ruffed grouse, although to my mind the two are quite different with the former having a more spotted look and red eyebrows. The Spruce grouse also lacks a crown at the top of his head.

 

These two related species are considered sympatric because they exist in the same geographical area. Initially these two interbred and then split off into separate populations.

 

In many areas across the country, the birds are disappearing. In some states there has been a 50 – 60 percent decrease in grouse. Additionally, because of Climate Change the remaining birds are moving north. It is expected that by 2050 the lower 48 states will no longer have a population of Ruffed Grouse. With this trend in place it is hard for me to understand why the fish and wildlife folks would advertise Maine as “the state” to come to in order to shoot grouse. Grouse are the number one game bird in Maine. Wouldn’t it make more sense to try to conserve the population we have? Roughly 500,000 grouse are being shot by hunters in Maine every year.

Grouse need early successional forests, or stands that are growing back to maintain their populations. Hardwood dominated mixed growth, softwood dominated mixed growth, upland hardwoods, lowland hardwoods, old fields, and orchards comprise the best habitat. Stands of aspen as also favored. Because of the small home range of grouse, good habitat must meet all food, shelter, and drumming requirements within a small area.

 

Ruffed grouse are omnivorous; they eat green leaves, fruits, and some insects. During winter, when snow covers the ground, they live almost exclusively on the dormant flower buds or catkins of aspens, birches, and cherries. Aspen (or poplar) is generally regarded as the most important single year-round food for ruffed grouse in Maine.

 

With the onset of spring, male ruffed grouse defends an area of woodland approximately 6-10 acres in size. Male grouse then advertise their location to females by drumming (Adult males drum again in the fall, to re-establish their rights to their territory). Females are receptive to, and mate with, displaying males for only a few days. After fertilization occurs, they leave the male and seek nesting cover. Most ruffed grouse nests are located at the base of trees in open hardwood stands, the base of stumps, or under bushes. The clutch normally numbers 9 – 14 eggs, which are laid over a period of approximately 2 weeks. The eggs are incubated about 24 days, and all the eggs hatch within a few hours of each other during late May and early June. Young ruffed grouse are able to move about shortly after hatching. Grouse chicks begin their lives by feasting on insects and other invertebrates, but they will also eat plant shoots and young leaves. And they won’t pass up small frogs or anything else that might fit in their beaks!

 

A casual woodland stroll in June or July might result in a grouse sighting. By this time the chicks can fly into the lowest branches and although I never do this deliberately I often come upon a little family making its living in the woods. The chicks are adorable!

‘The Mother’s Son’

 

 

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Too many years

of punishment

have consequences…

Silence

slices the

Earth in two

steals fragrant

fertile ground.

The Breath of Life

is stilled as the Owl

strikes home.

 

She walks on thin air.

 

Years of yearning

have crushed a spirit once

open to Love.

Her body’s fire

burns like the forests do

destroying Souls

without mercy.

Deliberate

Relentless

Destruction.

What did we ever do

to deserve such treatment?

 

She can’t let go

although she knows

that its his twisted story

not hers

that she is living

against her will.

She’s been forced

to enter hell.

 

But yes, she chose it too

without Foreknowledge;

Unintended consequences

are woven into each choice,

part of each human story.

(Nature follows different rules).

 

Burdened by Hope

in the face of escalating hatred

She still can’t let go

Endurance is

her lover, but

when the nightmares

come

she can’t hold out.

They leave her haunted.

Her body is weakened by

tears that will not come.

Relief ceases to have meaning.

Resignation brings no peace.

 

She walks on ever thinning air.

 

Is there no end

to this suffering

except through dying?

She poses this question

repeatedly

to the deep green

religion of forest

field and stream,

and her dearest

companions.

 

At dusk he appears

at the door

piercing layers

of Bewitchment

with one sharp eye,

a mole brown feathery garment

blending with ever darkening sky

Four days ago

she heard him drumming.

 

Reclusive Grouse is

an Earth loving

forested friend –

and symbol of Her Spiral.

The Way remains veiled.

She’ll blunder on alone.

 

Yet, this unlikely presence

reflects, reveals, makes

a statement she cannot ignore:

Something is listening.

She’s not invisible –

After all.

 

Postscript:

Just before I publish this poem two beautiful birds appear at my window inexplicably – a little gold bird and a female cardinal – reinforcing the powers of nature to speak when all hope is lost.

Witnesses …