Dec 6, 2015

Trees, Trails, and Chickadees

The hills have been calling me for two weeks now, but the days have been frigid and icy and the wind wicked - not the kind of weather suitable for much except blankets and books. This week, a warm front moved in and melted the small amount of snow on the valley floor, leaving puddles for happy ducks and revealing green grass, and late autumn seeds for the profusion of quail picking through the yard. I gathered my wildcrafting friends, wise women who know the land and its stories, who hear it speak to them, just as I do, and we went up into the trees and the great rock bluffs to wander for a while.

The snow fell in tiny wisps of almost-flakes while we spread out and followed the trails that called to us. I became enthralled with a grove infested with what seemed like hundreds of chickadees. Their calls, excited peeps, and pecks and scratches on the tall pine and fir were a symphony, and their jumping and flittering from tree to tree, a ballet. You may have your Nutcracker, but I'll keep the wild chickadee troops, who eat massive amounts of food each winter's day and then induce hypothermia each night in order to stay alive through the long, cold months ahead.

There were other paths to follow. High mountain juniper called out to me, and I now have some infusing in oil for an after bath treat for my cold-weary skin. I stopped for a while and listened to the wind as it whispered through the old, sky-high pines. I traced deer tracks for a time, winding back and forth through the trees. I wanted so much to follow the coyote too, to see where it had gone roving, but my friends called out to me from a gorgeous bluff over the hill, and I left that trail of paws for another day.

We found several small trees that someone had cut and left where they fell. Why such waste, there's no way of knowing, but we allowed ourselves to scavenge the boughs of the fir and pine lying there to bedeck our own homes for the season. The drive home, in a vehicle stuffed to the roof with evergreens, was divine.

There was soup to be had at the end of our exploration, hearty warmth handmade by someone who knows her way around bones and herbs. As the cold faded from our own bones, we spoke of transformation, discovering the depths of ourselves, and finding where we belong - even if that is in more than one place and even if that knowing makes us ache.

There is a wolf in me . . . fangs pointed for tearing gashes . . . a red tongue for raw meat . . . and the hot lapping of blood—I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me and the wilderness will not let it go. 
There is a fox in me . . . a silver-gray fox . . . I sniff and guess . . . I pick things out of the wind and air . . . I nose in the dark night and take sleepers and eat them and hide the feathers . . . I circle and loop and double-cross.
Excerpt from "Wilderness" ~ Carl Sandburg

Last night, after crushing a bit of juniper in my hands and bringing it to my cold nose, again and again, I finally drifted off to sleep and went back to that path of paw prints in the snow. I don't know if I ever found the canid that left them, but I woke feeling like I had been wandering all night in the cold.

Tonight there are candles lit, and extra blankets at the ready (as there will be for all the long nights to come) and I can't help but think about the chickadees gathering in their hollowed trees and any other shelter they can find, intentionally dropping their body temperature, transforming their food stores from the day into fuel to keep their body shivering until the dawn.

I don't know that I will mind if my dreams lead me back to the wintry forest. I might follow the trail of paws again, or perhaps I might learn something from those tenacious birds who embrace the cold, and find a way to evolve to suit it. Maybe they can teach me about going deeper, to the very edge of life, only to wake in the morning and begin the adventure again.

Assorted wintry bits:

~ The stars are falling again - the Geminids will put on a show for you on December 13-14th if you feel like looking to the sky. Great info here.

~ My delightful, if grumpy about the winter holidays, friend Hob from The Orphans's Almanac is now into his Nights of Krampus giveaways. You only have 24 hours to get in on each night's fun, so make sure you stop by his blog daily over the coming week to check out the wonderful and wicked goings on!

~ If you want to know much, much more about animals and working with them in a meaningful way as a spiritual practice, then do check out Sara Magnuson's class Animalia. Sara is wise, and passionate about her work with animals/animal spirits and this looks to be a fantastic course.