Archive for the ‘trees’ Category

Digging for the Future   Leave a comment

One of the challenges for contemporary Druids is to reconnect with the land where we live and find old and new paths of harmony to walk on it.

Back in CT for the coming year, we won’t need right away most of the firewood we’ve carefully stacked in VT, except to warm the house during the occasional weekend jaunt back north to check on pipes and windows, and stay over for a night or two.

Seeing woodpiles, our own and others’, makes me realize how they’re among the treasures of the landscape, this long-inhabited place it’s our turn to live in and re-learn.  Energy for the future.  Trees cut locally (to limit  the spread of arboreal pests) mean an opportunity for a new generation to leaf and grow.  Once almost completely deforested in colonial times, both VT and NH are well-treed now.  We get it, our green gold.

And we’ve held on as well, as much of the U.S. has, to the legacy of at least some of the old names and their stories: Ascutney, Memphremagog, Queechee, Maquam, Missisquoi, Sunapee, Ossipee, Winnipesaukee, Monadnock, Merrimack, Nubanusit, Contoocook … and my personal favorite, because my wife tells NH family stories about it, Skatutakee (pronounced skuh-TOO-tuh-kee).  The names evoke for me a landscape of moose and bear, autumn fogs and spring mud, glacially fresh chill air and sky-blessed summer days, maple syrup and heirloom apples, blueberries and squash, small town greens and sheer church spires, seasonal tourist hordes and perfect frigid midwinter stillnesses.  A marvelous locale to be all Druidy in.

But here in CT I’m drawn back into the local landscape too, the names of trees on campus, copper beech (fagus sylvatica) and charter oak and smaller ornamentals we just don’t see in VT.  So I’ve resolved to “meet the locals,” and visit them in all four seasons, as we were reminded at the Gathering to do if we truly want to begin to know them well.  My goal is to learn 25 new trees this year. (I’ll let you know how it goes in a future post.)

Digging for the future is putting down roots, knowing your place — not in the submissive way that the expression is used so often, but literally.  How many of us have passed years of our lives and never known the trees who provide the oxygen we breathe, and shape the land we pass through and live in?  I know it’s many times I’ve ignored them.  But once the trees made themselves known to me, it seemed downright rude not to greet them every time I pass by, to cheer them on, if I’m walking to touch them, to cast my affection abroad, rather than hoard it tight in my heart.  I dig for the future whenever I lay down a layer of my life that will become part of the contours of next year, or five years, ten years on.  Excavation in reverse.  Living fully now helps excavate what’s yet to come, brings it into view, lets it breathe and stretch and begin to grow towards its own good self.  And trees?  Trees were the first Druids.

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Updated 26 Sept., 10:27 pm

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East Coast Gathering 2012   7 comments

The OBOD East Coast Gathering offers a chance for Druids to walk among friends, attend workshops, and (re)connect with a beloved landscape in northeastern Pennsylvania.  Here’s the OBOD banner, the color easy to see, the three-rayed Awen symbol of the Order a little harder to make out.  (Photo by John Beckett)

The camp which hosts the Gathering offers both tent areas and basic cabins.

With more people attending this year than last, the ample space helped.

The area is splendid for large group rituals as well.

The rainstorm over the weekend brought with it cooler weather, which just made us all the more grateful for hot drinks and the varied meals our staff of Druid volunteers cooked for us.

(Dining room photo by John Beckett)

I didn’t arrive in time for the opening ritual.  But the Closing was held on the same grounds, with the same altars.  Here are shots of the two entry cairns seen looking south, along with the four directional altars and their banners: Stag of the South, Salmon of the West, Bear of the North and Hawk of the East.

One of the added pleasures this year was the attendance of more Druids from different orders, including ADF.  Here are members of Cedar Light Grove assembled around their grove banner (photo by John Beckett).

OBOD groves brought banners too.

And this year, the third Gathering and my second, yet another draw was the chance to meet and learn from both OBOD’s Chosen Chief Philip Carr-Gomm, and AODA’s Archdruid John Michael Greer.

The first photo is of Philip giving a talk in Storyteller’s Grove a little north of camp.

The second shows John Michael during one of his morning talks in the Pavilion.

In the third, both join for a conversation and Q&A. (3 photos by John Beckett)

And of course no Druid gathering would feel complete without the ceremonial garb that makes the rituals visually distinctive and memorable.

Here are JM Greer and John Beckett:

Topping off each day were the evening fire-circles and drumming, music and song and ample home-brewed mead, cyser and sack from our resident firekeeper and brewer, Derek.  Then came the Hour of Recall, truly.  The Closing ritual, goodbye hugs, departures, promises to keep in touch, to plan events, to meet again.  Another remarkable East Coast Gathering comes to an end, with opened hearts and subtle changes to take away and live through for the coming year.  Till 2013!

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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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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

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.

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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Gods and Orphans   2 comments

Sometimes you have experiences that just don’t fit.  They’re orphans, and like orphans, too often they’re left to fend for themselves, so they end up on the street.  Or else they’re stuck in a home by some well-meaning authority, where they may subsist uncomfortably for years in places where everyone else looks and acts and talks different.  There may not be enough love to go around, either, and like Oliver in Dickens’ novel Oliver Twist, they’re reduced to pleading, “Please, sir, may I have some more?”

Monday night, before the hard freeze here (19 and windy) that threatened all the burgeoning flowers and trees, I offered up a prayer.  I don’t usually pray in this way, but I found myself praying for all the wordless Rooted Ones busy putting out buds and leaves and new growth in response to the warm spell that caressed so much of the U.S.  “I cry to the Powers,” I found myself saying.  A little more love here, please.  The great willow in our back yard has pale leafy fronds.  The currants are budding.  Crabgrass pushes up from dead mats of last year’s growth.  The stems of bushes and the twigs of trees show reddish with sap. At the same time, I took stock in what I knew in some traditions about plant spirits, the personifications of energies that help individual species thrive.*  Let the devas and plant guardians sort it out.  Serve the larger balance — that sort of thing.  Then the nudge to pray came, so I honored it.  Everyone has a role to play.  Then the goddess Skaði presented herself.

All this took place while I was driving down and then back home with my wife from an out-of-state trip to CT.  Bookends to the day.  We’d tried to be efficient with our driving and gas use, like the good Greenies that on occasion we actually are, and schedule several appointments for the same day.  So we rose early, drove through welcome morning sun and glorious light to have a thermostat and brakes replaced on our car, get eye exams and prescriptions and glasses before a sale ended on April 1, drop off a gift at a friend’s house, and get to an admissions interview for a certificate program I’m interested in.  (More about that as it progresses.)

We’d scheduled ourselves fairly loosely, but still the sequence of appointments mattered for times and distances to travel to the next stop.  So when the car service that we’d been assured would take no more than two hours now promised to consume most of the day, we got a loaner car from the dealership, rescheduled and shuffled some of our meetings.  Ah, modern life.  Maybe it’s no more than imagination, but at such times recall of past lives makes horse-and-buggy days seem idyllic and stress-free by contrast.  Back then we didn’t do so much because we simply couldn’t.  Does being able to do more always mean we should?

So, Skaði.**  Not to belabor you with too much detail: she’s a Scandinavian goddess of winter, hunting, mountains and skiing. A sort of northern Diana of the snows, an Artemis of the cold heights and crags.  I’d run across her a few years ago, when I was doing some reading and meditation in Northern traditions.  She loomed in my consciousness then, briefly.  Frankly I found Bragi, the god of eloquence and poetry and patron of bards, much more to my taste.  But there she was, for a short time.

I flashed on an image of Skaði then, and she seemed — and still seems to me — quite literally cold, implacable, uninterested in humans, remote, austere, elegant in the way ice formations and mountain snows and the Himalayas are elegant — and utterly forbidding.  Not someone even slightly interested in exchange, in human interaction.  Now here she was.  If you’ve been pursued by any of the Shining Folk, whether the Morrigan or Thor, Jesus or Apollo, you know that often enough they choose you rather than the other way around.  So you make do.  You pay no attention.  Or you can’t help it and now you have a patron deity.  Or something in between.  If you’re a bloody fool, you blab about it too much, insisting, and the nice men in white coats fit you for one too.  Or maybe you and Thorazine become best friends.  It’s at times like this that I’m glad of the comparative anonymity of this blog.  I can be that bloody fool, up to a point, and the people who need to will pass me off as just another wacko blogger.  And then this post will recede behind the others, and only one or two people will happen on it in another month or two.  The gods are out there, and they’re in our heads, too.  Both/and.  So we deal with it.  And I can step back to my normal life.  Or not.  I’ll keep you posted.

So Skaði of the daunting demeanor wants something.  I prayed to the Powers, almost in the Tolkien Valar = “Powers” sense — to anyone who was listening.  Open door.  Big mistake?  I’m a Druid, but here’s the Northern Way inserting itself into my life.  My call goes out, and Skaði picks up and we’re having this conversation in my head while I drive north on I-91 with my wife.  I’ve gotten used to these kinds of things over time, as much as you can, which often isn’t so much.  In a way I suppose it’s revenge — I used to laugh out loud at such accounts when I read them and shake my head at what were “obviously people’s mental projections.”  Now I’ve got one saying if you want protection for your shrubbery (God help me, I’m also hearing the scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail at this point.  The Knights of Ni:  “Bring me a shrubbery!”), then do something for me.  What? I said.  A blog post, first, then a website shrine.  So here’s the blog post first.  I’ll provide the shrine link when I’ve set it up.

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*If you’re interested in an excellent account of this, check out The Findhorn Garden, originally published in 1976.  This Scottish community, established on a barren piece of land, “inexplicably” flourished with the help of conscious cooperation with nature spirits.  It’s documented in photographs and interviews.  There are several books with similar titles and later dates, also published by Findhorn Community.

**The ð in her name is the “th” sound in with.  I’m slowly realizing that part of my fussing over words, the urge to get it right, the annoyance at others who seem not to care about linguistic details, can be transformed to a gift.  So for me part of honoring Skaði is getting her name right.

Image:  Skaði.  I can’t draw or paint to save my life, so when I came across this stunning representation, a shiver slalomed down my back.  Skaði’s footsteps, I guess I should say.  This is in the spirit of my experience of the goddess.

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