Saturday, June 13, 2020

Madera Canyon: Wild Salvation

Into the Santa Rita Mountains I go ... 

Oh Lordy, it was good to be back! It had been a couple years since I'd been in Madera Canyon. The last time, in fact, had been with Carole. We returned for a day hike along the lush sycamore-lined stream, one of many visits we shared to this land frequented by the jaguar. It was also the locale of Hope's first backpack some forty years ago. Yep, there were many memories in the Santa Rita mountains. This visit was spurred by June's triple digit heat and a burning desire to connect with some very special birds. I set my alarm for 5:00 a.m. but awoke at 4:00. I arrived the canyon at 6:30. Primo bird time. I expected to get a good dose of the 250 recorded species.

I parked in front of the small lodge to await my friend Judith, and headed for their natural viewing area replete with bird feeders. Within minutes I learned that the very rare Berylline Hummingbird had been spotted, and was showing up about every twenty minutes at a feeder to drink. I would attempt to see it several times before my visit ended, but would I be successful?

Judith arrived and we headed upcanyon to see the Sulfur-bellied Flycatchers, said to be nesting in an old telephone pole not far from the road. I heard them before I saw them ... sounded like the squeaking of a bunch of dog toys. They were remarkable! That yellow chest and rusty tail ... gorgeous birds. And a new sighting for me. Yahoo!

The bird I longed to see the most, however, was the Elegant Trogon. A Mexican bird, S. Arizona is its northernmost range, and it's rare. It has been frequenting this canyon, however, for many years. I have spotted them in the Huachuca Mountains, Cave Creek near Portal, Sycamore Canyon and Mexico. I wanted to share some time with one here, today.

Miraculously, I was awarded within minutes. A female was spotted in an oak tree not far from the road. Furthermore, I'd never seen a female before ... always the colorful males. She perched in their unmistakable way, with rump out and tail tucked inward. A picture of peace.

Her male, meanwhile, called from the thick Sycamore canopy. I was able to catch this shot at a distance. I would hear him for the next few hours, but rarely got a glimpse.

Trogons nest in tree cavities. After years of trying to see these elusive birds, I was gobsmacked to see this pair nesting in the top of an old telephone pole right on the road! They take turns on the nest so we waited for an hour for the exchange. At one point Momma came out of the hole to chase away a woodpecker, but she returned inside and did not exchange places with the guy who must have been having too much fun in the forest.

Momma Trogon returning to her brood

Two hours of Trogon waiting was enough.
We donned our covid masks and returned to the popular hummer feeders to see if that Berylline was around. The sun and scenes were irresistible. If you want an idea of why the Magnificent is so named, check out the difference in sizes of this male Magnificent and an Anna's hummer at the same feeder.

Judith and I had one more stop to make, but before we departed, I ducked down to look into a bush where the Berylline was said to hang out. As I did so it flew up to a feeder and was promptly chased away by other hummers. We got a good look at her green body, nondescript face and and rufous wings, More than enough to call it a sighting. I couldn't help but feel sorry for her. Must be lonely to be the only one of your species in a world of feeders.

Down the road we went to a distant sycamore tree where a tiny Northern Pygmy Owl was nesting in a hole in tree. Normally this would be the highlight of a birding trip. On this day it was one more incredible moment. We didn't get to see the parents feeding but we did spy the baby peering out of the stunning white trunk.

I can not count all of the birds we saw this day. Bridaled Titmice, Hepatic Tanagers, Wrens, Arizona Woodpeckers were profuse and even an American Robin, rare for this area. His song lilted through the forest, taking me back to my Iowa childhood, hearing his riff through the humid haze as the sun rose. 

Two new bird sightings is a banner day and the Trogons were an uplifting gift. What counted the most, however, was the preciousness of this holy place and the many beings that call it home. The coatis, jaguar, ocelots, birds, lions, bears ... these wild spirits keep us sane. They offset human addiction to control and domestication. Their presence calls upon us to respect and protect them. To acknowledge our kinship.

I hope you can find a special place as the summer solstice approaches. Commune with those energies larger than we. May we join on June 20th, New Moon and solar eclipse, and give humble thanks for this hallowed planet. Love to you and all our relations. Be well ...

Jimson Weed

Moon Over Wrightston and Hopkins Telescope


One never feels alone in this canyon. The deep ravine speaks in many tongues.

For more on the cultural history of Madera (spanish for 'wood') follow this link:,road%20to%20haul%20the%20lumber.

Friday, May 8, 2020

The Ultimate Download

Day two.
She is gone.
Mind swirls with memories
calendars and journals at my side
I decipher scribbles of the final days
Carole dying into death 
the send off.

She had visited Arizona late March
days marked with unspoken words
like final and last
we stepped naked into a hot tub
gorged on banana creme pie
made our way up a hill
above Arivaca Lake
joined good friends to
drum the rise of the 
equinox full moon.

I photographed 
Carole with
daughters and granddaughters
we watched shadows pass
across the accordion pleats of sahuaros
from a Tucson back porch
she cheered daughter Laurel on
in the discovery of 
her first home. 

Carole's Kaslo return 
to her idyllic home was tough
tearful phone calls 
soon thereafter by
one I missed.
This voicemail --

Hey Honey, this is Carole. Give me a call.

I knew what this was.
I was about to hear
the hardest words of my life.
I returned her call.
It's time she said.
I can't keep food down and I'm having horrible days. 
I want you here. 

Her date with death was set:
May's New Moon
a week away.

I arrived under
the waning sliver moon
kissed her and sat at her side
she wasted no time
of course not
she had no time to waste
what are you doing about land?
She wanted me settled
seventeen years on the road was enough.
A recurring theme
her closing goal.

I found her alone 
the next morn
on the couch
in palpable pain
I smudged her 
with the white eagle tail feather 
I once brought
her from Alaska.
We sang an old favorite
We all come from the Goddess
and to her we shall return ...
I leaned toward her face
took her hand as we gazed
lifetimes deep  
into one another's eyes.
I began to shake.
Do you feel that I asked.
the energy transference?
It's like ...
you are downloading into me.

The ultimate download she answered.
Her words were barely discernible.

We sat spellbound 
until her eyes twinkled 
Well, I've taken care of my business 
she joked
I'm out of here ...
before you.

Ya, thanks a lot I said
this, our final
laugh together.

She wanted another song
one we sang so long ago
we all fly like eagles ... 
she was angelic

she said 
when the time came to die
she wanted someone at the door 
protecting the space:
Death is like a birth 
someone always shows up unexpectedly.

The old moon
was taking Carole with her
into the void
both of them
thinner and thinner
disappearing into darkness
to birth anew.

Spring Tucson Visit

Add Daughters, Grand-daughters and Maya 

Granddaughter Fun 

Monday, May 4, 2020

Dying into Death: Alive as Ever

5 a.m. with my
journal and strong-as-I-can-stand-it-coffee
pajama-clad in
her pajamas
the ones she tossed  me
when she opened the package to
discover eight nightgowns and pj's
she had ordered weeks ago.
It was two days before new moon.
Are you going to change every few hours? I joked.
She laughed
threw one set at me
and chose another for her final earth-bound moments
her deathbed outfit
to match her coral-painted toenails.

It is the one year anniversary of her death.
Cancer's fatal kidnap.
Flame flickers on my altar
sage smoke curls and wafts
carries my drumbeat
into the cosmos
mixes with memory and
the certainty that she is with me this morn.
I rarely drummed without her, afterall.

The poignancy of our final hours
is seared within --
It's just my luck this new moon is late in the day
she sighed.
I smiled. Reminded her
that moon's birth time once forced me
to be married at 5:30 a.m.
She cast me a shoulda-slept-in-grin.
Come help me in the bathroom she said.
An honor.

we gathered around her
twelve moons ago --
husband, soul-sister, older daughter, younger daughter --
stuck like glue
there was no place else to be
except in her final waking presence
rendered complete by her admonition
stop sitting there staring at me 
with laughter-soaked tears
our tether was cutting us loose.

So I sat at her feet, rubbing and humming,
watched the woman who lived for spring
and towers of seed catalogues
raise her eyes and gaze to the sky
as if to discern her personal portal.
Bring me some dandelions she said
eschewing the explosion of cultivated blooms
in her garden beneath the window.

I cleaned and prepared her altar mid-day --
sage stick, Bald Eagle feather, Venus of Willendorf
Green Tara at the center
open eyes on Her palms
bottoms of the feet
and center of Her forehead
the focal point of Carole's morning meditation
tucked between morphine and body's decay. 
The Tarot death card sat upright in a shell.
We agreed:  it was time for it to go.

Linear time tagged Luna.
Or was it the other way around?
The moon was about to birth
our dying mid-wife was called to witness.

We final four encircled the bed
Time to smudge, Christina
cleansing smoke for the primal brain
sent oer Carole, dr-friend, daughters, husband
accompanied by the near-by heartbeat of drums
the sister's journey song.

IV drip prepared
dr speaks
the legal necessity
reserved for those
with no promise
of an earthly
healthy tomorrow

you can 
the lethal process
at any time
do you know what you are about to do?
Carole's ultimate struggle
to keep morphine balanced
with lucidity
an orchestration of perfection
so she could answer
a resounding

A daughter at each foot.
Husband and Soul-sister at each shoulder
one by one
she looked into our eyes

I love you.
I love you.
I love you.
My Perfect Love

the silent slip
into death


Saturday, March 21, 2020

Land-love and Covid-19

The phone call came at exactly 1:00 p.m. No accident. One, in numerology stands for new beginnings. Every zero after exaggerates its potency. The title has been transferred, said the voice on the other end. Congratulations. Tears streamed down my face. It was happening. After almost twenty years, I was a landowner again.

All the signs and omens portended this. Astrological messages were clear, with four to six planets in my 4th house of home, at any given time. I had been looking for land for three years but nothing had coalesced. I knew the right deals flow. Spirit puts me where she wants me.

Synchronicity. I was scanning facebook and noticed a woman's post. She remarked how much she liked Arivaca and how she wanted to return and look for land. Another woman chimed in, I have ten acres for sale. Bingo! It was ten acres I knew, in a location I loved. Three interested friends had attempted to contact her the year before and their calls weren't returned.

I contacted the seller immediately. We walked the land four days later and shook on a deal. It was that fast.

Synchronicity two was the method of purchase. Before she died, Carole made me promise that I would purchase land. Twenty years on the road was enough, she said. She was not wishy-washy. She left instructions for raising funds and I promised her I would follow them when the time came. Through various means I was able to purchase the land without pulling a Thelma and Louise. I felt Carole's hand in the endeavor every step of the way, as the support of the universe followed suit. She was a pro at manifesting.

Synchronicity three was a medical procedure scheduled the week of closing: photodynamic therapy. It involved an intense light that initiated a deep burn to rid my face of cancerous cells. I happened to call the drs. office the week before the procedure to check on cancellations. It was a cold, rainy day; a cancellation had just come through. I went in that day. The aftereffects were intense pain, puffer-fish swelling and light sensitivity. Then, peeling. Sheets of thin skin shed in pieces, akin to a snake, except I couldn't crawl out of it. If I had had the procedure as scheduled, the day before closing, it would have been intolerable.

Synchronicity four was the closing date. March 20th was chosen at random. Days later I was checking my astrological calendar and was utterly shocked to see March 20th had Mars and Jupiter in Capricorn in my home sector. Home action peaks to happiness. It was the perfect day to close. This day was to give me a taste of my future and the supportive milieu. It was all systems go. Heavens to Betsy!

Would all this, however, be enough to offset the pandemic pandemonium that was overtaking the world? A low grade nervousness overtook me. Within a few days the stock market fell to pre-2016 levels, towns were shuttered and people were quarantined as Covid-19 swept into people's lungs and rendered them breathless. The global scene was surreal and nothing was certain. I wanted to stay healthy. I wanted my loved ones, my community to stay healthy. I wanted to secure this land before who-knows-what-might-happen. 

Desert Chicory,  like huge snowflakes in grass.
It was a FSBO deal. We, seller and buyer, signed separately at the title company on March 19th, the first day of spring. I hightailed it home, ate some ice cream, called daughter Hope and collapsed exhausted into bed by 8:00 p.m. I awoke in a dream-like daze, strangely disconnected. Did this really happen? The process was six weeks start to finish. I returned to the land for validation and awakened to the thrill. The hills were awash in birdsong. Golden poppies and desert chicory joined hundreds of spring flowers in carpets of color.  I walked the thick grasslands and gazed beyond to Baboquivari's unobstructed view. Carole and I had trekked up to Baboquivari's Tohono O'odham emergence cave years before; it was a spiritual tether.

From the ocotillo forest to an elegant horseshoe pond, I could not believe my good fortune. Dulce waded into the pond for a drink as I visualized a meditation spot in the middle of the horseshoe, surrounded on three sides by water. This was real.

There are, of course, a healthy share of Arivaca stories that came with this place. I'll share them as time goes by. But for now the path is one of healing: ceremony to heal the land, as the land heals me and all who visit. The vision for this precious place is a haven where artists and writers create on behalf of our wounded Mother planet.

The first order of business is to cow-proof the property by fixing gates. Then, plod through county regs and electric company bureaucracy to bring in the electricity. The well is excellent, but I need power to run the pump. Who knows? In the time of Covid-19, perhaps a community garden is in the works. The land will tell me what she needs, and spirit will provide the resources and people-power to make it so.

I sit here typing, picking at the flaking skin on my face. The symbolism is not lost. Snakes have long been powerful Goddess symbols that shed their old life and emerged anew. One year ago this day, Carole and I drummed together on a bluff overlooking Arivaca Lake. Our final spring together before cancer took her away.

I am shedding my skin, The terror and excitement is palpable. She's watching, I know ... swirling the energy into spirals. Face it, she smiles. I am home.

The porch that will become my outdoor living area, extension of a half-built cinder block house.

The land has varied terrain, from the high Serengeti-like grasslands to park-like wide open areas.
 This is the driveway to the house..


With humble thanks to those who support this dream on various levels -- prayers, real estate advice, monetary gifts, jokes, a well-timed contact. Everything is energy. Now where did I put those 3 ml clean-up bags? Yep, I ordered 100. Bring your gloves and drop by any time! 

To the seller of the land, a wonder-woman if there ever was one, thank you for your unending commitment to preparing this land to pass on to me; for honoring the spirits of the land first and foremost. Divine intervention, indeed.

Friday, March 13, 2020

Travel as Spiritual Practice

The campfire crackles, sending flames into the dawn sky. Cream-laden espresso steams, a journal is by my side. This is the beginning of my day: the distant howl of a coyote as birds awaken. No traffic. No internet chatter. No daily news. I pick up my journal and begin to write.

Quiet and stillness are the essence of creating a space for the unknown to drop in, a central tenet of spiritual practice. Think of a womb, where germination takes place. This is where you want to be. One can create a womb of receptivity in many ways -- sitting meditation in a peaceful room, walking meditation in a park, cocooned in ones uninterrupted candlelit bedroom.

Travel, however, allows for its own gateway to the soul. Theres a reason monks and saints journeyed solo to the desert to seek direction and wisdom. Indigenous peoples continue to fast and seek vision in remote, wild places. Nature informs. Emptiness invites spirit. In the case of travel, the emptiness of leaving familiar habits behind in favor of unforeseen possibility.

              NOTE TO SELF: turn off phone ringer and text alerts. Your phone is now your emergency contact, not egos constant companion. Camera and GPS okay. The less the better.

Now, the journey. Picture yourself driving down the road. Who has not cranked up the radio and sung out loud? Clenched the steering wheel and rage-screamed? Sobbed out loud or yelled in joy? Our vehicle is a therapeutic bubble. Once behind the wheel we carry on imaginative conversations; put our everyday lives in the rearview mirror. It may take a few or a few hundred miles, but away it goes. 

Two lane highways are the best. They allow for a slower pace and follow the contour of the earth the hypnotic road takes over. We soft focus and take notice of the natural world. The distant waterfall. A field of purple lupine. A horse in the field, rump to the wind. An old prairie cemetery. It is easy to pull onto the shoulder, exit the vehicle and take a deep breath of crystalline air. We smell the arid desert; the damp pine forest. Our body chemistry begins to change as stress levels dissipate.

NOTE TO SELF: Travel light; leave the heavy baggage behind, i.e. drama, toxic relationships, whatever does not bring out the best in you.

The natural world, the real world, is the backdrop. What allows for spiritual revelation, however, is our nakedness. Naked because we have left our roles behind. We are no longer defined as mother, girlfriend, wife, waitress, real estate broker or pickleball pro the roles that defined and supported us are gone, rendered mute in a novel setting. We come face-to-face, spirit-to-spirit with our core and begin to ask, Who am I, outside of my roles?

If one seeks to integrate travel and spiritual practice I suggest the following:

·       Travel alone. There are no distractions, no chatter, and it allows optimum freedom to choose your route and stopping places.

·       Carry many maps. I prefer to park on public lands away from other people. Your GPS isn’t going to get you there. I carry a Benchmark Map book for every state I travel. The more detail, the better.

·       Tune into the senses: witness, smell, listen, touch.

·       Never, ever override intuition. If you feel uneasy or in danger, leave. If you sit by a lake and something doesn’t feel right, leave. Don’t analyze the feeling. If you hike a trail and feel uneasy, turn around. I once pulled into a rest area with my travel trailer prepared to spend the night. I turned off the motor, relieved to have found a pretty, treed spot. I sat quietly and began to feel edgy. Despite being exhausted I turned the key and continued up the road to a casino that offered free overnight parking. Not my preference, but it was there when I needed it. When I mentioned the rest area to the attendant, he looked me in the eyes and said, “Good you left. There was a murder there last night.” Our bodies and bones “know” before our brain registers.

·       Trust signs and omens; pay attention to dreams. They are a secret language. Note repeating themes. There are no coincidences. If a stranger at a gas station happens to mention a hot spring nestled into sand dunes, follow up! There may be something very special there for you.

·       Travel without an itinerary to allow for spontaneity. A necessity for signs and omens. Even if you have a destination in mind, say, a favorite camping spot, try to keep a flexible travel schedule.

·       Keep a journal and write in it every day. Do not edit. Let your inner feelings and thoughts flow onto paper. Pen to paper is multi-sensory. It takes you into the right side of your brain. This is one of the benefits of journaling as opposed to using a laptop which lights up the left, linear side of the brain, and removes you further from emotion.

·       Discover the time of day when you most connect with your muse; kiss the crepuscular. Early morning is my most creative time of day, when I am most receptive to messages and insights from other realms. Find yours.

·       Find a private sitting spot and return every day. Witness nature. You will be amazed. The longer you are there the more wildlife will trust you and come forth. My sitting spots are usually under trees. Trees actually produce a chemical that lowers blood pressure and changes body chemistry. Buddha and his sacred tree shared many secrets. Buddha knew that smiles change body chemistry.

You can personalize these points in myriad ways. To the spiritual traveler, however, all roads lead to the same place -- the pursuit of awe, that all-encompassing experience that lifts one from our little ego selves and into contact with spirit, that which is beyond and unexplainable.

NOTE TO SELF: Trust the unfolding.

Old growth near the River Styx in Tasmania  


Lots of new in my life and it includes my website. Take a look! Womad slide shows, videos, books and articles. There's also a surprise around the corner. Stay tuned!

Sandy Penny, my web creator!