Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Midsummer (or Litha) Thoughts

Here we are, just a few days away from Midsummer, the Summer Solstice or Litha. Thursday night is midsummer eve, and Friday is the longest day of the calendar year, the Sun poised at its zenith or highest point and seeming to stand still for a fleeting interval before starting down the long slippery slope toward autumn, and beyond that to winter. This morning's image was taken by the front gate of our Two Hundred Acre Wood in the Lanark highlands some time ago, and it is one of my favorites, capturing the essence of midsummer beautifully with tall trees and hazy sky in the background, golden daisies, purple bugloss and silvery meadow grasses dancing front and center.

Summer was late coming this year, and it feels as though the golden season has just arrived, but things are all downhill from here, at least for six months or so.  After Friday, daylight hours will wane until Yule (or the Winter Solstice) around December 21 when they begin to stretch out again.  Longer nights go along on the cosmic ride during the latter half of the calendar year, and that is something to celebrate for those of us who are moonhearts and ardent backyard astronomers. The Old Wild Mother strews celestial wonders by generous handfuls as the year wanes, spinning spectacular star spangled tapestries in the velvety darkness that grows deeper and longer with every twenty-four hour interval.

How does one mark this sunlit moment between the lighter and darker halves of the year? The notion of midsummer night skies as a vast cauldron of twinkling stars is appropriate and magical too.  The eight festive spokes on the old Wheel of the Year are all associated with fire, but the summer solstice more than any other observance. Centuries ago, all Europe was alight on Midsummer eve, and ritual bonfires climbed high into the night from every village green.

Long ago midsummer festivities included morris dancing, games of chance and storytelling, feasting and pageantry and candlelight processions after dark.  Prosperity and abundance could be ensured by jumping over Midsummer fires, and its embers were charms against injury and bad weather at harvest time.  Embers were placed at the edges of orchards and fields to ensure good harvests, carried home to family hearths for protection.  Doorways were decorated with swags and wreaths of birch, fennel, St. John's Wort and white lilies.

Alas, my days of jumping  midsummer bonfires are over. I try to be outside or near a window with a mug of Jerusalem Artichoke (or Earth Apple) tea and watch the sun rise.  There's a candle on the old oak table and a lighted wand of Shiseido incense in a pottery bowl nearby. The afternoon holds a few hours of pottering in the village, a quiet meal as the sun goes down, a little stargazing and moon watching later. We cherish the simplicity of our small festive doings, and the quiet pleasure of being surrounded by kindred spirits at such times.

Happy Midsummer, however you choose to celebrate (or not to celebrate). May the sun light up your day from sunrise to sunset, and your night be filled with stars from here to there.  May all good things come to you.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

There is no mystery in this association of woods and other worlds, for as anyone who has walked the woods knows, they are places of correspondence, of call and answer. Visual affinities of color, relief and texture abound. A fallen branch echoes the deltoid form of a stream bed into which it has come to rest. Chrome yellow autumn elm leaves find their color rhyme in the eye-ring of the blackbird. Different aspects of the forest link unexpectedly with each other, and so it is that within the stories, different times and worlds can be joined.
Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Seeing Red

Oriental Poppy (Papaver orientale)

Friday, June 14, 2019

Friday Ramble - Earth/Earthy

Earth is a good word for pondering in this shaggy season as we cultivate our gardens and tend the sweet beginnings of the harvest to come.  All things, or at least most things, arise from the earth and return to it in time, us included.

Our word dates from before 950 CE, and it comes to us through the good offices of the Middle English erthe, the Old English eorthe; the German Erde, Old Norse jǫrth, Danosh jord and the Gothic airtha, all springing from the Ancient Saxon eard meaning soil, home, or dwelling. All forms are likely related to the Latin aro, meaning to plough or turn over. Way back is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) form *h₁er- meaning ground, soil, land or place.

When we say "earth", we are most likely thinking of the ground under our feet, of garden plots, orchards, wooded hills, city parks, farm fields and shadowed arroyos.  We may be thinking of wild plums, oak leaves, weeping willows, of the seeds and sleeping roots below our feet, the granite bones of our little blue planet and the fiery heart beating way down deep in its molten core.

We almost never consider ourselves as elements in the same story, but blood and bones, root and branch, rivers and rocks, we are all parts of a vast elemental process, a cosmic web. Endlessly befuddled strands in the web that we are, most of the time we humans forget that we are part of anything at all. 

Once in a while, the simple truth that we are NOT separate shows up and insists we pay attention. It can happen while dangling half way up a rock face or seated in a pool of sunlight under a tree in the woods, on a hill somewhere under the summer stars, or on the shore of a favorite lake at sunset. A good sunset or a starry, starry night does it for me every time, and occasionally it even happens while I am parked in the waiting room of my local cancer clinic. Moments of kensho (見性) can't be predicted, and nor should they, but I have noticed that they often show up right when I need them.

There we are with our feet planted in the dirt and our heads in the clouds, not a lofty thought in sight, and out of the blue a scrap of elemental knowing puts in an appearance. In that moment, we know beyond a doubt that we are part of all this and right where we should be. We belong here, our roots, branches, star stuff and every dancing particle - we belong here as much as rivers, mountains, acorns, wild salmon and sandpipers do. Dirt, clouds and stardust, it's all good.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Thursday Poem - One Song

A cardinal, the very essence of red, stabs
the hedgerow with his piercing notes;
a chickadee adds three short beats,
part of the percussion section, and a white-
throated sparrow moves the melody along.
Last night, at a concert, crashing waves
of Prokofiev; later, the soft rain falling
steadily and a train whistle off in the distance.
And today, the sun, waiting for its cue,
comes out from the clouds for a short sweet
solo, then sits back down, rests between turns.
On the other side of the world, night’s black
bass fiddle rosins its bow, draws it over
the strings, resonates with the breath
of sleepers, animal, vegetable, human. 
All the world breathes in, breathes out.
It hums, it throbs, it improvises.  So many voices.
Only one song.

Barbara Crooker

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Oh, Those Golden Slippers

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper
(Cypripedium parviflorum var pubescens)
It's a time of the year when one signs in in the morning, looks at her photographic efforts from the last few days, utters a silent "meh" and decides to say as little as possible in print.  The photos express everything wonderfully without her help, and the best thing she can do is be silent for the most part, let the orchids speak or sing in their own voices, in all their green, gold and rusty perfection.

I doesn't matter a whit that she has been looking at wild orchids for years and capturing them with her lens whenever she encounters them. Every year, they are simply magnificent and beyond expression.  They are absolutely perfect, beyond perfect, and her little net of words is woefully inadequate. She will just sit here and look at them with her mouth open. Like WOW...

Monday, June 10, 2019

Sunday, June 09, 2019

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, June 08, 2019

Friday, June 07, 2019

Friday Ramble - Reflect

Feeling vaguely restless and in need of something or other, I went for a walk along the lake at twilight this week. I didn't know what the something might be, but I hoped I would have the wits to recognize it when I found it.

When I paused on a favorite ribbon of beach near the bridge, the setting sun was painting a trail across the water, and the ripples at my feet held up a dazzling reflection in return, cloud islands and magical archipelagos floating in the seemingly boundless sky as Helios dropped out of sight for another day. Bulrushes and fronds of pickerel weed fringed the lake, every stem swaying and sighing and casting a fey reflection. Loons drifted on the current like little boats, and herons haunted the shallows nearby.

The scene was one of joyous untrammeled reciprocity - no reservations, no limitations and no holding back, just exquisite buttery light and deep shadow, inky shapes across the water, the cadence of the waves as they greeted the shore. As often as I come here at twilight, the place always leaves me breathless.

The word reflect has been with us since the fourteenth century, coming from the Old French reflecter and the Middle English reflecten, thence the Latin reflectere, all meaning to bend or bend down. Until the fifteenth century, the common usage had to do with diverting things, with turning things aside or deflecting that which is undesirable. Some time around 1600 CE, we began to use the word to describe processes of thought and quiet contemplation. When we use the word in conversation today, we are usually musing about deep thought processes, about light and mirrors - anything and everything except bending.

There were no deep musings by the lake this week, and my thoughts were probably closer to the original meaning of the word reflect than they were to anything else I can think of offhand. Watching the sun go down in flames behind the dusky hills on the far shore, I felt like bending in a deep reverential bow or gassho.  I could manage a shallow movement of sorts that evening, but anything deeper was out of the question. So be it.

Wherever my particles land up after this old life is over, I would like to think that on some level they will remember their origins in a long ago star, and that they are made of light themselves.It's always about the light. Always.

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Thursday Poem - When I am Wise

When I am wise in the speech of grass,
I forget the sound of words
and walk into the bottomland
and lie with my head on the ground
and listen to what grass tells me
about small places for wind to sing,
about the labor of insects,
about shadows dank with spice,
and the friendliness of weeds.

When I am wise in the dance of grass,
I forget the name and run
into the rippling bottomland
and lean against the silence which flows
out of the crumpled mountains
and rises through slick blades, pods,
wheat stems, and curly shoots,
and is carried by wind for miles
from my outstretched hands.

Mary Gray
from Wild Song: Poems of the Natural World

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Clouds in My Cuppa

Clouds, cold mornings, rain and fog are our lot this week. Oilskins and rubber boots wait by the door, and umbrellas bloom like peonies out in the darkling street. On our walks, 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 splashing 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 turning out to be one of the coolest and wettest Junes in 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 perch right up there with the robins, trilling for more days 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, June 03, 2019

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

Any single path truly taken leads to all the others. Even then, you will find that outward and inward become the same direction. The center of the wheel is everywhere.
Robin Morgan, The Burning Time

Saturday, June 01, 2019

In the Red

June would not be June without a great big planter of red geraniums (cranesbills) blooming on the walk in front of the little blue house in the village.

The flowers are a long standing tradition, and every year, I remember their vivid ancestors who graced our threshold in summers past and greeted everyone who came to the door. I remember their shape, their color, their texture, their green and rather peppery fragrance. Perfection in every way, and I thank them.

Happy June, everyone!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Friday Ramble - Catching the Sun

Oh, how they capture and hold the sun within, these buttery yellow gerbera blooms. Kin to dahlias, daisies, marigolds, calendulas, coneflowers, chrysanthemums, zinnias, and the great towering sunflowers, they drink in morning light and store it within the frilly tutus of their lavish petals.  The capitulum appears to be a single flower, but each is a community made up of hundreds of tiny individual blooms.

Little earthbound suns, gerbera dish out abundance like honey, and other garden flowers behind them are moved and uplifted by their frothy golden magnificence, by their almost imperceptible swaying movement, by the soft, sighing music of their duet with the wind.

Now and then, I falter as all living creatures must from time to time. On dreary days, I mourn the paucity of light in the world beyond my windows and find myself filled with vague longings and a gentle melancholy.

Then I remember how my garden loves the light in early summer, and I am moved by the remembrance to do a little blooming of my own within. If I could only take in light and store it as flowers do in their season - I am working on that.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Thursday Poem - How It Seems to Me

In the vast abyss before time, self
is not, and soul commingles
with mist, and rock, and light. In time
soul brings the misty self to be.
Then slow time hardens self to stone
while ever lightening the soul,
till soul can loose its hold of self
and both are free and can return
to vastness and dissolve in light,
the long light after time.

Ursula K. LeGuin, from So Far So Good