Saturday, September 19, 2020

Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday Ramble - Mabon

It seems as though summer has just arrived, but here we are again, just a few days away from the autumn equinox. Cooler mornings, light rains before sunrise, heavy dews, falling leaves and acorns after months of blistering heat and humidity, can it be?

The occasion is often observed on September 21st, but the astronomical coordinate this year is actually next Tuesday, September 22rd. Whatever day one chooses to observe it (or not observe it), the September equinox is a pivotal cosmic hinge wearing many  names: Mabon, Harvest Home, Second Harvest, the Feast of Ingathering and Alban Elfed, to name just a few.

Mabon is the most common name of the bunch on this side of the Atlantic, perhaps rooted in the god's status as the male fertilizing principle in Welsh mythology. Ceres, Demeter, John Barleycorn, Lugh or Persephone are also excellent contenders for a tutelary deity presiding over autumn harvest rites, but I am fond of the "Great Son" of the Mabinogion, sometimes thought to be a companion of Arthur's Round Table.

In the old Teutonic calendar, the autumn equinox marked the beginning of the Winter Finding, a ceremonial interval lasting until Winter Night on October 15, also the date of the old Norse New Year. For moderns, the date marks the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, and it is also associated with the Archangel Michael—his feast takes place a few days from now on September 25 and is known (for obvious reasons) as Michaelmas. The autumn blooming Michaelmas daisy or New England aster with its purple petals and golden heart is one of my favorite wildflowers. South of the equator, seasonal cycles are reversed of course, and the vernal equinox (Ostara) is approaching.

The autumn equinox is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance and equilibrium, one of two astronomical coordinates in the whole turning year when day and night are perfectly balanced in length. Like all the old festivals dedicated to Mother Earth, it is a liminal or threshold time, for we are poised between two seasons, summer and autumn.

One holds out hopeful thoughts for the autumn equinox, that skies overhead will be brilliantly blue and full of singing geese by day, that trees and vines and creepers will be arrayed in crimson and gold, that a splendid waxing golden moon will be visible against a blanket of stars by night. 

An autumn wreath graces our door, and a pot of chrysanthemums graces the threshold.  Sometimes the pot is adorned by leaves fallen from the old oak nearby. The tree is our resident guardian, the wreath and "mum" a nod to the season and a tribute of sorts. Oak, fallen leaves, wreath and blooms are cheerful things, conveying a benediction on anyone who knocks at the door, treads our cobblestones or just passes by in the street. Autumn images tug at the heart, and I always sort through reams of archived images looking for just the right one for today, am never sure I have found it. Leaves, light, clouds, geese, herons, purple daisies??? It's always about the light, and autumn light is fabulous.

However, and whenever you choose to celebrate the occasion, a very happy Autumn Equinox, Harvest Home, or Mabon. May good things come to you.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Thursday Poem - Mabon, The Autumn Equinox

Ephemeral truce.
The dark begins
its long winning streak.
But for now
in this disheveled garden
a riot of blowsy flowers
hangs on like a chorus
of aging show girls
still with a few good kicks.
The air is ripe
with seedy perfume
and pleasant lies,
the pomegranate shared
between two mouths.
This is our second harvest,
the corn, the squash,
the reconstructed
memories of summer.
Ceres, comfort us with apples,
with grapes and the wine of grapes.
Wheaten breads are baked
in the shape of the sun.
We savor them
with honey.
It will be a long time
before this golden
moment comes again.

Dolores Stewart Riccio

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Painted and Purpled

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Balkan Sage
There must have been at least thirty "ladies" dancing about in a clump of Russian sage (Salvia yangii), around a corner in the village this week.

On the way home from a morning walk, Beau and I stopped to admire a neighbor's riotously colorful fall garden, and there were the butterflies. For a while we watched as they fluttered exuberantly hither and thither in a perfect marriage of vivid orange and deep purple, two of my favorite colors.

The kaleidoscope in the garden was a clear sign that migration to Mexico and Central America is not far away. Astonishing creatures, painted ladies fly high and fast, and theirs is the longest known continuous butterfly migration, surpassing all other species including the Monarch. During migration, populations of V. cardui may travel several thousand kilometers.
During times of migration, populations of Vanessa cardui can move thousands of kilometers
During times of migration, populations of Vanessa cardui can move thousands of kilometers

Alas, it was a windy September morning, and most of the images we bagged were fuzzy - there was only a single acceptable capture. We only seem to see the "ladies" together here in September, and hoping for a autumn kaleidoscope of my own, I will plant Russian sage in the garden next year.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

... when we begin to tell stories, our imagination begins to flow out through our eyes and our ears to inhabit the breathing earth once again. Suddenly, the trees along the street are looking at us, and the clouds crouch low over the city as though they are trying to hatch something wondrous. We find ourselves back inside the same world that the squirrels and the spiders inhabit, along with the deer stealthily munching the last plants in our garden, and the wild geese honking overhead as they flap south for the winter. Linear time falls away, and we find ourselves held, once again, in the vast cycles of the cosmos -- the round dance of the seasons, the sun climbing out of the ground each morning and slipping down into the earth every evening, the opening and closing of the lunar eye whose full gaze attracts the tidal waters within and all around us.

David Abram, Storytelling and Wonder

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friday Ramble - Autumn

This week's word comes to us through the Middle English autumpne and the Old French autompne, thence the Latin autumnus, and the Latin likely hails from even older Etruscan forms.  The first part of autumnus (autu) probably originates in the Etruscan autu, related to avil, or year. The second part of autumnus (mnus) comes from menos meaning loss, minus, or passing. There we have it. At the end of our etymological adventures is the burnished but wistful thought that another year is ebbing, another circling in what I like to call simply, "the Great Round," the natural cycle of our existence.

September is about harvest and abundance, but it is about balance too. The Autumn Equinox on September 21 is one of the two times in the year when day and night are balanced in length. On that day, (also called Mabon or "Harvest Home"), the sun seems to pass over the equator on a journey southward, moving steadily away from us who live above the 49th parallel. Things are actually the other way around of course, and it is the earth and her unruly children who are in motion. Between the Midsummer Solstice and the Winter Solstice, our planet's northern hemisphere tilts away from the radiant star at its center, and we stalwart northerners go along for the ride.

The magnificent constellations of winter are starting to appear, and the dome of night is a treasure trove of deep sky wonders, a gift for stargazey types like this Old Thing. Last night, a tapestry of stars covered the sky from here to there, and Jupiter and Saturn dazzled in the southern sky, borrowing light from the sun and acting for all the world as if they were stars, not planets.   The waning moon was not visible until a few minutes before midnight.

This morning, Beau and I were out in the garden again before sunrise, and it was cold. Orion, our favorite autumn constellation, was up and clearly visible in the south, the moon shining above it and slightly to the east, the red giant Aldebaran to the west. Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, danced in the east, just above the horizon. When the sun rose, the stars vanished and every roof in the village was sewn with sequins of dew. With mornings like this, can one feel anything except rich as Croesus and jubilant in spirit?

On early walks, falling leaves drift around our ankles and make a fine rustling music.  Earthbound foliage on the trail is going transparent and turning into stained glass in splendid buttery colors.  We pause to look at all the wonders around our feet, and it's a wonder we ever get anywhere at all. When I stopped to look at a leaf in our path this morning, Beau looked up at me curiously. I started to say that I was looking for a perfect leaf, then stopped and started the sentence over again.  Pristine, unblemished and golden, or faded, tattered and torn, every single autumn leaf is perfect, just as it is.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Thursday Poem - Fall Song

Another year gone, leaving everywhere
its rich spiced residues: vines, leaves,

the uneaten fruits crumbling damply
in the shadows, unmattering back

from the particular island
of this summer, this NOW, that now is nowhere

except underfoot, moldering
in that black subterranean castle

of unobservable mysteries - roots and sealed seeds
and the wanderings of water. This

I try to remember when time's measure
painfully chafes, for instance when autumn

flares out at the last, boisterous and like us longing
to stay - how everything lives, shifting

from one bright vision to another, forever
in these momentary pastures.

Mary Oliver
from American Primitive)

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

Monday, September 07, 2020

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

We are animal in our blood and in our skin. We were not born for pavements and escalators but for thunder and mud. More. We are animal not only in body but in spirit. Our minds are the minds of wild animals. Artists, who remember their wildness better than most, are animal artists, lifting their heads to sniff a quick wild scent in the air, and they know it unmistakably, they know the tug of wildness to be followed through your life is buckled by that strange and absolute obedience. ('You must have chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star,' wrote Nietzsche.) Children know it as magic and timeless play. Shamans of all sorts and inveterate misbehavers know it; those who cannot trammel themselves into a sensible job and life in the suburbs know it.

What is wild cannot be bought or sold, borrowed or copied. It is. Unmistakeable, unforgettable, unshamable, elemental as earth and ice, water, fire and air, a quintessence, pure spirit, resolving into no constituents. Don't waste your wildness: it is precious and necessary.

Jay  Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Friday, September 04, 2020

Friday Ramble - Stirring the Cauldron

This week's word hails from the Middle English caudroun, thence the Anglo-Norman caudiere, the Latin calderium meaning "hot bath", the Latin caldaria meaning “cooking pot” and the adjective calidus meaning fiery or hot. Caldera, calenture, calid, calor, caloric, calorie, caudle, chafe, chauffeur, cholent, chowder, kettle, lee, lukewarm, nonchalant, réchauffé and scald are kindred words and share the same origins. At the end of our wordy rambling is the Proto-Indo-European (PIE) root kelə meaning “warm”.

I still have the battered Dutch oven I carried while rambling the continent many years ago, baking bannock over open fires, stirring soups, stews and cassoulets by starlight and watching as sparks went spiraling into the inky sky over the rim of my old pot. A lot of beans, stew meat and bruised veggies went into the vessel, and it never failed to dish out a fine meal, no matter how humble its contents. The motes of light rising from its depths were stars too, perfect counterpoint to the constellations dancing over my head.

These days, there's a stockpot bubbling away on my stove, a rice cooker, a bean crock or two, an unglazed earthenware tagine, several bright red cast iron cooking pots by Staub and Le Creuset, a small three-legged iron incense bowl on the table in my study. I use them often and always treat them as the precious instruments they are, culinary vessels sacred to ancient goddesses of the hearth like Hestia, Bridget and Cerridwen.

Once upon a long ago time, a woman's standing in her community was measured by how many pots there were in her kitchen and the materials of which they were made. Pots were the most treasured items in a young woman's dowry when she married and set about making a home of her own, and a fine bronze cooking pot was something to be proud of.

Geologists use caldera to describe the crater formed when a volcano's magma chamber is emptied by a massive eruption or when the magma chamber's roof collapses. The largest volcanic caldera on earth is the vast Yellowstone Caldera in northern Wyoming, and another caldera, Indonesia's mighty Krakatoa has been in a state of almost constant eruption for more than a century. When Krakatoa blew in 1883, its eruption was the second most powerful volcanic event in recorded history, surpassed only by the cataclysmic performance of Mount Tambora (another Indonesian volcano) in 1815.

The night that gifts us with stars and enfolds us gently when the sun goes down is a vast cauldron or bowl.  Somewhere in the darkness up there, Cerridwen is stirring her heady cosmic brew of knowledge, creativity and rebirth, her kettle simmering over a mystic cook fire—the bard Taliesin once partook of a single drop from her magical vessel and awakened into wisdom and song.

We're all vessels, and one of the best motifs for this life is surely a pot, a kettle or a cauldron,  one battered, dented and well traveled, but useful and happy to be so, bubbling and crackling away in the background (sometimes in the foreground), making happy musics and occasionally sending bright motes up into the air.

And so it is with this old hen when the seasons turn. Notions of alchemy bubble away gently. Sparks fly upward, images of pots and cauldrons cosmic and domestic whirl about in her thoughts. She simply could not (and would not) be anywhere else.

Thursday, September 03, 2020

Thursday Poem - At the road's turning, a sign

Stranger, you have reached a fabulous land―
in winter, the abode of swans,
magnolia buds and black leaves

secretly feeding the earth―
memory snaked into tree roots.

In spring, you will feel life changes
bubble up in your blood like early wine,
and your heart will be lighter than
the flight of gossamer pollen.

Stranger, in summer, you will drink deeply
of a curious local wine,
fortified with herbs cut with a silver knife
when the moon was new.
Who knows what freedoms
will dazzle your path like fireflies?

And I promise you, in the fall
you will give up the search and know peace
in the fragrance of apple wood burning.
You will learn how to accept love
in all its masks, and the universe
will sing here more sweetly than any other place

Dolores Stewart

Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Pot of Gold

Recipe books rest on every flat surface, a sure sign that our days are getting cooler and autumn is on its way. There are local vegetables everywhere, and they cry out to come home in my basket, for mindful attention and a session of imaginative culinary alchemy. No Mackintosh apples for another few weeks, but I am counting the days until they are available. Ritual undertakings? Oh yes, kitchen magics are underway here...

There is nothing better than a good bowl of soup on a cool night, and hallelujah, it is finally cool enough in the house for cooking. Yesterday’s undertaking was a large pot of curried squash soup which is about to go into the freezer. No matter how much of the stuff I make, there seldom seems to be any for the cook, but dinner last night was a small bowl of liquid gold decorated with a frill of rosemary. Accompanied by a homemade bun it was gorgeous. I could have been dining in a cordon bleu restaurant, it was that good.

On the weekend, a big cauliflower came home from a local market, and that will be the next veggie to go into the big chowder pot, after that a slow cooker of sweet potato and black bean soup and a veritable cauldron of bone broth. Later, there will be minestrone.

The cookie jar is empty again, and that means a large batch of gingerbread cookies is in the cards today, ditto a batch of bread. There never seem to be any cookies around here, and there are never any crusty buns around either.

Happy September, everyone!

Monday, August 31, 2020

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

What hope is there for individual reality or authenticity when the forces of violence and orthodoxy, the earthly powers of guns and bombs and manipulated public opinion make it impossible for us to be authentic and fulfilled human beings?

The only hope is in the creation of alternative values, alternative realities. The only hope is in daring to redream one's place in the world - a beautiful act of imagination, and a sustained act of self becoming. Which is to say that in some way or another we breach and confound the accepted frontiers of things.

Ben Okri, from A Way of Being Free

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday Ramble - Little Ordinaries of the Season

It's small things that engage one's attention at this time of year: fallen leaves like confetti on the dock at the lake, woodland maples clothing themselves in scarlet, sunflowers inclining their heads and sending thousands of seed children out into the world, damp furrows in the garden where the last tomatoes of the season are ripening.

Oak leaves on the trail were touched by cold fingers overnight, and they crackle wonderfully underfoot in their earthy sepias and creams. Beech trees are turning, and their coppery leaves are falling everywhere in burnished, windblown showers. Sunlight streams through the flickering overstory as if through clerestory windows, and the woods feel like a vast, towering cathedral that goes on and on forever. Little seasonal ordinaries conjure an elemental litany that is spicy on the tongue, touched with a leaf-dusty fragrance that follows us all the way home after our rambles.

Lines of swallows are congregating on rural telephone lines before flying south. Skeins of geese move to and fro between rivers and farm fields, and there are the steady wing beats and plaintive calls of loons saying goodbye as they head for warmer moorings. Great herons still haunt local waters here and there, but they will not be far behind the loons in departing.  Is it just me, or is there a restless melancholy spirit loose in the village and haunting the countryside as the season turns?

It is cool here this morning, and far from recent thoughts of salads and cold drinks, I find myself pondering soups, stews and casseroles, corn fritters and gingerbread, the first McIntosh apples lovingly folded into a baked crumble with oatmeal, maple syrup and cinnamon. Thoughts about comfort food and culinary undertakings are a sure indication of approaching autumn, all by themselves.

Life becomes quieter as daylight hours wane in the last quarter of the year. Temperatures tumble, leaves turn, migratory kin leave, and the light changes. We will drink every blessed thing in like wine. Gloves on gnarly paws, and collars turned up against the wind, we will ramble and ponder and feast our senses on the colors, sounds and spicy fragrances around us. Then we will come home to tea and toast and candlelight as night falls.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Thursday Poem - Assurance

You will never be alone, you hear so deep
a sound when autumn comes. Yellow
pulls across the hills and thrums,
or the silence after lightening before it says
its names—and then the clouds' wide-mouthed
apologies. You were aimed from birth:
you will never be alone. Rain
will come, a gutter filled, an Amazon,
long aisles—you never heard so deep a sound,
moss on rock, and years. You turn your head—
that’s what the silence meant: you’re not alone.
The whole wide world pours down.

William Stafford

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Poem - Unchurched

It’s Earth that breathes around us,
so perilous in its comforts,
so perfect in impermanence.

Autumnal sun streams through
these yellow maple leaves
translucent as stained glass.

The ground beneath my feet
is strewn with pine cones, acorns.
The random pattern of continuance.

Etched columns of pine and oak.
Incense of resin and fungi.
Great glacial stones for altars.

High winds and choirs of
minor breezes, the whispering hush.
It is the Sabbath. It is enough.

Dolores Stewart (Riccio) from The Nature of Things

This morning's poem is printed here with the kind permission of the late poet. Dolores was my friend, and I still miss her so much.

Creeping Into September, Leaf by Leaf

Monday, August 24, 2020

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

When you are in a forestthink of all the levels. Down deep, where you can't see, is a whole world. Roots coil and curve in every direction . . . worms, mud, bugs and seeds among rock, and below, the molten zone.

But here on the ground is the richest realm of all, with its soil mulched by the deaths of the countless, and new life springing ever upward into brilliant flowering bulb and bush, tree and bromeliad. Birds and millions of years of animals roam, woman and man and children resonating like music with the leaves and moist air. Sunlight streaming down through the sapphire blue lightclouds drifting in perpetual journeyand above them, hundreds of thousands of galaxies, star diamonds birthing and dying.

We humans are like the forest with our root people, worm people, mud people, seed people, orchid people, short yews and towering sequoias, and a cosmos of animal people and flying bird peopleabove, the airy sphere of cloud people, blazing sun people, soft moon people and the innumerable star people who sparkle brilliantly in the blackest night. And all, evolving deeper and wider and higher into the unknowable Mystery.

Janine Canan,
Quoted from We'moon, 2019

Dr. Janine Canan is a gifted poet, story teller, essayist and translator, as well as a practicing psychiatrist. She can be visited online here.

Friday, August 21, 2020

Friday Ramble - Flaming Amazement

Ah, sweet August, great rounds of baled hay in the eastern Ontario highlands, deer and wild turkeys feeding under the trees at dawn and dusk, shadows stretching long skinny fingers across farm fields at the end of the day, the setting sun viewed through strands of timothy, barley and tall white bush clover...

The shadows slanting across pastures lengthen, grow sharper and deeper as days become shorter, and as if to compensate for waning daylight hours, northern sunsets turn intense. Crimson, fiery gold, inky blue and purple skies, molten light and technicolor clouds are a perfect backdrop for fields of ripening grain.

The evening sun seems to flame amazement as it drops below the horizon. I've always loved the words "I flamed amazement", spoken by the playful spirit Ariel in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and they seem just right for an evening in August when the setting sun is putting on a fine show. Is there magic? Oh yes...

Beau and I lean against a fence at sunset looking west, and our camera and lens can scarcely take in all the riches on offer. The setting sun dazzles the eyes, and a fragile crescent of waxing moon nearby seems lit from within. We know the moon has no light of her own and borrows it from the sun, but it always seems otherwise to us at this time of the year.

The light at the end of an August day is enough to make one swoon in delight. I wish I had a sari in these glorious, elemental colors.