Exposed

Things will never be what they once were, yet haven’t these pandemic times been a needed shakedown of colossal proportions? A viral reminder that sameness, routine, even the time of a ticking clock are all human constructs, illusions we have gathered around us, bright individuated cloaks of security; still there is no comfort in the thin shrouds in which we now find ourselves clad, shivering in our newfound quasi-nakedness, and suddenly the formerly faceless man or woman pandering on the street corner seems eerily familiar;

Springtime in New Mexico is a blustery affair, Stellar Jays flying sideways, Black Vultures swept up high, then low on colliding thermals, protection sought in tall Ponderosas, time to gather what acumen they possess in order to move on, survival keeping them close to Mother Nature’s bones, and the main difference between those avians and us is that they sense their bit of earth and range within the scheme of it, there is no desire for more, nor longing for what might have been;

Hubris is the sole bane of the human species, and if Covid has served us well, it has been to level the playing field, teach us in a kinesthetic way the folly of self importance, demonstrating under a magnifying glass how alike we are to the man under the cop’s knee, unto the fears of the cop himself; shaking us down and down until we can see all others within our own psyches, and it is only then that we glimpse how akin we are to what’s outside the bubble of comfort and even how interdependent we are with all of it; a tiny virus has randomly crossed racial barriers, oceans, continents and economic strata to reach into the soul of things and root out our deepest fears, and if we remain strong, grounded and focused, the winds of change sure to blow many off-course cannot penetrate even the sparsest of garments;

And so we wait, cultivating patience where before it may have been lacking; we live, laugh, love and grieve with those we have come to know far better in this pause of shut-down, unmasked in the face of a new intimacy while we breathe in the gift of life, feeling gratitude for all we have been given; then it’s back to the Garden, where we get our hands dirty as we mindfully match pace now with nature’s rhythms, the inevitable awakening into a season of buds and bright blossoms; and eventually, in harmony now with All That Is, perceived Serpents included, we may finally reap the long-awaited harvest.

Acequias, or irrigation ditches, were hand dug all through New Mexico by the conquering Spaniards. Beginning in the 1600’s up until present day, these have been used to irrigate fields in this dry country.

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.

Hairball

Driving to the post office two miles
down the road, a camouflaged coyote sits,
watching traffic go by, head swiveling
to and fro, ears perking up when I spot her,
and we think we speak different languages;

Yesterday as I approached our mountain home,
a female elk stood in the center of the road
she was crossing, long enough to inspect the car,
the occupant, who knows, I am not a fan
of anthropomorphisms, and yet I did take note;

It is in nature I feel most at home; still, the danger
during these pandemic times is that I might
once again forget I am part of the human race,
having learned the importance of community
only recently in this long life;

I think I am alone with these strangling feelings,
I think I am free inside myself and yet,
during yesterday’s drive, zoning out as the miles
ticked by, I felt an orb of release, like coughing
up a hairball, and it was solid as the golf balls
we kids used to crack open, only to discover miles
of something like rubber bands,
as unlike the ball’s shiny dimpled exterior
as guts are to the face we show the world;

And so these inner fibers, once released by inside
or outside forces stretch and rebound, extend out
and return to me, as they have done, year upon year,
remaining unchanged unless, that is, I alter
something perceived, an old pattern or habit, thus
unsticking the bonds that solidify them within.

©Bela Johnson 2021

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.

 

Wide Open

An avalanche or a rockslide cleaves sharply
from its origins; boulders of perception tumbling,
tumbling, thundering carelessly over terrain
flinching passively; unexpected projectiles
lodging fragments into storied ice;

Millennial madness, and it drives and it falls
as it plummets and crumbles into heaps of rubble
and debris, like emotions or grief lodging
sideways into DNA;

Choreographed over ages too wide and deep
to fathom, mountains draw themselves
down toward the sea; humans carelessly careen
into one another, conductors of orchestrated
imaginings wanting to fasten on,
as the ground slips away, and away.

Photos of the Rio Grande Gorge taken on Christmas Day, 2000 

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.

Inspiration

We wait for it, court it, this breath
the newborn has little choice
but to take, the drawing in,
and from whence does it come?

Some think they know, call it muse,
the artist cares only to the degree
that it serves, insinuates itself,
etheric substance filling up and up,
bright balloon rising to sail
through azure skies, over the land,
joining the clouds, nebulous
non-structures of the heavens,
jump on them and fall,
yet substantial enough to bring
needed rains, raise crops, seep
into parched soil, bringing a forest
to fullness and life;

Inspiration arrives on its own whim,
contemplate if you will the morning
fire in the woodstove as it sucks
and draws air, igniting, as it must,
the fuel inside, spreading warmth
and bright light essential to life
as are the creative sparks
we nourish inside.

Buddha and the Effigy

A vast ocean casts itself
into view, each wave thunders
to shore as if it had
always known; black sand
responding, surrendering
to the current, an entire
unseen world existing
under the sea.

I don’t even recognize
who looks out from my eyes
some days, I know so little,
perhaps it’s god or something
like it, trying hard
to get through;

If the soul does not exist
as some Buddhists say,
what lies beyond the body,
what unifying presence
holds worlds together?
Maybe Siddhartha had
a blind spot, too;

In the end, does it matter
if we summon what is sacred
from within or without?