“First Light” Reflection

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Avanyu – Photo Iren Schio


Last night’s smoky sunset


Smoky blue gray rose tipped dawn


First Light!


This morning I awakened to the same smoky blue gray clouds that brought in twilight last night, clouds that bled black ink into a fiery sky. The air was mild, 30 degrees, as I stepped outside to witness with wonder the dawn breaking – that moment when time ceases and the earth holds her breath. As I scattered seed for the birds a solitary robin sang from the cottonwood, the first spring song I’ve heard him sing this year. Was he heralding the birth of First Light? Suddenly a cacophony overhead: a gaggle of geese flew so low I could see dark wings and white bellies, and as they soared they too were honking with the greatest enthusiasm, a collective song sung with one voice. It was impossible to escape the sense that my avian friends know that today is a special day, a day when the whole earth celebrates the return of the light.


When the sun broke over the horizon, a golden orb shining through the trees the smoke was already fading into a deep blue sky. I stood at the gate overlooking Avanyu’s river, (the Pueblo Serpent, whose horned watery undulating image is pecked into so many stones on the highest rubbly mesas). For a moment I felt a sharp pang of grief that the water was so low, but the shimmering serpent seemed intent upon reflecting the beauty of the sky above, and no more.


Ancient peoples noted the return of the light and celebrated, each in their own way. Some of us have not forgotten the old ways and live them still. I will always be filled with gratitude for the women’s spirituality movement which developed out of a feminist perspective in the 80’s, because it helped women and men to dive into the multi-cultural meanings behind these cyclic turnings of the wheel resacralizing the earth and her seasonal shifts for many. These turnings that were once considered holy by all peoples…


In Celtic lore it is Brigid’s Fire and Light that we honor today. Brigid is goddess of the forge, she works with fire and metal and is a transformer herself; she is also a poet and writer, a great source of artistic inspiration. In my “First Light” ritual (my name for this turning) I always light a “crown” of candles on this day – this circle of light embodies the wholeness that I associate with the sanctity of the earth in darkness as well as light.


Groundhog Day is the only vestige of the ancient ritual practice associated with the She Bear, “Mother of All” that remains part of American tradition. On February 2nd, today, the bear (who shapeshifted into a groundhog in the United States) first emerged from his den to determine when spring would come. If the bear saw his shadow spring was still six weeks away and the bear returned to his den to sleep. In actuality wild bears sometimes stir, and males often emerge briefly on the first warm, sunlit, late winter days, so this cultural story has a basis in the habits of real wild bears.


What fascinates me about this myth is the shadow element that is associated with the return of the light of the sun. The brighter the light, the darker its shadow… it is easy to forget that light always brings shadow along as its doppelganger…


It is important to be mindful of this truth.


I think about the custom of the European Shrovetide Bear who was chained and led from house, forced to dance on hot coals to bless the fields for the coming year. This wild animal – a real bear (probably a grizzly) – was tortured for reasons that remain unclear to me unless I consider that the bear has been forced to carry our human shadow element for millennium, and was used as a stand in for containment of the dark side of humanity – as an animal scapegoat. Remember, the bear was chained. (Perhaps we need to re-visit this idea of containing the dark side of humanity, which seems to be out of control as we continue to destroy life on this planet). For me, this coming of the light has a shadow aspect that I can feel in my body as a kind of uncomfortable buzz. As a bear researcher I experience raw fear for all the hibernating wild bears who are still snug and safe in their winter dens. From the time these animals first emerge in the spring they will be mercilessly hunted down by men – men who continue to project their dark destructive impulses onto these animals and slaughter them.


So this coming of the light is not just about the return of light and the greening of the earth, but reflects the reality of human darkness and the cruelty inherent in the human condition. This knife edge is important to acknowledge as we move into the spring of the year because it is too easy to forget that light and dark are always part of one whole, and to experience one side is to be opened to the other.


The Woman Pot


The Woman Pot as it looks today… since that time one more woman has added a plant!


Curious Bb looking in the window!


Last summer when I returned to Maine I was very homesick for Abiquiu. I had collected a couple of succulents to bring home with me. The first was a string of pearls that I got from the office of the veterinarian in Santa Fe who saved my dove, Lily b, from dying after he had been mauled. I treasured those pale green pearls. At Thanksgiving my friend Sabra let me have a couple of rosettes that I also planted. And in the spring while caretaking Iren’s plants I brought back another spikier rosette that had fallen away from the mother plant and a tiny piece of jade plant from her beautiful solarium. All of these were placed in individual pots.


All the plants thrived! By the time I returned to Maine I decided to pot all my succulents into a rectangular clay pot along with another succulent that I received from a woman in Maine and a couple of other rosettes I had collected myself.


One July morning I sat outside in the shade with various pots scattered around. I heard a rustling sound behind me. My yearling male bear, Bb appeared, materializing through the forest veil and was approaching his seed can that was about 15 feet away from where I was working. He let out an annoyed “huff” and slapped a nearby pine letting me know that he wanted me to return to the porch while he snacked.

Normally I acceded to his wishes but I had pots scattered everywhere and knew if I re- entered the house he would be unable to resist coming over to see what I was up to. My plants would be toast!


So I spoke to him quietly. “I’m going to sit right here until I finish repotting and then dear friend I will leave you to your seed.” Bb behaved as if he understood every word. Instantly he lay down on the shady ground he began munching his seed as I continued my project. Every now and then I would turn around to watch him, this beloved bear of ‘mine’. We worked companionably for the next half an hour, with Bb eating and me repotting. True to my word, as soon as I was finished I turned to him and remarked, “I’m done and I am going into the house, thank you for your patience”. Bears, I knew from experience, liked to hear my voice and appreciated words of respect. In seconds Bb bounded down the hill to investigate the empty pots I had left to collect later. Bears are incredibly curious.


Once in the house, I admired my handiwork, so pleased that all these plants were going to live together because plants enjoy each other’s company just like humans do. For the rest of the summer all my plants thrived! I had to keep cutting some back to keep the slower growing rosettes from becoming overwhelmed.


It wasn’t until the end of the summer when Bb’s visits became nocturnal due to hunting pressure that I recognized that this one pot was special in two ways. The first was because all it’s plants had come from women. The second because Bb had allowed me to finish re –potting my new creation in peace. Bb was initially named after someone else. It was months before it occurred to me that Bb was the nickname I had been given as a child. So this woman, her plants, and her bear are related if not through blood, then through naming!


For the rest of my days I will associate this pot with women I care about and a bear that I love.

Stones that Speak



Yesterday I walked into Owl canyon with my backpack to bring back a almost rounded translucent rose river stone that spoke to me one day as I was passing by. I had admired this 20 plus pound rock ever since the first time I saw it in the arroyo, promising myself that one day when I felt better I would bring it back to Casita del Oso.


Her first garden stone.


The stone remarked, “I would make a good tombstone” in an offhand way.


I was astonished and somewhat alarmed. Owl canyon is a place of contemplation and repose, a place I visited every day I could during my first very difficult two months here. The tall spires of sandstone and the round hills contained me. The precious Silence held me like a mother would hold her child. I brimmed with daily gratitude for moments of peace.


Almost instantly after the stone spoke my body registered that death was in the air. My mind rebuked me for having dark thoughts.


When I returned to the emerging casita I discovered to my horror that Mario, the builder had just received a text from his wife, informing him that Mario’s father had died suddenly. He had received the text during the time I was in the arroyo, passing by that stone.


Mario and I have some sort of underground connection on a heart level. I am so profoundly grateful that he is the man that is building this casita that I hope someday to inhabit. Mario has an attitude worth cultivating. He has amazing patience, is incredibly kind to my little dogs who love him, and his optimism is infectious. I feel good just being around him and the feeling inside the casita is one of peace and harmony. Mario’s skill has a carpenter is noteworthy; he is a superb builder and together with Bruce the owner of the property and the architect/artist who designed the casita, the house is growing into her own.


(I must add that friend Iren placed sacred objects in each of the four directions on November 8th of 2017 with Mario’s blessing. She and I had discussed what would go where and this was a collaborative effort even though I had not yet left Maine and so the first adobes hold the Soul and Spirit of the Earth between them.)


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When Mario returned from Mexico after his father’s death, (he is still struggling with the bureaucracy to allow him to bring his wife, daughter, and his ten month old baby into the United States where Mario has lived since he was nineteen) he brought me a gift for the casita that moved me so much that I have written about it elsewhere in this blog. Who but Mario would be thoughtful enough to think of me when he had his own grief to deal with? It is this kind of gesture that reveals the character of the man behind it.


And this brings me around the circle to the river stone.


Why might the reader ask would I struggle to bring a heavy stone back to the casita when it brought me such a heartbreaking message?


This is a question that I find easy to answer. First, I liked the stone. Secondly it spoke to me, giving me information that I might not otherwise have. Thirdly, the stone will always remind me of the man who built the casita, a man I have come to respect with all my heart. The fourth reason I will keep this stone near is to remind me that life and death are part of one whole, and that it is impossible to separate one from the other.

Winter Woman

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(Photo Iren Schio)


I am searching for her coat

made of mink tails

and bearskins –

for live animals to hold

me close

as I drift deep

into winter dreaming…


Snow will fall on the mesa

one still morning,

gray clouds streaming

across the sky

softening red stone

inking ochre shadows.


The river is in retreat

turning opaque sea green.

The beach appears

and stories are gathered and

written into the sand

by those who love Her.


A solitary egret stands watch

on the edge of a jagged cliff

peering with one golden eye

into rippling rapids

patiently stalking a fish,

the wind his sail.


The sun is still warm,

and velvet night wraps me

in her starry cloak

even as the Great Bear rises

her tail tipping the horizon.

Venus will soon rise out

of a scarlet winter dawn.

I mourn, and pray

for sleep to come…


Working notes:


I am at a loss to understand how my poor body can continue without uninterrupted sleep for seven weeks…I am always tired, yet hyper alert in my exhaustion to the slightest sound. Where is Winter Woman who directs the flow of sleep with her longer nights and slower rhythms as the sky stands still? How I long for her sweet presence to bring peace and slumber to this animal woman deprived of the joy of waking ready to give thanks for another day.

Passionflower Mourning

People send me pictures of your children

bright green and twining

even in the northern winter dark,

while here in gold spun light

you pine and droop

shedding leaf after leaf

like tears

into my heartbroken hand.

Each morning I witness

new shoots withering

on your vine.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


You have been with me for

so many years and I have

offered so many of your cuttings

after they were rooted

with the promise of an

unearthly crown of

cereus blue flowers to come.

Folks gasped when they saw them,

but I just smiled knowing

more would come.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


I always wondered why

no one else could coax your

new roots to grow, but then

our relationship was

based on the kind of Love

that binds two souls.

I know now that our roots

and body were always One.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


We were part of one another

when I was a green and purple

ground creeper. I just didn’t know.

Dreams so often speak to futures


And I didn’t recognize myself as a plant!

I was just grateful

to share your beauty with others

who might fall in love too –

the way I did with you.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


Yesterday, I placed a plastic dome

over your tender shoots

so fragile

only three left now,

promising myself

not to fuss.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


And yet, I cannot dim the hope

that Nature’s Grace

will intervene and save you yet…

I could not protect you

from either bugs and fungus –

spores poisoned

the air around us, and new

leaves were distorted by aphids

sucking your blood –

I added layers of anxious grief

and loss of trust.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


Two young sheltered rootless daughters

stand by your side

as witnesses to what will come.

Will their presence comfort you?

Will they take root too?

That I want you to live

is something you already know.

Thriving as you once did, has become

something of a dream,

though I never for a moment

took your bountiful life force for granted.


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


This morning I heard the Owls call

from the northern peaks across the road

-the place where the Great Bear rises

and I felt less alone –

Like my too exhausted body,

there might be a message

for both of us about hope

and growing greener, tougher

able to withstand more challenges

together…. gaining strength

from each other as we once did

as One.


And yet –


If it’s time

to let you go I must accept what is.


I hear the flower child weeping,

as if from great distance…

Please don’t leave us.”


But if it’s time

We must wander through the world of the dead –

To find a way to let you go.

Cedar Slips through the Veil…



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.

Tree of Life



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.