I came to the desert to love you.

 

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I came to the desert to love you.

There were flies on the windowsills

and all the flowers were blooming.

I hadn’t been alone for weeks

and I was tired.

 

We fought about everything

but I loved you anyway.

My friends worried.

My hair grew a shade lighter

and the sun-drenched roses of my cheeks

faded to bronze.

My eyes became two crescent moons,

watching.

 

My lover smelled of burnt popcorn

as she pressed her small body to mine.

Her mouth and hands were hungry,

hurried, and searching.

I did not have what she wanted —

I don’t remember what it was

 

now

 

I am alone

for the first time in weeks —

laying naked in the whisper of desert breeze

with only the dogs for company

I am at peace, I think.

My belly feels full, my arms heavy.

 

At least my words have returned to me,

my mind clearing as the desert air

touches every part of me.

The lead wears on the pencil

with which I write.

 

A pencil is a good tool for me —

seldom used, it suggests leniency

and forgiveness, a lack of inhibition.

Things which I see now

that I am lacking,

painfully.

 

I am in heaven here

alone

with the dogs

who snap at the flies and arrange themselves,

bored and graceful, in the center

of carefully woven and weathered rugs

The sun is high.  I will wash myself, then set out

to do my work.  And my heart is grateful,

 

for I came to the desert to love you.

And I do, I really do.

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Monarchs .

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“We are the priests of a dying world.” My friend, Olivia Pepper, said that to me, a good while ago now. And I didn’t understand it then, when she first spoke those words to me, not the way I do now. For it is one thing to grasp a statement like that with the intellect alone – but it is another thing entirely to feel the weight of it in your body and in your bones, and in the depths of your being.

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I have just returned from five months of solo cross-country travel It was a journey of mythical proportions, a time of gathering medicine to savor in solitude and to share among friends, a time of weaving stories I’ll treasures as secrets for myself as well as bold tales to offer to the world freely. I fell in love. I deepened in kinship with friends old and new. I became ill and nearly died one night. My truck broke down, horribly. I wept beside the ocean and gathered salt from her shores. I came to know and love a great many children and I sang late into the night with a circle of witches I have worked alongside for many lifetimes beyond this one. My trip was many things. It was a reminder of the deep longing which lives within me for home, most of all. A home I am not convinced that I will ever know. But I have already told you that story and it is time now for different tale.

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Much about this trip felt pre-destined. As though, I’d dreamt it all long ago, laying in my bed as a child, listening to Joni Mitchell’s warm voice drift from the turn table beside me on the nightstand. This trip was vision that had lived within me for as long as I can recall. On the final day, precisely five months from my departure, I drove east from Balmorhea back toward Austin. Leaving at sunrise and stopping only to gather a few fistfuls sweet-smelling desert vervain, blooming for the second time this year at the first hint of Autumn on the air. I ate her purple flowers one by one as I drove, eager to remember her soothing medicine, and I felt myself at ease as I set out on that final stretch of highway. As I drove, I saw reflected in the pastel palette of the early morning sky, my own sense of completion, and of return. It is an odd thing – at once a privilege and a burden – to live out the dreams you’ve held so dear for so long, and to be forced, finally, to face them by light of day, seeing that they too are just a collection of imperfect moments like any other, unless you choose to savor them, which takes discipline and intention, and a certain degree of safety that I often find it difficult to conjure.

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The Monarchs were migrating as I drove on this final day, filling the blue-grey skies all around me. Their journey echoed of my own, as they followed the timeless path of their yearly pilgrimage, listening to the Earth’s pull unquestioningly as they flew South toward Mexico.  The route of my trip had been informed by a similarly mysterious and powerful internal compass, which guided me toward places I’d been destined to arrive, in this cycle and season of my own life. The butterflies flew uncharacteristically low, and head on into my truck. Their whisper light bodies of banded black and orange colored the highwayside. By the thousands, they were being hit and killed by semis and sedans — they were being killed by me. I froze, horrified and completely uncertain of how to act. I had to restrain myself to keep from swerving to avoid them as they flew into my windshield as though it were another dimension, entirely. Hot tears stung my tired face, as the weight of each winged creature fell upon my heart’s conscience. Desperate and frantic, I pulled over to the side of I-10 and began collecting their fragile corpses in my too-small palms. The wind blew hard with each passing semi and their lifeless bodies leapt from my hands as quickly as I’d gathered them. I found a basket and began to fill it, praying hard and crying salty crystal tears upon the hot asphalt as I went. My heart ached palpably as I knelt to collect each winged being. I felt as though I was gathering the tiny fallen angels, and I grieved in confusion with the knowing that I’d have to get back into my truck and continue to drive, headlong into the sacred route their ancient migration followed.

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As painful as it was, the experience was also exquisitely beautiful. What a rare opportunity it was to admire these ephemeral creatures so intimately, to feel the dusty velvet of their bodies and the silk of their tangerine wings upon my skin. Try as it might my Mind could not make sense of the disparate emotions which consumed my Heart by turn. I was filled with awe as I beheld the preciousness of each tiny creature but then just as quickly, that awe was replaced by the harrowing reminder of what a truly dystopian scene I was baring witness to and participating in. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that there were thousands of Monarchs lining the highway for nearly one hundred miles. While many drivers pressed onward hardly noticing, I am sure, I did not know what to do. But to have placed my tears upon the Earth’s surface, pausing to bless the Earth’s surface where each butterfly lay, I believe I was fulfilling my some sacred and long forgotten duty as a human.

After returning to Austin, the experience faded into the background of my awareness as I gathered myself fully present to celebrate my dear cousin’s wedding, and began to tend to and process the medicines I’d gathered along my travels. The 2016 presidential election loomed just a week away. It was raining in Austin and grey for days on end with no sunlight in sight. The basket of butterflies sat on the floor of my apothecary, unmoving, but far from forgotten. I spoke of them often, struggling to tell the tale. My words always fell short, my Heart unable to express the tug of war which went on within me still as I tried to make sense of the conflicting sense of beauty and death, awe and horror which I feel faced with when I consider the fate of our species and so many others. For how do you explain to your friends that you sense the world is dying? How do you tell the tale of your greatest fear coming true?

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On the morning of November 9th, I woke to learn the results of the 2016 presidential election, still in bed and staring at my phone for what seemed an eternity, as I lay motionless, frozen. I felt as though the sun would never return, that it would rain forever, that the whole world and all that I loved would be swallowed by a river of raindrops which returned us to the Sea. I reached out to everyone who came to mind that morning, everyone I was scared for, everyone I loved, everyone I hoped could help me to make sense of it all. I cried in the arms of the kind stranger who taught the exercise class I forced myself to attend that morning.  No one knew what to say. One friend in particular, who never fails to bring uncanny wisdom and remembrance to even the most dire moments, offered only that the hills were on fire around her, that she didn’t know what was happening either. I spent the week grieving our uncertain future, waking and sleeping in a daze of unending grey.

The Sunday after the election, I went out to lunch with my grandmother, 86, a trail-blazing liberal and feminist since her early life as well as one of the first ever program directors of Planned Parenthood. The skies had cleared and it was a pleasant early Autumn afternoon. We sat outside, waiting for our meal, talking about my work, about my cousin’s recent wedding, about her dog, who’d joined us for the outing. I spotted a bee wandering haphazardly across her blouse and leaned over the table, gently coaxing it onto my finger. The bee was disturbingly suggestible, crawling onto my finger and seeming to have no plans of flying away anytime soon. I placed her on my own shoulder, welcoming her presence. When she still had not alighted, minutes later, I understood. I picked her up again and walked over to a nearby blooming Rose, waiting patiently as she crawled, uncertain, into its center. Feeling somber now, I explained to my grandmother that it seemed as though the bee had been exposed to neonicotinoids – a relatively new class of pesticides which disrupt the nervous system of insects who come in contact with it, leaving them disoriented, and in the case of bees – unable to find their way home to the hive. These extremely harmful compounds are likely one of the causes underlying, the very scary phenomenon of colony collapse disorder. I asked my grandmother what she thought – about what I’d said, about the election, about the world. She nodded, solemnly, shrugged, and squinched her face in this way that she does, just barely shaking her head. She told me she thought it’d be best if the Earth was hit by an asteroid – swift + immediate – rather than enduring the natural disasters, degradation of ecosystems, and immanent collapse of civilization, which she predicted as the relatively slow and painful alternative. I sighed deep and excused myself as I let her words penetrate my reality.

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It is a truly haunting thing to have your worst fears affirmed by the words of your Elders. Walking to the bathroom, through the crowded restaurant, all clean lines and laughing customers, I felt the immense weight of it all – and Olivia’s words returned to my mind. We are the priests of a dying world. I do not yet know, fully what that means, only that it is true, and increasingly so. We are actively midwifing our planet through a process of transformation, the other side of which remains a mystery. I know that Death is the very thing which gives rise to new Life, but on what timeline is that possible, when the organism of which we speak is as vast and ancient and complex in its wisdom as the Earth, our Home. When we think of things such as this, we are no longer considering a scale of biological time, but rather geological time. To speak of these things, we must remember that a mountain’s rise and fall upon this Earth is as brief as a wave upon the ocean.

Stephen Harrod Buhner, a favorite herbalist and earth poet, reminds us that most creatures are not consciously aware of the ecological niche that they fill, or the irreplaceable function that they serve as within the larger ecosystem of which they are a part. When bees travel from blossom to blossom, to nourish themselves with nectar and pollen, I believe that is their singular thought. But as they gather sustenance, they are in fact, acting with incredible grace and efficiency to simultaneously and effortlessly pollinate flowers and perpetuate Life’s flourishing — simply by doing what they do to survive. Buhner says, and I agree, that Nature does not make mistakes. And if this is true, then what could be the ecological role of the human species? What sacred service are we here to carry out? Is there any possibility that through our presence, we are somehow ultimately contributing to the Earth’s fertility on a scale of time far beyond our comprehension?

I believe that functions have been many, during the relatively short time we’ve existed on this planet. Certainly, in recent history, we have changed the landscape in an irreversible way that no other species during this era of life on Earth has even come close to. There was a time, though, not long ago when your ancestors and mine, tended to land as both sentient and sacred. When they were allied with and in direct relationship to the elements which sustained them. Though we now live quite far from this place, I sense that it is much closer to us than we collectively acknowledge. Despite what the mind may tell us, a world where we honor all our relations is just on the other side of softening to allow it. A world where each we act undertake has as its goal, the weaving of a steadfast community which honors all of its members, both human and non-human, as equally precious and essential parts of the whole. I do not doubt that we can return to it, and must, but I see also that we have a more seemingly subtle role to play at this time – that what is most needed of us now is our prayer, our ceremony, our honoring, our witnessing. For, what if it is through these acts that we are as the bee to the flower?

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It is a deep form of honoring, to simply offer your presence and curiosity to a place. Just showing up to do this is a sacred and healing act in and of itself. Go to those landscapes which are hurting, which were once lush with life and now lay eerily still. Tell them that you see them, that you have not forgotten them, but adore them even now. Be with them as you would someone who fell ill and needed your care and belief in their ability to heal. Let your tears fall upon the Earth, to let her know she is not alone. For we are the Earth, experiencing herself. We are her heart, her hands, her prayer. And I believe that as humans, our sacred responsibility is to feel it all. To experience it all. Not a single one of us is here at this time by accident. We all have precious gifts to share with one another, and as my friend Vanessa pointed out, to make the most potent elixir, we must bring together the medicine of many.

Later that same day, after having lunch with my grandmother, I returned home feeling totally spent, and I texted Olivia, asking her without pretense – Do you think the world is dying? She replied right away – I do. Though she quickly added – but I believe in cyclical time // it need not die forever. I agreed and told her I loved her. She told me she loved me too. I dropped my phone onto the soft surface of my bed and collapsed into tired sobbing, as I had so many times in the days prior. And then I knew — it was time to write the words you are reading now.

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If you found out that someone you loved dearly had only six months to live, the irreplaceable nature and incredible treasure of that connection would surely come into clear focus. I imagine that you would go far out of your way to see them, and do all that you knew how, to honor the kinship that shared. You’d notice every detail about them, savoring the sound of their voice, and the way their eyes crinkled each time they smiled. You would soften into an acknowledgement of your own ephemeral nature, and each moment of life would become more potent for its rarity.

Just as you would not leave this loved one alone at the time of their passing, your full presence is needed now as we witness the world we love, dying all around us. Which is an odd thing to say, I know, and what that means I am not yet certain. But it is so essential that we not look away as we watch hillsides go up in flame and butterflies fall from the sky. It is dangerously seductive to go numb. Luckily, this is one of the many gifts that the dying offer, so graciously to the living – this reminder of the sheer preciousness of each moment, the exquisite pain and beauty of simply existing during this or any time.  We are woken out of our habitual numbness by the reality of death. So, try  your best instead to soften into whatever it is you feel – for this is the medicine the world needs. Do not be afraid to witness our beloved world as she is.  And ask yourself, how can we continue to nurture and feed the seeds that will give rise to new life?  How can we, as individuals and as a collective, tend the soil of the worlds within and without, so that when the time comes – whether it is tomorrow or in three billion years from now – that which is sacred will have fertile dirt from which to blossom and flourish?

Hard as it may be, it is so important that we continue to gather, that we again and again come together and make ourselves vulnerable by showing up, for it is this act of community through which we will ultimately find our own strength. I am healed by you, by your friendship, and by your presence. In moments such as this, it is dangerously seductive to isolate myself in my grief. But that is the last thing that this world needs right now and by grieving together, we can act together.

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And I don’t really know of any way to wrap this up neatly, with some clever or tender insight that offers consolation in a world so badly in need of such. I guess all I can do right now, is ask for your help. And offer mine to you, from the deepest place sincerity, and tenderness, and strength that we all must draw upon during this time. This was a really difficult piece to write, for it is a dangerous thing to believe your own thinking. But when thoughts persist, I’ve found it wise to remain curious about them. And the themes of which I have written have been relentless of late – finding their way into my consciousness and conversations, filling the very air around me. My energy wanes as my heart hangs heavy with this new knowing that grows in my bones as I watch the bees waggle with confusion, uncertain of how to find their way home to the hive. But I do know that to show up right now – that is the work, that is medicine. So, please keep feeling, please keep fighting, please keep showing up. Know that I promise do to the same and that I am here to be of service to you and offer my support in whatever way you need it most. Thank you Olivia Pepper, dear friend of my Heart, for seeing and naming so eloquently, just exactly who we are and what it is that being asked of us. I am here, I am ready, and I sense that you are too.

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bath tub .

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I used to have a bath tub. I’d walk each night through city streets, closing my hopeful hands around heavy pink blossoms as they sighed their silken petals into my waiting fingers, ready and ripe. Sweet smoke filled my home, and the world was a haze of hot water and city sounds, thick copal and soft songs through the floorboards overhead. I do not miss it, beautiful as it was, I don’t think. For the world weighed heavy upon my heart then, as it does now. And time moves only in one direction no matter how we will it otherwise.

I live in my truck now and I watch my friends have weddings and children. I am more like Georgia O’keeffe I think. I am more like no body else. Like someone who watches and wonders and can never quite fall in step with the human world beyond the boundaries of my own body. My body which speaks an ancient language my mind has forgotten how to translate. In darkness and in dim light, I tell stories to my lovers through my touch. This is how I can communicate most clearly, most honestly, most completely. I am like the Ocean whose frothy waves tell little of her infinity. I am like the fungi reaching out toward daylight from beneath the forest floor, subterranean and immense, in ways you cannot see, but can only sense. I used to have a bath tub. I filled it with flowers and prayers. Maybe one day, I will again.

Return To The Earth

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A     T a l e     O f     C o m i n g     O u t

Yesterday I posted a version of this picture to both my personal and professional social media.  Then I deleted it. Then posted it again. This time I left it.  But I wondered if it was ok.  I wondered if it would be misinterpreted.  I wondered how I wanted it to be interpreted.  What did it mean to me?

Yesterday was National Coming Out day, and Indigenous Peoples’ day before that.  I am often late to the party, so to speak.  And though I am typically quite vocal online, I said nor shared anything which outwardly acknowledged either day.  I thought intensely about both though as I navigated the delicate situation which demanded my more immediate attention in real life.

But then I took that photo.  I was alone in the grow dome on my father’s property.  I’d been sitting for tea by myself, getting still and quiet as I journeyed within, contemplating the emotions that had moved through me since arriving in this tender place that once felt like home.  The atmosphere was balmy in the dome, despite the chill of the mountain air, just beyond its walls.   I have always loved it in there.  It is warm and moist and smells like earth.  The vitality of the plants is palpable.  And so I took this photo.  And I loved how it came out.  It seemed to me, to accurately communicate a feeling which I’ve tried to capture, through both words and images with limited success.  It is a feeling which has guided many of the most precious and meaningful moments of my life.  It is, simply, the love that lives in and through my body, both for and as this Earth.

I am someone who is aroused by the scent of soil, the sight of petals spreading wide in invitation, beckoning to the bees who will drink in their nectar, and collect their powder-fine pollen as a devotion to life itself.  I am someone who is aroused by the breeze playing in my hair, the touch of feather and flower against my skin, the sensation of the Earth cool and solid beneath my feet.  Sharp teeth and strong arms.  Soft lips and the scratch of hair on bare cheeks, bare breasts.  Thunder.  Birdsong.  Dawn.

I bought a greeting card at a garage sale many years ago, depicting a luscious seventies bombshell of a woman.  The card read– How Dare You Assume I’m Straight?  Twenty-two at the time, I felt affirmed by this image and sentiment.  I walk through this world with many privileges, and it is my intention to be come increasingly aware of and responsible to these privileges — one of which is that I am largely perceived as a straight cis woman.  I do identify as a woman and the pro-nouns she and hers suit me just fine.  However, straight I am not.  Though many of the people I have taken as my lovers are male-bodied and male-identified, many of them are not.  I do not subscribe to or support any definition of gender that does not make space for self identification.  I do not believe in defining my sexuality or yours in relation to what mainstream Western culture defines as normal.

When I posted this photograph online yesterday, it felt deeply beautiful and true to me. But then again, so have many things in my life that I have done or said or shared, which I have later been shamed for, punished for.  To me, this image feels no more suggestive than fruit ripening in late Summer, flowers unfurling their petals as the warmth of the sun falls upon them.  But then, I find these things, and so much of life, to be totally and completely infused with eros.  And I am a part of all of that and so are you, and I would not change it.

I self identify as queer, which means to me that I love and am aroused by many people, regardless of their gender or sexual orientation.  To me this means, I am capable of loving and sharing intimacy with more than one of these people at a time — sometimes separately, sometimes all together. But more than that, for me, being queer means that all of life, all of the natural world, excites me and stimulates my sense of eros.  I have made love with roots as I dug them from the hillsides, with wild waters as they caressed my body in hot springs and oceans, with the stars overhead as they spoke to me of the ancient Love we’ve always shared and always will.  My heart belongs to Nature herself, my body to the Earth.

And all of this overlaps with the indigenous spirit and self which persist within me.  I am not indigenous to this continent, nor were any of the ancestors in my bloodline to my knowledge.  Because of this, nearly every interaction I have with this Land is colored by a strange blend of gratitude, wonder, shame, remorse, and longing.  It is my prayer that this Land, and all Lands taken by force, will be returned to those First Peoples who cared for and honored them so graciously, and who continue to do so to this day.  And though this is not the land of the people from whom I descend in this life time, my Spirit has lived here before and is deeply recognized by this place.  So I cannot claim this land as my own, nor do I wish to, but it has surely claimed me.  For just today, I spoke with the ancient Aspens as they guided me back toward my true North.  I sang and prayed alongside the mountain stream as the sunlight played on its waters.  I offered the blood of my womb to the ancient stones and listened close to what the Autumn leaves had to tell.  I gently coaxed Autumn roots from the fertile Earth, and watched for meaning when a red fox crossed my path.  This is to say, we all hold within us, a marrow-deep memory of how to be a part of this world, of how to bless each place with our presence and our prayer.  We all come from people who knew how to walk in a good way and it is up to each of us to remember this now and to help those around us remember as well.

I believe in honoring those indigenous persons who still live in the ways of their ancestors.  I believe in acknowledging their sovereignty and their right to steward this land as they see fit.  And I also believe that it has never been more crucial that we all take responsibility for getting curious about and rediscovering the indigenous spirit which dwells within each of us.  I will help you and I hope you will help me too.

May we all feel both inner and outer permission to love who we love, how we want to love them, without fear, without apology.  May we honor this Earth and ourselves not only through ceremony but through every act of daily living.  May we all feel safe and seen in this world, as the creatures of prayer and of blessing that we are at our core.

 Thank you.  I love you.  I am sorry.  Please forgive me.

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There is a quickening that comes
More often now
Than ever before.

When the moment arrives
I must move swiftly
For there is no stopping
The wild force which overtakes me.

Un-tame as I am
It cannot be undone
My gaze grows wide
Though my eyes narrow
Like some watchful she creature.

Unseen by Man
Beneath the greenery and underbrush
My Mother welcomes me home
My true form restored.

Like a Selkie spell
It cannot be undone
This wildness lives within me
And I have become it.

love dreams.

I dream of lovers
as varied as the flowers
which speak their names to me
in the wood.

Some corpulent and sturdy,
others barely there,
the ephemerals of Spring
the hearty blossoms of autumn.

I am happy to drink them all in.

Each one, though, is worlds away from the rest,
no common thread to be found amongst my attractions
other than
the wild hearts
which beat

to that

same
ancient
rhythm.

Her breast in my mouth,
sweet nipple supple
against my hungry tongue.

His firm hand
pressed strong and soft to my ribs
as I wake, reluctant.

She has dark curls and delicate lips,
pale freckles and long lashes
beneath the sun,

a pleasure drunk smile     s   p   r  e  a  d  s      across her face

upturned

as I kiss her collar,
taste her skin.

He has a coarse beard and feral scent.
Large hands which cover my back and breasts,
a touch so soft and slow. I remember it.

He strokes the hair from my eyes,
his warm body pressed hard to mine
I am small in his embrace.

He arrives and departs
all within the thin space which spans
the worlds between dreams and waking.

I linger with him there
long as I can.

It seems, it seems,
we are not of this world.

I want all of them.
And none of them.
These lovers,
I meet in my dreams.

Their touch and tongues and love and sex.
I want to fuck them and laugh wild howling into the night.
I want to travel with them
sob shameless in their arms.

I want to lie naked on the forest floor,
mycelium and dirt and ancient stories
p  e  n  e  t  r  a  t  i  n  g
the layers of domestication
which exist within me.

Feral and free,
I want to bare my breasts
to all their solemn gazes;
draw them deep
beneath the veil
of silken dusk and dewy dawn.

But there beneath the desert sky,
there upon the mossy earth,
I am content to lie
with dreams
more sweet
than any human
lover’s touch.

For the Earth
she dreams too —
of making love,
of Herself,
perfect.

.  .  .

katie lee desert goddess nude nature woman2