The great affair, the love affair with life, is to live as variously as possible, to groom one's curiosity like a high-spirited thoroughbred, climb aboard, and gallop over the thick, sun-struck hills every day. Where there is no risk, the emotional terrain is flat and unyielding, and, despite all its dimensions, valleys, pinnacles, and detours, life will seem to have none of its magnificent geography, only a length. It began in mystery, and it will end in mystery, but what a savage and beautiful country lies in between.
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses
Sunday, November 29, 2015
Friday, November 27, 2015
This week's word comes from Old English wintr, thence the Proto-Germanic wentruz meaning "wet season", both probably originating in the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) wed, wod or ud, meaning "wet" or "wind". There are possible ties to the Old Celtic vindo meaning "white", but that word sounds more like the English "wind" to me. The Old Norse vetr sounds like the present day "weather" and may indeed be its root. Cognates include the Gothic wintru, Icelandic vetur, Swedish vinte, Danish vinter and Norwegian vetter.
Northern ancients thought that the world would expire in the winter to end them all. In the Edda of Norse mythology, the fimbulvetr (or "mighty winter") precedes the twilight of the gods and the final days of Midgard, the earth. The ground shakes, and the world tree (Yggdrasil) falls. Many gods perish in the last battle, including Odin, Thor, Heimdall and Loki himself. The earth is consumed by fire and sinks into the ocean.
Because of the ferocity of northern winters, the ancient Anglo-Saxons measured their calendar years from one winter to the next. In Old Norse, the word etrardag was used to designate the first day of the long cold season, usually the Saturday between Oct. 10 and 16. For the Celts, winter began at Samhain (October 31) or All Hallows (November 1) and ended on Imbolc or Candlemas (February 1 or 2) when springtime arrived.
Wherever it hails from, the common word for the longest and coldest season of the year has been around forever, and most temperate cultures on this island earth have a word for it. The season occupies a singular place in our thoughts, dancing dramatically in a stronger light than its more moderate kin, and we tend to predicate our activities in the other three seasons on making ready for winter.
It all comes down to cosmic balance. We owe the lineaments of our existence in the Great Round to a tilt in the earth's axis as it spins merrily in space. When winter reigns here in the north, the happy lands south of the equator are cavorting in summer. I cling tenaciously to that thought in the depths of frozen January.
When winter begins, I briefly consider moving somewhere further south, but it isn't going to happen. Instead, I pile up books and music for the long nights and accumulate tea. I stir curries, make bread and ponder the jams and pickles in the household larder. I ready my skis and snowshoes for long snowy treks in the woods. The long white season is about fruitful darkness, rest and rebirth, but it also gifts us with the most brilliantly blue skies of the year, and there is nothing to compare with the wild splendor of an outdoor winter ramble.
To truly know the north woods, one must journey through them in winter, spend hours drinking in the shapes of sleeping trees with eyes and lens and just breathing in and out with them on hillsides. She must listen to snow falling among their perfect bare and beckoning branches, perhaps become a tree herself.
Thursday, November 26, 2015
November's full lunar orb is usually the the second last moon of the calendar year, and it is certainly a colder moon than October's golden visitation. As is often the case at this time of year, I briefly considered staying indoors last evening but wrapped up anyway, and Spencer and I went out to the garden with tripod and camera and waited. A little before seven there was Luna rising in the east, as round and smooth and lustrous as a great pearl.
Spencer is accustomed to his mum's passion for backyard astronomy and her full moon night activities; he leaned comfortably against me and looked up at the sky, contented and sure that whatever we were doing out in the cold garden after nightfall, it was something worth doing and he wanted to be part of it.
November's moon is about loss and remembrance, but it is about community and trust too - trust in each other and those we love, trust in the wild and elemental grace of existence and what I like to call "the great round" of our days and nights. Standing in the darkness last evening, we remembered the gnarled old box elder tree that once honored the garden with her presence. The dear old tree held the rising full moon in her arms for well over a century, but she has gone to her leafy reward and is flourishing somewhere else, perhaps even as a tree again. We thought too of darling Cassie, of all the kindred spirits and journeying companions who departed this plane of existence and have gone on ahead.
We also know this moon as the: Beaver Moon, Blood Moon, Buffalo Moon, Cold Begins Moon, Dark Moon, Deer Rutting Moon, Twelfth Moon, Falling Leaves Moon, Fog Moon, Freezing Moon, Frosty Moon, Geese Going Moon, Hunter's Moon, Large Tree Freeze Moon, Little Bear's Moon, Long Moon, Mad Moon, Moon of Cold, Moon of Fledgling Hawk, Moon of Freezing, Moon of Storms, Moon of the Falling Leaves, Moon of the Shaken Leaves, Moon of the Turkey and Feast, Moon the Rivers Begin to Freeze, Moon When All Is Gathered in, Moon When Deer Shed Antlers, Moon When Deer Shed Their Antlers, Moon When Horns Are Broken Off, Moon When the River Freezes, Moon When the Rivers Start to Freeze, Moon When the Water Is Black with Leaves, Mourning Moon, Moon of Much Poverty, Ring Finger Moon, Sacrifice Moon, Samoni Moon, Sassafras Moon, Snow Moon, Snowy Mountains in the Morning Moon, Trading Moon, Trail Moon, Tree Moon, White Frost on Grass & Ground Moon, White Moon, Whitefish Moon, Willow Moon, Winter Divided Moon, Yew Moon.
Among the many names for this month's moon, I am rather fond of Yew Moon and Moon of Falling Leaves, but for me, this will always be Christel's Moon. My friend passed beyond the fields we know in November, 2011, and I still miss her .
A very Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Wednesday, November 25, 2015
Tuesday, November 24, 2015
Some trees in our woodland hold their turning in abeyance until late November. Many of the great oaks retain their russet and bronze leaves well into winter, and so do a few maples. One of my favorites always puts on a magnificent golden performance at this time of the year, and I visit her to marvel at her one woman showing and say "thanks" for her efforts to brighten up a drab, faded and rather monochromatic interval in the turning of the seasons.
Himself has just been admitted to hospital again, and the maple's gilded presence is a particular comfort to Spencer and I this time around. It has been a windy autumn, and we were delighted to discover this week that the north wind has not yet stripped the tree's leaves away and left her standing bare and forlorn with her sisters in their native place.
Mother Earth (the Old Wild Mother or Gaia Sophia) is the greatest artist of them all, and I would be "over the moon" if I could photograph or paint something even the smallest scrip as grand and elemental and graceful as my tree is creating in her alcove - every curve and branch and burnished dancing leaf is a wonder.
Writing this, I remembered that as well as being an archaic word for a scrap or fraction of something, scrip also describes a small wallet or pouch once carried by pilgrims and seekers. That seems fitting for this journey into the woods and our breathless standing under Maple in all her glory. Oh to be counted a member of the sisterhood of tree and leaf...
Sunday, November 22, 2015
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
resting easy in saying yes to the world