The Bag

I have had a summer practice of going to the Rio Grande river many mornings to start my day before the heat waves of desert afternoons.  It is a short ten minute drive from my place and if lucky I can catch a glimpse of the elephants at the zoo from the vantage point where I park my vehicle.  Love the elephants. Always a big thrill to see these magnificent animals.  My friend Autumn has a fine plan to take these five elephants to the river, but that is a story for another time.  

Body, mind, spirit feels a certain lift moving through the paths in the woods. Especially today when I am a little brain-agitated, I breath deeper with every step.  It is September 16th, a full moon and a lunar eclipse.  I note my beloved cottonwood trees are just starting to turn, soon they will glorify the river with multitudes of magnificent heart-shaped yellowest leaves. It rained last night and so the paths are soft under foot. Everything living seems glad.

Each trip to the shallow river is a journey to a mini-beach.  There is so little water flowing in the spring and summer that the river bed is completely exposed nearly half way across the width at the spot where I frequently enter. Today there are a group of six people and two dogs at the water's edge, they are clearly loving the moment as well.  I take off my shoes and walk barefoot for awhile into the muddy shallows of water.  There are a few birds now, a white shore bird, a couple of ducks; as migration time has just begun.  Only bits of litter spoil the otherwise pristine views of the volcanos to the west and so I have taken to picking up discarded plastic water bottles, old tin cans filled with sand, candy wrappers and such stuff when I go.  It gives me a sense of accomplishment.  Sometimes I remember to bring a bag to carry it out but today I forgot.  I gather up a few things into a pile determined to come back later with a bag to collect it.

But as I was driving home, an odd coincidence, a white plastic shopping bag was literally flying down the street directly towards me.  It had the quality of being on a mission.  Mesmerizing like the ephemeral video of a floating plastic bag in the film, American Beauty, this airy animated object compelled me to brake, get out of the car and grab it before it sailed away. "Right on," I thought, "just what I need". Bag in hand, I turned back to the river's edge and picked up as much trash as it could contain.

Curious wonder. Ask and ye shall receive.

A chance occurrence or something greater?
I like the simple magic of it.

Next day, on my way back again, no kidding, another bag flying down the street in front of me.


The Bird Who Came in Through the Doorway

As I sit in my morning meditation with Rune stones, ancient Nordic symbols, I chant to connect me with all that is alive, I hear the distinct sound of wings flapping.  Not the wings of my canary Piccolo- who is singing golden trills in his cage behind me- but the wings of another bird.  A bird from outside has flown into my urban loft space, through my open door on the third floor. I look up as she lands above us on a black pipe near the ceiling, up about twelve feet on the sprinkler system.  She has perched momentarily, directly over my new painting of Sandhill crane’s wings- which is leaning on an easel. Later, I consider what a miraculous blessing this is for my feathered painting but in the excitement of the moment, I just feel concern for the bird’s safety.

The small brown one flys across the width of the space to another black pipe, pauses above Piccolo, then cruises down the length of the loft over a half wall into the bedroom.  I am completely focused on her presence in my space.  She is moving toward the windows facing south, the direction from where she came in.  But she can’t get out as the windows are closed.  I hate the sound of her failed attempts hitting against the glass.   I enter the room and want to help but fear I will scare her off again in another direction.  She sits on the narrow ledge of the window casing for a bit, no doubt stunned and then hops down to the window sill where she allows me to pick her up. Wild bird in hand, I cannot say for certain if this is a House Sparrow but probably, yes. She is small, sandy brown and sturdy, with a very strong looking beak.  I gently cover her eyes with my hand as I carry her outside.  All of this spans a minute or two; I sit down with her in my hands onto a chair on the balcony. Taking a breath, I lift my fingers from her eyes so that she might see to get her bearings. I let go and she is free again.

Instantly she flys straight out over the balcony railing to the very top of a dead branch on a tree, in a neighbors lot two doors down. I can see her there and she appears to be looking back toward me. It is simply magical to witness her soar with swift speed to the familiarity of the tree. What could she possibly imagine just happened?  

As I gaze at her I notice the space between us is filled with dancing particles of tiny points of light.  They seem to mix with and through everything, sparkling up the air.  More wonder happens as I observe a distinct aura of light above the tops of the trees around where she is perched.  It appears as if there is a brighter band of energy around the edges of all the trees in the field of my heart vision.  Something opened within me when the bird flew off, I was given a brief glimpse into non-ordinary reality.  She gifted me something I cannot explain, a heightened few precious moments and then it was gone. The vision faded but I cannot stop thinking about it.

Reading from Ted Andrews’s book Animal-Speak I find this quote:

“In the beginning of all things, wisdom and knowledge were with the animals; for Tuawa, the One Above, did not speak directly to man.  He sent Animals to tell man that he showed himself through the beasts, and that from them, and from the stars and the sun and the moon, man should learn...for all things speak of Tuawa.” *

Andrew’s says the word “animal” is derived from the Latin word “anima,” meaning soul or breath of life.  The wild in “wild animal” comes from the Anglo-Saxon “wilde,” referring to living free with Nature and not under human control. Surely Ms. Sparrow gave me some of her sparkle, her animate breath of life when she entered my nest for a short while.  I feel connected to all things alive as I process this wonder, I pick a Rune stone: “Ken” which is shaped like an arrow head sideways < and stands for the element of Fire. It represents life giving fire and spiritual creative energy. Gladly, with gratitude, I will paint more feathers today.

*Chief Letako-Lesa of the Pawnees Tribe to Natalie Curtis, circa 1904


Ecology and the Eco-self

Environmental activist and Buddhist scholar, Johanna Macy wrote in 1991, "Among those who are shedding ... old constructs of self, like old skin or a confining shell, is john Seed, director of the Rainforest Information Center in Australia. One day we were walking through the rainforest in New South Wales, where he has his office, and I asked him, 'You talk about the struggle against the lumbering interests and politicians to save the remaining rainforest in Australia. How do you deal with the despair?'
He replied, “I try to remember that it's not me, john Seed, trying to protect the rainforest. Rather, I am part of the rainforest protecting itself. I am that part of the rainforest recently emerged into human thinking." "

I find these words to be so helpful in my own quest to be part of the solution; a profound example of thinking in alignment with the web of life. If we see ourselves as part of the forest, river, landscape, ocean -protecting ourselves from self-destruction- then of course, we will have a much better chance of making compassionate actions. And to take this one step farther, in the same piece, Macy quotes from a letter by a student she calls Michael:

I think of the tree-huggers hugging my trunk, blocking the chain saws with their bodies. I feel their fingers digging into my bark to stop the steel and let me breathe. I hear the bodhisattvas in their rubber boats as they put themselves between the harpoons and me, so I can escape to the depths of the sea. I give thanks for your life and mine, and for life itself. I give thanks for realizing that I too have the powers of the tree-huggers and the bodhisattvas.

Macy is writing about the emergence of the eco-self, a heart- open shift from an egocentric separatist perspective. When I consider my life as intrinsically loving and connected to all that is, then I realize the idea of other is merely a construct.   If there is ever to be a truly healing consciousness on earth, a recognition of this premise, that we are part of the whole not unrelated from other but one witnessing experience, seems fundamental.  

One of my daily practices is to work with Rune stones every morning to help me feel more
connected to the great web of life. The use of rune stones for divination is old, at least from the 3rd century. Each of the 25 stones -Germanic alphabetic letter forms and their sounds- name elements of nature like water and plants as well as abstract constructs like peace and fulfillment.  By speaking them in succession, repeating these archtypal sounds, I create a container of support for my day.  Over time the experience of working with these sounds, their forms and meanings has helped me to resonate with a deeper sense of connection to myself as part of something greater.

In his book The Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram theorizes that over the centuries our alphabets lost their original connection to nature -referential letter shapes and sounds.  We became less connected to nature, less of our experience in life evolved with nature through our written words. Add to that the industrialization of civilization, over-population and a well shaken cocktail of greed, war, fracking and monocultures. Over time we have forgotten that hidden wisdom which is the etymology of the runes. If we practice something to remind us of that union now, perhaps we can like john Seed become a part of a more empathetic world-view protecting itself.  Maybe for all the complexity in the world, all the environmental destruction, war and confusion, healing can be as simple as the insight to reconnect ourselves consciously to the greater web of life.


Numinous Fields



numina |ˈn(y)oōmənə|
plural form of numen .
numen |ˈn(y)oōmən|
noun ( pl. -mina |-mənə|)
the spirit or divine power presiding over a thing or place.
ORIGIN early 17th cent.: from Latin.

the numinous beauty of these ancient relics: spiritual, religious, divine, holy, sacred; mysterious, otherworldly, unearthly, transcendent.

from the Latin, numin=divine power
numinous |ˈn(y)oōmənəs|
having a strong religious or spiritual quality; indicating or suggesting the presence of a divinity : the strange, numinous beauty of this ancient landmark.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin numen, numin- ‘divine power’ + -ous .

Crane migration 2015

My crane painting migrated to his new home in October.  We installed him in his chambers at the Federal court house on the sixth floor facing northward. He can look out across the vast expanse of the city as the real birds fly in and out of Albuquerque. Now, as the Sandhill cranes - the Grus canadensises- are moving south, they are landing in small family groups and larger flocks all along the Rio Grande corridor.  It is my favorite time of year.

One day last week, my friend, Elise and I drove in the late afternoon to the Bernardo wildlife refuge where we had seen the cranes last year.  It is a place of wide open corn fields, numinous fields, planted specifically for the cranes near to the Rio Grande river. An open space reserved for the birds to rest for the winter, it is a sacred space.

As the late afternoon sun crawls behind billowing clouds and the moon is still hidden behind the mountain, Sandia, we see "fingers" of God (a hundred shining rays of sunlight) touching earth as we approach the refuge.

A lone Great Blue Heron is in a ditch when we cross over  in my bulky vehicle.  We disturb him when we stop to look at him and he moves away from us on his massive wings.  Elise spots a large garden spider in it’s web further connecting us to this vast web of life. As we come around the loop road a second time, my friend notices a pair of Red-tailed hawks ahead  in a bare-branched tree.  We brake and watch them as one flies out to hunt and then circles around in front of us and out of view.

Many groups of cranes, in flapping- wing formation come in low to roost for the night.  We hear their calling as they fly in overhead.  And later we track them by the sound of their converations down a ditch road, like we are on safari.  

A male pheasant steps out from a corn row, his ringed neck
a clear sign of something continuous.
The sky is full with glory colors: lavenders, pinks and many blues.
Sunset is another miracle to witness as we look west from a bridge over the Rio Grande.  The yellow- leafed trees reflect into the muddy water.  And then the full moon rises, a pure white glistening disc, massive through the undulating clouds to the east.  I am aware of the many directions of life manifesting above, below and all around us. Numinous fields.


Vincent van Gogh and Nature

50 Paintings and Drawings at the Clark Museum
Williamstown, Massachusetts

In the web of nature, where van Gogh created his masterpieces, he was transfixed by all that is alive: rocks,  water, trees, humanity. He was able to portray life supernaturally with brush and paint. He wrote, "[i]f one draws a pollard willow as if it were a living being, which after all it is, then the surroundings follow almost by themselves, provided only that one has focused all one's attention on that particular tree and not rested until there [is] some life in it." 1

A sweet euphoria slowly swept through me as I walked through the van Gogh exhibit at the Clark Museum. I had never been there before and it is a stunning facility. The museum is on an exceptional site, green rolling hills frame the contemporary architecture of the building. Cows graze in open pasture behind it just beyond an infinity water pool, where visitors can sit and take it all in.  With the natural beauty of this place in the Berkshires in mind, Richard Kendall, Chris Stolwijk and Sjaar van Heugten curated a superb exhibit.  Included are paintings and drawings on loan from many noted collections -the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, the Netherlands; the Museé d’Orsay, Paris; the National Gallery, London; The Metropolitan Museum, New York; and the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

As we entered the first room of the exhibit I was drawn into several works on paper. I wish I could hold them all in my mind's eye now, it is a fleeting joy. Although a bit dark in the first room and somewhat problematic to see the work because of that, (dimly lit to protect the delicate works on paper), as we moved through the rooms each piece opened my irises further to the light within the work.  Vincent was so present there, hovering around us.  

His work impresses upon me the Artisan- Priest- Minister that he was and how much of that energy he communicated, his shamanistic side, in the artwork he created.  Van Gogh wrote about his "awareness that art is something greater and higher than our own skill or knowledge or is something which, though produced by human hands, is not wrought by hands alone, but wells up from a deeper source, from man's soul..." 2 It is difficult to separate the paintings from the artist, the tragic circumstances of his struggle to survive mentally, physically and emotionally. Yet there is a revery that he conveyed painting a vase of flowers; a portrait; in the Dutch landscape; in an interior space which holds so much vibration that the work pulses.  Everything is alive and breathing in his later paintings.

In the second room there was a Monet painting that van Gogh had seen in person.  It was beautiful, of course, in a gilded frame as we are accustomed to seeing from that era. At the moment I was observing it, on the top edge of the frame, mid-point, sat a live fly, ever so still as if it had just emerged from the field in the painting.  As I read now the detailed letters that Vincent wrote to his brother Theo, I am reminded of this fly on the frame as well as one of the final paintings he made just weeks before he died of a self-inflicted wound.  Landscape at Auvers in the Rain, is the concluding painting in the exhibit.  Years before he wrote to Theo about witnessing a rainstorm:

“Did I write to you about the storm I watched not long ago?  The sea was yellowish, especially close to the shore.  On the horizon a streak of light and above it immensely large dark grey clouds, from which one could see the rain coming down in slanting streaks.”3

In the exhibit, just to the right of the painting, a small Japanese print was included that may have inspired the painting or perhaps it was the earlier experience in Ramsgate, England that he wrote about to Theo. I was touched by his courage as a painter to put in the slanted lines indicating rain.  It was a risk, a risk that worked. Streaked with sadness, it moved me to tears. I could sense that the gallery guard standing next to the painting saw my emotional response, as I viewed Landscape at Auvers in the Rain, and I wondered how many other visitors to the show he had witnessed react in a similar way?  If I were a fly on the wall watching, I imagine, there were many.  Van Gogh said, "surely, the true path is to delve deep into nature." 4 Surely, he did.

In Rain–Auvers (1890, National Museum of Wales, Cardiff), - See more at:

1,2,3,4  from The Letters of Vincent van Gogh

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