The Portal: How Do We Know What We Know?

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My favorite part of the Bosque

 

Every morning I walk to the river in the velveteen hour between the vanishing blue night and the coming of the first scarlet, pink, lavender, purple or golden ribbons that stretch across the horizon. Sometimes clouds with heavy gray eyelids mute first light. Either way all my senses except that of sight are on high alert; a deep peace embraces me in the dark. My body knows the way. I murmur to the willows as I pass through the veil and under their bowed bridge. Their response is muted, a song beneath words.

 

At first my footsteps are barely audible on the narrow serpentine dirt path but as I pass by the river I note that she too is singing; and my senses quicken. If the Crane spirits are with me I hear the first brrring of Sandhill cranes as they take flight. “Freezing” I am crane struck; the involuntary need to stand still is overpowering. Body -mind viscerally absorbs Oneness as I breathe in a multitude of crane songs or perhaps only that of a few. Now my eyes are suddenly open, straining to see the familiar brrring materialize into startling graceful heads, necks, and stream lined bodies…. I note the shimmering waters beginning to mirror blushing pastels or the gray smoke that stains the horizon. Sometimes these hues deepen into rose, blood orange, or scarlet.

 

The rusty creaking gate opens the portal to my refuge.

 

Papery heart shaped leaves crunch under my feet, cottonwoods, junipers, cattails, and scrub reach out to touch me with feathery or wiry fingers, perhaps thorns; I am serenaded, slipping into a light trance. I begin to round the Bosque feeling the earth moving under my feet. Listening for the voices that come through image, sensation, silver filaments threaded through thin air. Illuminations, and occasionally, revelations erupt like volcanoes. A profound inner silence soothes me as I follow my feet, touching smooth branches, prickly juniper twigs, ribbed trunks in response, raising my gaze to marvel over the shapes of bare trees branches, cross – hatched, twisting to reach the sky to bring down the rains, perceiving each unique pattern as if for the first time, flooded by awe at each turning though I know the shapes by heart. At this time of day the Bosque is humming her collective love song without interference and it is possible to discern each voice. As I walk through the inner cottonwood path, sometimes surprising a rabbit or two I can feel this particular family of cottonwoods rising up to embrace me. Listening to their collective voices strumming a song that speaks to Love without Boundaries, I offer my gratitude for ‘what is,’ this moment in time.

 

Working Notes

 

Almost every day I walk down to the river in the early morning twilight, that space between worlds. But it is not primarily the river that calls me these days, it’s the Bosque, and once I have entered this refuge I feel an eerie sense of Becoming One with All That Is.

 

Bosque derives its name from the Spanish word for woodlands. This diverse habitat is found along the riparian floodplains of streams and river throughout the Southwest, especially along parts of the Rio Grande. I am fortunate to spend winters on one of its tributaries, Red Willow River, and to have a dear friend and kind neighbor who cares deeply for this particular Bosque which is located on the boundary of this property. The little forest is full of Cottonwoods, Mexican Privets, Junipers, Willows, Russian Olives, Apache plume, Cattails and many other bushes, plants, and grasses that parallel the waters and are still receiving, what I hope, is adequate moisture to feed thirsty roots and a complex underground fungal network…

 

For me the Bosque is a magical place full of wonder; a true refuge – a place of shelter and protection from the ravages of sun and wind. It is also a sanctuary, a holy place where the veil of Nature is thin, allowing for both underground and above ground communication, some of which occurs through scent and touch, sensing and feeling. Occasionally I will hear a word or two emerging from a place inside and outside of my body. Other times our conversation occurs telepathically (instant knowing). All my senses are engaged – my body/mind, though I must stress that the latter aspect must be emptied of rational thinking or chatter in order to hear those voices. Seeking that trance state with focused awareness puts me in that mind- still place. The Bosque knows I love her and that I see her in all her complexity – this seeing is an inner state and has nothing to do with sight in the usual sense. I believe Love helps open the door. I also keep an open mind and am a receiver by intent as well as by nature, and I think developing this ability with awareness contributes to our daily conversations.

 

It was not always this way, although I fell in love with the Bosque the first time I entered it. It takes time and attention to develop an intimate relationship with place, and only after four years have the Bosque’s inhabitants begun to speak to me. Even now, virtually all of our exchanges occur only during the pre-dawn twilight hours. Stillness, inside and out, appears to be another critical key that opens the door.

 

Engaging intimately with place then requires time and attention, repeated contact, an intention to communicate born of love (and at least in my case a deep need for reciprocity), the use of all bodily senses, a quiet but open mind, an ability to receive, stillness, and silence.

 

All of Nature sings a song of creation and destruction, one that is predicated on joy as well as sorrow. I think we must be willing to embrace both aspects of this process in order to be fully present for this song to keep on singing. What I don’t mention in the prose above is that in the Bosque I also receive messages about the cottonwoods struggling mightily to survive ever-increasing drought.

 

 

Natural History Postscript:

 

Scientists are just beginning to learn something about how plants communicate, even over long distances. The complexity of this communication is as yet poorly understood but involves both underground networks that connect trees/plants to one another, and communication that occurs above ground through the air.

 

Here’s a great example of what happens underground. Coyote willows, which are abundant around here and in the Bosque sprout from a single root system that scientists call cloning. What this means practically is that clusters of willows are related – they have an identical genetic structure. Some of these willow clones are more than 1000 square feet in size; other smaller clones also thrive in different places. Cottonwoods, Aspens, and Poplars, the other members of the Willow family also use the same strategies for reproduction. 88 percent of cottonwood reproduction occurs through cloning, so all the trees along the property line on this property are also related, as are the cottonwoods in the Bosque. On that inner path in the Bosque the sense I have of being embraced by these trees is the strongest, and I think the reason for that is that this spot is a kind of epicenter for the rest. The Willow family by the way is relatively young – only about 100 million years old. All members have symbiotic relationships with other plants.

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(Coyote Willows and Cranes – Bosque del Apache)

 

How do we know what we know? Mystics, visionaries, Indigenous peoples, poets, and naturalists have “known” that trees and plants communicate between themselves and with us for a very long time even though we have rarely been believed. Now we have proof that interspecies communication occurs at least between plants, even if we still don’t believe it can happen with us.

 

 

The Cloud Person is a Crane?

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(On the way to the Bosque…)

 

Meandering through

heart shaped

Cottonwood leaves

crunching under foot

Dream words surface.

“The Southwest is Drying Up.”

Didn’t I know that?

There must be more to this story…

 

Beneath trees and scrub

a rustling root thought:

If only I could feel

what I think I know –

clear this conditioned mind.

My body,

Earth’s body

echo identical

Truths.

One encompasses the whole,

the other a fragment.

 

Something is walking beside me.

 

To feel a cloud

Presence hovering

is no illusion.

Still air moves with me.

 

Something is walking beside me.

 

The Heart of Nature

strikes a primordial drum –

sings a song of Belonging.

Midnight fades..

Dawn breathes pale pink and gold…

Even in my yearning

a prehistoric Crane cries out:

“A Cloud Person

Loves you.”

 

 

Working Notes:

 

“This is a great poem even if it isn’t” I heard myself say!

 

Laughter bubbled up.

 

True, I realized because poetry arises from the heart…and always addresses truth of one kind or the other. That’s what makes it great.

 

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Yesterday in the Bosque while walking through the scrub and under the cottonwoods I gradually became aware of a presence of some kind that was hovering around me like a cloud. I heard and saw 2 beloved cranes that I consider my spirit birds – whatever that means – and was feeling quite thankful in general. I never feel alone in the woods at home or here the Bosque but this feeling of personage was different – almost like someone invisible was walking with me. And  I have never experienced this feeling before with so much awareness. What was this presence? The trees, the air, the fact that the Bosque is my refuge? My own soul? Possibly spirit? I don’t know but I trusted its beneficence…

 

This morning I also had a dream that said the “southwest” was drying up – since this is obviously the direction we are going in – the dream couldn’t have meant that unless the Earth is reinforcing what I think I know? And I doubt that. I was thinking about this dream while in the Bosque noticing again that walking early in the morning seems to lessen what feels like a negative dream effect.

 

Finally, after writing this poem I believe I unraveled the meaning behind the dream I had this morning.

The Bosque

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The Bosque

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Young Cottonwoods

This morning I put on my boots to walk down to the Bosque where the Cottonwoods with their fluttering heart shaped leaves that rustle in the slightest breeze tower over the Russian olives, wolfberry, and gray-green willows. As I open the rusty gate, tufts of white cotton drift down around me carried by a faint breeze because the cottonwood is seeding the moist ground. Here, at least, in this small sanctuary, the trees will regenerate and these elders are already being followed by strong young saplings.

In this magical mystical ephemeral landscape the river’s song is infused with those of a multitude of nesting birds. The Red-winged black birds and Bullock’s orioles are nesting in the giant cottonwood above me and both males announce my presence with warning calls. It’s hard to believe that this magnificent tree is probably only a hundred years old.

Hummingbirds chirp and tweet, well hidden in the tall willow – strewn thickets. As I close the gate I glimpse orange day lilies opening on one side of the path and a clump of Japanese iris blooming with their feet under water almost opposite but nearly hidden in a tangle of vines. The delicate iris are tall and thin with sword-like leaves; the lovely flowers shine like the sun – a golden yellow – some repeat a tricolored pattern with three etched sunbursts inked in pale brown on the tops of the outer three petals. The wide swampy path is partly under water, and I step carefully around ancient horsetails, one of the earth’s first plants, scanning for toad eggs. A little wooden bridge takes me over a small clear stream that feeds into the churning river. The emerald green grasses sway as I pass by, each bending with ripening seed.

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When I reach higher ground I see the first wild roses, single blossoms, pale and deep pink they open under the sun dappled shade. I marvel that these same small roses also grow almost wild at my home in Maine. Originally I planted one small bush and now these lovely fragrant roses have sprung up everywhere in my own riparian woodlands.

The cat tail marsh

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For a short time the path is straight and then abruptly turns right. I stand on the wooden bridge that goes nowhere that I can discern and gaze out at the beautiful marsh with its papery wheat colored remnants of last year’s cattails and lovely gray Russian olives in various stages of growth that provide such a lovely contrast to wheat and verdant green. Oh, the Japanese iris are all in bloom at my feet on both side of the wooden board. A hummingbird startles me, hovering above a silky cattail tuft, capturing some of the soft material in her beak and then disappearing in a flash into a tangle of wild clematis.

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Japanese Iris

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Retracing my steps from the board back to the path I am led to yet another part of the swamp, one that allows me to cross the bog because carefully placed stones have been placed there. I walk over the damp places just above the waterline. More swamp iris herald the coming summer season clothed as they are in sun gold. Once I pass the cattails I find myself knee deep in emerald green. More wild roses are opening and hummingbirds and thirsty bumbles sip sweet nectar. The Bosque is bursting with the sound of crickets, and the turbulent waters of the river are just beyond to the left.

Arizona Cypress

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I am stopped in my tracks by the smooth skinned serpent draped gracefully around a clump of willows. The snake watches me intently with one glittering orange eye, while listening to my softly spoken words. “I will not hurt you,” I say as I pass by this magnificent silky skinned copper colored snake – a red racer – people call them. (On my return the snake is still watching me from upside down – his tail and lower body are coiled around the upper willow tips and his head is hidden below in the lower branches!) Who is going to become his lunch I wonder.

Red Racer

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I spy a small oak tree, ringed with stones that are chosen with care. When I come to the wooden sign it too stops me in my tracks because I am not expecting it! The path I have been on is Wildhaus and to continue on San Diego road is where I am headed; the sign points straight ahead. “Home” a third sign gestures to the right with a wooden finger. I choose not to explore this latter pathway; I don’t want to intrude. I linger here for a few moments thinking about the woman who cares so deeply for this natural landscape that together they have become co- creators.

Her gentle touch is evident in the small fruit tree she has staked and ringed with wire, the Arizona cypress and Junipers, the ringed stones, the almost wild flowers, the clearing of this path (which I know from personal experience) takes a huge amount of time and effort. Love seeps through this Bosque, a holy presence that is palpable. Silently, I thank my friend for this priceless gift, before moving on.

The ground is higher now and opens onto a sandy plain of sorts; in the distance a huge clump of Apache Tears stands out, a massive white cluster of primrose blossoms hugs the ground and bright yellow salsify stalks are blushing as they are being pollinated by bees. A massive rock pile captures my attention, and I pick up a few to examine them more closely.

The river is visible now; it’s turbulent coffee colored waters make the most soothing background music of water rumbling over stone. I notice a couple of old beaver sticks pointed at one end. Suddenly, a Great Blue heron is flying overhead, his massive wings moving in slow syncopated rhythm –another ancient relic from the deep past.

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The River

When I come to the wire fence that defines the edge of this property, I happily retrace my steps allowing the power of the Bosque to flood my senses once again. Each time I come here, I leave with a feeling of renewal, knowing that there are some natural places that are cared for as deeply by others as they are by me. To my mind, places like the Bosque speak to Nature’s Grace incarnating in ordinary time.