Cedar Slips through the Veil…

 

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Yesterday my friend Iren surprised me with a gift – actually two – slabs of fragrant cedar that she had cut herself for firewood.

 

One cross section, a large one, irregularly shaped like a cauliflower floret took me back to 1971, the last holiday I was ever to spend with my twenty one year old brother who was my dearest companion and soul mate. That Christmas he had surprised me with another equally beautiful slab of sweet cedar with its red center.

 

A month later he shot himself and my world went dead.

 

The following year I spent in New York. My grandmother was dying and when my two young children (6 and 4) returned to Maine after her death my precious cedar slab had vanished. The neighbors who had stayed in our little house had probably burned it as firewood. I was devastated.

 

As children my little brother and I both gravitated to the cedar tree (white) as being our favorite tree of all, often picking twigs to keep in our room and carving small animals out of its fragrant heart wood.

 

When I moved to the mountains and built my log cabin the first tree I planted after my fruit trees was a white cedar. She became the house’s guardian spirit tree, and each year I decorated her during winter darkness and starry nights – the holy days that are celebrated in every culture with trees and lights, tucking a crystal star into her center that twinkled as she offered shelter and protection for winter birds.

 

Last winter while I was here in Abiquiu, my deer devastated the branches of this once magnificent tree that I had grown as a seedling. When I returned to Maine in the spring I understood that this tree would not recover from being girded and shorn of most of her branches, so I cut her down fearing a lingering tree death and hoping to hasten her demise. All summer, the doe and the fawn grazed on her branches and each time I walked out the door I could feel the hole she left behind… My house had lost her guardian.

 

One day last fall I was walking down the road and on a whim, gently uprooted a tiny cedar seedling, potted it and brought it with me across country to Abiquiu, intentionally. I did not understand why I did this, only that I needed to. Each morning, I mist her branches, and my hope is that one day she will thrive in Casita del Oso (house of the bear) eventually developing that dense teardrop shape, perhaps living in a pot for a few years…

 

Last night when I carefully placed my cedar slabs in my little bird room I could smell the tree’s sweet scent. I thought about my brother with the usual poignancy and sent my deepest gratitude to the woman who couldn’t have known what it would mean to me to be given this particular gift. Another circle was closing. It feels almost as if my brother is once again with me in some intangible way…

 

I can’t end this reflection without mentioning how important the cedar tree is to mythology. It is used by many Indigenous tribes as incense and as a purifying herb. Cedar is associated with prayer and healing, dreams, and acts as a protector (ess). Many rituals surround the felling of cedar trees that are used as sweat lodge poles and in medicine bundles.

 

In Greek mythology some women are actually turned into trees to escape being raped. The Egyptian Isis discovered the body of her beloved in a cedar tree, and eventually brought him back to life, long enough to conceive her child.

 

Women and trees have a natural affinity for one another. Mystics, or “sensitives” like me can often feel what a tree might be conveying without words. And during these times of world tree destruction the screams of many haunt our dreams.

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Tree of Life

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Every culture sanctifies trees. Some are believed to have spirits that live within their roots, trunks, and branches. Sometimes the god of vegetation is a tree – often a pine as in Greek Mythology. Although many different trees symbolize the Tree of Life in different cultures all symbolize the interconnection between the two worlds, that of the mundane and the sacred. With its roots in the earth, its trunks extending upward and its branches reaching to the sky the worlds become one. Perhaps most important the tree is the symbol of “everlasting” Life, not in the Christian sense but in the sense that life is always in a state of renewal. No wonder trees are holy. (My twenty six year old dove, Lily b, sings out as I write the above words at 2 AM in the morning reaffirming this truth. We have a telepathic connection that extends back to when I first got him and realized this bird could read my mind).

 

Trees converse with those who listen to them. There is one Yaqui myth that tells the story of the People coming upon a tree whose vibrations made a sound that no one could understand. An old wise woman lived deep within the forest and she sent her daughter to listen to what the tree was saying. The tree told her that Christians were coming with a new religion. The people were distressed and some left to dwell underground taking the old ways with them into the earth where the roots of the trees could keep them safe. The People who remained became the Yaqui. Native peoples of this land hold the tree as sacred, and here in Northern New Mexico boughs are used as part of the regalia by the Pueblo people during the winter dances to symbolize the powers of Nature and the  sanctity of the Forest.

 

Every year a tree, usually an evergreen “calls” out to me capturing my attention involuntarily, without words through some kind of vibration or sense. Yesterday, this happened in a greenhouse with Pinus nigra, the black pine. This evergreen is native to Austria and Northern Italy (my Italian roots may have called me to her) and it was brought to this country in the mid 1700’s and as I discovered later, it is one of the best trees to grow in the high desert! I knew nothing about the tree initially, but the second I saw it I knew it was the one.

 

This tree will be the first to be planted here at Casita del Oso, or the House of the Bear, when the casita is finished. Meanwhile, she has also become my tree of life for this year. Shaped like a pyramid, thick with dense long needles she stands about three feet high and this morning I festooned her with red, yellow, orange peppers and a few pine cones. Birds flocked around her and a few landed on her conical cap. Since birds and trees have a special reciprocal relationship, I have no doubt that my avian friends are welcoming her too. I covered her tender roots with juniper boughs and tomorrow friend Iren will give me some hay to protect her over the winter until I can finally put her in the ground in early spring.

Tonight she was welcomed with a farolito or luminary lit in her honor. Farolitos are used during  Northern New Mexican Feast days and are a tradition. They are sometimes called luminaries. Around the Winter Solstice/Christmas people put them outdoors to welcome the benign spirits/or Mary and Joseph into their homes for repose. When I filled a small paper bag with dirt and placed a candle inside it felt just right. When darkness descended on the river valley last night, a soft glow emanated from beneath the tree. I hope that the Presence of my little pine will bring peace and blessings as well as protection for myself and for others, as so many Indigenous people believe.

“Keep Out”

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Rusty barbed wire

blocks my way

to Owl canyon

the place where

owls pray.

 

When I saw strings of

dirty spiked metal

stretched pole to pole

my heart sank.

 

We had only one day

to visit with the owls

in their sandstone castle

before being turned away.

 

Now cattle can graze

behind bars

in the desert scrub

to put hunks

of bloody red meat

on the table –

fattened by Monsanto’s

Roundup,

and god knows what else.

 

Poisoned from birth

the death of “animal soul”

is present in vacant,

world weary eyes.

 

Held hostage by humans

like the walking dead

do the animals still weep?

 

What we know is that

hormones and pesticides

will be consumed

with great gusto

on the coming Feast days.

 

Can’t anyone see that

Poisoned flesh

like the infamous apple of lore

is rotten to the core?

 

Will no one mourn the

death of these animals

who have become sacrifices

for human consumption?

The Owl Place

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It was a beautiful black night peppered by only the brightest stars when I went outdoors to take a picture of the mysterious pearl white orb whose mystery still binds me to her and all women with wings – those women I love, the mother I lost, and of course, all birds.

The deep ‘whooing’ of the Great Horned owls began shortly afterwards just as I got into bed and continued for about fifteen minutes while I reflected upon the remarkable day…

“Who whooo who who,” the harmonious conversation between the two owls filled my heart to overflowing.

Nature was offering me yet another gift on this night of December’s cold, frost, snow, or winter full moon according to various Indigenous traditions.

The day before, my kindred spirit, (Iren’s words) had suggested this canyon as a safe place to walk my two little dogs. My trust in this woman runs deep and so we set out yesterday on a mild December afternoon following a sandy arroyo back into the hills. The serpentine rock strewn path eventually led to a roughly textured column of immense curtained sandstone structures, a couple with deep hollows carved and sculptured by the wind.

Climbing inside the one I could reach to investigate, I immediately noticed a couple of crumbling owl pellets realizing that I must have accidentally stumbled on an owl’s roost, and probable nesting place although it was impossible to see where the structure might be located behind the undulating sandstone curtains.

Excitedly I began to examine the pellets. By the size of the skulls, jaw bone, leg bones and other fragments I reached the conclusion that this must be a Great Horned Owl’s place of residence. Delighted by the find, it was a moment before I saw the distinctive horizontal barred feather resting in the rubble.

I was overcome by joy. Discovery is a magical process and this experience occurring on the afternoon of the eve of the Full Moon felt like a precious gift. I carefully picked up the feather, and a few bone fragments to bring home with me giving the place two names “Owl Canyon” and the “Owl’s Place” feeling ever so grateful that I could visit here again and again, should I chose.

As often is the case here in Abiquiu, I felt like I was walking on hallowed ground. Some of this sensing/feeling comes from being able to disappear into wilderness in minutes with deep silence, the footprints of wild cats, coyotes, and the occasional soaring raven my only companions.

Except for the owls who are hidden from sight…Owls who understand that Silence is a Gift.

I am truly only at peace in the wild.

Last night I fell asleep thinking about owls, how some had moved into my woods in Maine just this fall and how it seemed to me that they had followed me here to the high desert…

Just before dawn this morning when I walked my dogs I was startled to hear an ongoing call made by a solitary Great Horned owl, surely the most ancient image (and almost always maligned) of a “woman with wings.” I looked over the stark ridges of the reptilian mountains to the Owl’s Place and silently wished the owl good morning as my body was flooded by the comfort that only deep communion can bring.

Because we are all interconnected I am positive that an ancient multitude of women with wings from every continent keeps watch over us all.

Persephone’s Descent: Perception, Reality, Truth?

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Persephone, perception, truth and reality may be related. In the best known version of the Greek myth, Persephone, daughter of Demeter is raped, split away from her body (the earth) and whisked into the underworld against her will by Hades. Without a body does Persephone lose access to perception, her truth, reality?

 

One definition of perception is that it is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something like the elements of air, water, fire, earth, by using one’s senses. Perception is the way someone understands something – different people have different perceptions of the same thing. It is the process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Although sometimes based on unverified information perception is equated with reality or truth for most practical purposes, and it guides human behavior in general.

 

Perception is directly related to individual attitudes, belief systems, and knowledge where “reality” exists by itself according to most dictionary definitions. Reality then is equated with the Platonic idea that mind is separate from body and exists somewhere outside time. (The mind body split is so revered in our culture that women are seen primarily as sex objects by men, and consequently objectify themselves/their bodies. The result? Women’s endemic hatred of themselves/other women, and female bodies).

 

Reality is supposed to be truth – the actual existence of something. Perception may be controlled by internal/external factors but according to most sources reality cannot be controlled by anyone or anything.

 

The general definition of truth is that it is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. Acceptance is key here. Truth is almost always consensual by nature. An excellent example of this conundrum is the way many of us view the origin of the universe. According to the current mechanistic paradigm the universe exploded into being out of nothing. If one has the audacity to question this unlikely theory (if you can believe this story you can believe anything) we are told  that it’s just a matter of time before conventional science and technology will iron out the confusion. I note that Niels Bohr, Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle have been around for the last hundred years without making much of a dent in the current scientific belief system. Inculcated “scientific truths” carry an amazing amount of weight with westerners. The “Big Bang” theory (not very imaginatively named) is just that – a theory – it is not reality or truth – it is our current western belief or story. Other cultures tell different tales that are certainly more imaginative but westerners dismiss these as primitive myths.

 

But to return to the original issue, this problem of defining perception, truth, reality, is a very thorny subject for many including myself. As a not quite white (I have Indigenous roots) mythologist and eco-feminist I reject the dominant culture’s belief in absolute truths and laws ( in an evolving universe I think natural laws are more like habits built up over time as scientist Rupert Sheldrake suggests) and I lean into the stories of other peoples to teach me other ways of perceiving, understanding, and making sense of the world.

 

What I have learned from this scholarship is that truth is often equated with belief  by those who usually do not question their personal or cultural biases or the paradigm in which they live.. Unfortunately, as a former college instructor I am painfully aware of how we inculcate students into this “either or” way of perceiving the world.

 

There is a multi-valent quality associated with truth. For example, it is true that today, the fall equinox, is the day that ushers in the darker months of the year, not just because science tells me it is so, or that various mythologies support it, but also because I can experience this shift by paying attention to the declination of the sun, the drifting of fall leaves, the times of sunrise and sunset. For me, truth is associated with what I experience through my senses, my relationship to Nature, mythology, an academic background in the New Sciences, and through dreaming. Perception, truth, reality are then not separate entities but  related (both in and outside of space/time).

 

This is not to say that all my perceptions  constitute truth because many, if not all, have been colored by my experiences – and I might add – this is true for all people.

 

I have found it useful to acknowledge that all of us have a particular bias or lens through which we experience the world and that “truth” is often relative and based on consensual agreement. I think it is up to each individual to question what s/he perceives to be real and true, especially in a world culture that has lost touch with the planet (body) on which it depends upon for survival. We are moving into a “winter” the likes of which we have never experienced before.

 

Postscript:

 

What sparked this little essay was an experience that I had yesterday. I was scheduled to have an ultra sound and was told by my doctor that “it might involve a vaginal probe.” I was rushed through the appointment so fast last week that I did not have the chance to ask the doctor what this latter procedure, if it occurred, might involve.

 

The first part of the ultrasound went well, but when it came to the second procedure that had been ordered by my doctor, I learned from the radiologist, (why didn’t my doctor take responsibility for making this decision in front of me?) the kindly man asked me if I was sure I wanted this second procedure to be done. I was a bit confused, even alarmed when he asked me this question because even he seemed unsure. I consented because I believed the test wouldn’t have been ordered without good reason (stupid on my part and a good example of how logic can betray us). When he called in a woman as a witness, he noted that I seemed very nervous which by then I was.

 

Putting my feet in the stirrups as requested I lay down and began to breathe deeply, something I learned to do many years ago to alleviate anxiety and relax into my body.

 

The pain ripped through my vagina – the probe was huge, the size of an engorged penis – and I screamed as it ripped delicate vaginal tissue. The procedure ended abruptly, and of course, the test was unsuccessful.

 

Numb, I put on my clothes and left the office, driving home in a daze. After greeting my beloved dogs we all crawled into bed and I fell into a dead sleep for about two hours.

 

When I awakened I was nauseous and couldn’t urinate without waste stinging torn tissue. I was still bleeding internally. Too late I learned that older women ( I am almost 73) should be very careful about having invasive internal procedures done because our tissues have become so thin and can lead to serious infection as a result of this kind of assault.

 

The dream that I had had that very morning had warned me that I was going to experience excruciating pain from the test that would be done later in the day. In the dream I was powerless and had lost all autonomy. My body knew. As a dreamer who has been recording her dreams for 40 years I hoped that somehow this one was some kind of metaphor.

 

I awoke this morning profoundly depressed and angry. When I was finally able to put words on the invasive procedure, I realized that yesterday I had experienced another rape.

 

As a woman who has survived sexual assault first as a child within her own family, and later as an adult (because I didn’t know how to protect myself), I once again found myself in a situation beyond my control – this time at the hands of the medical profession.

 

Was I intentionally raped? No. However, my experience as a sexual abuse survivor carried over into this process that left my body re-experiencing rape. Had I been told what the second procedure “might” entail by my doctor I would have refused to go through with it.

 

This dreadful little homily is an example of how critical it is for us as women to make absolutely sure we know what is going to happen during various internal procedures, especially if sexual assault is part of our history.

 

Persephone’s descent marks the beginning of fall. It also tells a tale of a brutal split between a goddess’s mind and body and the consequent loss of perception, the ability to “know” or perceive a truth through her senses. Persephone remains captive to her underworld husband for a time, but in the spring she is released to the upper world (Earth) with help from her mother. During her incarceration Persephone matures, eventually making a choice to return to Hades, for part of each year. She becomes Queen of the Underworld, suggesting to me that she has learned to live in two worlds – one of darkness, one of light – and accepts the cycles of attrition and abundance,  as she adapts to both.

Although I have unwittingly re-enacted Persephone’s abduction into the underworld through living my life I take comfort in the belief that like Persephone, I can endure this latest betrayal and rape, eventually moving beyond both.

Blessed Be.

September, the Moon Bear’s Full Moon

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This morning the sun rose blood red over the trees splashing crimson fire over the ground…The first frost has come and gone and now the humidity is on the rise as thunderclouds float like specters above the mountains. What am I to make of this natural occurrence?

Nature is the mirror in which I see myself.

I have just learned from my friend Harriet that Black Bears are crossing the Border from Maine into Canada, where they, like other refugees, are finding a more compassionate place to live. In Canada bears are not slaughtered (by baiting, hounding, trapping) for sixteen weeks a year like they are in this country.

The only thing worse than listening to hunters target shoot for hours is hearing one or two gunshots and then a sickening silence like I did on this sultry afternoon. Another bear dead?

I call September’s full moon the Moon Bear’s Moon not just because so many Black bears will be killed this month, but because Moon Bears are real Asian Black bears who have also survived unspeakable treatment.

Asian Moon Bears have endured intolerable suffering on “Bear Farms” at the hands of humans who force them to live out their lives in steel cages so small that they cannot stand up or move around – ever. Crude catheters are inserted into their bodies and they are milked for bile until they eventually perish. Some are blinded, or lose teeth, others have paws hacked off. Eventually they die from diseases like cancer around 15 years of age.

Ethologist/biologist Marc Bekoff and primatologist Jane Goodall stepped in and began a program to end this intolerable suffering. Jasper, once a victim of this atrocity became the first ambassador for Animals Asia, and since that time many bears have been rehabilitated although bear farming continues to thrive.

Amazingly, these rehabilitated animals are not only capable of forgiving their tormentors but some even learn to trust humans again, attaching themselves to their caregivers, as well as to others. This kind of Ursine forgiveness and compassion towards humans is astonishing and heartrending. Having witnessed this kind of behavior firsthand I choose to honor all bears during this Full Moon in September when so many will be killed in this country.

Tonight, on the eve of the Full Moon I call on the Power and the Spirit of the Moon Bears to be present for their people, helping Black Bears to live, or to die a death without suffering.

Blueberries for Bears

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Above: Andrew Wyeth Print

 

This morning I went to our local blueberry festival and ate blueberry pancakes with blueberry sauce and started home with three quarts of blueberries, one of which was delivered to my friend Roy who is almost 102 years old.

 

A second quart went to the bears who are already under fire for the coming slaughter which begins this month…that quart contains a bevy of earth bear prayers.

 

The third quart became the blueberry sauce that I lovingly make every single year in honor of this Turning of the Wheel. The month of August signals the beginning of the harvest and for me, like gathering the first ripening pods, making blueberry sauce speaks to my participation in the great round, a holy undertaking.

 

The recipe I use is one that I created, but it has its roots in this wild blueberry festival and the local folk, the men and women who painstakingly pick the berries. Traditionally it is still the women who make pies, muffins, tarts, and cakes to sell – but for me the lure is those fresh berries picked with so much love and attention to detail (no green berries end up in these quarts).

 

As I am stirring the sauce, my mouth literally waters in anticipation of what’s to come and at the end of the cooking time, I scoop up spoons of this deep blue concoction savoring the flavors while staining my mouth and teeth an impossible dark purple! Making blueberry sauce is a wonderful way to preserve the fresh fruit and once the season has passed, opening a jar of the sauce brings late summer back to the table.

 

My young pine forest was once a field that provided me with more berries than I could ever eat. The field fed birds of all kinds, coyotes, foxes, and mice, voles, and squirrels, while bears combed the steep field with claws raking whole bunches into their mouths at once; We all feasted on Nature’s bounty and I felt such child-like gratitude to be part of what was then, still an unbroken whole. Memories of time spent with my little brother picking berries for my grandmother’s pies were startlingly vivid during that period as were those spent with my youngest son, who once loved to gather both strawberries and blueberries for the pies and muffins I used to make. Those days are gone now along with most of my berries, though I still know places along the pond where high bush berries and huckleberries still grow in abundance.

 

Today I thought about my two beloved women friends Iren and Harriet and wished that somehow I could have spirited them both from their kitchens to mine to smell and taste this sauce, the color of which defies categorization.

 

Perhaps I think of them because creating delicious concoctions from wild berries is an ancient practice that women have been engaged in since the beginning of humankind.