The Magic Boat

 

IMG_9271.JPGIMG_9257.JPGIMG_9252.JPG

( from top to bottom author’s craft setting to sea… dragonfly illusion…the magic boat)

 

My friend has a tradition of making and sailing away little boats on Red Willow river and yesterday, new year’s day, people gathered to create wish boats. It was a frigid snowy afternoon but the studio was warm and friendly as I set to work. All I knew was that I wanted to create a little boat that offered hope for all the animals and plants that were going extinct, or were functionally extinct because so few of them were left. In my imagination this little boat full of seeds, tree branches, acorns for the animals would sail down the river into the sea to find a better place for life to exist without humans destroying other species out of greed, insensitivity, stupidity, indifference, or a need to control Nature just because She is.

 

I glued seeds and wild grasses to a milkweed pod, but couldn’t find the right materials to make an animal to represent all mammals, so I imagined putting them there; they were just invisible. Then a Raven flew into my mind. Raven would be the sail and because he was a Messenger from the Beyond as well as being a magician; Raven was the perfect creature to guide a boat filled with such important intentions…

 

From the top my raven looks like a dragonfly – symbol of illusion for some Indigenous folk – but from below Raven’s ebony eyes and body appear under his dragonfly cloak. I believed he might know just where to sail the boat. I placed some tiny shells on the prow to guide the diminutive craft to reach the sea…

 

When it was time we walked down to the frigid river’s ice encrusted bank to set our boats onto the waves… At that point I let go, knowing that I had done what I was instructed to do, and the rest was up to Nature’s Grace.

 

Amazingly, when my little boat set sail it flipped once and then righted itself and floated downwind with the current along with Bruce’s boat.

 

We left then; it was so cold, but I carried a wonderful sense of satisfaction because my intentions had been made manifest, and my imagination allowed me to remain in the place of possibility – that crack in reality where anything can happen, especially if you enlist a divine trickster who embodies Life, as Raven does.

 

Last night I had a one-word dream – just the word “Reprieve.”

 

That word carries hope, not for the future but for now. Hope that even with the ravages of Climate Change upon us, those of us who are in such deep mourning may find temporary peace in this moment, where for example, the desert has gotten some snow. Not enough to interrupt the terrible drought under whose veil we now live, but enough perhaps to help the roots of precious trees and plants survive one more year…

 

Most humans are not yet aware that we have entered a new age – some call this the age of the Anthropocene – an age characterized by dominance of the human species at the expense and loss of all others. Of course, even humans will not be able to survive this global holocaust for long, but few seem to care.

 

Because I am so aware, a great loneliness permeates my everyday awareness as I witness the diminishment of other non – human life forms and the total absence of others. I know that I am powerless to change what is, but creating a magic boat of intentions allows me to dream a new reality if only in my mind.

 

Some say Raven gave the First People fire, perhaps he can also interrupt the great dying – who can know.

Advertisements

Cicada Symphony

Each evening

I sit in gathering shadows

listening for the nighthawk’s peet,

the owl softly hooting.

Peering into the dense cottonwood canopy

I await the symphony…

 

How do they know

just when to begin

in perfect synchrony?

Punctual to the minute,

the swell is deafening

This music of the spheres

saturates my body

with song as I breathe

into the wonder of

Nature on the wing.

 

 

Postscript and Natural History

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

No Tears are Shed

No Tears are Shed

 

Every day ragged

white lightening

slices through dark clouds

followed by fierce rumbling

sudden crashes –

bellowing thunder.

Is the sky on fire

with Earth’s rage?

 

No tears are shed.

 

The three drops

of moisture

reflect a deadly pattern –

of withholding

– a pitiful token

of Nature’s grief.

She is snared by indifference,

unable to weep.

 

No tears are shed.

 

The relentless west wind

rips branches from trunks

cottonwood arms crash

to the ground

torn leaves follow

in utter confusion.

Parched desert scrub crackles

under my feet.

Sage green turns dull gray

Plants and bushes withered

almost beyond recognition…

Are the Cloud People dead?

 

No tears are shed.

 

Once again betrayed

by the willful force of

– human stupidity –

the trees bow low

in sorrow and resignation.

Knowing .

Having no choice

their thirst will

drive them

to certain extinction.

The relentless

ever present torturous sun

is turning blue – green to ash.

 

 

And still no tears are shed.

Mr. and Mr. Rufous

 

This morning I was aghast when Mr. Rufous hit the window and fell to the ground. Rushing out to give him sugar water, I was so relieved to see him recover his wits and fly towards his cottonwood bower on his own. A very close call.

Rufous, an iridescent coppery jewel of a hummingbird arrived here on June 22 with his mate – just as beautiful in her less dramatic emerald and rust attire. My other resident hummingbirds (black chin, and broadtail) all seemed to be cooperating as they visited my two feeders – both of which are emptied and refilled every day. I have so many! I wondered how Rufous and his wife would fit in so I have been keeping a sharp eye on hummingbird cooperation dynamics. Three weeks have gone by since their arrival, and I do believe this couple may stay to raise a family because they are still here and fly off in the same direction whenever leaving the feeders.

It is true that this pugnacious little hummingbird can throw a wrench into cooperation but I have been pleasantly surprised to see this male and female sipping nectar with other birds sitting on neighboring perches. Could it be that the broadtail and black chin social dynamic has rubbed off on Mr. and Mrs. Rufous? I have no way of knowing, but it does seem that this couple is more willing to compromise than most others I have known. Some days, of course Mr. Rufous hovers above the feeders making sudden aggressive dives to scare the others away with his high pitched squeaks – but only for a few moments. Often, he lets others return and I have pictures of their sharing quite companionably. Mrs. Rufous seems very cooperative and she has taken to visiting the nastursiums, scarlet runner beans, fiery salvia, deep rose and scarlet penstemon and the pot that holds my bee, butterfly, and hummingbird friendly wildflower mixture that Iren gave me last spring. This pot is an astonishing bouquet of deep pink, mauve, purple, and white flowers, with a few golden California poppies. I have become increasingly attached to these fiesty little hummingbirds.

It interests me that the territories that the male and female “defend” are somewhat different. Males hover over the primary food source(s) while the females extend their ranges further afield choosing less dense wildflower meadows. This year, except for my little pot garden there are few wildflowers beyond the fence where I do not water, so choices, at least here, are very limited. And Mrs. Rufous does not hog these flowers; the others sip from them too.

Rufous hummingbirds are small with a short tail with mighty flight skills that allow them to travel 2000 miles from Mexico to as far north as Alaska for breeding in the western states. This migration can take place from as early as May to August in New Mexico, and some stop along the way to raise their families. They follow the wildflower season. During their long migrations, they make a clockwise circuit of western North America each year moving up the Pacific Coast in late winter and spring, reaching Washington and British Columbia by May, Alaska by June. As early as July they may start south again, traveling down the chain of the Rocky Mountains.  Only recently have we learned that these hummingbirds follow a clockwise pattern of migration.

The adult male  rufous has a slender bill, white breast, a rusty face, flanks and tail with a startlingly beautiful orange-red throat patch or gorget. Some males have some green on back and/or crown (Mr Rufous does not). The female has green, white, some iridescent orange and a dark tail with white tips. The female is slightly larger than the male and has longer wings.

As many of us know, like all hummingbirds, these exquisite jewels feed on nectar from flowers using a long extendable tongue or capture insects on the wing. They require frequent feeding while active during the day and go into a state of torpor at night to conserve energy. Because of their small size, they are vulnerable to insect-eating birds and animals.

Most breeding habitats are open areas, mountainsides and forest edges in western North America and the Pacific Northwest. The female builds a nest made out of mosses, cattails, spider webs, in a tree shrub or tree and raises her brood of two chicks alone. The offspring are ready for flight in about three weeks.

Surveys show continuing declines in rufous numbers during recent decades. Because they rely on finding the right conditions in so many different habitats at just the right seasons during the year, these hummingbirds are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Hummingbirds in general are only found in the western hemisphere, so they do not appear in any culture’s legends and myths except those of North and South America. On the Pacific coast of Peru people carved into the desert surface what archaeologists call a “giant ground drawing” of a hummingbird.

The tiny iridescent “flower birds,” were considered gifts from the gods by Indigenous Peoples. In Peru and other South American countries, at or near the equator, naturalists have catalogued over three hundred species, and it is believed that not all have been discovered yet.

The rain forests of South America were probably where hummingbirds first evolved (co-evolved) with flowers. Perhaps hummingbirds drank the life-giving nectar, leaving behind a pollinated forest before flying away, its burnished colors shimmering in a primal world of sunlight…

Just the sight of these birds brings me into the present moment, one filled with joy.

Thanks be for hummingbirds!

Desert Snow

 

IMG_3133.JPGIMG_3129.JPGIMG_3132.JPG

 

Shark gray clouds

swim across the sky

before daybreak.

Is the river holding her breath?

Prickly cholla is gesoed

pearl white.

Desert sage and scrub wear

tender winter coats.

Raccoon ‘s midnight identity is

revealed through

sharply etched foot prints

circling the Russian Olive.

Bird hieroglyphics

create patterns – a new language

written in wonder

on wet ground.

In the distance higher mesas

accumulate thick layers

of silver light.

I sweep away an inch of fluff

from my door –

no backbreaking shoveling here,

just my joyful heart singing…

High desert

soaks up sweet moisture

plumping out withered limbs,

her thirst quenched for a moment

as cottony clouds slide by.

A few star filled snowflakes drift

by my window…

Even the patches of blue

breaking through

a thick gray dome

cannot dim my enthusiasm

for this watery gift at dawn:

 

Blessed, Desert Snow.

 

Working notes: It is hard to believe that I would long for snow as much as I have coming from Maine where snow is never welcome, especially now with climate change and the perennial freeze -thaw that makes walking and driving a nightmare, not to mention the amount of daily shoveling required to simply get out of my house and up my hill!

But here in Abiquiu, New Mexico we are in a drought and all moisture has virtually been absent for months. To wake up this morning to paths painted white and drifting snowflakes was pure joy!

Indian Paintbrush or Grandmother’s Hair

Img2017-05-17-171854.JPG

When I first saw the flower as we sped down a major highway I could hardly believe my eyes. But that tell tale flash of crimson had to belong to the Indian Paintbrush I shrieked to my companion, although I had not seen one in twenty years. I was thrilled. We turned the car around to see if we could spot the flower again. Sure enough, there it was growing in a sparse desert –like area along the side of the New Mexican highway. The next day my friend went back and photographed it, much to my delight.

Also called “Grandmother’s Hair” or Prairie Fire Castilleja is a wildflower that belongs to the Figwort (or snapdragon) family. There are a number of species and all are native to North America. Indian Paintbrush can be annual, biennial or perennial depending on the species.

Growing one to two feet high the flowers are borne in dense bracketed spikes. The flowers are insignificant and are hidden beneath the red tipped leaves. It is the leaves or bracts that are colored various shades of crimson, or flaming orange with yellow depending on the species. The bristle -like inflorescences look as if they have been dipped in paint. Indian Paintbrush grows in both moist areas and dry areas, open prairie, and at the edge of forests. The plant prefers sunny areas. These plants grow in Alaska, California, Nevada, Arizona, and New Mexico. The plants also prefer cooler mountainous climates (up to 10,000 feet) and may be found in the Andes and other parts of South America. They are often found near some kind of water seepage. The flowers begin to bloom in the spring and can last well into summer.

Indian Paintbrush has the ability to grow and survive in serpentine soils. For the geologist, serpentine is a mineral class. These rocks are composed mainly of iron magnesium silicate, with impurities of chromium, nickel and other toxic metallic elements. Because of this unusual chemical makeup, soils may be infertile because of their high magnesium to calcium ratio. Many species of plants are not equipped to handle such stressful amounts of high magnesium, low calcium and in general the overabundance of metals.

Indian Paintbrush also soaks up the alkaline mineral *selenium in the soil in toxic amounts (creating hair loss and brittle nails among other things), so although the plant can be eaten it is necessary to know something about the soil content that the plant is growing in before ingesting it. The nectar of the plant is very sweet and it is the flowers that are most often eaten in salads.

Indian Paintbrush is also known as a root parasite. The plant has small tubes called “haustoria” that insert themselves into the tissues of other plant roots, like sagebrush, to obtain necessary nutrients. However, Indian paintbrush can also make some of its own food, so technically it is a semi – parasite. These plants must also have access to water and they rely on other nearby plants to obtain sufficient water for themselves.

This wild plant is very difficult to grow by seed because it must be planted with a host, another native plant or seedling, in order to survive. Unfortunately, seedlings do not transplant well.

Various Indigenous Peoples used the flowering parts of the plant as paintbrushes. Some Native peoples like the Chippewa use the plant to treat rheumatism and to make their hair glossy. Both applications are useful due to the selenium content.

There is a Blackfoot Indian myth about a maiden who fell in love with a prisoner and escaped with him. When she became lonely for her family she took a piece of bark and drew a picture of her home on it with her blood and left the bark on the ground. A beautiful plant with a bush like end grew out of the soil It was dyed crimson red with the maiden’s blood and named “Indian Paintbrush” by the young girl’s people.

The last time I saw Indian Paintbrush it was in the Sonoran Desert around Tucson early in the spring (March). I had been walking up an arroyo that was still seeping snow from the Rincon Mountains when I saw clusters of these magnificent flowers each with a slightly different coloring, but unlike this New Mexican variety these flowers were a brilliant burnt orange fading into a buttery yellow. I would recognize this plant anywhere!

Img2017-05-20-094304.JPG

Photo Credits: Bruce Nelson

 

*Selenium is an essential trace mineral that is important for many bodily processes, including cognitive function, and a healthy immune system. It is present in human tissue, mostly in skeletal muscle. Dietary sources include eggs, brown rice, some fish and meats. The amount of selenium in food often depends on the selenium concentration of the soil and water where farmers grew or raised the food. Another curious fact about selenium is that it can also produce electricity directly from sunlight and is used in solar cells.

The Juniper Tree

IMG_2611.JPG

When I first arrived In Abiquiu, which is situated in the northern mountains of New Mexico, I discovered a very small (about 2 foot tall) juniper growing just outside my windows that overlook the southwestern horizon. Native grasses had all but obscured the small tree, the only one in the front of Guadalupe’s (almost) round house.

Immediately I decided that this little tree needed my attention, so within a week I had cut down the thick grasses and ringed the tree with river stones. At this point I began to water, and after fertilizing the tree once, I continued this practice throughout the summer and early fall. I watched in amazement how the juniper flourished, sprouting new blue green spiked needles. By mid-autumn this tree had added about two inches to each branch, and had filled out considerably. A few birds began to land in the lengthening branches, and some days I would discover a praying mantis tucked into her center close to the slender trunk. This little fellow would start waving his legs and washing his face as soon as I started watering! Every morning I touched her boughs tenderly, commenting on how beautiful she was becoming. I told the tree that when winter came I would festoon her with tiny white lights to celebrate the low shadowy light and the coming of the winter solstice. Whenever I spoke to the little tree she seemed to listen; we were developing a reciprocal relationship that I could sometimes feel.

Although I soon had small cottontails eating seed I left around the tree each morning, I noticed that the rabbits never chewed on the tree. Researching junipers in general I read that they are dimorphic, meaning that they have two growth forms. One is upright, and the other much more common is bush-like opening to the sun like a flower. Even the biggest trees are not taller than 40 feet. The seedlings (like mine) bear bluish green awl shaped leaves that are pointed at the tip probably to discourage herbivores like my cottontails. Mature leaves are a darker green and scale – like in appearance. The older leaves are borne in pairs or whorls of three and are rounded at the tip, I noticed, while examining older junipers around the house and in the washes. The arrangement of the adult leaves in a circular pattern gives the twigs and uncanny resemblance to coral.

Although juniper and cedar are related – both belong to the cypress family – cedars produce small woody cones like the white cedar I have in my yard at home (my  northern winter solstice tree), while junipers produce a bluish berry –like cone. Junipers bear both male and female cones although the female cones look like highly polished blueberries and take two to three years to ripen. Most junipers are dioecious, meaning that male and female cones are found on separate trees and once you observe the difference it is easy to differentiate between the two. The male cones are brownish in appearance and very small. These latter produce pollen sacs that release pollen grains in spring and summer. As the trees age some of the trunks become twisted and gnarled (no one knows why). Stout single trunks or multiple stems originating from the ground are the most common forms the trees exhibit.

Junipers are one of the top ten plants for wildlife. Many birds love their berries and around here the Cedar waxwings, Townsend solitaires, Scaled quail, and American robins flock to the sprawling juniper cluster (one tree, many small trunks) that shades the ground outside my back door. Last fall the branches were loaded with ripe berries and now they are scattered everywhere on the ground beneath the juniper. I also see Dark Eyed juncos, Canyon towhees, and House finches scratching the ground under the tree. I sometimes see the thrasher with his curved beak hopping around. Does he eat the berries too? Collared doves, the Pinion jays, Magpies, and Western bluebirds gather in these trees for protection from hawk predation. And now that winter winds are fierce and deadly, birds of all kinds seek protection from the bitter cold in the junipers’ thick branches.

What I love best about junipers is that most of them get to live out their natural lifespan of a few hundred to a few thousand years of age. In Maine our mature (a tree is now considered mature at 20 – 30 years old) trees are logged and great swathes of raped mountain forest surround me on all sides. My guess is that the next generation of Maine children will not know what an old tree looks like.

Coming to Abiquiu for the winter has given me a reprieve from my grief around ongoing tree slaughter. I notice that most folks around here don’t pay much attention to junipers except to think of them as trees that are used for fuel, while I am almost obsessed by them, their colors and shapes, their thickening (sometimes) reddish stringy trunks, the way they can endure the effects of wild winds, and the tenacity with which they cling to cliff edges, or bend over washes with their roots exposed, inhabiting places where nothing else can grow. And it is also true that they can be a “pioneer” species since they most definitely thrive in poor soil. To survive in dry climates, like the high desert I am living in, junipers have long taproots and extensive lateral root systems that can efficiently obtain moisture where none seems to exist. I think junipers are heroic!

I tried to identify the species of my little juniper and reached the conclusion that she was probably a Utah juniper (Juniperus utahenis) because this species is the most common in the mountains of the southwest and northern New Mexico growing at elevations of 3000 – to 8000 feet. Together with the pinion pine these two comprise most of the trees in this area and are common on our mesa tops and ridges. Adult junipers define the landscape with their glacial growth, half dead half alive appearance and fragrant aroma. Because of their intolerance to shade they are always spaced apart.

These hearty trees have been used by pueblo people for millennium for firewood, building material, roof poles or vigas, as a food, and medicinal source. The fibrous bark can be woven into sandals or substituted for tobacco. Leaves and berries were/are collected and brewed to make herbal teas to treat colds, headaches, and stomach ailments. Even the hard seed shells discarded by ground squirrels provided a source of beads that were sown into clothing.

Junipers have a potent anti-viral compound – deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) – which as been shown to be effective against viruses that cause flu and herpes. Today, when the overuse of antibiotics has made us resistant to treatment we need to think about using natural alternatives. Juniper is certainly one possibility.

Juniper is probably most well known for its berries that produce the distinctive bitter flavoring in gin (ugh).

Juniper is used in Earth-based rituals that call for the literal manifestation of some kind energy and/or information. It is also used as an incense to welcome new animals into one’s home. As a smudge it is used for purification as it puts negative ions back into the air much like balsam or sage does. For long-term protection, a sprig of juniper is hung over doorways.

Last summer I brought in bouquets of juniper branches to scent the house, and to express my gratitude for living in a place where these old trees thrived. On hot days a sweet pungent aroma wafted through the air and my dove Lily B would fly down to the table, pull off bunches of berries and roll them across the stone floor! Outside I continued to care for the little juniper…

index.jpg

When I first read that the juniper tree was a symbol for the goddess Astarte, I was amazed. How many times have I discovered after falling in love with a particular kind of tree that she first belonged to a goddess? The ancient Phoenician Astarte is one of the oldest Middle Eastern goddess’s dating back to the Neolithic period (5-8000 BCE) and the Bronze Age. According to legend Astarte descended to earth as a fiery star. She was also associated with the moon. A celestial goddess, she was a bringer of life.

IMG_2798.JPG

Last evening when I was walking home from a party I was stunned by the clarity of the starry firmament over my head. I immediately thought of Astarte as a star goddess because this was her realm, and yet, when I passed the little juniper I thought of this same goddess as a tree rooted securely in the ground. With the winter solstice just four days away it seemed fitting that both sky and earth were included in this turning of the wheel as aspects of Astarte who (I imagined) fell to earth and was shining her light through the thick branches of a prickly young juniper tree, a tree that loved and held her tight. So ends my story of what happens on this Winter Solstice Night.