Archive for the ‘outdoors’ Category

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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Foremath and Aftermath   Leave a comment

Here are Yin and Yang, our two rhododendrons — a single red flower grows on the pink bush in the foreground, with a branch of the red bush showing in the background.  Plant envy?  Unfortunately the red bush doesn’t have a single pink flower, or the image would be complete.  In a month they’ll be back to their usually ungainly woody scraggly selves, with no hint of the glory they present each May.  Is the aftermath the only time we appreciate what we had — when it’s finally gone?

The aftermath is the consequences, the results, the outcome.   But we never hear of a “foremath,” whatever it is that stands before the event, the “math” — literally the “mowing” in Old English.

Most of our yard is the typical rural patch of grass, which given half a chance will turn to sumac, crabgrass, chicory, dandelions and even slender saplings inside six months.  In the few years that  we’ve owned the house, we’ve let whole quadrants go uncut for a season. Sometimes it’s from pure practical laziness — we’ve no one to impress, after all, and no condo association to yelp at us — and it saves gas and time, until we get around to putting in more of the permanent plantings that won’t require cutting.  Until then, we’re getting the lay of the land, seeing how soil and drainage and sun all work together (our three blueberry bushes, visible in the background in the second photo, thrive on the edge of our septic leachfield), and which local species lay claim first when we give them a chance to grow and spread.  The moles that love our damp soil also tunnel madly when we leave off mowing for the summer.  We think of it as natural aeration for the earth.

The northwest corner, shown here, shaded by the house itself for part of the day, yields wild strawberries if we mow carefully, first exposing the low-lying plants to sun, and then waiting while the berries ripen.  Patches of wildflowers emerge — common weeds, if you’re indifferent to the gift of color that comes unlabored-for.  I like to hold off till they go to seed, helping to ensure they’ll come back another year, and making peace with the spirits of plant species that — if you can believe the Findhorn experience and the lore of many traditional cultures — we all live with and persistently ignore to our own loss.

This year we’ve “reclaimed” most of the lawn for grass, as we expand the cultivated portion with raised beds and berry patches.  But I remind myself that we haven’t left any of it “undeveloped” — the unconscious arrogance of the word, applied to land and whole countries, suggests nature has no intention or capacity of its own for doing just fine without us.  Who hasn’t seen an old driveway or parking lot reverting to green?  Roots break up the asphalt remarkably fast, and every crack harbors a few shoots of green that enlarge the botanical beach-head for their fellows.  Tarmac and concrete, macadam and bitumen are not native species.

And what would any of us do, after all, without such natural events like the routine infection of our guts by millions of beneficial bacteria to help with digestion?  A glance at the entry for gut flora at Wikipedia reveals remarkable things:

Gut flora consist of microorganisms that live in the digestive tracts of animals and is the largest reservoir of human flora. In this context, gut is synonymous with intestinal, and flora with microbiota and microflora.

The human body, consisting of about 10 trillion cells, carries about ten times as many microorganisms in the intestines. The metabolic activities performed by these bacteria resemble those of an organ, leading some to liken gut bacteria to a “forgotten” organ. It is estimated that these gut flora have around 100 times as many genes in aggregate as there are in the human genome.

Bacteria make up most of the flora in the colon and up to 60% of the dry mass of feces. Somewhere between 300 and 1000 different species live in the gut, with most estimates at about 500. However, it is probable that 99% of the bacteria come from about 30 or 40 species. Fungi and protozoa also make up a part of the gut flora, but little is known about their activities.

Research suggests that the relationship between gut flora and humans is not merely commensal (a non-harmful coexistence), but rather a mutualistic relationship.  Though people can survive without gut flora, the microorganisms perform a host of useful functions, such as fermenting unused energy substrates, training the immune system, preventing growth of harmful, pathogenic bacteria, regulating the development of the gut, producing vitamins for the host (biotin and vitamin K), and producing hormones to direct the host to store fats.

Such marvels typically set off echoes in me, and because much of my training and predilection is linguistic in nature, the echoes often run to poems.  A moment’s work with that marvelous magician’s familiar Google brings me the lines of “Blind” by Harry Kemp:

The Spring blew trumpets of color;
Her Green sang in my brain–
I hear a blind man groping
“Tap-tap” with his cane;

I pitied him in his blindness;
But can I boast, “I see”?
Perhaps there walks a spirit
Close by, who pities me–

A spirit who hears me tapping
The five-sensed cane of mind
Amid such unsensed glories
That I am worse than blind.

Isn’t this all a piece of both the worst and the best in us?  We can be fatally short-sighted and blind, but we can also imagine our own blindness, see our own finitude — and move beyond it to a previously unimagined larger world.

The Beach of Consciousness   Leave a comment

The challenge:  to write a coherent and meaningful post in about an hour — before I’m out the door and off to another commitment during a particularly busy couple of weeks — without a topic already in mind.  What will get tossed up on the beach of consciousness?  The trick is to keep writing, trusting that something will come.  Ah, there it is: trust.

I trusted the presence of Skaði sufficiently to create a separate shrine-page for her, as I mentioned a couple of posts ago.  To ask whether I believe in her feels like it misses the point: she appeared in my consciousness, amenable for an exchange.  I made a choice to engage, she honored her part, and I mine.  What’s interesting to me is that we would never ask a similar question about a human-human interaction.  Do I “believe” in the shop-clerk who sold me a sandwich at the cafe where my wife and I had lunch yesterday?  The question never arises.  What do our interactions imply for the future, in the case of either shop clerk or goddess?  That’s something we’ll negotiate as we go.  From what I can tell, none of us would have it any other way.  If I patronize the shop regularly enough, the clerk and I may learn each other’s names, we might make small talk, I might eventually come to have a “usual” that I predictably order, and so on.  With the goddess, the terms might be similar:  future interactions will build a history between us.  With that kind of growing trust, is belief necessary?

Trust is a curious thing.  Like water or mustard or fire, too much or not enough suggests there’s a happy middle ground.  Trust is also earned:  babies may come by it naturally, and the other blessed innocents of the world may not yet have had it betrayed out of them, but usually ya gotta deserve it to get it.  I trust the sanity of the clerk not to poison the food the shop sells, and Skaði and I trust each other enough at this point to fulfill any exchanges we have agreed on.  Liking may enter the relationship down the road, which may broaden outside the immediate context of simple exchange if both parties are willing.  But that’s not a given.  Right now we have a starting point — that’s all.

Other kinds of trust operate at deeper levels.  There’s a kind of trust, after all, every time you open door of your room, your apartment, your house, when you step outdoors on a sunny today like today is shaping into, a trust that the air is breathable, that the universe, at least in the foreseeable future, is not out to kill you — that it might even cooperate with you long enough that you can accomplish something worthwhile.  If you’re fortunate enough, aware enough, lucky enough, or just attentive enough, you might even call it love. I’ll close with Kathleen Raine‘s fine poem “The Marriage of Psyche,” written 60 years ago now, in 1952.  It feels like it fits here — the sense of amazement, of wonder at beauty that lifts you out of yourself.  A gift.  Read it to yourself out loud, to hear its rhythms.

He has married me with a ring, a ring of bright water
Whose ripples travel from the heart of the sea,
He has married me with a ring of light, the glitter
Broadcast on the swift river.
He has married me with the sun’s circle
Too dazzling to see, traced in summer sky.
He has crowned me with the wreath of white cloud
That gathers on the snowy summit of the mountain,
Ringed me round with the world-circling wind,
Bound me to the whirlwind’s centre.
He has married me with the orbit of the moon
And with the boundless circle of stars,
With the orbits that measure years, months, days, and nights,
Set the tides flowing,
Command the winds to travel or be at rest.

At the ring’s centre,
Spirit, or angel troubling the pool,
Causality not in nature,
Finger’s touch that summons at a point, a moment
Stars and planets, life and light
Or gathers cloud about an apex of cold,
Transcendent touch of love summons my world into being.

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Updated 25 May 2014: next to last line of Raine’s poem corrected from “gold” to “cold.”

Things Dying, Things New-Born   2 comments

“Thou met’st with things dying, I with things new-born” says the Shepherd in Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale.  And his words seem a perfect description of spring.  Not all is new growth.  Much has died.  Sometimes we remember our own dead most vividly when life returns to the world around us.  We’re still here, but they will not share another spring with us, and sorrow is renewed along with the grass underfoot and the buds on the trees.  A bittersweet time.  A time of compost and ashes and dandelion greens in salads.  A time of sunlight growing, of life rising in the spine like sap in trees.  Spring, you old tonic.

Out of state and away from computers for several days, I return with a series of vivid impressions:  visiting my now retired cousins in Madison, Wisconsin, seeing them on their third of an acre lot, the earth bursting with literally scores of varieties of flowers, everything up and blooming more than a month early.  Their care over two decades in restoring an old and abused house to pristine condition (doing much of the dirtiest and hardest work themselves), the spaces full of lovely wood paneling and doors and moldings, and full as well of light on all sides from triple-paned windows.  Above ten degrees outdoors and their furnace goes off, if they get any sun.  A Druidic care for the space they live in, the house and grounds they beautify not only for themselves, but all who pass by and witness.

Longing for light. Opening blinds to a few wasps at the window, sluggish with morning cold.   The hazy spring moon growing each night, that Pagan moon by which Christians reckon the date for Easter according to that strange formula of “first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.”  (A perfectly Pagan calculation, when you think about it at all, even considering that the early Church wished for Easter to follow Passover, itself subject to a combined lunar and solar calendar.) People outdoors worshiping the sun on their skin, sitting in sidewalk cafes, heads leaned back and eyes closed.  Mild days and cool nights.  Love of this old world, with all its pains and joys.  Love renewed, spring’s gift, waiting to ripen in fruit and flower and heart.

Posted 6 April 2012 by adruidway in blessing, Druidry, Easter, love, nature, outdoors, spirituality, trees

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Mud Season and Tree Sugar   Leave a comment

This warmth won’t last, though it makes me say
earth feels like home on a sunny day.
But let sky darken and wind turn chill
And old winter wields dominion still.

*  *  *

While the warm hours last, birds try out songs we haven’t heard for months, and the woodworkers appear.  Not carpenters or cabinet-makers, but those people who come out of the woodwork on fine days like this, delightfully odd folks you swear you’ve never seen before, or at least not on this planet.  Probably I play the role myself for at least one other person, with my day’s stubble and turtleneck, wool socks with Birkenstocks.  “There are things more important than comfort,” says author Ursula LeGuin, “unless you are an old woman or a cat.”  Though I can’t qualify as the former, I’ve been feeling feline these last few days, so I pay no mind.

In our co-op parking lot an old woman is singing to herself, a rhythmic song in another language that keeps time with her cane striking the ground.  A sky-blue 60s Cadillac makes its way around the parking lot, then subsides with a splutter.  A couple climb out, then look up like they’ve never seen sky before and, heads tilted back, they drink it in for a full minute or more.  Their pleasure is contagious.  It’s a day people greet strangers simply because we’ve resurfaced, emerged from the bunker of ice and snow and cold and hunkering down, into a world of thaw and mud and sudden warmth on the skin.

Sugar shacks smoke trough the night as the sap rises and the “sweet trees” yield their juice.  You pass what you think is just a stand of trees, and there’s a faint square glow from a shack window, someone patiently (or impatiently) at work through the evening.  Boil down the sap over a low heat, a wood fire as often as not, more and still more, then just keep going beyond all reason, and you eventually get a single lovely brown gallon for every thirty to forty of pale sap you’ve lugged in.  If you do sugaring for more than yourself and family and maybe a few friends, you upgrade and invest in an evaporator.  And if through the hours and days you manage not to scorch the slowly condensing syrup, that first taste on pancakes (or over a bowl of crisp new snow, a northern treat more rare this year) makes sore muscles and bloodshot eyes and smoky clothing worth it.

The French further north have their cabanes a sucre, where the temperatures haven’t risen quite so high and more of the white stuff remains.

And sweeter still, in less than ten days, the vernal equinox, with day then overtaking night.  Hail, growing light!

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Images:  Sugar shack; cabane.

Posted 13 March 2012 by adruidway in Druidry, equinox, nature, outdoors, poetry, Sugar Shack, trees

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Shinto — Way of the Gods   2 comments

[Shinto & Shrine Druidry 1 | 2 | 3] [Shinto — Way of the Gods ]
[Renewing the Shrine 1 | 2][My Shinto 1 | 2]

hikonejoAlmost two decades ago now, in the early 1990s, my wife and I lived for a year in Hikone, a medium-sized city in central Japan, about an hour’s train ride north of Kyoto.  The city’s most visible claim to fame is Hikone Castle, a 380-year-old wooden fortress that dominates the downtown skyline.  But the most  enduring memory I took from Japan and have never forgotten is the profound impression of its many Shinto shrines — roughly 80,000 of them, according to various sources — that dot the landscape and invite the casual visitor as well as the reverent worshiper.  I usually found myself somewhere between the two.  But this wasn’t ever a problem. Visitors, including foreigners, are welcome.

Shinto shrines are impressive for their openness.  Many (especially the smaller and rural ones) are free to visit (though of course donations are gratefully accepted), wonderfully peaceful, and lovingly tended.  Not once did I see any graffiti or vandalism in the dozen or so shrines I frequented, in either countryside or city.  Often enough I was the only person present, which allowed for a meditative experience of the grounds and atmosphere. Here’s a shot of the entrance to Taga Taisha, about 20 minutes from our apartment in Hikone.

During matsuri or festivals, however, a shrine can be absolutely mobbed, and that’s a wholly different experience, also not to be missed!  You can catch something of the energy of a festival in this shot below of Tenso Jinja shrine.  The celebrants in the background carry a mikoshi, a portable shrine, back to Tenso Jinja after a day of parading it around the town.  Usually there’s a musical accompaniment, and the bearers of the mikoshi can get very enthusiastic in their chants, drawing quite a crowd.  In retrospect, the experience felt very Druidic — all that energy, all the communal good feeling, everyone included.

Shinto is the “way of the kami,” the Japanese word used to translate both English “god” (and “God”) as well as “spirit,” “ancestor” or “essence.” From the Shinto perspective, the world of the kami overlaps with ours.  Everything has its kami, and the natural world is full of places that manifest the particularly strong presence of kami.

Thus, natural objects pervaded with kami often receive a small marker shrine and sometimes other identifying signs, like at Hatagoiwa just off the coast in Ishikawa prefecture.  Note the rope linking the large ocean rocks, as well as the small red shrine atop the larger rock.

Shinto focuses on practice more than belief. One of its key practices is purification, so that we can participate in the world of the kami more consciously and harmoniously. For that reason, the entrance to a Shinto shrine typically includes a temizuya (literally “hand-water-spot”) or basin for ritual washing before proceeding further.  Here you can see the basin and the bamboo dippers for washing.

The marker signalling the sacred space of a shrine is the torii gate, through which all visitors pass.  The torii may be simple, like this wooden one at Ise, one of the oldest and most famous shrines.

Or it can be wonderfully elaborate, like the main entrance of Fushimi-Inari Jinja near Kyoto, and inside, its sloping corridor of seemingly endless red torii.

Lest you feel this is all well and good, but for all that still remote from your life, there’s a major Shinto shrine in Washington state, near Seattle, named Tsubaki Grand Shrine.  And among its kami is Kokudo Kunitama-no-Kami, who protects the North American continent.

Here’s a shot of the interior of a shrine, featuring dosojin, or kami representing an ancestral married couple.  Dosojin are protective spirits, and often placed along borders and boundaries.

The last shot is of a dosojin more recognizably human, marking a field border.

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Images:  Hikone-jo; Taga Taisha; Tenso; Hatagoiwa; Ise torii; Fushimi-Inari; Tsubaki; dosojin; dosojin2.

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