January 1st dawned clear and cold as I meandered through the frosted scrub and under the graceful Cottonwoods that line the Bosque by the river. I hadn’t planned on a walk because it was so frigid but the ethereal light that precedes the dawn often becomes a “calling” I cannot resist, pulling me towards the river regardless of practical intentions.
With the snow crunching under my feet I entered my usual meditative state without effort as I circled the bog, celebrating this time of deep inner stillness. Suddenly, an intention popped into the open space in my mind, one that I had not made as part of my ritual during this fluid turning of the seasons. The words flowed directly from the trees into my body without sound.
You are not responsible for others’ lack of awareness… Refuse to take responsibility for any person’s behavior except your own. Take care of yourself.”
I received this instruction quietly, enfolding the message deep in my heart as I set the intention and walked on.
I had heard similar words once before during the last month but had neglected to create the intention.
When I returned to the house I felt refreshed and full of gratitude for beginning this day in a state of grace.
It wasn’t until I heard him hammering that I remembered that every year on the first day of January, I am on the lookout for a message from the first bird of the year that captures my attention. After a long absence my beautiful orange – shafted flicker, my favorite woodpecker, had returned and was demolishing my suet cake with great enthusiasm.
As Flicker continued his rhythmic pounding on the east side of the house I thought of holes. Woodpeckers carve holes… what was his message?
These days when I walk to the river I see huge hunks of peeling bark pulling away from whitened Cottonwood limbs but I no longer hear woodpecker hammering. The life giving cambium layer is dead on many of these trees. Last summer a couple of the Cottonwood tree giants fell, and living cottonwood limbs were also cut so perhaps my friends the Flickers lost food sources and homes… Still lively, some smooth gray branches still stretch out their bony fingers towards me trying to get my attention. These adult Cottonwoods who only live a hundred years at best have developed extensive lateral and deep taproots that still may be able to reach the water table far below the surface. But the rivers and aquifers are drying up in the Southwest and the air is very polluted. Year after year adequate rains do not come. There will be no tree children to replace these old ones that are nearing the end of their lives because the young trees must have copious amounts of water and clean air to thrive. I am facing the inevitable. Within a few years this cottonwood forest will be no more. There will be holes in the atmosphere where these magnificent trees once graced the sky.
Twenty years of drought are taking a visible toll on the high desert everywhere. Even the Bosque I walk through is at risk because it has been opened up to a merciless summer sun and consequently to increasing drought. It too has sprays of dying cottonwood branches, although there are also healthy adult trees, and some younger ones that will live on for now. Birds are scarce. The ground is barely muddy and only in the low places. Desertification has begun; as trees, plants, and scrub disappear skeletons full of holes remain.
Because all woodpeckers must have trees (these or others) for food and for shelter they too will disappear. The woodpeckers don’t know that they are also poisoning themselves with the insects they eat even as they carve out new “homes” for themselves and other birds. Insecticides are deadly. Woodpeckers are a critical component of forest ecology. Without their presence every forest is compromised.
All sentient creatures are negatively affected by the deaths of one species.
And still people refuse to see.
Sara is a naturalist, ethologist ( a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Northern New Mexico.