The Monarch Butterfly

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(Author’s photo of first Monarch butterfly seen third week in July)

 

In late May a friend of mine in Abiquiu told me that he saw at least 10 Monarch butterflies clustered together in one group, a sighting that warmed my heart because the year before I had seen so few.

 

Last year I was fortunate enough to have a milkweed plant seed itself by the casita. When the seeds ripened in the fall I scattered the silky airborne parachutes under the original plant hoping that the milkweed would re –seed. This spring I was rewarded. Three new plants emerged in a place that would be watered as long as we had summer rains. When I left Abiquiu the plants were doing well, but summer would tell the tale…

 

Milkweed is the one plant that Monarchs love and the only plant on which they will lay their eggs. I hoped that a small cluster of these plants might provide sweet nectar that would entice a few more of these butterflies to visit the casita during the summer and during fall migration.

 

It should be mentioned that milkweed also provides an intriguing form of protection for this butterfly. The milkweed juices make the Monarch poisonous to predatory birds. Additionally, the deep orange color of the butterfly alerts predators to the fact that their intended meal might be toxic.

 

Here in Maine I have a field that is covered in milkweed from early July onward. I have raised many Monarch’s to adulthood over a period of thirty years because it has been relatively easy to find the eggs which are laid on the underside of the milkweed leaves beginning in late summer. The scent of the flower is, to me, intoxicating, and the clusters of tiny blossoms are so beautiful to look at in their myriad shades of pale pink salmon.

 

Ever since the milkweed started blooming this summer I have been on the lookout for Monarchs. I saw my first butterfly at Popham beach on the coast where Milkweed plants are plentiful growing amidst the sand dunes, and in wild coastal fields. I then glimpsed two around my house this week, and remain hopeful that I will see more…

 

Monarch butterflies are perhaps best known for their migrating habits. No other butterflies migrate as far; this insect flies up to three thousand miles each year. Millions of these butterflies will fly from Canada to Mexico this fall.

 

More astonishing, this entire trip will take four generations to complete. The Monarchs begin their southern migration September to October. Eastern and northeastern populations, originating in southern Canada and the United States, travel to overwintering sites in central Mexico. They arrive at their roosting trees in November. When the butterflies reach their destination in Mexico they return to the same trees that their forebearers did sometimes roosting deep in the forest. They remain in their roosts during the winter months and then begin their northern migration in March. No individual butterfly completes the entire round trip. Female monarchs lay eggs for a subsequent generation during the northward migration. Four generations are involved in the annual cycle.

 

Western populations, which would include the Monarchs in New Mexico, follow a similar pattern migrating annually from regions west of the Rocky Mountains to overwintering sites on the coast of California.

 

Many folks know that the Monarch butterfly population has dropped 90 percent over the past 20 years (Center for Biological Diversity). The species has become ‘functionally extinct’, meaning that the numbers are so low now that the Monarchs have little hope of long-term survival. Scientists look to Monarchs and other butterflies as indicators of environmental health, since they are easily affected by air and water pollution, severe weather, pesticides, the presence of other toxins and, of course, Climate Change. It breaks my heart to acknowledge that most folks have not paid attention to the decline of these beautiful insects. Globally we are paying a huge price for our blindness and indifference.

 

When it comes to Monarchs the present is what we have, and I encourage anyone that gardens to create a milkweed patch for these wanderers in the hopes that we might extend their collective lifetime a few more years. It’s important to note that milkweed needs adequate water. Refusing to use lethal backyard pesticides and planting milkweed are two things we can do to help these glorious orange insects in the short term.

A Cactus made of Rainbows…

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(Author’s newest rainbow cactus garden – the stones are pieces of chert that were found nearby -note the tiny nubbins on the sides of these cactus that will soon burst into bloom)

 

Raspberry spines

prick my skin

but do not harm me

as I gently dislodge

you from stones

and soil,

praying out loud

for permission.

 

You thrive here

as the Bears do

under tall red pines

and lichened boulders.

Aspens, Spruce, Juniper

all murmur

love songs

on Changing Woman’s mountain.

 

Is that why they call you

a Rainbow cactus?

Were you there

when She was born

under soft deerskin

pulsing with a whole

spectrum of Light?

Did the Bears watch you

From swaying tree tops

offer generous blessings

for the gift of your life?

 

I step so carefully,

so as not to crush

your little village

thriving under my feet.

I gather you as

a small family, believing

you need to grow together

to thrive.

Your roots are shallow

hugging jagged rocks

at odd angles.

I feel amazement –

Such tenacity.

 

I note your need for protection

from merciless west wind and sun.

Yet you thrive with so little –

a blessing from the Cloud People and you

burst miniscule roses from thorny skin.

I imagine a waxing frog moon

overflowing with pride.

 

I found a bear paw

not far from where you lay –

White flint worked

by those who once

tread lightly

on sacred ground,

soul heart and body

bound to each rock

and tree.

(Bears still leave

their marks on smooth

white aspen bark).

 

The People

spoke in tongues

most can no longer hear.

Oh, my grateful heart

sings praises for this

precious body that

vibrates

ancient strumming sound…

Your collective Voices

vie for my attention

as I move effortlessly

through the veil,

bowing my head

to acknowledge your

Bountiful

Grace.

 

Time gathers herself around me

False lines and boundaries

disappear.

I am so easily comforted by Now.

If only I could stay here…

 

When I wend my way

down the mountain

with a prickly clump

of your people,

I am filled with Light.

Perhaps Changing Woman

was right –

Her children’s father

was a round rainbow cactus

after all.

 

Working notes:

 

Yesterday I visited the mountain that once called me to this place, although I couldn’t name her then… three years later I am drawn back again and again to this Mesa forged in Light to gather stones made of the flint that was traded throughout the Americas by the pre – Puebloan peoples.

 

The Powers of Place embrace me again and again as I climb, hearing voices, and I am  permeated with wonder…

 

In Navajo mythology Changing Woman – she who grows old and young again but never dies – was born under a rainbow of light created by a myriad of colors – orange, gold, gray smoke, ebony, pink and burnt orange – of the stone called chert that is found in a single band that stretches around this mountain. This flint was worked into tools that were traded throughout the continent…

 

Changing Woman (parthogentically) birthed two boys who left her. When they asked about who their father was she retorted that maybe he was a round cactus! (a tongue and cheek response?) Their grandmother later told them their father was the sun but my guess is that their real father was a prickly round rainbow cactus that grows close to the ground on the slopes of Changing Woman’s beloved mountain, the mountain where she was born.

 

This marriage was one woven from Light, tenderness, thorns, and tenacity.

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.

Winter River Reflection – 2019

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We are approaching the end of January here in Northern New Mexico and already the light is becoming more fierce, but the nights are still long, the blood moon has passed, and clusters of stars are strung like pearls into patterns that speak to ancient stories, so this precious time to reflect and dream is very much with me. Winter brings a sense of peace unlike any other.

 

This year it has also brought us a reprieve from drought. This morning a thin layer of snow once again coats the grasses while birds flock to my feeder in record numbers. Although each layer of snow doesn’t amount to much more than a tenth of an inch of rain, it is still something. Last week we even had real puddles of standing water, and slippery mud that oozed in places when the sun warmed the ground.

 

Coming from the North Country I have never been able to appreciate mud with the kind of enthusiasm I have for it here. Mud means moisture, and water is life and here in the high desert rain and snow may bring sage green scrub back to life if we continue this trend…

 

Reprieve from drought is a form of Grace.

 

In the distance the mountains wear white tufted caps – Perhaps this year Red Willow River will once again overflow her banks serenading us with songs as snow melt sings to disappearing stones.

 

Is it too much to dream that frogs will come, rising up from moist red ground to breed?

 

As I kneel before the wood stove kindling my daily fire, I am keenly aware of the deep gratitude I feel for the gift of life and for each drop of water even when these aging bones ache in dampened air.

 

I wonder where my afternoon walk will take me? No matter where I go I always end up back at the river’s edge listening to water on stone while scrying the sky for the Sandhill cranes. The river has always been my lover, long before I arrived here… A tangle of blushing willows greets me as I bow low to walk through their arching branches into the old overgrown field, lumpy with gopher mounds.

 

This winter I have started to cook again with joyful child-like abandon. The intoxicating scent of yeasty bread no longer brings a wave of grief for lost children but simple joy in the rising…some say that cooking is a form of transformation. So it may be for me.

 

Moving into “old age”, the years of the crone, my elder years snaps the constricting steel ties that threatened to suffocate my body, and shredded the caul of the “mother hood” – an unwelcome veil I wore for too many years, one that was too heavy with grief; grief that eventually came to threaten my life. Now, because of the shadowy presence of an Old Woman who comes to me as an Owl, a star child begins to shine.

 

Bear’s Day is approaching, that time of the year when the wheel turns once again towards the coming light, and Brigid’s Crown of Fire speaks to new life bubbling from beneath the ground. Already bulbs are stirring from deep sleep, tree roots are absorbing precious water as they begin a new growth phase, and black bear cubs are being birthed by attentive wild mothers…

 

Soon the Sandhill cranes will be migrating North as will the flock of golden evening grosbeaks that have taken over my porch, all in search of summer breeding grounds.

 

As I approach Bear’s Day, and the Feast of “First Light” I feel ambivalence, for each lengthening day brings me closer to the time of my own birthing into spring, and the necessary migration I must make to go North. It is hard to be caught between worlds. I have a homeplace here in the South and another far North.

 

I must place my trust in myself, and the Old Woman. Bird-like, I will migrate too, before spring light births a bitter orange sun, fierce and deadly west wind, and a wall of intolerable heat.

The Littlest Juniper

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A solitary spire

refuses to bow

to heavy snow.

‘My tree’ communes

with flaky gray sky.

 

Transplanted late

last fall

I wondered…

Young roots

are so tender…

Would the old

nearby juniper

teach her

the ways of

an overgrown field,

guide her tendrils down

to tap sweet

waters?

 

Whenever I gaze at

this miniature tree

she tears my heart in two.

I tell her

I won’t be here

to see her reach adulthood –

Junipers live

a thousand years or more.

(or did)

 

But while I am around

I will love her

as one of my own –

a child with prickly needles

gray green darkening to

emerald when the

Cloud People come.

 

Whenever I lay down

to rest my weary body

I imagine my feet –

brown roots flowing

out the door to

become one with hers…

 

Together we rise up

through her spire

find our way back

to my supine body

as a child would return

to her mother

closing a circle

of Love between us

as she listens to

my prayers for her life.

The Magic Boat

 

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( from top to bottom author’s craft setting to sea… dragonfly illusion…the magic boat)

 

My friend has a tradition of making and sailing away little boats on Red Willow river and yesterday, new year’s day, people gathered to create wish boats. It was a frigid snowy afternoon but the studio was warm and friendly as I set to work. All I knew was that I wanted to create a little boat that offered hope for all the animals and plants that were going extinct, or were functionally extinct because so few of them were left. In my imagination this little boat full of seeds, tree branches, acorns for the animals would sail down the river into the sea to find a better place for life to exist without humans destroying other species out of greed, insensitivity, stupidity, indifference, or a need to control Nature just because She is.

 

I glued seeds and wild grasses to a milkweed pod, but couldn’t find the right materials to make an animal to represent all mammals, so I imagined putting them there; they were just invisible. Then a Raven flew into my mind. Raven would be the sail and because he was a Messenger from the Beyond as well as being a magician; Raven was the perfect creature to guide a boat filled with such important intentions…

 

From the top my raven looks like a dragonfly – symbol of illusion for some Indigenous folk – but from below Raven’s ebony eyes and body appear under his dragonfly cloak. I believed he might know just where to sail the boat. I placed some tiny shells on the prow to guide the diminutive craft to reach the sea…

 

When it was time we walked down to the frigid river’s ice encrusted bank to set our boats onto the waves… At that point I let go, knowing that I had done what I was instructed to do, and the rest was up to Nature’s Grace.

 

Amazingly, when my little boat set sail it flipped once and then righted itself and floated downwind with the current along with Bruce’s boat.

 

We left then; it was so cold, but I carried a wonderful sense of satisfaction because my intentions had been made manifest, and my imagination allowed me to remain in the place of possibility – that crack in reality where anything can happen, especially if you enlist a divine trickster who embodies Life, as Raven does.

 

Last night I had a one-word dream – just the word “Reprieve.”

 

That word carries hope, not for the future but for now. Hope that even with the ravages of Climate Change upon us, those of us who are in such deep mourning may find temporary peace in this moment, where for example, the desert has gotten some snow. Not enough to interrupt the terrible drought under whose veil we now live, but enough perhaps to help the roots of precious trees and plants survive one more year…

 

Most humans are not yet aware that we have entered a new age – some call this the age of the Anthropocene – an age characterized by dominance of the human species at the expense and loss of all others. Of course, even humans will not be able to survive this global holocaust for long, but few seem to care.

 

Because I am so aware, a great loneliness permeates my everyday awareness as I witness the diminishment of other non – human life forms and the total absence of others. I know that I am powerless to change what is, but creating a magic boat of intentions allows me to dream a new reality if only in my mind.

 

Some say Raven gave the First People fire, perhaps he can also interrupt the great dying – who can know.

The House Lizards

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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