Thursday, October 20, 2022

Ephemeral Smackdown: Return to Grandmother Tree

 

In Prayer

I almost bypassed Taos. I was on the tail end of a two week excursion into Colorado's high country, a sweeping sensory overload of neon yellow aspen, hot springs and visits with dear friends. Dulce, VAN-essa and I, on the road. It was the first road trip since BC (before covid). The novelty-loving, risk-taking adventurer was back, on the cusp of my 72nd birthday. Taos had always been part of the plan. I'd been hellbent to visit Grandmother Tree for three years (BC). Ten days on the road, all had unfolded perfectly as I pulled into the remote San Luis Lakes, two hours north of Taos, and parked. I made a cup of camp stove espresso as Dulce and I took in the dune-framed Sangre de Cristos; listened to the migrating Sand Hill Cranes, too high to see. Bialetti stowed, we hopped into VAN-essa and she wouldn't start. AAA towed us to Alamosa, where I ended up with a referred mechanic (thank you Crestone Dan). He's really good and really busy, he warned. The angels were with me ... Jeff thankfully agreed to fit me in and let me spend the night in his parking lot while the fuel pump was overnighted. Twenty fours and $900 later (ouch), I hit Highway 285, skipping Taos to head for Bosque del Apache, south of Albuquerque. I'd lost two days and there were too many Taos friends to squeeze visits into a day. I decided I would come back another time. Reality set in, however, as Antonia Mountain came into view. I had to stop somewhere for the night. I wasn't in the mood for Ojo Hotsprings, and Lee's Taos invitation still stood. I turned east toward Taos Mountain. Lee and I had a heartfelt, albeit short, visit. I departed early the next morning for Grandmother Tree as Lee reminded me: She is waiting for you.  

I departed Taos, turned onto gravel, traveled up the mountain to the fork in the road and continued to the dead end turn-around parking area. I smiled --  wildscape memory was a wonderful thing. Dulce jumped from the van as I collected the ritual objects I intended to share with Grandmother Tree. Tobacco, a feather from Raven Emma, even a bite of dark chocolate. I started up the mountain, enveloped in autumn rapture, recalling memories of the many sojourns to Grandmother. There was the crashing sound of antlers of two bull elk jousting, cross-country ski glides, snowshoe trips and hunts with Hope for a Christmas/Solstice tree. There were the few special times I'd shared Her with friends as we searched the ground for sheds.

I rounded the final curve that would reveal Her presence. I didn't see Her and sought a different angle. It had been a decade since I'd visited, I surmised the other trees had grown up around Her. A White-breasted Nuthatch called as I sought Her through the forest canopy. I stopped where I always left the trail to  bushwhack the final steps. It took a few seconds for my mind to grasp what my eyes saw. Or rather, didn't see. She did not fill the sky. I stared, instead, upon a huge stump and her old growth body, with all its thick limbs, sprawled across the forest floor. I cried out, approached and laid my head on her supine body. I shook, bereft with confusion. How much time had passed when I picked up a pine needle and began to count Her rings, as if that would make her stand? I lost count at 350 circles. Anger. Questions. Numbness. I took some deep, slow breaths and emptied my pack; removed the items for the forever-changed ritual of return. 

Fallen Queen



I offered prayers, carried on the smoke of tobacco. I climbed over a fence to Her prone top and placed Emma's Raven feather in her branches, that She may always have the company of flight. I returned to Her thick base and sat as I my mind interrupted. What the hell happened? Old growth seed trees are not targeted for thinning. She was healthy; showed no signs of disease. I wanted answers. All was silence.  

In the decades of visits to Grandmother I had never seen another person. This day, a man appeared, walking up the trail with two Huskies. I called out, desperate for answers. Hello. Do you come here often? Yes, his friendly voice responded. Do you know when this tree was cut? He did not. He hadn't noticed her disappearance. He walked closer. We surmised it was several years. Nothing about her demise was recent. 

I circled Her evenly sliced trunk in prayer. A glint caught my eye, a shiny explosion on the ground. I bent down to see a piece of crystal half submerged in the dirt at Her base and I was struck with disbelief. Could it be? The piece of the quartz crystal I had left embedded in her bark years ago.


I had started this sojourn purposely at 9:00 a.m. Nine: endings. I arrived at 10:00 a.m.  One: new beginnings. I'd planned it as a portal to a new life. She had called me here; now She gifted me. Gratitude and awe suddenly turned to grief. The protection rituals on our final parting did not work. I felt like a failure. She stopped me short. 

No she said. Rot is rot. My children stand guard around me. Chickadee's song floats on air, Nuthatch's upside-down antics delight. Remember my instructions so many years ago: to enter the unknown and  "write what is given." The Mystery, My Child, is all there is. You are good and kind to wild kin. The two-legged's attitude of supremacy, unwillingness to hear our voices, to see what stands before them, will be their downfall. 

Silence. Then she continued ...

I know your pain. I, too, would have preferred the elegant decay of decades, the march of a snag, (rhymes with hag, a wise woman) but tree wisdom is not valued in these times of mass extinction. My disappearance was noticed by few: the elk and deer earthwalkers, the chicadee raven and hawk skyflyers, the subterraneans deep in the earth ... and you

Downfall.
That day. The teeth-cutting sound of the saw. The quake. The shake and shudder. The waves of aftershock.

Your love is received. Go forth. Time is short for the Two-legged Fleshy Ones. My decay shows the way. 

I struggled to scribble her words.   

Eternities sometimes pass in moments, a lifetime is lived in a blink. 

Grandmother, I want to die next to you. 
The crystal pieces blurred through tears. 
I am sorry I didn't do better. I couldn't shake the guilt. If I'd only been there ... I had seen evidence of thinning, I never dreamed ... 

Re-member our last meeting when I told you: Even in death, all is alive. 
Wherever you are, you will die next to me.
You are perfect, My Daughter. I love you. 

Dulce downloading Grandmother's energy 
I dropped a stone heart, gift from Hope, into a water-filled gap that split Her centuries of tree rings. I slid a quartz crystal into an axe slit on Her gray trunk. Dulce, quiet, calm and holding the space throughout, rose from her silent resting place between stump and trunk as I strapped on my fanny pack. We started down the mountain as my Libra sense of justice erupted. This wasn't over. Not by a long shot. I would contact the forest supervisor for the Carson NF. I would check maps to ensure this was public land. I did not know She would send me another gift that very night: a surprise visit with a Lakota medicine man-friend ... Spirit listens. Spirit provides. Spirit puts me where I need to be. Grandmother Tree's crystalline energy would light the way. 




(The image at the top, with my hand in prayer over Her body ... I did not take that photo. Yet, it was on my camera. Let the mystery BE.) 









   












Thursday, September 22, 2022

Equinox Truce

 

Autumn closes in. The Cuckoos have yet to depart. I remind them they are welcome to winter in the warm climes of Southern Arizona, a hopeless overture, I know ... but I find myself doing this more and more, despite the odds. Inviting the impossible. Alas, to overcome migration instinct is a monumental challenge. Mexico and Central America call them home.  

Yellow-billed Cuckoo

Proof of summer's end is everywhere.

Scarlet zinnias are coated with butterflies in the monsoon garden, so named because I did not plant until July, once the rains had begun. The flowers climax, a waving sea of thick green leaves and orange/red blossoms. A sensual ode to summer's last gasp. 

The Bird-of-Paradise, planted with the rains, has grown a foot. The same for the three red pistache trees. The Ocotillas have tossed their tiny leaves to the ground as the still-green mesquites look on and wave,  "what's the hurry?"

Grey Hawk's call splits the morning air as Swainson's wing south, Argentina-bound. Dozens of vultures kettle daily toward thermals that will sweep them south. Cicadas sing down the sun as the pond volume falls. I mowed paths to the peninsula tip in one morning's weedwhack frenzy. Dulce and I easily access the point of her new morning swim. Yes, she decided at age four to release the ground beneath her and paddle forth. Faith acknowledged. 

Rosa and Noam visit daily. Fledgling-free, their soft love chortles carry on the breeze. They fly high in tandem, race fast-moving cumulus that hint of one more monsoon rain. Querencia Hill has received eighteen inches since July. A desert blessing; a drought respite. 


Hail All, autumn's arrival. A friend who summers in the Pacific Northwest texts to ask if I like smoked salmon, as he considers a gift upon his return. Two turkey vultures perch upon fenceposts on the high desert hills. Not a building in sight from where I sit as I faithfully count bird species and check the game camera for nocturnal visitors. 

I draft the Equinox invite to my women's circle as grasses turn tawny and the clothesline wash waves in the wind. Let us gather and honor, I write, the energy of equal day and night. Tis time to stand in the equinox portal and consider our personal entry into darkness. Nothing is immune from the cyclic change, the potent energies of death and dissolution. The air is electric with the migration magic. South. Downward. Inwards. 

Monsoon's life-giving rains may wane, but not so the earth-shaking thunderstorms.  Lightning branches horizonal across dark skies; bolts land so close I lift off the couch. I muttered that was close more than once. Indeed it was. A mesquite smouldered ten feet from the covered porch, a raw split down her trunk; a reminder that as seasonal changes come upon us in waves of transition, the energy of sudden change is part of the autumnal soulscape. Trickster coyote is everywhere. 

Death and dissolution clear the way for spirit restoration. I will continue to tempt fate with impossible propositions. I didn't live 71 years to do otherwise.  My ephemeral journey is immersed in the seasonal cycles and their authentic assurances. For one short time today, light and dark will call a truce upon the soul. 


















Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Cloudstruck

 

I awakened to an automatically generated email, telling me the power was out in my area. I checked with friends and discovered it's an outage of one. Me. A neighbor suggested I go to the main pole and flip the master switch. Good idea! I headed outside. Noam and Rosa were in alarm mode, screeching and squawking and flying low overhead. I squinted as I neared the pole, something dark was on the line next to the transformer. Oh no. My heart raced. It was a fledgling raven, hanging by her feet from the electric line. A switch flipped, alright, but not the intended one. I was gobsmacked, wavering between a monumental attempt to stay centered and Hope's voice on the phone: Not again! Mom you gotta get out of there. This is a sign!

It was around 6:00 a.m.  I called the electric company off-hours dispatch. I figured they would want to know there was a dead raven on the line. I live 90 minutes from their north Tucson office. A longer drive during rush hour. Danged if their truck didn't come up the gravel hill by 8:00. I was impressed. I made my way to the truck as the worker extended a flexible pole, reached up to the highwire and pulled down the young one. We see this often, he said. The babies peck and peck on the protective caps until they get it off. The raven had already disappeared. I asked if I could have the body but the man named Amos said he had to take the body. It is sent to the university for research and an autopsy; they want to determine if it is a Chihuahuan Raven. I told him it was. Amos showed me the replacement piece and the cap. It took him a few more minutes to get the cherrypicker up there and replace it. I had power well before the 10:00 marker when my AC kicked on to save me from the triple digit desert heat.  

The shock of the sudden death faded as Amos shared animal rescue stories. My favorite was his account of chainsawing an old powerpole. He had loaded it onto a flatbed truck and thought he was finished when a Western Screech Owl poked her tiny head out of a hole. Uh-Oh! He offloaded the pole and chainsawed the upper portion of the pole that contained the nest as the owl watched curiously from her hole. He then attached the owl home to the top of another pole, all the while, she watched with approving eyes. 

Noam, Rosa and the remaining ravenita had quieted down. By the time Amos departed the three of them were perched in the Grief Tree, the mesquite snag on Baboquivari Ridge where Noam had spent weeks after Emma's death. This time was different, however. Life must go on, as he and Rosa cared for the fledgling. They had begun to separate from them prior to the death, and that continued. Rosa spent time with the baby as Noam perched silently.  

Noam on the left, Rosa and Amos on the right


Ravenita, who I now affectionately call Amos, showed up more and more alone. She sat in a nearby mesquite and carried on conversations with herself, reminiscent of a parrot, a variety of caws, mews, notes, chortles. I watched her wings stretch as she struggled to keep balance on top of fenceposts; I laughed at her awkward wingtilts in flight. When she showed up with Noam and Rosa, Noam hopped over her, as if to ignore. The separation process heartwarming and fascinating.  


Noam and Rosa resume mating rituals, feeding one another


and strutting together when ... 



in flies the kid and begins to squawk and beg.


It is August first, the cusp of Lammas, the olden celebration of first harvest and abundance. At 71 years, I am well aware of the downside of abundance, as well as the upside. The downside has been predominant since covid. The loss of Emma and Hobo have left me raw. Hobo's departure was the final vestige of my 19-years on the road. The fledgling's body, hanging from the wire, relit the memories and pain. An abundance of grief, yes. Sometimes I wish I could fly to that snag and perch beside Noam. We all need a grief tree, do we not? 

Yet, the upsides of abundance surround me. The lush monsoons have gifted the desert wildscape with eleven inches of rain this summer. The pond is full beyond old markers, frog and toad songs fill the night air. The weedeater is close to becoming a permanent appendage. I stand in the rain and ask deeper questions. I am a woman accustomed to large changes. Deep novelty. There are longings not fulfilled at this time of my life. Where will these stirrings deliver me? A few days ago I removed all jewelry. Some I have worn daily for decades. I want to confirm that the energy held therein serves me at this delicate time. That it propels my soul down her karmic path, not tether me to old roads and hidden ruts. Thus far, the only piece I have returned to my body is the gold and garnet ring I gifted myself years ago, when I completed my graduate degree, a symbol of Christina against all odds. And yes, I see myself re-clasping the wild woman pendant around my neck, purchased on Berkeley's Telegraph Ave. from a street artist so very long ago. I pause before the silver Vidal Aragon bracelet, gift from a past husband and certain pairs of earrings. Everything is energy, and the energy of jewelry is profound. 

Soulwork is complicated. Purpose is clouded by eco-crisis. The great unraveling. A world drenched in extinction. And yet here we are, born into this time. How to  find our way? Bertolt Brecht: In the dark times/ Will there also be singing?/ Yes, there will be singing./ About the dark times. 

Noam, Rosa and Amos visit daily. They circle Querencia Hill and call hellos. They land on mesquites and perch atop my powerpole. They eschew, however, the main pole and wire where the young one died, once their favorite gathering place. On this August day, the danger that lurks is abundantly clear.  Clouds lift. I keep the grief tree in view.  Sing to her. 


Noam in the Grief Tree 





And then there were three ... 











Saturday, July 16, 2022

Takeover

 

Noam (on the right) and Rosa 

I was a three-week runaway in Silver City. I had vowed to not spend another June on the Sonoran Desert, the hottest month of the year, and a friend's New Mexico house was available. The plan was to exit for a month, but a root canal gouged away one week. Rooted out, I headed down the road, despite a newly-discovered (thank you, Hope) oil puddle under VAN-essa. Nope, no more delays, I'd chance it. It was my first lengthy trip since the pandemic had enforced it's multi-level imprisonment. Silver City was the perfect choice: a few hours away, 6000 ft altitude, and with gas prices nudging $5.00 a gallon, an affordable distance. So it was I departed, leaving behind Noam Chomsky, who was courting a new raven gal I'd named Rosa (Luxemburg), myriad songbirds and hummers, and a chest freezer I hoped would not fall victim to an electric outage.  As for the oil leak, I scurried into a mechanic upon arrival in Silver City, who quickly determined that iffy lube had not tightened the filter. 

Three weeks does a lifetime make. At least in this case. The vibration lifted as I checked out the live music scene and danced public for the first time since covid. I frequented a favorite secondhand bookstore and met an old friend at Faywood Hot Springs for a camping overnight. Hope visited for several nights and we drove through monsoon downpours to places like the Glenwood Catwalk and made our way to Palomas, MX to the Pink Store and a visit to my favorite dentist ($40 for check-up and clean; $40 for a filling). I filled quiet time reading Willa Cather, DH Lawrence, Joy Harjo and a revisit to Leopold's Sand County Almanac. I wrote again. Let me repeat: I wrote again. On the final day I journeyed solo into the Gila Wilderness to the sandy-divine hot springs; soaked under the pine-scented forest canopy. The first pool I dipped into brimmed with chatty, partying women from Silver. It was a great networking opportunity and fun for a bit but not what I needed on this day. Seeking solace, I moved to a smaller, quiet pool with one person who appeared to be leaving. Hot springs magic prevailed. Short words of introduction led us to discover we had travelled similar places at similar times. He was an uber-interesting man who happened to be a fabulous birder. Alas, he was headed to Montana and I was headed to Arizona. 

All this to say, I returned to Querencia Hill with spirit rejuvenated. The first monsoon rain flooded the land: one inch in 45 minutes. The pond filled to half, signal for thousands of Spadefoot Toads, a foot underground for a year, to dig themselves to the surface and embark on a 24-hr sex orgy. Their deafening croaks filled the air in a miraculous, continuation-of-species ritual.  

Hillsides transformed from brown to green. As I uncovered the firepit  a hand-sized tarantula fell from the tarp and ambled away.  Quail calls filtered through grass and mesquite as hatchlings, resembling zippy walnuts on legs, scurried between two parents. Thorny, short branches waved in the breeze from a portale rafter, signs that Curve-billed Thrashers had staked a prickly claim and taken up residence. In a few short weeks I had progressed from previous months of hijack to witness a physical, olfactory, visual, tactile takeover. I was ecstatic.

Enter Noam, to seal the deal. He arrived, strutting his hello. A few steps in, his Rosa arrived. Oooo my. He wasn't too old to take a new mate after all. I watched as they allopreened, a caressing ritual for bonded pairs. And then I witnessed something amazing. As they nuzzled back and forth, her second eyelid, a white nictitating membrane, lowered over her eye, a sign of affection and trust. I had seen Emma do this when she communicated with me, in a different context. Their presence initiated a healing inside of me as grief dissipated. Yes. Noam took the lead.


And then, sweet surprise! SQUAWK. Squawk. So much for intimate moments as two raucous fledglings arrived. Wings flapping, beaks ajar they demanded to be fed. The unit had gone from 2 to 4, as they took over the airspace with cheeky antics and awkward landings. 



It was hilarious to watch these large birds act like the babies they were! Except for mouth color, ravens look the same as adults at one month. They are full size in forty days. I differentiated them by their squawks, nervous hops, begging, leaner bodies and higher pitched calls. It was a new flood of energy. I was excited to witness and study this raven family.

What takeovers have in common is the element of surprise. My favorite viewing platform is the deck outside my door. From this perch I have an unobstructed view for 75 miles to Baboquivari Peak and oversee my bird feeding station a few feet away. I'd heard a strange bird call in the mesquites, near the pond, since my return. Friend Judith and I were enjoying the raven show from the deck when she interrupted and proclaimed, That's a cuckoo! A Yellow-billed Cuckoo call. I'd been searching for this bird for years and there she was, on the land. I now hear her several times a day, when not drowned out by the rowdy ravens. I have seen the shy one once. 

Yes, it is good to be home, ensconced in the wild richness of Querencia Hill. 

A lasting peace, I pray. 

Blessed Be.


From the Deck: Baboquivari and Pair Flying at its Best







Friday, June 24, 2022

Raven Soliloquy

 


The rain-soaked hills must dry a bit before my steps return to their grassy, graceful fold. 

The wait. Yes. For moisuture to dry. Rain. Tears. 

Patience was never my forte'. I await clarity in a covid-changed world, but there is none. Even the most base beliefs have turned tentative. Like: "spirit puts me where I need to be." I mean, how do I reckon the daily, magic company of a raven with her apocolyptic goodbye? I named her Emma, for Emma Goldman. Ravens, after all, are the proud anarchists of the bird world. All worlds, for that matter. Ask Poe. Ask the indigenous peoples. Emma, a smaller Chihuahuan Raven, frequented the airspace of Querencia Hill. When I acknowledged this, and reached out to her, she responded. She and her shy-boy mate, Noam (Chomsky), began to visit a feeding stone every morning. While Noam was all about food, She would land in the branches of the Velvet Mesquite and talk to me. She followed me on my morning walks. She landed near by and held witness to fire and drum circles. And one day when I fell hard and let out a pained scream, she came flying to me, circling with her raucous alert call, to let ears know something was very wrong. She did not stop until I stood upright.

I have observed ravens for decades; they figure large in my writings. Emma, however, compelled me to study in depth and transformed me into a full-fledged ravenphile. I read books and articles; I consulted my friend, author John Nichols who has spent hours watching them in the Sangre de Cristo high country. In the throes of a changed, pandemic world, Emma was the most fervent of omens, a hope-full, wild spirit. So how was it, on April first, while happily feeding and watering abundant songbirds and quail, I turned my head at the moment she hit a guywire at full speed, followed by a sickening vibration, as she fell to the ground.  

I screamed NO, grabbed gloves, a towel and ran-stumbled across rocky grass. I rolled under a rusty, five-strand barbedwire fence to reach her at the base of the powerpole. But there was no saving. No rescue. Her broken neck wobbled at the apex of her queenly ebony wings.  

Dirt-covered and dazed, I gathered her up and walked home. I lit a candle then smudged and prayed over her, as Hobo and Dulce, her buddies, looked on. Then I laid her under a tree to let nature take its course. Burial was out of the question for this Matriarch of the Sky. I turned from her body and heard Noam's faint Quork  Quork  Quork  Quork. He was perched on a mesquite snag on a distant ridge, calling for her. Sacred Baboquivari Peak was his backdrop.

One hour passed, then two. He lifted off and flew over her resting place as the sky filled with ravens from every direction. Where did they come from? As long as Noam and Emma were on the land there were no interlopers. The hilltop adjacent to Emma's body was eventually coated with reserved, quiet ravens, forsaking their usual safe, limbed perches. I was witness to a wake. They mingled for over an hour and then as they had arrived, they dispersed in all directions.

Quork. Quork. Quork. Quork.    

Noam's low-toned call reverberated from the far-away mesquite for days. He called across the hills in various octaves, beseeching an answer never to come. It is good she died so quickly, said my friend. Yes. I guess so. If there was any good in this. For the moment, I couldn't fathom how it happened that She flew into the support wire angling down from the pole. This was familiar territory. She was following Noam across the sky, with joyful calls. Was there some strange shift in the magnetic field? Did shadows deceive her? 

Noam's four notes echoed across the land; forever part of the wildscape. It took two weeks for him to return to the close-in trees where he and Emma allopreened and cooed. His tail feathers were askew, my guess from some territorial challenges from outlying ravens. This made him easy to identify, however. A small comfort as I sought answers to Emma's joyous arrival and kinship; her torturous departure. To someone who ardently believed there were no accidents, this had shaken my core. I wondered if he associated me with her death? If he knew I, too, was immobilized by mourning. Ravens brains, twice the size of the crow, are capable of amazing discernment. 

Coyote yaps and vulture circles ceased. I walked to her body. All organs and flesh were gone. A wing and her noble beak remained. Scattered feathers dotted the hill like newly-sprouted grass. Noam's shadow burst across the land, a haunting darkness cast from the sky, it tipped and passed through trees, across buildings. A reminder that he had not given up hope that she would return to their favorite limb to coo and preen; to reoccupy the airspace that was solely theirs. We were clearly in this together. That evening I stepped outside onto the deck as Noam approached across the hills to the north. When straight above, he tucked his wings, dove straight down and curved upward again, a quick spirit-charging dance, as if to reassure me, magic remains. 

Ravens mate for life, but will sometimes form a new bond if the one left behind is young. Noam appeared with another raven within a couple of months. She was uber shy; would do the nervous hop-hop on the ground many feet from the feeding stone, something strutting Emma would never do. I am thrilled to see them. I talk to them. Leave them the occasional chicken carcass or boiled egg. I call her Rosa. Rosa Luxemburg. They take flight when I near, however, in contrast to the close-up spirit-bond held by Emma and myself. Her enchanted presence. The clucks. The outstretched, ruffed neck, knocking sounds and gurgles, usually reserved for a mate, to say,  I'm a powerful female. To that I add: We are kin

This I know. I will never see that rare, white eyelid lower over her glassy eye again, a symbol of affection. Her most of the 80-some calls in a raven repertoire will remain a mystery. Her presence that defined this land and began to define me, in a world of diminishing definitions, is gone.

I, the witness, with no clue where this mourning path leads. For certain, it continues.



Emma and a White-winged Dove


Her Morning Arrival


In Her Ocotillo World


Love and Care