Rattlesnake Encounters

I get that fear is genuine. We have just emerged from two years of it gripping not just people, but countries and the global community as we reacted to news of a pandemic. It became a real test of character and an opportunity to reflect on how we receive information. Are we plugged into media for our news, or are we trusting our inner compass, our guidance, our instincts? Who are we, and what are we made of? Are we so afraid that, in the belief that we are keeping ourselves and others safe, we became as schoolyard bullies? But this post is not about ‘that.’ It is about how aware we are of our own fear, and how we manage it, or at its worst manifestation, how we allow it to control our lives.

Fear is the instinct these bodies were equipped with in order to ensure the perpetuation of our species. All creatures possess it, each to their kind. We react, and the difference between a human reaction and an animal’s is complex. All reside here on this planet, and just because we can eliminate another’s life due to our fear of it doesn’t make it right. Yet many do not even ask critical questions of themselves, though I am quite certain Indigenous people did, and many still do.

Late yesterday afternoon, I was drawn to sit on the steps leading to our front garden area. Daylight was waning, clouds were billowing and amassing as they do this time of year, and after hours in the hot sun giving the bigger trees a deep drink in the midsummer heat, those steps were calling me. As I settled onto the flagstone, something obviated itself in the corner of my vision. My body reacted for a flash, no longer, a visceral startle response, and I did not make more of it, did not escalate it into fight or flight panic. I realize we all have control over this escalation, yet many are like one of those cars that goes from zero to sixty in six seconds. Instinct, fear, panic, reaction. Humans are, as I say, perhaps the most complex species. We are so confused with undefined and unconscious fears that we have driven thousands of unique and beautiful species of animals from this earth.

I realized I had a visitor. Well, hello, friend, I said in a quiet voice. The visitor looked at me with similar curiosity, no doubt, and we sat in silence and allowed one another time and space to adjust. We are both creatures who like our space, I mused, not that dissimilar or unusual in that respect. And yes, this small one possesses the power to kill, as do I. It doesn’t have to define this moment, or any other. After a bit longer, the rattler pulled its head back, not to strike, but to redirect its body into a turn, and it glided off toward the rock wall, making its way slowly, as do I when in new surroundings, as s/he settled under a low-lying shrub for what I suspected was the evening.

Earlier in the day, our dogs were in their large enclosure, and they would not stop barking. Last time this happened, a large bull snake had decided their hay bed was a nice cool place to spend the day. Chris emerged from his shop, and I from the house, as we walked to their yard to determine what was agitating them. As we approached, we heard a rattle. If you have never heard this sound, it is pretty unusual, and unique to the species that claims it. I am small, and I am just as afraid of you as you are of me! Please give me space to determine my next move! There s/he was, curled up in Peanut’s hay bed, eyes bright, rattle erect and vibrating. We released the dogs to relocate to the house, and I spent a moment communicating to the snake that it needed to find another place to hang out. An hour later, I checked and it was gone. Later that evening, I believe it was the same creature who met me in the garden.

This morning, Peanut was again uneasy. Chris walked around the corner of the house and came upon the rattler and a mouse, clinging to the rock wall above it. We had been setting traps and checking all the minute places where rodents might gain access to the inner walls of the house in exactly this corner. Nature knows we abhor killing when there are other options, and now this. I don’t believe I am imagining that the snake appeared as our rodent trap, providing her/him food whilst eliminating some of our rodent issues. Last year, we had rodents chewing wires under the hoods of our vehicles. A prairie rattler, same variety as the one I speak of here, took up residence under a pile of stacked lumber.

I know some might fear snakes, spiders, jellyfish, whatever. All I am asking is that people explore the origin of these fears, and consider the options of peaceful coexistence on a planet already in crisis due to the care-less actions of our species. In the immortal words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

Ā 

Our morning visitor ~ bj 2021

Let It Be Me

I would rather die laughing,
even if I am the butt of the joke;
Life has too many twists and turns
and not enough levity, yet not
for lack of instances that might
provoke hoots of delight;

I remember in college
there was a gal who wanted
to write about serious things,
death, sex, loss, pain, using humor
and I thought it tasteless, seemed
no respect accorded the suffering,
probing issues too sensitive
and personal, and I would likely
feel the same today;

Yet there are always small things
one notices if observant,
the funny way the dog stalks
his companion’s food dish
once he’s cleaned out his own,
she with lips pulled back in a snarl
the way she dreams sometimes,
if he dares to feign interest;
the lowing cows on their way
to the river for a drink, sounding
like a group of drunken college
frat boys after a night of indulging;
the angle of that massive tilted pine
across the street, as if caught
doing something it ought not,
pointing directly down our road;

There is no need to contribute
to another’s angst for a laugh,
the strange way an old man
with a bad hip walks, the overly
made-up woman trying to impress;
surely there is enough humor
in the everyday, my own blunders,
say, and if that’s what it takes
to spark a chuckle of recognition,
let it be me; oh, please,
let it be me.

Here’s the little stalker. šŸ¤—

Enchanted

The music of the universe greets me daily,
voices on the wind, crackling through
heavily laden boughs of pine trees,
chattering black and blue birds arriving
in massive flocks every morning to the feeder,
ravens and magpies keeping their distance,
waiting on fence posts out by the fields,
trusting that what fed them yesterday
will show up in perpetuity, abundance
in the midst of winter’s cold; meanwhile
the pack of coyotes howls and yips,
acknowledging the bounty tossed
across the road nearly every day;
with compost tumblers full, we have
enough to share;

None of us knows what will greet us
as we open eyes and senses
onto a new day, fresh start for every
sentient creature on earth;
how we meet the Mystery is up to us,
cranked on caffeine and sugar,
boarding the train to a city high rise,
or quietly, softly, in wonder at another
precious gift, the sky, the clouds,
the breath we have drawn since birth,
bellows of lungs automatic, in, out,
are we aware of their significance?
Are we grateful for the intelligence
of these bodies, treating them kindly,
reverently even, as we stroll
into brilliant rays of blessed sunlight?

Split

It’s a new day, and I awaken tired,
having not slept much; perceiving the fear
of the collective, the hum of impending
doom, as a worldwide virus continues
to mutate, according to a greater plan
than we can imagine, and the vaccinated
among us may actually be more culprit
than cure, causing an explosion
of variants to proliferate;

We are a world accelerated beyond any
means possible, faster is better, internet
warp speed lives, packages replacing hands
in earth, chemical drinks in cans replacing
pure water, food sources separated
from our bodies by poisonous fertilizers,
distance and desire, fresh tropical fruits
delivered in winter, shipped green to ripen
by gasses in warehouses,
and how can this offer nourishment
to strengthen our immunities?

I watch sick native people in our community,
addicted to alcohol and worse; soda, canned
food and the hypnosis of television, vulnerable
to viruses, partisan news and soul sickness,
shamans of old far from their rightful place
as healers in the scheme of things, bowed
and beaten into submission by priests,
bent into homogeneity by the white man’s schools,
forced into dubious medicine designed to fight
perceived disease rather than working
with the rhythms of the body and Mother Earth,
and they are dropping like flies, one by one
or in groups, whole families murdered
by their own offspring, a sad fallout
to the speed and separation our species
was never meant to cope with;

I am a generally optimistic person,
yet I am also sensitive to the greater
vibrations of earth and her creatures, humans
among them, caught now in a crux
of our own making, having so thoroughly
trashed our perfect planet with the byproducts
of instant gratification, that we are faced
with Holocene extinction;

Make no mistake, these are perilous times,
and yet we must somehow be able
to help ourselves and others to what extent
we are able, to remain centered and focused,
in order to best know how to move forward
in spite of it all;

And so we retreat, again and again,
to our beautiful high mountain vista
with its varied wildlife, who seem
not to have a care in the world,
survival their primary mandate,
as it has been since their time began;

And yet last fall, a freak snowstorm
and cold snap caused songbirds to fall
from the skies dead; the raptors are
as mysteriously absent as bodies
of water, while wildfires rage over most
of the West, and it is hard to ignore
the fallout of our Creation,
not being gods in the least,
so much to learn, so much to lose.

BJ photo – Polar bear, Albuquerque Zoo, as its natural home in the arctic becomes more imperiled by the day.

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 innocenceĀ 
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.

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 ;

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.’

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.

 

Sand Crabs

The ocean pulls up, pulls away, hisses,
leaving tiny air holes in the sand;
I am fourteen, in love with creation,
full of life and dreaming possibilities;

Still on the beach I lie, slim belly
pressed down against earth’s beating heart,
looking not at the tossing sea, the foam
and sand sucking out with the tides;

I am watching instead the minutiae
as it dances before my bright brimming eyes
trained on a world underfoot, place familiar
and yet not, Alice’s drink-me bottle
clutched in my imagination;

Out of tiny cavities pop the crabs,
size of my thumbnail, eyes swiveling
on longish stems, scuttling sideways
to a clear and shining surface;

What they are about I will never know,
for in the blink of a moment, back they dart
to the safety of the known and commence,
tiny clawfuls at a time, to toss up overhead
the sand encroaching upon their inner sanctum;

Then once again the sea washes ashore,
sweeping hand over flat hand,
smoothing sand free of footprints
while the crabs, for all I know,
seek retreat in the epicenter
of the earth.

all photos Ā©2020 Bela Johnson