How Do Wild Animals Weather the Storm?

September 15, 2017
Anhinga at Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary. Photo: Euku.

The US has experienced two major hurricanes over the past two weeks, and like many people I have been following the news on these events closely. The last statistics on fatalities that I found report that seventy-one people died in hurricane Harvey and eighty-one in Irma. More than half of the Irma fatalities occurred in the Caribbean. Death tolls from these storms are expected to continue to rise.

As devastating as these hurricanes were, I couldn’t help but compare the loss of life to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, where over 1,800 people died. One of the reasons that many people in Katrina’s path refused to evacuate was that they did not want to abandon their pets. Storm shelters were not allowing pets and buses were refusing to transport people accompanied by animals. This time around shelters were prepared to accept people accompanied by animals and animal shelters were also poised to help evacuees who could not leave with their pets.

So dogs and cats, as well as people, fared better in these major hurricanes than in previous ones. Many people are asking, what about wildlife in the regions where hurricanes made landfall?

Six toed cat at Hemingway House. Photo: Avarette.
Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, on the south Texas coast, was hit hard by Harvey and is closed until further notice. Major damage occurred at the visitor information center, and it may turn out to be a total loss. Public viewing platforms also suffered damage. A full assessment of damage has not occurred yet due to unsafe conditions for grounds crews. A problem with flooding in this area is almost inevitable petroleum and other chemical contamination as well as debris that could potentially harm wildlife. Refuge spokespersons report that major beach erosion occurred but that the saltwater marshes, major migratory bird habitats, suffered no obvious damage. The good news is that whooping crane migration to this area does not begin until next month. About half of the critically endangered whooping cranes winter at the Refuge.

Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in southwest Florida also suffered major damage to buildings and boardwalks. The Sanctuary is closed and there is no word yet on when it will be reopened. Again, an assessment of damage to the Sanctuary will not be completed for some time for reasons of safety, in this case the major hazard being fallen trees and unsafe structures. On Big Pine Key, deer have been spotted since Irma tore through. It is unknown what effect the hurricane had on the population of the rare Key deer species. On Key West, Hemingway’s famous six-toed cats evidently survived the storm just fine.

Whooping Crane family at
Aransas NWR. Photo: US Fish and Wildlife.
Birds and animals have a number of survival mechanisms for dealing with catastrophic hurricanes, which is not to say that they all necessarily survive. Many birds and small animals retreat into tree cavities, which provide wonderful shelter provided that the tree does not topple or floodwaters do not reach the cavity. Migratory birds are aware of tropical storms across great distances and will adjust their migratory schedules to avoid major storms. Some migratory birds fly into storms and survive, and they may even hang out in the “eye” until the storm breaks up. In both of these scenarios, surviving birds may be pushed very far out of their natural habitats. A bigger problem for bird survival than immediate deaths from wind and rain is the loss of habitat. Bird habitat is vanishing at an alarming rate due to human development, pollution, and global warming, so habitat loss from hurricanes can have a big impact.

Here are the links for updates on damage assessments at Corkscrew and Aransas.

Have you seen information yet about the webinar I will be leading on Mastering Moon Energies?

Feast of Vulcan

August 23, 2017
Please don’t cook me! Go vegan. Photo: Cassandra Tiensivu.

August 23rd is the Roman Feast of Vulcan. The god was propitiated on this day for a long life. Fish were thrown into the flames as a substitute for human lives. The concept of the fish as a metaphor for the human soul is much older than Christianity.

You can always make paper fish for the Vulcan fire. They burn better anyway. Photo: Pedroserafin.

Goddess of the Harvest

August 11, 2017

All Hail the Winsome Freya

Photo: Jerzy_Strzelecki

All Hail the Mighty Cerridwyn

Photo: Joshua Lutz

All Hail the Nourishing Demeter

Photo: Myrabella

These triple goddesses have traditionally been worshiped in porcine form. The pig embodies the generating, nourishing, destroying aspects of the Triple Goddess.

Raining Mice

July 28, 2017
Photo: US Fish and Wildlife

There is a curious section in Aradia: Gospel of the Witches by Charles Leland that describes the goddess Diana’s incarnation in human form and her marvelous spellcasting to impress the witches. The passage says that “she declared that she would darken the heavens and turn all the stars into mice.” Diana duly accomplishes this feat, the heavens rain with mice, and Diana is crowned Queen of the Witches.

So why does Diana make it rain mice, of all things, to impress the witches? The answer lies in the dual roles of Apollo, as god of light and god of mice. Possibly these roles became syncretized with Apollo as he absorbed many other gods, but at any rate Diana was turning the stars (light) into another of their forms: mice. This is why Diana once chose to make it rain mice.

Cats and Dogs

July 21, 2017
Photo: Brocken Inaglory

Ever wonder about the phrase “It’s raining cats and dogs”? Most people recognize this as a description of a fierce rain shower, but have you ever seen cats and dogs pouring down from the sky?

The folklore behind the saying has two parts. A lightning strike in European folklore (and in some other places, such as the Philippines) is associated with a dog bite. That makes sense: electricity has a bite to it, so being struck by lightning probably would feel like a dog bite.

What about the cats? There is also a longstanding belief in folklore that cats cause it to rain by vigorously washing their faces.

So, raining cats and dogs refers to a type of storm where there is torrential rain (caused by the cats) and lightning (biting dogs).

Flowering June

June 23, 2017

orange hawkweed
Orange Hawkweed
white flower
Witherod viburnum (Wild Raisin)
frog with bluets
Green Frog with Bluets
blackberries
Blackberry
cinnamon fern
Cinnamon Fern
queen anne's lace
Red Soldier Beetle on Queen Anne’s Lace
Tiger Swallowtail on Lilac
Tiger Swallowtail butterfly on Lilac

Great Gray Owl

March 10, 2017
My photo of the owl. I was close, but I don’t have a very good camera.

The big excitement this week has been the appearance of a Great Gray Owl, a boreal owl rarely seen in the United States. As the name implies, this is a very large owl, bigger even than the Great Horned. The wingspan is huge, but a blur in my camera even flying slowly.

No one knows if this is a female or male, though one birder thought this owl is female based on the size (female owls tend to be slightly larger, but the difference is not great enough for identification). The owl was unconcerned about the group of people nearby and concentrated on hunting rodents. As word has spread, people have been flocking here from out-of-state.

What does it all mean? On one level, that food for this bird in the far north has been scarce this winter. Possibly we have had a greater mouse or vole irruption, though I haven’t noticed it. Gray Owls have also been spotted in the past few weeks in Maine and New Hampshire.

This relief, often identified as Lillith or Ereshkigal, is probably Ishtar. Photo: BabelStone.

This was not a personal sign since I was told where the bird was feeding in the late afternoon and went looking for it, but it is a sign for the nearby community as whole, which has talked of little else this week. I ordinarily don’t place credence on superstitions about seeing owls in daylight and don’t know anyone who does, partly because we see so many owls during the day around here.

The owl is the sacred bird of Ishtar, probably because the owl protects the grain by hunting rodents. The owl was also a women’s symbol in Mesopotamia. Women wore owl amulets during childbirth and the prostitutes’ union used the owl as their totem. I interpret this owl as an intervention from outside to rid the community of the vermin of noxious ideas.

In the next day or two as weather becomes warmer, the owl is expected to move north.

Great Gray Owl photographed in Ontario by Jok2000. Wikimedia Commons.

Frigga: A short sketch

February 24, 2017
Grey Heron. Photo: Manfred Schulenburg.

Then said Gangleri: “Which are the Asynjur?” Harr said: “Frigg is the foremost: she has that estate which is called Fensalir, and it is most glorious.”
The Prose Edda, Snorri Sturluson, translated Arthur Gilchrist Brodeur.

Deities tend to become conflated over time, particularly female deities. When a major goddess enters the historical record in an obscure manner, the situation becomes more pronounced. Such is the case with Frigga, possibly at one time the most widely worshipped of the Germanic gods. Often confused with the beautiful and loving Frejya, Frigga is very much a goddess of her own realm.

The term “Asynjur” mentioned above means “goddess” in this case, though it can refer specifically to the branch of Germanic deities known as the Aesir. Marija Gimbutas classifies the two branches as a conjoining of Old European and invading Indo-European pantheons: “The Vanir represent the indigenous, Old European deities, fertile and life giving. In contrast, the Aesir embody the Indo-European warrior deities of a patriarchal people.”(1) I view this assessment, and Frigga’s place in it, not as false but as overly facile. The Vanir was undoubtedly drawn into the Aesir, with the Aesir All-Father Odin the dominant deity of the new pantheon, but the more populated Aesir had probably absorbed other pantheons at an earlier time. I believe Frigga was a central goddess of a matriarchal culture who was absorbed into Odin’s cult by “marriage,” a time-honored way of combining pantheons. Frigga’s marriage to the head of the patriarchal pantheon signals her importance. Her cult seems never to have been entirely subdued, because she retains her own sphere and is more than a match for Odin. In two stories she outwits the All-Father.

While Germanic deities have their own personalities, their individuation is expressed less with symbols and functions, which often overlap, than with territory. Frigga’s place is the slow-moving, marshy river and her glorious estate of Fensalir is an island within the freshwater marshland. The Grey Heron dominates this type of landscape, and Frigga is said to wear a crown of heron feathers. She has also been mentioned as owning hawks, which might be a conflation with Frejya, but could allude to another bird of this landscape, the osprey. I think of her as the great fish eater. She harvests souls swimming in the water of life and so rules over fate.

Frigga’s tree is the European White Birch, which grows well in wet soil along rivers. No doubt her house — or nest — is birch. (For more on this association see my post Frigga and the Birch.) She is the goddess of spinning, with the stars her distaff, which makes her the goddess of the year. Frigga’s status as sun goddess is revealed by her function as goddess of time and her association with gold. If twelve other goddesses mentioned in the Prose Edda are Frigga’s handmaidens, as Diana Paxson maintains(2), this further support the conjecture that she is a sun goddess.

As mother goddess Frigga rules that other fishy place, a woman’s vulva. The sexual connotations of the word “frigg” are derived from her name. (For those who don’t know what frigging is, I explain it here in this video.) Christianity has successfully divided the mother from the sexual being in our minds, thus encouraging the distinction of Frigga as mother goddess as opposed to Frejya as love goddess, yet earlier Pagans knew no such separation.

Frigga is described in the literature as the goddess who knows the future but seldom speaks of it. Herons also walk silently in the still waters, typically quiet except in the rookery. Frigga gives the child her destiny at birth. Her mastery of divination can be traced to her death-goddess huntress aspect or to her spindle which commands time. Birch bark as writing medium ties Frigga to the runes and their association with divination and spells.

While Frejya and Odin divide the heroic who die in battle between them, those good souls who lead a humbler life go to Fensalir after death. This gentle, loving goddess did not rise to prominence in a warrior culture.

I associate Frigga with the smell of fishy water, which I love, and quiet ponds teeming with dragonflies, frogs, and vegetation. She is the stately heron stalking the water’s edge. She is also the beautiful composed matron, the mistress of a rich but comfortable house. She is wise beyond measure, and though we hang on her words she listens more than she speaks.

The fate of all does Frigg know well,
Though herself she says it not
The Poetic Edda, translated by Henry Addams Bellows

 

Notes

1. Marija Gimbutas, The Living Goddesses (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999), p. 191.

2. Diana L. Paxson, “Beloved: On Frigg and Her Handmaidens,” at Hrafnar: Twenty Years of Re-Inventing Heathenry

Feline Fascism

February 3, 2017

It’s been a frustrating week in foreign language study. For some reason, Samhain has been on patrol a bit more than usual, enforcing the household English-only policy.

This policy was instituted by the cat. She yowls whenever I review my Munsee vocabulary. A Siamese can yell louder than any person, so this is a ban she can enforce. She has an Irish name and her ancestors immigrated from Thailand, but she won’t tolerate any spoken word other than English. Today I thought she was taking a nap, so I opened my language materials, and then she walked in and I thought “Oh no.” Then I said (in English) “This is ridiculous.”

The cat I had before used to start crying when Spanish was spoken in the house, and since we were living in Tucson at the time it couldn’t always be avoided. Don’t tell me animals can’t understand what we’re saying, because they go berserk when they think we’re talking in code. When I was a teenager we had a poodle who was unusually smart, and we actually had to start spelling certain words instead of saying them, because if he got wind that we were up to something he wanted included in, he would begin campaigning strongly to go along. Eventually he became suspicious whenever we started spelling. Nobody likes being left out.

Munsee is actually not a foreign language but one of the Native Algonquian languages, so Samhain is not only a fascist but a colonialist. Starting today, I am going to push back against this reign of tyranny I find myself living under.

A Hare at Heart Lake

December 23, 2016

So again I am musing, as I do every winter, about the plethora of Snowshoe Hare tracks with no Hares in sight. Yet during this outing I did spy a Great Horned Owl gliding between the branches. Snowshoe Hares are hard to spot, but I suspect this owl is up to the challenge. In most photos it’s taken me about a minute to spot the Hare even though the frame is small and I know it’s there. I’ll bet these bunnies are all around me and I just don’t see them.

I’m more and more aware that it’s not just the trees, rocks, and water that witness my presence in the woods. All around me are eyes peering behind twigs and bushes. I’m never alone.