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

Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Hijacked

 


Solstice. Sol. Sistare. Latin root words that denote when the sun stands still. On last year's longest day I celebrated with a fire, drum circle, laughs and stories with dear women friends. The first day of summer marked the beginning of the third wettest monsoon season on record. Eighteen precious, wet inches fell upon Querencia Hill. The land turned excitedly verdant until September, then drought returned. Drought, in fact, became the metaphor for my pandemic reality, as written words dried up and ambition withered. Weird health phenomena sprouted anew from a body that had never let me down, except for the couple of times when I pushed the limits and broke an elbow bone while rock climbing; a leg and ankle while mountain biking. Suddenly, my life was structured around doctor's appointments, not writing schedules, readings, signings and public events. Even live music and dancing shriveled away. Looking back, I had reached my pandemic limit. That second year was harder than the tangled trails of the first, which I had assumed were a novel inconvenience. Deaths continued to rise, new variants birthed, the US hit a million dead, the world writhed. The pandemic became a permanent reality in the second year, as I numbed to the new existence. No travel. No seasonal park ranger position.  

I stared at the television screen for more hours than my previous seventy years combined. I logged more movies on Netflix and HBO Max (thank you Roku stick, another learning curve). I watched more television news than EVer. I did not, however, become part of the Zoom culture. To date, I've only logged into three recent zoom talks of an anthropological/ nature. I have no idea where resistance to zoom resided. I mean, what's the difference, really, between television and laptops screens? 

As authors I admire continued to write and publish, others resembled me, with no where to put the scope of the new, deadly reality, no way to process and regurgitate the darkness into words. The wild of Querencia Hill, the source of my strength and solace, took on an added layer of dread. The pandemic, after all, did not happen in a vacuum. It was part of a larger, climate-changed world, a world enveloped in the sixth mass extinction, the human-produced destruction of eons of evolution. 

Writers are empaths. It is our poetic necessity to feel. To intuit. To take what we witness into our cells, send it flowing through the bloodstream to our beating heart, inspire and breathe impressions through our lungs, down our arms into our fingers that hold a pen that scratches ink to paper. To not fulfill this force majeure results in the most serious form of constipation. Soul constraint. Spirit hardening. As the shit hit the fan in the outside world, it backed up internally in a gangrenous procession. My brain stopped finding words. I put on weight. My enthusiasm took a powder. It's as if two years erased my passion-studded life. My muse had been hijacked. 

The only way out was to write. 

It is summer solstice night. The thunderous sky has opened and water floods the streets, a torrent of wet with the promise of new life. This, as I type these words and the dam breaks on my writing drought. There is so much to say; to distill. Can I push against the walls of grief and squeeze toward the muse? She is there, I know. Thru the tears. The memories. Leaning into hope, if only for a breath.  







Friday, August 27, 2021

Chubasco's Magic Shit Show


A dream directed me here. Serengeti landscape kept me here. 

I was preparing to depart Washington State when a dream awakened me with a snapshot image of an unfamiliar crag jutting into the air. The image returned in two more dreams, tickled my subconscious as I drove southeast, Arizona-bound. I had just gassed up in Tucson, headed to Patagonia for the winter, or so I thought. I was breezing down I-19 when that rock appeared out my driver's side window. Not one to ignore omens, I took the next exit and turned onto Arivaca Road. It only went in one direction: west. A ribbon of highway weaved over hilltops, around curves and into dips across dry arroyos, following the contours of the Sonoran desert hills. Long grasses and mesquite thorn bush reached in every direction. It was as Serengeti-like as possible, short of returning to the African plains. I pulled the truck and trailer to the side of the road, jumped out and stretched into the expanse. My eyes scanned the hills, half expecting a lanky giraffe to lope over the hills. 

I am on my seventh year in Arivaca-land. Five of that was half year, wintertime stints whereupon I  headed north for Park Ranger seasonal positions. The past year and a half, since covid, I have remained year around on the ten acres I call Querencia Hill. Querencia, Spanish for safe place; a place where one can be their authentic self. Authentic self? -- my first instruction to visitors is to pee anywhere, the desert needs it. This place continues to parallel Africa. Pronghorn, closely related to giraffes given their leg structure, grace the Buenos Aires Refuge hillsides. There is a rainy season called the monsoons, and like the Serengeti, it explodes the tawny landscape into green. Waterholes fill, including my very large, horseshoe-shaped pond. The unusual abounds. Roseate Spoonbills were recently spotted at Aguirre Lake. No hippos have taken up residence in my pond, but it is possible a jaguar could drink from water's edge.  

Roseate Spoonbills at Aguirre Lake 



And then, there's these ... the crazy, head-turning, miracle worker beetles rolling ... shit.



How DO they do it? Look at that perfect ball! 

I'd seen these dung-rollers in Tanzania and Zimbabwe. I honestly didn't pay much attention while in the company of elephants, cheetahs, klipspringers, zebra, wildebeest, ostrich, well you get the idea. But when recently riding my e-bike across the Sonoran hills I spotted a ball of cow poop rolling across the asphalt road. I braked and turned around. Could it BE? 

So, why DID the dung beetle cross the road? And, how? I was shocked to see that they direct their ball with their rear legs, standing on their front ones. I thought they worked with gravity because they were using the curve in the road in their favor, but then I witnessed one reach the opposite side of the road, only to hit the white line and nope. He didn't like it. He changed direction and headed up hill. Another had no problem with the white line, rolled his ball across and onto the ground. 


As to why? These beetles use their ball of dung to nest, feed and raise their young. The "roller" is the world's strongest insect, observed pushing 1,141 times its own bodyweight. That's equivalent to "an average human hauling six double decker buses full of people." Their journey is fraught with risks. Besides being squished, the male roller may come under attack by another male to steal his ball. (Dung ball theory of history, anyone?) Once he gets rolling, a female joins him, crawls upon the ball and rides along. Remarkably, the dung beetle uses the Milky Way to orient and find his way. 

To witness a dung beetle is to see a being who has been around for eons. They wrangled dinosaur dung (their remains found in coprolites, fossilized dinosaur dung) and images of the Scarab beetle are found throughout Egyptian iconography. They believed the Scarab's ball of dung a representation of the sun traveling through the sky, carrying new life.  



The chubascos are full on. Rains began late June and continue. It is not the normal spotty storms laced with scenic lightning and rolling thunder. This year the storms are angry. Thunder rocks the land, lightning bolts blast the hilltops. Thankfully, I have received fifteen inches of rain on Querencia Hill. The pond is full. Spadefoot toads sing the night awake.  



In between the squalls a small beetle pushes a large, round ball of waste across a road. Guided by the Milky Way, his ball guarantees the next generation. Or as the Egyptians believed, the genesis of new life. I inhale the wildness of these hills; ferret out the metaphors. It is a potent realization that a small beetle has evolved for eons as thousands of butterflies flutter through the lush green grasslands. The covid Delta variant spreads like fire across the globe, and here I am, in the dizzying cosmos, under the brightest Milky Way I have ever seen. I ponder excrement and birth, my journey to this Serengeti land led by a dream of an elephant head, and the necessity to roll shit through rocky terrain into verdant hope-filled fields.