Guadalupe

IMG_2113Yesterday was  December 12th, Guadalupe’s Feast Day, and I lit her retablo with its fiery red lights that sits in the one dark corner of the living room. This Lady unites all peoples and is often called the “Mother of the Americas.” As I gazed up at her dark Indian face sculpted out of wood, cloaked in a blue green garment and held aloft by what appeared to be a young Indian boy, a profound yearning to honor her once again sprung out of the deepest recesses of my heart, much as I imagined the spring that had once bubbled out of the barren ground at Guadalupe’s feet…

I had first discovered Guadalupe while living in Tucson Arizona. In the rural desert chapels I often found small statues of the Black Madonna behind the churches, some with candles or flowers spread around on earthen ground as offerings. What I found peculiar was that some of these small statues were black while others clearly Indian. I wondered what this could mean. Inside, magnificent images or statues of Mary adorned the altars. It was in the streets of downtown Tucson that I first began to answer my own question. Images of Guadalupe appeared on candles, cloth, mugs, and retablos that had made their way up from Mexico to be sold during the street fairs. It occurred to me that some of the statues I had found behind the Catholic churches in rural areas must have been statues of Guadalupe.

Guadalupe’s story, although differing in details is a simple one. In 1531 a poor Indian peasant had a vision of a Lady, also Indian, who appeared out of a cloud and was surrounded by a mandorla of light on the hill of Tepeyac (located outside of Mexico city). Birdsong accompanied the vision. She spoke to him in Natuatl, his native dialect asking him to tell the Bishop to build her a chapel on this hill. Juan Diego duly went to the Bishop with the story but was not believed. The Bishop needed a sign. Juan’s uncle suddenly became deathly ill and Juan went again to Mexico City for help and once again the Lady of Light appeared to him on the way telling him that his uncle was healed. Juan related the Bishop’s request for a sign, but the Lady already knew and told him to gather Castilian roses, jasmine and other flowers, none of which could grow on the barren rocky hill of Tepeyac. She arranged the flowers in his cloak or tilma and instructed Juan to take them to the Bishop. When Juan opened the cloak before the Bishop on December 12th, the fresh heavily fragrant flowers fell to the floor. More astonishing was that on the rough fabric of the woven agave tilma was an image of Guadalupe, Our Lady of Light. The Bishop was convinced and a chapel was soon built on the spot. Curiously, this chapel was built over a shrine to the “Mother of the Gods” who the Indian people called Tonantzin. It is said that many miracles continue to occur here and that a clear spring appeared after one of the Lady’s miraculous appearances. The image of Guadalupe on Juan’s cloak is presently housed in the Bascilica of Our Lady (Mary) in Mexico City, and is one of the most visited holy places in the world.

It wasn’t known until recently that the image had originally included a crown that had been removed. (The frame surrounding the image had been lowered so the erasure was obscured). Guadalupe’s picture has also been modified in other ways; the Mandorla, the stars on her cloak, the moon under her feet and the angel supporting her were apparently added later. Even more interesting was the fact that when infrared imaging was done it was noted that the original image was neither cracked or flaked while later additions – the gold leaf, the silver of the moon – showed wear. The upper two thirds of Guadalupe’s image show no imperfections.

The absence of the original crown on Guadalupe remains an intriguing mystery. Although it is obvious that the image was deliberately tampered with to transform Guadalupe into the Virgin Mary (she eventually became a Catholic saint), I always believed the two figures were not the same. Since early childhood I had loved Mary first as the loving mother I never had, and more recently as a more distant presence surrounded by stars and galaxies. Guadalupe seemed to me to be a more earthly presence, although most certainly divine. Images of her were almost always placed outdoors in natural surroundings. Once I dreamed that I followed Guadalupe’s blue -green light through the forest in a state bordering on ecstasy. Perhaps my Native American heritage has biased my thinking and my heart but I cannot ignore the intuitive sense that this Lady is the Mother of the Americas, and indeed, to Indians at least, she is a figure that unites all peoples, and for me this includes all animals and plants and the natural world as a whole.

I bought my retablo in Mexico after living in Tucson, fascinated by the peyote- like flowers, and the ayahuasca leaves that adorned the outside of the little shrine. My Guadalupe wears a necklace of coral that belonged to my mother, part of a rosary (I removed Christ on the cross) that belonged to my father, an Indian petrographed stone that belonged to my brother, a small deerskin bag that contains a lock of baby hair belonging to my oldest grandson, a single peregrine falcon’s feather that I associate with my youngest grandson, a crystal necklace of mine that reflects her crimson lights and finally a Native American Spirit Bear made out of mother of pearl. Above Guadalupe’s retablo I have placed a pair of deer antlers, and many kinds of bird feathers adorn the small shelf beneath her along with a stunning beaded antelope made by the Huichol Indians of Mexico. During the winter I light her every morning just after making my fire in the stove, and her comforting warmth and presence has helped me deal with increasingly harsh winters, bare and treeless granite mountains, and monochromatic gray or snow – laden skies.

Yesterday was unseasonably mild and I wandered through the mixed deciduous and conifer forest on my property with my two small dogs and stopped to rest at a place where I imagined Guadalupe might once have appeared… I marveled once again that we were mid way through December and rich bare ground still lay under my feet. A solitary woodpecker chirped from an old snag. I was standing at the edge of a clear spring that bubbled out of the ground surrounded by a copse of fragrant balsam trees. Lush green sphagnum moss carpeted the edges the slender ribbon that wound its way down the mountain like a sinuous serpent on the way to the sea. Asking a nearby balsam for the tree’s permission, I bent and broke off a balsam twig to place on my small altar beneath Guadalupe’s retablo after I got home, imagining that Guadalupe would appreciate the fragrance. When I heard a slight rustling in the forest behind me, I turned slowly to gaze into the dark luminous pools of the old doe’s eyes fringed with black lashes… losing myself in her eerily serene beauty. I knew this deer; she came in each evening to feed. So Guadalupe had made an appearance after all I thought happily, and this time she wore her animal skin!

Homage to Lily B: a Spirit Bird

 

The Hunter’s Moon marked the end of November this year. By moving her arc northward to shine through the bathroom window, the full moon bathed us, Lily B, my ring-necked dove and me, in her pure white light. He gazed and cooed at her from his perch – a cedar branch built into his open cage that overlooks the granite bones of the mountains while I gave thanks for the end of hunting season…

It is from this location that Lily B. usually follows the beginning of the moon’s journey through the night sky throughout the winter. For the next three months he and I will observe a pure white blossom rising over the northeast horizon. We will bask in her pale blue light, follow her as she climbs over the house and watch her descend below the mountains of the southwestern sky from windows in the opposite side of the house. If the nights are clear Lily begins singing to the moon a night or two before she’s full and continues to praise her until her light begins to wane, a lifetime habit of his that never fails to move me deeply. I often wonder if other doves or birds have a penchant for this blessing of the moon.

But Lily B. (The B is short for boy – I was too attached to his name to change it when I discovered he was a male) loves all kinds of light and this proclivity stretches back twenty – three years to the first year I had him as a dovelet. We have moved many times since then and I have watched him seek the brightest light in each of our dwellings. In his first home he slept on the tip of a tree branch closest to a southeast window. In other places he chose the highest ledge or bookcase always above a lamp or near a glass door. When given the choice he appears to have a preference for light with an eastern exposure and I wonder how much this has to do with his love affair with the moon or perhaps it is also attached to the rising of the sun? These days Lily B. basks under both natural and the artificial plant light in the bathroom. The artificial light keeps him warm as he perches on a gate that separates him from the plant window, but not from his passionflower vine with its fragrant blue flowers. I grew this vine especially for him and have attached its tendrils to a string that stretches across the window over his head so he can tear off bits of leaves to eat at his leisure. Without that gate he would fly into the plants and devour my pink orchid flowers (he loves pink). It is from this gate perch that he brings in the dawn, watches birds during the day and occasionally sings to the moon during the apex of her cycle at eventide. During the summer Lily B. spends his days on the porch, his favorite room in the house because it has windows on three sides. At dusk he flies back into the house to spend the night on his cedar perch.

From the first day I had him, Lily B. exhibited a remarkable habit of being able to read my mind. In the beginning I ignored his cooing in response to my thoughts although I couldn’t help noticing that he was particularly vocal when there was an emotional charge associated with my thinking. I dutifully recorded these strange occurrences in my journal and when I discovered that Biologist Rupert Sheldrake was researching animal – human communication I took a chance and sent him some journal entries. To my great surprise he took these experiences quite seriously, reinforcing my intuitive sense and opening my rational mind to the idea that Lily and I were actually communicating telepathically.

Telepathy says Sheldrake first evolved as a predator –prey survival strategy that allowed animals to communicate over great distances at the speed of light or even faster, no one really knows for sure. Telepathy works most efficiently when there is a powerful relationship between the two communicators as in members of the same family, close friends, between animal companions and their people, or between the hunter and his prey. Humans definitely have this ability, although technology is probably diminishing our sensitivity to its existence even if the taboo around telepathy, presentiment, clairvoyance etc didn’t exist as part of our Newtonian (mechanistic) scientific bias.

Lily B. has had three mates and to my knowledge none of them exhibited telepathic ability. Why Lily B. has this aptitude when the others didn’t still remains a mystery, unless I consider that the closest bond was always between Lily B and me. I loved his mates but not with the same deep emotional attachment that I have for him. I have always considered him to be a “Spirit Bird.” There’s also the fact that having just one telepathic bird would highlight this sixth sense, forcing me to consider that telepathy might exist as a faculty in the natural world and in me, while having a second bird cooing along with Lily might simply create confusion.

In retrospect it is easy to see that Lily B. and Rupert Sheldrake opened the door for me to communicate in non –ordinary ways with other birds and wild animals, which helped me enormously as a naturalist, but for years I struggled mightily to release the hold that western thinking still had on me. The naysaying voice in my mind cut me away from my own experiences again and again reducing them to rubble. It took thousands of “mind-bending” experiences with Lily, my dogs, birds and other animals and my journaling to strengthen my resistance to the skeptic (who in my mind grew into something of a monster/killer) to the point where I could simply ignore him.

After Lily led me through the looking glass I was struck by the thought that air was Lily’s natural element, because Lily is a bird. And that it is the same element of air that may allow energy and information to travel as fast or faster than the speed of light to keep loved ones connected. All that is required is an open heart and a mind that is willing to entertain the possibility…

Lily B.’s continued presence in my life is a gift. After he helped me open the doors of perception the invisible world became a place brimming with possibilities and remains so today unless I get caught in the underworld – the place of “forgetting” who I am. During these sojourns Lily’s cooing reminds me that the other world is out there, and this knowing helps me to bring light into the darkness of my own psyche eventually releasing me from imprisonment.

IMG_2106Lily is an old bird now having lived twice as long as most ring neck doves, and he has been devoted to each of his partners, as well as becoming a steadfast parent, fathering several dovelets. After he lost Lucia and witnessed her burial last summer I worried because I knew how hard it would be to find him another partner. I stayed close to home to keep a close eye on him and was delighted to see that this time he seemed to be recovering on his own. Unlike the other losses that left him bereft, depressed, cooing mournfully (or worse, not making a sound at all) he rallied after the first day by singing up the dawn and pecking his food voraciously. Soon he and I fell into the intimate pattern of relating that we once shared when he was a dovelet. I have fallen in love with Lily B for the second time! And I am treasuring these months. Although there is no way that I can project how Lily will feel in the spring when the mourning doves begin to call, for now at least, he seems perfectly happy in my company.

Every morning Lily begins the day by singing the dogs and I out of our bed. He greets me any time I come in from outdoors and regularly comments on what I am thinking and writing. He sings at odd intervals, and when the moon is full he begins his evensong as we both watch a translucent pearl orb climb over the mountains to illuminate a star cracked sky… It is no wonder that Lily B loves light of all kinds because he is literally a manifestation of Light. And from my perspective, as a “Spirit Bird,” Lily B embodies the light of  the world.

Becoming a Naturalist and discovering Black Bears

Some of my earliest memories are tied to being in love with Nature – my little brother and I identified the different tadpoles that inhabited our vernal pools, captured our friends the bull frogs from local ponds so that we could stroke their slippery skin and gaze into gold rimmed eyes, inhaled the intoxicating scent of spring wildflowers, peered at the giant faces of sunflowers that followed the sun as it arced across the sky, caught pulsing green fireflies to keep in jars overnight, hatched praying mantis babies that clung to billowing bedroom curtains, adopted baby rabbits to release back into the wild, raised horned toads and lizards that we kept fed with mealy worms, turned over rocks to search for small snakes who would slither into hibernation in our year round terrarium, watched stars fall out of the sky as we slept on blankets in the field. The world of Nature was the glue that bound us irrevocably to each other, animals, plants, and trees – and the “powers of place.”

My grandparents lived on an old pre-revolutionary farm and my brother and I spent every moment we could in the woods that surrounded the house. Our dogs always accompanied us and they often chose the trails we would take. We dragged cardboard boxes that contained battered but colorful field guides along with us. Even before my little brother could read I taught him the names of the creatures and plants we encountered at the brook and in the woods. We both felt most at home in this world that seemed permeated with wonder. I dreamed of becoming a biologist or a veterinarian, my brother would study bugs.

High school Biology was my first encounter with science with a capital “S”. Here we dissected dead animals and drew two dimensional “objective” diagrams of animal parts that had nothing to do with the animals I loved with such passion. When the bull – frogs arrived for dissection I was aghast for these amphibians were my beloved friends. I promptly threw up in front of my classmates and had to leave the class in deep humiliation. I decided then that “Science” was more about studying dead things than learning about real animals and that I wanted nothing to do with it. It would be years before it dawned on me that with this decision I split my passion for nature away from academic science. The two would not meet again until mid -life after my children were grown.

In the intervening years I studied psychology in college, married a lobster fisherman and moved to an island fifteen miles out to sea off the coast of Maine. For the first two years I wandered around a granite jewel with it cathedral of trees, high cliffs, and silvery moonlit waters falling in love with the birds, animals, and flowers just as I once did on my grandparents farm as a child. The feeling of being at “one with the universe” kept me naturally high. I was walking on air.

When my first son was born I crashed to earth with a thud, losing myself in the Mother “Hood.” The starving young naturalist disappeared as I became fixated on mothering, discovering to my horror that I had no idea how to parent such a difficult baby and aggressive toddler (It never occurred to me then that part of the reason I was so anxious about mothering was because I was un -mothered myself). A year after the birth of my son l became pregnant again …

It wasn’t until my youngest son left home that the naturalist once again entered the foreground of my life. It began with a yearning that pulled me like a magnet back into the forest. I started taking long meandering walks with my beloved dogs. I became the child I had left behind, a sponge eagerly soaking in the essence of each new plant and animal I met. I heard voices crying out in the shrinking coastal landscape and spent hours observing and listening to animals and birds. I tried to make sense of the occasional words that rose unbidden in my mind, or as feelings in my body, in response to my questions. I fell in love with trees and they started to converse with me, most frequently through scent. I reflected on the astonishing beauty of the plants and flowers that I now had time to grow in my garden. I was already a serious student of the Jungian tradition having studied Greek and European mythology and now I added Native American mythology to my studies to gain broader knowledge of the natural and symbolic world of these animals and plants as seen from an Indigenous perspective. Although I had been brought up as a westerner I have Native American roots and I wondered if my passion for animals, beginning with my dogs, was connected to my native heritage. My journals were full of questions about the possible meaning behind the relationships I developed with animals/plants in the wild. I began to perceive myself as part of a complex interconnected living organism called the Earth.

Observing and recording observations within an animal’s natural habitat, studying its natural history, drawing tentative conclusions about certain behaviors that might indicate what the animal might be thinking and feeling helped me perceive individuals through different lenses and from different perspectives. Reminding myself that there was always a link between the observer and the observed, and that each time I watched a creature I was entering the actual “field” of the animal I was studying in a participatory way helped me keep an open mind. When I dreamed of animals I paid close attention believing these animated (soul -like) presences were much more mysterious than the “instinctual forces” they were considered to be in Jungian parlance.I almost always found mythological parallels when studying any animal. I kept track of all these ideas by keeping a journal that I could always refer back to help me sort though, and weave the various threads together. As a result I developed a distinct multivalenced pattern as a Naturalist.

But it wasn’t until I began camping in the western mountains of Maine that I discovered the Universe as a plethora of possibilities. Sleeping under the stars with fireflies blinking over my head, startled by the red tailed hawk whose winged presence soared through the blue dome of the sky during daylight hours, struck by the constellation of the Great Bear who whirled through the night following each season gave me the sense that I was being called to Something. One night I had a dream and when I awakened I could still hear the Voice of the Wilderness calling my name. During this period I also became obsessed with black bears. I researched and dreamed about them. I discovered that in Native American mythology the bear was a powerful Healer. How I longed to see one! In retrospect it seemed quite natural that I would one day leave the coast and move to the mountains to follow the Bears.

Imagine my dismay when five years passed without my ever encountering Ursus americanus while living in the western mountains of Maine! I was heartbroken. During the interim period I continued my practice of observing, researching and writing about the animals and plants I encountered. I also studied the work of Dr. Rupert Sheldrake, a renegade biologist/plant physicist/author who initiated me into an even larger perspective with his farsighted books “The Presence of the Past” and “A New Science of Life” in which he hypothesized that all nature was alive and aware, that consciousness extends outward to include all of nature, and that some kind of mental activity or consciousness is present in all physical systems at all levels of organization from electrons to galaxies. He also hypothesized that each species (including humans) has a collective memory that each individual contributes and tapped into for specific information relative to that particular species and no other. Most of Sheldrake’s radical theorizing made perfect sense to me. Finally, here was a biologist that saw the natural world in much the way I did! I did not care that his holistic approach to Nature was dismissed or that he was called the “Black Jack” of Biology. Because of him I was finally able to forge a bridge between the natural world I loved and science with a capital “S” In that process I learned more about field theory and I was also introduced to the world of quantum physics. I gradually integrated the New Sciences into my perspective and work as a naturalist.

I never imagined I would engage in a formal study of black bears. All I wanted was to meet one. When I saw my first yearling it was at my camp. Joy permeated my body as I watched the young bear gently extract seed from one of my bird feeders, inhale it, and leave the tube intact on the ground as he bounded off into the forest. Although I never had another bear visit my sanctuary, I did occasionally get a glimpse of other young bears while hiking with my dog (who I taught to be quiet in the woods when she was a puppy). With one exception. One year I encountered a bear that seemed as curious about me as I was about him. Although he always bolted initially, the sound of my voice seemed to calm this hundred pound animal with his black eyes, light muzzle and wet nose, and after a minute or two he would reverse his direction and walk towards me stopping about ten feet away to watch me from behind a sapling or some lacy hemlock fronds. I began to call him “Sweetie Bear” and was utterly astounded when I met him the following year. By this time I believed that it was a privilege to see any black bears because most were so frightened of humans. Around here we hunted them with such a vengeance that they melted into the forest at the first whiff of human scent. After meeting Sweetie Bear for two seasons my fascination blossomed into the wild hope that I could study this bear in his natural habitat. If I camped in his territory would Sweetie Bear continue allow me to observe him? This question haunted me with increasing urgency.

One afternoon I had just waded through a wild rushing stream and was standing under some old fringed hemlocks with my dog in my arms when I heard footsteps behind me. The hair on my neck stood up; I was paralyzed by the thought of some human following me through the woods. Courageously, I turned around to face the intruder discovering to my great relief and joy that it was Sweetie Bear! Since I was hiking that day in a different part of the forest I wondered how he had found me. When I spoke to him he listened intently, his round ears rotating like radar as he peered at me with eyes that shone like brown marble beads. I always brought along some nuts for a snack while hiking – that day I had almonds and pecans – I placed the nuts on the ground between us. In seconds he closed the gap to sniff, tongue, and swallow the treats and then he looked up at me with what seemed like hopeful anticipation, and dare I say it? Trust. I made a gesture. Opening my hands to show him that I had no more nuts I spoke to him gently while shaking my head and I could see that he understood. I was jubilant – We were really communicating! In that moment I made a decision I would never come to regret. I looked around me at the sinuous stream winding its way to the sea, the old hemlocks that shaded and sheltered the ground keeping the area cool on the hottest of days, the thick clumps of sphagnum moss hugging the banks, the large granite stones tossed aside by the glacier, the low flat ground that surrounded this most fragrant woodland hollow and breathed deeply. Turning back to Sweetie Bear I remarked excitedly “this is where I am going to learn about you and your people!” As I wended my way home that afternoon I almost got lost because I was marveling over the fact that I had been imagining just such a place for a study area but it never seemed “real” to me until that afternoon… And I certainly never thought that a bear would help me choose the spot!

Just before dusk I returned to the hollow with my dog, bedding, a small tent, some bear treats and set up housekeeping. I hadn’t been there for more than fifteen minutes before Sweetie Bear arrived to welcome me. I gave him some seed that he devoured with relish. Then he stood up on two legs and hugged a large white pine on the hill behind us, marking it with his scent. Things were looking up. I knew that marking an area was Sweetie Bear’s way of establishing his territory. Although I couldn’t know it then this occasion would mark the beginning of a fifteen – year study of black bears through the lens of one bear’s kinship group. What I did know was that I had crossed an invisible threshold and was now officially apprenticed to the mysterious world of the Black Bear.