Midwinter

The fox in her den does not involve herself
in human games, world domination,
current events certain humans consider
important, no, her expert nose is not trained
on our inane ramblings, mental meanderings,
baseless strivings, she is unconcerned
with naught but survival, an animal as are we,
but closer to the source, to the ground
of the earth, feeling the wafting breeze
as it blows through her thick fur,
observing now the stars rising overhead
signaling a time void of human presence
in her domain, nearly safe to venture out
and she, as so many other wild things,
seems resigned to being a creature of night;

And then there is coyote, true to her pack,
protecting her young as do most feral things,
pads along silent and unnoticed until prompted
to express those eerie sounds which cause humans
to believe there are far more in the tribe
than might be; despised by ranchers
who will shoot on sight, coyotes are hunters
by day and howlers by night;

Yet on the level of little things, the Stellar Jays
shake their coiffed heads and move in quick spurts,
whether to discourage possible predators
or simply because they move this way (and who
among us can know) while the magpies double up
on the cedar boughs this morning back to back,
for it is cold near to zero, and the juncos look
especially fat, though it is only that they are fluffed
out for maximum insulation, and they all flock
to the feeder we keep full during the worst of winter,
though they would likely not all die off if we ceased
to feed them, yet the rich mix we blend by hand
helps them survive and thrive until breeding season,
boosting their numbers appreciably, as can be noted
from season to season;

Still you may wonder how we live this far from town,
up in the forest and away from the madness of city life,
yet it is what we know, and how we are able to exist
amidst the changes and fluctuations of climate
and the human response to the opportunity to evolve
beyond a materialistic focus in these troubled times.

junco

coyote

Stellar Jay

Nutshells Notwithstanding

I could tell you a version of my life
that would be intriguing, but would it be
true? In just under seven decades,
memories are viewed through
a prismatic lens of dazzling colors
or in black and white depending,
and I think it has perhaps always
been thus;

To retrieve fodder from far back requires
I plumb the mind of a child, dazzled
by a world of human behavior she never
understood, coming in, as she did,
with a certain clueless high mindedness
and expectations of how things
ought to be;

And I was not perfect, not by a hearty
stretch, I recall both mistreatment
from others but also a secret meanness
in myself, cavalier with my mother in ways
I would never be now, safe to make fun of her
then, taking for granted that unconditional
love and acceptance; I could do little wrong,
and I know now how fortunate I was;

So easy to find fault with those we know
love us without reservation, so facile to treat
our beloveds with praise or scorn, parsing
out kindness like breadcrumbs for hungry birds,
not realizing, until perhaps too late, the nature
of our own blunders, products of an overinflated
sense of self importance in a world starved
for kind words and deeds given simply now
from a heart filled with the sublime grace
and benevolent perceptions of others.

With my brothers in Yosemite, 1959

Mail Routes

These high desert roads make no sense,
twisting and turning and causing countless
fatalities here in the mountains and table lands
of northern New Mexico;

Old cow paths now make up the crazy
criss-cross roads in Boston, while what
used to be wagon tracks and Kit Carson’s pony
express routes here in the wild, wild West
became the asphalt roads of today, whether
or not they are practical, which so often
seems not the case;

In clear weather, this particular switchback
is safer than when iced over, but it’s blind/blind,
impossible to see what is coming due to the grade,
despite being posted 15 mph, and yet it is
one of those critical conveyances if one is
to arrive in the distant community of Taos;

Might as well slow down and enjoy the long
purple view, the Sangres and Picuris mountain
ranges converging, carving verdant valleys
accessible only by certain routes, and one is given
to wonder how these far-flung regions ever settled
in such remote places, and yet how could people
know what areas would eventually be centralized,
spreading into towns and cities, they were
simply indigenous, all of them, and some do
remain much that way;

Still, remote is how we, ourselves choose now
to live, across mesas and into the Tusas mountains,
despite only a tiny paved state highway bisecting
cattle-dotted valleys in this particular region,
conveying the traveler Up and up for some
twenty miles straight into a dead end
where Ponderosa forests harbor distant lakes,
which surely appeared as mirages to early explorers
and where rivers thunder or meander, depending
on the season, where elk roam and deer jump,
and mountain lions and black bears sequester safely
under rock faced cliffs, in crags or cracks,
high above and distant from access roads,
across impossible to traverse valleys
in which humans are less likely
to blunder in blindly
and scare themselves silly.

Burro with Sangre de Christo mountain range ~ bj 2022

Yearning

Somewhere there are sheets of blue ice
stitching up the last of the open water,
but I am not there, only memory serves
to dish up that young woman in her
new figure skates, striking out
over the frozen pond, what those living
in worlds of water call a small lake,
and Boom! the ice cracked,
widening its reach, not dropping her
into its frozen depths, rather simply
expanding its domain, as understanding
began to dawn in her bright mind the reach
and breadth of the natural world, and she
but a minuscule fraction of the dance;

Getting used to hearing those thunderous
reverberations took time, but time itself came
easily in those days, the world not so heavy
on her soul, experience not yet demonstrating
that what could be loved beyond measure
could likewise be transformed into searing pain,
even though it would take years to unravel
youthful confusion, that innocent open heart
unable to close down, giving herself away
then for fleeting feelings that were not genuine,
and so she bonded more fully with trees and stars,
the aurorae and giant granite boulders, hunkered
down in below freezing temperatures,
the grey wolf by her side, seeking to capture
a slice of that inky, star-pocked sky;

And springtime brought crackling ice,
as brilliant blue-white sunlight urged solid
into liquid once again, and when the loons
ululated their lilting cries, splitting open
early mornings defining daybreak, I knew
water had opened, as cycles renewed
themselves and freezing water shimmered
invitingly, the return of these seasonal
friends paddling along, nine babies trailing
behind, and I dove in, ears frozen to numb,
slashing out and out to greet them,
they nonplussed, ducking under repeatedly
to get a fix on this giant warm-blooded
fish in their midst, deducing no harm
to their offspring or to themselves,
and they looked me straight in the eyes,
theirs blazing scarlet in marked contrast
to brilliant black and white feathers,
yearning then to be nowhere else
but in their midst;

And you would think why did she leave
that Paradise, as highways widened
and encroached and algae blooms permeated
once-crystalline waters, bass floating dully
under rocks large as small dwellings, while
surrounding lakes burgeoned overfull
with what money bought and exploited;
still this yearning won’t stop, and my heart
returns to simpler times, in a world
seeming open and free.

Common Loon ~ credit: Shutterstock

Wonderland

Below zero, as indigo wings flap madly,
honing in on empty feeders, and we arise
with the wonder that any warm blooded
creature can survive, urged now to provision
small bellies dependent on habits that must
be sustained, having begun this particular dance
when we arrived over two years now;

And I wonder how they spend the long nights,
hunkered down, puffed out, clustered together
on piñon branches safer near the trunk,
alternately sleeping and chattering, keeping warm
enough, knowing to their tiny bones that this sort
of cold won’t last, merely waiting it out, patience
being beside the point to non-humans,
the natural world possessing its own rhythms,
sap drawing down into roots or rising,
as befits the season;

Casting eyes now into the clearing, withered grasses
replacing brilliantly arrayed wildflowers, prairie dogs
hunkered down in dens as red tail hawks cruise
and soar overhead, aircraft on reconnaissance,
spotting nothing of note on this day but the haze
from wood fires, wafting and settling into the valley;

This is deep winter on Turtle Island, the bluest air
of the high desert mountains of northern New Mexico
spreading wide and wider, opening apertures
to one’s thoughts dovetailed always to landscape,
breathing into yet never outward too far from here,
wherever that is, but close, close enough now to feel
the pulse emanating from this frozen crystalline
rock-strewn interstice amidst piñon and Ponderosa
forests blanketing soil which would not exist
if not for the tenacity of conifers.

wild turkeys in a snowy field ~ bj 2022

Forgiven

I could write about the tiny Arabian horse,
her pale matted coat grown to maximum
for the winter, nature knowing what her children
need toward the end of life, once luster
and beauty as only youth can confer; later,
stripped back to essentials, hip bones protruding
over swayed back, the preciousness
of her fragile locomotion, the gentle spirit;

Then there’s the big white Lab, black eyes
full of fathomless joy at our arrival,
departure, the smallest things as perhaps
only dogs appreciate in that canine way,
his considerable bulk leaned against my body
as I come closer, claiming me before his jouncy
friend and companion has the chance;

The world lost both within two days of late,
and I am left to ponder the transience of life
on this planet, how what seems unfair is simply
what is, the twisted gnarly trunk of the cedar,
twinned to the pine in youth, never able
to break free and take a form more pleasing,
the coupling of two cutting life short for both,
neither able to fully flourish;

And how are we so different? Where we choose
to invest our energy, how we support others with
or without their appreciation, leaning
into the wind or onto one another for support,
gazing at the landscape around us with wondering
eyes, taking for granted our singular human capacity
to notice and imprint, categorizing each encounter
with emotional hues, pleasing or not, while these
unconditionally loving four leggeds greet us
afresh and anew, as if we have not cast
a single black mark on this wide, wide world.

I should add that the horse and the dog spoken of ‘belong’ to neighbors and friends who are near to to us. We watch one neighbor’s horses frolicking daily in the pasture directly downhill from our house, I just happened to see the white horse down one recent afternoon, and by evening, she was no longer in this world. The big white Lab ‘belongs’ to a friend in the community, and he met his end on the highway a day later. Our world seems less colorful without them.

Circle of Life

Nothing is ever a mistake, not even
what we toss into the maw of a waiting
donation bin, our acquisitions
and castoffs equally important to us
in their time;

And aren’t we a part of nature, bright
flowers blooming their prolific heads off
out there in the garden, then shedding
copious detritus once they’re done,
the difference of course being that
their kind of death contributes to life
and does not impinge on the health
of the planet by piling
up in mountains of landfill;

We also gather people to us in this life,
some challenge us, others delight often
in the same breath, unexpected, sometimes
unwanted, and our responding feelings
of joy or sorrow enrich this journey
into awareness, as deep as we are able
to dive in and emerge, again and again;

Mis-take, mis-step imply we have acted
in error somehow, and yet without stepping
on your toes in the proverbial dance, we might
not have met as fully and honestly as we did
and as we continue to do, day by day, year
after year, and now, some thirty years later,
we can laugh about what others thought
the boldest move, the grandest mistake
of our lives.

Vallecitos, NM ~ bj 2022

Out of the Blue

Fresh blooms of cirrus in muted hues of silver
punctuate the bluest sky imaginable, though
even northern New Mexico hazes over from time
to time these days, unlike thirty years ago
when we first touched earth in these north
by southwestern climes;

Cerulean heavens magnify in contrast to the splendor
of Ponderosa pines, branches now flanked with flocks
of blue jays as flickers strut up and down massive trunks,
searching for winter insect feasts while blue green grama
grasses rattle seed heads and silently tinge brown,
the not yet frozen ground speckled with bits of white
left over from the last snowfall;

Piñon jays are joined now at the feeders by their punk
rock-haired cousins the Stellars, and flocks arrive
as if by magic, now invisible in the heavens, now
appearing suddenly, recalling to mind deep ocean
diving, swimming along, turquoise waters shot
through with rays of golden sunlight,
then silvery flechettes darting this way and that,
then whole schools of pelagic fish appearing
as if out of nowhere, concealed in nature’s cloak
of invisibility;

What we don’t see is hidden only if we fail to attune
to subtleties, the pulsed calls and clicks of giant
humpbacks, the chirps and trilled screech of the red-
winged blackbird, the chickadee’s dee-dee-dee, the kee-
kee of red-tail hawks circling overhead, even the nuanced
eye language and restrained whimpers of canine
companions, bored at having to spend more time
than they would like indoors, frustrated children;
all of it, all, crying out in the perpetual need
to make themselves heard, to connect with fellows
of their own species, maybe including our own,
if we would but listen and open up
to this essential education.

Vallecitos, NM ~ bj 2022

What’s the Big Deal?

Stepping into that ladies parlor made me shiver,
reminded me of a rich friend’s house, her mother’s
shell pink bedroom with attached bath, gold gilded pink
tufted velvet chair she sat on to apply considerable amounts
of makeup and tease her platinum bleached blonde hair;

It scared the wits out of me how certain people live,
and I, her daughter’s friend, knew secrets she
of necessity would have to learn later, the pregnancy,
her firstborn running away with a beautiful Mexican
boyfriend to marry, something her mother would
never endorse in a million lifetimes;

And I thought then and I think now, what is this path
of exclusion, the shunning of dear family, friends,
people who don’t comply with another’s version
of what they ought to be, how things must look
in order to be acceptable and to whom I cannot imagine
if not themselves, the bitterness rising as gall
in the throat or feeding a tumor, black wad of hate
and resentment somewhere, now hidden, later
to be discovered somewhere in their own precious body;

We are all on this earth to learn unconditional love,
and experience schools us, molds us, polishes us like
diamonds from the roughest coal if we but accept
the tutelage, the sooner the better, in order
that we garner something of value to pass along
to a world in need of wisdom when our time here
is done.

mountains above Peñasco, NM ~ bj 2022

Giving Thanks

There is much to be grateful for, yet often lacking is a sense of perspective. Unless we have traveled around a bit, we Westerners tend to take a lot for granted. Observing the lives of others in dire circumstances, whether within the boundaries of our own country or in distant lands, can feel surreal at times. Many are so inundated by media, whether it be through television or advertising, that we develop mental filters or wander around in a constant state of overstimulation. Either way, a certain amount of numbing is bound to exist within the average person. Taking time to deeply contemplate, whether it be through quiet walks in nature or during some other form of meditative experience, perspective begins to emerge. As we ponder the trees and sky and the age of rocks, we can’t help but find ourselves amazed at our place within the greater scheme of things. Conversely if we remain insulated with electronics being the sole means of connecting with others and the outside world in any significant way, our perspective is distorted and we lose our sense of place. We lose our sense of the sacred.

While routine is a human comfort, getting stuck in a rut creates inner disturbances that affect everyone around us. We all know the feeling of coming home too tired to do anything but “zone out.” When we take that tired mind and subject it to a video screen, our perspective becomes tinged with the reality presented to us through this medium. We all have a deep need to express something uniquely our own. But when we give away a great measure of our day in trade for wages sapping most of our energy in the process, there is little time left over for indulging creativity. As this becomes a pattern, we lose sight of our desires and our days blur together like the view from the window of a fast-moving train. In our frustration, we place blame outwardly for our condition. We curse our dead-end lot. We lose perspective. Then when guilt sets in, we may seek to assuage it through financial means, again feeding into the cultural consumerist trap.

When we drain our pocketbooks attempting to fill longing within, we are left empty handed as well as empty hearted. When we make time for expressing our unique, genuine selves, we feel more settled in our skin. We don’t have to pretend. This kind of peace has a price beyond measure. We no longer need things to make us happy. We begin to accept ourselves in the scheme of creation. This fosters self forgiveness when we fall out of balance. We can then more easily forgive others when they do not meet our expectations, for we see that they too have similar struggles. Perspective leads to understanding which leads to empathy and compassion. This helps us accept differences, whether between close relations or countries and cultures.

Marva Collins, famous for her work with Chicago’s troubled inner city youth, says, “Until kids decide, ‘I am a miracle. I am unique. There is no one else exactly like me,’ they can never draw the conclusion, ‘Because I’m a miracle, I will never harm another person who’s a miracle like me.'” This is perspective, pure and simple. We all lose it from time to time. Yet in becoming aware that it is within our power to alter our perspective, we create the potential for movement, growth, healing. We can soothe the raw places in our psyches and in our souls. We can mend fractured relationships. We can heal our world, one step at a time. Honoring other people and all forms of life, including the life-giving planet itself, ever begins with the self.

As we head into this holiday season, we may reflect deeply on what gifts mean most to us. Is their worth heavily skewed to the cultural ideal, money? Or do we measure the fullness of our cup with love, health and well-being, our relationships with partners, friends and family? Does our cup runneth over with clean air, clean water, space to move; the scent of pine or wood smoke in the winter? We can focus on what we lack or we can change our perspective to one of abundance by expressing gratitude for all we deeply value. We can be aware of our level of material wealth relative to others. We can choose, in whatever ways present themselves to us, to share with those less fortunate. We can keep our eyes open to the large and small sufferings going on around us and share from a heartfelt place. We can gather the lost and weary to our dinner tables. We can make or purchase gifts which reflect something abiding deep within us rather than frantically scrambling to gather masses of meaningless treasure. We can take time to connect to Mother Earth and offer prayers to heal humanity, that they in turn may realize how to live more sustainably on Her. We can feel the fullness of gratitude for our lives while becoming aware of whether our material abundance is contributing to or taking away from other countries, cultures, and even the planet herself. Let our offerings in thought and deed be genuine, remembering that others learn from our example more than they will ever learn from teachings we discuss but do not put into practice. Let our very most basic gift, that of life itself, continue to be a more pure expression of who we are, in all our unique glory.

(Note: I wrote this piece in 2000 for publication in The Maine Eagle. It has been edited for this post.)

Hilltop view of our ranch, New Mexico, USA