WHEN I CLOSE MY EYES, I return to this site of disturbance. It is only a brief walk from our house in the desert, our home. It is a place of sand redistributed by a flood, a flash in the night that came with such force, such ferocity, I heard it before I saw it, the thunderous roar.
That night, that roar, it lives inside of me.
I opened the front door — the desert was a vast and shining sea, a mirror reflecting stars. I didn’t know where I was. The turbulence didn’t register, only the strangeness of water in the desert. The only thing separating the water from me was a dike built in anticipation of a deluge such as this. I walked up to the dike and witnessed the water moving sideways with such velocity that rolling boulders became a parade passing by with uprooted junipers and cottonwood trees, hundreds of years old, being flushed down valley, through the ever-widening arroyo parallel to our house.
I stood on the dike alone and watched. A terrifying beauty was eroding the known world before me. There was nothing I could do.
And then, as quickly as the flash flood came, it was gone —
IN THE MORNING, the desert was returned. I walked to the place of my midnight dreaming and knelt down to touch the red sand. It was damp, that was all. By the end of the day, that same sand was running through my fingers like sand in an overturned hour glass. I walked back to the house and picked up a rake. I returned to the site of disturbance and began raking sand.
I am at home in the desert raking sand.
THE ANIMAL THAT CROSSED the road yesterday and was hit by a car was me. These are my thoughts this morning. From the outside it looked like a porcupine, a shy, slow-moving innocence forced to make a decision — how to cross over to the other side without being killed. It couldn’t be done and so she surrendered.
I must surrender to this fast-moving world that unknowingly creates its own violence. I can try and take my chances or I can retreat and return home.
Perhaps there is another alternative — to wait — to watch — and be patient and then, in the middle of the night when most people are asleep, the hours when owls fly, I will make my move, take my time and walk across the paved road after rain and see the stars reflected back to themselves.
I will find my way into the new country that beckons me and I will shed my quills — not in an act of defense which has been my pattern but for the artistry of what they can create when bent. Quillwork is the art of letting go. What was once barbed is now clipped on either end and folded in thirds leaving a line of ivory like a staple in the material at hand, be it bark or hide or fir.
What I once believed to be madness I have come to see as night vision — what porcupines know as they remain hidden in trees.
This is what I like to think about first thing in the morning.
Carrion is not a bad thing. In the end, our lives are meant to be consumed by another.
A FLOCK OF CANADA GEESE just flew past our bedroom window. I don’t know if I heard them first and saw them second, or the other way around. Sound shapes our perceptions in inexplicable ways like smell. A few days earlier, it had been a flock of red-winged blackbirds. I saw them before I heard them. And on another day, I heard and saw the shadow of a dragonfly, its snapping of wings. Our windows are always open. I like to smell the spring.
This got me thinking about birds and wings and glass and just yesterday, a red-shafted flicker flew into our living room window, hard. Spotted feathers were left on the glass. We ran outside. It was on the ground, dead. We held its body close, hoping it would breathe again, but the bird was gone. The bird is dead because of us. We returned its body to the meadow and made a circle of stones around it. Two days later, the flicker’s body was gone. That morning I had heard the voice of a red-tailed hawk. There are also weasels and coyotes near.
I remembered a photograph taken by Lukas Felzmann. The photograph is a figure, (man or woman, one can’t be sure) who is casting a shadow with their arms raised to right angles, their hands overhead, fingers splayed. Attached to the Shadowed One is a large wing made of mirrors from splinters of reflective glass, jagged and sharp, placed on the sand, reflecting sky.
I don’t know why this image flew into my mind this morning followed by the word “Imago.” This happens sometimes when the unconscious is trying to speak to us.
GREAT-HORNED OWLS are speaking to me. All summer long they call to each other between dusk and dawn. Robins mob them and scream at them from the trees. It’s how we know where they are. But the owls will not be deterred. My husband Brooke and I were on the porch not long ago in a bit of an argument. He said that I was too immersed in politics, that it was not healthy, that I needed to step away and get a proper perspective.
I responded saying, What isn’t healthy is that the Endangered Species Act is under attack, that our public lands are under assault and sacred sites within Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments have been gutted and are now open for business: oil and gas development and coal and uranium mining. What kind of people are we if we are not outraged and obsessed?
“We have to fight,” I said. “It’s not just about us — it’s for the land — the Earth — and all its creatures.”
Just then, a great-horned owl was flying directly toward me — eye level — and banked right before she would have struck me — the ferocity and focus of the owl left me speechless — shaking — I looked at Brooke who had tears streaming down his cheeks.
I stepped off the porch and looked up. I had to find the owl. There she was — perched on the peak of the roof right above us. Her large yellow eyes reflected the last light of day. She turned her head, our eyes met — something passed between us — and then, she flew.
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