Monthly Archives: April 2014

Volcanos, gophers & miracles

mount-st-helens 1973


In the spring of 1980 Mount St. Helens, dormant for 120 years, woke up with the largest volcanic eruption in 100 years in North America.  The explosion left behind a lunar landscape that stretched over hundreds of thousands of acres and wiped out all life in an area of 200 square miles.  Nearby Spirit Lake was choked with debris, raising its bed more than 200 feet.  Due to the unexpected and unimaginable devastation and because Mount St. Helens is one of nearly 500 volcanos in  the Pacific Ring of Fire, studying the volcano became scientists’ top priority.  Massive effort went into discovering all that the mountain could tell, seismology equipment graphing every minute rumble for patterns that could help predict future activity.  Within weeks, when the toxic clouds of steam cleared, seismologists were on the ground, as close as possible to the crater.

From low flying helicopters every inch of ground was surveyed for signs of life.  Nothing for three months, then one day in a vast field of grey ash eight miles from the crater a small mound of brown disturbed soil.  Returning on foot, biologists discovered a pocket gopher.  Because they live underground protected by soil, some would have survived, and here was this little guy busy doing reconstruction –work familiar, though seldom appreciated, in our urban gardens.  In the days that followed more gophers were spotted.  All bent on their task of burrowing out from beneath feet of ash.

The following spring after snows had receded and helicopter searches for life once again resumed, a clump of color was spotted four miles from the crater in the pumice plain where all life had been extinguished. There, in full bloom, was a single plant of prairie lupine –the first sign of new life in a year.  Like the gopher, the prairie lupine is a pioneering species especially equipped to survive and even to thrive in conditions impossible for others.  Within a few years gophers had moved into the pumice plain, lupines providing their food while gophers enriched the pumice by burrowing their way through the ash, mixing in fresh soil and helping new plants to spread.

So too Spirit Lake had fallen into toxic swoon.  Smothered by debris and choked by deadly gases, it had suffered an explosion of deadly bacteria that had rapidly consumed all oxygen, finishing off all air-breathing life: fish, amphibians and insects.  For three years there was nothing, the lake essentially dead.  Then, as the debris settled and sunlight improved, a water sample showed the return of phytoplankton, microscopic plants that turn sunlight into oxygen.  They are the basic building blocks of aquatic life –and they had been brought in by birds or blown in by the wind.

In time, as the lupines and other scrubby plants increased –creating islands of vegetation in the mounds of turned-over soil provided by gophers– the elk returned.  In their travels their hooves collapsed gopher tunnels, in turn creating cool safe havens for small amphibians to take hold and replenish the lake.

This is the web of life, our sacred Mother Earth resplendent in her magnificence.  Every being, seen or unseen, mammoth or infinitesimal, dependent on and nourishing every other.  If ever we have needed to remember we are all in this together, needing all of our teammates onboard, it is now…

Mount St. Helens – Back from the Dead

And here the web of life at work in the nuclear-ravaged area of Chernobyl…


For You, Great-Grandmother…

Mama Luisa



Early on, my great-grandmother Mama Luisa became for me a magnetic pull, electrified by my mom’s confiding –in response to my endless questions– that Luisa had been “stolen off the street” by great-grandfather Tonio.

Later, when poetry was the ear into which I poured my deepest longings to make sense of who I was in relation to my family with its power struggles, secrets and fears, its denials and bitter discord, I had woven together the bits I’d been told into a plea of sorts to this woman I never knew but to whom I felt curiously bound:

Luisa, who was he to you? the man Tonio
who like a bandido hijacked your life,
wrenching you from girlhood into his coach…
Did your eyes linger on him the way his eyes
held you?   In the days before he stole you,
had he followed you as you wove Managua’s
streets selling homemade dulces?
Had he touched your hand, hoping?
In his coach that day, did your young girl’s
heart race as he professed his… love?
Did any part of you consent?  Or did he whirl
you away, heedless of your cries,
horses fleeing beneath the whip?
I’ve heard that you were lovely, elegant brow
of your dead Spanish mother, your father’s
raven Miskito eyes; that Tonio, smitten,
took what you would not give.

Luisa, within high walls of Tonio’s
quinta, what illusions withered as you flung
yourself against locked doors?
Lost to your frantic father, sisters, how long
was it before you spent your shuddering useless
tears?  Was it, at last, when Tonio’s child inside
you moved?  Eight sons and daughters you bore,
you and Tonio laying five into their graves.
Half a century later, how did you feel
when only on his deathbed, urged by the padre
as a condition of last rites, did he deign
to marry you?

Luisa, I have no child’s memory of you,
only the heirloom of your mythic saintliness,
your woman’s place beneath your man, thrust
on my grandmother, mi abuelita, passed on
to her daughter, my own mother.  In pale mirror
I see you swallow your hombre’s rages,
draw around you veils of dissimulation
–as Abuelita did, as Mom still does–
pass your beads through quiet fingers,
look to heaven for your reward….

Luisa, would you be proud that I place no man
above myself, and spit out what you could not?
Or caged too long, would you balk
at an open door, mute,
as I sing out your song?

In my adult life I never lived beneath the subjection that was the normal home-life of my mother and grandmother and great-grandmother.  But my childhood experience of being trapped in its midst had lodged deep, like a bad gene to be guarded against.  That fear kept me primed for flight, and allowed no one to come close enough to step between me and the door.

What a long winding road…

As an adolescent, lashing out at home against the combined religious rigidity of parochial school nuns, “infallible” priests and Mom’s prayerful martyrdom in the face of Pop’s infantile tyranny rendered me the trouble-maker –the designated patient.  All I knew was I could see that elephant in the room.  No matter how whatever had just happened in plain sight was twisted or wholly denied, I would repeat to myself “I saw that… I saw it! ” and burn the image into my mind as proof –if only to myself– that I was not going mad.  Still, always constricting my breath loomed the fear of losing my footing on ground that never ceased shifting.

And at 12, my most fateful year, an unfathomably shocking incident instantly tumbled me into mute dissociation, a hazy gray parallel realm where I remained for some months, sleep-walking on tip-toes, invisible as family members shuffled around me.  I later emerged as silently and as unnoticed as I had disappeared.  But some part of me had not made the return trip and for the next decade I lived in exile in the midst of family –barely present, wandering far away in the pages of books.

Once I had finally fled home at 21, I knew –though I was nowhere near being conscious– that I wanted a life in no way resembling what I’d known.  The marriage I entered into at 23 was left behind seven years later at my first Saturn Return.  Emerging from that I was certain of only one thing– neither marriage nor motherhood was, or ever had been, something I desired.  At that point the most I could imagine for myself was the freedom to close the door behind me and breathe in peace undisturbed.  My tubes now tied and my mind set on experimenting my way into discovering who I was, I set out to “seek my fortune” –words magically charged in all the fairy tales that, as a child, had accompanied me and given me a template for finding my way out of the thicket.  These simple tales later led me to the classical myths, sacred stories of ancient cultures, that in times of darkness lit my way as I too took the heroic descent and return of Inanna.
[ interpretation ]

Instinctively I had always known –long before I understood why I questioned everything– that my life depended on understanding and releasing the family pattern.  But at age 12 I was still five decades away from having any notion that its legacy could be karmic or that Mama Luisa herself was key to unlocking the shackles.  That year  Mom was in profound depression and tending to her new infant, her fifth child and the first boy.  Apart from the small animals who daily mended my soul, there was no one to turn to, no one to tell. My devastating interlude became one more family secret.  Survival equated only with pulling inward, staying sufficiently out of sight, until the day I could walk away.  Hyper-vigilance, staying one step ahead of what was brewing around me, was my only defense against the sudden violent vortex of being caught unaware.  Once I was out on my own, there had been rounds of psychotherapy, but I continued to keep most everyone at arm’s length.  Not until age 33, in a blessedly conscious and intimate relationship that continues to this day as soul-deep friendship, did I break the surface into learning to trust.

Though astrology had much earlier entered my life, its fascination did not plunge me into serious study until, synchronistically, my Pluto square Pluto at age 42 coincided with a volcanic rage that suddenly hurled itself bellowing out of some inner subterranean realm.  From here my life became about winding deeper and deeper by every means possible into that dark fathomless warren inhabited by unseen, half-seen, always-shifting but no less real energies.  Through that long passage I often feared for my sanity.  But never did it occur to me to turn back.  Imperceptibly I gained a deepening sense of myself as a transpersonal cluster of innumerable forces under no one’s control.

What can be inscrutable mysteries of the psyche are unpacked for scrutiny by the map of consciousness that is the astrological chart with its evocative mythical language and ability to freeze-frame the shifting components of crisis or any given moment of life.  Over time the inner cast of characters, distinct, dynamic and paradoxical, became recognizable, each intent on expressing.  Every inner clash became instruction.  The archetypes involved, the cycles when they were active, were plumbed for insight, waded into and lived. Once felt, owned and allowed to be, they tempered and the conflicts among them lost their edge.

Even wholly knowing that this mysterious gift works, I am still often left open-mouthed with wonder at the endless ability of astrology to peer into whatever is being sought,  to home in on what is burnished in the soul.  So it was that in 2012 the chart first came to reveal the karmic tie I had always felt with Mama Luisa.

In mid-2013 an undeniable felt shift in my body began signaling that this work was done.  Not all, no bottom exists to be reached, but enough:  all relevant layers of buried psychic material related to the four generations…  all relevant debris from Mom’s religious terror of her rebellious daughter’s trajectory to “burning in hell for eternity”…  all relevant internalized and projected distortions in me of power and the lack of it, of being unworthy or unsafe…   Done!  No matter how relentlessly Mom had been driven to break me of the curse of refusing to bend before any codified and lifeless view of a personal “god”, and no matter the decades I continued to wage that war with her and anyone I perceived to be challenging my own small authority that even “I” didn’t believe in, what ultimately has survived is the unstoppable, ever-creating-and-renewing desire of Life to know itself as expressed through the prism of my own wildly individual experience.

The healing, the sense of once again being in possession of that which had been lost –along with the wisdom gained and the tale wanting to be told– are not solely mine.  They reverberate back through at least four generations to Mama Luisa.  And –“as above, so below, as within, so without”– the growing surrender and lightness of being reflect on endlessly… This, then, this returning home to oneself, the wiser for the journey, is the elixer, the boon, the sought and prized Holy Grail.