Friday, July 28, 2017

Friday Ramble Before Lughnasadh

How swiftly summer days pass.  Here we are again at the end of July and only four days away from the eve of Lughnasadh (also called Lammas, Lúnasa, Calan Awst, "First Harvest" and "Loaf Mass" among other names).  It's an 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 sheaves stooks, mill wheels and grinding stones have been prominent cultural motifs for centuries.

August 1st has a throng of harvest and vegetation ("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 to the idea and in just the right frame of mind. Lughnasadh 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 was medieval Christianity's name for the festival, and it too was a celebration of grain and the harvest. On the day, loaves baked from the year's first harvest were placed on church altars and blessed, later to be used in simple charms and rustic enchantments.  An early book of Anglo-Saxon folk magics suggested putting pieces of 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. 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 a year or two ago, and I treated myself to a copy.

For the ancients, August 1 marked the beginning of the harvest season, and it also marked summer's end—so it is for us. Many sunny golden weeks are still before us, and 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 céilidhs or "field parties", and the attendees are (for the most part) unaware of the 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 27, 2017

Thursday Poem - Evening

The sky puts on the darkening blue coat
held for it by a row of ancient trees;
you watch: and the lands grow distant in your sight,
one journeying to heaven and one that falls;

and leave you not at home in either one,
not quite so still and dark as the darkened houses,
not calling to eternity with the passion
of what becomes a star each night, and rises;

and leave you (inexpressibly to unravel)
your life, with its immensity and fear,
so that, now bounded, now immeasurable,
it is alternately stone in you and star.

Rainer Maria Rilke
(translation by Stephen Mitchell)

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Wordless Wednesday - Small Wonder

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Clouds in My Cuppa

Clouds, rain and fog are the order of the day. Our oilskins and rubber boots wait by the door, and umbrellas are already blooming like peonies in the darkened street. Tall trees float into view like the masts of wooden sailing ships and then disappear again in the mist.  There is the swish of early commuters wading through lovely deep puddles when they think nobody is looking, the grumble of buses, the soft growl of motor vehicles heading uptown for the day's toiling.

Through the kitchen window comes the smell of rain and wet earth as I sip my mug of tea, the sound of branches in the garden shedding their cloaks of wetness, jubilant robins in the overstory singing down more life giving precipitation. This is one of the wettest summers in recent memory, but there is never enough rain for the robins, and they are giving the day their all.

There's something restful about a rainy day. If I could climb the old maple in the garden, I would be perched right up there with the robins, trilling for a whole day like these fine soggy hours just unfolding. Getting there in oilskins and wellies might be difficult though, and what do I do with my tea and the umbrella?

Monday, July 24, 2017

Little Watcher in the Gold

Red-legged grasshopper (Melanoplus femurrubrum)
and Canada goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Stars, too, were time travelers. How many of those ancient points of light were the last echoes of suns now dead? How many had been born but their light not yet come this far? If all the suns but ours collapsed tonight, how many lifetimes would it take us to realize we were alone? I had always known the sky was full of mysteries—but not until now had I realized how full of them the earth was.
Ransom Riggs, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Friday, July 21, 2017

Friday Ramble - Sticky

Sticky is a fine word for late July and early August days, for late summer's puckish "toing and froing" between sunshine and rain, steamy heat and pleasantly cool temperatures, weather moderate and weather extreme. This summer is turning out to be a particularly unpredictable state of affairs, and it is a glue pot or  "sticky wicket" at the best of times.

This week’s mucilaginous word offering hails from the Old English stician  meaning “to pierce, stab, transfix”" as well as “to adhere, be embedded, stay fixed or be fastened”. Then there are the Proto-Germanic stik, Old Saxon stekan, Dutch stecken, Old High German stehhan and German stechen all meaning much the same thing.  Most of this week's word kin are rooted in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form steig meaning "to affix, point or be pointed".  The Latin instigare (to goad) and stinguere (to incite or impel), the Greek stizein (to prick or puncture) and Old Persian tigra (sharp or pointed) are cognates, and for some strange reason, so is the Russian stegati (to quilt).

Mornings here are cool and shady, and they are lovely times for walks or hanging out in the garden.  By ten, we three (Himself, Beau and I) are happy to be indoors and looking out, rather than actually being out. At twilight, off we go again, and we potter around the village, peering into trees for little green acorns, ripening plums and flowers blooming unseen in leafy depths like late summer jewels.

On early walks, hedgerows are festooned with spider webs, and the strands of silk are strung with beads of pearly dew, looking for all the world like fabulous neck ornaments. Summer webs here are, for the most part, the work of the orb weaver known as the writing spider, corn spider or common garden spider (Argiope aurantia). Artfully spun from twig to twig, the spider's creations are sublime.  No two are the same, and they are often several feet from one edge to the other.

As I peered at a web one morning this week, I remembered the friend (now moved away) who used to "do" web walks with me and occasionally rang the doorbell at sunrise when she discovered a real whopper and just had to share it. I thought too of the metaphor of Indra's jeweled web and how we are all connected in the greater scheme of things. Emaho! Sticky or not, it's all good.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Thursday Poem - Epiphany

Lynn Schmidt says
     she saw You once as prairie grass,
     Nebraska prairie grass,

she climbed out of her car on a hot highway,
leaned her butt on the nose of her car,
looked out over one great flowing field,
stretching beyond her sight until the horizon came:
vastness, she says,
responsive to the slightest shift of wind,
          full of infinite change,
          all One.

She says when she can't pray
She calls up Prairie Grass.

Pem Kremer

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Monarch on the Trail

Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus)
There have not been many Monarch butterflies about this year so far, and I did a spirited, wobbly dance on the weekend when a single glorious specimen flew past my freckled nose and alighted in a stand of late blooming milkweed near the trail into the woods - in my excitement, I almost dropped the camera.

A few minutes later, a single cicada started to broadcast its call for a mate from somewhere higher on the ridge, then another and another and another. Again and again, their tymbal muscles contracted and relaxed, the vibrations resulting in what is, to me anyway, summer's most resonant and engaging musical score.  Time stood still as I listened to that poignant and hopeful chorus.

There are moments one remembers in the depths of winter, and this was one of them.  How sweet it was to listen to cicadas rumble and rasp in the trees over my head, to watch a small, wonder flutter and swoop through fields of waving milkweed on stained glass wings. Life simply doesn't get any better than this, and it doesn't get any wilder either.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

I breathe in the soft, saturated exhalations of cedar trees and salmonberry bushes, fireweed and wood fern, marsh hawks and meadow voles, marten and harbor seal and blacktail deer. I breathe in the same particles of air that made songs in the throats of hermit thrushes and gave voices to humpback whales, the same particles of air that lifted the wings of bald eagles and buzzed in the flight of hummingbirds, the same particles of air that rushed over the sea in storms, whirled in high mountain snows, whistled across the poles, and whispered through lush equatorial gardens…air that has passed continually through life on earth. I breathe it in, pass it on, share it in equal measure with billions of other living things, endlessly, infinitely.
Richard Nelson, The Island Within

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Friday, July 14, 2017

Friday Ramble - Collide/Collision

The word collision comes from the Latin collisio, collidere meaning "to dash or strike together, a compound of com meaning together and lædere meaning to strike". For some reason, my mind connects to the unrelated but similar sounding Latin laetare, the singular imperative form of laetari meaning "to be joyful".

We think of collisions as violent interactions, but it is not always so. The gentle chatter of wind chimes, the  striking of a clapper against the wall of its bell, the creak of an old mill wheel as water, wood and stone converse within its slow, ceaseless and seemingly effortless rounding, the joyous meeting of rocks and falling water in a waterfall, willows on a ridge in flowing Tai Chi movement as they talk with the wind on a summer day - all are collisions of a sort, but interactions (or contentions) without violence for the most part.

Wind horses (prayer flags) once graced our garden, and I am remembering them this morning as I tap away here. It is most likely the lingering legacy (or residue, another fine word) of many years spent toiling away in the entrails of large urban corporations, but I still have to remind myself at times to treat life's encounters as opportunities for listening, flowing and peaceful connection rather than endless tourneys of collision, contention and at times, blazing fireworks. The prayer flags were excellent reminders until they came apart, and it will not be long until another set flutter from the eaves behind the little blue house in the village.

The task is surrendering to life and the wind and learning how to ride them, how to bend and flow like wind horses, bamboo or willows rather than treating everything as occasions for shouting, head banging and collision. Bamboo doesn't grow this far north, but my short mantra for the ongoing exercise is "bamboo". Between health issues and the other "big life stuff" of the last year or two, there have been many times when I trotted out the mantra and used it - ardently.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Thursday Poem -Treading the Gate

Approach the gate as a pilgrim, a seeker,
wear sturdy boots for walking,
go cloaked and hooded against the wind,
blackthorn staff and lantern in hand,
an abundance of candles in your pack
for the long journey ahead.

Bring gifts and votive offerings for those who
dwell beyond the ancient gate, bundles
of sage, clear water, kindling, earth and salt,
bring flasks of tea, incense and bread,
tales and laughter to share around the fire
with those you will meet along the way.

Travel light and make your journey by the moon,
taking the owls, true kindred, as your fierce
and tender companions, feel their breath
along your own wings, share in their dark
and mindful wisdom as you flow.

Let the song you sing as you are questing
be your own sweet music, and the stories
you spin by the fire in the nights ahead be the
narratives of your own wild and shining life, this
journey you are making into an unknown land.

Listen to the night and be content, for you are not alone —
around you is a vast and singing throng,
the very stars are singing with you as you go.


This was written at the gate of a year long past, the words emerging from my sconce
almost entirely as they appear here.  They are good words for journeying, and
I am surprised I have not posted them here in the last year or two.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Lilies of the Day

Day Lilies (Hemerocallis spp.)

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Thunder Moon of July

Shaggy gardens and hedgerows of maturing rosehips, fields of hay and ripening orchards, bees humming in the clover, the daisies and the goldenrod.

July's full moon is the second of the four "gathering" moons that grace the interval between June and September. The Summer Solstice has passed and daylight hours north of the equator are already waning.  It is still summer by any definition we can come up with, and it's a festive time - skies (hopefully) vividly blue and flooded with sunshine by day, deep violet and star spangled by night. This is turning out to be a wet summer, and every smudge of azure, cobalt or cerulean over our heads is something to crow about.

Images captured on full moon nights sometimes resemble paintings when they are uploaded into the computer, and no matter how often that happens, it always comes as a surprise.  There is something about the velvety dome of a fine summer night that lends itself to lofty thoughts of journeying and exploration, to broad and sweeping brush strokes, to sky sailing galleons, airborne dragon boats and hot air balloons.  Being out under a summer moon conveys a sense of wonder, grandeur and connection with the universe that is hard to describe in words - as the late Carl Sagan wrote so eloquently:

"The surface of the Earth is the shore of the cosmic ocean. On this shore, we've learned most of what we know. Recently, we've waded a little way out, maybe ankle-deep, and the water seems inviting. Some part of our being knows this is where we came from. We long to return, and we can, because the cosmos is also within us. We're made of star stuff. We are a way for the cosmos to know itself."

Not long ago, I scribbled a note to myself, a sticky mauve reminder to remember Carl Sagan's words and the star stuff within.  They are comforting on days when health concerns seize the upper hand and leave me feeling somewhat fragile, crotchety and despondent.  The other uplifting thing to do (of course) is to mount a macro lens on the camera, grab notebook and pencil and go out to the woods. Cassie and Spencer are still with us in spirit, but now it is Beau who is rambling along with us and learning to love the Two Hundred Acre Wood.

We also know this magical moon as the: Blackberry Moon, Blessing Moon, Blueberry Moon, Buck Moon, Claim Song Moon, Corn Moon, Crane Moon, Daisy Moon, Fallow Moon, Feather Moulting Moon, Flying Moon, Grass Cutter Moon, Ground Burning Moon, Hay Moon, Heat Moon, Horse Moon, Humpback Salmon Return to Earth Moon, Hungry Ghost Moon, Index Finger Moon, Larkspur Moon, Lightning Moon, Little Harvest Moon, Little Moon of Deer Horns Dropping off, Little Ripening Moon, Lotus Flower Moon, Meadow Moon, Manzanita Ripens Moon, Mead Moon, Midsummer Moon, Middle Moon, Middle of Summer Moon, Moon of Claiming, Moon of the Young Corn, Moon of Fledgling Hawk, Moon of Much Ripening, Moon of the Home Dance, Moon of the Middle Summer, Moon of Ripeness, Moon When Cherries Are Ripe, Moon When the Buffalo Bellow, Moon When People Move Camp Together, Moon When Limbs of Are Trees Broken by Fruit, Moon When Squash Are Ripe and Indian Beans Begin to Be Edible, Moon When Ducks Begin to Malt, Mountain Clover Moon, Peaches Moon, Raspberry Moon, Red Berries Moon, Red looming Lilies Moon, Return from Harvest Moon, Ripe Corn Moon, Ripening Moon, Rose Moon, Salmon Go up the Rivers in a Group Moon, Seventh Moon, Smokey Moon, Strong Sun Moon, Summer Moon, Sun House Moon, Warming Sun Moon, Water Lily Moon, Wattle Moon, Wort Moon.

As names go, I am fond of Blessing Moon, Blackberry Moon and Meadow Moon, but with all the storms this summer, the name Thunder Moon says it best.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The bigness of the world is redemption. Despair compresses you into a small space, and a depression is literally a hollow in the ground. To dig deeper into the self, to go underground, is sometimes necessary, but so is the other route of getting out of yourself, into the larger world, into the openness in which you need not clutch your story and your troubles so tightly to your chest. Being able to travel in both ways matters, and sometimes the way back into the heart of the question begins by going outward and beyond. This is the expansiveness that comes literally in a landscape or that tugs you out of yourself in a story.

Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby

Saturday, July 08, 2017