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.

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.

 

Life on the Ranch

Looking out this window seems sacrament. We are surrounded by Ponderosa pine forest, and, as in Hawaii with the ocean, I tend to take the trees more for granted, the longer our tenure in this place. I remind myself to remain better in touch with not only these regal giants who hold their ground with very little rainfall, but with my own inner, deeper, more profoundly feeling self. (And the mind skitters on. Returns to that pause in the narrative. Reevaluates her response.)

Brilliant snow surrounds us, and storms don’t last long. The most we’ve experienced of gray and stormy skies has been two days each, then the sun reclaims its dominance in cobalt blue skies. I just today got a book on building a year-round solar greenhouse. Our plan is to convert a sizeable garden, already footed with railroad ties and a short wall reinforced with metal lathing to prevent tunneling incursions from gophers and squirrels. Excited. Solar anything made sense in Hawaii, and makes double sense here in the high desert.

Speaking of snow, it is usually powdery here, not the wet, heavy ice-storm-prone snows of New England. Yet it follows that there is a profound difference in the forest composition. Pine forests in the high desert look like planted tree farms without the deep leaf mulch of their wetter sister woodlands. Likewise, the forest service issues permits to cut and gather dead and down trees, which keeps detritus cleared out in what can be tinderbox territory. Our part of the Maine woods was so lush that on what was once 65 acres of lakefront forest, we rarely walked the whole of the property. Here, we walk our 14 acres morning and night. This morning’s treat was a huge turkey, flushed out by the Heeler, soaring 45 feet into a Ponderosa. Nevermind the symbolism of Turkey on a total solar eclipse day, it was a splendid sight to behold. We love the creatures who frequent this land!

frozen dog water 😉

the current clearing we’re working on (notice  the beginning of a brush pile).

The unfinished Adobe bought with our property.  We hope to finish it one day.

After the storm two days ago. Part of the same clearing, above.

Changes, Changes

Hawaii was a visual banquet. At every turn I couldn’t help myself. I visually grabbed until, overstuffed, I collapsed in sensory overload. Lush tropical foliage, expansive ocean views that ranged from turquoise to indigo, most set against jet black lava. A loop road circles around the entirety of Big Island, where dry lava desert gives way to breathtaking cliffs, verdant fields, and always Mother ocean below. Water was the main theme, not only in the ocean and tropical rains, but in the very air, itself. Yet after 15 years, I was ready to return to a land with four seasons.

Moving back to the high desert of New Mexico was like going on a diet. The terrain is sparse; it does not impose. Water is a theme, though in a very different way. Here, water is badly needed. At all times. A desert’s gifts are revealed slowly, with patience and attention to subtleties. Cloud formations can stop me in my tracks, and seem to exist here as nowhere else I have traveled or lived. Enormous ravens swoop through forests and valleys whilst elk roam close to the house in the wee hours, and colors of all sorts stand. Out. Large expanses of gently rolling flat will surprise with a sudden view of a snow-capped mountain range. Driving north into Taos on the main highway features the Rio Grande gorge split open like a melon. At its bottom snakes the river, green and rolling, more or less, depending on the season.

This morning brought snow, though very different than in what can be a very bleak New England, this time of year. Always, always the sun strives to poke through the clouds here, so within an hour, we had snow, brilliant sunshine, billowing dark gray nimbostratus, snow, gusting winds, and more snow. Tomorrow we may set feet onto bare ground.

Hope you are all feeling the spirit of the holy days. Don’t let the pandemic fear paralyze you. Stay safe however you must, but also strong by getting out and getting the blood moving. Breathe deep with an open heart. Nature heals. She truly does. Blessings, all.

Complicit

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 wish (were it possible)
to turn away 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 greed and 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;
opportunity now lies in discovering
wonders of a pine forest far
from lake or ocean.
I must ponder more deeply
the meaning of water.

In Two, A Not-Too-Distant Memory

I

Sounds like a woman screaming.

Then I snap back from my twilight reverie,
Coyote is on the move, or calling the brood
in for the night; there must be a den of them
across the vast fields and rushing stream,
seeking safety in the forest about the same time
every evening now. I realize this, being my
sixth eventide on the mountain.

II

The elk are stalking me, noticing traces
of my passage along their own pathways
through these fourteen acres;

I have likewise lowered strands of barbed
wire used to top acres of fence line
where I notice tufts of blonde fur, revealing
fence-vaulting preferences; having no
serious tools with me on this visit, my gloved
wire wrapping will have to do until we are able
to make more permanent adjustments
to allow them passage, once again;

Someone once sought to keep them out,
but elk have roamed these mountains
for as long as time; I say let them pass;
one day we shall meet, Elk and I,
and I will know more about this majestic
creature than ever before.

Eternal

 

The poem that had to be written at two in the morning;
was it carried on the wind building force in the night,
pushing harder on my head until, evoking surrender,
I turn the page and silently push the pencil,
watching words forming, shapes curving alongside
one another, forging bond between graphite
and sinew, seemingly benign,
but lest it appear deceptive, consider:

These words cast upon vellum one twilight
in the midst of my days will remain
long after this puzzle life breaks apart,
leaving only a specter which once I perceived
to be me, as if the I who loves you
could be captured
on a page.







 

 

Arrival

I have spent too many hours marking time,
waiting for changes to come, passing precious
moments in feckless meandering, spinning wheels,
Ariadne in the shadows, balls of twine raveling
and lying in a tangled heap at my feet;

Now we have arrived, dream fulfilled, bustling rats
abandoning the airship that has sailed true,
conveying us here upon shores we once inhabited,
threaded up steep mountain slopes climbing high
and higher until the panorama unfolds, island scarlet
and gold giving way to azure, indigo, purple, pink,
green everlasting, anchoring us back to forest
and field, sacred groves, room to ramble,
all of it, all.

 

 

Kamakani

Winds kick and gust, twisting limbs
and shaking foliage and branches loose,
culling the dead and startling the living
into a wakefulness that strengthens, even
as surely they flinch at the onslaught;

Large foot-long seed pods drop to the ground
in varying shades of mottled green and brown,
inserting themselves into garden beds amidst lilies
and flowers, comically stuck upright into places
unlikely to host them otherwise;

Yet without this early spring ritual, daily
gathering the giant leaves and shower tree pods,
a lush blush-pink gumdrop canopy and the plethora
of rich nubbly breadfruit peeking out from beneath
the shade of huge ulu leaves could never evince
such utter delight, and this abundant landscape
would give way to the monotonous green lawn many
prefer here, fearing high winds and the occasional
tangle of gnarled branches snapping suddenly
and startlingly to an indifferent ground.