October 31, 2014

For Samhain, Hallowmas or Halloween

Here we are again on the threshold of Samhain, Hallowmas or Halloween, possibly my favorite night in the whole turning year.

Winter is not far off, and there's a chill in the air that simply cannot be ignored.  Morning arrives later with every passing day, and dusk makes an earlier appearance, village street lamps turning themselves on one by one, hours before they used to. The shorter days and longer nights are all too apparent to a crone's fierce and gimlet eye, or at least to this crone's eye. How did we get here so swiftly?

The last days of October have a fleeting beauty all their own. In the greater, wider and more rural world, crops and fruit have been gathered in and stored, farm animals tucked into barns, stables and coops for the long white season.  Rail fences wear frost crystals, and nearby field grasses crunch pleasingly underfoot.  For the most part, foliage has already turned and fallen, but the great oaks on my favorite hill are reluctant to part with their summer finery and are hanging on to every leaf.  A north wind scours the wooded slopes and sweeps fallen fragments into rustling drifts and heaps. Native wild things are frantically topping up their winter larders and preparing warm burrows for winter.  The air is spicy and carries the promise of deep cold days to come.

Samhain simply means “summer's end', and no doubt about it - summer is well and truly over. According to the old Celtic two-fold division of the year, summer was the interval between Beltane (May 1) and Samhain (today, October 31), and winter was the interval from Samhain to Beltane. This was once the most important day on the Wheel of the Year, for the old Celtic year ended at sunset, and a new year danced into being.

Some of us simply like spooky "stuff", the fey, mysterious and unknown, or the old ways.  Other wights are fascinated by the myriad ways in which the human species has understood and marked the passage of time over the centuries.The cyclical and festival observances that demarcated ancient notions of time represented pivotal cosmic points, fey intervals when the natural universal order dissolved back into primordial chaos for a brief unruly fling before regenerating itself, polished and newly ordered for another journey through the seasons.  All the old festivals celebrate the cyclical nature of existence, but October 31, most of all. 

Three cheers for trick-or-treating, tiny guisers and goblins on the threshold. What's not to love about witches, ghosts and goblins, grinning jack-o-lanterns, orange and black? As I dole out treats to wee neighborhood friends this evening, I'll be reflecting on the old year and tucking it away under a blanket of fallen maple leaves.  I'll be thinking good thoughts about the year that is coming into being and trying to remember that endings and beginnings are natural parts of earthly existence and not somethings to be feared.

Bright blessings to you and yours.  May your jack-o-lanterns glow brightly this evening, and throngs of costumed guests visit your threshold. May your home be a place of warmth and light, and your hearth a haven from things that go bump in the night. May there be laughter and merriment at your door, and fellowship in abundance.  May all good things come to you.

October 30, 2014

Thursday Poem - Masks

What will you wear for Halloween?
The trees are changing faces, and the
rough chins of chestnut burrs
grimace and break to show their
sleek brown centers.  The hills
have lost their mask of green and grain,
settled into a firmer geometry
of uncolored line and curve.

Which face will you say is true—
the luminous trees or the branches underneath?
The green husks of walnuts, the shell within,
or the nut curled intimately inside,
sheltered like a brain within its casing?

Be careful with what you know,
with what you think you see.
Moment by moment faces shift,
masks lift and fall again, repainted
to a different scene.  It means,
the cynics say, there is no truth,
no constant to give order to the great equation.

Meanwhile, the trees, leaf by leaf,
are telling stories inevitably true:
Green.  Gold.  Vermillion.  Brown.
The lace of veins remaining
as each cell returns to soil.

Lynn Ungar, from Bread and Other Miracles

October 28, 2014

The Other Side

The beaver pond is still and smooth, reeds and cedars along the far shore cloaked in drifting fog that billows and swirls as though stirred by a vast, benign and blessing hand.

Earth and water are warmer than the air, and the meeting of the three elements spins a pearly veil over everything in sight. Sunlight or autumn rain - either will disperse the fog, but there is rain in the cards for today, and it will most likely be rain that lifts the veil.

In a few deep breaths, the countryside has morphed into its early winter configuration, trees bare on their slopes, fallen leaves ankle deep in the woods and windblown fields arrayed in grey and taupe. Down by the pond, the hawthorn has lost its leaves entirely and wears only a few frost touched berries.

Just out of sight is the artist in her wellies and oilskins, carrying her usual cameras, lenses and filters, brush, pen and field notebook. Entranced by the magical ambiance, she thinks it would be even more so with a single beam of sunlight coming through the trees beyond the pond and shining through the fog to generate voluminous shadows in three fey dimensions.

She was feeling rather lost when she got here, and in truth, she is still feeling a little lost, but paradoxically, she also feels she is home.

October 26, 2014

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The true language of these worlds opens from the heart of a story that is being shared between species. For us to be restored to the fabric of this Earth, we are bidden to enter this tale once again through its many modes of telling, to listen through the ears of others to the mystery of creation, with its continually changing patterns, and to take part once again in the integral weave of the narrative. Might we not hear our true names if we learn to listen through the ears of Others? Through language, one can exchange one's self with other beings and in this way establish an ever-widening circle of existence.
Joan Halifax, The Fruitful Darkness

October 24, 2014

Friday Ramble - Comfort

This week's word hails from the Middle English word comforten, meaning to make strong, and that word comes in turn from the Old French verb conforter, also meaning to strengthen. Both forms have their origins in a Latin compound consisting of com (prefix conveying intensity) and fortis meaning strong. To comfort is to soothe in time of affliction, to ease or relieve, and the noun form describes a feeling of ease, well-being and contentment. A comforter is someone who conveys such ease, although the word is used mostly now to describe a quilted bed cover - they're grand things to have on one's bed on cold winter nights.

Notions of comfort have at their core the idea of being uplifted and strengthened, and the strength is not brawn or brute force, but vitality, courage and fortitude.  One of the synonyms for strength in my thesaurus (one so far unplumbed here) is the word connection.  In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Estes wrote, "We are strong when we stand with another soul. When we stand with one another, we cannot be broken." Hold that thought close....

Mirabile dictu, comforts past can be revisited anywhere and any time in their radiant stillness: cafe-au-lait in a favorite local coffee shop, the village on late autumn mornings with villagers and trees appearing out of the mist as if by magic and disappearing again, a birch fire in the fireplace downstairs, the first snowfall of the season, the sonatinas of Scarlatti, heaps of reading material on the library table, my favorite teapot puffing clouds of chai scented steam into the air.  Then, there are rambles in Lanark with Himself and Spencer. There's a swath of shoreline on Dalhousie Lake where we watch migrating geese every year, and a special view from the edge of Highway 511 near Hopetown.  From it, one looks out across miles of rolling pine-clad ridges, and just being there expresses the Great Mystery in ways I can't begin to describe here. Wherever we find ourselves in the great wide world, there are trees.

One takes her comfort where she finds it.  In late October, days are short and dark, but now and then individual hours sparkle, and sometimes they sing like birds.