Midwinter

The fox in her den does not involve herself
in human games, world domination,
current events certain humans consider
important, no, her expert nose is not trained
on our inane ramblings, mental meanderings,
baseless strivings, she is unconcerned
with naught but survival, an animal as are we,
but closer to the source, to the ground
of the earth, feeling the wafting breeze
as it blows through her thick fur,
observing now the stars rising overhead
signaling a time void of human presence
in her domain, nearly safe to venture out
and she, as so many other wild things,
seems resigned to being a creature of night;

And then there is coyote, true to her pack,
protecting her young as do most feral things,
pads along silent and unnoticed until prompted
to express those eerie sounds which cause humans
to believe there are far more in the tribe
than might be; despised by ranchers
who will shoot on sight, coyotes are hunters
by day and howlers by night;

Yet on the level of little things, the Stellar Jays
shake their coiffed heads and move in quick spurts,
whether to discourage possible predators
or simply because they move this way (and who
among us can know) while the magpies double up
on the cedar boughs this morning back to back,
for it is cold near to zero, and the juncos look
especially fat, though it is only that they are fluffed
out for maximum insulation, and they all flock
to the feeder we keep full during the worst of winter,
though they would likely not all die off if we ceased
to feed them, yet the rich mix we blend by hand
helps them survive and thrive until breeding season,
boosting their numbers appreciably, as can be noted
from season to season;

Still you may wonder how we live this far from town,
up in the forest and away from the madness of city life,
yet it is what we know, and how we are able to exist
amidst the changes and fluctuations of climate
and the human response to the opportunity to evolve
beyond a materialistic focus in these troubled times.

junco

coyote

Stellar Jay

Mail Routes

These high desert roads make no sense,
twisting and turning and causing countless
fatalities here in the mountains and table lands
of northern New Mexico;

Old cow paths now make up the crazy
criss-cross roads in Boston, while what
used to be wagon tracks and Kit Carson’s pony
express routes here in the wild, wild West
became the asphalt roads of today, whether
or not they are practical, which so often
seems not the case;

In clear weather, this particular switchback
is safer than when iced over, but it’s blind/blind,
impossible to see what is coming due to the grade,
despite being posted 15 mph, and yet it is
one of those critical conveyances if one is
to arrive in the distant community of Taos;

Might as well slow down and enjoy the long
purple view, the Sangres and Picuris mountain
ranges converging, carving verdant valleys
accessible only by certain routes, and one is given
to wonder how these far-flung regions ever settled
in such remote places, and yet how could people
know what areas would eventually be centralized,
spreading into towns and cities, they were
simply indigenous, all of them, and some do
remain much that way;

Still, remote is how we, ourselves choose now
to live, across mesas and into the Tusas mountains,
despite only a tiny paved state highway bisecting
cattle-dotted valleys in this particular region,
conveying the traveler Up and up for some
twenty miles straight into a dead end
where Ponderosa forests harbor distant lakes,
which surely appeared as mirages to early explorers
and where rivers thunder or meander, depending
on the season, where elk roam and deer jump,
and mountain lions and black bears sequester safely
under rock faced cliffs, in crags or cracks,
high above and distant from access roads,
across impossible to traverse valleys
in which humans are less likely
to blunder in blindly
and scare themselves silly.

Burro with Sangre de Christo mountain range ~ bj 2022

Yearning

Somewhere there are sheets of blue ice
stitching up the last of the open water,
but I am not there, only memory serves
to dish up that young woman in her
new figure skates, striking out
over the frozen pond, what those living
in worlds of water call a small lake,
and Boom! the ice cracked,
widening its reach, not dropping her
into its frozen depths, rather simply
expanding its domain, as understanding
began to dawn in her bright mind the reach
and breadth of the natural world, and she
but a minuscule fraction of the dance;

Getting used to hearing those thunderous
reverberations took time, but time itself came
easily in those days, the world not so heavy
on her soul, experience not yet demonstrating
that what could be loved beyond measure
could likewise be transformed into searing pain,
even though it would take years to unravel
youthful confusion, that innocent open heart
unable to close down, giving herself away
then for fleeting feelings that were not genuine,
and so she bonded more fully with trees and stars,
the aurorae and giant granite boulders, hunkered
down in below freezing temperatures,
the grey wolf by her side, seeking to capture
a slice of that inky, star-pocked sky;

And springtime brought crackling ice,
as brilliant blue-white sunlight urged solid
into liquid once again, and when the loons
ululated their lilting cries, splitting open
early mornings defining daybreak, I knew
water had opened, as cycles renewed
themselves and freezing water shimmered
invitingly, the return of these seasonal
friends paddling along, nine babies trailing
behind, and I dove in, ears frozen to numb,
slashing out and out to greet them,
they nonplussed, ducking under repeatedly
to get a fix on this giant warm-blooded
fish in their midst, deducing no harm
to their offspring or to themselves,
and they looked me straight in the eyes,
theirs blazing scarlet in marked contrast
to brilliant black and white feathers,
yearning then to be nowhere else
but in their midst;

And you would think why did she leave
that Paradise, as highways widened
and encroached and algae blooms permeated
once-crystalline waters, bass floating dully
under rocks large as small dwellings, while
surrounding lakes burgeoned overfull
with what money bought and exploited;
still this yearning won’t stop, and my heart
returns to simpler times, in a world
seeming open and free.

Common Loon ~ credit: Shutterstock

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

Coming to Grips

Fifteen degrees on the outdoor thermometer, and I dread walking out to an unheated greenhouse, though he tells me I should, prepares me for what I am about to witness;

Tomato plants first, laden with unripened fruit, no fault, didn’t get the structure built on time, planting came late, and we agreed we were lucky to reap all we did;

Forty-two green tomatoes now line the windowsill in the sunroom, three acorn squash, four butternut; and we are fortunate, fresh zucchini, peppers, bitter and sweet greens every day, despite a gopher incursion that ended our beet harvest at four, despite not knowing what I was doing,
never having planted a greenhouse before;
And we agreed, if the season was extended
even a month, it would be worth it, likely
it will stretch to three at least;

Yet when I walked out that morning, gazing
dumbfoundedly at vine leaves hanging ragged as torn flesh in that dark blue-green transparency of frostbite, my heart ached, grateful I harvested most of the dicey crops; still, peppers hung limp and spongy on frost-damaged bushes, marigolds stood dead with seeds intact, geranium and gardenia still alive, though for how long, winter has just begun, there are degrees to descend into single digits yet;

Cleaning up vines this morning, I am pleased
with what remains, and relieved in a way now the shock has passed, snow will come and our woodshed is full, three days’ labor yielding enough fuel to heat through winter and spring, no more morning and evening watering, I can focus now on art and writing, indoor pursuits I miss when nature beckons me out the door and into the brilliant colors, the long days of spring and summer and yet another season to plant and thrive in the midst of my garden creations.

Too Soon Gone

Where on earth do I belong?
I have taken up space on this orb
for nearly seventy years, many
of these spent in utter confusion,
lost to myself, leaving many
others to wonder, who is this being?
As if I, myself held the answers,
aware of my motivations, I did not;

And I get it, perhaps I am not solitary
in these musings, perhaps it is a product
of age and experience, duration
in a life spent with memories,
reflections, condensation of thirty-
five years of living in the Maine woods,
a home my heart returns to endlessly,
though those days are gone forever;

Even if I could return, I would not,
desecrated forests, polluted waters
where once I swam and floated
without human observation,
contemplating the brilliance
of streaming light from heavenly bodies
not yet emerging into view, swimming
with loons, their young paddling
behind parents, my future not something
I contemplated, rather encountered
often haltingly, day by day, headlong
and too often blindly as if rushing
into blackness, life happening to me,
instead of crafting it, shaping it
into a thing of my own choosing;

And now I sit, watching clouds gather,
listening to birds and the distant thump
of a garbage truck going about its run,
collecting refuse we cannot use,
all the detritus left as a product
of living in the twenty-first century,
too many people, how has it come
to this where, despite wilderness
surrounding me, my thoughts drift
constantly to the unnecessary waste,
not only refuse, but resentments, pain
of those growing up, not knowing years
in human form are precious and short,
building castle walls of separation,
unforgiveness, and it will be gone without warning to all of us, in the blinking eyes left to observe what once seemed an endless, open, uncluttered road of possibilities.

High desert sky, northern New Mexico, 2022 ~ bj

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

Lakeside

Have you ever heard something fall
under water, the dull scrape
of a fishing weight onto granite rock,
the drag, fisherman on the surface,
oblivious to you hiding, suspended
alongside dull mossy green bass,
still and not struggling between
crevasses of boulders, tumbled by time
into that glacial abyss; now tugging
his thin nylon line free, only to break
calm waters to cast again, this time
perhaps successfully;

The shafts of brilliant sunlight
as they pierce the shimmering pond,
how they illuminate that same boulder,
glint of metal on stone, almost too startling
for limited vision, breath taken in order
to descend, lungs now burning,
foolish gill-less fish, unable to remain
submerged indefinitely;

And now I rest under the bluest sky,
breathing in, exhaling that thin mountain air
without effort, cracking of beaks breaking seed
or the snoring of dogs, discerning sounds
as if in command of my own destiny, which,
as we know, is as indistinct a fabrication
as those distant lakeside conjurings.

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