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.)

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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Of Spinner Dolphins and Triyaks

Before we knew anything about the Alanuihaha channel and after moving to the Big Island, we promptly struck out and bought ourselves a Triyak (3-seater ocean kayak). The thought was to go out and paddle on a regular basis, and so for our first sojourn slipped the boat easily into the water at the boat launch in Kawaihae. Keeping to the shoreline, we headed north. Soon a pod of spinner dolphins jumped and cruised alongside, and I thought wow – this is going to be common enough! How lucky are we? What I did not know – and rarely grasped until much later – is that this kind of magic is not my birthright, though I’ve certainly experienced more than my share. Blessings are blessings because they are unpredictable and doled out in rarely repeated themes.

 

spinner dolphin image: naturalsciencecitizen.wordpress.com

 

The day was calm enough, though my arms were tired by the time we returned and portaged the vessel onto the truck racks. It was that good kind of exhaustion, where no meal tastes better; when water is the only liquid that truly satisfies. In our naiveté, little did we know how quickly the winds could gust there and how strong; how suddenly and profoundly the water’s currents could shift. But Mother Ocean was kind, and we learned in increments.

 

Kawaihae harbor as seen from the Kohala Mountain Road

 

The scariest time was when my young athletic daughter accompanied us, which put me in the middle non-paddling seat. Heading out was no problem, as there was an offshore wind that seemed so subtle we barely noticed. Without a job as such, I happened to capture a look of concern creasing the features of a Japanese fisherman as we rounded the breakwater out onto the open sea. I brushed off any sense of foreboding until we headed back and it slapped me squarely in the face; when my strong and rarely-complaining husband, in an escalating voice nearing panic, shouted that his shoulder muscles felt like they were tearing. Feeling helpless and without something to keep me busy, all I could do was attune more acutely to the fear creeping up in both of these loved ones. And though we did return to shore, it seemed to all of us that it took forever.

The moral of the story has been enduring: this particular channel, positioned between Maui’s Haleakala and Mauna Kea, one of the planet’s highest peaks, is known to be one of the most dangerous in the world. One never knows – and though islanders who have lived and fished here all their lives have a better grasp of the signs and symptoms of impending trouble, there is still the occasional unobtrusive article slipped into page three of the paper or beyond – about one of these folks losing their lives on the blue road.

 

moms and babies in Kealakekua Bay

 

We paddled again further south in the more protected Kealakekua Bay during whale season, but never spotted a whale that day, nor did we ever again cruise alongside dolphins – although after hauling the ‘yak out, we swam with moms and babies in a delightful, pirouetting display. I finally got out of the water when the cold seeped into my bones.

 

Two months ago, we sold the Triyak to a nice local family.