Tuesday, June 26, 2012

High Summer

Sunday 6/24/12:

Could the sky have been any bluer today, the grass more lush, the trees clad in a more vibrant green?  I think not.  Having been blessed with the perfect mix of just enough rain, plenty of sun and warm temperatures, and the added blessing of a whole weekend of perfect weather, I am in summer nirvana.

I didn’t do anything dramatic this weekend, not even going to the beach, just two miles down the road.  Just didn’t feel like dealing with the summer crowds and the dog prohibitions.  (Ironically, I end up going to the beach more frequently during the very early spring and in the fall, when neither of these things are an issue.)

Nope.  Was content to stay on this little patch of this good earth, with my hands in the dirt for a good chunk of time.  My doglets enjoyed having me around, and when they weren’t chasing one another, assisted me (or so they thought) by digging.  They are terriers, after all!

Weeding was one of the big orders of the weekend.  Everything is growing so fast!  That includes the unintended as well as the intended. Over time, I have shied away from using the word “weed” because I have found good purpose for many of these plants.  But, unless I want my beds to look like total chaos, I do need to do something to keep the growth in control, and to ensure that the veggies themselves don’t get crowded out.  So after gathering some of these plants and saving them for drying and later use, I became more merciless, rationalizing that their contribution to the compost pile also serves a good purpose.

I spent a good many hours, in the sun, weeding.  I chuckled as I thought of the perfection I tried to attain in my gardens when we first moved to our home.  Everything had a place, and I worked so hard to keep everything in its place, just so.  However, as many beginning gardeners do, I planted flowers and other plants that had rather invasive properties or were avid self seeders.  I learned the hard way…

Eventually, the more invasive plants I got rid of, or kept contained in pots.  It was the self seeders that I developed a more relaxed attitude and greater appreciation for.  Lupine, coreopsis, black eyed susans (both wild and cultivated varieties), daisies, coneflowers, Johnny jump ups, Delphinium, foxglove, oregano…. All of these paint my personal landscape, and over time I have let the Goddess herself determine where they shall appear, year to year.

To me, the effect is more pleasing and natural, and I love the abundance of blooms where the plants have found the homes best suited to their growing needs.  Although I have learned the blessings of “letting go”, my husband sometimes chafes at the less manicured look.  Long ago we reached a truce on this.  His preference rules the gardens that face the street, and periodically he will clean them out himself, after giving me a chance to transplant what I wish.  However, the backyard is my domain; my favorite gardens are here, including what I call my Goddess Garden.  I keep these gardens weeded so that they have lovely eye appeal, but if my flowers aren’t in exactly the same spots year to year, I don’t sweat it.  I am only the gardener, the helper, not the Giver of Life.

The wonderful thing about this time of year is that the days are so long, I really feel I have accomplished something by the time dusk and mosquitoes drive me inside.  And even for those tasks yet undone, it’s easy to have faith that another long day in the sun is not far off.  We have passed the solstice, but it’s High Summer, and in the aftermath of this glorious day, I see no end in sight.  The feelings of the endless summers of my youth fill me once again. Even if this will only last a few short weeks before inevitable decrease in light comes, for now, the Sun rules.  I will revel in the natural abundance around me, and the optimism it brings to my soul.

We, like so many other families and individuals, have had many challenges thrown in our way these past few years.  “Challenges” almost seems too clean and kind a word; I only use it, because I know there are those who have faced far worse than my family has.  And I am grateful for the good fortune that has come to us, in fits and spurts, the last few months.  Even though the proverbial barbarians are still at the gates, at least, for now, I feel that more is possible than not.

May the High Summer illuminate your life with golden light, replacing darkness with hope, warmth and joy.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Living the Sabbats - Summer Solstice

Summer solstice-what is there to celebrate?

A beautiful spring is turning to summer, but June already seems to be flying by.   Next weekend, I expect that one if not both kids will be coming home for Dad's Day… so another family celebration needs planning and preparing for.  Since it’s so close to the solstice, I intend to weave some elements and symbols into the occasion.  The day of the solstice is my husband's day off, and if the weather is decent, we'll be doing some chillin' and grillin', Solstice style!

While a happy family gathering and nice evening with my husband are my main goal, I also want to honor the occasion of the Solstice in a way that is meaningful to me (the lone pagan in the household).  And that requires answering the question:  what does it mean to me?

June has always been one of my favorite months.  Doesn't hurt that it’s my birthday month!  But when I was growing up, there was also the long awaited Last Day of School:  freedom!  Long days to be outside with my friends, or off by myself exploring somewhere.  Being called in for supper was only a brief interruption, even if I had to help with dishes.  Before long, I was outside again, til the lingering dusk finally gave in, the bats began hunting the mosquitoes, and fire flies blinked in the warm darkness.

Where I grew up, school went through the second week of June at least; its ending was the start of summer for us then.   So the idea that the official first day of summer was not until June 20 or 21  fit for me, back then. 

But after I was through with school, and had started work, with my evenings and weekends relatively free, I pushed back the start of my summer to Memorial Day weekend.  With any luck, late May offered fine weather for hiking, camping, boating and fishing…. All the things I would enjoy all June, July, August and even into September.    And, by Memorial Day, all danger of frost has past, so it became my deadline for getting the gardens cleaned out and planted, to make the most of our relatively short growing season. 

Turns out, my instinctive sense for the start of summer jives with the meteorological first day of summer:  June 1rst.  Why the difference between the meteorological date for the first day of summer, and the calendar date?  Meteorologists define summer as the three warmest calendar months:  June, July, and August; therefore the season starts at the beginning of the month, not the middle.  Meteorologists have noted that the sun’s position does not directly correlate to the temperatures at the surface, but rather, the general temperature change throughout the year. 

And where is the sun on June 20th?   The astronomical definition of the summer solstice is when the sun is in its furthest northern position (for those of us in the northern hemisphere).  At this point, the angle of the sun upon us is the most direct (creating the warmer temperatures we experience) and the hours of daylight are at their longest.  The summer solstice brings us the longest day of the year, and the shortest night.  But it is now hard for me to call this the first day of summer, when in many ways, this day is the beginning of the end of summer.  From this day forward, the days begin inching towards that shortest day and longest night.  At first it’s an imperceptible creep, caught up as we are in the physical enjoyment of all things summer.  But where I live, within a few weeks, the difference is noticeable, and by the first of August, tinges of the next season begin to appear.  There’s a part of me that completely resists that dying of the light, so what do I celebrate at the Summer Solstice?

Does saying that the solstice is not the beginning of summer, but the beginning of the end of summer, make me a pessimist?  I don't think so; I guess I am a realistic naturalist.  But although the days from here on out will slowly but surely begin to shorten, some of the best of summer is yet to come.  I love the warmth of the sun, hot lazy days on the beach, even muggy evenings on the deck, and sleeping with the windows open, lulled by the insect sounds.  Although the solstice is when the sun is at its highest, and its rays the most direct, it does not mark the warmest weather.   That's because it takes the earth some time to accumulate the heat; our hottest weather usually comes a few weeks after the solstice. 

For me, the solstice represents a shift, a new phase in the cycle.  Ostara - when the young God is gaining his strength - marks a beginning point, for when (mud season permitting) I can look forward to working outside.  I can start clearing away the dead growth from last year, seeing which plants survived the winter, where I may need to replant.  April weekends, the cleanup continues, but I also start seedlings inside.

At Beltane, the union of the God and Goddess and the return of life and fruitfulness is celebrated, and by this point, hopefully my cleanup is finished. I mulch the flower beds and get the vegetable bed prepared.  Mid-May I seed the cold weather veggies and transplant self seeded seedlings; other planting has to wait til danger of the last frost is past, closer to Memorial Day where I live.  Hopefully, all of this is completed by my birthday in early June, and we put up the fence around the vegetable garden.

As we approach the solstice, the energy is shifting from preparing and planting, to growing.  Now commences the most active period of growth for my gardens … unfortunately that includes the weeds, so my work is never done!  With any luck I will soon be pulling up radishes (a favorite of my husband's) by Father's Day, and re-sow some more.  The succession of flower blooms continues; my peonies and lupines are at their peak; I have a ton of buds on my coreopsis and daisies that are just about to open; and if I can keep the red beetles at bay, my lilies are promising me a show as well.  The Sun/God has reached his full power, and the Goddess is pregnant, holding the bounty of the harvest to come.  As the warmth continues and builds, my vegetables thrive, and before long, I will be enjoying even more of the fruit of my labors.

My observations for the Solstice will be simple. I will be planning on trying some new sides using seasonal fruits and vegetables while my husband will be concocting some kind of barbeque (his specialty).  I need to get some bright yellow candles, and I'm hoping to make a bouquet of golden yellow coreopsis and a red lily.

Several years ago the legend of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King captured my imagination. These two mighty rulers fight for supremacy as the Wheel of the Year turns each season. At the Winter Solstice, the Oak King kills the Holly King, and then reigns until the Summer Solstice. Once the Summer Solstice arrives, the Holly King returns to do battle with the Oak King, and defeats him. The Holly King then rules until Yule.

At some quiet moment next Wednesday, I will pull from my special cabinet a twig with three dried oak leaves, cut the previous June.  This will be burned in my fire (grill), symbolic for the death of the Oak King.   Afterwards, I will cut a fresh twig to be saved for the following summer.  Come December, I will pull a dried holly branch from my cabinet, to be burned in the fireplace at Yule.  The next  morning, I will cut a new sprig from my  holly bush, to continue the cycle….

Every blessing in its season… Summer Blessings to all!

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Paths in the Woods

A path in the woods, especially one stumbled across unexpectedly, always activates the EXPLORE gene I was somehow born with.  If there is anything that makes me feel like I am seventeen all over again, its finding a path to follow... where will it go?  What will I find?

Sewall's Woods is a wee patch of wilderness in my town that was once privately owned, but was bequethed to our conservation commision, who made it available to the public, complete with boarded trails...good thing, because in the spring its quite boggy!  I'm sharing some of my pictures of a recent hike, but also invite you to check out a fellow blogger's post:  All the Difference.  To be honest, her post inspired this post!  Please check her blog out.

Happy Trails!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Long Time No Hear....

It's been a while since I've been in this grove…sometimes, Life happens!

And I've been doing a lot of living since February.  First came my promotion in February, shortly after my last posting.  The groundwork I had been patiently laying (read: extra hours!) did pay off.  But very quickly I was taken away from mid-winter dormancy; my winter evenings were no longer spent reading, considering, writing, blogging….

My new duties were totally absorbing for a while - the next month and a half was work, work, and more work; sometimes by remote access from my home computer in the evening.   But it's good work.  Work that I can throw myself into, with interest and complete absorption. And this has been a blessing that is equal to (if not greater than) the added income the new position brings.

But as the days became longer and spring slowly arrived, other arenas in my life successfully garnered a few hours of my days.  The pups of course - agility classes twice a week continued right through May.  My gardens and my yard begged me to clean from them the refuse of last year's growth.  And, the winter had taken its toll on a few trees - several large branches that needed to be pruned, and subsequently cut up into kindling for next winter's woodstove.

Weekends through April and May were pretty much consumed with that good work outside.  But every Saturday and Sunday, I took an hour or so out to go hiking with the pups.  I'm blessed to live close to the beach, and also several preserves and wildlife sanctuaries, so I have no lack of wild spaces (or spaces that at least feel free and wild) to escape to.  I even started doing a little photography - perhaps I'll post a picture or two on days I don't have time to blog.

Contemplative, I have not been.  No, far from it.  At times I was barely aware of what the phase of the moon was.  My observations for Ostara and Beltane were simple and fleeting, as my time and attention were diverted to so many things.  Did I forget my Deities?  No, not entirely, but at times I wondered if They felt I had. 

Was I so busy Doing, that I had no time to Be?

Perhaps, but I don’t entirely think so.  Rather, I think, I’ve had the very good fortune of seeing hopes, wishes, prayers that were laid out before the Goddess at Imbolc, begin to take root through the season of Ostara and show some blossoming during the month of Beltane.  I’ve been busy --- manifesting!

First there’s my job, which has been wonderfully satisfying, and the added income has brought a bit of welcome relief to my family’s situation.  Then, my gardens.  Cleaning up the yard in the spring can be on the tedious side, but the results are so rewarding.  I love my ½ acre of Earth.  I have a Goddess garden in my back yard, it’s a rather secret space.   I had a swing hanging from the maple tree that in the midst of it, for my daughter when she was little.  It was a favored spot for her and her best friend next door…  the swing is long gone, the neighbors have since moved, and just this spring, my daughter moved into her first apartment.  (Another milestone for this mother!)   But every once in a while I catch one or two of the little girls down the street in my garden under the trees.  When this first happened, they were worried I would be upset.  But after I let them play with the pups and pick a few flowers to take home, they now feel welcome.  It’s good to have a sprite or two around, you know? 

I love coming in from the yard with dirt absolutely ground into the bed of my fingernails.  I love watching the week to week growth… and watching the birds during the migratory and nesting season.  (My garden is interspersed with bird baths, seed feeders, nectar feeders, and fresh fruit stations….sometimes I feel that these themselves are like offerings to the Goddess, to help her take care of her other Children.)

I love the mystery of planting the seeds in my vegetable garden…. And the marvel of seeing the burgeoning seedlings, despite the competition from the birds, chipmunks, and other wildlife.

Some years, I am so content with all that I have in my own gardens, you would find it hard to get me out of the yard on a Saturday or Sunday, especially if there were still things on my “yard list”. 

This year has been different.  Oh, I still have things I want to do, beds to rearrange, more seeds to plant.  But, I have had another calling, one so insistent, I could not fail to answer.  I grew up as a tomboy, playing in the woods, building forts, exploring trails.  I did a lot of hiking during college and when I was first married, but, exploring the woods is something I have not had much time to do in the past few years. 

And that was the calling I felt – and answered -  this spring.  To go to the wild places near by, to follow the trails, to see where that path would lead me.  To see the early growth of spring, the buds become baby leaves, the open bare spaces fill in with lush green – the pups and I have watched all of this.  Every time we have gone somewhere, there is a bit of longing within that is satisfied.   And what is that longing?  I cannot help but believe that it is a calling from my Deities, during this phase where time for ritual on my part is lacking.

They have called me back to the wild places, that represent a time and space apart, where I can be with them in the most natural and easy way, a path I have known since childhood.  Every week I plotted a new place to explore with the pups on the upcoming weekend, to answer that call.

So, what has brought me back to my blog?    Sigh.   I’ve been sidelined.  Almost three weeks ago, on one of our jaunts, I fell and broke my fall… with my right hand.  I have two fractured bones in my right wrist, and a lovely cast from mid palm almost up to my elbow.  The first weekend post cast I spent practicing One Handed Weeding and One Handed Planting.  The next weekend was Memorial Day, spent with family, One Handed Cooking etc.    The arm is one thing, not alone enough to keep me down… (I’m getting awfully good with my left hand!).  But since last the end of last week it’s been a rainy washout here.

I miss our woodland jaunts and am determined to get back to them.  The rain has also brought a great crop of weeds that will need to be removed.  Ever so much to do…will there ever be time for proper devotion to my deities?

Ah, but I am now being reminded of key phrases from the Call of the Goddess:

“For mine is the ecstasy of the spirit, and mine also is joy on Earth;
For my law is love unto all beings.”

“Let my worship be within the heart that rejoiceth; for behold, all acts of love and pleasure are my rituals.”

I have been worshipping all spring, not by lighting candles, but by putting my hands into the Earth.  Not by saying prayers, or conducting ritual, but by simply following the tug on my heart and going into the woods. By feeding the birds, and enjoying the bright flash of wings of species only seen this special time of year.  By training with my dogs, connecting with them, building that bond.   By gathering with my family at our annual birthdays and holidays that fall this time of year, preparing those family dishes, setting the table.  And every Monday, delving into those projects at work, that absorb my mind and use my talents, hopefully to serve in some way, my fellow man (my job is in healthcare).

So tonite, although I am still chafing against the restrictions my cast and the bad weather represent, I have lit my candles in reflection and thanksgiving.  For all the blessings I have received this spring, even including this time of reduced activity….of redirection to the center.

Spring Blessings to all of you!