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.

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Crow and the Pornographic Gaze

 

 

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The Old Art Masters indulging in their pornographic gaze….

 

Once she believed that

it was her fault

they came on to her,

that she owed them

something

They owned her?

Secretly the

girl was pleased

because any kind of attention

was better than none,

or being so “different” –

stitched into an Indian skin.

 

She was a pretty shell,

an abandoned spiral

worn down by waves –

assaulted from within

by the pornographic gaze.

How she hated being young.

 

Walking down the streets

of New York

They leered at her from rooftops –

Whistling and yelling,

“Here comes the Madonna…”

She tried to make herself invisible.

How she hated being young.

 

When she sewed on her woman coat

she discarded tight jeens,

began to weave her hair in braids,

became a scholar and writer,

turned to the animals

and plants that loved her

to find acceptance and trust.

 

Unconditional love

assuaged the isolation

the void in psyche and body

where once no one breathed.

How could she have known

that Nature would save her?

 

Learning self respect

is a life-time process.

As an elder,

she has broken

the spell –

toppled the edifice of

the

pornographic gaze.

 

She knows its

an ‘old boy’ problem –

a result of male privilege

bullying, a need to objectify,

chop women

into parts

behind closed doors.

 

Dirty old men

who stare at standing nipples,

hidden beneath a feathery cloak

leave only night chills

and a hoarse croak.

 

Revolted, she discards them,

and picks the bones clean.

She has the power

to render her tormentors

Invisible,

Inadequate, and knows it.

 

She leans

towards males

who are emotional adults,

men who are accountable,

men capable of honest relationship,

men whose deep humility

has rendered them human.

 

Their friendship,

respect for her integrity,

ideas, honesty, and empathy,

are the lenses through

which she has learned to see herself.

 

She is healing from sexual assault.

 

She is a tree with a star at her center.

 

By living a self directed life,

She has become the partner

she once longed for –

a birdwoman with tree roots

sunk deep in sweet Earth.

The Compost Lizard

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(  Top picture is one taken of one of the house lizards a while back – 2nd picture is one of the house lizards sunning himself today (his mate disappears every time I go to take a picture but she’s out too), and the 3rd picture is the little compost lizard in his lair taken at noon. All are sunning themselves as I write!)

 

There is a wily sagebrush lizard

peeking out of star dry flowers

sunning himself on

brittle decaying leaves.

All but two of his

kind have disappeared

since the night freeze settled

kindly,

blackening few tender plants.

How brilliant that he

should choose such a practical

abode, a circular container

warmed by an autumn sun,

full of rotting greenery!

Assured of food from insects

for a while yet,

his eyes are narrow slits when

he slumbers, dreaming his next meal.

Imagine

the variety of bugs

who still visit this

compost heap in

wild abandon,

buzzing madly

at high noon,

oblivious to Lizard’s

canny presence in their midst!

 

It is mid October (10/18) and the mountain peaks wear snowy hats. Here in the valley we have had more rain in the last ten days than we have had all year … the first flakes swirl. The dark eyed juncos have arrived. For the last few days I have been noticing the absence of my house lizards who seem to have vanished with the heat. There are only two left out of the original 6 and these two hide behind the slat closest to the door, slipping out to sunbathe when the sun warms my adobe walls.

 

When I first met the “compost lizard” I knew he wasn’t one that lived here all summer. Earlier in the season I had a large compost lizard that moved to the south wall as it got cooler. So where did the small compost lizard come from, clever little fellow? A compost heap is a lizard heaven of sorts with all the leftovers watered routinely to keep the worms happy, and with heat trapped in a round plastic cylinder the wind is kept at bay. At noontime I go out to visit him noting his blue belly hoping that he will stay around a bit longer, perhaps fattening himself up for an intermittent winter sleep. I would like to think that he will find a safe burrow in this mountain of debris, and that we shall meet again in spring.

 

I recently read that adolescent lizards are more active in the fall, this might account for the sudden appearance of the compost lizard. I also learned that occasionally lizards will “hibernate” together… I wonder if this might be true for my two house lizards who are currently hunkered down behind the slats and the house… I will be watching to see how long they stay there.

 

Lizards are not active during winter; they enter a state of dormancy called brumation which is not the same as hibernation. With both, metabolic processes slow down but with brumation the lizards alternate dormancy with activity. They need to drink water to avoid dehydration. Lizards build up a high level of glycogen (sugar) that can be used for muscle activity. They also need less oxygen to breathe and this is a good thing because some dig holes in mud where oxygen levels are lower. Other lizards will hide underground in old burrows, in a hole in a tree or under leaves. I love knowing that my lizards will still be around even if I don’t see them!

“The Cottonwood Dance”

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(The Cottonwoods outside my window)

 

A couple of days ago I went to a late spring Corn Dance at Okay Owingeh Pueblo. For the Tewa, spring, summer and fall are dedicated to the seasonal agricultural round and the late spring dances acknowledge the necessity of adequate rain for the newly planted corn to grow. Because the Tewa people have a living tradition each dance is unique although a general pattern is followed – one that has ancient origins. The point of these dances is to pray for rain, help the corn and other crops grow through dancing prayer, and to keep the Earth and her people in balance. One experiences the dance; no words are spoken. Drumming is an integral part of this ritual cycle.

 

There were many participants, men women and children, and a number of clay striped clowns who wore turtle shells on their legs. Both the women and the men also carried and shook gourds that sounded like rain. Both men and boys wore kilts trimmed with bells and shells and turtle shell rattles on their legs. The men also wore brightly colored arm – bands some of which were yellow. Most had feather top knots. The women wore white wrap around high legged moccasins made from the softest deer skin, beautifully belted dresses, predominantly rose patterned shawls, their shiny long black hair hanging down their backs. The men danced in moccasins trimmed with skunk fur. Some of these moccasins were dyed a bright yellow and I wondered if the color had something to do with the corn. Skunks love water so even the footwear that touches the Earth becomes a prayer for rain.

 

Each set begins and ends in one of the four plazas to honor each of the Four Directions with breaks between each set. I attended the first set and at the end of the dance all the dancers (there must have been a hundred or more) entered a ramada for a blessing and then filed into one of the two kivas where secret rites are completed in private.

 

Because it was getting hot I had not planned on staying for more than one set. I knew that the dance would be repeated in exactly the same way in each plaza until each of the Four Directions had been honored and the dance ended.

 

The rhythm of the dance had a hypnotic effect on me that by now I had become accustomed to experiencing. I find these dances deeply moving, perhaps because I have Indigenous roots, and because my life is so tightly woven to the cycles of Nature. I also understood that the Tewa believe that participating in these dances, even as a spectator helped the rain come and the corn to grow, probably the only reason the Tewa allow outsiders to attend the celebrations. These people are fiercely independent and do not share their traditions with strangers beyond allowing visitors to attend the dance. By maintaining this kind of vigilance they have managed to keep ancient traditions intact. One is left to interpret what one sees and experiences…

 

The striking aspect of this particular dance for me was the lack of corn imagery. Instead, everywhere I looked I saw men wearing wreaths of cottonwood, something I had never witnessed before. In addition, the women and children each carried sprigs of cottonwood branches. Fascinated by this change I called the pueblo the next day to find out if I had seen a corn dance. Yes, I was told. I knew enough not to ask impertinent questions about cottonwood branches. Instead I reflected upon the possible meaning of what I had seen, and what it might mean. That night I fell asleep listening to muted cottonwood conversation…

 

I am presently living in an adobe house that is situated under a giant stand of cottonwood trees, trees whose leaves flutter and rustle beguiling me to listen to their songs. Sometimes at night I imagine I hear rain falling…it takes me a minute to recognize that what I am hearing is the sound of cottonwood leaves communing above my head.

 

A day or so later it dawned on me that using the cottonwood boughs, a sacred tree to the Tewa and other tribes because it is associated with water, might have been incorporated into the dance as an additional form of prayer to call down the rains.

 

In Northern New Mexico we are experiencing an unprecedented drought. We had no snow or rain this winter, and thus no spring run off. Fires are burning out of control throughout the region and the National parks have been closed to camping and other forms of recreation. How this is going to affect the corn and other crops that these people depend upon for sustenance is unknown. The Rio Grande is low, and no longer reaches Mexico. A Mexican friend, and builder friend of mine finds this state of affairs confusing because as he asks “Doesn’t the water belong to all the people?” Apparently not, our Government decrees.

 

Meanwhile, I listen to the cottonwood trees with rapt attention adding my prayers to those of the people.

 

May the rains come.

Postscript: Curiously we had our first real rainstorm just a couple of days after the ‘Cottonwood Dance’ and who can know if the trees were listening and helped bring down the rain.

Cottonwoods, by the way have enormous taproots that seek the water table and must reach it in order to survive. Today, young cottonwoods are struggling because the water table has dropped. It is heartbreaking to see how few young trees are actually growing.

Burial in Indian Country

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A small skull

was in the bag

we carried down the mountain –

the body severed

from its head –

“forgotten”

and left behind.

No, I cry wounded

beyond comprehension,

insisting we return

the parts to the whole

if only for burial.

We climbed the mountain

three times in all

my reluctant partner

choosing trance and lead.

I claimed the body,

wept for what could have been,

mourned the dead –

in Indian country…

 

Working notes:

 

Sometimes it is necessary to put skin and bones, by way of words, on a dream that is too disturbing to put aside.

 

The severing of our heads from our bodies is the root of the split that allows us to continue to survive in modern culture. We intellectualize, rationalize, use logic, embrace denial – anything to gain distance from the one whose loss we mourn – albeit unconsciously – the death of our sensing, feeling, body – the wild animal within us – the one who has access to the compassionate, loving self – the bridge to our own survival and that of the planet upon which we depend upon for life.

Persephone’s Descent: Perception, Reality, Truth?

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Persephone, perception, truth and reality may be related. In the best known version of the Greek myth, Persephone, daughter of Demeter is raped, split away from her body (the earth) and whisked into the underworld against her will by Hades. Without a body does Persephone lose access to perception, her truth, reality?

 

One definition of perception is that it is the ability to see, hear, or become aware of something like the elements of air, water, fire, earth, by using one’s senses. Perception is the way someone understands something – different people have different perceptions of the same thing. It is the process by which people translate sensory impressions into a coherent and unified view of the world around them. Although sometimes based on unverified information perception is equated with reality or truth for most practical purposes, and it guides human behavior in general.

 

Perception is directly related to individual attitudes, belief systems, and knowledge where “reality” exists by itself according to most dictionary definitions. Reality then is equated with the Platonic idea that mind is separate from body and exists somewhere outside time. (The mind body split is so revered in our culture that women are seen primarily as sex objects by men, and consequently objectify themselves/their bodies. The result? Women’s endemic hatred of themselves/other women, and female bodies).

 

Reality is supposed to be truth – the actual existence of something. Perception may be controlled by internal/external factors but according to most sources reality cannot be controlled by anyone or anything.

 

The general definition of truth is that it is a fact or belief that is accepted as true. Acceptance is key here. Truth is almost always consensual by nature. An excellent example of this conundrum is the way many of us view the origin of the universe. According to the current mechanistic paradigm the universe exploded into being out of nothing. If one has the audacity to question this unlikely theory (if you can believe this story you can believe anything) we are told  that it’s just a matter of time before conventional science and technology will iron out the confusion. I note that Niels Bohr, Quantum Mechanics and the Uncertainty Principle have been around for the last hundred years without making much of a dent in the current scientific belief system. Inculcated “scientific truths” carry an amazing amount of weight with westerners. The “Big Bang” theory (not very imaginatively named) is just that – a theory – it is not reality or truth – it is our current western belief or story. Other cultures tell different tales that are certainly more imaginative but westerners dismiss these as primitive myths.

 

But to return to the original issue, this problem of defining perception, truth, reality, is a very thorny subject for many including myself. As a not quite white (I have Indigenous roots) mythologist and eco-feminist I reject the dominant culture’s belief in absolute truths and laws ( in an evolving universe I think natural laws are more like habits built up over time as scientist Rupert Sheldrake suggests) and I lean into the stories of other peoples to teach me other ways of perceiving, understanding, and making sense of the world.

 

What I have learned from this scholarship is that truth is often equated with belief  by those who usually do not question their personal or cultural biases or the paradigm in which they live.. Unfortunately, as a former college instructor I am painfully aware of how we inculcate students into this “either or” way of perceiving the world.

 

There is a multi-valent quality associated with truth. For example, it is true that today, the fall equinox, is the day that ushers in the darker months of the year, not just because science tells me it is so, or that various mythologies support it, but also because I can experience this shift by paying attention to the declination of the sun, the drifting of fall leaves, the times of sunrise and sunset. For me, truth is associated with what I experience through my senses, my relationship to Nature, mythology, an academic background in the New Sciences, and through dreaming. Perception, truth, reality are then not separate entities but  related (both in and outside of space/time).

 

This is not to say that all my perceptions  constitute truth because many, if not all, have been colored by my experiences – and I might add – this is true for all people.

 

I have found it useful to acknowledge that all of us have a particular bias or lens through which we experience the world and that “truth” is often relative and based on consensual agreement. I think it is up to each individual to question what s/he perceives to be real and true, especially in a world culture that has lost touch with the planet (body) on which it depends upon for survival. We are moving into a “winter” the likes of which we have never experienced before.

 

Postscript:

 

What sparked this little essay was an experience that I had yesterday. I was scheduled to have an ultra sound and was told by my doctor that “it might involve a vaginal probe.” I was rushed through the appointment so fast last week that I did not have the chance to ask the doctor what this latter procedure, if it occurred, might involve.

 

The first part of the ultrasound went well, but when it came to the second procedure that had been ordered by my doctor, I learned from the radiologist, (why didn’t my doctor take responsibility for making this decision in front of me?) the kindly man asked me if I was sure I wanted this second procedure to be done. I was a bit confused, even alarmed when he asked me this question because even he seemed unsure. I consented because I believed the test wouldn’t have been ordered without good reason (stupid on my part and a good example of how logic can betray us). When he called in a woman as a witness, he noted that I seemed very nervous which by then I was.

 

Putting my feet in the stirrups as requested I lay down and began to breathe deeply, something I learned to do many years ago to alleviate anxiety and relax into my body.

 

The pain ripped through my vagina – the probe was huge, the size of an engorged penis – and I screamed as it ripped delicate vaginal tissue. The procedure ended abruptly, and of course, the test was unsuccessful.

 

Numb, I put on my clothes and left the office, driving home in a daze. After greeting my beloved dogs we all crawled into bed and I fell into a dead sleep for about two hours.

 

When I awakened I was nauseous and couldn’t urinate without waste stinging torn tissue. I was still bleeding internally. Too late I learned that older women ( I am almost 73) should be very careful about having invasive internal procedures done because our tissues have become so thin and can lead to serious infection as a result of this kind of assault.

 

The dream that I had had that very morning had warned me that I was going to experience excruciating pain from the test that would be done later in the day. In the dream I was powerless and had lost all autonomy. My body knew. As a dreamer who has been recording her dreams for 40 years I hoped that somehow this one was some kind of metaphor.

 

I awoke this morning profoundly depressed and angry. When I was finally able to put words on the invasive procedure, I realized that yesterday I had experienced another rape.

 

As a woman who has survived sexual assault first as a child within her own family, and later as an adult (because I didn’t know how to protect myself), I once again found myself in a situation beyond my control – this time at the hands of the medical profession.

 

Was I intentionally raped? No. However, my experience as a sexual abuse survivor carried over into this process that left my body re-experiencing rape. Had I been told what the second procedure “might” entail by my doctor I would have refused to go through with it.

 

This dreadful little homily is an example of how critical it is for us as women to make absolutely sure we know what is going to happen during various internal procedures, especially if sexual assault is part of our history.

 

Persephone’s descent marks the beginning of fall. It also tells a tale of a brutal split between a goddess’s mind and body and the consequent loss of perception, the ability to “know” or perceive a truth through her senses. Persephone remains captive to her underworld husband for a time, but in the spring she is released to the upper world (Earth) with help from her mother. During her incarceration Persephone matures, eventually making a choice to return to Hades, for part of each year. She becomes Queen of the Underworld, suggesting to me that she has learned to live in two worlds – one of darkness, one of light – and accepts the cycles of attrition and abundance,  as she adapts to both.

Although I have unwittingly re-enacted Persephone’s abduction into the underworld through living my life I take comfort in the belief that like Persephone, I can endure this latest betrayal and rape, eventually moving beyond both.

Blessed Be.