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?”

 

Our morning visitor ~ bj 2021

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?

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.’

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.

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

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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JUMP

Between cinder cone mountains and the
solid feel of dog flesh nudging ribs
lie vast expanses of earth,
surging seas thundering against cliffs and sand
like the unceasing labors of Sisyphus.

As whitecaps assail her surface,
a clutch of humpbacks,
slick heaving bodies pirouetting
above the waves, carry on
as if no one’s watching.

Commuters speed by cars pulled
alongside the road often carelessly, compelled
to witness massive leviathans defying gravity
in a dance few comprehend, having traveled
far from northern waters to give birth
on empty stomachs.

Burdens moored in distant harbors forgotten,
the meeting of ocean and sky anchor one
to the planet’s surface, urging hearts
into glorious flight and boundless distance,
gravity mending to flesh solely
for the pleasure brought about
in witnessing the miraculous.

Spot-Humpback-Whales-in-the-tropical-waters-of-Hawaii

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.)