High Desert Sojourn by Sara Wright


I longed to re-visit
the desert – my first
journey left me
with a longing for
wide open spaces,
a blue sky dome,
a bowl of stars at night,
so to return 25 years later
was to complete
an unfinished story.
Now I could live among
the stately rock
stark white columns,
conical reptilian hills,
pink and purple sands,
ragged weeds,
Cactus People,
thorns and stickers,
delicate yellow flowers,
under a moon that rarely slept?

Some nights I missed the dark.
I always missed the Bear
I dismissed the longings
in my body,
Things were different here.

Maybe I could escape
the grief of dying trees,
stripped mountains,
a shrinking wilderness
too many gunmen
the loss of dreams?

That first November
I heard a haunting –
Crane calls
as they touched
down at nightfall.
My bones sang.
How I longed
to meet the bird
whose voice
sent lightening chills
through every nerve.

For a time I
fell in love
with a river
without frogs,
a river where
the birds
I called the Old Ones
slept during winter nights
in rippling waters.
I had yet to meet one,
though giant feathery wings
soared through my dreams.
I began
walking into
a predawn sky
to witness clouds of fire –
spun gold threads
bruised purple
bittersweet orange
and crimson light
painted the horizon
at first light before
the sun wiped
away the night.

In the dark
I glimpsed
the shadow of
a single
Crane
perched
on one leg
standing sentry
in the riffles
like a god.

The Weeping
Woman rose up
in a cloud
burst of mist,
half hidden
by frothing waters.
In the liminal hour
other shadows shook
and shivered, transforming
into sturdy bodies –
birds, clustered together
in one communal roost.
That winter they stayed.
Every flyby overhead
brought me to the edge
of some deep knowing…
My body yearned…

I met kindly people,
hiked over mountains
made friends
with dying cottonwoods
sagebrush lizards
witnessed a Bosque
becoming a grave.

 

Almost imperceptibly
darkness seeped in.
Harsh white light
stings sensitive eyes,
a wall of heat petrifies.
Deserts
are too sparse –
except for Stones
that rarely speak.

This is the world
of the sky gods.
The Lords of Red Sun
show little mercy,
breathe fire and soot.
Wildfire clogged
skies are heavy
with smoke.
Unbearable heat.
No wonder
Dragons thrive here.
Cobalt blue can be
monotonous
day after day…
Desert scrub
is always hungry.
Whirling west winds
blind,
choke sickened lungs
like mine
not made for
dust or smoke.

My beloved Earth
turned to stone –
How had I missed
Toad’s transformation?
Scree and rock
are climbed
but rarely seen.
Human eyes are drawn
to distant worlds
jagged mountain views
– those who gaze
‘heaven’ – ward
seek transcendence
or flying saucers
it makes no difference –
Her Body Moans,
still cracks open,
She is dying of thirst.

Digging through hardpan
I discovered hell.
A man devoid
of emotion.
Even the river’s muddy
flow is controlled
by the ‘chosen ones’
who fish
in polluted waters.
Withering plants
sprout no leaves,
a few drops of rain
leave no scent.
Deer tracks replace
Animal Presence.
No wonder I was lonely.

When the Cranes
flew North each spring
I mourned absence
without comprehension.
My body was wasting away.

Last spring
when the Cranes
circled over my head
Brrring and rasping,
I heard them say;
“Fly North with us
you must risk it all again.”
I feared
what lay ahead –
A Crumbling Foundation.
Then the Spirit
of my Land spoke sternly
through the air:
“You need
rich moist soil
a forest of green boughs,
a life lived through
shifting seasons –
the gift of spring rains
summers spent
with a riot of flowers,
fall hikes through leaves
whose flames are free of fire.
Long Winter Peace.”
Soul slammed into body.
Illumination dawned.
Awed,
I understood at last.

Such a perilous
spiral journey,
I learned so much.
These days I bow
to that glorious river
imagining waters running free,
conjure sunrises,
washed in pink, peach, and gold
I see cranes brrrring in a molten sky.
I remember
the lizards
who loved me.
And thank them all.

I’m already listening  –
Rasping brrrrrs
fill my senses
it won’t be long
until Cranes return.
They come
to dance and breed, to
spend most of the year
in nearby lowland
meadows.

Cranes,
Spirits of the Air
called me
year after year.
Their Bodies
brought me home.

 

Afterword:

Women with Wings

It wasn’t until I wrote this story that I learned that the Cranes cyclic winter presence and my response to them demonstrated how the power of “women with wings” had been operating as actual birds in my life on a visceral level without my conscious awareness. My body knew from the beginning that I was making a mistake believing I could move to the desert; it took four years for that awareness to penetrate the haze of my mind.

Sandhill cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any extant bird. A fossil from the Miocene epoch, 10 million years ago, was found to be structurally the same as that of the modern Sand hill crane.

When I first encountered these ancient birds I was forcibly struck by their behavior. During the winter I met small groups of them flying overhead, noting the lack of an apparent leader, how they always called out to one another, how one crane always took on the role of protector of the whole flock by keeping watch for predators at night. At the Bosque del Apache I watched in amazement as they interacted by the thousands in harmony. Their bodies are large and robust; yet they have such powerful wings that they are able to become airborne without apparent effort. Once in the air they fly so high that even when it’s possible to hear them they become literally invisible to the naked eye.

This migratory species is without parallel. They journey twice a year using three basic flyways, each with stopovers where the birds meet and rest. Most breeding grounds are found in the northern U.S., Canada, and Alaska, but some Sand hill cranes travel as far as Siberia to breed each spring. During courtship they engage in elaborate displays dancing with outspread wings and leaping into the air while calling. Mated pairs engage in “unison calling” an unusual and complex duet. When the birds fly south in the late fall to spend the winter months foraging for grains, the young fly with the parents. During their three – month stay they form flocks of thousands of birds. Most amazing was my discovery that these birds coordinate these bi -yearly long distance flights without a leader. That’s when I put my observations/research together and recognized that these birds must also operate as an “egalitarian matriarchy” (Carol Christ).

 

Picture of Sara Wright standing outside in nature

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 Maine.

 



Categories: Earth-based spirituality, Eco-systems, Feminism, General, Nature, Poetry

Tags: , , ,

8 replies

  1. Delightful poem and information on the Sandhill Crane. It spoke to my soul.

    Like

  2. Beautiful! When I was growing up in Michigan it was always a special treat to see sandhill cranes. Thank you for all the wonderful information!

    Like

  3. These birds are truly amazing!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I think I’ve mentioned before somewhere that when I was working on my Ph.D. at Southern Illinois University, I lived for one semester near Crab Orchard Lake, which is a stop of the migratory path used by many birds. One of my favorite documentaries from PBS is called Earth Flight. It traces the migratory paths of numerous species of birds, including cranes, on every continent. They put little cameras on some of the birds, so we really do get a birds’-eye view of the world. It’s wonderful.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes Barbara, you have mentioned that you spent some time in an area that was a stopover for many birds – it is amazing to see them – And Earth Flight is an amazing documentary!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Beauty, knowledge, wisdom! Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’ve always had ambivalence toward the desert — and you capture it so well in your poem, full of unimaginable beauty and sometimes despair, suggesting the deserts we create. Thanks.

    Like

  8. Perhaps living in a desert brings us to edges we need to see?

    Like

Please familiarize yourself with our Comment Policy before posting.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: