Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Natalie Goldberg--the writing life

Every time I pick up one of Natalie Goldberg’s books and read a page or two, I’m inspired. Mexican Hat--Las Vegas NWR, Las Vegas, NM

I had the pleasure of experiencing four days of study with Natalie Goldberg and Sean Murphy, along with ten other participants. In the whole of that time we devoted ourselves to quieting our minds; and we wrote, and we read aloud, and then we wrote some more.

I had already read three of Goldberg's books prior to this experience but there are more—eleven altogether. If you are a writer or if you are interested in discovering more about who you are, her books are a dream to read, short chapters, gritty, inspiring.

I opened Wild Mind, Living the Writer’s Life this morning and read: “Writing is the act of discovery. If I knew everything ahead of time, why bother writing?”

And that's exactly it. Not knowing is so key to writing and to life. If we knew how to do everything, why bother? So go all out and make mistakes. Try something new and unfamiliar. Discover who you are and what matters. And write. There’s a whole wide world out there to be discovered --both inside and out.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird's Day

I guess if I needed any evidence of the speed and vigilance of this resident male ruby-throat it would be that I can’t get a clear image of him!
This becomes all the more frustrating when I've been able to capture satisfying images of some of the juvenile and female visitors that have managed to sneak a drink from the feeder.
But the male has no time to linger. He is ever vigilant, moving up and down, scanning between drinks.
Yesterday morning while he was peacefully preening high on his perch, another male challenged him. I caught this other-worldly image below as the intruder flashed him a second time before departing.
Our scrappy king never even left his perch.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ruby-throated Tenacity--Part III

On Sunday--a moment of quiet... with time to preen...

and while I watched...

I wished for a longer lens.

But as I look at these images...I'm content again.
This was a moment of softness in a very hard, high speed world.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Ruby-throated Tenacity—Part II

In the past two days, even though I’ve had other pressing projects, I seem compelled to observe the male hummingbird in my yard as much as time allows. I sometimes think patience borders on stubbornness when it comes to trying to capture a photo of these little fire balls. I’ve certainly witnessed far more than I can show photographically.

A breeding male is hyper-alert and aggressive. And truthfully, though I posted Bob Sargent’s description of how the males deteriorate in appearance during breeding season (July 24 post), I had not expected to witness this happening so rapidly nor feel distressed by it.

Despite the poor image you can see breast injuries and the disarray of feathers.

I keep thinking that this male will begin his own migration soon, but just two days ago a courted female joined him at his perch.

I first saw her at the feeder before she settled on a branch near where he normally posts himself. I expected him to zoom in like a missile, but instead, he flew in and quietly perched above her.

Female watching for his arrival.
Male upper left, female lower right.
It wasn’t long before an intruder appeared and the peace of the moment was over. The male returned again to preen but the female did not return. This observation probably spanned a period of three minutes and I feel privileged to have witnessed this deeper glimpse into a hummingbird’s life.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Blue Bug

My story about Rose Mountain would not be complete without introducing you to the blue bug. I am not a buggy person, but I did like this bug. He reminded me of a beloved and be-angeled cat in my past, not in appearance of course, but in the ways these bugs showed up. About the size of a June bug, but more like a lady bug in behavior, they came in shades of blue-gray to blue-green and seemed to like people. They frequently landed on shirts and crawled about, before leaving just as softly as they came. Once as I was writing, one crawled across my notebook, halting my pen. This is what reminded me of my cat, the way he nudged his way into my attention by unceremoniously sitting down in the middle of the page. The Rose mountain blue bug--another new acquaintance.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Silence

Clearly the most profound experience of my stay at Rose Mountain was our teachers, what they taught us about writing (and about living). Both Natalie Goldberg and Sean Murphy are talented and powerful mentors. I am fortunate to have experienced their wisdom and that it lives on in my mind, my practice and in their books. But I have wondered what aspect of this experience made it so difficult to re-engage when I returned home, so much so, that it took a full two weeks before I could feel my feet firmly replanted in everyday life again. I have concluded it was the silence. The silence of the mountain, the silence we observed just after meeting each other--thirteen of us inclusive of teachers, the silence of meditation, of walking, of writing and of listening. There was nothing superficial, shallow or pretentious to occupy our minds. Everything around us was real and pure, the air we breathed through our nose, the earth squarely solid beneath our feet, the whisper of the wind in the pines. There was nothing in the way of our opening up.
Without everyday distractions and demands to hold you to the surface, as your pen moves across the paper, what bubbles up is what matters. And what matters comes from a deeper place. And when you go deep you heal and become open to who you are.
As we read what we had written aloud to each other, this bubbling up was honored with silence, reverent, affirming silence. No reassurances bombarded you. There were no attempts to repair your composure or make your voice go away. No criticism or ‘fix it’ responses, no rushing in to make you feel better. There was only listening and silence. And how does this feel? Uncertain at first. It’s unfamiliar. But what follows is a very settling and strengthened certainty that you have honored who you are. You have listened deeply and heard what you had to say and in the midst of that profound silence, you know that is all that really matters.

The challenge then becomes, how do you hold on to that when you return? How do you incorporate that into your everyday life despite all the surface clamoring? The answer is, you practice.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Ruby-throated Tenacity

I’m bringing my blog focus back from New Mexico to Tennessee for a day to post on the male ruby-throated hummingbird who has claimed my feeder as part of his territory. I finally got this photo of him yesterday morning --not an easy accomplishment and just enough to encourage me. As you know, if you've ever watched them, male hummingbirds on territory are virtual little furies. Alert and territorial, they are constantly watching for intruders and for females who may be attracted to their nectar supply. The reception is noticeably different for the two. When a male ventures near, he is hotly chased away. When a female visits the feeder, she is allowed to drink and when she departs, he follows close behind.
In his book, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Robert Sargent describes the male on territory. “From the day they establish their territories…it becomes life in the fast lane for these little bullies. Almost immediately, their appearance starts to deteriorate. They do not feed properly, their weight starts to decline, and their once pristine feathers start to show the rigors of breeding season, becoming soiled as normal preening is neglected and abraded as the birds crash with abandon through the foliage of their territories."
If you look closely at the first photo, you will see missing feathers, loose tuffs of down and a scruffy rather than sleek, preened appearance—the rigors of pursuits. He begins his day in the pre-dawn light, emitting territorial chirps and paying several early visits to the feeder. I hope to have more photos soon and maybe a few of others passing through. Its mid-July. Early nesters from more northern states are beginning their migration now. I wonder how my tiny neighbor can be any more vigilant.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Steller’s Comedian

My first and only encounter with a Steller’s Jay was brief but gives me a chuckle even now. What a comedian. Not only did he announce his presence with boisterous vocals but he was busy at the same time, hopping about the mid-level pine limbs, never still, as though giving commentary on whatever he was or wasn’t finding there. Then poof, just as suddenly, he was gone.

A member of the corvid family, the jays, along with the crows and ravens, are considered to be the smartest of our birds. When I think of this one, I put together his acrobatics with those noisy vocals and that fluffy head dress he wears and I can't help but smile at this glimpse into his personality.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Gray Headed Dark-eyed Junco

We know them as ‘snowbirds’ in Tennessee, little pink-billed sparrows that come down to the valley when it snows in the higher elevations. This gray-headed form of the dark eyed junco, with his pretty rufous patch, visited my tent in the Pecos wilderness one early morning, hopping inches from its screened doorway while I wrote.
We miss something, living in houses, that waking intimacy with nature that comes from being still, from being available. Feeling the brisk morning air, hearing the faint rustling of a foraging junco, the whisper of the wind stirring the pine needles overhead—peaceful moments to savor and take home.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Beardlip (Penstemon barbatus)

I noticed this splash of red on roadsides, in camp and on our way to the mountain meadow (see July 12 post).

A western perennial with flowers singly arranged on a few stalks, its other common names include bearded tongue, scarlet bugler and western penstemon. Both its Latin and common name tags refer to unique characteristics. Barbatus means bearded and refers to the inside of the flower tube which is hairy. The lower edge of the flower curls under hence the reference to ‘lip’.

Another hummingbird favorite, it may have attracted the Anna’s hummingbird that paid a visit one morning, unmistakable with his brilliant red head and surprisingly loud vocals.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Townsend's Solitaire

The table that sat in front of the cook’s cabin at Rose Mountain, on the edge of the Santa Fe National Forest, was a peaceful place to enjoy morning coffee. Just beyond this spot was a small garden pool that often attracted thirsty visitors.
I was introduced to a pair of Townsend’s solitaires in just this way. While I was sipping coffee, they landed in a shrub near me with considerable chatter. The bolder of the two flew down to the ground in front of the pool, paused to look at me, then continued on to enjoy his drink.
The Townsend’s solitaire is a thrush, kin to bluebirds, and sings a gently warbling melody that I enjoyed many times during my visit to New Mexico. What a delightful surprise to have one venture so close and unexpectedly.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Camp wildlife--western gray squirrel

Sometimes words aren't needed.
But when our squirrel found his prize...
and lingered to eat it...
a voice then arose--"you mean you're taking pictures of it, not shooing it away?"

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Giant Trumpets (Macromeria viridiflora)

A member of the Borage family which includes forget-me-nots and bluebells, giant-trumpets (Macromeria veridiflora) are found in meadows and clearings in New Mexico, Arizona and northern Mexico. A tall perennial herb with trumpet shaped flowers, this example was photographed in a high mountain meadow in the Pecos wilderness of New Mexico at 8000 ft (see July 12 post).

I was struck by the subtle beauty of this plant, with its rich green leaves streaked in silver, its coating of fuzz and its delicate cream, nodding trumpets. And for its identification I owe a special thanks to Chick Keller of the Native Wildflower Society of New Mexico.

Giant trumpets are odorless, range in color from cream to yellow, produce large amounts of nectar and, at least in part, are pollinated by hummingbirds. This seemed surprising since we commonly associate hummingbird plants with reds, orange and bright yellows. Both rufous and broad-tailed hummingbirds were observed pollinating this species in Arizona in a July study in the late 60’s. And this sparked another question. Didn’t my field guides show the rufous hummingbird spent its summer breeding season in the northwest? I consulted Audubon. The rufous hummingbird is the species with the longest migration in relation to its size, wintering in Mexico and breeding in northwest North America as far north as Alaska. Its breeding season begins March through May in a climate where the warm season is short but daylight is long. Some members of the species begin their southern migration as early as July which helps explain why the rufous hummingbird is such a significant pollinator in the west.
What also gets your attention--the rufous hummingbird is declining. One reason sighted is the disruption of nectar corridors. Hummingbirds and other pollinating species, such as bats, are dependent on clusters of nectar bearing plants during migration which is timed when plants are at their highest nectar production--refueling stepping stones along their journey. Anything that diminishes these pockets of plant communities also risks the survival of a number of species dependent upon them for nourishment.

To read more about nectar corridors visit NBII’s (National Biological Information Infrastructure) page on pollinators.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

High Mountain Meadow--MacDougal verbena

A short hike through the forest from Rose Mountain led us to an open grassy meadow lined with boulders and crowned with a beautiful view.
A log structure locally known as the shepherd’s cabin was tucked snuggly among the aspen and a sprinkling of wildflowers dotted the meadow. A very peaceful place to linger.
I photographed several wildflowers while there. When I look at my photos, after the moment has passed, I sometimes notice missing details that would have helped identify a plant—like a better shot of the leaves or a better image of the way the leaves are arranged on the stem. As a naturalist friend of mine, Stephen Lyn Bales, recently told me, "they hold still and give you a good look. If you can’t identify one, it’s not their fault." --Gulp. Thanks to the Native Plant Society of New Mexico and Patrick Alexander's photos, I have this one safely identified as MacDougal verbena (Verbena macdougalii). I give myself a little slack for oversights on this excursion. There was a lot going on while snapping these photos, one of which was a rumbling thunderstorm that had our trailblazing counsel urging us to move on.
And I needed our counsel. They made it possible for me to lag behind snapping photos while they made sure we knew the way home. (To see more New Mexico posts click here.)

Friday, July 11, 2008

Wild Purple Geranium

A native species found across most of North American, this wild purple geranium was found growing close to our camp at Rose Mountain in the Pecos wilderness of New Mexico.
The wild geranium, a true geranium, received the added description ‘wild’ to distinguish it from the other plant we most often know as geranium, the pelargonium. The misnaming occurred back in the 18th century when our common garden geranium was first imported from South Africa to Europe.

Wild geraniums have two other common names, cranesbill and alumroot, names that hint at a personality that goes deeper than their surface beauty. The name cranesbill comes from the shape of the seed pods, which reminded some of a long crane's bill, though to my eyes they more closely resemble rockets. But there's more. This seed pod has an unusual way of broadcasting seeds. As the pods stretch and dry, they become like coiled springs and when the moment is right, the pods snap, firing the seeds as much as 30 ft, leaving behind the curled pod. And if that’s not dramatic enough, the seeds themselves have a tiny tail called an ‘awn’ which curls when dry and straightens when wet, causing a crawling affect. Biologists believe that this motion allows the seed to find its way to a hole or crevice where the motion then helps the seed plant itself and hide from birds and mammals that would make it into a meal.

Another flowering plant that is highly valued for medicinal purposes, the wild geranium’s roots contain a large amount of tannin, making it useful as an astringent and styptic. The plants leaves and roots are widely used to treat a multitude of ailments from diarrhea and hemorrhages to sore throats and toothaches.
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For the Love of It...

...the sage sees heaven reflected in Nature as in a mirror, and he pursues this Art, not for the sake of gold or silver, but for the love of the knowledge which it reveals.
Sendivogius (1750)

Your Uncapped Creativity...

Your Uncapped Creativity...
"There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action; and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. If you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. You must keep that channel open. It is not for you to determine how good it is, nor how valuable. Nor how it compares with other expressions. It is for you to keep it yours, clearly and directly." ----the great dancer, Martha Graham