Saturday, August 01, 2015

Blue Moon Rising

It was the second full moon of the month, and therefore called a "blue moon", but was it blue??? Not so much...

In certain circumstances, the moon can appear to be blue, for example, when there is ash in the atmosphere from forest fires or volcanic eruptions.  We also use the phrase to describe something occurring rarely ("once in a blue moon") or to describe a second full moon in one month, an extra full moon in one quarter of the calendar year or a season.  There is however, no astronomy or folklore to support the use of an expression which seems to have found its way into modern parlance, thanks at least in part to an article published by a backyard astronomer in Sky and Telescope in the 1940s.

Whatever one calls it, this backyard astronomer thought last night's full moon was just grand, blue or not.

Merry Lammas everyone, and happy August!

Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday Ramble Before Lughnasadh

How swiftly summer days pass.  Here we are again on the last day of July and the eve of Lughnasadh (also called Lammas, LĂșnasa, Calan Awst, "First Harvest" and "Loaf Mass" among other names).  It's a timeless agrarian festival that celebrates high summer, the cultivation of grain since early times and the abundance of the harvest. Our relationship with grain and harvest is almost as old as humanity itself, and here on earth, sheaves stooks, mill wheels and grinding stones have been prominent cultural motifs for centuries.

August 1st has a throng of harvest and vegetation (or "dying and rising") gods: Lugh, Tammuz, Osiris, Adonis and Attis to name just a few. Then there is Dionysus (or Bacchus).  That god is in a class all by himself as patron of vineyards and the grape harvest, of wine making, drunken revelry and ritual madness.  His magical tavern with its endlessly turning mill wheel and rapture inducing brews is the stuff of legend, and according to folk tales, its doorway can be entered from any street in the great wide world if one is receptive and in just the right frame of mind. Tomorrow is also associated with harvest goddesses like Demeter, Persephone, Ceres, Bridget, the Cailleach, Tailtiu, Selu, Nokomis, the Corn Mother and Freya, who is also known as the Lady of the Loaf.

Lammas is medieval Christianity's name for the festival, and it too is a celebration of grain and the harvest. On this day, loaves baked from the first harvest of the year were placed on church altars and blessed; afterward the bread could be used in simple charms and rustic enchantments.  An early book of Anglo-Saxon folk magics suggested putting pieces of the blessed bread in the four corners of one's barn to protect grain gathered in and stored there.  Tenant farmers were required to present freshly harvested grain to their landlords on or around the the first day of August, and in medieval Europe, a tithe (one tenth of a farm's yield) was given to the local church.  Farmers delivered their portion to designated tithe barns, and a surprising number of the elegant structures survive today. In the medieval Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, the day is called "the feast of first fruits".

A book that always come to mind around this time is The Drawing of the Dark by Tim Powers, a novel I read years ago.  It's chock full of mythic metaphors related to grain harvesting and the brewing of beer, and it's a rollicking good read.  The main characters are King Arthur (reborn as an aging Irish mercenary named Brian Duffy), a sorcerer calling himself Aurelius Aurelianus (the legendary Merlin himself), and the Fisher King.  Dionysus and his magical tavern put in an appearance, and they're in good  company - the woodland god Pan, Gambrinus, Finn MacCool, Guinevere, Morgan le Fay, Odin, Thor and Hercules also show up. There's a shipload of Vikings sworn to defend the ancient brewery at the heart of the story and stave off Ragnarok, and there are mythical creatures too numerous to mention. For years the only available edition of the book was paperback, and I've owned at least three copies, but a hardcover edition was finally published last year.

For the ancients, August 1 marked the beginning of the harvest season, and it also marked summer's end—so it is for us although many sunny golden weeks are still before us.  It is difficult to believe that summer is waning, but it is doing just that, and our days are growing ever shorter.  It's time to begin putting by the yieldings of our orchards and gardens to sustain us through darker times. 

We've come a long way since our beginnings as a species, but traces of old seasonal rites remain here and there.  When I arrived in Lanark County years ago, I was delighted to learn that Lughnasadh festivities are alive and well in the eastern Ontario highlands.  They may be called cĂ©ilidhs or "field parties", and the attendees are (for the most part) unaware of the ancient origins of their revels, but all the festival trappings are there: bonfires, grilled munchies and fresh baked bread, wine and beer, music, storytelling and merrymaking in abundance, once in a while even a formal observance.

 Blessings of the harvest to you and your clan!

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Thursday Poem - In Passing

How swiftly the strained honey
of afternoon light
flows into darkness

and the closed bud shrugs off
its special mystery
in order to break into blossom:

as if what exists, exists
so that it can be lost
and become precious

Lisel Mueller, from Alive Together

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Moon by Rose Light

At twilight, an at-the-end-of-July blooming of the exquisite David Austin rose in my garden called simply "Heritage"...The perfect shape and glowing petals were a fine earthly counterpoint to the waxing moon last evening - the lady poured her light out over the garden, and the rose lifted her own face in greeting, gifting the realm of night with her own light and fragrance and silent song.

All the core elements of good counterpoint were there - a flowing lyrical relationship between two or more entities independent in their contour and rhythm, but perfectly and seamlessly interwoven in lineament and harmony.

Moon and night were exquisite in themselves, and together they formed a greater wholeness - as Cassie, Himself and I did for so many years and Spencer, Himself and I are doing now.  Ever companions, we compliment other perfectly and last night we were out in the garden together, breathing gently in and out as the moon moved across the sky.

Last evening, I sensed Cassie leaning contentedly against me as she did in life - she loved sunrises and summer moons and roses, and she would not miss such an evening with us for anything.  There we were again, Himself and I, Cassie on our left and Spencer on our right, all of us paw in paw.  Now we are four...

Monday, July 27, 2015

Lavish at Heart

 Day lily (Hemerocallis spp.)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

When I go biking, I repeat a mantra of the day's sensations: bright sun, blue sky, warm breeze, blue jay's call, ice melting and so on. This helps me transcend the traffic, ignore the clamorings of work, leave all the mind theaters behind and focus on nature instead. I still must abide by the rules of the road, of biking, of gravity. But I am mentally far away from civilization. The world is breaking someone else's heart.
Diane Ackerman

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Skimmer Among the Lilies

Female Four Spotted Skimmer
(Libellula quadrimaculata)

Friday, July 24, 2015

Friday Ramble - What Falls Away

Explorer Rose 'William Baffin"
(Hybrid Kordesii)
One has to love creatures so exotic and lavishly endowed. The roses of summer are glorious creatures in their time of blooming, be the flowering an interval lasting a few weeks or one lasting all summer long. All artful curves and lush fragrance, velvety petals and fringed golden hearts, the blooms are lavishly dappled with dew at dawn, and they're a rare treat for these old eyes as early sunlight moves across them. If we are fortunate, there will be roses in our garden until late autumn, and we three hold the thought.

The word rose hails from the Old English rose, thence from the Latin rosa and the Greek rhoda. Predating these are the Aeolic wrodon and the Persian vrda-, and at the beginning of it all, the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form wrdho- meaning "thorn or bramble". Most of our roses have thorns to reckon with, and none more so than this morning's offering.

This exquisite bloom graces the most recent addition to the garden, and we can see it from our bedroom windows. Watching it flower for the first time, we find ourselves falling in love with roses all over again and particularly as they mature, so graceful as they fade and wither and dwindle, their petals falling away and fluttering to the earth like confetti.

There's a bittersweet and poignant aspect to such thoughts in late July, and I remember feeling the same way last year around this time. Here we are again in the second half of a calendar year and pottering down the luscious golden slope to autumn and beyond. Bumbles love roses, and they spend their sunlight hours flying from one bloom to another. My pleasure in the season and a gentle melancholy seem to be all wrapped up together in falling rose petals and blissed out bumblebees. 

Call it wabi sabi and treasure the feelings—elemental expressions of wonder, rootedness and connection, of the suchness of all things. How sweet it is, thorns and all.