The Littlest Lizard

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A little voice called me to the door breaking my afternoon meditation. ‘The Littlest Lizard is out and about.’ Without thinking I grabbed my IPhone, opened the door and was disappointed to see that the sun had already left Littlest Lizard’s lair, a rocky crevice in the cactus garden wall.

 

Disappointed, I turned to re –enter the house and there he was, clinging to the wall like spiderman, just inches away from my face. “Oh, there you are” I exclaimed happily as I snapped a few pictures taking careful note of his girth. He bowed to me three times.

 

This sagebrush lizard is only about an inch and a half long (with tail) and is the only lizard that has been around for the last ten days. The other three little lizards must have fattened up enough to brumate, but this little guy is so tiny that he has to keep hunting to survive the coming winter.

 

I am pleased to report that Littlest Lizard is gaining the necessary weight. Every warm day I meet up with him and we have a conversation while he basks in the sun above his crevice or on the adobe wall keeping a sharp eye out for potential prey.

 

And every day when he appears I run for the camera only to discover that he has disappeared like a phantom. This habit of his has been driving me crazy because I wanted just one good picture of him, a picture that would indicate that he might really be as small as I say he is. Today I may have succeeded thanks to that insistent little voice. I love the way Littlest Lizard turned around to peer at me as if to say – ‘that’s enough’ after I took two pictures.

 

Most animals I know would prefer not to have a human peering at them through any kind of lens. My dogs are a good example. If they see me coming with a camera they immediately close their eyes or turn their heads away. I’ve followed bears that led me through thick brush and briar patches turning around every few minutes to check on the progress of the annoying human with the black box and never letting me get close enough to get one decent photo.

 

Don’t ask me why but sagebrush lizards are my favorite reptiles in the world. As a child I do remember going to the circus where my little brother and I could buy geckos for 10 cents that clung to our coats after being attached by a tether and pin. Of course I was too young then to understand the cruelty involved. Most of these hapless lizards soon expired. My mother showed us how to feed them by attaching a bit of hamburger to a piece of thread, and a couple survived for a while. I shudder now just thinking about those poor reptiles hanging on for life on cold winter days…

 

I’d like to think that my present relationship with sagebrush lizards has helped to even out my unintentional childhood unkindness towards the geckos that I so eagerly bought with my allowance.

 

When I first arrived back in Abiquiu I was distraught believing that all my house lizards were dead. The first day I ran into a very well fed garter snake that slithered into the cactus garden wall. Normally, I am very fond of snakes but when I spent three days calling for the seven plus ‘house lizards,’ and no one appeared, I despaired. With all the five – foot prickly weeds cascading over the overgrown garden and obliterating the path to the house I figured my sagebrush lizard family had all been eaten. Most of their basking territory was covered in an unruly green jungle.

 

Imagine my shock the fourth morning when I called out to my friends for a final time while attacking nasty weeds with a pair of clippers (that eventually left me with horrible blisters and bloody hands) when my favorite female lizard suddenly materialized with her very distinct markings. She was so plump! Thrilled to see her I moved slowly towards the wall. When she bowed to me I knew she remembered me and was acknowledging me as her friend. This lizard lets me pet her, and sure enough after a bit of conversation I was able to stroke her velvety back a few times before she moved away. Is she some sort of lizard “watchdog – woman” looking out for her own kind I wondered, because by mid afternoon most of my lizards appeared in their usual spots as if they had been there all along.

 

Why three days of invisibility? Did these lizards think I abandoned them? If they only knew… I thought about each of them every day all summer long. Unfortunately, I was missing a couple of adults; they never returned. But now I also had four new baby lizards – one of which was barely an inch long.

 

When the first hard frost hit early in October most of the adults disappeared quite suddenly except my favorite mother, her mate, and another pair that still appeared on warm afternoons. My beautifully marked mother was now so well padded that I wondered how she had room to swallow even one more ant! I last saw the mother who I have now re-named the “watchdog lizard” ten days ago. The four little ones continued to appear until the end of the first week in November. Now I only see Littlest lizard. I am delighted to see how canny this little one is, always keeping close to cover. As long as I am there without a camera he is quite friendly although he will not tolerate my touch (I actually have no idea if this lizard is a male or female because he’s too young to sex).

 

Now that the days are short and the cottonwood leaves are drifting to the ground even on windless days I know my time with the Littlest Lizard is coming to an end, but I am reasonably certain that this appealing little fellow will see another spring… and I shall be joyously awaiting his return.

 

A natural history note on bowing:

 

Bowing is a part of spring mating rituals and I have witnessed this behavior many times, but I have also learned that it is a form of communication that these lizards routinely use with me. I have never read anything in any literature about bowing with respect to general communication. When a lizard bows to me s/he is conversing with me in his/her own language.

 

A second scientific note about having a personal relationship with lizards:

 

Both humans and non – human animals have limbic systems within their brains that are closely involved with the regulation of emotions especially in the amygdala. The limbic system was present in the ancestors of reptiles, mammals, and birds. It is an ancient emotional activation system that we share with countless other species. The love I feel for my lizards is real and evolutionarily ancient. I have no doubt that these relationships are reciprocal.

Bless Be the Trees that Bind

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Photo credit Lynn Rogers

 

Today I begin to honor all trees as we enter the dark months of the year. The (three) Days of the Dead are on our doorstep and the veil thins – this is a reality that so many refuse to experience out of fear. This weekend we will return to “natural” or Indigenous time – giving us a chance to rise with an early morning sunrise and to allow a darkening sky to wrap her velvet cloak around us as the days continue to shorten. Nights are long and sweet, inviting contemplation, dreams, and deep abiding gratitude to befriend us.

 

This year, perhaps more than any other, I am crossing this threshold feeling a peace that I haven’t felt in months. Not because my life is simpler – it isn’t – I face so many unknowns – conflicts remain and some have escalated as well as darkened, health issues are unresolved. However, I am emotionally aligned with this seasonal change and the loss of harsh white light – a fierce light that casts no shadow. We live in such a frenzied culture. I am so negatively impacted by the monstrous amount of violence, the hatred, the lack of empathy that surrounds us … somehow the darkness helps me to process these daily atrocities with more equilibrium…

 

When the Great Bear rises in the early evening at this turning of the wheel I give thanks knowing that bear slaughter is coming to an end in a few weeks time. Hopefully, because of the cold, most bears that survive the hunt are bedding down beneath the roots of welcoming trees…

 

All trees are my steadfast friends. Around the house I have tied bits of orange ribbon to new seedlings that will someday spread their canopies over an unyielding desert floor (if left to grow when I am gone).

 

I continue to water my junipers who are so well adapted to desert conditions that they can continue to absorb moisture much longer than other trees, these same junipers that are being sprayed with deadly herbicides to kill them off.

 

Inside during the next few days I will be adorning the base of my Norfolk pine with a ring of white lights to celebrate this season of tree gratitude.

 

I have already tipped fragrant fir, pinion, and juniper greens for a wreath that I will weave some time in the next few weeks to honor the Circle of Life.

 

Outside, my adopted juniper provides juncos, sparrows, chickadees, thrasher, and flicker with predator protection. My tree was starved for water after four months of probable, not so benign neglect in my absence, her growth stunted, bunches of needles withered and dry.

Interrupting this cycle with watering, quiet conversation, and the power of touch I notice the tree has responded by turning her needles a dark spruce green – a welcome change from former ashen gray. This tree has a star at her center to celebrate the sanctity of our bodies – the importance of genuine feeling – When I think of trees I also think of women, especially the women of myth who turned themselves into trees or were turned by others into them – but I also associate trees with genuinely kind, loving and heroic men like Dr. Lynn Rogers who has advocated for white pine trees in Minnesota for decades…

 

Because of my intimate relationship with trees and plants I experience their losses on a visceral level, and am presently dealing with the violence that one man enacted on the limbs of the gracious cottonwoods that once created a cathedral on the path to the river. I told this man that what he did to the trees by chopping off their limbs, he did to me, and of course, that was his intent. This act of personal revenge for some imagined slight has left me grieving.

 

What I didn’t realize until this morning is that my dreams forecast this egregious action before it occurred. It was written into the stars and part of one man’s pathology. What he gained is questionable because as a tree woman I will not forgive him… I create a deliberate intention to remember… and perhaps in the process I can in some way “re-member” those broken cottonwood limbs returning them to wholeness like the girl who lost her hands.

Forgiveness is sometimes a way to release one’s hold on truths that often need personal attention. And violence is perhaps most deadly when it occurs covertly because hidden brutality paves the way for “forget it and just move on,” not surprisingly, this tree maiming man’s philosophy… he lives it well.

So I approach this time of year grieving personal loss and giving thanks for the trees that bind; all of whom hold me in their arms with Love.

A Blinding Light?

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Nature is a Living Being. Animals and plants have souls, and a spirit. Each species is unique, and yet we are all interconnected, human and non – human species alike. This is more than a both and perspective; its multi-dimensional.

 

Many books are written about using nature to heal humanity of its ills. ‘Recreate’. Climbing a mountain, or taking a walk are common examples of using nature to help ourselves, but how many of us are asking the question of how we can give back?

 

This is a question I was obsessed with for about thirty years and may be the reason I gained entrance into this seemingly secret world that we call Nature.* When I experienced unconditional love from both animals and plants I needed to reciprocate in kind. This idea of reciprocity between humans and the rest of Nature is probably similar to what Indigenous peoples experienced because they loved (or feared) and learned directly from animals, plants and trees. They respected animals, for example, for their unique qualities. Indigenous people never psychologized Nature the way westerners routinely do.

 

I rarely read books about Nature anymore because I am so troubled by this psychologizing. From my point of view psycho-babble is just another way of dismissing the reality of Nature as a living feeling, sensing, sentient Being.

 

To demonstrate this “normalized” way of looking at Nature I use an argument that I recently read as an example: Humans assign meaning to individual animals, trees etc. where there isn’t any, or because of projection (the unconscious human tendency to ascribe human tendencies onto other human/non human species). Or, more generously, these entities have intrinsic meaning of their own, but whatever it is has nothing to do with us. In the first meaning is absent. Projection dismisses nature as irrelevant, useful only as an appendage to human centered thinking. In the third argument nature may have meaning but it has nothing to do with humankind. With these arguments dominating our thinking, it is no wonder that we are destroying the planet.

 

We are totally split away from the experiential, the idea often based on personal experience, that we are related to other living creatures.

 

The purpose of Nature is not to serve mankind. Nature’s primary drive is to ensure the survival of all species. Does this mean that S/he has no interest in humans? Quite the opposite. There is a peculiar “both and” aspect to Nature. Although focused on the whole Nature seems to need and thrive on personal attention; S/he responds to our devotion allowing for example, the animals we befriend, to offer friendship in return. As a naturalist I have been privileged to enter into a relationship with Nature that allows me to ‘converse’ regularly with individuals and even the elements, especially that of water.

 

Experiences in Nature, if we are in relationship with her elements/creatures sometimes reveals new information or a glimpse of the immediate future. Here’s a painful example:

 

Yesterday I saw great blue heron fly into a nearby bog – the first thud. I call this one the ‘dark god’ because usually when I see a heron I can expect some personal difficulty to arise (it is ironic that I find these birds so beautiful). Later, on the phone with my son, I witnessed and dimly registered the retreating male grouse as a deadly mother – son conversation unfolded. The birds’ combined presence in one day: the heron, and later, the grouse (the one bird I associate with my son) retreating behind the fence as I was on the phone speaking with him revealed the eventual outcome before it occurred.

 

Desertion in time of need.

 

The appearance of these two birds also indicated that nothing I could have done would have mattered.

 

The script had already been written.

 

The reader is probably wondering how this happens. Here is one possibility: the soul aspect of an animal that is closely connected to a particular person might be constellated during a time of positive or negative emotional intensity. I define soul as the invisible bodily aspect of self – it’s personal – not transpersonal – that can move through the space between a human and a human or a human and an animal that an individual has a relationship with. Or both. The strength of relationship is key to this form of communication, which can also be termed telepathic. In this case I was familiar with the grouse as a bird that was tied to my son’s life in an intimate way. The birds’ behavior preceded my son’s actual rejection, which didn’t actually occur until hours after the phone call ended.

 

It is my experience that heightened awareness allows us to read Nature much like we would read a book and that what we have to do is to pay close attention to our relationships (either positive or negative) with our non – human relatives, something I do as a matter of habit during the course of each day. I note that these occurrences also seem to increase in frequency and peak during times of natural power like solstices and equinoxes. So it is not surprising to me that this incident occurred so near the summer solstice, a time of almost blinding light.

 

* I capitalize the word Nature not necessarily to deify the natural world but to highlight “Her” importance, and to protest the earth’s apparent insignificance to westerners. I experience different aspects of Nature as both female and male.

 

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What the Sandhill Cranes Told Me:

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“Enter our world:

Journey as we do

from South

to North.

You are not alone.

We must travel too.

Do not resist.

Do not mourn

the passing of winter

into the first fierce heat

of spring.

Migration for you

is for one season

out of four.

Follow the Night Bear,

North Country Woman.

Be soothed by the rain.

Listen for frog song.

Paddle on still waters,

Turn emerald green

under incandescent light.

Allow your aching eyes to rest.

Plant a new Cedar.

Sink her roots deep

breathe in “What Is”

with your heaped up heart.

Feel the Earth move

beneath your feet.

 

Two dreams warned you

last spring of the necessity

behind personal departure.

But you were unwilling to go.

You could not honor

your body’s truth

until you shrunk

into a skeleton

you did not know.

 

The truth is

that you have lived your life

in both worlds

long before you came here;

One was a winter desert oasis.

Another was forged

from evergreen fir

rising out of granite stone.”

 

 

Working notes:

 

For the past three months the Sandhill Cranes have been landing in the field next to my house, crying out in wonder and the joy of deep communion. They roost by Red Willow River each night.

 

When I visited the Bosque del Apache to see the cranes last November I was transported into another dimension. There was something about these migrating birds that made my heart sing, long before I began to pay attention to what my newest obsession with these particular birds might mean personally…

 

On my return from the Bosque these same cranes began to appear down by the river regularly, and even when I couldn’t see them I was haunted by their calls. After the golden cottonwood leaves drifted to Earth a magic portal opened into the neighboring field, and these birds began to visit me from there. I could hardly believe it. I watched them drift down and settle into the grasses to feed, their magnificent bowed wings acting like gliders as long twig like feet swayed and touched ground. And the cries of communal compassion struck home in my heart.

 

Why did they stay all winter?

 

This behavior on the part of the cranes might have been influenced by Climate Change or perhaps by some other unknown mechanism. Perhaps there are a number of reasons why they chose this place as home. But daily moments of joy struck and stunned me every time I heard or saw them. When winter finally touched our parched desert, snow fell – offering a brief reprieve from drought. By then I was seeing and hearing the cranes every single day beginning moments after the fires of dawn turned pale winter blue.

 

Now, we are at the first spring turning. The sun is becoming more intense, and the light hurts my eyes. For the past week I have been in a strange sort of mourning state because soon the cranes will be heading north to their next stopover in Nebraska before they head towards Canada, the Arctic, and Siberia. Every precious day that passes leaves me aching. I will miss them so.

 

Today I started to research migration to help me understand more about the Cranes seasonal journey, not realizing that by doing so, I was also trying to come to terms with a loss so dear to my heart. I know they have to go…

 

Just as I do.

 

Moments after I began my research a flock of cranes rose up in sky crying out as one voice as they flew over the house. That they knew I was thinking about them seemed obvious to me…and suddenly I had an insight: They were sending me a message.

 

Quickly, I shut down the research and wrote the above poem on a scrap of paper in my journal. Just as I completed the last lines a flock of at least forty cranes flew by the windows in front of the house. Their collective cries convinced me that I had absorbed the message they offered. I felt intense gratitude. My sadness has suddenly dissipated because of their words speak to comfort, truth and acceptance of who I am and what is.

 

I offer my deepest gratitude to these birds whose seasonal journey helps me come to terms with my own.

A Murder of Crows

 

 

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(Wily Black Crow)

My grandmother fed the crows every afternoon and I can remember their cries of anticipation as she walked out into the field with a pail full of scraps. After my grandmother’s death, it was many years before my mother began feeding her crows. But after she started my mother often remarked that she heard them say, “Oh here she comes!”

 

Up until recently I didn’t know why my grandmother and mother had a penchant for crows – I wish I had asked for personal explanations. But my neighbor Rose in Maine has been feeding her crows for ten years, and last week when I learned that all of her crows had been shot by hunters on her own land, I was enraged by this injustice. Rose loved her crows; She was devastated.

 

First, I discussed the problem with Raven who was perched in a cottonwood tree outside my door. He listened intently to my plea for help while peering down at me with one beady eye.

 

Normally, I do not have crows around here so ten minutes later when a “murder of crows” appeared screaming over my head as I walked down to the river I knew the raven had passed on the message. I repeated the story to the screeching crows asking that they inform other crows in Rose’s neighborhood that she was in crow mourning. Would they consider asking others to visit her? I took their collective cries as a yes.

 

Returning to the house I was stunned to see another cluster of crows perched in one tree engaged in raucous conversation with at least 4 magpies that had joined them. The raven had been joined by its mate (A bevy of crows, two ravens and four magpies stayed around the house for 3 days).

 

Convinced that I had been heard, and that something would come of it, I immediately emailed Rose telling her not to give up, to keep leaving scraps outside, and to begin to “call” new crows into her yard. She was skeptical, but did as I asked. As a personal thank you I began to leave tasty tidbits for the crows, ravens, magpies around here.

 

One week later Rose has seven new crows to feed! The skeptic will immediately counter the obvious: namely that the crows intervened, with reason and logic. The crows returned by coincidence or because at my request, Rose continued to leave food out for them. There’s one major flaw in this thinking: Crows routinely demonstrate to researchers that once one of them has been killed the rest will avoid a favored feeding area for up to two years. “Something” intervened to reverse this normal crow behavior, allowing the crows to return, and I believe it had everything to do with (crow –human) interspecies communication.

 

Although I wouldn’t have begun feeding crows on my own, outrageous crow slaughter had changed my mind! Armed with the knowledge that birds and animals can communicate telepathically through space/time, I never doubted that help would come. If one understands as I do that telepathy is a biological survival strategy that allows animals to stay in touch when they are separated then it isn’t a stretch to believe that these crows communicated with their Maine relatives. (Please go to biologist/plant physicist/author Rupert Sheldrake’s site to learn more about the extensive research that has been done on telepathy in animals https://www.sheldrake.org).

 

Crows are protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a federal act resulting from a formal treaty signed by the United States, Canada, and Mexico. However, under this act, crows may be ‘controlled’ without a federal permit when found “committing or about to commit depredations upon ornamental or shade trees, agricultural crops, livestock, or wildlife, or when concentrated in such numbers and manner to constitute a health hazard or other nuisance.” What this means practically is that anyone with a gun can shoot a crow because humans have all the rights. Hunters like to kill, and crows make great target practice.

 

Crows are amazing opportunists who can adapt easily to changing environments. Crows are extremely intelligent and use tools to help them obtain food. Crows not only use tools but they also make them! They are excellent mimics who deliberately confuse other birds by copying their calls. They steal food from other birds and shiny objects from humans including car keys left in an open car highlighting their deceptive trickster-like nature. Crows are busy bodies paying close attention to what their neighbors are doing, human and otherwise. They can be bullies who mob a sleeping owl during the day. They eat garbage of all kinds, and exhibit loud and raucous behavior. They have big mouths that alert other species in field and forest to the presence of unwanted hunters and others. Crows are also black a color many modern folks associate with racism and/or “evil” especially during this ugly cultural reign of “white” supremacy. These qualities of adaptation, intelligence, tool making/using, deception, mimicry, curiosity about others, bullying, ingesting garbage including dead animals/humans, raucous behavior in crowds, the big mouths of certain individuals, and the fact that they are black, the color most commonly equated with evil in western culture leaves Corvids suspect and extremely threatening to some. Crows exhibit all kinds of behavior that is human-like and people despise them for this tendency. Crows reflect the shadow side of today’s culture much like the coyote does.

 

In reality Crows are a fascinating species of birds with a very complex family system. Crows mate for life and both parents are actively engaged in parenthood. They care for their young for a period of up to five years with the help of “aunts,” siblings, and older youngsters who protect the youngest birds after hatching (3 or 4 eggs). Baby crows fledge in about a month after being fed all kinds of insects (any crop damage that is blamed on crows is offset by the millions of crop damaging insects these birds consume). During the nesting period and long afterwards the guardian crows watch vigilantly for hawks, eagles and other predators who are a threat to the youngsters. Even with this kind of vigilance fifty percent of the fledglings die before reaching adulthood. The crow’s worst threat is humans who kill them indiscriminately by shooting them, poisoning them, trapping them or deliberately running them over with automobiles or trucks. As previously mentioned, in today’s culture man can’t stand the sight of his own shadow.

 

These remarkable birds have been able to adapt to virtually every environment on earth with the exception of Antarctica and are as home in cities as they are in the countryside. In cities they learn the garbage truck routes and pick through refuse for tasty offerings! They raid cornfields without guilt. They do the rest of us a favor by ingesting carrion that would otherwise smell as it rots. Crows honor their dead by gathering together in large numbers and stay with a deceased crow for hours, sometimes days, before moving quietly away.

 

Crows spend a lot of time studying people with their bright beady coal black eyes. They recognize the faces of those people who have killed a crow. They communicate this threat to the others in their flock and can also educate the next generation of young who will also avoid the people who would harm them. Crows have at least 20 distinct vocalizations. Some like the “caw” are public but most occur between individuals.

 

Crows will abruptly change migration routes to avoid predation. In most areas in the US the crow is a permanent resident but many Canadian birds will migrate southward during the winter months. Once the mating season is over crows gather in large groups (in some places they gather by the thousands) to roost communally at night.

 

American crows are monogamous as previously mentioned. Mated pairs form large families of up to 15 individuals that are all related and remain together for many years. American crows do not reach breeding age for at least two years.

 

The nesting season starts early, with some birds incubating eggs by early April. Crows build bulky stick nests nearly always in trees but sometimes also in large bushes and, very rarely, on the ground. Most predation of crows (with the exception of humans) occurs at nesting sites. Besides hawks, snakes, raccoons, ravens, domestic cats and great horned owls also eat eggs and nestlings.

 

Adult crows are omnivorous eating mice, frogs, seeds, eggs, fish, corn, wheat, and grains as well as gobbling up destructive insects. During the autumn and winter they gravitate towards nuts and acorns. We know they scavenge at landfills. Along with their attraction to grains as food, this tendency earned them the name “nuisance” birds giving hunters an excuse to shoot them when all the crows are doing is trying to earn a living.

 

Crows have been killed in huge numbers by humans, both for ‘recreation’ and as part of organized campaigns of extermination, none of which have worked to decimate the populations. Like the coyote they continue to thrive!

 

The easiest way to distinguish between crows and ravens, two closely related species, is to note whether the crows are flying without flapping their wings every few seconds. Ravens soar on the thermals. Another difference between crows and ravens is the shape of their tails. Crows have rounded tails while those belonging to ravens are wedge shaped. If seen flying at a distance the distinctly larger ravens have larger heads. Ravens also fluff their throat feathers when calling from the trees.

 

Crows lifespan in the wild is about 7-8 years but those in captivity can live more than 30 years.

 

Because they are opportunists and so adaptable crows are one species that is not on the endangered species list. What a relief. My guess is that they will outlast humans.

 

Unlike today’s culture, crows were once respected and revered for the remarkable qualities they exhibited. Indigenous peoples of the Americas understood that crows were special.
For the Tlingit (North-West of the Pacific), the crow is the main divine character. He organizes the world, and creates both civilization and culture.
For the Haïda (North-western coast of the Canada), the crow steals the sun to give it to the People. Crow and raven have a magic canoe that can become big enough to contain the whole universe.
In the south and Northwest Crow flaps his wings generating wind, thunder and lightning.

 

In ancient European mythology- the cult of Mithra is a prime example – Crow fights evil and has the capacity to break dark spells.

 
Scandinavians legends show two crows, perched on Odin’s chair : Hugi, the Spirit, and Munnin, the Memory. Both crows symbolize and embody the principle of creation, the power of Nature to create and form patterns of becoming and through memory. In much same way, these birds are the companions of Wotan who is also named the god of the crows.

 

As a feminist I am particularly interested in the relationship between crows and old women, both of which have been demonized – old women are frequently called ugly old hags while old men are “distinguished”, and rarely referred to as old. Another example is the phrase “those old crows” which is often used to describe old women. In western culture we worship the young, the “heroic”, fear aging, and split ourselves away from old women and death demonizing both in the process. And yet in mythology we see the power of old women and crows.

Baba Yaga, the greatly feared Slavic goddess of the Forest who lives alone in a house (with her animal familiars) that that moves around on chicken legs, is a perfect example. Baba Yaga transforms into a crow whenever she chooses. This powerful figure embodies Nature’s wisdom, the wisdom of heart – body instinct; she is also a trickster who is unpredictable in her actions. She is an aspect of woman centered Nature, a protector of all forest wildlife and she has a penchant for all black birds.

Dhumavati is the Hindu goddess of “the great void”- the place outside time, (as humans experience it). She is associated with death and therefore transformation. Many of her drawings and paintings depict her on a cremation ground and often she looks like death itself, and is depicted as an ugly old hag. Note the correspondence between old and ugly. She carries the horn of the death god Yama, and sometimes wears a garland of severed heads. It comes as no surprise that Dhumavati’s animal guardian is a scavenger bird – the crow. Dhumavati is depicted as either riding a large crow or being pulled in a chariot by two blackbirds. Crows are known to be scavengers on the battlefield, and hence have been associated with death since ancient times.

The Morrigan is an Irish Celtic goddess with the ability to shapeshift. She was known as the Phantom Queen. She is also said to be one of a trinity of sisters (daughter, mother, crone). The Morrigan is most well-known for being a goddess of Fate and a warrior; she was able to predict death which made her presence terrifying. Most commonly she shapeshifted into a crow, although she could take the form of any animal she chose. She is known for her role in battle, her ability to triumph over “evil.” The fact that the Morrigan shifts into the form of a crow while on the battlefield reveals her dominion over death. It is said that she will often fly above a battle, her cry bringing courage and encouragement to her warriors, whilst simultaneously striking fear into the hearts of the enemy. Sometimes she will join in the battle in her human form. She speaks of the battlefield as ‘her garden,’ a place to consume the dead for re birth. One of her names, Badbh, means Crow.

Nephthys the Egyptian Goddess of the Dead is another example of a goddess who manifests as a crow. In the myth, Nephthys marries her brother Set who is the god of disorder, the desert, and storms, birthing Osiris who literally rises from the dead.

While Nephthys is often depicted as a woman with falcon-wings, she also appears as a crow or the crow is her companion. She oversees funerary rituals. Nephthys represents part of the life cycle that is death, while her twin sister Isis represents birth (note how death and life are never separated).

Again and again in the stories about old women in their crow aspect we see the same archetypal pattern emerging. These much feared death goddesses are both manifestations of death and are the harbingers of new life. Without old women “crows” there would be no new life.

When I think of my mother and grandmother feeding the Corvids it occurs to me that these two were participating in the life death life cycle of Nature… As I put together an offering for the crows and walk out my door I carry the awareness that like my mother and grandmother before me, I too am now participating in the Great Round, serving the continuation of Life for all.

I end this essay with a caveat: to mindlessly slaughter crows is to incur the wrath of Nature, She is more than capable of retaliation for harm done as we are starting to see with the ravages of Climate Change…Another way to state the same idea is to state that by refusing to own our “dark sides” on a collective level we will invoke consequences that are devastating to all. On a personal level folks may also find that un – integrated personal “Shadow” turns back on them in terrifying ways they cannot anticipate.

I think I just heard the cawing of a murder of crows…

Datura Magic

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Datura blossoms

open in late spring evenings

their pearl white trumpets

buzzing with pollinating bees…

How I long to

have my very own

leafy round bush

bursting with lavender laced flowers…

Germinating Datura seed has been

one of this year’s greatest challenges.

First I fried some

in the noon day sun

not once but twice,

Drowned others

in too damp soil.

Rabbits feasted on tender leaves

of last year’s seedling – thrice!

When I dug young plants

I severed sturdy root connections

to life giving minerals and water.

Burying broken souls in

high desert soil,

I watched them weep –

bend shriveled leaves,

felt their deep distress

and anguish

– knowing

I was the cause.

Forgive me,

I implored them.

Will my steadfast love suffice?

(It was not enough for

one blossoming passionflower…

a beloved sister for 17 years,

whose demise preceded dying in me…)

I water Datura each clear blue morning.

Compassion and love

flow through pure feeling…

Plants taught me that this

direct form of communication

honors not just plants

but all life forms.

I imagine a startling green bouquet

coming to life outside my door.

I can almost see pointed leaves

emerging out of summer mist

rising from the river

a gift from nourishing rain.

One day last week

for no apparent reason

a few Datura seeds sprouted

from the soil of one twig pot

where I had cast them

carelessly – discouraged

by this year’s seed failures.

A few days later

two green winged leaves

appeared like magic

with seed heads still attached like hats!

Now I think Datura was reminding me

of how important

it is to start from humble

Beginnings – to persist with Patience.

“Do not give up,” She informs me without words.

To cease feeling hope is human,

but I must not close the door

on what I cannot know.

Sacred Datura is a mystery plant –

Medicine from the beyond

for those who are initiated

as I was last summer

through night song,

when a single potted plant

sang through a soaking rain.

Flooded with disbelief,

awed – astonished – bewildered

I stood rooted

to her nocturnal symphony…

Later, returning to my senses,

I reflected.

The old woman in me

is as much in love with plants

as the child once was –

our bond remains unbroken.

Intimate relationship lives on

through unlikely conversations.

Some plants speak more urgently than others…

Datura and Passionflower vines

have called me into prayer

on more than one occasion.

Our roots, stems, leaves overlap –

linked in space

through intimate relationship

time flows

in both directions at once

and present is all there is.

I have spent an authentic life

creeping close to the ground

as a green and purple vine

– my belly close to home.

When entering the field of plants

four hundred fifty million years old,

I too am capable

of birthing

just as seeds

do, sprouting from

dry cracked earth.

It is by this act

of seeding new plants that

I recover my own

lost plant soul.

 

Working notes:

Spring brings on the white heat of the sun and the potential to germinate last year’s seeds. This year I have spent a lot of time trying to germinate seeds, rooting passionflower cuttings, and seeding in pots so that they can be moved and I live with the hope that some will find home in desert ground…

I am walking on air, still perched like a bird on a wire,  – too much air, fire from the sun, and not enough earth and water…

The drought drones on.

This prose arose out out my need to ground myself to the powers of place through the act of seeding in the earth, a process I began a couple of weeks ago on the land around the house in which I hope I will soon be living.

This year I am experiencing seeding and planting as an act of defiance, I think – a response to feeling so uprooted in my life. Participating in this process is also a response that ties me to the seasonal round. With the summer solstice fast approaching the days are too long, too hot, the sky too bleached, the rain doesn’t come… Seeding, rooting, transplanting, allow me to put my hope into the thirsty ground through my love for plants acknowledging my intimate relationship with them. Each day when I water my seedlings and watch as others sprout, I feel a sense of being a part of a greater whole that is always changing…

Seeds sprouting, Passionflowers climbing towards the light, and Datura struggling to adapt to new surroundings are a metaphor for my present life and also embody the miracle of new life unfolding within and without.

The common element for survival is that all, including me, must have thriving roots, adequate water, and access to Natural Light.

 

Dying into Life

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April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

You circle overhead

as the Hawk does in my dreams…

Broad russet wings and tail,

a golden eye

piercing illusions

of separateness

intertwining the two –

Winter and Summer-

Both, Cycles of Becoming.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Bittersweet flaming orange heat

and bleached blue sky

bend olive trees

with thorns, as leaves unfurl

casting sage green

shadows over

serpentine waters.

Willows glow –

burnishing gold wands

at dusk.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Communing underground

thirsty cottonwoods

gulp much needed water,

give thanks for

Red Willow River

as do I.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

If only rain would come,

these mighty trees

with elephantine arms

would surely

drop pendulous russet flowers,

uncurl scalloped leaves

inviting us to sit awhile

under rough textured bark

to listen carefully,

to reflect upon this canopy

woven out of hearts

murmuring over our heads.

 

April is a month of dying

into the flaming fire,

the white heat of spring.

 

Secrets are revealed

among arching tree boughs,

trunks, roots, and fungi,

truths we cannot bear to hear.

 

Dying into life

is a message

we need to feel.

 

 

Postscript:

 

Today is my father’s birthday…this morning I honored his life sitting by the river before dawn. I waited for the sun to rise through silver clouds… but the sky turned gray.

 

The day I buried my brother, hawks perched in bare branched trees around Trillium rock. One morning I spied a hawk driving to work. He lay lifeless, every feather intact as if asleep, by the side of the road. I stopped, gathering the dead, but still warm bird, gently in my arms. I would cremate him in my wood stove when I reached home… I didn’t know yet that my mother had died during the previous night. Another hawk almost flew into my window one September when a baby I longed for was born. How could I have known I would lose this child too?