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

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

Belonging

These slate skies are familiar, in a strange
illogical way; here, there are mountains,
no sea in sight, and though mists appear
like fog, it is high desert with rivers running
through forested landscapes, their waters
unreliable as winter ocean waves in Hawaii
or storms crashing upon boulders on the rugged
coast of Maine, though the danger here is that
these waters run nearly dry this time of year,
not that they will whip themselves into currents
that, to the unaware, can and do take lives
of lobstermen and surfers, alike;

Rains come to this dry landscape,
made fertile only through great effort,
time and patience giving rise to grasses rich
enough to provision livestock who, in turn, feed
many others in that final incarnation within
styrofoam and plastic covered containers scooped
up in supermarkets rather than on the farm;

When my girls were growing up, I would drive
from Maine’s woods and waters to the wide-open
fields to the west where farm families would offer
raw unpasteurized milk and butter, along
with freshly butchered meat, a practice
eventually made illegal by laws enacted
by greedy corporations spreading falsehoods
about the purity of these products
and something was lost in the circle of life,
the understanding of where our food comes from,
the sweat and toil it takes to wake up early
to milk dairy cows, the reverence or lack
thereof in the ending of a life meant to salve
appetites of others, the recycling of manure
to fertilize fields in which we later picked
strawberries, scooped up sweet corn, pumpkins
and other produce our own small plot and my lack
of skill would prohibit for a time;

And now here we are, eight billion and counting,
a planet in crisis and our own species learning
that we must rediscover the old, sustainable ways
of doing things if we are to survive and thrive
amidst too much urban sprawl, corporate corruption
and political greed; we must take back our power
to provide for ourselves and our communities
as we once again discover joy in simplicity
whilst tending to this precious planet and her
flora and fauna as if humans were part
of the web of life, as if we actually belonged.

My flower gardens still provide me absolute bliss.

Dark to Light

From the dark ocean to the lighter skies
of New Mexico, Mother Earth remains
my focus, my love, my joy;

It took awhile to learn different soils,
rich loam to clay and sand, mysterious
deep sea waters to high altitude desert,
cradled by Ponderosa and piñon forests,
and yes, a river runs through it,
though not like it used to,
this is dry country, interspersed
by monsoon rains, brittle brown landscape
highlighted with hues of verdant green
now looking more like New England
in the summer as I plant, now trees,
shrubs, now a greenhouse garden
so that we might sustain ourselves
on bitter greens throughout long
cold winters;

A friend I met years ago in Hawai’i
told me, upon discovering our intent
to move from the islands to the Southwest
years ago and sensing my distress at
not being on or near big bodies
of water for the first time in my life,
don’t worry! In New Mexico,
the ocean is the sky!
And how that comes to be true,
I cannot begin to convey; more
and different varieties of clouds
than anywhere I have been, sweeping
and sliding through crystal azure heavens,
and even in midwinter as temps dip
down below freezing night and morning,
at mid-day under the brilliance
of stark sunlight, it is easy to peel
back the layers and work in shirt sleeves;

And if I have learned nothing else
in this blessed life, it is that, given time,
any place putting me close to the ground
of this alluring planet is sacred, and if its spirit
has been damaged, it takes little time
and care to reveal its essence, once again.

 

David Austin rose “Bathsheba”
– grown and photographed by bj ~ 2022

Beanstalk

We are all moving on to the next level,
just as he did after coming through
walls, us sitting at our kitchen table,
pleading eyes confused, conflicted;

Nobody spoke of suicide in that place,
yet there he was, and I had to ask
another neighbor if she knew
what had happened;

I remember passing by a lone figure
walking a small white dog,
and sometimes I thought it a woman,
sometimes a man; ahh, this being
was mahu, a two spirited one,
yin and yang that might have merged
into a lovely ebony and ivory symbol,
while instead, his Japanese parents felt
only shame, and so freedom
was sought by moving to a large
east coast city where those of like
kind could seek a life free from
judgments that bound them in ties
far too snug to house the beauty
of their souls;

Distressed parents conspired
somehow to bring their son back,
yet back to what? A life in this
tiny town with its own ideas
of how firstborn sons should act?
Instead in despair, they found
their son hanging limp
from a rope
in the garage,
imagine;

When his spirit came to us,
it was with a desire to find
a way to transition between
this world and the next, and so
we envisioned a beautiful
beanstalk, glistening ivy green
with heart-shaped leaves,
its sinuous vines a strong rope
without obligation of gravity,
and it grew and branched out,
carrying this dear one
into a magical realm
where harmony might prevail,
higher, further from the suffering
of simply living with yearnings
his broken family could never
comprehend.

Tahitian Gardenia ~ bj

The Consistency of Dirt

I always had dirt between my toes, beginning when I was old enough to toddle, and my parents did not care, having come out west from Chicago, land of the freezing, and I do not remember any scolding for it, surely I would if it existed, walked on blistering asphalt too, never caring if my feet hardened into hooves, all the better to play horse, romping and galloping around the yard;

I went to Hamilton Park bare chested in only white underwear, more like shorts back then, and I will never forget the boys that made fun of me on the merry-go-round, free as they likely would never be, instead targeting a smiling little girl, sun streaking her chestnut hair blonde, but you know, I never went without a shirt after that day, so it must have made quite an impression, the end of innocence, perhaps we all recall this in our lives;

Five years old and off to school, I do not recall rebelling at shoes, only the delight in learning, and walking with neighborhood kids picked up along the way, a small gang of non-thugs back then, the place was safe, ridiculously so compared to these times, our school tucked neatly into the arms of a huge mountain range; breathing fully, natural as a mountain goat, and to think city folks need yoga to teach them what came naturally to children raised
in sunshine and lush surroundings;

Moving to New England after high school gave me another sort of grounding, bare feet tucked into thick socks and boots, but oh, the forest! The lakes! I never missed those barefooted excursions, I would always be nature’s child, wild as the fisher cats and foxes roaming the woods, swimming with the loons and giant bass, naked as there was no one to notice; my new form of bare feet for over three decades, a dance with nature that would always be, both girls raised in the forest, free as too many children will never experience;

Then it was off to Moloka’i, the girls choosing public over homeschooling, local kids walking barefoot to school, their wide brown feet slapping red dirt roads and the one short sidewalk on the way up the hill from the ocean, no chastisement from teachers, families recently freed from pineapple plantation work, and who was there to mandate otherwise? Still I wonder, thirty years later, have the rules changed? Or will there always be places that subconsciously realize we need bare ground under our feet in order to heal this fractured species of ours?

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?

Here and Now

The concert grand stands indifferently
in a palatial room built to house it;
Hardly anyone spends time here,
admiring frescoes and French lace,
worn Italian club chairs gather
in around no one, empty opulence
marking privilege of the lost
and missing inhabitants;

Halfway around the world,
a bustling marketplace explodes
with the din and stench
of the streets, sweat mingling
with rotting vegetable matter
and the smell of human desperation;
gnarled hands of laborers place goods
in the manicured hands of tourists,
a toothless smile exchanging empty symbols
for a better life, benediction
of the Foreigner whose life is inconceivable
as a spaceship from Mars;

Who can fathom choices, freedom the elusive
butterfly in a garden which must be tended
by honest sweat and toil which,
in the opulence of the parlor, slips quietly
into shadow like the ghostly curtain remnants
hanging limply on patterned walls.

 

Kilkenny Castle, photo ~ bj

Akin

I am but one minute speck
on the face of this earth,
the same countenance reflected
back to me in field and forest,
in the shriek of bats as well
as the sonar they emit,
the whistling and bellow of elk
as they descend from higher ground
for the winter, the piñon jays,
sapphire blue bodies so different
from their indigo Stellar relations,
gliding in for their morning seed;

When I peer into a body of water,
I see not a mirror, but a plethora
of faces of untold numbers
of creatures that dwell in the depths
as do I, in my own element;

Yet what is this element spoken of?
Is it the air I breathe? The earth
walked upon, the blazing fire
of the sun, cool slices of moonlight
or the quarter-sized drops
of rain that splash upon my forehead?

What am I, if not an assemblage
of all these components, sheathed
in the thinnest veil of skin,
so transparent that I can glimpse
blood coursing through a busy
network of veins, necessary waters
of my body, invisible synovial fluid
keeping joints in motion, bending
and lifting to the billionth degree,
work I have happily performed
since my youth, preparing
for winter, spring, summer, fall;

It’s all the same, here on the mountain
where life at altitude is as unpredictable
as nature can be anywhere, anytime,
only here it cannot be ignored,
and the garden thriving in the heat today
can be frost-encrusted by tomorrow
morning, who can predict?

This time last year, birds were falling
from the skies, a freak storm
that bent trees over double,
and some we lost while some grew back,
and isn’t that life? Is that not, at its root,
the existential distillation of our existence?

Our winter wood supply, so far. 2021

Coyote Blessing

When first I arrived ahead of him,
to put this new house in order
while he remained in Hawaii,
finishing up what needed done
in that place we had resided
for fifteen years, it was chaotic;

Covid had created seeds of disorder
that have now germinated
and sprouted into some sort
of angst-mongering monster,
sower of division, pitting fear
against dread, as humans question,
aloud or in private, the duration
of their own tenure here on earth,
stripped down to primal longings;

Sitting in this big ranch house,
back to the utter silence I craved
all those years on the islands,
surrounded again by forest and fields,
the glowing eyes of nighttime creepers,
tracks laid everywhere, elk, deer, turkeys
and other travelers, an alien weed
in fields of another’s familiar;

Lying in a bed left by prior occupants,
grateful for the gesture, yet not mine,
nothing ours, not yet, the tailings
of other soul paths, confusion accented
by harsh designs that agitated rather
than soothed my jangling heart;
and then it came, a series of yips
and howls, accompanied by a steady
bark, threaded with eerie whines
looping through, a mad conductor
whipping up a frenzied forest symphony;

Coyotes circled the house, not once
but several times, bark, bark, yip, yip
and that unhinged high-pitched wail,
a beau geste causing hair to rise
on my forearms, thrilling as it disturbed,
while my nerves settled, bit by bit,
as, like faeries in ancient fields,
they performed their welcoming ritual,
bringing me back to the ancient tones
inhabiting a once-tribal land;
and I laughed along with them, howling
like a madwoman, while the sound faded
out of range, having accomplished
whatever they came to do,
despite my own interpretations.

Our backyard forest, populated by the healing herb mullein. ~ b