Beauty and Trauma

Juvenile female cardinal near Joe Pye Weed and flea-bane

I have been at a loss for words these past few weeks. But sitting quietly in the back yard–often next to the frog pond–has enabled me to see some beautiful birds. I’ll start with this cardinal, cardinals being for a long time my favorite bird. I saw this rather scraggly (like all juveniles) female while I was lying in the hammock reading. I love their little chirps.

I saw the cardinal just as I started reading a new book, Carnival Lights, by Chris Stark. It has taken me several weeks to finish because it was so painful. I had to stop and start, stop and start. This novel should have all the trigger warnings. It brings to life the theme of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and it also weaves the past into the near present (1969) with the long history of land theft, murder, and oppression. I grew to love cousins Sher and Kris, two teenage Ojibwe girls, running away in Minnesota. But I am not even sure to whom I might recommend the book? I felt like I was plunged into vicarious trauma as a reader, and I wouldn’t want to re-trigger that kind of trauma for my Native friends, one of whom already mentioned that, yeah, she’d never be able to read it.

Yet there were also threads of beauty and resilience interwoven into the tapestry of the story that fed my spirit too. Such powerful gorgeous writing, such depth of expression, such love. It is a brilliant book. I first found it because it was recommended by a Native author I love–Mona Susan Power. So perhaps for some Native women, the trauma is well known and understood, and the beauty and love in this story is a healing balm.

For me, in between reading, I had to go to my own backyard to find the grounding and fortitude to be able to continue. I was sitting near the pond watching the frogs when two yellow warblers (I think that’s who they are) started flitting about in the bushes, trying to attract my attention–perhaps away from something else? It seems too late for there to be a nest, but who knows? It must be almost time for their migration south. They were definitely letting me see them, and then flying to another bush close by. I saw them on two or three separate days, and caught these photos.

I think this is a yellow warbler in the nine-bark bush near the pond.
I think this is a yellow warbler female, seen on a different day in the same nine-bark bush, with a summer sweet bush in the background.

What do we do with the obscene brutality and violence that our whole society is built upon? What do we do with the exquisite beauty of a bird on a summer day?

A hummingbird hovering while drinking at the feeder

Magic in the midst of illness

Woke up to a misty morning on this new moon day, and started reading my journal from the last new moon until today. It is a ceremony I honor each new moon, and it is a way for my life to teach me.

I was struck by some passages from the time of Halloween/Samhain, that special time of connections to the ancestors. Because of chronic illness and its deep fatigue, I haven’t felt very spiritually focused lately, not much energy for deep ritual. Plus in COVID times, we don’t have our seasonal gatherings either. But it seems like the ancestors and spirits are reaching out to me nonetheless.

I did manage to cook salmon and potatoes for dinner on Samhain to honor some of Margy’s and my various ancestors. I listened to Quebecois music while doing dishes, and drank East Frisian tea. During the night of the full moon/blue moon I suddenly woke at 4 a.m. and saw the moon shining brightly outside my window. The next day, I saw a cardinal–my healing messenger bird–at the bird-feeder–the only time I’ve seen one there all this season. I was watching TV a couple days later and stumbled upon the movie Coco, which (despite its flaws) got me into the mood of Dia de los Muertos.

Marigolds growing self-seeded in our garden strip near the road.

I was looking for things to watch on our Roku and stumbled upon a series on Canadian Rivers. The best episode was on the Moisie River, or Mishtashipu in the Innu language. I had first learned about this river from Innu people who were fighting to protect it from a hydrodam planned by Hydroquebec. They won that fight, partly because there were also rich white people trying to protect their own salmon fishing. It was beautiful to see the river, and to listen to the Innu people who call it home. (And by the way, the word-segment “ship” in Mishtashipu is a cognate to “sip” in Passamaquoddy, which means river. I feel happy to know that.)

All these little threads meandering unexpected through my days, pulled from me this prayer: “Ancestors, are you reaching out to me from the other side of the veil? Even though I have so little spiritual concentration or focus right now? I open my heart to your presence.” I remembered magical moments of other times when I felt the presence of spirit close by. When my Innu ancient-grandmother, Nukum, first appeared, holding a bowl full of the universe. When I was able, despite all odds, to find the grave of my great-grandmother Claudia in Ottawa. When I was sitting right next to my dad as he took his final breath on this earth.

At the tiny headstone of my great-grandmother Claudia.

During those Samhain days, I was also working on a testimony about my family’s role in colonization. I was feeling the weight of the ancestors–the migrations, the wars, so much. I was feeling overwhelmed by that weight, I was feeling that I could not carry that weight, or imagine ways to find healing for this aspect of my heritage. I feel weary even from the weight of my many living relatives who seem trapped in a cult of lies, there is much estrangement between us. And so once again I reach back to spirit kin.

Finally, I hear: “You don’t have to carry the weight. Let go. Remember trust. I am here even when you cannot hear me, in this dark night of the mind and body. You are already in my hands. It was never a question of guilt or innocence. It was always about love. It is okay to trust my love. Breathe in love.”

And so, today, day of the new moon–this new moon which is also considered part of the time of closeness to the ancestors and spirits–I let myself hear those words again. There is room for magic to intervene, even in the midst of illness and fatigue, even when I cannot dance or sing or build a fire. And I am filled with gratitude.

Rituals of Spring

Cardinal on car – 2020The earth is waking up in our neighborhood, and all her creatures. I love the cacophony of bird song that I hear when I walk in the morning. The other day I saw this little red fellow pecking at the side mirror of an automobile parked in a driveway next to a long hedgerow of bushes. It is a common cardinal thing. When he sees his reflection in the glass, he thinks it is a competitor, and tries to defend his territory. If you look closely, you can see his reflection in the glass too, though most of the time, I see him pecking the side mirror, not the car window.

But what is so funny about this to me is that it has been the same cardinal, the same driveway, and the same car for the last three years.  Or it might be the same cardinal. They say they live about three years on average. If it is not the same cardinal, I am sure it would be the son of the previous cardinal, learning these important spring rituals from his father. I went back into my photos app to confirm my recollections and found these photos from the last two years.

Cardinal on car 2019

Cardinal on car, 2019–He had jumped from the side mirror just before I snapped the shot.

Cardinal on side mirror – 2018

Cardinal on car, 2018

As for me, I finally braved my spring ritual of pruning the cherry trees in our food forest. I am still such a novice about all things concerning fruit trees and each year I forget the whole process and have to relearn it, and then hope for the best. After reading all the entries on pruning in the Holistic Orchard book, I felt even more confused. So then I looked at several Youtube videos on pruning cherry trees. (By the way, there wasn’t one perfect one, or I would recommend it here.) Finally, I ventured out, and with a prayer to the trees themselves for help, I trimmed back wayward and unruly branches so the three-years-from-planting trees will have strong scaffolds, and lots of light. Next, I’ll have to venture to the peach tree, which has a totally different method for pruning.

I have also started a bit of terracing next to our asparagus bed near the side of the garage. There is a slope there that didn’t work to hold grass or clover, so our hope is to make a path a little lower than, and next to, the asparagus bed, with logs on either side to stabilize the soil. Then we might put in some sort of annual vegetable bed on the other side of that path. Most likely, we’ll do a small sized hugelkultur mound raised bed.  But more on that later. If we do it, I’ll write another blog post about it.

I hope you are finding time to get outside and observe your own spring rituals.

Quickening

At winter solstice, the sun begins to rise earlier each morning, but only by about one minute every couple days.  As we approach the spring equinox, the changes begin to quicken, each day the sun rises earlier by one or two minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but I feel this sense of speeding up. This morning, I woke at 6, and found myself jumping out of bed, wanting to get outside as quickly as possible, so as not to miss the dawn.

Gang of turkeysI was not disappointed. First of all, there was the waning moon shining bright in the western sky.  Then there was the gang of turkeys marching down the end of my street.  Twenty strong, they roam the place like they own it, and they do, as much as we do. Around the corner, a neighbor walks her little dog: Sparkles is still a puppy and just can’t contain herself when I approach.  She is trying to learn not to jump.  But she jumps. So we say our good mornings with enthusiasm.

Cardinal with tuftsOn my own again, around another corner, I hear a cardinal singing. He is already looking for a mate, or marking out his territory. I can see him in the tree, his characteristic shape visible with its tufted head, even though he is too far away to see the brightness of his red feathers.

The streets are a mix of clear pavement and icy patches, so I make my way carefully, no rushing.  But I feel buoyant in the  early morning light.  Finally, I approach the brook, and look over to the east, where I catch my first glimpse of the sun rising through the thicket of trees.

I am a morning person, but I usually don’t like to get up before 6 a.m. Just before sunrise is my favorite time of the day, but if it gets too early, I have a hard time making it out of bed.  In this regard, I will be saved by Daylight Savings Time on March 10. The sunrise would have been at 6:03 that day, but we jump our clocks ahead, so it slides back to 7:03. Then we have all the days until April 15 before it approaches 6 a.m. again. Nonetheless, everything is starting to wake up now. Buds are starting to appear on the fruit trees. Birds are singing. They know.

Sunrise in trees

[True happiness is not in buying things, but in being thankful for all that we already have. You can ignore any ads that appear at the end of these posts.]

Moments of Joy

Capisic Brook invisible cardinals

I saw a group of cardinals on my walk today! I haven’t seen them all winter, but as I stood still, watching the beauty of Capisic Brook, first one and then another and then more appeared in the distance.  You can’t really see them in the photo, but after the brook bends to the right, and then to the left–they were there in the bushes near the water. Then, as I was walking home, I heard a cardinal sing in the trees nearer my house. Joy!

I was thinking more about the fun wheel I created the other day. I put “Walk” as something to do under the element of fire, but really, my morning walks include all the elements. Fire is for the movement of my body, and sometimes, the bright sun rising.  But I almost always walk to the brook–which is water.  And I am connecting to the trees and the land and sometimes little animals–which is earth. Hearing the songs of birds, breathing in the invigorating air, well that is air.

Sometimes the walk feels like a chore–getting out there in the cold–it’s exercise, you know, good for me, I should do it, etc.  And my usual definition of fun is something I don’t have to do–no “shoulds.” But often, even usually, once I get out there, a walk is a doorway into moments of delight, moments like seeing the cardinals today, or finding turkeys in the street, or sometimes near the brook, catching a glimpse of a fox or a raccoon. Moments of surprise and moments of joy.

What might you do today to open a doorway into possibility, into moments of joy?

In Between

Banner with cardinalTransitions create a liminal time, a time on the threshold between old and new, between past and future, a sacred time, perhaps a dangerous time.  Yesterday, I turned in my keys to the congregation where I had ministered for 13 years.  My retirement is official.  But who am I now?

It is not that I didn’t have any ideas about what I might like to be doing after I finished that work.  I imagine I will still be on A Spiritual Journey into Earth Community, what this blog is all about.  But what I notice, and have been noticing the last few weeks, is a sense of floating or flying, a sense of directionless.  I haven’t been able to put it into words.  But artist Cathryn Falwell captured it in this beautiful banner she created for me as a retirement gift.  (Thank you Cathryn!) The red cardinal is flying over the terrain of earth, hills, trees, clouds, water.  The landing is not yet in sight.

It is not a fearful time, nor sad really, though I have moments of sadness about letting go. It is not really excited or joyful either. I am not doing a happy dance.  It is “in between” everything. I remember that I wanted to have a sense of spaciousness, an empty space before I filled it with new things.  So perhaps it is a spacious time, though it doesn’t quite feel spacious yet.

I realized a few days ago that summer in Maine always carries a sense of urgency. There is such a short growing season, and the garden clamors for attention. We have reached the solar festival of Lammas, the early harvest celebration.  The garden is full of harvestables–huge kale plants, and basil; the oregano and thyme herb clusters have expanded and gone to flower to the delight of all bees; volunteer blackberries are starting to ripen in the back of the yard and down the street at a vacant lot.  We are also overgrown with crabgrass and could never finish all the weeding that one might do. Plus there are always practical things to attend to–meals, dishes, bills, household maintenance.  Not to mention that the beach also calls us to swimming during these hot sunny days that end so quickly.

So what is spaciousness? How do I float along in this empty and full terrain?  Perhaps I just float along.  Perhaps I just float along, until the next sacred thing emerges.

Mirror

Cardinal looking at side mirror – Version 2The other day on my walk, I saw a male cardinal fly back and forth to a side mirror on an automobile.  I could imagine his inner dialogue: Who is that other cardinal who is invading my territory?  I will scare him away by attacking him!  Hey, he is still there!  Get out of my territory, you interloper.  Stay away from my nest.  Go on!  Get away. Hey, you’re still there.  I’ll show you who’s boss!

Sadly, the drama continued as I walked on.  But every once in a while, he sat proudly on top, as if he was satisfied that the foe had been vanquished.

We never do that, do we?  Imagine that the enemy is out there, and we’d better keep our guard up–only to discover that the enemy is ourselves?  Or that, in fact, we are the only ones in the arena of our lives?  Maybe it doesn’t matter what we think the other folks are doing–maybe competition is like that mirror–there is no one here but us.

Cardinal on side mirror – Version 2

 

The Red Bird is Singing

cardinal at dawn

On my walk this morning at sunrise, I heard the cardinal singing, and then, for the first time this season, I was able to see him up high in the trees.  There is a symphony of birds each morning, that has been going on for a couple weeks–since around Groundhog Day actually.  I read that birds have photoreceptors in the bases of their brains that record the length of the dark period each day. As the darkness shortens, and as days lengthen, birds get spring fever.  Just like us.  So their songs signal that spring is just around the corner.  Or at least that we are halfway there.  Maybe we in Maine should call Groundhog Day, “Bird Song Day” instead.

Young Cardinal-4 Photos

At first I wondered what a cardinal was doing, hover-flying near a flowering bush, almost like a hummingbird.  The next time I took a walk, I saw him sitting on the grass.  He let me take a photo, and then flew up in short stretches to a wire, another wire, a tree branch, another tree branch, and finally, all the way across the street.  That is when I figured out that he was learning to use his wings. The next day, in a misty rain, there he was again, perched on a white picket fence, before he flew up to a wire.  You go, cardinal! I hope you make it all the way.Young Cardinal 1 – Version 2

Young Cardinal 2Young Cardinal 3Young Cardinal 4