Breathe

Mysterious new things move
to the cadence of nature’s drum,
the cry of destruction loudly rings;
Aloha aina, care for the land,
it matters not where we choose
to root ourselves, the mandate
is the same: we must return
to the Garden, discover innocence 
lost when simple was subsumed
by life so complex that some days
I wonder how long I can manage it,
threads frayed, threatening to unravel;

Yet when I walk out into messy,
immerse my hands in soil, work
at amending what has been stripped
by too many years of consumption
without consideration, my spirit calms,
settles into what is there in front of me,
head not spiraling out into orbit, here.
And now, now, now;

This is what we are given, this moment,
breathing in, then out, listen to the
heartbeat of nature; observe
with a raptor’s eyes all that surrounds,
notice the little things, the seemingly
unimportant, purpose-less details
in a world fixed on production,
and learn; for we might well need
that sort of knowledge in the days
to come.

Photo taken on our ranch. This Redtail Hawk watches over us,
observes everything we do. Pretty cool.

Deep

I read him Mary Oliver’s luminous words
in bed at night, perceptions written nearer
her end, and yes, there is sadness, his eyes
well uncomfortably, who wouldn’t turn away
(were it even possible) from the degradation
of nature loved with the whole of our hearts;

The loons on Goose Pond, circling around us
with crimson eyes, echoes of their haunting
cries tattooed into memory, early morning
and dusk, nine chicks that year and two adults
and one would be hard pressed today to hear
a single pair if lucky, human encroachment
into nesting areas, refusal to admit error
in bulldozing sacred spaces for profit,
filling wetlands, giant killer bees building,
harmony absent, drones taking over the hive,
and what are we, if not complicit?
None are blameless;

It seems a lifetime ago, smoke cannot pour itself
back down the chimney, and opportunity lies
in discovering wonders of a pine forest far
from lake or ocean. I must ponder more deeply
the meaning of water.

Photo taken in Kohala, Hawaii

River Thoughts

The river thunders, to no applause
in particular; rolls along, rippling
and eddying without thought
or expectation of feedback,
though I can’t help but think
all of nature thrives under
an appreciative gaze;

We once watched endangered
river otters cavorting in plain sight
just under the bridge of a much
larger river, we told no one;
fishermen dislike that they are forced
to share with these sleek creatures
we thought dolphins, when first
they caught our eyes,
out of context, having come
from Hawaii only recently;

Our smaller Vallecitos river is
magnificent in its own right,
rushing lifeblood to this struggling
ranching community, altitude
too high to receive much precipitation
in liquid form, preferring the snows
of winter, and those have been
in shortfall for years now, water levels
everywhere having dropped
precipitously, and with the decline
comes the invariable unrest
in people dependent on the bounty
of the land;

And so this rainy day is particularly
welcomed while the dampness
is in marked contrast to the bone dry
of the region, and as a fire blazes
in the hearth, ranch dogs lie fidgety
like grammar school children forced
inside for recess in inclement weather.

Mr. Peanut awaits what’s next

Squirrely

My stomach lurches and rises, falls
into complacency as I ponder events
of the morning, neighbors meeting
and greeting, my outward self effusive
whilst my insides struggle with parity,
and such is this life of introversion;

I yearn for the human experience,
all of it, and I constantly question
how to fit into the whole of it,
how others seem to manage,
socialization being a complication
long dealt with by a trained persona,
treasured heart-to-heart connections
all too rare and fleeting;

Still, I surely know my place is ever
to understand, to experience, integrate
an unforced and unconditional
acceptance, like or dislike stationed
alongside a badly needed unity
in this fractured human existence;

And then there are the squirrels,
my love of all creatures, even unto
feeling more akin to them than
to my own species, and yet
yesterday, one of these fat rodents
breached the garden wall, slipped
between wood and wire, destroying
newly sprouted seedlings, eating them
down to the roots, dahlia stripped
of too many leaves to survive, flowers
and lettuce decimated;

And I pondered guns and obliteration
and dens and tiny ones underground,
awaiting the return of an imagined parent,
and I simply do not know some days
who I am and what I represent at the core,
if not the celebration of all life, just
as the neighbors mentioned above offer
a live trap, options to relocate, a solution
not dreamt of at first, contributing
to the juxtaposition of confusion
and immense gratitude I feel nearly
every day for my fellow imperfect,
evolving human beings.

I know, it’s a chipmunk and not a squirrel. S/he is not the culprit spoken of ;

Exposed

Things will never be what they once were, yet haven’t these pandemic times been a needed shakedown of colossal proportions? A viral reminder that sameness, routine, even the time of a ticking clock are all human constructs, illusions we have gathered around us, bright individuated cloaks of security; still there is no comfort in the thin shrouds in which we now find ourselves clad, shivering in our newfound quasi-nakedness, and suddenly the formerly faceless man or woman pandering on the street corner seems eerily familiar;

Springtime in New Mexico is a blustery affair, Stellar Jays flying sideways, Black Vultures swept up high, then low on colliding thermals, protection sought in tall Ponderosas, time to gather what acumen they possess in order to move on, survival keeping them close to Mother Nature’s bones, and the main difference between those avians and us is that they sense their bit of earth and range within the scheme of it, there is no desire for more, nor longing for what might have been;

Hubris is the sole bane of the human species, and if Covid has served us well, it has been to level the playing field, teach us in a kinesthetic way the folly of self importance, demonstrating under a magnifying glass how alike we are to the man under the cop’s knee, unto the fears of the cop himself; shaking us down and down until we can see all others within our own psyches, and it is only then that we glimpse how akin we are to what’s outside the bubble of comfort and even how interdependent we are with all of it; a tiny virus has randomly crossed racial barriers, oceans, continents and economic strata to reach into the soul of things and root out our deepest fears, and if we remain strong, grounded and focused, the winds of change sure to blow many off-course cannot penetrate even the sparsest of garments;

And so we wait, cultivating patience where before it may have been lacking; we live, laugh, love and grieve with those we have come to know far better in this pause of shut-down, unmasked in the face of a new intimacy while we breathe in the gift of life, feeling gratitude for all we have been given; then it’s back to the Garden, where we get our hands dirty as we mindfully match pace now with nature’s rhythms, the inevitable awakening into a season of buds and bright blossoms; and eventually, in harmony now with All That Is, perceived Serpents included, we may finally reap the long-awaited harvest.

Acequias, or irrigation ditches, were hand dug all through New Mexico by the conquering Spaniards. Beginning in the 1600’s up until present day, these have been used to irrigate fields in this dry country.

Gifts from The Middle of Nowhere

I had a poem queued up to post; it has been awhile and I am just now getting back to writing after months of settling into our new digs. And then things transpired that I wanted to share with you, dear readers. We bought this ranch last July in the midst of Covid, and still I wonder what our purpose might be in having been strongly guided here, far from our island home.

We are, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere like never before. Since arriving to the sounds of coyotes circling the house at dusk, elk leaving signs they had visited near our door, red tail hawks circling and flying, seeming to observe all we do, inside and out …

Then there was that time we sat in the upstairs bedroom, gazing out over the vast forests and fields, when a squirrel hopped out of the stately red cedar where we hang our bird feeders, onto the roof, only to have a hawk (The Hawk as she has come to be known) swoop down, scoop it up, stare intently at us on the other side of the window, and fly away, our mouths literally agape with wonder. It might seem a challenging place to ‘make a living,’ but most assuredly, this is The place to make a life for ourselves. For nature lovers like us, this high desert proves to be filled with undisputed wonder.

Shortly after arriving, walking up into the forest I spied a tiny horned toad that was easy to grasp and hold in the palm of my hand. Sauntering down into the fields months later, I scooped up not one, but two snake skins, one big, one small like mother and baby, mom showing junior how to slither out of his skin. In the midst of clearing brush, a huge older red tail hawk’s nest obviated itself in the midst of the dense, thorny growth. And through it all, there was The Hawk, circling and calling, circling and observing the goings-on on what is clearly her home turf. Yesterday she alighted in a nearby Ponderosa, invisible but keeeer-ing, all the same. I whistled back in imitation. She called again. I whistled. Chris was nearby, and said it was a call he never heard her use before. To my mind, she was clearly communicating for the sheer fun of it. Then there was the flicker at the feeder, and flicker feathers I find, here and there.

A couple of weeks ago, we were down clearing thorny scrub from the acequia (irrigation ditch the Spaniards dug by hand back in the 17th century; most are still in use today), when a herd of red cows with their babies materialized to watch us through the neighbor’s fence. I slowly walked up to them, cooing and cajoling, and one in particular, Number 50 as her ear tag displayed, seemed most curious and brave. She was skittish at first, but soon relaxed into chewing her cud. Days later whilst walking back uphill from the neighbor’s, I spied a red cow in our own fenced field. With me walking and Chris in the truck, we gently rounded her up and back into her own pasture, where her baby awaited to nudge and bump some milk from a slackening udder. All the time, her eyes were on us. I joked with Chris, saying she must have been beaming into our brains, ‘I need a break from this little brat!’ As we repaired the neighbor’s rugged fence section placed across the ditch, she wandered over to inspect. First she tried to broach it with her head, and when that didn’t work, she leaned her considerably bulk into it, to no avail. We thought that was that.

Yet this morning, we awoke not to the usual bird song, but to a protracted ‘mooooo,‘ coming from just outside the window. She seemed to have sensed our regard, for she turned on her heels and slowly made her way across seven acres of field, back to the herd. When we went to inspect our fence line repairs, nothing seemed amiss. But one could see how she had found a corner of the ditch fence portion and somehow tucked under it. Both ways. After further repairs, we’ll see what awaits us tomorrow morning. But frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised to rise and see her munching outside our window, once again.

Where the elk left their gifts.
Elk far in the distance.
The acequia – the cows materialized at the end of this stretch.
Elk – again, far away in the neighboring field.
Flicker at the feeder.
Baby ‘horny toad.’

Neap

The snow pulls free from the pines,
islands of bare ground begin surfacing,
a young fox appears at the bird feeder,
huge flocks of wild turkeys gather
in the field below, males fanning tails
out, ever aware, movement, sound
causing them to rise into crisp blue air,
straining to gain altitude, then gone
up and over the rocky hill where elk
traverse and wildcats hunker down
in their stony caves;

Ice cracks and breaks and the river flows
once again, days warm and thaw, nights
freeze over, mindful walking essential
in this seasonal landscape as we cull
the dead and down for firewood, pile
limbs into giant gumdrop structures,
ready for tomorrow’s torch;

These things I have noticed
since moving here seven months ago,
and what I have learned is to
find the rhythm, meet the day, open
to untroubled possibilities alongside
others simply living out our days
in circadian heartbeats, while the fate
of humanity hangs in the balance
of a dying Order gasping like fish cast
high upon sandy shoals,
waiting for the smallest of neap tides
to once again turn in its favor.

Hairball

Driving to the post office two miles
down the road, a camouflaged coyote sits,
watching traffic go by, head swiveling
to and fro, ears perking up when I spot her,
and we think we speak different languages;

Yesterday as I approached our mountain home,
a female elk stood in the center of the road
she was crossing, long enough to inspect the car,
the occupant, who knows, I am not a fan
of anthropomorphisms, and yet I did take note;

It is in nature I feel most at home; still, the danger
during these pandemic times is that I might
once again forget I am part of the human race,
having learned the importance of community
only recently in this long life;

I think I am alone with these strangling feelings,
I think I am free inside myself and yet,
during yesterday’s drive, zoning out as the miles
ticked by, I felt an orb of release, like coughing
up a hairball, and it was solid as the golf balls
we kids used to crack open, only to discover miles
of something like rubber bands,
as unlike the ball’s shiny dimpled exterior
as guts are to the face we show the world;

And so these inner fibers, once released by inside
or outside forces stretch and rebound, extend out
and return to me, as they have done, year upon year,
remaining unchanged unless, that is, I alter
something perceived, an old pattern or habit, thus
unsticking the bonds that solidify them within.

©Bela Johnson 2021

Instinctual

Winding down the mountain road,
layers obviate themselves; Ponderosas
and then cottonwoods and aspens
on either side, the Vallecitos River
winding along now-fallow fields, rolled
or baled hay stacked near livestock,
snow-capped peaks in the distance,
mountains beyond mountains, visible
as far north as Colorado;

Oversized ravens are ubiquitous here,
flapping indigo-tinged ebony wings,
cruising on thermals or alighting
in treetops, their croaking voices
telegraphing location or simply
sounding off for the sheer joy of it;
they live and die, never having seen
the ocean;

Today what caught the eye was one
of these beauties sailing along,
landing gear fully extended, close
but not near enough to its intended
perch in the aspen; strangely reminiscent
of an osprey descending onto
oblivious prey, one minute swimming
along and the next, dinner;

And so we live, not knowing when
or where things will change, top
of the food chain, no swooping
pterodactyl wings slicing the crisp,
blue air above, driving fear deep
into animal feet seeking safety
in the ground of what we feel.

 

One Equal To All

I stand alone, silhouetted
by the dawn, queen of the mountain,
the hill or nothing at all,
tiny speck on a speck of stardust,
endlessly orbiting in a vast,
wide universe, wondering
(do trees and coyotes wonder?),
waiting, I suppose, to rejoin
the human race
after too much isolation,
and where are the invitations?
Hidden, as well they might be,
behind colorful masks
and color-less fears;

Pandemic bringing all of us
into parity with those sequestered
by choice, yet even the monks
of Tibet have their community;
and what, if anything,
have I drawn from an experience
I did not volunteer for?

Me, me, me. The one who scoffs
at self importance in others.
Other.
Self.
Same.

That’s the takeaway.