Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Druid in a Box, Part 1   4 comments

She was Druid.  When she needed to know things, a way would open.  She was learning to trust it.  Sometimes an opening way asked for patience, and that took work, still.  Waiting rarely looked hard when others did it, but she’d done enough herself to know better. A song made it easier, and when she listened a certain way, now and again songs came, tinkling on the air, or roaring out of someplace she didn’t know she’d gone to till she returned with a start, the phone ringing, or her cat Halfpint curled in her lap and kneading one thigh with paws tipped with needle claws.  Often the words came later, the melody already running ahead of her, in and around her attention till she got a version down on paper or on her music program.

She was Druid, she knew.  It was a long time coming, that knowledge.  Sometimes she’d resisted, convinced she was done with paths, and seeking and god-stuff, anything like that.  But through it all the gifts kept arriving.  Hard ones, and easy ones too.  Often enough it meant whatever the land gave her at the moment.  For proof, all she had to do was look at her house, filled with stones, bird bones, animal skulls, pressed flowers, carved branches, vervain and basil and mint, garlic and St. John’s Wort and other herbs she was learning as she went.  After Jack left with his secretary, she got the little ramshackle two-bedroom house and the six acres of pasture they’d planned to farm, and slowly the once-empty rooms filled with links to the green world outside the door.  Inside, too.  Spiders in the corners, mice in the walls, squirrels skittering across the tin roof, crows caucusing in the back yard.

Jack.  One of the hard gifts.  He left, and for a while the emptiness threatened to eat her alive.  A big hole she had to stop looking into.  No bottom, but walls dark with bitterness.  So she stayed busy volunteering and running the food pantry and substituting at the local elementary school, until one day a boy complained about the smell of incense that seemed to follow her wherever she went. “Witch” was the real reason, she heard from a sympathetic colleague.  Parents complaining about “that teacher.”  Though when the principal called her in “for a little chat,” what he said was they just couldn’t rely on her to be on time.  All she knew then was that her morning ritual had just cost her one needed source of income.  Hard gift.

A month of therapy, and “you’re stuck in a box labelled ‘wife,'” until she knew she could give herself better advice, and cheaper. When the box is the whole world, then I’m Druid in a box, she thought.  And thinking inside the box is a great place to start.  Hardly anybody else is in here.  They’re all outside, because that’s where they’ve been told they should be.  That’s where the clever ones are, the ones who want to be ahead of the curve.  Mostly people do what they’re told.  But almost always something held her back from doing what everybody else did, shoved her or kicked her sideways.  A kind of resistance, a suspicion, a compass set in her belly and spinning her some other way.  Ahead of the curve?  It was more than enough to be the curve, bird’s wing in the air, crescent moon, arc of water coursing over a falls.  The backyard junipers and oaks and one old willow bowing at the sky.

Then it was October, her birth month, and in spite of turning 30 in a few more days, her mood lightened.  She could feel a shift coming, something new trying to find her, a little blind, and maybe needing help.  She could help it.  Listen, she reminded herself.  It was one thing she’d finally gotten good at.

To be continued …

A Time of Rebalanced Energies   2 comments

The Equinox is upon us.  Still the Druid Prayer of the Revival echoes from last weekend at the East Coast Gathering:

Grant, O God/dess, thy protection,
And in protection, strength,
And in strength, understanding,
And in understanding, knowledge,
And in knowledge, the knowledge of justice,
And in the knowledge of justice, the love of it,
And in that love, the love of all existences,
And in the love of all existences, the love of God/dess and all goodness.

The lake in the picture (photo credit Sara Corry) is at the base of Camp Netimus, where the East Coast Gathering assembled for its third year this last weekend.  In the presence of such moments, it’s easier to perceive that the physical world is one face of the holy, or as Jung expressed it, “Spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body the outer manifestation of the living spirit—the two being really one” (253).  Humans respond to beauty and to such transparent intervals as this, often in spite of what they may consciously believe or claim about reality.  We cannot help but be moved because we are part of what we witness.  We may witness a score of hierophanies, visions of the divine, each day.  Whatever our beliefs, these openings to the sacred nourish and help sustain us.

The rebalancing we hope to accomplish depends on our state of consciousness, on our ability to accept a gift given.  And so in a workshop last weekend, “The Once and Future Druid:  Working with the Cauldron of Rebirth,” we repeatedly turned to another seed-passage, this time from Neville’s The Power of Awareness: “The ideal you hope to achieve is always ready for an incarnation, but unless you yourself offer it human parentage, it is incapable of birth.”  I carried that with me for several days, marveling at its ability to focus the attention.  Whenever I found myself falling into old patterns of thought, I return to its simple truth. The power of such meditations and seed-exercises reaches beyond their apparent simplicity or even simplisticness.

In one sense we are consciously meme-planting, even if it’s on a personal level.  Why not plant our own, rather than be subject to others’ constructs, which may not suit us?  Yes, these seed-thoughts and heart-songs may remain lifeless if we do not ignite them with our attention and desire.  But properly sustained, like a campfire (sorry … the camp images stick with me!), fed and banked and tended, it can pour out a healing and transformative warmth all out of scale to its visible size.

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Jung, Carl.  Modern Man in Search of a Soul. London:  Routledge and Kegan Paul/Ark Paperbacks, 1984.

Updated 9/28/12

Return   Leave a comment

After my father passed away in the winter of 2008, I wasn’t able to scatter his ashes the following spring as I’d planned.   A cancer diagnosis laid me low soon after his final decline, and his childhood home in Niagara Falls in western NY state, as well as the farms he had owned and worked for decades, and where I grew up, were 450 miles from my wife’s and my home and jobs in CT. During my medical journey, we’d also bought a house in VT, and with follow-up radiation and a personal leave from our work, along with numerous loose ends to tie up, there’d simply been no good time.  And the task and my intention, if not my father’s, deserved good time.

My dad had always been indifferent about the whole thing.  Beyond asking to be cremated, he seemed to feel, perhaps from the many animal deaths and births that inevitably accrue in a lifetime of farming, that one more dead body was something to dispose of, but nothing worth much fuss.  “Throw me on the manure spreader when you go out next, and toss me at the back of the cornfield,” he’d  always say in his wry way, whenever I asked him one more time about his wishes. That was what we did with the occasional calf that died of pneumonia or scours.   In six months, crows and time would eventually leave just whitening bones. But at the time of my dad’s death, we no longer owned the farm, and in any case, beyond a certain undeniable fitness to his request, a desire to make that one last gesture for the good of the land, as human fertilizer, there was the small matter of legality.)

This summer a family reunion in Pittsburgh provided the opportunity to attend to this final matter.  My wife and I drove there and back, and on the way out last Friday afternoon, after a slow cruise along Lakeshore Drive that hugs the south shore of Lake Ontario, we made our way to downtown Niagara Falls and then over the  bridge onto Goat Island.  So around 2:00 pm or so, you could have seen me squatting at the edge of the Niagara River, a few hundred yards above the Falls, on the second of the Three Sisters islands that cling to rocky outcrops in the rapids. The day was overcast but pleasant — typical of western NY, with its delightfully mellow lake-effect summers.  Between my feet rested the heavy plastic bag of dad’s ashes, in the plain box the funeral home had provided.

I had nothing to say — no particular ceremony in mind.  Words earlier, words around and after his death, words a week or so ago in a dream, but nothing now.  This was for experiencing, not talking. Six years before, I’d returned my mother’s ashes to the Shellrock River in the small Iowa town of her childhood.  That day, the easy meander of the river, the June sun on my back, the midday stillness, and the intermittent buzz of dragonflies skimming the water lent the moment a meditative calm.  As my wife and two of my mother’s cousins watched, I slowly poured the powdery ashes into the river, and the water eddied and swirled as it bore them downstream.  Watching the ash disperse downstream, I felt peace. Thus we can go home.

This day was different.  A steady damp breeze rustled the leaves of the trees.  On another treeless outcrop a short way upriver, the harsh voices of the flock of gulls were only intermittently inaudible over the tumble of water and the dull roar of the falls downriver.

I sat, heels in mud, watching the current on its endless course past and away.  When I opened the bag of ashes, a sudden gust of wind caught some and dusted my left arm, which startled me, then made me smile.  It was as if my father approved — that behind his gruffness, the elemental beauty of the spot, a family favorite, might matter after all.  I brushed off my arm, and then poured the chalky ash into the spinning waters and watched it spread and then, eventually, the water cleared as it washed away.

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Druid of the Day (2)   Leave a comment

Today’s “Druid of the Day” also happens to be a Druid full-time:  presenting Cat Treadwell, a British Druid who lives in Derbyshire, UK.  (That’s “Darbyshire” for us Yanks who might actually trust English spelling, along with “clerk” and “Berkeley” as they’re pronounced in the mother country.)  Cat’s out about her Druidry, her blog The Catbox is worth reading, she’s just published a book based on her experiences, and there’s a fine interview of her at the Wiccan Pagan Times.  So if you’re inclined, there’s some reading for you.  I won’t spoil it by discussing it here.

Most of all I honor Cat because she exemplifies the spirit in the villanelle by Theodore Roethke, “The Waking”:

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me, so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

“Great Nature” always has other things to do, and doesn’t hold back but simply does them.  And for three of them right now — you, me, and Cat Treadwell — I’m grateful, and offer this short post in thanksgiving.

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In the grove the Druid sits   Leave a comment

[Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9]

In the grove the Druid sits.  In my grove, the one I’ve constructed in an inner world, via imaginal energies.  With the tall slender trees of entrance standing on either side of the portal, a space between them wide enough for a single person to pass through.  And he is welcome here, though I don’t remember inviting him.  He is always welcome, a friend who will never presume.

Today he indulges me by wearing Druid robes — they make him familiar, with his dark brown skin, that homely, beautiful face  I would know anywhere — and I relax into our conversation.  I know him from somewhere else, too, someplace on the edge of awareness, a realm or time not quite pushing through to full consciousness.  He does what he needs to in order to reach those under his guidance, and to put them at ease so that he can work with them.  Awe or fear or worship is useless to him.  Attention?  That he can use.

His words issue from a place quiet and full of listening.  I’ve come to trust him instinctively, the way wild animals do in the hands of those who love them with touch and gentleness, a welcome of care and compassion for a fellow being in the worlds.  They know that touch, that presence, and their knowing has nothing of the talking human about it.  It’s a language older than words.

He knows when to use words, too, and now he’s speaking about a past I’d forgotten.  I remember it as he speaks, things I didn’t know I knew, things I have not needed to remember until now, because until now they would find no place in me to live, or have any value or significance.  They would feel like they belonged to somebody else, foreign to me, alien, no more at home than a bird of the air caught in a small chamber, fluttering at the windows.  What is it that stands between me and freedom, this transparent flat barrier I never knew was there, blocking me, hard as thought?  But no, I have no wings, I’m not the bird.  But for a moment, there …

The Druid turns to me, a look deep as evening in his gaze.  “You are all you have ever been. Do you remember our first meeting, long ago?”

“It was a market,” I said.  “And I remember.  I was … I was drunk.”

“Sitting slumped against a wall.  When I walked by, though, you spoke to me.”

“What was it I said?  ‘Keep walking, don’t talk to me now.  I don’t have anything left in this life for you.’  Something like that.  I was embarrassed.  I didn’t even know you.”

“Yet you gave me some fruit from your stand …

“Yes, I remember.  A handful of marula.”

“Where were we?” he asked me softly.

“It was … West Africa.  Africa was my home then.”

“Yes. What else do you remember?”

But somewhere in the distance a dog is barking.  My focus falters, pulls me away from this place and back to my room in our Vermont house.  The neighbor’s dog, Jim’s — barking as he always does, every afternoon, impatient for Jim to get home, release him from the chain and walk him, feed him, let him back into the house.

Damn, I think.  It’s all gone, the vision’s gone.

But he’s still with me.

“Dogs bark on all the planes,” he’s saying.  “They’ll bark, and then for a time they’ll be silent again.  You can use them as a guide, or a distraction.  Is there a dog barking near this grove?”

I listen.  “No,” I say.

“Good.  You’re back.  Now, let’s continue …”

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Updated 23 April 2015

Grow Where You’re (Not) Planted   Leave a comment

In early June my wife noticed a particularly vigorous shoot rising from an old compost pile beside our woodshed.  The squash plant it eventually revealed itself to be has flourished joyfully, spreading in two directions, while the pitiful growths in one of our new raised beds refuse to be coaxed into thriving.

If life gives you lemons, you could make cleaning supplies, ant repellent, pickles, sore throat medicine, laundry whitener, stain remover, fruit preservative, copper cookware restorative, disinfectant — and if you insist, lemonade, too.  The dead (cliche) comes to life when our attention lies elsewhere.  Practice resurrection, and get used to it.

We hear a lot about growing where you’re planted, but what about everywhere else?  The surprise that is our universe so often arrives with the unexpected, the new pattern, the shift, the change.  Life does a one-off.  It does what it is.  (Isn’t that what you are, too — individual, unique, nothing else quite like you?  The trouble comes when I or somebody else insists you should be like the rest of us.  The universe never “conforms.”  It’s simply itself.  That’s our pattern too.  We are where we come from.)  We stand amazed at the burgeoning of vitality in places we doubted it could exist.  If we have different plans, life may upset them.  A young Christian couple I know, just married, decided they would leave conceiving a child “up to God.”  A friend from their congregation remarked, with considerable glee, “They gave it to the Lord, and he gave it right back to them.”  She got pregnant six weeks after the wedding.

In the mass of asphalt and concrete that is Route 91, like any superhighway, a few weeds have taken root on the meter-high divider between northbound and southbound lanes, a little way north of Hartford, Connecticut.  They’re particularly visible because they happen to be growing just about at eye level as you drive by, and the highway department hasn’t yet set upon them with weedkiller.  I give a silent cheer each time I pass, though I know my tax dollars support their eventual extinction.  Still …  Give them a few years and their roots will begin to split and break down the rigidity of man-made material into the beginnings of something more closely resembling soil.  If there’s an “agenda” at work here, it isn’t always a “human” one, though humans are born into such a world, have grown and evolved within and through its shaping patterns, and have lived in it for millenia before they thought to try permanence on a scale the universe doesn’t really support.

Instead of worrying about “what the financial situation will support,” or what our many and often distinctly weird human institutions “demand,” why not ask what moves in harmony with the patterns of the universe?  The main reason is we wouldn’t always like the answer.  Sometimes we would.  But we might find more balanced and sustainable ways of living that would approach “permanence,” which is just a weak version of natural equilibrium.  Could we devise a “financial permaculture” that might not jolt us from crisis to crisis?  Sure.  Will we?

The Dao De Jing winks at us when it makes its observations:

Not exalting the gifted prevents quarreling.
Not collecting treasures prevents stealing.
Not seeing desirable things prevents
confusion of the heart.

The wise therefore rule by emptying hearts
and stuffing bellies, by weakening ambitions
And strengthening bones.
If men lack knowledge and desire, then clever
people will not try to interfere.
If nothing is done, then all will be well.

(Gia-Fu Fen translation)

“Doing nothing” isn’t exactly what Daoism teaches; it’s more along the lines of “unforced action,” or “going with the flow”: wu-wei in Chinese.  And can we expect people to succeed by weakening their ambitions?  I don’t know; have we ever tried it?  In all this there’s a wink and a smile, too.  As if that wise voice is saying, “I don’t always mean this literally, of course, but you get the idea …”  And who knows?! “Emptying hearts (in a good way) and stuffing bellies” might just pay off.  Fill our stomachs, not our heads …

Or take this advice, surely perfect for our U.S. political season:

To talk little is natural.
High winds do not last all morning.

I’ll let Ursula Le Guin’s version of Chap. 27 have the final say here, a kind of diagnosis of how we’ve “gone astray,” that peculiar human thing we can do that the rest of the natural world doesn’t:

Good walkers leave no tracks.
Good talkers don’t stammer.
Good counters don’t use their fingers.
The best door is unlocked and unopened.
The best knot is not in a rope and can’t be untied.

So wise souls are good at caring for people,
never turning their back on anyone.
They’re good at looking after things,
never turning their back on anything.
There’s a light hidden here.

Good people teach people who aren’t good yet;
the less good are the makings of the good.
Anyone who doesn’t respect a teacher or cherish a student
may be clever, but has gone astray.
There’s deep mystery here.

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There are many free versions of the Dao De Jing online; the site from which I drew these few excerpts provides several reasonably reputable versions to sample.  Sustained meditation on the text (get a couple of versions and let them talk across to each other) can ease stress and open up many doorways and paths.  It’s one of my most beloved Druid written resources.  Wikipedia’s entry for Tao Te Ching captures some of its qualities:  “The written style is laconic … and encourages varied, even contradictory interpretations. The ideas are singular; the style poetic. The rhetorical style combines two major strategies: short, declarative statements and intentional contradictions. The first of these strategies creates memorable phrases, while the second forces us to create our own reconciliations of the supposed contradictions.”  If you recall, resolution of supposed contradictions, or finding the tertiary that resolves the binary of “either-or,” is a technique and strategy of wisdom taught in several Druid paths.

Celebrating “Manhattanhenge”: Sparks of Urban Druidry   Leave a comment

Our green world and ready contact with its natural rhythms can sometimes feel remote in urban settings.  Because so many people live in one of the “mega-metro” areas on the planet, their appreciation of the natural world may often burn more brightly than it does for the small-towner who has lived all her life surrounded by cows and trees.  With Tokyo, Seoul, Mexico City, New York and Mumbai heading the list at over 20 million souls each (counting their greater metro areas), it’s good to celebrate the green world particularly when it makes itself known among the girders and concrete.  The first entry in my “Druid of the Day” series, just started, was a nod in that direction.  Manhattanhenge is another one, and much larger:

If you follow Yahoo, you probably caught it.  The caption for yesterday’s image reads “The sun sets during ‘Manhattanhenge’ on July 12, 2011 in New York City. The Manhattan Solstice is a semiannual occurrence in which the setting sun aligns west-east with the street grid of the city.”  There’s a short sequence of similar images worth visiting.

We need such rhythms — to calibrate our biological clocks, to remind us how the world nourishes and sustains us, and how we need to remember it in our daily decisions — not out of piety for the Earth Mother (though nothing’s wrong with that, of course) but for the very real reason that this world is home.  Whenever we can truly celebrate, our hearts open.  And in a time when so much “news” doesn’t help us live better, stopping to enjoy the sun looking down the city streets is a good thing.

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For those interested in astronomical details and explanations, Wikipedia’s entry for Manhattanhenge helps.  The event occurs twice a year, in May and July, on either side of the planetary solstice, as the sun makes its (apparent) journey north and then south again after the solstice.

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