Becoming Seed

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Turning smooth seeds

over in my palm

bruised purple and mauve

kidney shaped patterns capture

my heart…

I recall that each embodies

the Mystery of Becoming –

through genetics, pattern and form.

 

I gently place

each seed in her pot

watering it well,

anticipating the green stem

that will split the air in two.

 

Within a week

a transformation,

as seed unfurls,

sprouts her stalk.

New emerald leaves

have startling raised veins

that gift us

with the air she breathes.

Because of her we live.

 

Vining up the gnarled trellis

She spirals her way to sky.

Heart shaped leaves

and bittersweet orange flowers

beckon to hummingbirds –

Sweet nectar is their treat.

 

After a spray of orange blooms

the tiny beans appear

like birds on a wire,

lined up

in a row.

 

When seed pods

begin to ripen

I watch for slender

emerald beans to lengthen

into wavy strings.

Plucking them

to eat

when young,

I always add a prayer.

 

Some ripening seeds

I leave

to grow plump,

and rounded –

bulging shapes

anticipate a cyclic

Fall Gathering…

 

As summer fades

seed cases become giants,

some a foot or more in length.

A dying sun, wind, cool nights,

toughen tanned and crackling pods

that rattle like gourds.

I cut them away from

withering vines,

now ten feet high.

Excitedly I open the first one

to greet next year’s gift,

purple and pink seeds!

Another circle closes.

Oh, the miracle of new life to come.

Orion’s Defeat*

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Ursa Major, the Great Bear, and her son.

 

Orion rises over the mountain

The Great Bear races towards the northwest –

Deer are stalked in grim silence.

Bear pad soundlessly through bruised leaves,

dead branches, hyper – aware.

The birds are still except for black crows

whose shrill warnings track madmen.

 

The She Bear circumnavigates the night.

Her son is a compass pointing North.

The Circle of Life, Guidance,

Clarity and Compassion

are gifts offered by patterns

written into the stars overhead.

 

But where are the men who once gazed skyward?

Men who ritualized the story

of the hunter and his prey

taking only what was needed,

begging forgiveness from the animal

that died, people who gave thanks

for the gift of an animal body?

 

Today no one reads the night skies in November.

Instead, a human induced re-enactment –

blood orange and grim

plays out on the stage of the forest floor.

Humility has been replaced by Hubris.

Deer and bear are stalked and shot

not so that others might live, but

to demonstrate the loss

of human compassion and dignity –

to celebrate the sovereignty

of the right to kill.

 

The air is split by shrill blasts of gunshot.

Animals, young and old stagger and fall –

the wounded will suffer and starve in silence.

Others, more fortunate, lie dead.

Stuffed animal heads with horns appear on living room walls –

mirrors for crumbling egos – fractured self images.

 

The trees are keening for animals they lost.

Sapling children bend low in grief.

Frightening Old Women appear as Furies

turning red blood

into haunted night shrieks for Justice.

I screech obscenities or weep,

mimic the screams of

Great Horned owls.

 

When are these stupid men going to get it

that hunting is a “tradition” that is dead?

 

*Although the Great She Bear is chased by Orion as he rises in the eastern sky in the Northeast, he is never destined to catch Her. And as the season passes, Orion descends below the horizon while the She Bear continues her cyclic round.

 

Working notes:

 

Last week I was walking up a familiar wood’s road and noticed a tent – like structure hidden in low brush. When I went over to investigate I discovered to my profound distress that deer grain had been placed on the forest floor to lure deer to the spot. Worse, I knew that deer routinely crossed at this point. Then I saw the camera.

 

I concluded that a man I knew erected this tent as a blind for his seven year old son to help the boy shoot his first spikehorn (a young buck) because he told me that he was tracking the young buck’s movements for his son with a camera. But what stunned me the most was the presence of grain that was being used as bait.

 

Revolted, I kept my feelings to myself. This man’s grandfather was my friend, now 101, and when Roy was young he hunted to put food on the table retaining a hunting ethic of fair chase that I had grudgingly come to respect (my respect was forever tarnished when I learned of the white deer but that is another story). I believed up until last week that Roy’s hunting ethic had been passed on to his grandson. I was wrong.

 

Once, the hunter’s idea of fair chase pitted man against the animal without stacking the deck. Today, all hunting techniques do stack the deck. Web cams have become the eyes of the hunter. The masking of human scent is routinely practiced. An impressive array of technological gadgets are used to help the hunter achieve his goal. Instead of walking, men use four wheelers to reach more inaccessible places where animals might be hiding out. Every hunting season opens when the animals are at their most vulnerable either needing food in order to survive hibernation/winter, as is the case for bears, or during mating season when animals like moose, elk, deer are distracted by their own hormones. Bear hunters use bait, hounds and steel traps to ensure a kill. “Just knowing I can shoot an animal makes me high” one hunter told me without apology.

 

Gradually, as the knowledge of the use of deer baiting to satisfy a seven year old’s pleasure in his first kill seeped into my body, I began to boil with anger. It was illegal to bait deer with grain or food of any kind. Abruptly, I slammed the door on the circle I had once opened with such difficulty. I was a naturalist who loved all animals, wild or tame. When I moved to these mountains thirty years ago I was confronted by the realities of routine animal slaughter each fall. Deer and moose hung outside hunters’ homes on nearby trees bleeding out. Stunned and repelled on a visceral level, I struggled hard not to become as militant as these men apparently were. I made friends with hunters and tried to see their point of view. I learned to respect some although as an animal lover I never surrendered my personal stance. I continued to side with the animals, but I also created space for the hunter’s perspective and in that process surrendered my hatred for these men choosing tolerance instead.

 

With this vignette I come full circle returning to my original position that killing of wild animals is morally and ethically wrong. But what I had learned by painfully traversing the circle is that although I could feel rage without censor on a temporary basis, I couldn’t allow myself to stay there. To do so would align me with animal killers, inside and out, albeit unconsciously (it takes two halves of love/hatred to make a whole). I needed to open and step outside that circle long enough to attempt to include the “other,”

 

While the hunting season continues I feel hopeless rage and grief that so many will die to boost faltering male egos. I make the choice to create space for my hatred of these egregious practices and when the time comes I will also let that hatred go – not for them but for me. This is perhaps the most important lesson I have learned from living in these mountains.

 

I hold the following position without apology:

There is absolutely no reason for any person to kill an animal or bird even to put food on the table. We have supermarkets for food and programs to assist those who need help with feeding their families (unless that changes no one has an excuse to hunt). Killing any animal for “sport”(a euphemism for fun) or the hunter’s addictive “high” is totally unacceptable because it supports the belief that humans can kill without negative consequences, including the development of potentially lethal addictions the most serious of which is an addiction to war.

 

Although hunters rationalize that that many of them eat what they kill I say – so what? When they whine that hunting is an American tradition I state “change is the only constant.” And when they speak of their “right” to kill animals I know that permission has been tacitly given to kill all other forms of life including humans and that permission is passed on inter –generationally from father to son.

 

Think about my closing sentence the next time you support a hunter’s right to slaughter an innocent animal that has as much right to live as the rest of us do.

The Geography of Hope

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(Tree ruin – note the wintergreen berries on the right)

This morning I meandered through dried papery leaves, frost bitten sedge grasses, and stepped over fallen birches that crisscross animal paths on the land that I love. Everywhere dying ferns and drifting leaves remind me that the Earth is preparing for her long winter’s sleep in spite of unseasonably warm temperatures and annoying insects.

 

Tiny evergreen seedlings poke their heads out of the woodland detritus while the mosses retain their various shades from sage to emerald green. I see crimson partridge and wintergreen berries hugging the ground, food for wild turkeys, bears, deer and grouse. In the open lowlands winterberry bushes abound, a feast of scarlet sweets for those that love them. Wild apple trees drip with rose red fruits.

 

Around the house pendulous red honeysuckle seeds capture my attention. A bevy of migrating robins, at least two-dozen, perch in my crabapple trees feasting on brilliant red fruits. As the robins regard me with white ringed eyes I am suddenly struck by the thought of how much the color red defines a New England fall. On wind protected logging roads scarlet leaves still cling to some tired red maples. Fire on the mountain is more than metaphor or a descriptive phrase. It is also the color that marks the end of the growing season and for many peoples, the end of the year… The flames of autumn precede winter white.

 

For me this pigment holds both ambivalence and poignancy. Red is the color of blood. It is often the hue used to evoke rage, suffering, and sorrows of the heart. The other side of red is devoted to the joyful aspect of love – the capacity to love and be loved. Together these two create a whole helping me to understand why I am so affected by this color. On a personal level I am living both sides of red.

 

While examining diminutive plants emerging out of an old tree stump, one that includes wintergreen berries I am startled by a second insight. The flashes of red berries on this tree ruin, the forest floor, the ripe berries and fruits on living trees, the scattering of scarlet leaves also bring me to the edge of hope, for red is also the color of rebirth. It is the color that Nature uses to remind us that as she falls asleep, the seeds of the future will be planted among her roots.

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(author walking up an old logging road where the leaves are still full of color)

The Hawk and the Dove

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I have had personal relationships with both these birds for my entire life. Hawks were my little brother’s favorite birds, a predilection that escaped me until after his untimely death, after which these birds started circling in the sky over my head. One of these, the Red-tailed hawk became a kind of guide appearing to me at propitious times. I couldn’t help thinking, and eventually came to believe (after struggling with years of self doubt even when extraordinary experiences occurred) that he was somehow the spirit of my brother incarnating through this bird.

I think I fell in love with doves as a small child. I was intrigued by the doves in stained glass windows. The idea that Mary was visited by a white dove entranced me long before I understood Christian church doctrine around the “virgin” birth, a belief that simply repels me today although I still gravitate towards those beautiful stained glass images… Doves incarnated as spirit birds when I was in Assisi Italy. One morning at dawn while sitting on a circular stone table in the church plaza, hundreds of white doves settled around me in a circle. Astonished, I was transported into another dimension.

Mourning doves flocked to my yard as my children were leaving home…

Both these birds have acted as messengers from the Great Beyond in both personal and impersonal ways. For a long time I didn’t understand that they sometimes carried information in both ways which created a lot of confusion as I poured through my journals trying to understand what message was being expressed through various incarnations.

Three days ago, on a still, flaming maple leafed September morning I witnessed a sharp shinned hawk devouring the bloody carcass of a mourning dove outside my door. The night before I had a dream that there were too many doves falling from the sky. Because it is not unusual for me to dream about an animal or bird and then see one I wondered what message was being conveyed by this scene.

I still don’t know. On a collective level I see the dove dismemberment as a metaphor for what is happening in this country, a country I do not belong to. On a personal level I think of my children.

To be sarcastic has roots in “tearing flesh” and I have been the recipient of this behavior with children who disapprove of me as a human being. “I do whatever I want to” is a perennial complaint, as if to do so was some sort of crime.

As a naturalist I do not take a position on any predator that must prey on another in order to survive, although I experience personal feelings of heartbreak, as I did witnessing the hawk dismember the dove. I did photograph the hawk, note the brilliance of his amber eyes, as he peered first in one direction and then another in between breaks of tearing apart red flesh.

September is the month of my birth, a month I used to love until I moved to the mountains and came into close contact with trophy hunting for sport – not food. Now, this month carries with it the poignancy of loss – loss of the lives of innocent animals, and the losses I have sustained as part of my life process.

And yet, each day as I watch the maples lose more chlorophyll, turning yellow and gold, or to crimson fire in the late summer sun, I feel peace enter this body for acceptance of what is. The cycles of abundance and attrition comprise one whole in all lives, not just my own.

That I am part of a great cycle of coming and going is a source of great comfort and containment, although as I think about the hawk sustaining himself on the body of a dove, I also think of the precious life of one young bear who I fervently hope escapes the wrath of the hunters’ gun. That I am choosing life for this one animal is symbolic of my attention/intention to align myself with Life, regardless of the outcome.