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 ©2020 Bela Johnson

Day Sail

Wavelets snap and turn
in the sunlight, deceiving eyes
into believing there are creatures
emerging from the depths;

Strands of kelp curve and twist
like the wake of a ship, glinting
just enough to hint at sea otters
frolicking in welcome brilliance;

Markers the novice misses, looking
too hard and long while gulls
soar and dive in the distance
and this, only this indicates activity
worthy of the quest;

As the sloop approaches the kerfuffle,
a rank sea smell overwhelms the senses
and I am reminded of our encounter
with a Hawaiian monk seal detected
by aura alone on shores too distant
for ancestors to comprehend traversing.

All photos 2019 ©Bela Johnson

Common Ground

I go down burrowing, a badger unearthing
for the sake of it, a sort of mining known only
to the creature and sometimes the human heart,
the latter less willing to surrender its complexities;

On the surface doves appear to assert territoriality,
the movement stitched to their DNA, do the dance,
wings loosen, shrug and sidle as feathers ruff out;
the pup tracks likewise, older now, more apt to
shake it free than to assert his alpha dominance,
respecting, as may be, the gods that surround him;

Scanning the horizon, a single humpback breaches
fully out of water, distant upright dirigible crashing
again and again, only to propel itself upright nearly
a dozen times before it submerges; sated, it seems,
for the time being;

Sublime teachers all, critters of which we are kin,
bipedal human animals preferring drama over quanta,
emotions, life in the head lands; yet tune in silently
and there you are, come back to the earth, bosom
of creation, return to the senses and simply be.

all photos ©Bela Johnson

Embracing the Sky

Just because it’s all they’ve ever known doesn’t mean it’s all they know.

This was a thought, post grief, after observing for myself creatures my child self deemed mystical: kookaburra, wombat, wallaby, koala; none in a feral state, of course. Which brought up those old feelings around zoos. Part of me loved resting eyes on these amazing critters, discovering the wombat’s scratchy spots and loving her up until helpless, she rolled onto her back, delightfully digging in the dirt and forgetting for a split second that she had to protect, disengage, go back to pacing back and forth so hundreds upon thousands of hands could stroke her moist back and she could keep on moving away, away. The other part of me returned to our hotel where tears would not stop flowing, a silent protest at caging and now having to sequester what once roamed freely and would still, were it not for those of our species who simply will not respect and love what is wild in our world. What of wonder? What is left to wonder about?

Then like streamers released from a barnstormer, we spotted them, hundreds of flying foxes soaring over Sydney harbor as the sun fanned out and swiveled its flaming bald head away from the first chilly crisp of fall day. Out they surged in scattered flocks, an occasional stray, to bash their heads into foliage and suck nectar where they might claim it in towering fruiting figs amidst high rises and yacht-ringed shorelines. There are still cultures that claim their meat a delicacy.

We must take care in our assumptions of the wild ones, we cannot tame the world simply because being in the world, we have chosen to cull our own sense of wildness. I am not alone in suspecting it is this disconnection that fuels all sorts of ills that plague humankind. Yet there is ever a way back, a means to reclaim a life that nourishes and supports us as it sustains all living beings and the planet, herself.

The doors to the world of the wild Self are few but precious. If you have a deep scar, that is a door, if you have an old, old story, that is a door. If you love the sky and the water so much you almost cannot bear it, that is a door. If you yearn for a deeper life, a full life, a sane life, that is a door.

~Clarissa Pinkola Estes

 

[Photo of where we went to see the flying foxes on our last night in Sydney. They came streaming into the trees here, but to capture them on camera was impossible. So we just watched and listened.]

Susami

There is a presence, here
and now; the bellows of breath,
warmth of blood, the feeling,
even if imagined,
that we are connected, one
to the other.

We each have our memories,
after all.

Your passing removes that utterly,
and somehow the same hand
lying on the same fur and flesh
will sense void, not even spirit,
not even that.

One can forgive the athiest,
or even theist their doubts,
props, religions. For this
at least is real:
This. Here. Now.
Tomorrow it will be gone.

And no matter in visions I linger
in the numinous; despite
in the garden I witness the alchemy
of decay transforming
into green and vibrant,
the loss of a loving companion
is egregious, indeed.

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Our Pete

We go
on and life continues
with or without our participation.
Because of this, I selectively choose
to let loose memories,
fall leaves blushing red, gold, yellow
before browning on the ground.

Still those composted fragments remain,
great beast led slowly down the hill
by my weeping husband,
velvet muzzle grasping bits
of carrot even then,
gentle eyes dull and weary,
ready for the long rest.

Laid him low
and the terms were easy,
kindness all around and sacred,
oblivion in a syringe
as he reeled, slow motion,
into prepared earth.

How quickly it all surges back,
billions of impressions like bright pulsars
in a pitch black sky,
dancing all around my greying head;
selective vision; now to witness,
now distraction,
and who is to say
what merits attention
in this moment?

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(Written in response to Maxine Kumin’s ”The Taste of Apple,” bringing Pete’s death back as if it happened yesterday – the gift of great poets.)

Colossus

Alexandria was a strikingly beautiful Single Comb Brown Leghorn; a character who conveyed her somewhat colossal name when she was less than a month old. With extraordinary coloring and a large floppy bright red comb and considerable wattles, she matured earlier than the others, her brilliant coloring more rooster than hen. She was the second in the flock to begin laying eggs less than three weeks before she died.

Today Alexandria met her fate, neck broken in the jaws of a dog simply reflexing instinct. I can’t blame the dog for doing what nature instructed it to do, anymore than I can blame myself for not being able to save our feathered friend. She died in my arms. Still, not being a keeper of chickens before this flock, I wasn’t sure. I massaged her heart and stroked her neck while dropping small bits of water down her throat, along with Rescue Remedy, just in case she was merely in shock; even as her eyes and my own instincts told me she wasn’t going to make it.

When one considers the probability of thousands of eggs brought to maturity by a mainland hatchery, then shipped to fill a friend’s custom order in a box with breathing holes timed to arrive here in Hawai’i three days later while the chicks still had yolk sacs to sustain them, the odds might be stacked against this particular bird surviving to land under our care. Then there was the indoor brooding and raising process, combined with deciding which of the chicks would come to live with us and which would remain with our dear friend’s aging flock. Every two to three days, I would go over to visit the young ones and get to know chickens a bit. I’d carry them, two by two, out into the wide open sky to sit quivering in my lap before exploring the rich green grass in the wild and the wind and the vast, yet-to-be-explored unknown.

At two and a half months of life, ten little hens came to live with us in a large, beautiful, secure yard with plants and deep mulch for them to dig bugs and worms in and a nice enclosure with three roosts to choose from. A couple weeks later, the Egyptian Fayoumi flew the coop because she could, and was so distressed at not being adept enough to fly back in to rejoin her companions that I had to rethink letting them free-range our 1/2 acre yard. Bit by bit, they gained their freedom during daylight hours, delighting in foraging in the gardens, taking dust baths behind the ti and ginger, and cruising under the house to seek shade in the scorching afternoon heat. Egypt, the Fayoumi, still calls them all in at night to roost. She does a head count, too, and if one is missing, she squawks and screams until the stragglers come hurriedly flapping in.

Egypt laid an egg first, a small white orb I spotted in the mulch outside the kitchen window. Hens make a particular fuss over this, and it’s easy to distinguish an egg laying call from any other sounds they make. Meanwhile, Alexandria encountered our red catch-all porch bucket and immediately began trying to evict dog leashes and miscellaneous items in order to construct a nest for herself. Taking note of this somewhat piteous sight, I dumped the bucket and filled it with cedar shavings. I don’t know if it was the kindness I showed in granting her her own chosen place of refuge (to which she hurriedly returned in a panic, just before she expired) or something yet unexplained. But this hen, among a flock of ten, was one of the first to stand, stock-still against all instinctual urgings, to let me pick her up and gather her to my chest to coo with and smooth her feathers.

Before today, Alexandria would settle into her red bucket several times a day despite the comings and goings around the front door. That hens eschew chaos while nesting might explain why she never laid an egg in it. Instead, her eggs appeared in various spots around and under the house, then finally in the nesting boxes my husband built near their night enclosure.

Life is a mystery. Who can say how destiny plays its hand? I am grateful to have known Ms. Alexandria during her brief time on earth, and at lunchtime, my husband came home to dig a small grave. I laid her in it, resting on and covered by banana and ti leaves and three round beach rocks, symbolizing heaven, earth, and the journey in-between. A hui ho, little one. Until we meet again.

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Avian

I have never managed to save one, not that I haven’t tried. All my life I have discovered fledglings, either crowded out of the nest or cast out, or injured in the attempt to gain instant knowledge of flight. As a child it was neighborhood cats who preyed upon nestlings situated high above the ground, but with three dogs in our yard, cats don’t pose a problem here.

I found another yesterday, quite by accident. Remanding garden tools to their shed, I spotted movement in the grass under a rough-hewn wooden skid. Moving closer, a diminutive red-tinged crown appeared, rallying a hearty  twitter of distress. Fishing the little one gingerly from under the skid, I inspected it, only to discover a chafed, raw spot adjacent to a left wing. The appendage appeared possibly damaged as well, though the little creature clung mightily with tiny sharp toenails to an extended finger.

I know my track record in such matters, and gently placed the little bird back where I found it, praying for a miracle. Frankly by morning I had forgotten the animal, in a rush to get our big chocolate Lab to the vet for a fractured tooth extraction. Later upon my return to search for something in the tool shed, I spotted the wee one. Mouth gaping wide open, it again perched upon my flesh. Remembering a water bottle I had left in the shed the day before, I dropped a minuscule amount into the chick’s yawning mouth. Almost immediately, its spirit took flight. Eyes glazing over, it folded that precious newly-minted body into death.

I dug a hole in my garden, placing the tiny carcass between two large leaves. Murmuring a blessing, a few silent tears glided down my cheeks to soak into turf below. Many thoughts crossed my mind, among them the ease with which most creatures release their hold on life when it no longer seems tenable. That, and the fragility of existence, itself. Covering the makeshift grave with earth and mulch, I pressed the damp soil down firmly but gently with my foot, lest something attempt to dig it up in the night.

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On The Mongoose and Other Ramblings

If you ever met a mongoose, I doubt it would elicit your admiration. Crafty and cunning, they slink low to the ground, falling upon eggs or killing baby birds the way eagles pluck fish out of clear running water, only not nearly as majestic. Unlike squirrels peppering mainland highways too confused in traffic to set a steady course and undone because of it, mongooses possess laser focus as they strike a beeline across the tarmac. They do not waiver in this nor in any action I am aware of. Weasel of the tropics, the mongoose is generally thought of as a nasty, vicious creature.

Today while on my bicycle, I spotted a mother mongoose with two little babies tagging along behind her. When I spoke to them, one of the babies turned around and its beady little eyes glistened in the morning sun. It was nothing if not precious.

Thus I began pondering humans, and how we, like the mongoose, have adapted to prey not only upon other animals, but upon forests and minerals and oceans and, yes, even upon one another. Save the philosopher’s journey into the concept of predestination, we no more chose our species or the color of our skin than the mongoose chose to be a mongoose. For better or for worse, our collective cunning knows no bounds. Yet on the flip side, humans can be loving stewards to our offspring and to other living things.

Like the mongoose in Hawai’i, many of our ancestors come from foreign shores. And we adapt, some would say overly-adapt to our circumstances. As supreme opportunists, there are no easy answers as to why one moment we are tender and the next we are blowing up a village. The mongoose, on the other hand, is simply following nature’s directive to survive.

 

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Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails

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I wish more of us sought to understand what we fear, instead of seeking to eliminate the causes of our distress. I’ve lived long enough to know that if we remove our triggers, new ones will invariably appear. It’s like those little pop-up figures in a shooting gallery: as we knock them down, they simply return, again and again, to bedevil us. Pema Chodron is a great teacher of sitting with discomfort rather than fleeing from it; certainly rather than attempting to do harm to what we find repellent.

Though I find it irrational, many are terrorized by things that creep and crawl and especially slither. And though my eldest sister used to place butterflies and big juicy green grasshoppers atop my frightened head as a child, I overcame that initial repulsion and grew up in wonderment at all of earth’s creatures.

Recently West Hawaii Today ran an AP story detailing the aerial release of thousands of poisoned mice proposed to eliminate snakes that seem to be overrunning Guam. Heaven forbid these reptiles might wriggle into a tight cargo space on a plane headed for Hawaii – we can only imagine what might befall our population of already-endangered birds; indeed, a valid concern. Recent history embarrasses, however, with the profusion of mongoose, originally brought in to eliminate rats escaped from the ships of early explorers. (Feel free to conjure up images of a host of lean and shivering European rodents, fleeing Captain Cook’s ship, kissing the fertile island ground strewn with the carcasses of rotting fruit wherever they went!) These weasel-cunning critters were quite out of luck on that intended score, however, as rats are nocturnal and mongoose – well – let’s just say they sleep peacefully at night so that they might awaken anew to decimate any bird, egg or smallish hapless creature in their path. (So much for human ingenuity and intervention.) Few snakes would stand a chance in their presence.

I don’t know where the answers lie anymore. I used to think I understood a few, but now realize I must have been delusional. Now I question everything: the wisdom in sacrificing thousands of innocent rodents intended to kill further numbers of essentially nonvenemous snakes; the assertion that we are more highly evolved than most other species; the endless blood for oil shed ‘round the world; the miraculous human mind. Considering what it requires to silence my own at will, I often wonder if it’s a greater adversary than ally. Though I might well be mistaken.

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