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?

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.

In Two, A Not-Too-Distant Memory

I

Sounds like a woman screaming.

Then I snap back from my twilight reverie,
Coyote is on the move, or calling the brood
in for the night; there must be a den of them
across the vast fields and rushing stream,
seeking safety in the forest about the same time
every evening now. I realize this, being my
sixth eventide on the mountain.

II

The elk are stalking me, noticing traces
of my passage along their own pathways
through these fourteen acres;

I have likewise lowered strands of barbed
wire used to top acres of fence line
where I notice tufts of blonde fur, revealing
fence-vaulting preferences; having no
serious tools with me on this visit, my gloved
wire wrapping will have to do until we are able
to make more permanent adjustments
to allow them passage, once again;

Someone once sought to keep them out,
but elk have roamed these mountains
for as long as time; I say let them pass;
one day we shall meet, Elk and I,
and I will know more about this majestic
creature than ever before.

Arrival

I have spent too many hours marking time,
waiting for changes to come, passing precious
moments in feckless meandering, spinning wheels,
Ariadne in the shadows, balls of twine raveling
and lying in a tangled heap at my feet;

Now we have arrived, dream fulfilled, bustling rats
abandoning the airship that has sailed true,
conveying us here upon shores we once inhabited,
threaded up steep mountain slopes climbing high
and higher until the panorama unfolds, island scarlet
and gold giving way to azure, indigo, purple, pink,
green everlasting, anchoring us back to forest
and field, sacred groves, room to ramble,
all of it, all.