Lily B My Telepathic Bird

 

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Every morning at “first light” Lily B sounds a call to wake up the rest of his family – his human mother – and her current dogs, two small Chihuahuas whose names are Hope and Lucy. The moment he calls – “co coooooo” (accent on the second elongated syllable) Hope and Lucy jump out of bed, with me stumbling behind them in a daze. The dogs insist that it’s time to go out because Lily B woke them up!

Occasionally I refuse to get up if I haven’t slept well. When this occurs the dogs come back to bed. But not for long. After repeating his beautiful morning call a few more times, and flying to the lamp that has a good view of the cave that we sleep in, Lily B sails down to the floor and waddles into the dark room. This maneuver always works because Lucy can’t resist chasing him– she leaps out of bed just as Lily soars up to the top of the door. By this time I am fully awake, like it or not.

Lily B is an African Collared dove who has lived with me for 26 years. He came to me as a chick and has never been caged. At first I thought he was a female and I named him Lily. When I discovered he was a male I added the “B” for boy! I discovered soon after getting him that he preferred to sit on top of the highest furniture in the house so I hung baskets from the ceiling with newspapers inside them. He loved perching on swinging baskets and it solved the problem of cleaning up after him.

About six months after getting him I was forced to acknowledge that Lily B literally read my mind. Whenever I had a new insight he would bellow out his song in approval (or validation) repeating his song exactly three times. I listened for Lily B’s commentary as I wrote in my journal each morning, even as the rational part of my mind struggled with incredulous doubt. It was apparent from the beginning that this bird and I had an unusually close relationship. I had always loved doves and had spent many hours watching them as a child and drawing stylized images of them as an adolescent. But it was the sound of their voices that I loved best. I listened with a kind of rapture to their beautiful songs that seemed to flow like water through my body, soothing her through song.

When I discovered Biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s work on telepathy in animals I felt relief because I no longer felt like I was imagining things. I want to digress from Lily’s story for a few minutes to discuss Rupert’s thesis because it pertains to the relationship between Lily and myself. Sheldrake postulates that telepathy is a normal ability found in both humans and animals. Telepathy works as a survival mechanism, functioning as a tool of communication between animals and other animals, humans and other humans, or between animals and humans keeping them connected. It works most effectively with those who are closely related. For example, if one animal is out of calling range of its mate and danger is perceived that information can be transmitted via telepathic communication almost instantly to the other. The strength of relationship or kinship is the key. Sheldrake hypothesizes that telepathy works through his theory of morphic resonance, where by animals and/or people who share an invisible morphic or bodily “field” can tap into thoughts and feelings of others on a conscious (mind) or unconscious level (body). Telepathy is not distance dependent and works most efficiently through intimate relationship, human or non – human.

As soon as I read that Rupert was looking for apparent telepathic experiences between humans and animals, I sent him a letter describing the seemingly extraordinary connection I had with Lily B. He replied that my antidotes were exactly the kind of information that he was looking for. Lily B’s behavior promptly became part of Rupert’s data bank. It’s important to note that throughout my life I had experienced telepathic behavior between my mother, my brother, my children, various wild and tame animals, plants, and myself, but the Cassandra in me refused to allow me to validate my own experiences because they didn’t fit the current western scientific paradigm. I had no context and secretly thought I might be crazy until Rupert provided me with one. Now, at 45, someone, a scientist no less, actually believed me. I was stunned.

Meanwhile my life with Lily B continued to amaze me even as I continued to record it. When Lily was about five years old I noticed that he began to sing a (new) plaintive song to the mourning doves outside our house. This song upset me because I felt his distress resonating through my body. That Lily needed a mate was obvious. One day he flew out the door to chase mourning doves. Deeply conflicted on one hand I was afraid I’d lost him, but on the other hand I loved the idea that he was truly free. He spent six weeks in the trees flying after one mourning dove or another but was never able to convince a female to join him. His loneliness broke my heart. Curiously, he never left the yard and every morning he sang up the sun in a lilac bush outside my window. One day I was leaving for work when he flew into a young apple tree just as I was walking to the car. Astonished, I turned around and opened the door to the house, inviting him to come home, and immediately he flew in of his own accord.

The following winter we spent in Tucson, Arizona. By accident or design I met a woman who had many doves in an outdoor cage and she invited Lily to join her crowd. By then I learned that these birds had to choose a mate. After being in the cage for about a half an hour, he chose Fey, a pure white dove. After the two came home they were inseparable. I was so happy for Lily B! Although he continued to read my mind on regular basis, making his comments in triple calls, I did note that the bond between us seemed less intense. I accepted the loosening of ties gratefully because my beloved bird was clearly ecstatic. Driving back east the following spring with Lily B and Fey perching on a cholla branch in the back seat, we stopped in Indian country for a break. As soon as I opened the car door, Lily B flew out into one of the thick pines… Horrified, I stood there dumbly for a moment. Then a clear thought materialized through thin air: Lily was gathering sticks for a nest. I sat down in the red sand and waited quietly. Within 5 minutes he returned with a mouth full of sticks sailing through the open car door. Fey was waiting and pulling a few bits of grass from his mouth placed them on the sheet that covered the baggage below their perch. Lily followed suit and I immediately collected bunches of grasses and small twigs and left them on the back seat to add to Lily B’s offerings. A nest appeared by the end of the day. By the time we returned to the east Fey had laid two eggs.

I learned more about fathering from this bird than I ever did from a human. Lily was a devoted parent who incubated the nest each afternoon, while Fey did the rest of the sitting. When the two chicks were born Lily took over, feeding both with regurgitated crop milk. He was tender and sweet, preening the chicks, oblivious to their open mouths and pitiful peeps until he was finished. Then he would feed them again. Fey seemed somewhat detached from her offspring, which surprised me. After the chicks were almost as big as Lily he suddenly turned on them, forcing both to leave the nest. The time had come for them to create lives of their own. He used his warning call repeatedly and pecked at their wings until they left the nest. Anticipating an abrupt ending to fathering I had made arrangements for the chicks and promptly took them to their new home.

When Fey died suddenly the following year I thought Lily would perish from grief. He stopped eating and singing as I frantically tried to find another mate for him. I talked to him constantly but he was so apathetic that I feared I couldn’t reach him. African collared doves are imported to sit on exotic birds’ nests and after the young are born the doves nurture the young like their own. I had a very difficult time finding another collared dove to keep him company because these birds were not raised as pets. This is when I learned that collared doves are considered “trash birds” by the exotic bird industry. They are imported periodically to parent other birds. When I located and presented him with Mary Anne he immediately started singing and bobbing his head up and down quivering his feathers. By some act of Grace, or through telepathy I had chosen the “right” bird. Relieved, I finally relaxed my vigil. Lily B rewarded me by bellowing out his song. Within a day he was responding to my thoughts telepathically and our lives went back to normal…

One of the most curious habits Lily B has is that he responds to dreams when I am working with them, my own, or with others (professionally). His pattern involves singing (more like bellowing) out his three calls to me if I interpret a dream correctly. Over the years I have come to trust his judgment completely even when it doesn’t make sense to me.

Lily loves classical music, especially when it is accompanied by choral singing. Two of his favorites are the Mozart Requiem and Handel’s Messiah. Joan Baez and Gordon Bok are his favorite folk singers.

He also loves earth – based ritual. Because I write my own rituals and celebrate them eight times a year using the Celtic calendar and also honor the full moon each month, ritual is woven into our lives. At the full moon I honor my body and the bodies of all living creatures. At each of the eight spokes of the wheel I follow the subtle changing seasons; I give thanks, release what is no longer needed, and set new intentions. Lily frequently joins in with his songs. If he thinks, for example, that a particular intention is important, he sounds his triple call. It’s important to note that he doesn’t use that threefold call at any other time, only when he is responding to me!

Passionflower vines delight him. He doesn’t like the flowers but tears the leaves to shreds eating tiny pieces of green. But his favorite plants are orchids. He rips apart the flowers with utter abandon – especially the ones with pink and magenta blossoms – an infuriating habit that I can’t seem to break. Finally, I was forced to put up a screen to keep him out of the orchids!

Torturing people that are afraid of birds is another of his tricks. He somehow knows who is afraid of him and promptly dive – bombs them rising up just over their heads causing a great commotion. He also has tormented every dog that I have had by walking around on the floor just in front of them until one begins to chase him. Instantly Lily is airborne, and out of reach! Hope, one of my Chihuahuas, is onto him and pretends he doesn’t exist!

Cooking in the kitchen is one of Lily’s favorite daily activities. He investigates all fresh ingredients tearing and pecking at greens and root vegetables with enthusiasm, tasting soups and pasta, all the while keeping one amber eye fastened on me. Although he is often next to a hot burner he knows enough not to touch it. His penchant for kitchens is how I discovered that Lily B loved hard boiled eggs and cheese when he was just a few months old. I was particularly curious about these high protein foods because all doves are supposed to be seed eating birds. Yet many other kinds birds often feed their young insects or worms at least for a time. I began to give Lily chopped egg every morning, a habit we continue to this day. Lily is very particular about cheese, preferring Brie or Havarti, and every afternoon he flies down to the kitchen counter for his treats. Lily is a very old bird by African Collared dove standards, having lived more than twice as long as most of his kind (10- 12 years), and I often speculate that these protein sources might have helped keep him healthy.

When Lily lost Mary Anne he seemed less traumatized. She declined slowly over a period of weeks and I sensed that both Lily and I knew we were going to lose her. His behavior towards her shifted. They no longer roosted next to each other and he began flying around without her. The morning she died at least a hundred mourning doves appeared out of nowhere and clustered into one tree outside his favorite window singing their very plaintive song although it was December. Lily’s loss was being witnessed by other doves. Later that morning after the doves dispersed I played the Mozart requiem, sitting just below my silent bird perched in his basket. We grieved her loss together, and because it was winter he watched me cremate her body in the woodstove.

The next day I discovered Lucia on the internet. I had a clear thought: this was the right bird.  Immediately I printed out a picture of her and put it in one of his favorite spots so he could see her. After I got the news that she was coming to us I started calling her by name and Lily began to coo excitedly. He knew she was coming thanks to telepathy! When she arrived it was love at first sight and the two had the most wonderful time chasing each other through our very happy house! That night they slept huddled close to one another.

Lily and Lucia seemed to have an extremely close bond and he taught her how to avoid hitting either the mirrors or the windows, something he had never done with his other mates. Even their conversation seemed more intimate with soft cooing occurring between the two that was almost continuous. If he flew to one basket she followed him. Their favorite spot was swinging in a basket that was positioned right next to the front door, where they could keep an eye on comings and goings. I sensed that neither would fly out so in the spring and fall ( before and after bug time), the outside door was almost always left open. I loved the way Lucia answered him when Lily sang to her, imitating his very complex song with ease. And yet as close as the two were, the telepathic connection between us never ceased, which frankly surprised me. I now thought of Lily B as my animal “familiar” – a Guide whose presence graced my life. He had become one of my most important teachers.

During periods when I suffer from depression Lily flies around my head trying to get my attention. Once he succeeds, he sings his triple coo. And of course, for a time at least, I am pulled out of unhealthy self – absorption. It is impossible to resist this kind of attention.

The summer before last tragedy struck. Lucia died suddenly at age seven. The morning I found her on the floor, Lily was standing over her dead body protectively. He looked up at me once, and the anguish that passed between us was palpable.

Death was in the air. I refused to let him grieve alone. I played his favorite music and kept talking to him. My dogs clustered around him too. I let Lily guide me, leaving her dead body with him until he was ready to leave her. When he finally flew into one of his baskets on the porch, I went out and dug a hole in my flourishing flower garden. He stared at me in silence as I gently placed his mate in the ground just outside the door. I filled in the earth around her body and placed a flat stone on the bare ground to protect the place where she lay. When I re- entered the porch we sat together quietly, no one uttering a sound. After a time I began to coo to him mimicking his threefold call. At first he did not respond. I was trying to convey to him that he still had us – the rest of his family – and that we loved him – me, most of all. I also told him in my mind that this time I was not going to look for another mate unless he indicated to me that he absolutely had to have one, because both of us were getting old… If he died and left a mate, I knew that I would always be comparing a new bird to him. He had a decision to make. Would he choose to live or die?

That day I never left the house and Lily’s silence was unnerving. We had reached a frightening crossroad…

The next morning Lily bellowed out his wake up call. I leaped out of bed to stand below him as I cooed good morning. When he followed me into the kitchen and hopped down on the counter, I knew the crisis had passed. Lily had made his choice.

Day after day, Lily attached himself to me like glue, flying into whatever room I was in, watching my every move. Eventually he returned to his favorite basket on the porch and struck up conversations with his favorite outdoor neighbor, blue jay. If a mourning dove landed on the sill outside the window Lily would puff himself up like a blow fish and rasp his territorial call.

Last summer Lily B, Hope, Lucy, and I drove out to the high desert of New Mexico to live for a year. We arrived during the monsoon season and I soon put him in a large outdoor cage to enjoy the soaking rains and warm sun. He sang his heart out to his avian neighbors and greeted me each morning with his song.

One morning while walking the dogs I saw feathers scattered on the ground, some with blood on them. Following the trail around the corner I was horrified to see my poor bird huddled under the plywood cover of his cage. His eyes were glazed over and he didn’t respond to my voice. Reaching into the cage I gently gathered my injured bird in my hands and brought him in the house to inspect his wounds. Lily B was in shock. He had been brutally attacked by something that had ripped a hole in his flesh and made a three – inch gash running from his right eye to his breast. His right eye was swollen and shut. Had he been blinded too?

He was dying. It was Labor Day weekend and I couldn’t reach a vet. Numbly, I inspected the cage to see how anything could have gotten in to hurt him so badly. With 1/8 inch bars on four sides, above and below the cage, and a double locking door, I couldn’t figure out how anything could have entered and left such a gaping wound. I was beside myself with grief and self-blame – how could I not have known this had happened when he and I routinely communicated telepathically? Startled, I remembered that I had shut the bedroom door (his cage was outside this door) the night before because of the barking of wild dogs and had taken a sleeping pill…no doubt Lily had tried to communicate with me and I couldn’t hear him. The rest of the day and night passed in a blur. I remember nothing except my repeated attempts to comfort him. I couldn’t sleep that night and wept, putting prayers for him in my Bear Circle, hoping that he would die quickly. His pain ripped a hole in my body too.

The next morning, he was still alive. I made an appointment with a vet for that afternoon. The vet gently took my bird, examined him and told me that she could do surgery the next morning. She hoped she could save his life. I left him there feeling dazed and drove home.

He survived the surgery. The vet told me that lily B had an incredible will to live. She had never heard of a dove that had lived as long as Lily had. The next day he came home. When he finally started eating again I allowed myself to hope that he would really survive this terrifying trauma.

It took about two months for Lily to recover. All during that time he never cooed once, and although I missed our conversations I was profoundly grateful that he was still with us. Although telepathic communication between us ceased I still felt the bond between us tightening in an inexplicable way.

And then one morning a miracle occurred. He sang to me once. Overjoyed I sung back. He peered down at me from his ceiling perch with one bright eye. A day or two later I was writing when suddenly he cooed three times. Oh, the telepathic connection was working again!

That was four months ago. Today Lily and I have regular conversations and our telepathic bond keeps us connected even when we are apart. Just within the past couple of weeks the outdoor birds have started to sing their mating songs. Sometimes wild doves visit the feeder but Lily has lost interest in them. This abrupt change initially baffled me. A few days ago I finally got it. Lily now prefers my company to that of other birds. The bond between us has strengthened to such an extent that we have in some way become One.

Postscript 3/29 For anyone who is fascinated by this story please read the sequel called “The Gift” also written in February of 2017.

Kinship and the Powers of Place

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What do I mean by the word kinship? I believe that kinship is the idea, and the belief that all aspects of nature from photons to galaxies are connected to one another. Practically, I think of kinship as my feeling/sense of being intimately linked to place/landscape. In my mind Kinship and Place are not only related, each is shaped by the other.

The powers of place are invisible threads that work by exerting a kind of physical and psychic pressure, pulling me into relationship; place acts like an attractor site. My body behaves like a lightening rod or perhaps a tuning fork picking up information from the landscape. Once I have heard the “call” the door opens through my relationship with elements, trees, animals, stars or stones to name a few possibilities. As this presence manifests through its individuals place begins to teach me what I need to know about an area and how I might best live in harmony with a particular landscape, if not its people. This learning occurs in bursts or very slowly just below the threshold of everyday consciousness. Either way, information seeps in through my body as I listen and pay close attention to what my senses are telling me. I allow animals, trees, plants to speak to me in their native language, and I note synchronistic occurrences. Information also comes to me through dreams. Eventually a discernable pattern emerges. My body acts as the bridge between my self and Nature; my body is the vehicle that keeps me connected to the whole.

Ironically, I never heard the phrase “power of place” used until the 90’s. Yet, this force has driven my entire life spanning almost seventy – one years. As a toddler I was already “reading” and absorbing landscapes through rain, flowers, the presence of deer, stars, dogs, the moon. This first intimate relationship with place occurred on my grandparents’ pre -revolutionary farm with its attendant fields, brook, and forest. During the day my little brother and I spent hours in the woods playing by the brook, watching birds, catching frogs and salamanders. At night we learned the names of the stars and caught fireflies which we kept overnight in jars… My grandmother often awakened me to watch the deer grazing under her golden apple tree. I also have a sharp memory of my mother and I gazing out my bedroom window at the full moon. When clouds scudded by shrouding the moon I apparently remarked, “the moon has gone under her covers.”

As an adolescent power of place fatally snagged me with Monhegan Island, an artist’s paradise located off the coast of Maine with it’s beautiful cliffs and raging seas; I moved there after college, married a fisherman, and my two sons were born during those years (I use the word “fatally” deliberately because accompanying the call is a sense of being pulled into the “right” place for unknown reasons. To live one’s Fate is another way to express this calling).

On Southport, another island, 300 year – old apple trees cried out to me, and a diminutive 1700’s cape style house embraced my children and me after my divorce.

After the children were grown I heard the sound of “wilderness” keening and I moved to the western mountains of Maine seeking the source of that call, the one I called the Mountain Mother. I did not understand then that I was being called to witness the desecration of the earth from ‘my land’ and then to become Nature’s advocate. I was called to this patch of earth to begin my most important life’s – work: to write honestly about my experiences in nature with the hope that I might be able to sensitize others to the destruction of the earth through stories about individuals and my relationship with them. When I first arrived here this mother swept me off my feet! She flowed through me like a great underground river, rooting me to this particular ground with a love so powerful I had no words to express what I felt. When she continued to communicate with me I experienced ecstasy, and later during longer and longer silences I felt profound overwhelming grief.

My initial experience with place follows a certain pattern: first I feel joy and wonder, followed by a visceral feeling of belonging, the best kind of natural high. After a time the joyful aspect continues intermittently, as I become more deeply enmeshed in a landscape through relationships with its particular features and creatures as I have with this brook, forest and field, the birds and animals that live here with me… Experiencing joy also opens me to sorrow (For example, moving to the mountains of western Maine brought the mindless destruction of trees to the center of my attention). To love is to experience loss of the beloved; the two are intimately related.

In recent years although I continue to write, joy has absented herself from my relationship with this land… There are many reasons I could give and all involve change. The massive tree destruction, noise, gunning, chaotic neighbors etc. are concrete examples of negative changes that have profoundly impacted me. I still experience deep pleasure in particulars like the unfurling leaves of ferns, the first mayflowers, my love of birds, the few bears that continue to visit now and then, my wild gardens on fire with bee balm, delft blue delphinium, and fragrant yellow lilies, the changing seasons but I feel a deep penetrating sadness overall, though I retain a deep love for the land as a whole and my small log cabin. I believe the powers of this place understand that for whatever reason I am in crisis, (I turned 70 last September) and that I need to leave at least for a time in order to regain my perspective. As I continue to converse with the land that I love I feel that She is giving me permission to let go for now.

Running parallel with all these feelings is the powerful sense that I need to return to the desert. I first visited this timeless world in my early twenties just after I lost my only brother. That first time the desert was unable to penetrate the haze of this young woman’s grief. It wasn’t until mid-life after another series of losses that returning to the desert helped me re-capture my lost soul. How this happened remains a mystery to me but it has everything to do with the powers of place. The desert has a healing aspect to it that is unlike any other. What I did after my divorce was to surrender myself to the Desert Mother while asking one question: What am I going to do with the rest of my life? After six months in the Sonoran desert, I returned east feeling whole, having recaptured my joy, and ready to return to college. That was 20 years ago and in retrospect I see that the choice to return to school was a sound one because it helped shape my teaching and writing life and it gave me my first experience with a community of like-minded people.

During the last year, a year of deep depression and loneliness I began dreaming about the desert again. I struggled to give myself the permission to allow myself to make another pilgrimage to the desert for healing – to re –dress the imbalances in my life, and to re-capture my joy. Although I couldn’t afford it I made a decision to go to New Mexico to visit a desert that I have never seen before. I chose Abiquiu, a small mountain village in the high desert because the artist Georgia O’ Keeffe lived there during the latter part of her life and painted some of her most astonishing desert paintings in this amazing world of wide open blue sky, stars, and stone. Although I never met her, Georgia has been a mentor to me, a beacon of hope, because I believe that she experienced Nature in much the same the way as I do, and she allowed the powers of place to influence her decision making too. I admired O’Keeffe’s tenacity and refusal to live her life according to other people’s expectations. She lived an authentic, self -directed life.

As some of us know, while making a pilgrimage, time stretches out like a rubber band, and once the threshold has been crossed one is catapulted into sacred space where the present becomes all there is. That first morning in Abiquiu I awakened at dawn and ran out into the surrounding desert in my nightgown possessed by joy! The dusty gray sage laden hills were round, peppered with sea green spiked pinion pine, fragrant Juniper and mountain cedar. These beautiful small trees provided a stunning contrast in shape and color to the dusty red Earth.

On the peak of a nearby hill I was drawn to a solitary Grandmother Cedar, an ancient gnarled tree whose thick, rough, and wavy gray bark had been shaped by harsh winds and summer rains. Her lace-like fronds were few. Most branches lay dead, strewn around her trunk like bleached bones providing her with nutrients that might be helping her to keep on living long past her time. Startled by her probable age and tenacity, I picked up one of the dead twigs; I saw the shape of the whole tree mirrored in that one branch, just as the sparse but fan -like evergreen “leaves” that still lived reflected the same fractal patterning. I could sense a presence around and within the tree’s ashen body as she bled into me; I was reminded that if she could live on so could I as I entered old age. Did I imagine a new sense of self emerging from out of the rubble?

When I returned to the adobe house I was renting I was stunned to encounter a wild African collared ring necked dove sitting on a branch of a nearby snag. I am very familiar with these doves because I have one. Lily B has been with me for 23 years. Hundreds of these birds (who are imported because they are such good egg sitting parents for exotic species) have been released into the wild after they are no longer useful as egg sitters. With a shock I realized that some apparently survive here in Northern New Mexico where temperatures drop well below freezing during the relatively brief winters. I called out to this ring necked dove as I approached him warily, not wanting him to fly away. He cocked his head in what appeared to be curiosity but he didn’t respond to my voice with a song. I was disappointed. Perhaps this dove was a female; females adopt a shorter version of the male’s song but only respond to the voice of their mates. I experienced the appearance of this wild ring neck dove as a powerful link with my home in the mountains of Maine.

My first trip into Abiquiu village was bewildering because it seemed as if the winding road was one sinuous red serpent snaking its way down through the peppered hills. The clear untroubled Chama River flowed beneath a bridge in front of me as I made my descent to the place where earth met concrete. The cottonwoods were sprouting lime and chartreuse and mountain blue birds and three kinds of doves were singing to each other and perhaps to the sound of the river.

Once across the bridge I visited the Inn and church compound where Georgia O’Keeffe eventually bought and managed her second house, a once abandoned hacienda. Here too I experienced another rush of pure joy. My love of O’Keeffe’s paintings had been part of my longing to visit this particular desert, so why was I so surprised when I opened the wrought iron gates of the church courtyard around to find it eerily familiar? Georgia had once painted this edifice. I found the fragrant herb Rue growing in the garden and picked some to take into the church with me. Rue is traditionally an herb of protection used by Meso and South American Native peoples to ward off evil. Inside, the lovely chapel had stained glass with lots of traditional Christian images but when I approached the lily strewn altar I saw to my right a statue of the Virgin, and on the opposite side of the enclave I was stunned to come face to face with the Black Madonna! In Arizona I had found these images outside or behind the churches, usually in little stone grottos. The country folk come to these shrines to light candles and pray to an older goddess than the one Christianity knows as the Virgin.

The images of the Black Madonna and Guadalupe that I had seen in Tucson and other places in the southwest were usually Indian looking; in Europe they are black. Oddly, this figurine was also black, embossed in gold, and seated. There was no place to light a candle for Her, this Mother of Us All, so I took a votive candle from the Virgin and lit it in front of the wooden carving. The hair prickled on my arms… After a while I left the church, leaving an offering of Rue at the foot of the Black Madonna’s robe.

Everywhere I went people told their stories about how they came to this thriving artists’ and writers’ community and how much they loved the area. With the exception of Native tribes like the Navaho, most folks seemed to have arrived here from all over the country. Some spoke of the spiritual energy that permeated the place, and I knew what they were talking about because the energy charge I experienced was so fierce that I was having a hard time staying in my body.

I met a group of women that called themselves the Intrepids who regularly hiked in the seemingly endless high desert, most of which was protected by National forests that stretched out all around this small village. While hiking I couldn’t help comparing this true wilderness to Maine where the wild places are under siege and virtually disappearing. I learned that the logging industry was dead in Northern Mexico. Thanks to the “Forest Guardians” this land would remain untouched; no doubt the reason the silence struck peace like a bell.

The following day I went to see where Ghost Ranch was located, the first place that Georgia lived, (and bought), where she painted many of her landscapes. I was not prepared for the astonishing depth and breadth and the visionary quality of the seemingly endless beauty that surrounded me. Ghost Ranch blended so well with the scenery that I could barely see the structure tucked into the base of one of the cliffs. I spent four hours staring at the austere mountains that changed color every second as clouds passed by and shadows fell in new places highlighting red, ocher, lavender, even deep purple and green until the night closed in. The landscape around Georgia’s “home-place” was so astounding that after my initial experience and attempt to describe it, I decided that O’Keeffe’s mountains must remain as stark impressions in my mind:

Sand, white clay, ivory, buff, orange and yellow ocher, brick, Indian red, violet and purple, even a pale moss – all colors running together against a background of Indian red rock and stone. The stillness is deafening and sweet. Fantastic formations, a roaring gorge, and one long deep blue lake – a sand stone floor teaming with life – raging gullies – slippery sands – and layers upon layers of clay forming pyramids that are painted in every conceivable earthen shade. The Great Goddess of the Desert Wilderness is a living presence here; the powers of place rooted me, clasped me in their embrace, and soared above me like great black birds vanishing into the deep blue firmament…

For artists and perhaps mystics like myself, the “value” is in ever changing color and truly this place embodies the Navaho spirit of “Changing Woman.” She continuously shifts clouds and sky, stones, sands and water – arroyos overflow, even reverse directions under thundering rains – the driest cracked red earth is alive with sage, juniper, cedar and pinion pine – all the colors except the red cliffs run together – pastels, each bleeding one into another. Desert Silence is like no other, and at night a bowl of silver stars stretches round over the night from horizon to horizon.

The fifteen – mile drive in to the Benedictine monastery requires both courage and focus on an unbelievably narrow winding dirt road that slithers its way above an impossibly deep gorge on one side and meanders around flaming orange cliffs or towering rotund sandstone castles on the other. The roundness of these Sandstone Beings, sculpted and curved by wind and time seemed infinitely wise and the sight of them left me dumbstruck. How could stone be chiseled and smoothed into such a fantastic myriad of shapes? I felt as if I needed eyes in the back of my head to take in all this wonder.

I was actually relieved to reach the monastery, which was tucked under its own mountain, shaded and sheltered by many surrounding cliffs; rich red soil had already been turned for spring planting. Walking into the chapel for vespers stunned me. Above all the usual ecclesiastical images on the altar there was a huge bowed window that stretched across the front of the church and reached the top of the building. This giant window was angled like the prow of a ship and opened directly on a towering burnt sienna cliff with a solitary mountain cedar rooted to its pinnacle. I let out an involuntary gasp as the golden sunlight streamed into the building and lit up the room. Whoever had done this architectural work clearly understood that the Stone People were the first earth beings. The image of the stupendous cliff turning red, orange, and gold in the setting sun was so breathtaking that I was speechless. It’s impossible to write more about this place beyond stating that it must be experienced.

Later that afternoon I meandered around the Indian red hills. From the top of a craggy red rock a solitary raven crowed. Because this was virgin desert I didn’t expect to find a creative homemade wood and tin birdhouse lying on the desert floor. Was this a second message about home? I picked up the bird -house and decided to keep it.

The sparse and spiky vegetation suggested that this area was a bit drier here and I wondered how much water was left in the underground aquifers. The average home well was 400 – 500 feet down. Masses of juniper, cedar and a few pinion pines provided some protection from the wind and the dirt road wound its way up the nearest mountain. Nature sculpted circular sandstone paintings on the rough stone eroding on the ground. There was a steep red gully that ran through the west part of the rolling hills and across from that arroyo stood another group of sandstone Desert Beings. I imagined I could hear the water tumbling down that gully during the summer rains. Birds of all kinds flew in and out of the holes of these cliffs.

To the north a nearby softly rounded mountain range speckled with pinion and juniper rose in austere silence. To the east the imposing snow covered peaks of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range stretched over the horizon as far as I could see. I wondered which peak was 14 thousand feet high since all seemed equally immense. To the south I saw another blue mountain range with its solitary mesa or Pedernal rising in the middle. Georgia had painted this configuration of rock with its flattened top, and her ashes were scattered on the top of the mesa. She once said that god told her that if she painted this mountain enough he would give it to her! I wondered if O’Keeffe knew that according to Navajo Myth, Changing Woman was born on this mesa. The contours of the land rose and fell around the mountain ranges, flowed over gullies and shallow arroyos. The Earth seemed to be whispering to me in an ancient language that flowed out of stone into thin air. Late that afternoon I wandered back to this higher terrain and eventually ended up at the crest of the mountain where I witnessed a miraculous sunset on fire.

Early dawn would find me at the airport headed for Maine. Reflecting on the powers of place I realized that the high desert of Abiquiu mirrors my life through wild beauty and my fatal attraction to it, through song and scarcity, tenacity, loneliness, and death, my need for silence, wonder, thorns, bones, and for flowers.

I thought about the particulars that stood out from the whole: the mountain cedar, the brief appearance of a ring necked dove, the bird house, the Black Madonna, flaming cliffs seen as if from the prow of a ship, and the sense that Georgia in some magical way had accompanied me throughout this entire journey. The message seemed obvious – She was calling to me again, this Mother of Stone. For the second time in my life I had discovered a spiritual home in the mountains. A part of me is attached to this land by invisible threads; I belong to this place and to learn what this desert has to teach me, I will have to return.

(This picture of the little red hills came from one of Georgia OKeeffe’s art books…one that I own)

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