Thursday, October 31, 2013

Season of the Crone



HERE, ON THE doorstep of Samhain, veils of mist blur the edges between the end of one thing and the start of another. It has been that way all day; light rain dripping onto yellow maple leaves, then hanging suspended in the soft, damp air, hovering between heaven and earth.

Twilight falls. The mist grows deeper, spread over the land like the finest silver cloak, sifting down through the atmosphere. It beckons me.

Come. Let us speak to you, it whispers. This is a language you know in your bones. This is a borderland you know in your dreams and have known from the womb..

I feel close to the Crone these days. Not only in the turning of the year, but in the seasons of my own self, the power gathering for some purpose I cannot see. The Divine Feminine wants me to notice her. She speaks through the spider's web, the autumn mist, the living lines in my face. She speaks through the cycle of seasons, myth, symbol and story.

She speaks of the boundless fertility of the earth and her seasons of rest. The cycles of the watching moon. The Three Fates who spin the thread of life, measure out its length, and choose when to sever the thread. The Three Weird Sisters, in and out of time, straddling reality and the supernatural. Between the worlds.


To me, names like "witch" and "crone" seethe with power. Wisdom. Mystery. They invite me into a sisterhood as old as time.

I live in a bungalow, in a city, far from the countries of my ancestors. Far in time from the Old Ways. Yet, somehow...I feel akin to the witch-crone in her cottage. She lives somewhere inside me, of that I'm sure. There are the cats, after all.




Maybe our society's version of the crone in the cottage is the old woman who lives with her many cats...or the old woman who feeds the pigeons, or the old woman who scolds children and talks to squirrels, or the old woman who picks up litter in the park? Not necessarily evil, just...odd.

That is why this passage jumped out at me from a lovely book I just read:

"There was a movie I loved with all my childish heart: Thomasina. The title character was a cat that died and, with the help of a woman thought to be a witch by the townspeople, returned to tell stories of its nine lives. I never tired of the movie, for I identified completely with the unusual woman who lived deep in the woods, taking in hurt animals and healing them with patience and love. In my heart, I knew I would be a strange woman just like her someday."

Love that strangeness in yourself. Listen for the voice of a shape-shifting enchantress, who sounds like falling mist and looks like the fierce clutch of an owl's claw on its prey. I have a feeling this is a good time to hear her--witch, goddess, crone, hag, sorceress. Like a force of nature, like the turning of the year, she is more than we can put one name to.




Catechism for a Witch’s Child
When they ask to see your gods
your book of prayers
show them lines
drawn delicately with veins
on the underside of a bird’s wing
tell them you believe
in giant sycamores mottled
and stark against a winter sky
and in nights so frozen
stars crack open spilling
streams of molten ice to earth
and tell them how you drink
a holy wine of honeysuckle
on a warm spring day
and of the softness
of your mother who never taught you
death was life’s reward
but who believed in the earth
and the sun
and a million, million light years
of being

© 1986 J.L.Stanley

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

There are no small adventures



Lately, I've been reading about ambitious adventures into the wild (Wild by Cheryl Strayed, Wild: An Elemental Journey by Jay Griffiths and The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane).

As well as vicarious experiences, I'm looking for insights. How do others connect with the wild? How do I channel grief at the loss of wild places into healing for the land and for myself? How can I belong to the immensity of nature? Is it possible to penetrate that frustrating barrier between myself and what is outside of myself?






Albert Einstein wrote: “A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
             
David Abram said, "the deepest impulse in my work...is to renew the experience of being immersed, embedded, in the depths of a living world."







The writers whose work I've been reading seem in their various ways to be seeking a relationship with the wild, in order to find the wild within themselves. (At least, that is one lens through which I read their work.)

Unlike these seekers, I do not climb mountains, drink ayahuasca brewed by Amazonian shamans, or skinnydip in glacial lakes. My adventures are of the micro sort: A red fox or a deer by the river. An indigo bunting foraging in a flash of blue on the edge of a field. A chipmunk zipping between my bicycle wheels. The scent of decaying leaves or oncoming rain or sun-dried sweet grass lifting on a breeze.

Must I journey to the mountain? Is the wild "out there," or hidden in plain sight all around us?


Toward the end of The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane writes,“But I had learned to see another type of wildness, to which I had once been blind: the wildness of natural life, the sheer force of ongoing organic existence, vigorous and chaotic. This wildness was not about asperity, but about luxuriance, vitality, fun. The weed thrusting through a crack in a pavement, the tree root impudently cracking a carapace of tarmac: these were wild signs, as much as the storm wave and the snowflake.”






I find myself questing for the same things that these writers quest for, seeking some of the same answers. I welcome them as mentors, guides and companions. Their words, and the words of many of you, keep me company as I wander.

And yet, even the most beautifully written words are only words. Words can revive our longing, articulate our grief, link us back to the landscape with power and magic; but they cannot take the place of immersing our physical selves in that landscape. Just as even the most evocative photograph can offer us one dimension of experience--bereft of sound, or scent, or the touch of the wind on our faces--only an echo of a living, breathing, depthful place.

So, I walk. With appreciation, in gratitude.

This is the adventure outside my door, and I find myself, as N.D. Wilson writes, like an ant trying to assess the cathedrals of Europe. It is more than I am able to encompass.




“We are not exiled from the garden of Eden but living in it still. Paradise is not in the past or future but only in the present, this Earth an untamed heaven, a wild paradise garden.” --Jay Griffiths, Wild: An Elemental Journey




“I imagined the wind moving through all these places, and many more like them: places that were separated from one another by roads and housing, fences and shopping-centres, street-lights and cities, but that were joined across space at that time by their wildness in the wind. We are fallen in mostly broken pieces, I thought, but the wild can still return us to ourselves.” --Robert Macfarlane, The Wild Places




Photos taken on the Mississippi River bluffs along West River Parkway.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Folk tale for a cold night



On a dark and blustery day--when the turning leaves have frozen on the vine and passersby hunch their shoulders against the wind as they scurry to warmth and home fires--it is time to sit down with a strange tale of enchantment and wonder....

I have just the tale; one that captures the mystery of the forest and the power of old crones. A twisty story set in a land that echoes medieval Russia...a place where the snow is deep and the fearsome figure of Baba Yaga and her chicken-legged house may still roam.

The tale is called The Witch of Duva: A Ravkan Folk Tale, by Leigh Bardugo, and it begins this way:
"There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.
It’s been many years since any child was taken. But still, on nights like these, when the wind comes cold from Tsibeya, mothers hold their daughters tight and warn them not to stray too far from home.
“Be back before dark,” they whisper. “The trees are hungry tonight.”
Grab a steaming cup of cocoa, wrap up in a cozy blanket and enjoy the full tale here.



Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The plunder of Now



In Grand Marais, I looked out the window and saw Herring Gulls sprouting from all over the Mountain Ash tree, like monarch butterflies flocking to blazingstar flowers.

They jostled with each other, beat their wings and teetered as the wind tried to sweep them away, gripping on with their feet and beaks. Persistent in their quest to balance just long enough to devour ripe, scarlet berries.




And see how the shape of wing echoes that of cloud, both curved for flight?

Those berries must have tasted sweet to the gulls. I wish I had tried one. Just so that when I looked at this picture, I'd remember its flavor on my tongue. Tart like cranberries and orange rinds? Pulpy with fermented juice, like the dangerous aroma of nightshade berries?

But I can hear the rustling sound of their powerful wings, the oceanic rush of air and the lapping of wavelets on the shore. I can catch the faintest scent of wild water and a tendril of woodsmoke. And for a moment in my lately-too-housebound, floaty existence, I can even imagine the dizzy spin of flying, swooping, diving, then settling on the cold water with my resting tribe. Content. Belly full of fish and bright fruit.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Comfort food



My mother gardened bare-handed.

She took joy in burying both hands in the soil, happy to sit in peaceful companionship with earthworms and bumblebees.

She was the only mother in our neighborhood who planted vegetables, read "Organic Gardening" magazine and knew what a beneficial nematode was. She made us yogurt and Tiger’s Milk, put wheat germ in our home-baked bread. There was no soda pop in our refrigerator, ever. (She would buy Cap’n Crunch cereal when we begged her to.)


I've been especially thinking about my mother lately. I've been down with back-to-back illnesses, and though it is long since I was under her care, and she is gone now, like a child I still long for her made-from-scratch soup when I'm in need of nurturing.

My mother made amazing soups: Chicken soup flavored with carrot and bay leaf, and a steaming flotilla of light, fluffy dumplings. Slow-simmered white bean soup with ham bone. And a thick, warm, green split pea with carrot soup that could mend broken bones, dry tears, fill up all your lonely places.

That soup was full of mother love. And until the end of time, there will never be anyone else in the world who can make anything for me that contains that particular and precious ingredient.








So I've been ill. And as they can't help but do, sicknesses set one back. There was still digging and planting to be done. The little native grasses I’d brought home in September waited still in their cardboard trays on the back porch, catching day after day of westering sun, witness to the chickadees and cardinals on their daily visits to the feeder—all while managing to avoid the squirrels’ interest in uprooting plants altogether. Survivors, clearly.

In mid-October—perilously late in the northern year for planting—I entrusted them to the ground, like an incantation:







Sweet grass.

Switch grass.

Side oats grama.






I murmured to them as I freed them from their plastic containers, where their fine, pale roots had wrapped around and around in their search for the earth. They were, I thought, desperate to escape and expand into the soil of here. 

A place where they evolved perfectly to grow.

A place that evolved perfectly to grow them.






I sat in the dirt with trowel and bare hands, and dug a hole for each one—a waving, seedheaded, wind-sized hole, a singing sweetness-sized hole.

Be welcome, I told them. Take root. Do not regard passing feet or wheels. Hold fast through winter, as we all must do.

Rest. You are home now.



The sun was pale-fading by the time I finished, and so was I.

I scrubbed the good soil from my hands and ate soup that my mother did not make, casting my own blessings upon it.

And maybe dreamed that night of feathery white roots, questing for home.

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