Friday, September 7, 2012

Following the Salmon and the Story

On September 1, I blogged about a dream in which the word "apayo" came to me. It led me directly to the artwork of an Alaskan woman who introduced me to the Pebble Mine Prospect, one of the most controversial development prospects in Alaska's history (see blog: Where Does it Hurt?). Salmon figure prominently in her work, and were on my mind, fleetingly, the night I had the dream. The title of the first painting I saw on her site: "Our Agreement: I Will Nourish Your Future Generations as Long as You Protect Mine." 

In that same dream, I was at a retreat. While I was there, a powerful storm blew through and knocked out the power. After it passed, we went outside to gather plants and flowers for the retreat leader's "Bridge of Flowers" project.

As it turns out, on Aug. 28, 2011, the Deerfield River was flooded by Hurricane Irene and engulfed the famous Bridge of Flowers in Shelburne Falls, Mass. The bridge was declared safe on September 1, a year to the day of the dream.

When I found this info on Google, a "related topic" that came up was the Salmon River, in Idaho. Thinking it an odd association, I clicked on the link and learned that the Salmon River, also known as The River of No Return, has been home to people for more than 8,000 years, including the indigenous Nez Perce tribe, which relied heavily upon the river for its abundance of salmon and other wildlife. According to Wikipedia, "The Salmon River historically produced 45% of all the steelhead (salmon) and 45% of all the spring and summer chinook salmon in the entire Columbia River Basin. The Salmon River Basin contains most (up to 70%) of the remaining salmon and steelhead habitat in the Columbia River Basin. Despite the abundant salmon habitat in the river, these fish have been declining, in large part because of the effects of four federal reservoirs and dams on the lower Snake and Columbia rivers."

The Salmon River was the site of one of the gold rushes in the 1860's, which caused a great clash between the gold prospectors and the native people who lived in the area. This is not unlike the current Pebble Mine prospect in Alaska, where wealthy corporations want to develop a gold and copper mine that could have dire environmental repercussions, and is being fought by the native and non-native Alaskans who want to preserve the Bristol Bay area from the mine.

For me, the weaving of this story through dream, research and synchronicity, is an illustration of how everything is connected across space and time. 

It reminds me of the law of action and reaction, and of the myriad ways, places and species in which our actions are negatively impacting our world today and for the future. 

Perhaps it is instructive, asking us to look to the mistakes of the past for solutions to the future, and to avoid making the same mistakes again and again, while expecting different outcomes; the time is near when it may be too late to undo much of the damage we've already done (The River of No Return). 

Perhaps it is a foretelling of our fate if we fail to care for and respect the tremendous gifts and resources that have been given to us to pass on into the future (Our Agreement: I Will Nourish Your Future Generations as Long as You Protect Mine).

And it reminds me to pay attention to the dreams, to look beyond what appears on the surface, to follow their threads and wisdom to untold places (including Alaska, Idaho, Massachusetts!) and information.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Ghost Cat

It is estimated that there are somewhere between 3,000 to 6,000 snow leopards left on earth. Prized and poached for their beautiful coats, they survive in some of the planet's most challenging terrain. Due to deforestation and dam projects, they have suffered a signficant loss of their natural habitat and food sources. In countries where they live, such as Pakistan and India-administered Jammu and Kashmir, armed conflicts have further imperiled the cats, with a disregard for species preservation among the fighters and the flourishing of an illegal fur trade.

Snow leopards, also called "Ghost Cats", can hiss, growl, wail and chuff, but unlike other large cats, they cannot roar. I met this shy creature in a dream, and the poem below is in honor of its arduous and endangered existence, and its historical associations with the gods. 

For Snow Leopard/Honoring a Dream                                                     

From the crest of the god’s head,
you traverse the craggy ancient spines
of the Rock People.
Vertebrae by vertebrae
you carry down the sky.
Its frigid white breath tears through the air
like rapacious fangs
and howls at the impassive, stony faces
that bear the brunt of its fury,
with you,
the sole and silent witness
to its brutality.

Your green eyes blaze
with inner light but offer no warmth.
There is none to be found
in this timeless, unyielding

Here, survival is a story
of wits and of will,
of stealth and of strength,
where hunger and beauty can kill you
as readily as any man.
Dreamy crystalline blankets
yield to one-way trap doors beneath
the novice foot,
and the lies we tell ourselves
to carry on
are sheer as the ice that freezes closed
our frightened eyes.

The spirits of this land
seem cruel
and harsher than they need be.
Or perhaps safe passage
before their steely gaze
requires each soul to speak its truth
deep into their brittle bones:
How much do you want your life?

Ghost Cat,
you alone know the razor’s edge
where land meets sky
amid the blinding haze,
where antlers mark the graves
of those who offered or renounced themselves
to you.

Down from the mountains you came,
the hunter and the hunted,
survivor and survivalist,
earth-bound immortal,
nearly extinguished by our greed.
You met me in the East
in a humid summer dream, 
with a dare
to journey North,
to follow into unknown terrain
your mysteries cloaked by snow,
made treacherous by ice
and marauders
that might drive me from the trail.

My fierce and exacting guide,
your patience is as thin
as the arctic air,
your mercy as scarce
as easy prey.

I struggle to gain purchase
in your sure-footed wake,
to trust that I am held
when I cannot see the path,
or hear the approach
of what will feed me next,
when I cannot smell the fire
that draws me
toward an indecipherable horizon.

Met only with your stoic silence,
I stifle the tormented cries
I yearn to hurl
against the shrieking wind.
Your coveted coat
reminds me
how to walk with shadow
when daylight deceives,
when reason fails and I have no use
for words.

I am imperfect and I am afraid,
but I am willing.

Ghost Cat,
teach me perseverance and courage,
to ascend to the heights you know by heart,
unbound from illusion,
to converse with the gods
by way of the earth.


Saturday, September 1, 2012

Where Does It Hurt?

Apayo translates to, "where does it hurt?" in Korean. It can also be used to ask someone if they are sick.

I did not know this until this morning. The word came to me in a dream, the Cliffnotes version of which is that I am at a retreat, led by an outdoor adventure guide who leads spiritual retreats based in nature. I see that among his many program brochures is one on white water rafting; another involves a trek through the Nepalese mountains, or something on that order. His wife offers me a sip of her drink, called "apayo". It's an odd looking concoction: A straw is plunged into something like a bump-less pickle or small gourd-like food that is immersed in liquid, and contained within a clear glass bottle.

The night before, I realized I'd left my current dream journal downstairs. Too tired to get out of bed and fetch it, I grabbed an older one. I found an empty page, and on the page opposite, scribbled in the upper left corner, was a note from July 12 of this year: "Salmon = determination. Know where you are going and you will get there."  

Upon waking, at around 4:30 a.m., I scrawl key notes from the dream, including the word "apayo." Unable to go back to sleep, I get up little before 5:00, to record as many details of the dream as I can remember. This odd word, apayo, means nothing to me, so, as any good dream sleuth would do, I consult Google.

Up comes a website: Hmm. Never heard of it. I click.

The site belongs to a Yupik artist, Apayo, who lives in Alaska. The first image to greet me is her beautiful painting of a bare, pregnant woman in water. Her unborn child is visible and sleeping in her womb. Rising up from the water to meet her is a...
salmon. It is titled: "Our Agreement: I Will Nourish Your Future Generations as Long as You Protect Mine."

Beneath this image is a slide show of other paintings. The next one is a reindeer. I've detailed in earlier blog posts how reindeer and deer have been featuring prominently in my dreams of late. I know immediately that this is not a coincidence; I have been led to this site. 

Many other of her paintings are of salmon, including salmon in the rapids (white water rafting, anyone?) and a jazz-singing salmon in a red dress (red dresses are another prominent dream theme). She states on her site that she's trying to raise awareness of the Pebble Mine Prospect. Wait, PEBBLE mine? My dream imagery has been rife with rocks and stone of all sizes for months. I click for more information. As it turns out, the Pebble Mine Prospect may be the most controversial development prospect in Alaska's history. If it proceeds, nearly 87 miles of rivers, creeks and wetlands that support king salmon, red salmon and other fish, wildlife and people, could be damaged or destroyed.

In a blog for the
Huffington Post, Jeanne Devon writes of the Pebble Mine Prospect, "Anglo American Mining (whose track record is less than stellar) wants to put one of the world's largest open pit gold and copper mines at the headwaters of the largest remaining wild salmon fishery on earth -- a fishery that feeds the nation, employs more than 14,000 people, and has sustained human beings in the Bristol Bay area for thousands of years. If you're anyone except a gigantic mining conglomerate, it's a no-brainer. But the mineral wealth at the proposed site is vast, and The Pebble Partnership will do whatever it takes to get it.... Cyanide and pools of other toxic mining waste will have to be held back from leaching into the rivers that feed Bristol Bay by a series of earthen dams 700 feet tall -- that's 100 feet taller than the Space Needle. And they would sit smack atop the most seismically active region on the planet."

I read with dismay and heartbreak.

Researching further, I learn that in Korean, apayo means, "where does it hurt?"

It seems clear that there are important stories that want and need to be told. And they are coming to us in dreams. 

Through my dreams, I have learned about the Reindeer peoples of Mongolia and Siberia. They are at risk of losing their cultures, and the reindeer they herd are in perilous decline. I have come to know the snow leopard, who is also in grave danger of eventual extinction, with only 3,000-6,000 remaining on earth, due to poaching and over development of their territory. I have learned that one third of Britain's dragonfly species are endangered, or nearly so. I have dreamt of the buffalo, whose haunted fate here in America remains tenuous, and of a breed of sheep with a reddish, deer-like coat that is on the "watch" list for endangerment.  

Where does it hurt? It hurts everywhere. Everywhere that we ignorantly, callously, carelessly and selfishly plunder the Earth and her resources. These are significant stories that we don't hear on the news and that generally don't spur us to action, because they are happening somewhere other than in our own back yards. But we've forgotten that our back yards don't really belong to us, regardless of what the bank note says. We all share one back yard, and it is only ours to borrow, to share, and to pass on to future generations. And the ripple effects of years of greed and erosion, pollution and over-development will end up at our doorsteps eventually, wherever we live.

Something bigger than my imagination connected me to Apayo's art and its message today. Something that knows there is vital spiritual nourishment and life in the white water rapids, the cool mountain air, the salmon and the reindeer that give themselves to us for sustenance. Something that wants us to know that our future generations will be preserved and cared for only if we protect and care for that legacy today. And tomorrow. And every day thereafter. 


The earth. The water. The air. The animals. My heart.