A Rain of Nightbirds by Deena Metzger


In her Preface, Deena Metzger wrote: This book began when I heard a voice speaking to me. The voice identified a character by name and occupation.

“You know…” the voice began.

I shuddered. I didn’t know and hearing a voice speaking so clearly and precisely overwhelmed me. It was not only what the voice said. It was that there was a voice speaking to me, a voice that was real, coherent and external.

It was February 2011. I had just published another novel and was hoping to be inspired to write the next. Walking in Joshua Tree National Park, I found myself preoccupied by picking up garbage until my pockets and hands were full and yet there was no end to it….

“You know,” the voice said, “her name is Sandra Birdswell and she is a meteorologist….”

I had no choice but to accept the challenge that would take me far beyond myself. I did not understand where I was being led, but I had to commit myself and write what was called for.

At the moment of this book’s inception in Joshua Tree, Terrence Green didn’t exist. Then a year later, he came to be. To me as the writer, Terrence Green is a greater mystery than Sandra Birdswell who introduced him. Once manifest, Sandra determined the Story that is being told and Terrence, she revealed, was at the core.

Sandra appeared and then Terrence appeared. I had great trepidation writing about him. I didn’t know if I have the right to write about a Native man inasmuch as cultural appropriation is an ongoing violation. But I didn’t have the right to refuse him either. Finally, I had to accept what negative consequences might come to me from my limitations and hope to have the skill to record his true self, to honor and respect him as is his due. I had to yield to him. He wanted to live. Sandra insisted and then he insisted. He asserted that the text cannot exist without him. He carries wisdom.

When Terrence came forth, Hosteen Tseda began to speak ore forthrightly. He is an elder and certainly a wisdom keeper. The time for this wisdom has come. They will not be erased.


This is Metzger’s urgent call to listen to the earth and find our way to end the “Anthropocene” era, the time when human beings affect the environment to the point of decimating the earth that sustains us. It is a complex tale of a complex conundrum that faces the world today.

Whether or not you believe in climate change, think on this:

She was perceiving an intelligence, an energy far beyond her for which she had no language. An intelligence and a great mystery…. Indigenous people recognized such spirits and honored them. It was good to be humble before a divine nature that sustained the universe and could take it down at any moment.

The question is will we take it [the earth] down before it [divine nature] takes us down?

People like to name things, explain things, quantify them by putting them in words or numbers they are familiar with. Sometimes, language does not suffice; simple, silent awe does.

Three western scientists—two climatologists and one physician— together  with a Diné elder, question their roles in the health of the earth and the people on it: climatologist and intuitive Sandra Birdswell whose mother died in childbirth; her father, Dr. John Birdswell, who was a reservation doctor for two years; Hosteen Tseda, a Diné elder, practiced in the ways of his ancestors, friend to Dr. Birdswell and uncle to Sandra; and Tsalagi Terrence Green, a university professor of climatology and Sandra’s lover.

They are the voices that struggle to understand two traditions of healing arts: indigenous wisdom with its knowledge of the earth and the elements, and western science with its statistics, protocols and oath to “Do no harm.” Of course, they both do good and they both do harm.

Sandra’s gift was knowing through her whole body.” She was an intuitive who could see solar flares before they struck the earth; who, as a child, knew, sometimes through dreams, when someone was sick; who could feel an earthquake thousands of miles away in India that killed 20,000 people; and, as an adult, she knew the earth was dying.

Early on, Sandra learned to live in, to negotiate two worlds. Her intuitions were admired when she was a child. Her father always respected them. But when she went to school, she was directed to put her perceptions aside,” because “it was not proof.”  

One other thing her intuition told her was her name was wrong. She was sure it was not the name her mother gave her but her father would not, could not tell her. It was up to her to discover in a dramatic revelation and vision.

Metzger reveals Mother Earth as a sentient being and that we can communicate in Silence.

She withdrew from thinking, like moving from land into water. Not a word needed to be said for understanding to occur.”

As Regina O’Melveny, author of “The Book of Madness and Cures,” wrote for the book jacket, [this is] “a book that opens us to the deep healing presence of silence and earth’s elements—sun, wind, storm, and lightening…. We must read this book and listen well, for the wind speaks, the land shudders, the animals attend and so must we. Earth demands this kind of vision, and we can no longer pretend that we are separate from her.”

I have now read “A Rain of Nightbirds” twice and will likely read it a third time, to understand what felt so foreign to me the first time.

I recommend finding a time, place and uninterrupted silence, except, perhaps, for a walk in the woods or to lie in the grass, marvel at the sky, and listen to the earth. Then, read it at least once and let its purpose reveal itself to you.


Flavia Potenza

Flavia Potenza is executive editor of the Messenger Mountain News. She is also a founding member of the 40-year old Topanga Messenger that closed its doors in 2016. She can be reached at editor@messengermountainnews.com

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