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

Wonderland

Below zero, as indigo wings flap madly,
honing in on empty feeders, and we arise
with the wonder that any warm blooded
creature can survive, urged now to provision
small bellies dependent on habits that must
be sustained, having begun this particular dance
when we arrived over two years now;

And I wonder how they spend the long nights,
hunkered down, puffed out, clustered together
on piñon branches safer near the trunk,
alternately sleeping and chattering, keeping warm
enough, knowing to their tiny bones that this sort
of cold won’t last, merely waiting it out, patience
being beside the point to non-humans,
the natural world possessing its own rhythms,
sap drawing down into roots or rising,
as befits the season;

Casting eyes now into the clearing, withered grasses
replacing brilliantly arrayed wildflowers, prairie dogs
hunkered down in dens as red tail hawks cruise
and soar overhead, aircraft on reconnaissance,
spotting nothing of note on this day but the haze
from wood fires, wafting and settling into the valley;

This is deep winter on Turtle Island, the bluest air
of the high desert mountains of northern New Mexico
spreading wide and wider, opening apertures
to one’s thoughts dovetailed always to landscape,
breathing into yet never outward too far from here,
wherever that is, but close, close enough now to feel
the pulse emanating from this frozen crystalline
rock-strewn interstice amidst piñon and Ponderosa
forests blanketing soil which would not exist
if not for the tenacity of conifers.

wild turkeys in a snowy field ~ bj 2022

Forgiven

I could write about the tiny Arabian horse,
her pale matted coat grown to maximum
for the winter, nature knowing what her children
need toward the end of life, once luster
and beauty as only youth can confer; later,
stripped back to essentials, hip bones protruding
over swayed back, the preciousness
of her fragile locomotion, the gentle spirit;

Then there’s the big white Lab, black eyes
full of fathomless joy at our arrival,
departure, the smallest things as perhaps
only dogs appreciate in that canine way,
his considerable bulk leaned against my body
as I come closer, claiming me before his jouncy
friend and companion has the chance;

The world lost both within two days of late,
and I am left to ponder the transience of life
on this planet, how what seems unfair is simply
what is, the twisted gnarly trunk of the cedar,
twinned to the pine in youth, never able
to break free and take a form more pleasing,
the coupling of two cutting life short for both,
neither able to fully flourish;

And how are we so different? Where we choose
to invest our energy, how we support others with
or without their appreciation, leaning
into the wind or onto one another for support,
gazing at the landscape around us with wondering
eyes, taking for granted our singular human capacity
to notice and imprint, categorizing each encounter
with emotional hues, pleasing or not, while these
unconditionally loving four leggeds greet us
afresh and anew, as if we have not cast
a single black mark on this wide, wide world.

I should add that the horse and the dog spoken of ‘belong’ to neighbors and friends who are near to to us. We watch one neighbor’s horses frolicking daily in the pasture directly downhill from our house, I just happened to see the white horse down one recent afternoon, and by evening, she was no longer in this world. The big white Lab ‘belongs’ to a friend in the community, and he met his end on the highway a day later. Our world seems less colorful without them.

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

Shamed (Unfurling Leaves)

Are we really meant to impose shame,
humiliation, mortification upon ourselves
and others in this life? Is this really the
higher road our spirits wish us to take;
in other words, is this the desire in the mind
of the creator of stars, of galaxies,
of worlds too vast for our knowing?

As I watch leaves unfurl from the book
of my own life, I see events in the past
flashing by like pages stripped from a journal
and tossed out the window of a moving car,
tears of frustrated adolescent confusion staining
every one;

And I know, over fifty years later, the folly
in these perceptions, parents and others tasked
with shaping our impending adulthood simply
repeating patterns not found in Nature (She who
does not shame her children, She who follows
the template of a higher calling), not knowing,
for how could they? Generations of it, locked
in roles meant to be outgrown, just like
the clinging chrysalis bursting tight constraints
to reveal the extraordinary beauty within;

They gave me life and lessons, and for that,
I am grateful; and will assume, now they are gone,
that under the anthills of their own vexations,
they would have wanted for me, as I dearly desire
for my own daughters, to see them walking
higher paths, ears leaning always into the voices
on the wind, the whispers of the spirit,
urging forgive! forget! carry on! Make this world
a better place than you found it!

Fall leaves, Santa Fe, NM ~ bj 2021

Belonging

These slate skies are familiar, in a strange
illogical way; here, there are mountains,
no sea in sight, and though mists appear
like fog, it is high desert with rivers running
through forested landscapes, their waters
unreliable as winter ocean waves in Hawaii
or storms crashing upon boulders on the rugged
coast of Maine, though the danger here is that
these waters run nearly dry this time of year,
not that they will whip themselves into currents
that, to the unaware, can and do take lives
of lobstermen and surfers, alike;

Rains come to this dry landscape,
made fertile only through great effort,
time and patience giving rise to grasses rich
enough to provision livestock who, in turn, feed
many others in that final incarnation within
styrofoam and plastic covered containers scooped
up in supermarkets rather than on the farm;

When my girls were growing up, I would drive
from Maine’s woods and waters to the wide-open
fields to the west where farm families would offer
raw unpasteurized milk and butter, along
with freshly butchered meat, a practice
eventually made illegal by laws enacted
by greedy corporations spreading falsehoods
about the purity of these products
and something was lost in the circle of life,
the understanding of where our food comes from,
the sweat and toil it takes to wake up early
to milk dairy cows, the reverence or lack
thereof in the ending of a life meant to salve
appetites of others, the recycling of manure
to fertilize fields in which we later picked
strawberries, scooped up sweet corn, pumpkins
and other produce our own small plot and my lack
of skill would prohibit for a time;

And now here we are, eight billion and counting,
a planet in crisis and our own species learning
that we must rediscover the old, sustainable ways
of doing things if we are to survive and thrive
amidst too much urban sprawl, corporate corruption
and political greed; we must take back our power
to provide for ourselves and our communities
as we once again discover joy in simplicity
whilst tending to this precious planet and her
flora and fauna as if humans were part
of the web of life, as if we actually belonged.

My flower gardens still provide me absolute bliss.

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