Apr 152012


Most all of you have a sense of who Kiva is from her emotive and illustrative writings, her personality and perspectives… but she’s not always been all that she seems, nor all that she truly is and can be, and some of us recognized – even before she did – the precious vulnerability and resilient innocence alternately frolicking and hiding beneath her confident Bear-like posture.  From the time she was a hurt young child, she has been trying to both understand and heal her self through the process of writing.  In a way, she has been attempting for over two decades to write the following piece, in her most authentic voice, and now it is done.  And now she is able to be wholly and openly her true self for the very first time!  This two-part post calls upon us neither to pity her for any suffering, nor exalt her for her arduous recovery of her true nature, but to find in her example the inspiration to be as honest in our own self explorations, as courageous about embodying and sharing who we really are, and as determined to fulfill a role that makes use of all the crap and magic, hurt and healing to help others.
-Jesse Wolf Hardin


A Chimera’s Story of Transformation, Rebirth, and Becoming Whole

by Kiva Rose (“Ringtail”!) Hardin

Part I

“I will tell you something about stories. They aren’t just entertainment. They are all we have to fight off illness and death. You don’t have anything if you don’t have stories.”
– Leslie Marmon Silko

In the quiet of late evening, the red spotted toads trill their mating songs by the river while the Poor-Wills pick up the chorus, and several species of Owls call down into the canyon from their treetop perches. Hooves can be heard clattering against the stones as Mule Deer make their way down from the mountains looking for sweeter grass under the waning moon. And in the canopy of Evergreen Oak growing from the canyon wall, a smaller creature may be seen running head-first down a tall tree trunk. On silent paws, she moves through the understory of Cholla cactus and Redroot with her large fox-like ears twitching, taking in the sounds of her home. Up the rock face she leaps, purposefully sniffing out favorite berries and the occasional scorpion for a snack on her way. Once to her favorite spot on the cliff, she spreads herself out on her belly, a long black and white banded tail waving behind her as she rests on the cool stone. With a single wild gooseberry between her white paws, she sings out to the night, plaintive barks interspersed with small chirps that could easily evoke a bird if you didn’t catch site of the little animal that lays on the cliff singing to the crescent moon. Even if you did catch a glimpse, you might still wonder just what she was – perhaps a desert chimera made up of fox, cat, coon, squirrel, and mink.

Desert Chimera: The Medicine of Wholeness

“The truth about the world, he said, is that anything is possible. Had you not seen it all from birth and thereby bled it of its strangeness it would appear to you for what it is… a medicine show, a fevered dream, a trance bepopulate with chimeras having neither analogue nor precedent…”
-Cormac McCarthy

Nestled high in the arms of a Juniper tree – its shreddy bark warm under my bare feet as I lean back against the branch, gazing out into the canyon’s brilliant azul sky through the blue-green foliage – I feel more at home than almost anywhere else. The red and black basalt of the steep arroyo glitter with inset quartz below me, and I can smell the butterscotch sweet scent of the Ponderosas Pines around me. Errant breezes bring the fragrance of the sacred sage, Estafiate, from the base of the mountains. The occasional blue-bellied lizard scurries past me on the branch, and chipmunks chide me from neighboring trees.

From here, I can watch the sinuous movement of the river in the canyon bottom, and a herd of Rocky Mountain Elk wanders down from the ridges to drink alongside a small band of White-Nosed Coatis that are nosing around near Prickly Pear growing from a stony outcrop. I continue watching them over my shoulder as I shimmy down the tree trunk and run the rock ledge to get a closer look at this gathering of critters by the water. Always, even at my most withdrawn and fearful, my curiosity has overwhelmed all my reservations to bring me closer to whatever holds my interest. While I would have denied it in favor of seeming more detached for many years, my foundational nature has always been defined by my curiosity and love of the close-up. I like nothing better than being a little girl in the top of the tree, examining the colorful lichens and tiny mushrooms growing from the bark.

I’ve known since I first arrived in the canyon that this place, in all its brilliant diversity and ancient beauty, was a huge part of myself and my identity that had been missing before I found my long way home. Arriving here, even with the difficulty and sometimes painful transformation it entailed for me, was a revelation of self-discovery. To realize so much of my spirit was tied to these red rocks, soft silver clay, and sharp-edged obsidian, was to finally see myself in the matrix, the context, I so needed to make any sense of myself.

Even now, when my work leaves me drained, confused, and sometimes hurt, I find my solace and source in the open arms of the land. Not everyone sees these Cholla spines and Lycium thorns as welcoming, but their fierceness and sharp edges have taught me how to better open to the intense and often challenging nature of this place. The opening has been slow for me, incremental steps toward my own tender inner self that I’ve spent most of my life trying to shut down and shut out in order to be less vulnerable. Shutting down in order to avoid being hurt by other people was in itself a questionable success, and also served to shut down my senses in many other ways, denying me intimacy with place, as well as people.

The canyon has a particular ability to wake me up, to poke at me gently until I pay attention. For nearly a decade, I’ve spent each day slowly becoming ever more myself, each dusky rose and blood orange colored sunset seeing me stripped just a little further down to the raw core at the center of me. Each layer lost changes the image in the mirror a little bit more, brings my face into slightly better focus. A more comfortable place would have likely allowed me to slip into a comfortable complacency instead of prodding me into continuous growth.

By the time I reach the water, scrambling over boulders and jumping down the small drop-off near the water, the elk have moved on and the Coatis have wandered further downriver in search of more insects and berries. I watch the Crawdads gliding below the surface of the water and lean over to get a closer look at a certain sparkly fish flitting in the current. And then I see my own face. I’m taken by surprise to see the laughing, child-like expression with wide, wondering eyes reflected back at me rather than the wary, contained woman I’ve been since my early teens. Instead of the swiping paw and intimidating largeness of the bear I’ve embraced for the last decade, I see the mischievous grin and small form of a Ringtail Cat.

As soon as I could admit this transformation to myself, Ringtails started showing up – literally – at my door. More than once on recent nights, we’ve heard the distinctly Ringtail barks and chatterings just outside the cabin. And one night while walking to the outdoor tub, a Ringtail ran along the roof of the water tank next to me, chittering until I shined the flashlight toward it to get a better look, which was greeted with indignant hissing until I shut the light back off. Then one of our resident helpers brought back a small skull from a walk that Wolf and I immediately recognized as a Ringtail with its Procyonid teeth pattern and distinct carnassial teeth, far more developed in a Ringtail than its Coati and Coon cousins, who are less carnivorous than the Ringtail. The skull still had bits of skin and hair clinging to it, and despite its somewhat gamey smell, I couldn’t help but hug it. While Ringtails have certainly been in the canyon all along, their sudden overt presence helped drive home this transition as I shift from self-protection to self-expression.

Nocturnal and shy, Ringtails are often mistaken for something else entirely during one of their rare sightings. With their black and white banded Raccoonish tails, fox-like faces, flexible bodies reminiscent of minks and cats, and sometimes multisyllabic  bird-like chirps, it’s no wonder folks can get confused by this elusive little tree-loving creature.  Ringtails have often been mistaken for other animals, and even named according to the confusion. Their Aztec-derived name, Cacomixtle, means “Half Mountain Lion” and their scientific name in Latin, Bassariscus astutus, can be translated to “cunning little fox” and even the common name, Ringtail Cat, infers another animal entirely. They’re also sometimes called Miner’s Cats  and California Minks, also adding to the general mystery surrounding their origins and nature. Ringtails actually belong to the Procyonidae, along with Raccoons, Kinkajous, Olingos, and Coatis, with the whole family being native to the Americas.

As the pieces of me come together into a whole, I am careful to be unfailingly conscious in the commitments I make and the roles I take on. To be as authentic as possible in how I present myself, the medicine I give, and the stories I tell. This tale is my own, itself a chimera created from what was once lost or broken, grown into the creature I am: storyteller, medicine woman, blazing fire.I’ve often felt similarly, frequently misnamed or misread by those around me, and even by myself, described as bits of pieces rather than any recognizable whole.  So many years of not recognizing who I really am have taught me the danger of wearing the mantle or mask of what I am not. While some illusions have purposes, to protect us when we’re vulnerable to help us move through a difficult situation, they also have a tendency to seep into our skin until we can no longer see where we end and they begin. Losing ourselves to any role, whether something as positive as being a caregiver or as blatantly negative as getting stuck in a victim stereotype, can not only limit us, but trap us behind walls of our own making or allowing.

Sparrow in Flight: The Fracturing

“There are parts of me he’ll never know, my wild horses and my river beds,
and in my throat, voices he’ll never hear.
He pulls at me like a cherry tree, and I can still move but I don’t speak about it.
Pretend I’m crazy, pretend I’m dead.
He’s too scared to hit me now – he’ll bring flowers instead”
-Heather Nova, Island

Many is the time as a kid, that I took refuge atop the red shingled roof of a three-story, abandoned house in Kansas City, watching the neighborhood below in the failing light, listening as playing children were called indoors. I felt safe there, squeezed between the gable and a tree branch growing against the house. I hugged myself with shaking arms, and told myself a story about a girl who could turn into a sparrow and fly away… above the city, and the dirty snake of the Missouri river, above the prairie and into the wild mountains far beyond where the tree spirits would teach her how to weave baskets from willow and gather food from the forest floor.

If there was one term used to describe me most frequently as a child, it was “oversensitive,” with “impatient” and “too curious” as close seconds. There’s no doubt I was thin-skinned and easily hurt, painfully aware of every vocal nuance and veiled look. This oversensitivity often translated into shyness, but not always, as I was more than once found dancing for strangers in the grocery store. Often enough though, it meant that I was fascinated by people and friendly until the moment I felt rejected or pressured, which was the point at which I would collapse into tears and hide under the nearest piece of furniture or up in a tree if possible. No doubt my propensity to take everything to heart endlessly frustrated those around me. It also allowed me to be broken by a world I didn’t understand, and by those who – wounded themselves – did so much harm to me instead of caring for me.

“Only do not forget, if I wake up crying
it’s only because in my dream I’m a lost child
hunting through the leaves of the night for your hands….”
-Pablo Neruda

It was clear early on, that I’d been born in a place and at a time where my innately dreamy and tender ways would cost me dearly. From the beginning, I saw how sensitivity could result  in you being hurt, and how dreaminess could get you labeled as lazy and useless, while incessant activity and ambitions were praised as admirable. A good mind was a useful mind, not like mine… filled to the brim with fairy stories and elaborate fantasy worlds, Pablo Neruda poetry and an endless recitation of fanciful flower names. I wanted to be a dancer, an artist, a poet who knew the language of animals and stones, a wild creature racing from one treetop to the next, a flame flickering with all of the passion of the living world.  And I wanted to really feel like I belonged someplace, but my dreams and desires all seemed impossible, festering in a radically conservative and terrifically dysfunctional family in the South, manipulated, controlled and physically abused by a bible spouting, paranoid preacher father, unprotected by a mother living in a constant state of delusion and denial. I don’t remember a second of feeling truly secure as a child, never felt safe being my real self or sharing my inner life, and I came to see my natural ways of being as an endangering weakness and serious liability.

My response to the combination of puritanical moralizing and immoral treatment, was to curl up tightly in a private place within myself. The only way I was able to release my pent up emotions through the vehicle of poetry, carefully crafting my poems in a coded language of symbols that only I could understand in order to protect my most vulnerable feelings from my parents’ prying eyes. I listened to forbidden secular musicians like Tori Amos, letting myself be carried away by the unrestrained emotionality. And I continued my childhood habit of sneaking out my bedroom window at night.

While these respites probably saved me in many ways, I was not whole. I was fractured.  I was not myself.

Mask of Roots and Water: A Confession

“Deeply I go down into myself. My god is dark and like a webbing made of a hundred roots that drink in silence.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke

By 17,  I’d escaped my family but was homeless and exposed.  Instead of the red roof of my childhood, I hid out high in trees of the city park instead, my face pressing against the rough bark, taking comfort in the arboreal company as well as in the fact that I was ensconced in the one place that neither the thugs nor the cops would think to look for me! Even with my purple hair and typical all-in-black goth getup, I felt camouflaged enough there to relax, to run my fingers over the self-inflicted wounds that lined my forearms, to breathe slowly and deeply instead of my usual panicked gulps.

Living on the streets, experiencing repeated rapes, ridicule, humiliation, and the kind of captivity no living creature should ever suffer, I felt like a living embodiment of an open wound, barely able to contain the infection of pain and fear that welled beneath my skin. Yet I would survive, even if it meant that I had to deny my born nature, wear a mask of toughness and worldliness and grow a hard veneer around me. I learned to talk fast and hard, to stare down men seeking to intimidate me with a convincing enough fury to back most of them down. To swagger with enough false confidence to keep the women from picking on me. To wear long-sleeved shirts so as not to show the bruises, the cutting, the burn marks. To wear enough makeup that finally all the tear tracks were covered.

The poetry I wrote at that time was rife with imagery of broken glass, an endless torrent of blood and the search for a way through – if not out of – the tangle that my life had become. Woven within were the strands of myth and story I told myself over and over again:

Breathe into me

stir the ashes

and raise me up

Lazarus with

Magdalena’s face

I am the Phoenix, a raging

and winged thing

wearing a necklace

of the white skulls

of my murdered child

of all my lovers long dead

of heroin, alcohol, and despair

Losing friends to drugs, suicide, and gang shootings shut me ever more surely into myself. I spent my days cranked on uppers and my evenings in a whiskey bottle, medicating my feelings into brittle submission. The amphetamines made my temper short and my fear less. I had enough energy and could work hard enough that no one would ever call me lazy or dreamy or spacey again. Complete emotional withdrawal followed my being pushed face first down a flight of icy steps and the violent miscarriage that resulted. I told myself I could survive anything, that no man could break me, that I would be okay, if I could just build the walls thick enough, make my facade convincing enough.

“So my steps were slow and my swagger deliberate

And if ever my heart grieved now my body must not confess it

No, she will not fail me, for she expresses the very line –

I’m steady on, eyes dead set on – my hips move left to right”

-Rykarda Parasol, Night on Red River

The masks I hid behind were made to show the world the story of a woman secure in her body and self, spelled against the disease of anorexia, anxiety, and self-hatred that ate at me just beneath the surface. Most of all, I crafted them so as to keep the sensitive little girl both hidden and protected. I figured what I needed least in my life was vulnerability, another way to be hurt, another avenue through which to be betrayed. I was adept at making my masks convincing, playing the jaded sex worker and cynical woman-child well enough to make money at it. I wore these disguises, these  prosthetic personalities so often and so deeply, that they affixed to my being and began to grow of their own accord.

Solace, I found only in nature and in the fairy tales I’d clung to since early childhood. I liked to read about the street kids and abuse victims in Charles de Lint’s stories and the ways they stumbled into magic and beauty, and I held the hope in my heart that I could be one of those characters that could turn trauma into powerful art, or at least a wondrously haunting song. I clung to the idea that maybe there was something beautiful and magical in me, too. Such a tiny tendril of story kept me searching through the years for a wild place, for a home, and for a sense of self beyond victimhood.

Part II will be posted later this week.

  20 Responses to “Cacomixtle: A Chimera’s Story of Transformation, Rebirth, and Becoming Whole, Part 1”

  1. Wow, so powerful & raw. Really poignant..Thanks for sharing yourself, it is an honor to read. xo

  2. Kiva, I am sorry for your pain and trauma. But, I applaud what you have done with it. No doubt it has been an arduous journey. And your view from the treetops is the sweeter for it. I, too, believed I was magical as a child. I believe it more firmly today.

    Thank you for posting this.


  3. Thank you K,
    you write much of my soul and experience too.. somehow still waiting to put it into words. I’m sure it is the same for many others too.
    It helps so much to see the clarity with which you have come through this.. a true birthing.
    Stories, plants and least of all, people, have been my salves.. I’m still working my way thru all these crazy years.. I remember writing to you in 2007, when I first came to the US, and we exchanged some of these stories.. thank you for being out there! It helps.

  4. Thank you for being so open and honestly sharing of the deepest parts of you. I also have made a long journey from the past into who I am, and I know of the pain. This is a beautiful and poignant blessing to read. Thank you for sharing it. I hold you in my heart!

  5. It is a brave and wonderful thing to do to share this way. I have admired your ability to be true to yourself. My fears have held me back since childhood. I ask myself how long I am going to wait to stop letting the past have such an effect. Bless you and I hope sharing this is freeing for you. I do believe that the more open we are, the healthier we become.

  6. I’ve always wanted a hero….I think I just found her. Thank you.

  7. Sending strength, comfort and love to the child within.

  8. <3 I am entranced as if reading my own life story with some different details of course….your words so poignant, so powerful and deep. thank you for becoming whole in yourself so you can share with us. I feel as if I am walking a tightrope between worlds and at a crossroads yet again in my own life. am I doing the right things? what am I doing wrong? am I miss reading the signs and intuition? I find myself in the chaos that is the void once again, short on rent, can't make bills, spreading myself thin, falling sick, persevering and putting all my energy into my ideas that are not giving an equal turn around of support….but the land is so beautiful and magical and I'm listening and honoring and baring witness to it….why am I falling? I can't wait to read part II and hope to get some insight into my own personal questions!

  9. There is so much online we read everyday, and we get better and better at the quick reply.

    This entry isn’t one of those things, for me anyway. I needed time with this.I had several quick replies and none of them adequate to the task of response.I had to sort through the flood of emotion and response and find the right words for this beautiful sharing.

    When I first read it, I could barely see the keyboard through my tears. Tears for you, Kiva Ringtail, and for me, and for us all who have been hurt so much – but tears of gladness and hope for the beautiful possibility of healing. I wanted to say, thank the gods you found Wolf and Loba and that you have galvanized your early suffering into the magic you pass on to so many.
    I wanted to say, my gods but our stories have parallels – but then the individual uniqueness came through and I realized, I may have come from similar (abusive, ultra conservative) beginnings but the fabric of who I am is different, my calling leans a slightly different way and those nuances are what makes for powerful community , difference as well as the shared and empowering sameness.

    I wanted to say, your courage in sharing re-ignites in me a destroyed belief in authenticity, a value I cherished and that kept me strong for many years but got squashed under the heavy foot of the Internet and my own misplaced trust and innocence.

    I wanted to hug you in your honesty and beauty and generosity(and still do). 🙂

    but at the end of all this consideration – I am one of those weirdos fighting to cultivate slow contemplation of the things that matter – I wanted to say this.

    You have awakened in me the value of my own story. In commiseration with yours- it’s overt and meta-message – you have said something here today that I cannot thank you enough for. You’ve said, in my mind anyway – open to, embrace, contemplate your own story – share it open -heartedly – and move forward. I’ve tried so hard to compromise, to wear the right mask at the right time – it just.doesn’t.work – at least not for those of us blessed with a need to say our truth and bring our own healing to others.

    I take my own painful past as a gift hidden in tears – that helped me to become who I am now, who I never would have been had I accepted the rules and played along with them. Resistance is not futile, it’s the secret of joy! You resisted and with such powerful healing to share. I can only hope my own resistance brings a fraction of what you have accomplished…. but as John O’Donohue put it; when one flower blooms, it is spring everywhere.
    And so, together, large and small, ringtailed and feathered and horned, wild and domesticated, upright and fourfooted; blossom fruit and leaf-fall – we sing.

    And music such as yours spur us onwards.

    much love, fera/Cat

  10. Thank you for the work you have done, are doing, will do. This includes the writing but also the living through and unwinding of the threads of your story, the love you render unto your whole self and your broken self alike, and the sharing of your process here in these words. I feel somehow that there is a whole cadre of us, a linked circle around the world of those of us born “too sensitive”. As different as our stories are, your story seems to bring my own into sharper relief. And with that, another kind of relief flows in.

    I long so much for community with whom I can share these experiences. Until I find them, stories like these are a balm that brings such comfort I could weep. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  11. Thank you Kiva. <3
    Blessings of abundance and love to you, for in sharing you help everyone who reads this with their journey.
    Ever since I was in a very tough spot 5 years ago, and found Wolf's drawing of the Red Bear and the Herb Woman, you've been my Bear Sister, even though we've never met.
    Thank you,

  12. Thank you, gracias de mi corazon for reweaving and expressing your story so honestly, bravely and sensately in the language of the canyon. Ringtails. Bear. Red Spotted Toads. Estafiate scents and butterscotch Ponderosa. And thank you for expressing your story. It stirs me to express my own.
    Love, Irene

  13. you are stirring the pot, lady. i love it. and the comments here are also valuable!

  14. Thank you for writing such an incredibly honest stream of you and your understanding of your place in the world. So many of us live in shame, hide behind the barriers that we have erected, avoid intimacy, deny ourselves the true joy of the living in our places and in our lives. I recognized my in-your-face, out-of-control,and over-the-top younger self in your beautifully written description and immediately remembered that (w)hole-burning pain and fury housed so deep within.

    I am a generation older and am finally breaking down the barriers, confronting the shame and reuniting with my place in nature. You inspire as well as remind me to use the human gift of words to both witness and share my own transformation to wholeness.

    Thank you for your belief in the power of sharing,

  15. I am sorry I never got to know you, but am honored to know your story. The manifestation of all of these painful events is a woman of tremendous strength, intuition, passion, and poetry. As stated, the ones forced to walk between worlds, between shadows become our greatest visionaries, empaths, and truth-tellers. You are remarkable. Good wishes for your continued journey of self-discovery and self-expression, of wildness and re-creation.

  16. I’m so happy you were born! Thank you.

  17. Much gratitude to each and every one of you for heartfelt comments. The support, generosity, sharing, and love mean an enormous amount to me. It is, in part, because of the herbal community’s support that I have been able to heal in the ways that I have. Thank you!

  18. Kiva, I finally created time to sit and read your story… I want to tell you that – and I am feeling tears rise in my eyes suddenly – you are such a role model to me. Your path of courage and commitment to the essence of yourself is so inspiring to me. I am still digging out from something – lost so long ago. I don’t know if I will ever quite find it. But I hope… “The opening has been slow for me, incremental steps toward my own tender inner self that I’ve spent most of my life trying to shut down and shut out in order to be less vulnerable. Shutting down in order to avoid being hurt by other people was in itself a questionable success, and also served to shut down my senses in many other ways, denying me intimacy with place, as well as people.” This struck me because I have felt so shut down for so long, and even in the decade of opening to human connection that I have experienced since leaving NYC, and all the other ways I have exploded my own walls down, I still feel like there is a lot more to open inside of myself, and to allow myself to experience. I still feel like I am just cracking out of the shell as a newborn bird, all wet and featherless. Yet old.
    Your writing is beautiful and you are beautiful. Your words are a medicine and your relationship to your story is a transmission of healing and wisdom. I am very happy that I know you. I love you, Kiva Ringtail Rose.

  19. Kiva, I have been following your work avidly since taking your Herbal Energetics course, and your name has become a household word in our family synonomous with natural and herbal wisdom and the impulse to self-teach. You have shared so generously of your time, knowledge, and hard-won insights, and there are many, many of us “out here” who are deeply grateful for everything you do and are. (And it is my secret dream that one day we might visit your canyon!) Although I have never suffered the hardships you and some others who wrote in have, I have learned that time moves in many directions at once and the past can be blessed and healed.

    I wish you every blessing, joy and comfort on your thrilling journey. You are perfect just as you are, and you are never alone.

    The birds they sang
    at the break of day
    Start again
    I heard them say
    Don’t dwell on what
    has passed away
    or what is yet to be.
    Ah the wars they will
    be fought again
    The holy dove
    She will be caught again
    bought and sold
    and bought again
    the dove is never free.
    Ring the bells that still can ring
    Forget your perfect offering
    There is a crack in everything
    That’s how the light gets in….
    (Leonard Cohen)

  20. Well written re-creation of moments that you probably prayed to forget. Kudos on the creativity. And good luck on the continuation. Of your “tale”.

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