In the distance of my years – May 2019

From Many Winters, 1974, by Nancy Wood

 

In the distance of my years I cover myself with time

Like a blanket which enfolds me with the layers of my life.

What can I tell you except that I have gone

nowhere and everywhere?

What can I tell you except that I have not begun

my journey now that it is through?

All that I ever was and am yet to be

lies within me now this way.

 

There is the Young Boy in me traveling east

With the Eagle which taught me to see far and wide.

The Eagle took his distance and said,

There is a Time for Rising Above

So that you do not think

Your small world too important.

There is a time for turning your vision toward the sky.

 

There is the Young Girl in me traveling west

With the Bear which taught me to look inside.

The Bear stood by himself and said,

There is a Time for Being Alone

So that you do not take on

The appearance of your friends.

There is a time for being at home with yourself.

 

There is the Old Man in me traveling north

With the Buffalo which taught me wisdom.

The Buffalo disappeared and said,

There is a Time for Believing Nothing

So that you do not speak

What you have already heard.

There is a Time for Keeping Quiet.

 

There is the Old Woman in me traveling south

With the Mouse which taught me my limitations.

The Mouse lay close to the ground and said,

There is a Time for Taking Comfort in Small Things

So that you do not feel

Forgotten in the night.

There is a Time for enjoying the Worm.

 

That is the way it was.

That is the way it shall continue

With the Eagle and the Bear

With the Buffalo and the Mouse

In all directions joined with me

To form the circle of my life.

 
I am an Eagle.

The small world laughs at my deeds.

But the great sky keeps to itself

My thoughts of immortality.

 

I am a Bear.

In my solitude I resemble the wind.

I blow the clouds together

So they form images of my friends.

 

I am a Buffalo.

My voice echoes inside my mouth.

All that I have learned of life

I share with the smoke of my fire.

 

I am a Mouse.

My life is beneath my nose.

Each time that I journey toward the horizon

I find a hole instead.

The Marriage of Stars and Flowers – February 2019

From Shaman’s Circle, 1996, by Nancy Wood

 

When stars first appeared in the sky, they were lonely, never

touching, or becoming touched by what lay beyond their isolation.

They had deep eyes with which to examine the sinews of

The universe and secret ears with which to hear the struggling whispers

of plants emerging from the earth below. After a while,

when the stars were looking within themselves for meaning,

 

They noticed a field of yellow flowers swaying in the wind of a

distant mountaintop. These flowers were patient and unresisting,

some so small that the stars couldn’t see them very well,

But they knew these living things to be mirrors of their own vast beauty.

Thus stars married flowers in loving affirmation

Of one another, expecting nothing more than recognition

of their unimportant differences.

Many winters I have lived – July 2018

From Many Winters, 1974, by Nancy Wood

 

Many winters I have lived

Ever since the beginning of time

When the first snow fell

Covering the tired earth

Which played with endless summer.

Many winters I held the water captive

On the tops of many mountains

Still warm from the earth’s beginning

When the moon and the sun gave birth

To one full circle of beauty.

Many winters I blew the stars around

So that the place where each star fell

Was where a river grew

Taking as its course to the sea

The path of the winter sun.

Many winters the trees slept with me

And the animals walked on my breast

Just as the birds drew near

Seeking warmth from my fire

Which took the sting from the night.

Many winters I have been

Companion to the lonely moon

Chasing after the raging sun

Which listened to our song of thanks

Before releasing earth from winter.

Many winters I have lived

Ever since the beginning of time

When out of the melting snow

Came the first frail flower which said

I am the spirit of spring.

Nancy’s Thoughts on Understanding Native American Spirituality

From the Preface to Spirit Walker, 1993

 

These poems, like the others, are based on my long association with the Taos Pueblo Indians, who shared their deep spirituality. From the time I first met them, in 1961, I was impressed by their values and by an unshatterable outlook that stemmed from their interconnectedness to the earth as a living whole. Was it possible for me, a white woman, to understand these values? For years I merely observed, absorbing what I could. Slowly my perceptions and, ultimately, my way of life began to change.

 

What did it take to become “in tune” with Indian beliefs far removed from my Judeo-Christian background? Learning to listen, for one thing; letting go of old, worn-out cultural ideas, for another. Solitude was necessary if I was ever to learn anything, so I retreated to the mountains for long periods of time. I still live that way, twenty miles from Santa Fe, at the edge of an old Spanish land grant. Loneliness is part of the lesson, my teacher Red Willow Dancing used to say. Empty your heart and mind. Do not become distracted.

 

But that was the catch. I was distracted – by the realities of having to support four children. After a time the children left, my life moved into a middle-age phase, my consciousness expanded. Distraction meant taking time to watch a red -tailed hawk soaring above my house or witnessing the drama of huge clouds rolling down from any one of the four mountain ranges I can see from my window. This is what matters now, acquiring what the Indians call the quiet heart. In so doing, I have learned to live life from the inside out.

 

We all are a part of something largely undefinable, call it God or the Great Spirit, Buddha or Allah, Krishna or Mozart. I feel connected to this mystery on rivers, in deserts, and on the sea, but mostly in the mountains. Twice a year at summer solstice and again at autumnal equinox, I make a pilgrimage to the top of Independence Pass, at twelve thousand feet in the Colorado Rockies.

 

As I am perched on top of the world, my ritual never changes. I carry a portable tape deck, tapes of beloved Vivaldi, the Mozart horn concerti, and Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, and hike out across the tundra until I am far away from people. I choose a spot on the knife-edge ridge that forms the division between the eastern and western watersheds of the country. There I unpack a long, billowing purple silk dress from my day pack and slip it over my parka and jeans. The music of Vivaldi plays to the wind, and I dance, on and on along the Continental Divide in my hiking boots, paying homage to the mountains, renewing my claim to a stubborn, persistent force that anchors me to this earth. Here is where I am free. Here is where I bend to examine, with a geologist’s loupe, a tiny yellow flower no bigger than the head of a pin, and weep because the Great Spirit has seen fit to create such perfection.

 

This is what Red Willow Dancing meant about interconnectedness. A blade of grass was where he said God lived; the wind was the breath of the Great Spirit, renewing us once again. To me, this is what life is all about.

 

There, between earth and sky, suspended in time, I begin to understand.

 

Nancy Wood

Santa Fe, New Mexico April 1992

Nancy’s Thoughts: Poems as Rituals and Connections with Nature

From the preface to Shaman’s Circle, her sixth book of poetry, 1996:

 

“Most of us non-Indians are out of touch with the magic of the seasons, the subtle rhythms of the earth, and the daily blessings of the natural world. We hardly notice birds building nests, green leaves budding, or the way a river swells with life in spring. We are too busy to care. But care we must, for we are inextricably tied to nature, and to one another. We have to rediscover ritual and, in so doing, rediscover ourselves. We need to strengthen our bonds with nature, every day of the year. Few of us greet the rising sun or bid it farewell at sunset; not many of us howl at the moon, nor do we sing to rainclouds, growing corn, or the death spirit. We have drifted away from our roots, and melancholy prevails. Now we must reestablish contact with our sacred center and invent rituals that have personal meaning.

These poems are a ritual in themselves. They’re meant to be read in private, preferably under a tree or beside a stream. They’re meant to trigger a desire to get up and dance. Or to sing. Or to write a poem of your own as you enter the shaman’s sacred circle, where anything can happen.”