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.

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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.

The Season of Light

The season of light

comes with cool nights

shadows etched in charcoal

reveal hidden crevices

dug deep

into reptilian mountain mesas.

 

The season of light

sifts silver through

cottonwood hearts

grown weary of fire and heat,

turns grasses to wheat,

turns leaves to gold.

 

The season of light

stills the cicada hum.

Snakes shed their skins…

Toads bury themselves

in the warmth of red earth

under a sky turned to blue stone.

 

The season of light

balances light and dark,

brings a starry firmament to life,

storied by peoples

who moved with the

tides of the moon

and changing seasons.

 

The season of light

chants the song of creation

in September,

the month of my birth.

I listen in silence and wonder

perched the river’s edge

gazing at serpentine waters

seeking a shimmering sea.

 

In the season of light

gratitude for life

runs parallel with sunrise

rising above misty waters.

And again at dusk when

I envelop myself

in the Owl’s feathery cloak

to darken the sky,

to welcome in the peace

of sweet long nights.

 

Cicada Symphony

Each evening

I sit in gathering shadows

listening for the nighthawk’s peet,

the owl softly hooting.

Peering into the dense cottonwood canopy

I await the symphony…

 

How do they know

just when to begin

in perfect synchrony?

Punctual to the minute,

the swell is deafening

This music of the spheres

saturates my body

with song as I breathe

into the wonder of

Nature on the wing.

 

 

Postscript and Natural History

 

Every night I sit on the porch at dusk listening to night sounds. At precisely 8:30PM the symphony begins as the arching boughs of the cottonwoods come alive with song. When it’s really hot the cicadas are so loud that when I stand underneath the cottonwoods I am transported to another realm.

 

One night they surprised me. A few drops of rain fell and instantly the choral overture began. It was 8:15 PM and this uncharacteristic early beginning seemed to have everything to do with the rain which only fell for a few minutes although the insects sang on… perhaps the cicadas too are singing to the Cloud People, praying for rain.

 

I listened to many recordings before identifying the cicadas that are singing from these cottonwoods! Mine are “cactus dodgers” that are known for their affinity for cacti during courtship because they can dodge deadly spines during frenzied mating! They are primarily black, gray, white, and beige colored; well camouflaged for the desert.

 

Cicadas in general are an order of insects distinguished by piercing and straw-like sucking mouthparts.  Worldwide, cicadas comprise about 2000 species, which occur primarily in temperate and warmer regions.

 

Like all insects, the usually dark to brownish to greenish cicada has three body parts—the head, the thorax and an abdomen.  It has six jointed legs, with the front pair adapted for digging—a reflection of its underground burrowing life when a nymph.  A strong flyer, it has two sets of transparent and clearly veined wings, perhaps its most distinctive feature.  At rest, it holds its wings like a peaked roof over its abdomen.  It has bulging compound eyes, three glistening simple eyes and short bristly antenna.

 

The male cicada has on its abdomen two chambers covered with membranes – “tymbals” – that it vibrates, when at rest, to produce its “song.”  It can make various sounds, including, for instance, an insistent call for a mate, an excited call to flight, or a hoped-for bluff of predators.  Both the male and female cicadas have auditory organs, which connect through a short tendon to membranes that receive sound.  The male produces a call distinctive to his species.  Ever faithful, the female responds only to the call of a male of her species.

 

The cicada often makes its home in the plant communities along river bottoms and drainages but can be found in many different desert ecosystems as well.

 

The cicada falls into one of two major groups, one called “dog day,” the other called “periodical.”  The dog-day cicadas, which usually appear during the hottest days of summer, hence the name, include all of the several dozen species of the Southwest.  They have a life cycle of two to five years. The periodical cicadas, which include several species, all east of the Great Plains, have a life cycle of 13 or 17 years.

 

Once one of the Southwestern female dog-day cicadas answers the call of a male cicadas and the two mate, she seeks out an inviting, tender twig or stem on a tree or a bush.  She uses the jagged tip at the end of her abdomen to gouge into a twig.  She lays eggs, each shaped like a grain of rice, into the wound eventually laying several hundred eggs.

 

Once a cicada nymph hatches, it drops to the ground, immediately burrowing into the soil, using its specially adapted front legs for the excavation.  It seeks out a root and uses its specially adapted mouthparts to penetrate through the epidermis and suck out the sap.  The cicada spends much of its time in its underground chambers.  Once grown, it tunnels upward, to near the surface, where it constructs a “waiting chamber.”  Upon receiving some mysterious signal, perhaps a temperature threshold, our nymph, along with its multiple kindred nymphs, emerges in a synchronized debut, one of the great pageants of the insect world.  It climbs up nearby vegetation, molts for the final time, emerging from its old nymphal skin as a fully winged adult, beginning the final celebration of its life.

 

The cicadas struggle for survival through their final days because they are nontoxic and relatively easily caught, especially during the final molt, and must deal with a crowd of potential predators, including birds such as boat-tail grackles, various woodpeckers, robins, red-winged blackbirds and even ducks; mammals such as squirrels and smaller animals; reptiles such as snakes and turtles; spiders such as the golden silk spider; and other insects such as its especially fearsome arch enemy, the cicada killer wasp.

 

Of course, the cicada does have certain defenses.  Once it has molted, it can fly swiftly to escape some potential predators.  The raucous male alarm call may startle some predators, especially birds.  It may occur in such numbers that it overwhelms the collective appetite of predators.

 

In perhaps its most novel defense, the desert cicada has developed an extraordinary ability to remain active throughout mid-day, when most would-be predators have to seek shelter from the desert heat.  Notably, the cicada, unlike any other known insect, can sweat, which helps it dissipate heat.  When threatened with overheating, desert cicadas extract water from their blood and transport it through large ducts to the surface of the thorax, where it evaporates.  The cooling that results permits a few desert cicada species to be active when temperatures are so high that their enemies are incapacitated by the heat.  No other insects have been shown to have the ducts required for sweating.

 

While the cicada may cause minor damage to the plants on which it feeds during its life cycle, it contributes in important ways to the environment.  Studies of the cicada in Colorado River riparian communities revealed the ecological importance of this species.  Feeding by the nymphs influences the vegetative structure of mixed stands of cottonwood and willow that occur in certain habitats.  Excess water removed from the host’s water conducting tissues (the xylem) during feeding is eliminated as waste and improves moisture conditions in the upper layer of the soil.  Xylem fluids are low in nutrients and the nymphs must consume large amounts of it to accommodate their energy needs.  Most of the water is quickly excreted and becomes available to shallow rooted plants.  Additionally, cicadas comprise an important prey species for birds and mammals, and the burrowing activity of nymphs facilitates water movement within the soil.”

 

The cicada has entered the realm of folklore across much of the world, possibly because its periodic emergence from darkness into light and song has been equated with rebirth and good fortune.

 

In one myth Cacama was the lord of the Aztec kingdom of Tezcuco who met his end at the hands of Spanish conquistadors. Cacama lives on in these winged desert treasures.

 

A Greek poet once wrote,  “We call you happy, O Cicada, because after you have drunk a little dew in the treetops you sing like a queen.”

 

An Italian myth held that “one day there was born on the earth a beautiful, good and very talented woman whose singing was so wonderful it even enchanted the gods.  When she died the world seemed so forlorn without the sweet sound of her singing that the gods allowed her to return to life every summer as the cicadas so that her singing could lift up the hearts of man and beast once again.”

In our desert Southwest Zuni mythology, the cicada outwitted the traditional trickster, the coyote.  The insect produced heat in Hopi mythology, heralding the arrival of summer, and it is “the patron of Hopi Flute societies in charge of both music and healing,” according to Stephen W. Hill, Kokopelli Ceremonies.  The cicada played a key role as a scout and a conqueror in Navajo creation myths.  It brought renewal and healing to other tribes.

Across the Southwest, from prehistory into historic times, the cicada became identified with the hump-backed flute player, or Kokopelli, a charismatic and iconic figure portrayed in rock art and ceramic imagery.

Kokopelli risked his life to lead the Ant People from mythological inner worlds to the present world, where they became The First People, after agreeing to follow the teaching of the Great Spirit.

“Kokopelli’s transparent wings have now unfolded and dried, and he is able to take to the sky.  Kokopelli’s reward is flight.  His continued gift to us is his reminder to be grateful that we no longer live in darkness.

No Tears are Shed

No Tears are Shed

 

Every day ragged

white lightening

slices through dark clouds

followed by fierce rumbling

sudden crashes –

bellowing thunder.

Is the sky on fire

with Earth’s rage?

 

No tears are shed.

 

The three drops

of moisture

reflect a deadly pattern –

of withholding

– a pitiful token

of Nature’s grief.

She is snared by indifference,

unable to weep.

 

No tears are shed.

 

The relentless west wind

rips branches from trunks

cottonwood arms crash

to the ground

torn leaves follow

in utter confusion.

Parched desert scrub crackles

under my feet.

Sage green turns dull gray

Plants and bushes withered

almost beyond recognition…

Are the Cloud People dead?

 

No tears are shed.

 

Once again betrayed

by the willful force of

– human stupidity –

the trees bow low

in sorrow and resignation.

Knowing .

Having no choice

their thirst will

drive them

to certain extinction.

The relentless

ever present torturous sun

is turning blue – green to ash.

 

 

And still no tears are shed.

” A Cricket on my Hearth”

 

Two nights ago I heard a cricket singing in the kitchen, and after dark I tried to locate him without success. I have loved crickets since I was a little girl and the joyful chirping seemed like such a good omen. After I returned to my bed I heard such a cacophony coming from that same area that I got up a second time to investigate. There were two crickets singing to each other from opposite ends of the room. I fell asleep listening to their animated conversation.

 

Vaguely, I recalled learning about country folk who kept crickets in cages for good luck, a custom that distressed me because the idea of caging any animal is antithetical to my belief system.

 

Yesterday afternoon I was away all afternoon and had left water in the dishpan. When I returned I didn’t see the cricket until I emptied the dishpan full of soapy water. Oh, no. I quickly retrieved the cricket from the draining water but saw it was too late. One of my new friends had drowned. I felt a sharp pang of grief slice through me at this sudden loss. I placed the cricket on the railing of the porch, not knowing what else to do. I thought some bird or lizard might eat him…

 

About an half an hour later I went out to begin watering my garden and stopped in front of the cricket realizing suddenly that he was no longer frozen into a splayed out position, but had pulled in his legs. With child-like hope surging through me I stroked his carapace murmuring an endearment. He jumped a little under my touch and then I saw his antennae twitching. He wasn’t dead after all! I left him there sunning and when I passed by the railing a few minutes later the cricket had disappeared.

 

I felt a moment of fierce joy and deep gratitude that he lived.

 

Last night after the cicadas had begun their symphony in the cottonwoods, the second cricket began to chirp excitedly from the kitchen. Oh, I thought, he’s calling to his lost friend…

 

A few minutes later an answering call came from just outside the open porch door. This chirping continued for about 15 minutes with me riveted to this conversation between the two. When it became quiet I wondered if the two had met on the threshold and decided to depart together (the screen door has enough gap underneath to allow a cricket to come or go). If that was the case I would miss them but I certainly didn’t want any more cricket mishaps in the house, and besides food was more plentiful outdoors.

 

I awakened to a welcome cool breeze around midnight and heard a cricket in the kitchen singing his heart out, so evidently this one chose to stay.

 

There is something about these encounters with creatures of the wild that energizes me, sparking wild hope that somehow transcends the daily despair I live in with respect to the survival of all creatures world wide.

 

Is it possible that these intimate friendships with non – human species (no matter how brief) places us both in a space beyond space/time where now becomes all that matters?

 

It certainly seems that way to me.

 

Postscript:

Interesting ideas associated with crickets

Crickets have played a strong role throughout Chinese, Japanese and Native American cultures as a symbol of good fortune, vitality and prosperity. As far back as 500 B.C., people revered the song of the cricket and often kept crickets in cages to enjoy that song on a regular basis. In addition, crickets are valued as “watch dogs” because they fall silent when approached, (although the crickets here did not). Crickets are also reversed as natural clocks for timing a good harvest.

Throughout Chinese history, crickets have symbolized wisdom and prosperity to the extent that a 2,000-year period of history is known as the Cricket Culture. Within this time frame, three specific eras celebrated various aspects of the cricket. In the first era, which lasted from 500 B.C. to 618 A.D., the singing of crickets was revered. During the Tang Dynasty, from 618 to 906 A.D., people began to keep crickets in cages in order to appreciate the sounds.

I also read elsewhere that it is very bad luck to kill a cricket even by accident.

My crickets are New Mexico Field crickets.