Archive for the ‘walk lightly on the earth’ Category

Interlude: Bald-faced Hornets meet the Druid   Leave a comment

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A bald-faced hornet up close

Dolichovespula maculata is the resplendent Latin name of a North American insect variously called the bald-faced hornet (BFH after this), the blackjacket, or the bull wasp. “Long wasp spotted” is one literal translation of the Latin (the Im-maculate Conception was “spotless”), and captures well enough their appearance. They’re bigger than most wasps and hornets in the U.S., with a temperament to match. I didn’t take the pic of this brisk specimen to the right (though the larger pics below are mine). The BFH defends its nest vigorously if approached too closely or disturbed.

A short side note: childhood stings, and a love of honey and a relatively bug-free outdoors, taught me a healthy respect and appreciation for bees and wasps, and I’ve learned more about them over the years, some of it firsthand. Most wasps and bees are beneficial, of course, wasps in particular often feeding on insect pests.  We’ve had a wetter summer than most this year here in Vermont.  Normally that would bring hordes of insects, but we’ve had markedly fewer mosquitos and other pests this summer than any year since we’ve moved here. And the hornets get the credit — we’ve watched them bring back insect after insect to the nest.

The vital honeybees, major pollinators and crucial to many human plant foods, continue to face sharp declines around the world from causes that still aren’t competely understood, and they need our protection. As a U.S. Dept. of Agriculture bluntly puts it, under the heading “Why Should The Public Care about What Happens to Honeybees,” “About one mouthful in three in our diet directly or indirectly benefits from honey bee pollination.” Their troubling decline is thus not a small problem. (You can read about one Druid’s adventures in beekeeping here at the fine blog The Druid’s Garden.)

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Mud-dauber wasp nest

We’ve been in our Vermont house since winter 2008, and we’ve co-existed well enough with bumblebees, honeybees, yellowjackets and the more familiar (to us) mud-dauber wasps, which, with a ready supply of mud from our pond, often build their tubular homes above the same back door.  They’re also more placid species; we eye each other when either my wife or I go out the back door, or hang or retrieve laundry.  Hello, busy people.  We come in peace. Carry on, carry on.

It’s important to note here that neither of us is allergic to bees or wasps — an allergy would make this a very different post.   Occasionally one or two wasps buzz around our heads, investigating.  Once or twice one landed on our hair or an arm or face for few seconds, then flew off again.  No stings.  We’ve heard stories from neighbors of BFHs landing on a person, plucking off an insect about to bite, and flying off.  They’re definitely not timid.

This summer, after we returned from our 7-week cross-country road trip, not one or even two but three BFH nests loomed under our eaves.  It was our first encounter “up close and personal” with this species.  The BFH nest below is approximately football- or coconut-sized, and much larger ones, housing 400 or 500 or more wasps, have been reported.  (The papery exterior shields a series of combs that resemble a beehive’s, helping balance out temperature fluctuations.  We’ve had several 24-hour periods recently ranging from 45 at night to 90 during the day.) On the windowless and doorless north side of our house, a nest would hang away from foot traffic,and possibly escape our notice for days or weeks.  One of the two other BFH nests hangs from the eaves over our bedroom window, but that has a good screen and tight-fitting crank-out windows.

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One of the bald-faced hornet nests under our eaves

This nest, however, hangs just left of one of our back doors, right next to our clothesline. So far, we’re following a policy of “wait and see.”

Bald-faced hornets don’t (yet) winter over in the Northeast. New queens born in the autumn typically survive underground, while workers die off. Everything we’ve heard about BFHs indicates they also don’t return to an old nest the next year. A lot of work for a single year! Just to be safe, however, we’ll remove the nests late this fall — after several good hard frosts.

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too close to a door …

Treating the eaves early next spring with Ivory soap as a natural repellent will be our first follow-up.  We’ve heard that painting the eaves sky-blue has also worked for some home-owners in southern states, where this hornet is more common. With global climate changes, we’ll probably continue to see more of them here in the north.

Peaceful co-existence is our goal. Meditation and inner conversations with the wasps, thanking them for keeping down the pests, but asking them not to nest on our house, is another equally important remedy I’m now learning and practicing.

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Images: bald-faced hornet close-up; mud-dauber wasp nest.

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Shinto and Shrine Druidry 2   1 comment

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

Spider web

The continuing interest among visitors here at A Druid Way in the posts on Shinto says hunger for the Wild, for spiritual connection to wilderness and its rejuvenating spirit, and potentially for Shrine Druidry, remains unabated.  No surprise — in our hunger we’ll turn almost anywhere.  What forms our response to such hunger may take is up to us and our spiritual descendants.  Spirit, the goddesses and gods, the kami, the Collective Unconscious, Those Who Watch, your preferred designation here _____, just might have something to say about it as well.

What we know right now is that we long for spirit, however we forget or deny it, papering it over with things, with addictions and with despair in this time of many large challenges — a hunger more alive and insistent than ever.  And this is a good thing, a vital and necessary one.  In an artificial world that seems increasingly to consist of hyped hollowness, we stalk and thirst for the real, for the healing energies the natural world provides all humans as a birthright, as participants in its “spiritual economy” of birth, growth, death and rebirth.

As physical beings we live in a world where breathing itself can be a spiritual practice, where our heartbeats sound out rhythms we are born into, yet often and strangely have tried to flee.  Even this, my sadness and loss, can be prayer, if I listen and let them reach and teach me, if I walk with them toward something larger, yet native to blood and bone, leaf and seed, sun and moon and stars. Druidry, of course, is simply one way among many to begin.

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If you know Kipling‘s Just So stories, you’re familiar with “The Cat That Walked By Himself.”  The cat in question consistently asserts, “All places are alike to me.”  But for people that’s usually NOT true. Places differ in ease of access, interest, health, natural beauty, atmosphere — or, in convenient shorthand, spirit.  Shrines acknowledge this, even or especially if the shrine is simply a place identified as Place, without any sacred buildings like Shinto has — a place celebrated, honored, visited as a destination of pilgrimage, as a refuge from the profane, as a portal of inspiration.

Here’s a local (to me) example of a place in Vermont I’ll be visiting soon and reporting on, one that sounds like an excellent direction for a Shrine Druidry of the kind people are already starting to imagine and create. It’s called Spirit in Nature, and it’s a multi-faith series of meditation trails with meditation prompts.  Its mission statement gets to the heart of the matter:

Spirit in Nature is a place of interconnecting paths where people of diverse spiritual traditions may walk, worship, meet, meditate, and promote education and action toward better stewardship of this sacred Earth.

Spirit in Nature is a non-profit, 501 (c)3 tax-exempt organization, always seeking new members, local volunteers to build and maintain paths, financial contributions, and interest from groups who would like to start a path center in their own area.

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So much lies within the possible scope of Shrine Druidry it’s hard to know where to start.  Many such sites (and more potential sites) already exist in various forms. Across Europe, and to a lesser degree in North America (public sites, that is: private Native American and Pagan sites exist in surprising numbers), are numerous sacred-historical sites (some of which I’ll examine in a coming post), often focusing around a well, cave, tree, waterfall, stone circle, garden, grove, etc. Already these are places of pilgrimage for many reasons: they serve as the loci of national and cultural heritage and historical research, as commemorative sites, spiritual landmarks, orientations in space and time, as treasures of ethnic identity — the list goes on.  Quite simply, we need such places.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

Lower Falls, Letchworth St. Pk, NY. Image by Wikipedia/Suandsoe.

The national park system of the U.S., touted as “America’s Best Idea” (also the title of filmmaker Ken Burns’ series), was established to preserve many such places, though without any explicit markers pointing to spiritual practice.  But then of course we already instinctively go to parks for healing and restoration, only under the guise of “vacations” and “recreation.” And many state parks in the U.S. extend the national park goal of preserving public access to comparatively unspoiled natural refuges. Growing up, I lived a twenty-minute bike ride from Letchworth State Park in western NY: 14,000 acres of forest surrounding deep (in places, over 500 feet) gorges descending to the Genesee River.  Its blessing follows me each time I remember it, or see an image of it, and in attitudes shaped there decades ago now. May we all know green cathedrals.

I’ll talk more about shrines on other scales, small and large, soon, and tackle more directly some of the similarities and differences between Shinto and Druidry.  I’ll also look at some of the roles practitioners of earth-centered spiritualities can — and already do — play in connection to the creation and support of shrines.

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Images: spider web; Lower Falls at Letchworth State Park, New York.

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