ALL THINGS LITERARY. ALL THINGS NATURAL.

A blog for those who desire a more creative relationship with the natural world.

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Friday, August 30, 2013

After AROHO and before the Wedding: The Devotion of a Red Tailed Hawk

Twelve hundred years ago (give or take a few) the Chinese poet Li Po wrote a poem with images of a canyon, a path, a creek and an impossible valley, newborn clouds rising over open rock, and guests coming into wildflowers. "I'm still lingering on," Li Po wrote, "my climb unfinished."  This poem found its way to John and me on Saturday, our wedding day, written inside a Georgia O'Keeffe card.  Our guests, too, wandered up a mountain path where wildflowers bloomed. 

Just days before the wedding, I had spent a week at Georgia O'Keeffe's Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.  The week-long gathering, the 2013 women's writing retreat hosted by A Room of Her Own Foundation (AROHO), was filled with powerful stories, shared by a few dozen of the nearly 100 inspiring women who attended. Janet Fitch, author of Oprah's Book Club novel White Oleander, (featured here holding a watercolor of one of the well-known red bluffs), advised us during her keynote to: "Live like a poet. Walk around like a poet. Slow down, wander around. Be a little bit more amazed at what you see around you. 

"You don't have to be the beauty," Janet went on to tell us. "Go out and seek the miraculous and you will catch the beauty."

I drove home through the back roads of New Mexico and Colorado exhilarated and inspired by the other women, but exhausted from doing five book consults and giving a Mind Stretch Presentation, "Inhabiting Our Stories: the Landscape of Writing and Nature." I always over-prepare and this event was no different.  I had spent days thinking about the presentation, and literally hours selecting just the right assortment of mementos gathered from nature over the years - bones, feathers, artifacts, fossils - and re-gathering the stories that went with them. 

"How can knowing more intimately the physical world where the
outer story of our lives takes place," I asked the women, "help us to more fully inhabit our inner landscapes?  If the wind and rain and sun shape the landscape of the earth, what gives our stories shape?  What tracks do we leave behind?" 

As I held the objects up and passed them around for the women to hold, I relived each story - the death of my mare Romie, the old cow who tried to help her crippled old friend rise so she could nurse her newborn calf, the porcupine who danced at dusk beneath the bur oak tree.  These stories live inside me, containers that hold both sorrow and joy, most of them from my previous life on our Wyoming ranch.  But not all of them.  Some of them are stories of a life in transition.  And new stories continue to be born.

As I drove home from Ghost Ranch, with less than three days to prepare for my marriage to John, before family began arriving from out of state, my heart was filled with an overwhelming gratitude for the past, and an overwhelming sense of the richness of the future.  I thought of Janet's words:  "Go out and seek the miraculous and you will catch the beauty."

It was then that I saw, as I sped past, the body of the red tailed hawk lying broken on the edge of the highway.  And overhead, circling, crying, the mate - another red tail soaring above, looking down, not understanding why its mate did not answer, did not lift its wings and rise from the pavement, did not fly in tandem to the nest where they had raised their young.  I thought of a documentary John and I had watched together a few months earlier about the red tailed hawk, Pale Male, his miraculous fidelity to place (a balcony in New York City), and his utter devotion to one mate after another, how he had outlived all of them. 

I pulled over to the side of the road, backed up, and got out of the car.  The hawk's body was still warm, the breast feathers fluffed, the feet and claws soft and flexible as I tucked a finger into their grip.  Overhead, the mate circled, calling out.  I said a small prayer, asking permission to pluck a few feathers.  Back inside the car, I cried, and could not stop.  All the emotions of the weekend, all the stories within each bone, all the old memories and all the new beginnings - all seemed to be embodied in the story of those two hawks - the broken and bereft one, and the soaring one, still hopeful, still with the wind beneath its wings.

And now I think of the words of Li Po, written more than twelve hundred years ago.  "I'm still lingering on, my climb unfinished," he wrote. 

How never-ending are the lessons of Nature.  How much I have yet to learn - about fidelity and love, about devotion and apprenticeship.  Perhaps for now, though, it is enough to simply come to the wildflowers, like the butterfly or the bee, like Li Po coming to his beloved poems, again and again.

Read more of Li Po in Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China.  See a few of Page and John's wedding photos on Facebook. 

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Tawny Tracks of Storytelling: Guest Post for Women Writing the West

“Why,” my editor asked me, calling from New York after she'd read the first complete draft of my first novel several years ago, “do we need the mountain lion?  It’s not like she’s supernatural or mystical or anything.”

True, the lion in Shifting Stars was only being a lion.  But she was linked by the land to a destiny greater than any of us could understand, and it was her destiny that was linked to Turtle Woman’s, and to mine.  No, not supernatural, not greater than nature, yet every bit as mysterious as nature.

How, I wondered, does a writer find her way into the heart of a story without following the tracks of the animals?  How does a woman find her way through life without these animals to guide her?

This month, my story is posted in full on the Women Writing the West website.  Please continue reading by clicking Follow the Tawny Tracks.   Thank you.