In the wee hours of the morning my husband and I drove slowly up the east back of the Sandia Mountains in New Mexico. Halfway up, I spotted a tiny rainbow colored figure along the side of the road. “Oh no!”, I cried. “A Western tanager”. Just the week before, my friend and I had hiked through this area, marveling at the brightly colored plumage disappearing into the tree canopy, their call indistinguishable from the common Robin.
As we always do, when we see a limp and lifeless or hurt creature on the side of this mountain road, we pull the car over and move the little being to safety, try to offer kindness. With a heavy heart I approached the broken body, it’s eyes already glassy and it’s beak barely moving as it tried to swim to the surface for oxygen, it’s neck broken.
I held this still warm, magical and magnificent being in the palm of my hand, sobbing inconsolably. Somewhere from deep inside, I offered compassion, a prayer of thanksgiving for this brilliant little bird and it’s short sojourn on the planet. Clearly it had collided with a fast moving car.
We had not started the journey like this. Eager for a day away from “sheltering in place”, I was reading to my husband from the recent Summer 2020 issue of Parabola: The Search for Meaning. We wondered and chatted about the stories, “On the Way to Presence”. “When I went from my head to my heart everything was Love“, wrote Ram Dass in his final days. It was a relaxed and joyful way of being together.
And suddenly this.
Life is like that. Constant portals, moving us between life and death. Death and life. Suffering and joy. Peace and fury. Love and despair.
As I hiked, I found my feet pounding the soft dirt trail, as grief gave way to blind rage. All the ecosystems destroyed and dying from human ignorance, darkened imaginations and profit-driven greed. The orangutan orphans in the forests of Borneo, Indonesia and Malaysia, their terrified mothers shot as the saws rip down their forest home for fancy furniture or palm oil in our fossil fuel drenched western lifestyles. Massive windowed skyscrapers full of unnatural light in Dallas at night, millions of tiny bodies of migrating birds littering the streets at their feet—caught in their strange reflections. Native bees disappearing before our eyes as Caterpillar machinery gobbles up native plants, paving over the high desert as wealthy Texans move to New Mexico suburbs. The genocide of millions of soft furry bodies beside our national roads as speeding cars blindly run over them, ignorant of their immense suffering and slow moving lives.
My furious rage and grief over this one tiny creature spilled over and suddenly became all the untimely human deaths in the past 3 weeks. Of two beloved women in my circle— sensitive beings of light, art, song, poetry and compassion. And the pandemic, still claiming millions of lives.
Though human suffering is untold, my task it seems, is to grieve and honor the voiceless, silent disappearing non-human species, even as the humans weep for their own. So much loss.
Walk through the world with care, my loveSpell Songs/The Lost Words(based upon the brilliant and ancient Carmina Gaedelica, a Celtic book of nature prayers, poems, songs and liturgies)
And sing the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding
Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing
Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker
Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven call you home
Even so, in this season of weeping, hope comes to me in the form of a what I think is a rusty patched bumblebee in the mountain altitudes. My Xerces friend says my rusty rumped bee is not exactly this extinct bumblebee. Yet, I imagine that there is still one or many in the wild. I will believe.
So as death rises around us like a tsunami, we all are called to weep. To lament.
My friend Phyllis offers this beautiful prayer/poem for humans as they suffer loss and weep…
3 AM Mountain Standard Time
Stranger—You in the lighted window
on the third floor.
Did virus dreams nudge you awake?
Young mother in Iowa-
This isn’t what you imagined.
Your infant, cradled,
as you long to share the smell of her sweet head
with others you love.
Your fears are closing around you,
the virus only third on your list
of pressing concerns.
So many in the house, you alone awake.
Your ancestors come to you with soft murmurings of
past pandemics. So much weight.
You fall asleep at last to the heavy breathing of your cousin’s child.
Capitol City politician-
With vague unrest at 3 am,
Pondering where you missed the boat,
the heavy touch of your bad judgement.
Dairy farmer in Wisconsin-
Too early to get up now,
too dark yet even for the birds.
Who will buy your milk?
The smell of spring comes through your open window.
At least there’s that.
Young teen in the city-
Was it the siren that awakened you?>
You wonder if this is the sound of your future.
Will you never have the chance to drink too much at a crowded
party—bodies dancing, pressed together?
A light in a cabin in Alaska-
no one to see it but the wandering moose.
You’re good at isolation.
But you worry if you will ever be touched again.
You in Baton Rouge-
Sleep is just returning to you in the moist heat of night,
accompanied by cricket sound.
Would you ask the crickets to send some sleep my way?
Now it’s 5 am Mountain time.
My poem has been written.
The restless ones on East Coast time
have started their day,
nighttime worries dissolving in sunlight.
I will take myself and my poem back to bed.
And wait for the coming light to
bleach my dark hour
and birth my hope again.Phyllis Bergman, May 2,2020
I will continue to hike in the mountains, pound off the rage burning in my thighs, bring oxygen to my grief filled lungs, bind up my hurt heart with trees and birdsong and sweet perfumed scents of Ponderosa pine. I will continue to look for the lost and dying in the creaturely world and mourn them…
And I will expect to see the extinct rusty patched bumble bee someday.