Juniper & Crow
The essence of Life and Spirit is found in this eclectic land of stone and heat, thorn and spiral. Stories are contained in the watercolors of bone-dry canyons and dusty horizons... These words are a love letter for the vastness of wild land, the mercurial nature of desert creatures and the holy presence of Life transcending constraint.
Desert Wisdom: Pt 1. The hummingbird’s message
There is a subtle narrative that exists in the desert, where I meander through a series of washes that lead into canyons. I am nicely secluded, despite being in the middle of one of the West’s largest cities. Summertime in the Sonoran Desert is perfect for a solitary fox like me… I scurry and watch, quietly observing ripening tunas on prickly pear, and listen to the curve-billed thrasher chiming a sharp morning hello to fellow winged compadres. The air is hot, even at 4:30am. The breeze is close but discomforting in its stagnant hold of sand and baked stone. I take a seat on the granite, smoothed by monsoon water flow, and wait for a story to be told.
This is the wash where I have spent many hours. When I arrived in Phoenix in 2007, South Mountain Park, or Muhadag Do’ag, as the range is known by the O’odham nations, was my first taste of this unusual land of light and edge. I have met many wild companions during my solo hikes here. I have listened to the song of five coyotes as they created day from night – turning stars into saguaro blooms. This is the place I watched resident owls descent in twilight, swooping low from their granite and gneiss shelters and out onto the cityscape, into December’s near-chill nights.
In the dusty wash, I climb up onto an outcrop where a lizard (dreamtime) skitters behind the branches of a Palo Verde. I shift my focus to discover a spiral petroglyph, about 10 inches in diameter, carefully concealed by the new growth of the spiny, pale limbs. The glyph can be anywhere from a few hundred to a thousand years old – here, it is tough to tell. I consider the spiral. I feel the maze of my own mind and body. The blood moves through my heart and across the fields and waterways of my being to animate my arms, my legs. I inhale – the air circulates through time. I think of the path I walk and the lifetimes of fellow walkers, all sharing the breath, movement. I have been feeling so disconnected lately. When I dream of the maze, I remember that I am never alone… only my mind is the great isolator, but life –
the rhythm of breath and circulation – brings me back to the world.
A cactus wren comes to rest above the glyph and examines me with one eye… “Who do you think you are, honey?” his stare seems to question. I smile at him as he flies to his home, a hollow carefully burrowed in a saguaro, and drops something in. Maybe a treat for later. I think of home. I am a wanderer, uprooted, but I have cultivated some elements of home: friends, my dog and cat companions, a favorite quilt carefully made by my grandmother, my photographs… even when camping, I bring objects that are sacred and will often set up a mini altar on the lantern stand: a piece of obsidian from a special place, some crystals and amethyst, a photo of a wild fox I saw in Indiana, a small statuette of Kuan Yin and a card that simply says Trust. My mind drifts back to those memories of solo camps, atop sky islands and throughout long mesas of gold and brown mixing with sky. These altars honor the wild places I love. In a sense, wilderness is my first home.
Today a curious hummingbird –a native Costa’s Hummingbird – attracted to my bright pink jacket, meets me. I watch her kaleidoscope sheen turn from purple to the brightest turquoise, this lit jewel. She returns to me throughout the morning, ever joyful, ever bold. Her sheer verve seems to inquire why any living thing should be sad or stuck in the past or future. She flits about the trees, living in the moment, and to such a fantastic extent I wonder how I have lived in a numb state for so long.
Hummingbird is a messenger – a swift and sure traveler between worlds. And, reflecting on my current unemployed and slightly frazzled state of mind, I wonder what message she brings. I often come to South Mountain when I need insight or clarity. The flash of this small being in the morning sunlight draws me in closer to the feeling of the sun on my skin. I am warmed by the early rays and watch the haze of brief humidity depart with the clouds.
Discomfort and dis-ease are profound catalysts for self-examination and eventual growth. I am caught in doubt, but when I see the dance of hummingbird, I am awakened to the power of swiftness and movement. Hummingbird symbolism teaches us to be in the moment and cultivate joy – no matter what the circumstances, because joy comes from within the place of true living. Joy is a feeling of innate feminine expression. Joy emanates from those connected to their purpose and path. It is a commitment to oneself to live as if everything is OK.
Before leaving, I ask her to imbue some of the tremendous resiliency of her spirit to mine. There is much work ahead, but somehow – with the guidance of this tiny messenger – I know I will be carried on the uplift of a joyful life.
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