Mexican Hat

IMG_6905

( you cannot tell from this picture but this newly hatched lizard is only an inch long!)

 

I have a baby

lizard who makes his home

under a Mexican hat

that sits upon

the garden wall.

When the sun

climbs high

over the cottonwood

tree

he scoots out his door

as I pass by,

vanishing

the moment

I call his name!

 

Working notes. My two house lizards are the parents of this little lizard who is presently sharing his parents general territory. When I placed the sunflower heads on the wall he immediately moved in. A perfect lizard haven, ants climb around his abode and all he has to do is wait in safety until one presents himself. Baby lizard has his breakfast delivered to his front door!

I have a special attachment to this little fellow because his parents live on the same side of the house and are allowing him to stay. Unlike his parents he is very shy. He will watch me curiously but the second I try to speak to him he disappears. Contrast this with his parents who actually follow my movements outdoors and seem to enjoy our daily conversations!

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Toadwise

 

A Tale for a Life Lover

 

Last night I was thinking about the giant western toad that is living in my garden when I had a peculiar thought: Write a story about the Toad and an Old Woman and call it A Tale for a Life Lover. At this very moment I heard my toad’s rasping guttural cry outside my window. I was so shocked I got up and went out on the porch, hoping to hear the call again, but the toad only spoke once. Afterwards, I wondered if I had imagined it.

 

When the giant western toad appeared in my yard last week I had been in a state bordering on despair over baffling health issues and the ravages of Climate Change. Maybe it is no longer possible for me to separate the two? After the visitation I sensed that the toad’s abrupt appearance meant something beyond the amazing fact that I had met a giant toad who apparently had been living here all along.

 

Some preliminary natural history research revealed that the western toad is becoming extinct in the Southwestern states due to UV light, chemicals polluting water, vulnerability to other toxins, loss of habitat etc. so I was even more grateful to have a venerable Grandmother Toad living here near the river’s edge. She must be a grandmother of many thousands –her impressive size suggests her sex and her age.

 

Toads literally change forms; they are shapeshifters beginning their lives in vernal pools as strings of eggs becoming “toadpoles.” They metamorphose quickly into lung/skin breathing terrestrial toadlets moving away from the water, who, if they survive predation, become adult toads that inhabit meadows and mesas. Most toads also have poisonous parotid glands whose secretions can irritate the skin; a few are deadly. Toads deal with the heat and lack of rain by spending most of the day under protective leaves in gardens, underground or in a burrow, emerging at dusk or during rain to hunt. During a drought, they do not breed. In the winter they hibernate. Toads also shed their skins and often eat them. Mine still had sloughed off skin attached to her back legs. Adults are also long lived, even in the wild.

 

Two days after meeting Toad who had just shed and eaten a skin I also found an empty snakeskin. Discovering two creatures that shed their skins almost simultaneously couldn’t be coincidence and helped me to prioritize the probable importance of some kind of personal transformation that I was undergoing.

 

I have intuited by living my life and following my dreams that if I want to learn more about how to be in the world I needed to turn first towards Nature to provide me with a Guide and then to mythology to unravel her/his story. I know a lot about toads having raised so many from tadpoles… so I investigated Toad’s mythology.

 

Christianity demonizes both women and toads attaching both to evil, darkness, sorcery, and poisoning, a too obvious distortion of Patriarchy which seeks to control both Nature and women and therefore isn’t of much use. Too one sided. However, what emerges in other mythologies is Toad as a powerful figure, a literal manifestation of the Earth Mother.

 

Marija Gimbutas mytho – archeologist and scholar traces the toad back to the early Neolithic period 8000 – 5000 B.C. in old Europe when a toad shaped figurine with a flower shaped head was discovered at Sesklo 6000 B.C. – 5800 B.C. The toad/frog motif is common in Neolithic pottery, especially in Italy and Crete. Gimbutas doesn’t make it clear what the distinction is between the Frog and Toad Goddess beyond that the former seems to be associated more frequently with birth and the latter concerns herself more with death and regeneration, a possible distinction I find useful. Certainly both are two facets of one female goddess as Creatrix/Destroyer.

 

More recently the Egyptian Goddess Creatrix Haquit was portrayed as a woman/frog. Hecate of Greece has a name Baubo that also means toad. Gimbutas also writes that the names given to the toad link it with the goddess in many European languages, for example, hexe in German, and fata in Italian dialects. All words refer to the ability of this goddess to read the future as prophetess. But primarily the toad was associated with the powers of death and her ability to restore life.

 

In the Americas I found more recent Indigenous mythology on the Toad as Goddess. Tlatechtli is a Pre – Columbian (1200 – 1519) goddess belonging to the Mexica. Although Tlatechtli’s name is masculine modern scholars interpret this toad figure as female because she is squatting giving birth. Some see her as crouching under the earth, mouth open waiting to devour the dead. Since the Aztec culture was a warring male dominated Patriarchal one I think it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that the Earth Goddess/Toad was seen as masculine to the Mexica.

 

In Mesoamerica we find Toad widely represented in art, often with feline or other non-naturalistic attributes, including jaguar claws and fangs. These images can be regarded as versions of Tlaltecuhtli. In contemporary Mexico, as in Guatemala, and throughout South America toads play a role in myth, sorcery, shamanism, and in curing/healing.

 

In South America the story of Toad begins with the birth of the divine hero twins when their natural mother is killed by the Jaguar People. The unborn twins are saved by Toad Grandmother, who is Mistress of the Earth, Owner of Fire, as well as Mother of the Jaguars, who can change back and forth between jaguar and toad. As the black jaguar she is a threat to humankind, as well as to other non human species. This wild cat aspect of the toad interests me because “cat women” are sometimes experienced as negative figures, perhaps legitimizing the dark side of the female in a concrete way.

 

Toad Grandmother rears the twins teaching them to hunt, cure, etc. but eventually they kill her. From her dismembered body comes food – cassava, or bitter manioc, and other useful plants. Toad as Grandmother in this story dies violently but also literally transforms herself in the process becoming food for the people even after she is slaughtered. This profound level of transformation suggests her immortal nature.

 

There are also many related stories in which a culture hero is taught hunting skills, etc., by a Toad who seems to be identical with the Earth goddess in the twin tradition. Myth’s abound in which an Indian takes aim at a giant supernatural toad, only to have her disappear and reappear elsewhere in the form of a gigantic black jaguar.

 

In many respects the most interesting South American version of the Earth mother as Toad is that of the Tacana of lowland Bolivia. In the male-dominated pantheon of the Tacana, the Earth Mother is one of the few female goddesses, but she is clearly of fundamental importance. She is also known as Pachamama, Guardian of the Earth.

 

In her animal form as a live toad (Bufo marinus – a toad with very toxic properties) she is kept in a circular hole dug below the altar of the temple somewhat reminiscent of the sipapu, or place of sacred emergence in the Hopi kiva, or the emergence hole of the subterranean gods of the Mexican Huichol Indians. The toad’s home is kept covered with a cloth, or, more, usually, a flat disk of cedar wood. Curiously she is fed a diet of frogs, which harkens back to Gimbutas’s distinction between the toad and the frog suggesting that the toad is more powerful than the frog because she symbolizes death and regeneration as well as birthing. On ceremonial occasions, offerings are made to this Toad goddess.

 

Toad is the originator of cultivated food plants and tropical forest horticulture. She is a culture bringer incarnating as Earth Guardian and Mistress of the animals, especially those that make their home underground. She also functions as Bringer of the Seasons. She is the mother of Rain, and the Bearer of the Moon. In her negative aspect (as usual) she devours the dead. Toad is therefore a complex figure. On one hand she is a protector, mentor of shamans, mother, teacher, regenerator of the Earth, bringer of fire and cultivated plants, and on the other hand she is also a vicious killer and one who swallows the dead.

 

There are also some interesting parallels from Asia. Especially in China and Japan we find numerous traditions in which toads appear as creatures skilled in the magic arts, transformers, mentors, spirit helpers and alter egos of curing shamans, etc. There are a number of apparently quite ancient tales of sages living in mountain caves in the company of giant toads who taught them their magical knowledge and who function as their spirit companions and avatars. Some toads were feared as monstrous supernatural beings capable of inflicting death and destruction, others were highly regarded as benevolent creatures that could draw down the clouds and bring rain and radiant visions. Again and again we see Toad as the nurturing and frightening animal/human aspect of the goddess as Creatrix/Destroyer.

 

After this journey through toad mythology I returned to my original question about what messages my garden toad as Earth Mother, Guardian, might be trying to convey to me.

What follows is what I learned…

 

Toad reminds me that I need more protection from the sun (from the desert sun and from the fathers of patriarchy) than I am getting.

 

Even more challenging S/he models that I have to shed an old skin by ingesting it. This second idea suggests that shedding an old skin or “letting go” is not enough. I also need to integrate more shadow qualities as I become a toad grandmother.

 

Toad is a terrestrial creature who spends a lot of time underground listening to the pulse of the Earth. As a goddess she communes with underground spirits. She also knows how to avoid extremes. Perhaps choosing to align myself with her “ground way of seeing” will help me to send down deeper roots and gain knowledge not otherwise available to me. She may help me to accept my amphibious nature, one that requires regular moisture to thrive, even as she breathes through her skin underground.

 

Toad also needs water to breed. This creative act is not possible in times of drought and escalating heat, one of the results of climate change that is impacting all life forms including myself. The Earth is on Fire. Perhaps all I can do is to witness what is, and ask her for guidance…

 

Toad is a healer and has been associated with female shamans for millennia so she carries the potential for healing splits that are the result of living in a patriarchal culture. I am just one of millions of women seeking closure for this collective wounding…

 

Toad comes to life during the nocturnal hours. Like her I can lean into starry skies and waxing moons just as she does finding nourishment by embracing the dark.

 

Since I am in the process of becoming an old woman I can’t think of a better Guide or Grandmother figure than Toad whose knowledge of destruction re –creation can help me negotiate the joys and difficulties of aging and dying with grace. Perhaps I can even acquire some wisdom in the process. Her venerable age reminds me that I too may have many more years to live. Only Toad and the cells of my dreaming body know for sure.

 

So ends this tale of Toad, an almost Old Woman and one who is surely a fierce lover of her own life.

 

Postscript: This is the second time I have written this essay! In it’s earlier incarnation I wasn’t clear how Toad was guiding me. Now I am.

Witness

(photo taken of one of my owls)

 

It was dark

when I first heard Her

whooing overhead

bearing witness,

ushering in

the First of the

Harvest Moons.

The seasonal wheel turning towards

ripe fruit and swelling seeds.

Summer’s Bounty.

This goddess

is cloaked

in feathery mole brown splendor

a Sphinx flying

through the night.

S/he heralds the

Gift of Water

answering earnest prayers…

As ‘Changing Woman’ she brings rain

to soften cracked desert ground…

 

Hidden in a tangle of branches

Owl observes my approach…

When I pass

under the Cottonwood tree

she takes flight in silence.

lands on a snag –

luminous eyes glowing.

Fiery embers

sweeten the night.

 

Her beneficent

Presence floods me

with wonder –

Oh, I know Her well.

Love seeps through

a body punctured by holes.

Seen at last by my Beloved

I give thanks for Owl

whooo calls my name.

 

Working notes:

 

Last fall on the night of my birthday I was serenaded by three Great Horned owls conversing outside my window. In the thirty years I had lived in my cabin these owls had never visited me before. The hair stood up on my arms – an omen, I was sure. The owls felt like an embodiment of my mother for reasons I will explain in a moment. Every night after my birthday the owls whooed outside my window until I left Maine for New Mexico six weeks later.

 

The night after I arrived great horned owls began hooting. I couldn’t escape the irrational thought that the owls had followed me here. I felt confused because although I loved hearing them, each time I did I was also flooded by conflicting thoughts about my mother, and what this omen might portend…

 

When I was a child I adored my mother – the first woman I ever loved…Unfortunately, my mother didn’t seem to have much use for her daughter, though I did everything I could to please her. A gifted visual artist, my mother loved great horned owls and often drew them. I imitated her, drawing stylized images but I also feared them. The rational explanation for this feeling is, of course, that I feared my mother and equally feared her abandonment of me, so owls became associated with both a fear of women and death. This love and fear of my mother – a distant, cool, unattainable woman dominated my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. It wasn’t until mid-life that I began to separate from her emotionally. It was only then that I began to see her. I recognized that her inability to see me as a person separate from herself ran both ways with disastrous results for both of us. Betrayal characterized our relationship. We gradually became more estranged, and for the last twelve years of her life she refused to see me at all. When she died, initially, all I felt was relief.

 

It was during mid-life and long before my mother’s death that owls first came into my life. One barred owl flew into the house through a window. Others serenaded me at night. A Snowy owl flew head on almost hitting my windshield. Saw whet owls peered at me during the day and the nights were punctuated by Barred owls whooing at night. I found dead owls on the road, collected their feathers, attended a weekend with a well known Lakota -Souix Medicine Woman who wouldn’t allow me near her because I had “Owl Medicine” (for these Indigenous peoples, the presence of the owl portended certain death). Because I still associated all owls with my mother these occurrences left me with feelings of dread. However, during the next 25 years a great horned owl never appeared to me, and that was a huge relief.

 

Up until 11 months ago.

 

When a convocation of three Great Horned owls surrounded my house and started singing the night of my birthday I sensed that I was crossing a threshold and that my mother was on the other side. Their night calls thrilled me even as I struggled to deal with my fright. The owls kept up their symphony until I left Maine for New Mexico six weeks later. Amazingly, I had only been in Abiquiu one day when Great Horned owls started whooing in the cottonwood forest in the predawn hours. I couldn’t escape the uncanny feeling that the owls and maybe my mother had followed me here…

 

Because I have had intimate relationships with animals all my life I befriended the owls, taking deep pleasure out of their calls, even as I attempted to deal with my fears and reflected over what their continued presence might mean.

 

I arrived in Abiquiu in a destabilized condition not having any idea what the winter would bring, whether I would make my home here, unsure of whether to sell my house. I was moving into the last years of my life and I wanted them to count. When I look back now it is easy to see that I was in crisis but at the time the obvious escaped me. As it turned out the winter months were very difficult with me wondering if I had made a terrible mistake.

 

I was walking on air.

 

At dawn or at night owls continued to serenade me throughout the winter and spring.

 

In late May just before moving into my present home I found one owl feather outside of the east window. The owl’s feather graced the first Nicho in the house, followed by a second discovered and given to me by the builder a day or so later.

 

The first night I spent here the owls sang from the cottonwoods. A few days later I found and added three more owl feathers to the Nicho.

 

All summer I have been graced by owl presence, especially during the full moons when owls have let me see them in the predawn mornings.

 

On the morning of September 1st almost one year after hearing them for the first time, a hooting owl awakened me… Then for two weeks – Silence. I couldn’t help wondering if this was the end of the owl serenade that had begun almost one year ago…I experienced a powerful sense of loss.

 

Two nights ago I had a dream about being abandoned, a painful reoccurring theme. When I awakened I heard an owl calling insistently from the cottonwood forest. Feeling a profound sense of relief I rushed outside to listen. I was astonished and delighted when the persistent calls were answered by another adult owl who then flew across the field to join her mate. Now I listened to a conversation occurring between the two that I had never heard before. This murmuring between the two was so intimate I almost felt like I was intruding as I stood under the cottonwood listening for about 15 minutes. When the sounds ceased I looked up to see the two hidden by cottonwood leaves sitting very close together. Joy engulfed me. They were back! Yesterday morning three owls were hooting, the male sat in the cottonwood, the female and the young one hooted from the next field further away.

 

Just as I opened the door to take a twilight walk that night I heard two owls conversing nearby, found two owl feathers while walking, and then glimpsed another owl flying over my head to land in a juniper high on the mesa!

 

Reflecting upon this unusual clump of owl sightings after not hearing them for two weeks I thought again about my mother and owls, acknowledging how much I missed them both. Was it possible that as I approach old age my mother in the form of an owl was coming to witness and support me, in a way she was never able to do during her life?

 

I think the answer is yes and that that the broken thread between a mother and her daughter is being re-woven by the owls that sing to me at night.

The House Lizards

When I moved into my adobe house the first of June two Sagebrush lizards were already living here. Delighted to make their acquaintance I named them the “house lizards” as an act of faith, hoping they would stay here for the summer.

 

Every morning a little after dawn I was out watering my hummingbird garden and tending my nasturtium patch on the east side of the house while these two followed my movements with apparent fascination. It was hot in June, unbearably so, even in the morning, and I noticed that the lizards favored this time of day. They especially appreciated the water that puddled around my nasturtium patch. They also liked to hide under the nasturtiums’ large deep green umbrella -like leaves.

 

I always struck up a conversation when the two appeared, asking how they were and often one or both would bob their heads up and down in response to the sound of my voice. One was a bit larger, so I assumed he was the male. And when I glimpsed the cobalt blue under his chin I knew I was right. Bobbing is normally part of the mating process but it must also be used as another form of communication because both lizards used this gesture when responding to the sound of my voice. The male was a beauty, dark with sharply etched scales, and lots of cobalt blue on his underbelly and the little female was cream colored, her markings less distinct. Since they were almost always together I assumed they were a pair. I hoped a clutch of eggs might be hidden somewhere nearby and that one day I might meet one of their offspring.

 

There were three more sagebrush lizards each with different markings that also lived in this immediate area, and I could tell the difference between them too. Two were males and one was a female. The male and female liked the curved garden wall but I was never certain that they were actually a pair, and there was another, almost gray, male sagebrush lizard that hung out around the compost heap out back.

 

I loved the way all of them watched me with those slanted lizard eyes often turning their heads in my direction as I passed by. I could get within inches of them if I didn’t move quickly, but they would dart away the moment I tried to stroke one.

 

The lizards appeared to have distinct territories. The pair of house lizards hung out on the eastern or southern wall, the other two chose the area around the curved garden wall also on it’s east and southern edge, the fifth lived out back zipping around on the ground or lounging on the wire that covered the compost barrel.

 

Sometimes one of the house lizards would cling to one of the house screens, a habit that reminded me of Shadow, my first lizard who actually lived inside the house I was renting until an arrogant insensitive woman who was always in a hurry crushed him in the door, killing him instantly. This tragedy happened two years ago just after moving here. The worst thing about this story was that I had warned her moments before she squashed him that he was clinging to the inside of the screen.

 

After Shadow’s death I was so heartbroken I wasn’t sure I wanted to make another lizard friend… but here I was in my new house with two lizards in particular that seemed to be developing an attachment to me, as I certainly was to them. All during the month of June many Whiptail lizards raced around here in the tall grass but the two house lizards had a penchant for clinging to the walls of the adobe structure. This behavior made me very happy because I believed they might escape predation by snakes and birds.

 

I also dug a small rock pool into the ground just beyond my garden for the lizards and hopefully to attract a toad or two. Oddly, the solitary compost lizard often sunbathed on the warm pink sandstone around the pool before returning to his territory behind the house.

 

I think it was in mid July that I realized that one of the curved wall lizards was missing. This was a little female. The other is still around but the remaining lizard now keeps to himself and scurries away whenever I get too close.

 

In late July I had a house lizard scare. The female developed some kind of white growth on the back of her neck. I tried to remove it but she resisted my attempts to touch her so I was unable to dislodge whatever it was. Then she disappeared. I was bereft, thinking I had lost her, and was it my imagination that her mate seemed to follow me around as if he needed a friend? I had never seen one of these lizards without the other being visible somewhere nearby until now.

 

A few days later she re-appeared much to my relief, and although there was still a white mark on her head, almost like a scar, the mass or growth was gone.

 

By mid August my nasturtium patch had mushroomed into a huge lizard friendly canopy, and when I would go to water the flowers at noontime (the plants wilted in the heat of the day, just like me) the two house lizards would suddenly materialize on the wall above the vines under which they had been hiding. Apparently, they didn’t like sudden cold showers!

 

One morning in late August I was inside the house and thought some kind of bug had attached itself to the screen. Going to the window to investigate I was startled to see that the tiniest sagebrush lizard clinging to the wire with spidery feet. I rushed out the door, and surprised both house lizards who were basking on the sill just beneath their offspring. This couldn’t be coincidence. Out of perhaps 9 or 10 eggs one little guy had made it. Now I had three house lizards, much to my delight! Lizards aren’t supposed to be attentive parents but why else did that one inch baby lizard stay so close to the adults?

 

When the baby disappeared about a week later I wondered if he had left to find his own territory? I missed seeing him – a lot – probably more than the house lizards who continued their normal routine, spending their days climbing around on the walls, preferring a southern exposure now that the sun was less intense, at least for the morning hours. Each afternoon they still retired to the nasturtium patch for a nap. Sometimes I couldn’t resist peeking in at them!

 

A few days passed and then the baby lizard surprised me by materializing on the steps that lead to the porch on the south side of the house. So he was still around after all. Since then, he appears irregularly but often enough to suggest that he is still using his parents’ territory at least the area around the porch. I last saw him yesterday. The literature states that young lizards practice dispersal. Perhaps this little one had siblings that had also survived and moved on? Around the same time tiny whiptails were scurrying around in plentiful numbers, but in the two years I had been here in New Mexico I had never seen a baby sagebrush lizard before this one.

 

I’ve read that males and females defend separate territories except during mating which would have occurred in early June, but my house lizards don’t seem to be following the rules because now it’s mid September and these two are still together. And yesterday afternoon the little one was on the south porch railing sunning himself, a perfect miniature sagebrush lizard.

 

Lizards are not supposed to develop attachments to humans, but I believe this assessment is wrong. In my life experience any wild creature will befriend a human that cares about them.

 

I was with the dogs on the east porch having my coffee in the warmth of the early morning sun today thinking about finishing this narrative when I glimpsed the male house lizard peering over the edge of the roof. In seconds he rushed down like a reptilian spiderman to cling to the wall next to me, and sure enough, just behind him the female appeared too. With September half over it won’t be long until the lizards find a safe burrow or debris to hibernate in, and I shall miss them dearly…

 

Hopefully, next April they will emerge from their winter’s sleep along with the little lizard to join a woman who loves them. And together we will celebrate another season under the heat of a warming spring sun.

The Grandmothers

I had a very upsetting experience two days ago with some men whose disrespect tunneled through my open heart and stole my sense of worth, triggering old “you’ll never be good enough because you are female” wounds.

 

Although I took appropriate action by making a formal complaint, I couldn’t shake the caul these men laid over me. Outrage bled into the old shame diminishing me not just because of this miserable experience, but because I am aware that even if the present attitudes towards women change I will not live long enough to see them… This patriarchal culture of woman hate is still going strong and unlike many I do not see authentic change in the wings, just more band aids.

 

And what is happening to women is happening to the Earth.

 

She is heaving in agony, seething, striking back with natural disasters that “man” has brought down on himself by his indifference, his need to control, his colossal arrogance.

 

Humans are an expendable species and by the time this global breakdown is complete we may well be extinct.

 

Woman centered women are weeping.

 

Woman centered women are grieving.

 

Some, like me feel that human extinction will bring relief.

 

We know of course, that the Earth will live on for a few more billion years. Ironically, she doesn’t need us but we desperately need her to survive…

 

It was in this frame of mind that I felt a powerful nudge to visit the ruin of Poshuowinge that is situated just across the river from me. I hadn’t been there all summer because the area had been closed due to the threat of forest fires.

 

Poshuowinge belongs to the Anasazi, ancestors of the Tewa speaking pueblo peoples that live here along the rivers of the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Today these Pueblos are self – governing, follow an agricultural calendar, and hold dances on feast days throughout the year.

 

When I first came to Northern New Mexico I knew nothing of the Tewa, but became a willing student, learning about the People from attending the dances, researching, and spending long periods of time with their petroglyphs, allowing them to speak through intuition and intention.

 

One of my favorite of these petroglyphs happens to be on a rock half way up the mesa and it was this stone that kept nudging me to make the climb to Poshuowinge yesterday.

 

It was a beautiful clear morning as I traversed the switch back path taking in the astonishing view. Ancient Pueblo peoples chose magnificent vistas not only for their beauty but also in order to protect themselves from Navajo, Ute, Apache, and other invaders.

 

As I approached the turkey stone I looked for the faded petroglyph of the Tewa world of concentric circles and distressed to see that more vandalism had occurred in my absence. Someone couldn’t resist pecking a link between the circles and the serpent.

 

When I reached my destination I stopped and put my hand on the warm stone examining it as I had so many times before. I placed my hand on the turkey. In the early morning light the patina highlighted a side usually shadowed, and it was then I saw her, with one hand raised to the sky with a moon over her right shoulder, and the other touching the Serpent, Ayanyu, spirit of the waters. There were more glyphs but I was transfixed because suddenly the meaning of the picture became crystal clear.

 

Standing before me in relief was an image of another woman of power dressed in regalia, and because of my research and visits to other ruins I now understood that this was also a holy place where the women came to pray, to grind precious herbs in the small depressions or cupules, and used the grinding stone depression located on top of the rock to work other substances… The concentric circles marked this third world of the Tewa.

 

At the same time I was absorbing this knowing I began to feel an easing of the grief I had been carrying since the day before…

 

I sat down holding a sense of peace to my heart, feeling completely restored. Seeing this image of a woman of power had healed me.

 

Last spring I had seen another petroglyph at Black Mesa (another Tewa site) that was in better condition the day of the Tewa Seed Ceremony. When I saw the pecking inside the woman dressed in her regalia I immediately intuited that she was a Seed Woman. Holding the serpent in one hand, touching the Earth with the other, this image oozed female power. The woman at Poshuowinge didn’t have seeds in her belly but she danced with the moon and stars, and touched the serpentine waters and that was enough for me.

 

When I returned home I looked out my window towards Poshuowinge that is located in front of three or four mountains. Depending on where you see them, they appear to be steps to the sky. I renamed those mesas The Grandmothers, after the spirit of the Elders, the Tewa women ancestors who had transcended time to comfort me and to heal old wounds.

 

Tonight they are with me still.

 

Photo of the Grandmothers as seen from Poshuowinge

The Tree Mothers Are Dying

The smoke clogs

my lungs;

a steel band

wraps itself around

my chest

tightening its hold.

The horizon

is dull gray.

The trees are burning

And I cannot breathe…

 

Innocent trees are dying

by billions, tortured by

hungry flames,

turning wood to ash,

rooted smoldering corpses

cannot escape.

Charred trunks,

crisped brown leaves,

needles curled, crackle and fall.

Sweet cambium –

The life – blood of trees

smothered by air

fiery tongues

and I can do nothing

to stop this holocaust

that brings me

to my knees.

And I cannot breathe.

 

Yesterday at dawn

I walked

to the river

in the heavy

thick air.

My lungs

laboring,

my feet dragging,

my head pounding,

the

outlines

of mountain

and mesa

blurred by an ominous haze

wondering what was

wrong with me.

I could not breathe.

 

It was as if the predawn

sky reflected

the hell – the torture

of burning trees.

Like holy women

burned at the stake

for healing with herbs

the trees are screaming

the lungs of the Earth are exploding

and I can’t breathe.

 

Trees weeping white tears

enduring the unendurable,

and still the rains do not come.

A ten minute deluge

cannot suffocate fires

scorching trillions of rootlets

tunneling deep underground.

And I cannot breathe.

 

Where are the Cloud People

that once gifted the Earth

with silvery ribbons of water

that flowed until

each tree and plant

was satiated

glowed luminous green?

I cannot breathe.

 

They have gone away

taking the monsoon

rains with them,

leaving humans to

their Fate.

The Earth is on Fire.

And yet,

even today we deny

that the death of trees,

(whose breath is our own)

forecasts our own demise.

 

The Tree Mothers are Dying.

And I wonder why

I cannot breathe.

 

Working Notes:

 

I wrote a poem about my troubled walk to the river yesterday only to have it disappear into cyberspace leaving me very upset and unsettled because it had everything to do with trees. Trees feel like some of my closest relatives.

 

Unable to let it go and knowing I could not recover the original poem which was better crafted than this one I was still compelled to write another. One thing I have learned as a writer is that I must follow my instincts…

 

I learned to love trees from my mother who spent a lot of time climbing them. As a child I swayed in light breezes on tree limbs, slept in leafy feathered branches and conversed with avian friends. Trees marked the changing seasons, and living amongst elder trees and loving them was a childhood passion I never outgrew.

 

As an adult the Apple Mother called me to her, nurtured me when I moved into my first real home located in the midst of what once was an apple orchard. Ancient gnarled apple trees were my daily companions with whom I had many wordless conversations. At midlife mindless tree slaughter on the edge of my property and a terrorized maple tree led me to leave that home for the mountains of Maine where I thought there were fewer people to harm them and trees were more abundant.

 

But once I began living on the edge of wilderness I was confronted with the realities of Maine logging and the fact that in this state trees were systematically harvested for whim or homeowner profit and always for the sake of a burgeoning economy. Maine currently has less than 16 percent of mature forest (2012 statistic) remaining. Bears and chickadees are moving northward for food and raped land surrounds my property on three sides. Dirty yellow machines roar and crash through once peaceful forests. The smell of chainsaw oil nauseates me. One of my immediate neighbors chopped the crowns off his trees and let them die slowly in agony. I witnessed this dying every single day. It took years.

 

I thought I had survived three lifetimes of tree slaughter by the time I fled to the high desert. It was a relief not to be surrounded by large trees. I immediately fell in love with the scraggily gnarled junipers some of which lived for hundreds and hundreds of years because they weren’t particularly “useful” as fuel.

 

Most recently, the Cottonwoods have stolen my heart with their rustling scalloped leaves, although I also learned that because of damming and water shortage that these elders would not produce young saplings that would survive to become the next generation of cottonwoods because these trees must have direct access to an ever shrinking water table. I settled for loving them with all my heart for now.

 

Then came last winter. We had no snow, no spring run off, no rain, the warmest spring on record – 90’s by late May – 100’s in June and by then forest fires had been burning out of control all around us and elsewhere throughout the southwest since spring. There were cheery rumors of a heavy monsoon season with plenty of rain to come but I had a very bad feeling about the truth of this prediction. Trees communicated to me that my senses knew something people did not. And, as I feared, the rains have not come except in teasingly small amounts. For example 0.03 inches fell late yesterday afternoon. It is now almost the middle of August and the monsoon season is coming to a close. The meadow in front of my house remains the color of winter wheat. And the ground is so dry it crackles under my feet as soon as the torturous sun hits the ground.

 

The junipers, highly adapted to high desert environments are in trouble. These “indicator trees” have bunches of dead needles throughout and growth is all but absent except in areas that are irrigated. One of these trees I have adopted as my Guardian tree. I know by now I can’t save them all but this one tree is watered daily and has responded by shooting up six inch spires of new blue green growth. Each morning I take a moment to touch her branches and talk to her just as I converse with the Cottonwoods. I remind myself daily to live as much in the present as I possibly can because all life on Earth is changing at a breakneck speed because of human indifference and greed. There may be no tomorrow…

 

Even with an attitude of resignation that sometimes borders on acceptance things have been getting worse. As the fires burn on I wake up to the smell of nauseating smoke. Each day is hooded in haze although the heat from the sun appears to be relentless. My energy level has plummeted not just because of the intolerable months of heat but also because of what it means to see that daily gray haze clouding my vision. The trees are burning.

 

Up until this week early pre-dawn walks to the river were my salvation, and my friend Iren’s Bosque has been a refuge. But a few days ago all that changed. Instead of trotting off happily in the dark to meet the river before sunrise I noticed that my breathing was becoming labored as I walked. I do not have breathing difficulties so I experienced this sudden change as alarming. What was happening? It wasn’t until I wrote this poem that I finally got the obvious: The trees are burning, and my identification with these beings is probably partially responsible for causing breathing difficulties for me. My very sensitive body is also like a tuning fork and any changes in the atmosphere affect me when others have no problems at all.

 

For all of my life the “Tree Mothers” have been with me long before I named them as such or understood that trees and women are two elements of one undivided whole. We are intimately related, as anyone who is even a bit conversant with world mythology knows. The cross cultural “Trees of Life” indicate to us that this relationship between trees and women stretches back to the dawn of humankind.

 

Perhaps this is why women gather round trees to protect them, as if only

we could.

The Turning: She Rises

 

It was full moon this morning and when I walked to the river Mars and Pluto were the moon’s companions… I startled an elk in the Bosque and listened to bird song…the sunrise was muted and yet the red eye of the sun blinded me as it erupted over the horizon…

 

I am looking forward to this Turning of the Wheel because it means the days are shortening, cooler temperatures will come, and the Harvest, such as it is, will soon be upon us.

 

I am already finding grasses and the few wildflowers seeding up and have collected hollyhock stalks that are drying in the closet. The single devil’s claw has turned brown and is splitting open. Sunflowers follow the path of the sun and the Sweet Scent of Datura delights me each morning when I bend my body towards her to inhale the flower that the Hawk moth finds irresistible just as I do!

 

Last night I dreamed of a strange cottony puff – ball of a cloud that was also a spiral that was rising into a deep blue sky… This is supposed to be monsoon season but little rain has fallen and the meadow is ashen. Because rain has become an obsession I wondered if the cloud was telling me that rain will not be coming in August because it was climbing into the sky. Earth grief over drought continues.

 

However, the Spiral is also a universal symbol for the Great Goddess and because She is ascending, the cloud she inhabits may hold water that may yet fall.

 

This is the time of year when the old pre-christian religions celebrate this Rising of the Great Goddess, who brings in the Harvest as well as the darker months. This dance of darkness and light is central to the yearly seasonal round. The Great Goddess presides over Life and Death uniting them as one. There is a sense of completion that is associated with this Turning that soothes me. The scorching sun is on the wane and just knowing that longer shadows and a deep blue sky will soon replace a bleached dome and fierce white heat brings me to the edge of peace within.

 

I give thanks for my life, the gift of my precious animals, the multitude of bird songs, plants that flower on feeding hungry hummingbird babies, people I love, one woman in particular…

 

But the Water Woman in me still aches for the rain that does not fall.

 

Will She Who Rises usher in precious water to quench the thirsty Ground?