Archive for July, 2009

Bird Brain: Mystery Bird, and Birds of the Riparian Southwest

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009


I know the names of virtually all the mammals in this region, many of its plants thanks to Kiva and this wilderness restoration project, and even more bugs than you might think.  On the other hand, when it comes to the feathered beings of the riparian Southwest I’ve been a bit of bird brain.  I can tell you about most of the intense area owls and hawks, the impossible to ignore blue heron lifting off the beaver pond, the canyon wrens in our bus/cabin and phoebes that charm me from the edge of the window sills, the raucous jays and emblematic bald eagle… but I confess I can’t tell one warbler or sparrow from another without a pair of binocular cheaters and our trusty Sibley Guide.  I suspect my familiarity with mammals is partly the result of the fewer total number of species, and in part the result of self identification, cleaving as it were to my fellow warm blooded, fur topped beasties.  It doesn’t help that many of the birds are quiet during the light of day, their signature noises and songs mostly heard at dusk or dawn when they all tend to look like the same unidentified gray silhouette in the branches above.  The furtiveness of birds may explain our lapse as well, since we would likely still be scrambling to get familiar with the wild canyon herbs if they weren’t rooted where we can study, smell, fondle and taste them.


A case in point was a visit yesterday from the (pardon the cliche) “odd bird” seen in the pictures here.  Once it landed near us, it seemed to take some pleasure is hopping around the yard.  It would let me get about 10 feet away before walking – not flying – away.  Even a close reading of our field guides have yet to indicate what, if any, known wild species this clown critter might be.  Not an Audoban’s Oriole, as the beak and eye patch are the only parts of the head that’s black, and it was behaving more curious and personable like a piñon jay.  I share these photos for your enjoyment, in hopes of a comment telling us who this highly engaging feather-butt on walkabout just might be.  Chris, or anyone?


I write below about the problem with lists, of which we have many.  Near the back of mine somewhere is a note to invite or arrange for a bird survey here, as part of an ever more complete biological survey of the region and this restored botanical and wildlife sanctuary in particular.  It could be evidence for the land’s protection in some future court, and being able to put an image and name with the diverse sounds we hear at night would be special to me.

Be well friends, enjoy the never ending joyful oddness of life… and stay in touch.


The Need for a Recess Director – By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

The Recess Director:

The Terrifying if Implausible “End of the List”

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

I wonder if we don’t spend a bit too much time griping about how much there is to do.  We fret that as soon as one thing is fixed another something breaks.  How as quickly as the last of our known tasks is completed, several more situations jump up to take their place, demanding our full attention, cheating us out of the time we scheduled to relax and enjoy.  We imagine what we’d do if only we could retire from work, get someone else to split the firewood, and kick back!

Nonsense, I say!  Truth is, most of us aren’t nearly as spooked by hard work as we are by the specter of the “end of the list” — an improbable event whereby there’d be nothing urgent needing tending, and no excuse not to relax.  An unending series of chores saves us from the potentially frightening experience of time alone with ourselves, long and quiet moments when we might have to confront and actually deal with our repressed grief or unacknowledged fears, the fact of our unmet needs and remaining unfulfilled dreams, the unavoidability of death and our relationship with what we call God or Spirit, the call to an unknown mission or purpose or the essential meaning of our lives.  Each new item we add to our “to do” list spares us from having to make on-the-spot decisions about how to best allocate our finite and fleeting mortal hours, keeps us too busy to ponder the changes we might have to initiate in order to make those hours more sentient, significant and satisfying.  While we talk about how much we’d like a vacation, we often come up with new tasks to fill any unscheduled days.  In spite of our complaints about the normal work load, deep inside we may feel a bit panicky if faced with the prospect of an extended break, and the approach of “free time” can sometimes feel like we’re approaching the edge of a cliff from which we might fall.  A majority of us subconsciously count on the ceaseless rotating demands of our daily lists to hold us back from the brink.

You’ve likely read stories of the everyday men and women who inherit a big chunk or win millions of dollars at the lottery, who nonetheless soon go back to the familiarity and routine of their old job at the mill, the highway department or local gas station and convenience store.  We all know fathers who spend weekend and vacation hours at their office or shop, mothers who feel like they’re cheating their child if they have a single minute to themselves, and kids anxious to go back to school in the Fall because they’re somehow managed to get bored with their summer of liberty.

There’s enough busy-ness in simply taking care of one’s self, family and home to keep the mind fully occupied, thus denying us the silence that teaches and the stillness that restores.  Add to this a desire to excel at herbalism or to hike the Appalachian Trail, the need to make enough money to put one’s kids through college and the urgency of house and auto repairs.  And then if you feel like you’ve got a mission, for goodness sake, you might as well forget about sleep altogether!  I’m riled by news of mistreated children and bullied countries, the destruction of rural cultures as well as wild places.  The planet is being flattened for parking lots, the elderly are getting screwed on their medicines, government is increasingly controlling every aspect of our lives, the architecture of the once woolly West is being replaced with tasteless office spaces and duplicate strip malls, and wild species are being robbed of habitat or driven to extinction.  Meanwhile our own species is increasingly distracted and obedient, bought off and out of body, distracted from our real selves and feelings, complicit in the most destructive social and governmental and corporate system that has ever existed.  And based on how I feel, I’ve got to do something about it… now!

Kiva is little different, sensing all that is wrong or unhealthy and giving herself wholly to this cause of teaching and healing.  Nothing superficial or trivial mind you, but a zillion tasks associated with courses, books, promotion, and now all it takes to put on an international conference with no experience and only the hope of sufficient help.  When faced with tons to do, her response has sometimes been to alter, add and expand.  We might like to exempt Rhiannon who ensures she has her daily “alone time,” but even that is packed with microcosmic exploration and the imaginary scenarios of busy play-acting.  She’s the one, after all, focused on saving money not to buy toys but to one day build her imagined dream home!

lobafacefeb1-sm.jpgAll my hurry and bother comes to an abrupt halt however – like it or not – the moment Loba casts her spell or cleverly rubs a sore neck.  With a bend of her eyebrow, she hooks everyone in the family as if we were errant trout.  A computer or unfinished article doesn’t hardly stand a chance, nor a garden shovel or water bucket, or even a student or letter that’s long been waiting to be written.  Kiva’s typing stops at Loba’s tea or treat laden intercession, and Rhiannon inevitably sets aside for a time her pet obsessions.  We’re each in turn derailed, and no doubt for our own good, by this honorary “Director of Recess.”

Just like Santa Claus, Loba knows “whether we’re naughty or nice.”  And like Dr. Spock or our Fairy Godmother, she also knows what’s best for us.   What’s “best” may be this:  That we learn to value our free hours doing what we like most, or time spent with our loved ones, more than we value making money.  That we play as much as we work, try to turn our work into play, and always remember that having toys is not the same as having fun.  That we take our shoes off to run in the rain, take a few minutes just to appreciate the smell of fresh cut hay or the view of the mountains from the porch.  That we set aside our always important and timely tasks in order to give thanks, to sing (on-key or off-key!), to give friends and family the energy they deserve, to plumb silence and open to listening, to cultivate our relationship with spirit and nature.

Excuse me, but it looks like I’lI have to cut this short, as once again the Director of Recess has her way with us.  For now at least, we surrender to her restorative disruption, to the smile she wears and the muffins she’s baked, the whisperings of the canyon wind and the experience of the unplanned present moment.

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Resting the Dragon: Taking Time to be Replenished – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

Resting the Dragon:
Taking Time to be Replenished

by Jesse Wolf Hardin


A recent post of mine describes “riding the dragon,” moving forward at high speed on numerous valuable projects at once.  It was not meant as an endorsement of overwork, nor as an indictment of rest and relaxation, but rather to point out that not all consuming activity is harmful or even unnecessary, that there are special moments when opportunities open up, when everything falls together magically and the timing is perfect for advancing an important mission or one’s essential projects.  Just as in surfing, there are hours spent at rest or inching towards the shore while waiting for that special wave, but when the rare big one arrives the devoted surfer is ready to utilize its power, harness its velocity and ride its cutting edge.  Another analogy might be the pit viper, who spends the long days or even weeks between meals lying mostly motionless, conserving energy, just listening and taking it all in, until the one second when a source of food stumbles by and there is that sudden lightning strike.  Or the poet or author, quietly observing the world until some loud peal of inspiration that keeps them up writing all night.  The mountain climber stops and makes camp several times on a long ascent, in order to rest and adjust to the elevation, but then may be required to give their all in a mad dash to the summit before a dangerous storm arrives.surfing5.jpgThe big waves, fortunately, come only sporadically, not only allowing for the surfer’s rest but giving the exceptional swells a base line to measured against.  No creature – not even the tightly wound viper – can keep up a breakneck pace at all times without tiring and becoming itself more vulnerable to threats.  The power of a writer’s stream of image and meaning is dependent on them taking the time to observe, experience and consider.  And mountaineers who have ignored the advice to make camp and adjust, have at times pressed on with their climbs only to perish short of the top.

I am thinking about a dear supporter and friend as I write this, a man who runs ninety miles an hour most of the time, not only pushing himself beyond his limits but doing so mostly for the good of other people that he cares about in his life.  His natural need to do everything as perfectly as possible, combines with his deep desire to be of service, and with his sense of urgency as he sees the ways that things are getting worse in this world, to propel him to always attempt the improbable or impossible.  The only problem is that this depth of caring and degree of drive makes it hard for him to sleep a full night without getting up to do email or accounting.  He has a hard time turning down any chance to expand or accelerate, and will add projects to his do-list even when what he might best be adding some agenda items like “slow down,” “look for help,” “divest of some obligations,” “delegate tasks,” “take the family camping,” or “relax with some gardening in the patch you helped make.”  It’s evidence of how much I care, that I hurt when he has an accident because of hurrying too much, catches a bad cold in part due to lack of rest, or feels discouraged when something unexpected gets in the way.

My friend has very real responsibilities to fulfill, and acts out of a very real calling to help others, to excel in how he helps, to be a hero on a human scale.  Others of us may use busy-ness as a convenient distraction, a strategy for avoiding the quiet hours when unresolved quandaries and unmet needs, untackled demons and untended dreams might rise to the surface, and never having to deal with ourselves.  But in all cases, our pace proves unhealthy to the degree that it 1) Depletes our reservoirs or energy and inspiration without opportunity for replenishment, 2) Makes us more out-of-body, unaware of our own physical and emotional or spiritual needs, or 3) Somehow separates us from the very people and world we are trying to impact or help.  Even if unconcerned about our own well being and focused on the betterment of a person, place or cause, we would still be amiss not to take time to rest and revive, feast and play.  We are best able to help and heal others when we also make time to tend, nourish, heal and assist ourselves.

drums.jpgAs a lifelong drummer, I understand that it is rhythm, not a wall of noise, that makes our feet tap or gets us up to dance.  It is the length of space between the beats that helps determine a song’s tempo, and even the fastest song is defined as much by the moments when the drum stick is raised as when it is striking the tightened head.  And the most engaging compositions involve what are called dynamics, a dramatically effective cycle of slowing for suspense or emphasis, along with sections where the tension builds and tempo surges.  In the composition that is our lives, it is the artful balancing of “slow” and “go!” that decides how effective we will be and how long we will last… and how danceable our tune, not just how fast.

It’s important to be able to “ride the dragon” when both need and opportunity align.  It’s just as important to know when to dismount from the winged behemoth and let the beast sleep, to do those little things that nourish, strengthen and reward us, and even to savor sweet moments of doing nothing at least some of the time.


(Top dragon drawing by Alice Scott Morris, bottom drawing of sleeping dragon by Cherrie B)

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Mulberry Truths – Tree-Given Insights By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, July 10th, 2009

 It’s the tail end of the brief but sweet mulberry season here in the Gila, an appropriate time to share this piece with those of you who have never read it:


Mulberry Truths

By Jesse Wolf Hardin


There’s no greater repository of instruction and inspiration than the natural world.  Search and you will find examples of courage and compassion in the acts of animals, contentment in the embrace of shifting clouds or a turquoise sea…. and enlightenment in the lessons of a single wild mulberry tree:

Well managed orchards are impressive, but the rareness of wild mulberry trees make them extra special:
    Seek friends and lovers, causes and careers, places and moments that embody character and meaning— not those that conform best or produce the most.

Hikers that were busy talking, have been known to walk right under a tree’s branches without noticing its berries:
  The entire natural world is constantly trying to engage, instruct and nourish us. There are lessons, gifts and miracles all around, if only we’d wake up and open to them. 

Turn or duck your head even the slightest bit, and you may spot berries you hadn’t previously seen:
    In life, the slightest change in perspective often bears fruit.

The sweetest berries nest high in the tree, and it can be risky getting to them:
    Special rewards come to those who are willing to risk a fall.

At the same time, we often overextend ourslves in order to pick what looks like a special berry, only to find sweeter ones right under our nose:
    The distant and exotic look good from a afar, but often the greatest treasures in life are close at hand.

We’d likely hurt ourself if we tried to get out to the berries nested on the end of some slender branch.  But then again, we may be able to pull the branch closer instead:
It can look as though the things we want in life are out of our reach.  But sometimes by staying true to our values, beliefs, assignments and purpose we can pull closer those people and situations we desire.

When high in the tree, the careful gatherer keeps a firm hold with whichever hand isn’t busy picking:
When taking risks and making changes— when projecting into the future or reaching an arm out into the unknown— it’s wise to hold on with the other…. maintaining a grip on the here and now, the real and reliable, the tested and true.

Test the branch that you take, before putting all your weight into it:
    If we don’t want to fall hard, we should carefully consider any forks in the trail of life before fully committing ourselves.

If the tree gets no rain it will die— but if overwatered, its fruits turn out colorless and bland:
A person, whether a child or an adult, needs sustenance and attention.  But those who are fussed over and smothered, who never learn to do without, are often the least interesting and effective people.

From a single branch, broken by the snow, two new branches grow:
  If our lives are rooted in truth and place, trauma brings about new awareness and growth.  We branch out in response to each broken effort, doubling the number of approaches and attempts.

Some wild foods spoil more quickly than others.  This is why ground squirrels carry most of the acorns they gather home to their nest, but eat all berries they can find:
    In life, there are times to store and save, and times to gorge.

For every season of giving, there are months of preparation:
    The mulberry only produces berries for a brief three week period, while the rest of the year it rests, draws sustenance from the Earth, mends its wounds, and replenishes its vital sugars.

Sometimes the smallest mulberries have the most flavor:
    In a culture that claims “bigger is better,” it’s good to notice how much character can be found in the small, the near and the accessible.

The softer the berry, the sweeter it usually is:
    We don emotional armor and cultivate strength, but hardness brings with it a certain bitterness.

It takes a lot of roots to hold a tree upright through the heady winds of Spring:
Family, community, history, tradition, and relationship to place are what keep us grounded in the face of disruption and change. To keep our balance, requires as many roots as branches.

Thinking about a previous year’s bountiful harvest, makes it harder to appreciate what is found on the tree today:
    Dwelling in our minds, in the past or the future, can make it hard to fully taste the fruits of the present.

Mulberry seeds somehow live through the process of being eaten and then passed by birds, and the trees are spread in that way:
We spread the seeds of insight that survive our lengthy digestion.  Those that remain viable are the ones we pass on.  And as it is with the birds, we may never get to see what sprouts from them.

Birds and squirrels come from far and wide to feast on the berries, and snakes and owls arrive to feast on them:
    In the hunt for love, it is wise to stay close to that which love seeks.

Some of the tastiest berries can be found lying on the ground:
    Along with the sugar, comes a little grit.  And while some gifts require we stretch up on tip-toes to receive….. the ripest insist we get down on our knees.

There are only mulberries on a wild tree for a short time, and the conscientious gatherer will make sure they don’t miss it:
  We’re each only healthy and savvy for a brief and glorious season.  It is thus unwise to allow ourselves to be distracted from the fullest living of life, even for a single day.  Nor should we take advantage of its fruitful bounty unless we can give it our complete attention…. honor it with our gratitude, and repay it with our acts.

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This American Revolution – Thoughts on What’s Really American or UnAmerican! – by Jesse Hardin

Friday, July 3rd, 2009

A timely essay to forward and share with folks of all walks:

This American Revolution
Thoughts on What’s Really American or UnAmerican!


by Jesse Hardin

Whether you love the spirit of it or hate its martial airs,  the 4th of July is one of the most meaningful of holidays, commemorating as it does a time when an empowered populous chose freedom and regional self determination over the rules and benefits of the British empire, when mostly good and brave hearted people opted to be outlaws rather than kowtow to what they saw as intrusive and unjust regulation from afar.  1776 was a time of revolutionary ideas, personal courage and individual liberty, a true high mark that we have slipped further away from every decade since.

This country was founded in the spirit of acting on one’s personal conscience.  Belief in oneself, taking care of the family, love of the land, loyalty to one’s place.  Personal initiative, willing risk, daring adventure, and attempting the seemingly impossible.  Regionalism, self sufficiency and home rule.  While I am distinctly a Libertarian not a nationalist, I must point out to every proud flag-waver that it is characteristically American and wholly patriotic to question, provoke and resist authority.  To stand out from the crowd, dare to look or act different from the prevailing trend or fads.  To listen and respond to the needs of our hearts.  To heed not rules and orders so much as what we instinctively know to be right and wrong.  To choose freedom and opportunity over “security” and regulation.  To mouth off and make waves.  To prefer disorganized, ineffectual and contending political interests over uni-body, uni-voice, all powerful, uncontested government.   To do whatever the hell we want, so long as it does not harm or impinge upon the freedoms of others.  To be compassionate but firm, peaceful by nature but fierce when defending what matters, deeply loving yet impressively strong.

And while I get sick and tired of hearing people, groups and ideas conveniently labeled “UnAmerican” all the time, I must say that if anything it is UnAmerican to conform, blend in or lay-back.  To acquiesce, surrender, or compromise our core personal beliefs.  To give up our dreams in order to make life easier for us, or change who we really are in order to be accepted by anybody or anything.  To believe everything we read or automatically assume the media or government know best.  To buckle under pressure, be blindly obedient or bow to vested authorities when when we know they have it wrong.  While we are a proud democracy, it is nonetheless patently UnAmerican for us to assume the opinions of the majority are necessarily correct, or that “going with the flow” is always the best way to go.  And while we honor the rule of law, we must still choose doing right even it means being labeled outlaws.

When Thomas Jefferson spoke about the need for a new revolution every generation, he was not talking about revolutionary technological leaps, “revolutionary legislation,” a “revolutionary new administration” or “revolutionary new prices.”  He was pointing to no less than the periodic overturning of established political interests, preventing the solidification of power in the hands of any special interest group, making sure that national or global interests never run roughshod over local communities and concerns, ensuring that conscience and not finance be the primary determining factor in deciding the direction this country goes.  He saw the benefits of fractious discourse and stalled regulation, disagreement and dissension.  And he was also aware of the danger of monolithic systems as well as elite amalgams such as the largest international corporations have become.

By Thomas’ measure, we are several generations late in doing the work of revolution: reconfiguring, re-evolving, reinventing, recreating, and making real again.  He knew this was not a matter of shifting trends so much as becoming new and honest over and over again, through the sacrifices and efforts of wild eyed patriots as we have always been called, and even if it means the shedding our American blood.  Resistance and rethinking are not simply tales of history that we wax nostalgic about, it is our patriotic calling.  While enjoying the festivities of July 4th, let us hear in the explosions of fireworks the thunder that awakens, and recognize in the colorful displays the infinite possibilities that await.

(share as you will… and always act on your conscience)