Monday, September 23, 2019

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Sunday - Saying Yes to the World

The eyes of the future are looking back at us, and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time. They are kneeling with hands clasped that we might act with restraint, that we might leave room for the life that is destined to come. To protect what is wild is to protect what is gentle. Perhaps the wilderness we fear is the pause between our own heartbeats, the silent space that says we live only by grace. Wilderness lives by this same grace. Wild mercy is in our hands.

Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Painted Lady and Purple Sage

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui) and Balkan Sage
There must have been at least thirty "ladies" dancing about in a clump of Balkan sage around a corner in the village this week. Beau and I stopped for a few minutes on the way home from our morning walk to watch them flutter exuberantly about, a perfect marriage of purple and orange, two of my favorite colors.

Alas, it was a windy morning, and most of the images we captured were fuzzy - there was  only a single acceptable capture.

Friday, September 20, 2019

Friday Ramble - Mabon

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

The autumn equinox is often observed on September 21st, but the astronomical coordinate this year is next Monday (September 23rd). On whatever day we choose to observe it, the fall equinox is a pivotal cosmic hinge, and it wears 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 other 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.  In Christian tradition, the day is associated with St. Michael the Archangel—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, and this is the eve of the vernal equinox (Ostara).

The autumn equinox is about abundance and harvest, but most of all, it is about balance and equilibrium—it is one of two astronomical coordinates in the whole year when day and night are (or rather seem to be) 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 golden moon will be visible against a blanket of stars by night. 

An autumn wreath graces our door, and a pot of bronze chrysanthemums graces the threshold.  Sometimes the pot is adorned by leaves fallen from the old oak nearby. The tree is our 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, puddles, clouds, light, geese, herons??? 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 19, 2019

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 18, 2019

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

For the Great Oaks

In September, every garment in my wardrobe seems to have acorns and pine cones in its pockets, offerings from trees in the Lanark highlands, and after years of rambling the hills and valleys of the Two Hundred Acre Wood, I have come to think of its towering woodland people as sisters. On sunny autumn days, I find a comfortable seat among my kin, and we have conversations, some of the most thoughtful and enlightening discussions ever. I have no leaves, and I don't bear acorns, but the great oaks welcome me nevertheless.

Pockets without acorns rattling around in their depths enfold other offerings, pine and spruce cones, walnuts, butternuts, beech nuts and shagbark hickory nuts. I adore their shapes, their colors, their textures, their fragrance, the whole season of their fruiting, and I can never resist gathering such things out in the forest. Autumn is a season of entelechy, a time of becoming, of once and future trees. In the words of poet and typographer Robert Bringhurst:

"Seeds and seed capsules, in nature, are unfailingly elegant. Form not only follows function in these structures; it chases it around, like a mouse with a moth or a cat with a mouse. Immense amounts of information and nutrition are routinely housed in spaces handsome far beyond necessity and compact beyond belief."
Robert Bringhurst, The Tree of Meaning, Language, Mind and Ecology

Turning my pockets out this week before chucking everything into the washing machine, I realized that there has been a whole forest riding around with me for several days, and it made me smile. No need to pine for my tree sisters when I am away from the woods - they are right here with me.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Sunday, September 15, 2019

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, September 14, 2019

The Harvest Moon of September

September's moon is my favorite in the whole turning year.  It is also (above all others), the one I can't describe properly or take a good photo of, no matter how extensive my preparations and ardent my labors.  Every year, I wander off to a good vantage point, set up camera, telescope and tripod, check my settings and wait patiently for night to fall. The moon rises, and I stand breathless in the dark, trying to capture her radiance with my lens, grasping a clumsy handful of words to describe the most beautiful moon of the year. Paying tribute to this month's full moon is a personal seasonal rite, and if I had to brew up a name of my own for it, that name would be "Hallelujah Moon".

It is something of a cosmic joke, this business of standing outside after dark and taking photo after photo but never a good one. Well, here we are again, another glorious Harvest Moon has just gone by, and another heap of mediocre images has been captured. The whole  exercise brings to mind the Zen teaching tale in which a monk on his deathbed was asked to describe his life, and he replied blithely, "just one mistake after another..."

In the greater scheme of things, it doesn't matter how my efforts turned out - it was just being there that mattered. I was happy to be around for another harvest moon, and I hope to be around for many more such wonders. Lady Moon climbed into the sky at the appointed hour, and we (Beau and I) were there to witness her ascent. As we packed up our stuff and headed indoors, we couldn't help thinking that such splendor deserved a gesture of some kind, a chorus, a chant or a benediction - something grander, wider and more expressive than our rickety bows and contented sighs.

We also know this moon as the: Acorns Gathered Moon, All Ripe Moon, Aster Moon, Autumn Moon, Barley Moon, Berry Moon, Chrysanthemum Moon, Corn Moon, Corn Maker Moon, Dancing Moon, Deer Paw the Earth Moon, Dog Salmon Return to Earth Moon, Elderberry Moon, Drying Grass Moon, Fruit Moon, Hay Cutting Moon, Her Acorns Moon, Holy Moon, Hulling Corn Moon, Index-finger Moon, Leaf Fall Moon, Leaf Yellow Moon, Leaves Changing Color Moon, Little Chestnut Moon, Maize Moon, Mallow Blossom Moon, Moon of Falling Leaves, Moon of First Frost, Moon of Full Harvest, Moon of Much Freshness, Moon When the Leaves Fall, Moon of Plenty, Moon When the Corn Is Taken in, Moon When the Plums Are Scarlet, Moon When Deer Paw the Earth, Moon When Calves Grow Hair, Moon When Everything Ripens and Corn Is Harvested, Moose Moon, Morning Glory Moon, Mulberry Moon, Nut Moon, Papaw Moon, Rice Moon, Rudbeckia Moon, Seed Moon, Shining Leaf Moon, Silky Oak Moon, Singing Moon, Soaproot Dug For Fish Poison Moon, Sturgeon Moon, Wavy or Snow Goose Moon, Wine Moon, Wood Moon, Yellow Leaf Moon.

Friday, September 13, 2019

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. 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 northerners go along for the ride.

The magnificent constellations of winter are starting to appear now, 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 moon was not quite full, but she will be, a few minutes before midnight tonight.

This morning, Beau and I were out in the garden again before sunrise, and it was cold. The moon had already set, but Orion, our favorite autumn constellation, was up and clearly visible in the south. The red giant Aldebaran was higher and 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.  Every single autumn leaf is perfect, just as it is.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Thursday 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
from The Nature of Things
printed here with the kind permission of the poet)

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Leaf Boats in the Stream

Drifting Along With the Fog

On September mornings, the village can be a mysterious place, the earth often warmer than the air above, and the meeting of the two elements turning otherwise mundane landscape features into entities fey and luminous. Autumn is properly upon us, and she is comfortable in her tenure of mist, rain, wind and madcap tumbling leaves.

There is nothing like a good fog, and September dishes up some splendid atmospheric murks. Mist swirls around everything, draping the whiskery trees, smoothing hard edges and rounding the contours of house and street. The north wind scours leaves from the old trees near home, and they rustle underfoot as Beau and I go along on our early walks. If we listen carefully, we can sometimes hear Cassie and Spencer pottering along beside us, their happy feet doing a kind of scuffling dance through the fallen treasure.

Out of the pearly gray and sepia come sounds now and again. Birds converse in hedgerows and geese move unseen among the clouds, singing as they pass over our heads. Doors open and close as sleepy residents collect their morning papers. There is the soft growling of automobiles and the rumble of buses, the muffled cadence of joggers gliding through the park, children chattering on their way to school, commuters heading downtown to work. Once in a while, there is the whistle of a faraway train, usually only a faint echoing in the air. Closer to home, raindrops beat a staccato rhythm on roofs, and little rivers sing through the eaves. All together, it is symphonic.

On such mornings, the world seems boundless, brimming with luminous floating Zen possibility, soil and trees and sky and mist giving tongue in a language that is wild and compelling.  Part of me is curled up and engaged in a slow breathing meditation, counting my breaths, in and out, in and out. Other parts are out there drifting along with the fog and happy to be doing it.  Emaho!

Monday, September 09, 2019

Sunday, September 08, 2019

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.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Friday, September 06, 2019

Friday Ramble - Demeter at the Gate

A single burnished leaf from the oak in the front yard floats down and comes to rest in a pot of bronzey chrysanthemums on the threshold of the little blue house in the village. Days are still warm here for the most part, but nights are starting to cool down, and it won't be long until we have to carry the pot indoors every evening as darkness falls and the wind comes out of the river.

As the oak leaf makes itself comfortable among the “mums", a long v-shaped skein of geese passes overhead, above them a floating veil of gauzy clouds. I remember a similar vista in early September last year, but with a fragile scrap of waning moon above and slightly to the right of the birds. This time around, the moon is waxing, and she will be full on September 13th, a few minutes before midnight. Here comes the Harvest Moon in all her auriferous splendor. Am I going to be out in the garden with camera and tripod that Friday evening? You bet. Please mama, no clouds that night.

Closer to the earth, the swallows of summer are packing their flight bags and making ready to depart, their places on local telephone wires to be taken by flutters of sparrows and constellations of noisy starlings who are putting on winter stars and flashy yellow beaks.

Frantic squirrels everywhere are filling their larders, and I have surrendered to the little blighters in the matter of geraniums - there does not seem to be much I can do to prevent the flowers from being unceremoniously tossed out of their pots and replaced with buried acorns, berries, crabapples and walnuts. For some reason, the squirrels leave our chrysanthemums alone.

Early Macintosh apples are starting to appear at farm markets, and several “Macs” rest flushed and rosy in a bowl on the kitchen counter.  We carried a lovely big brown paper bag of apples home from a local orchard a few days ago, along with the first cider of the season.  Most of the apples are destined for eating, but there will be applesauce and pies, perhaps a few jars of apple butter. Mugs of Yorkshire tea with pumpernickel toast and apple butter are in the cards.

Corn, squash, apples and hay, there is no doubt about it—Lady Harvest is at the gate and rattling its rusty latch with vigor. She knows the cantrip that grants her entrance to these hills, and she knows the key in which it is to be sung.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

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, September 04, 2019