Five Nests

"I fear that a world made of gifts cannot coexist with a world made of commodities."- Robin Wall Kimmerer

Along the path nearest to the rivers edge I find first two, later three and eventually five nests just a short radius from one another. They are in plain sight now as tender new leaves are just beginning to appear on the branches they rest in. It has become my favorite renewal place this spring, an area where I go in the late afternoons to connect to the pace of nature, to listen to the rushing river water and to open my vision to other-than-my-own-concerns.  It is my vital refuge.

I note a large velvety bumblebee above my head hovering around a scraggly elm tree.  Swallows fly-catching over the river come swiftly in and out of view. Beavers have been at work at various points, their telltale teeth marks on the cut branches piled up in semi-orderly heaps.  Russian- olive trees are greening out and I observe their teeny buds which will soon open into delicate yellow flowers -offering aroma therapy for the sniffer and the soul.

Each nest differs, some more solidly formed than others. One nest looks to have a piece of something dangling at its base. It flutters in the afternoon breeze like a Tibetan prayer flag below the well contructed nest. Another nest is loosely constructed and looks rather like a miniature version of the beavers cut sticks piled beneath it. This one is just above my eye level, I marvel at the individual size, regularity and placement of the tiny sticks. Each and every twig is nearly identical. What does it take to find all of these dozens of precisely similar pieces?  How many trips back and forth through the woods would a bird make to create this fragile shelter?

April 14th, Good Friday and it is almost 80 degrees today. I take off my sneakers and stand on the wet sand at waters edge.  It is cool on my feet and immediately, I exhale into the simple earthy pleasure of it. The rushing water sounds make me smile. Winter is clearly over and thankfully the cycle of newness continues once again. The river is unusually high now after many months of being pretty much a sandbar, it laps up on my toes.  This river is no less sacred to me than the Ganges is to the people of India.  I love it and hate that it has been compromised.  Dammed up, north of Albuquerque, controlled by the water authorities for use downstream.  Good for agriculture sure but I resent that no water is allocated for the river. This river, the Rio Grande, is not considered in calculated equations as a living spirit, only as a resource; not something of value in and of itself. Once upon a time, the Rio Grande would naturally flood in the spring. All the forested areas along the banks would receive water from the run off of snowmelt and rain, filling the banks to overflowing. The cottonwood trees would have wet roots and a place to nurture young seedlings when their cottony covered seeds floated down to the earth. Water, tree, bird, nest, egg. Which comes first?

Perhaps the connections between all things was more obvious a century ago.  When I think about the nests and how closely related they are to the trees they are built within, I am wonderstruck. Is the bird aware of the relationship between twig and tree?  Does the water know the potential for new growth that it is offering to the river banks?  We do not learn to consider all things as having a consciousness, other than animals, we tend to think of everything else, plants and minerals, as inanimate.  I do not believe this is so, there is far too much evidence to the contrary. Plants do respond to the environment just as we do to toxicity, love, nurturing.  Before the industrial revolution, we may have been living closer to the land, to our food sources and to nature.  But does that mean we were any more conscious of the connections between all life forms? 

April 15th I am back again to visit the five nests. I check them out, two in a Russian -olive, one in a fruit-bearing mulberry, a fourth, the one with the flag attached, is higher up in another mulberry tree.  And the fifth one, nearest to the waters edge, is in a scrubby something-of-a- tree with small thin green leaves.  No signs of life in the nests yet.   I am also a bit concerned because I have just read a report:
"The bird population in Vermont's forests has declined 14.2 percent over 25 years, largely due to several factors, including invasive species, climate change, and the natural cycle of maturing forests, scientists with the Vermont Center for Ecostudies say."  Our broken forest along the Rio Grande must be in similar decline.

They say birds have been evolving for 100 million years.  I hope they stay with us, I believe they have much to teach us. I live with a canary and I am impressed everyday by his song skills, his ever alert ways, his bright-eyed attention to me when I come near to his cage. He communicates with me in many ways.  We are friends. He knows how to make me laugh with his joyful play.

April 16th, Easter morning.  I will return again to the place of renewal. I am a hopeful artisan witnessing nature, my greatest teacher, create.


February Full Moon, 2017

There is much to make me weep this week. The news for Standing Rock and the Keystone pipeline has not been what the water protectors had hoped for at the end of the environmental impact study. But there will be no impact study. The powers that be have decided to go ahead without it, as if that would be an inconvenience to the river of money to come flowing down the pipeline.  It is hard to fathom how it is that we do not see the need for a shift in the way we walk upon the earth. 

Today feathers are falling.   It is the end of the season when the birds that winter in Mexico and New Mexico will migrate north again.  All the many thousands of Sandhill cranes and Snow geese begin the annual passage to their spring homes to mate and nest and raise their downy feathered little ones.  I return one last time this season to my beloved refuge on the evening of the full moon and immediately notice how empty the fields are now.  Only a day before they were full with cranes.  Did they know by the nearly full moon rise the previous night that it was time to leave?  

How do they navigate the changing of the seasons, by light, by stars, by the angle of the sun?  Who is the leader, who calls the flock to organize as one?

 I pick up feathers from a crane whose body I witnessed here just after it been killed a few weeks ago.  It's body torn into pieces.  Only the wings are left intact now. It is the way of nature, the beauty of it collides with the destructive forces in the chain of life and death. Within the cavity of the open chest I saw its exposed organs, it was difficult to take in what had happened. Of course there is a difference between what is destructive in the natural order of things and that which is destructive in ways which are not.  One is sustainable the other is sacrilege. There is an indigneous story that I have heard recently told by a Native American woman in regard to Standing Rock, she said, the elders have forewarned that when the time of the black snake comes, it will be the end of the world.  Are we in that time?  Are running rivers of oil the great black snake?  I do not know but, I am grateful the birds fly, that they can rise above, traverse the borders, immigrate north and south, over the freeways and industry and return to miraculously make nests again.

On this evening we hope to see the full moon rise with a rare lunar eclipse visible in North America.   I know it will rise over the horizon at 5:38 but we must wait while it clears the mountain between us.   As the first bright curve appears over the edge of the crest, I cannot contain my enthusiasm.  I scream out, "here it comes" like an excited child; I am so thrilled.  We are blessed as there isn't any cloud cover at that moment and we can see the golden planet in all her glory against the cobalt sky.  More than I have ever noticed before, the gentle shadows of the eclipse are giving the great disc dimensionality.  It is electrifying! Only now when I see the photos my friend Elise shot do I register how intense the contrast of the deep blue is with the yellow moon.

There is much to take in. Over our heads the Snow geese are flying in from the fields with the few remaining Sandhill cranes forming a moving pattern like a floating fishnet on the ocean of sky.  A rapture for all the senses!  How I want to make these precious moments last.  How I long for the world to be at peace in all ways, in the most positive expression of evolution, honoring the web of life, like this display of wonderment. Let us hope to receive a new vision. Let us treat the earth as if we recognize that it is a sacred honor to be here.

Photo Elise Varnedoe, 2/10/2017


A Close Encounter: Winter Love Affair

There are bird-blinds at the nature sanctuary I frequent as if going to church.  Along a marshy man-made pond are a series of four small shelters, where humans can observe the ducks and other winged creatures in the water without being noticed.  The blinds are constructed of a simple steel framework covered with many vertical tree trunks and branches for camouflaged viewings. I felt pulled to walk back into the narrow wooded area around the pond to see what I could see, although it was midday and the many thousands of cranes and snow geese were congregating on the open cut-corn fields surrounding the pond.  They are the main attraction, feasting on dry corn cobs, insects and such. At sunset they may come to the pond area to rest for the night, safe from coyotes.   

On this late December afternoon, it was luck that just as I was approaching the exit on the freeway south of Albuquerque, I saw Snow Geese and Sandhill Cranes flying in a tremendous undulating cloud above the fields to my left.  Many hundreds were moving in a fluid whirl like a massive hive of swarming honey bees. But that does not say enough in terms of the scale of these sizable birds, I had to pull over into the breakdown lane to watch, as I burst into tears to witness such a rare spectacle. My beloveds, these birds migrate long distances to spend the winter months here in New Mexico.  As their flyway is in close proximity to me, under an hour, a yearly love affair has begun again.  This day as I walked to each blind around the marshy pond, I came face-to-face with a shy brown mule deer.  We surprised one another on the path.  Our eyes met for a moment when I looked up and saw her standing about 20 feet in front of me.  A gift to behold, she jumped out of view almost instantly and disappeared into the brush along the edge of the next corn field.

Wherever my head had been when I spotted the cloud of winged-ones earlier, their unified sky-dance brought me out of my thinking and into my heart space.  I believe that being in such an open receptive state led me to encounter the dear deer.   Afterward, I look up the word Nature, out of curiosity about the etymology of the word.    Nature in origin, Natura means disposition, one's innate nature, essential qualities, as in the deer's timid nature.  And it is connected to the word, Natal: to be born, the place or time of one's birth.  Natal and Nativity: belonging to one's birth, seems so fitting at this time of Christmas celebrations.  Nativity in its true form, Noel, is from the Latin natalis,  meaning "birth."

I am reminded of the poet Mary Oliver's wisdom:  "...for me the door to the woods is the door to the temple."  Of course, the trees-of-life would be the doors to the divine reaching as they do skyward; holding nests and the next generation of life.   Even the bird-blinds are "tree houses," concealed windows onto the divinity in and around the pond.  Something about the unexpected witnessing of pure essence in nature, the cloud of birds in the air, the deer on the path, all so primal, keeps me coming back.

Robin Wall Kimmerer in her book, Braiding Sweetgrass, asks the question: "Do you think the earth loves you?" A question I have never considered.  Does Mother Nature love us?  To mother, to give birth, to bear fruit, so is a mother's nature.  As it is a mother's disposition to nurture.  At the cusp of the new year, 2017, I am planning to go back to the refuge again with a friend.  It's a place where I can always take a deep breath and pause. When I am open to the pace of nature, I feel intuitively, the cycles of life show us, the earth loves. How could it be otherwise?


I Love You All (For Standing Rock Protectors)

Every natural object is a conductor of divinity.
John Muir

Today I am grateful for you.  You magnificent miracle.  You wonder to behold.  I don't know exactly how to frame this in words as there is far too much to say, but I love you.  I love each one of your burgandy leaves and your coarse fur.  I love your four legs and wagging tail and your soft grey wings. You feathered birds that stand in the corn fields from now until the first signs of spring. And then, I love the beauty of your sprouting green-ness.  
I love the smell of your pine needles. Your intelligent consciousness is part of what  brings this earth plane to life, you plant medicine, you animal medicine. 

You who are mineral as well.  Secretly you speak of the early formations here.  You who are ancient. You teach each day the lessons of patience and being in the here and now.  

Today I am grateful for you.

You magnificent miracle to behold, you risen one of earthly delight.  You who are

the children of old growth forests.  You who are just emerging under the canopy.

You who are the

protectors at Standing Rock.

My teachers say: "Evolution does not go backwards."  I believe that must be true.

The mystics tell us that we need spiritual crisis. That we must enter the Cloud of Unknowing, the deepest despair, the most profound darkness within, without hope, in order to grow spiritually. They call such a time of deep crisis, of great uncertainty, the Dark Night of the Soul. There, in our radical desperation, in our absolute abandonment, it is said, the Divine Doctor awaits. Holy Darkness was Her medicine all along.
-Vera De Chalambert

Yes, I know that is correct.
On a personal level, I know what it is to go through the Dark Night of the Soul.  And thankfully, I know
what it feels like to be on the other side of that darkness. In the Divine Comedy, (and that is what life is, a crazy Divine Comedy) Dante says: I came to myself in a dark wood, where the direct way was lost.   My experience is that it is through surrender that we get to the other side and find our way through the darkness. That is where the Divine Doctor waits. In the letting go and letting something higher, more than our small selves, lead the way through. Surrendering the ego-self to something greater, to the mystery of all that is. It seems on many levels we are lost now, with no clear way through. But thankfully, there are those willing to stand for healing and the greater good.

Today I am grateful for all life on the planet, everything natural, every conductor of divinity.  I am grateful that there are places to go where Nature is still in evidence. Places where one can look around and see open space and evidence of life unobstructed by man-made structures. Yesterday I went to my favorite bird sanctuary to see the Sandhill cranes as they, like magicians on grey wings, appear again in the fields along the Rio Grande River to spend the winter months.  They congregate close together in the fields and delight in one shared community.  They are almost as if one organism, ever flapping its multitudes of wings.  We humans may be in an existential time of darkness on some levels in the outer world post-election 2016, but the cranes give me hope. The cranes and all those who are standing in their hearts, breathing through this time of metamorphosis.


Trees of Life

I write today for three trees that are gone now, hacked up by men with chainsaws.  I see you fallen ones on the median strip of pavement, your remains chopped into pieces.  I have been holding my breathe for a long while waiting for this day to come.  The day the construction would start in front of my building.  I counted 80 trees-trees for buses- that will be cut down.  Is this a fair exchange?  Is this progress?

I weep for each of your leaves and for the men who are "just doin' my job mam."

Did you three trees know I noticed you?  You will be missed, I promise.  I was aware of your plant medicine for the city, helping to purify the toxic fumes from all the vehicles that passed by you each day.* I could tell you suffered and were not so healthy with all the heat and exhaust coming your way.  You will be missed for your leaves changing colors and for the beauty you brought to this place.  I did think about chaining myself to one of you but frankly, I didn't think I could stomach that much toxicity and noise on the street for long and I knew it wouldn't do any good.  The chainsaws and the men would come anyway and cut you down to the ground.  Men in hard hats and fluorescent colored vests from Star Paving (the faded name on their pickup trucks) did you in today, but really who's to blame?

"Just doin' my job mam...mouths to feed."


The chainsaw sounds again and again, as the hard hat men cut each of your branches, grates on my nerves as it destroys you limb from limb.  I make a small offering to you three trees as the backhoe loader passes me by, may you rest in peace.

Let's pull up more oil for petroleum from the ground and spread it around.

Let's frack some more and see what we can explore.

Let's ignore the indigenous tribes as they stand to protect their land and water from the Dakota Access Pipeline.  Let's pull up more oil for petroleum from the ground and spread it around.

My first thought was to leave this cynical poem as the closing here but I thought better about it after I came upon a few paragraphs from Peter London in his book, Drawing Closer to Nature.  If only we took action with a conscious effort toward the interconnectedness of all life in nature as he describes here:

I bring my ax and saw with me to the tree I have chosen to fell, and lay them down away from the tree.  Then I sit a distance from the tree, where I can see it in its entirety.  I bring its vision into me, like a photographer's camera taking into its body the light of that tree. Something terrible and something wonderful is about to happen.  Leaving my axe and my saw, I approach the tree, walking up to it, touching it, feeling its taut and sinewy trunk, its skin, how it springs from the earth, how its limbs reach for the light, the neighborhood it lives in, the neighbors.

And then he prays for this friend, asking for forgiveness, he makes a medicine wheel around the tree noting the path of the sun and the four directions before he carries out his task. 


Some months later, after I post these words, I am reading Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer.  She tells the story of her friend and teacher, indigenous basketmaker, John Pigeon.  He is from a lineage of basket makers from the Potawatomi tribe, she writes: Traditional harvesters recognize the individuality of each tree as a person, a nonhuman forest person. Trees are not taken, but requested.  Respectfully, the cutter explains his purpose and the tree is asked permission for the harvest.  Sometimes the answer is no.  It might be a cue in the surroundings--a vireo nest in the branches, or the bark's adamant resistance to the questioning knife--that suggests a tree is not willing, or it might be the ineffable knowing that turns him away.  If consent is granted, a prayer is made and tobacco is left as a reciprocating gift.  The tree is felled with great care so as not to damage it or others in the fall.  Sometimes a cutter will make a bed of spruce boughs to cushion the landing of the tree.  When they finish, John and his son hoist the log to their shoulders and begin the long walk home.


***For more on trees, their amazing capacity to communicate with one another, their ability to feel and so much more than we comprehend read, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben.