Archive for the ‘New England’ Tag

What We Deserve, What We Owe   Leave a comment

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At Camp Middlesex, Ashby, MA. Photo courtesy Anna Oakflower.

I appreciate that these two things — what we deserve, what we owe — preserve the power to provoke and unsettle us. In the millennia of recorded human history, we’ve grappled long with them both, trying out a range of responses, never wholly satisfied with any of them, though it seems almost every generation in the last few hundred years has claimed to have arrived at some definitive version.

It’s no surprise they’re linked, our rights and our obligations, to put them in more contemporary terms. And it should be no surprise that the second of the pair gets much less air time. But what are our duties and obligations? What do we owe, and to whom? Pop culture offers its ready wisdom: what goes around comes around, you get what you give, there’s no free lunch.

John Beckett in a recent blogpost outlines seven things we owe Pagan newcomers, and they are helpful guides to anyone connecting with others. Among things we might reasonably be said to owe, he notes, are hospitality (a world-wide value), respectful boundaries, clear expectations, and an honest history. And only by acknowledging that we owe these things to others can we rightfully expect to claim them in return for ourselves. To put it in other terms, where we expect to benefit is where we are called to honor others’ expectations for those same things. Such human reciprocity is the cornerstone of civilization.

For we receive so much so freely already, a gift. The black walnut in our back yard has gone golden yellow, its heavy mealy nuts falling, to the delight of our gray squirrels.

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black walnut, 14 October 2018

The last salamanders before the frosts come are walking their fires across the earth.

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salamander — photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

 

Mushrooms drank in the wet summer and autumn of New England this year, and emerged in their unlikeliness.

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OBOD ritual knows the power of summoning us to “what we may deserve” — a little quiver of reckoning in those words. Do we even know? How far do our presence and actions extend?

A stand of pines reaches skyward, lifting vision with them.

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Do we deserve this world? Do the clouds deserve the lakes that go still and mirror them back to the sky? Sometimes the only fitting response is gratitude and generosity in return.

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millpond, Camp Middlesex, Ashby, MA

From these come the first stirrings of spiritual presence for many — the strange and marvelous givenness of our world, and ourselves in it.

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The Putney Mountain Stone Chambers   Leave a comment

A precipitous drop in temperatures from the 90s (34C) to the 40s (6C) last night, warming to the low 60s (17C) this afternoon, made for ideal conditions to visit the stone chambers around Putney, Vermont.

My Druid friend B. was my guide. The roads around Putney Mountain are not always well-labelled, many run through private lands, and some of the many dirt roads devolve to Class 4 — not regularly maintained, generally not passable without all-wheel drive vehicles, and not plowed in winter. We drove where we could, then set out on foot.

Here B. stands next to the entrance of the first chamber, giving an approximate sense of the height of the mouth.

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A side view of the same chamber. Note the stone wall climbing the hillside in the background.

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What we called the terraced or “pyramid” structure around chamber 1:

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The chamber features a drainage (?) channel cut into the rock. All of the chambers face roughly east, and this particular channel runs due east, judging by readings from B’s smart-phone compass app.

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V-shaped entrance to chamber 2 — note what appears to be a stone “lintel” in the foreground.

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B crouched within chamber 2 — larger than chamber 1, and quite dry inside. The massive roof plates of stone easily weigh several tons each.

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Looking out from within chamber 2. Unlike the first chamber, this one was dry enough to sit on the earth floor.

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Chamber 3 differs in the location of the entrance. Here is what looked and felt to both of us like a “processional walk” to the chamber. Merely a path left from frequent hikers exploring the area? Or something else? How to tell?

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Continuing the approach to chamber 3.

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B standing at the roof entrance to chamber 3 for a sense of scale. The beech (?) to the left appeared at least two hundred years old.

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Close-up of the kiva-like entrance to chamber 3.  The interior is deep enough for a person to stand upright in the oval space, about 8 feet (2.4 m) across.

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Chamber 4 — the roof has fallen in on the far side. Stone taken for building elsewhere? Similar design to the others — but perhaps run-off from hillside weakened the roof.

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Despite both learned and amateur speculation, no convincing conclusions about the purpose of these chambers exists. Colonial smokehouses? Storage sheds? Native ritual or burial chambers? Nothing quite seems to explain the massive construction, cramped and damp spaces, the exceptions of the details of chambers 2 and 3, etc. Similar stoneworks around New England raise similar questions. While dating suggests pre-European construction in some locations, other sites present what appears to be intermingled periods of building/repair.

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Changing It Up For Real   4 comments

Rather than emigrating to Canada or some other country when the candidate you don’t want wins anyway, consider a more radical change. Why not remain in your native land, but opt out of as many systems, expectations, structures, economies, etc. as possible that exist for others’ benefit but perhaps not yours?

Harder, you say? Less practical? I’m far less interested in the malcontent who talks of relocating to Canada and much more engaged by anyone who actually makes a change with less talk and more action.

Consider Yury …

What would it actually require to do what he’s done?

Of course, in the scant two plus minutes of the video, we don’t get anything like a clear picture of Yury’s resources and choices. We do get a romanticized picture of independence and self-reliance. What else has Yury opted to do without, in order to make his change?

Like Thoreau’s accounting of his expenses early on in Walden, let’s suss out a rough estimate of what a comparable transformation would require while remaining in the States. Readers who live in other countries know better than I how to translate expenses and possibilities to their own circumstances.

We learn Yury opted out of a professional life as a lawyer five years back. Presumably unlike many law students in the States, he doesn’t have massive loans to repay. Probably he was even able to save a modest amount in order to launch himself into his new life.

Sixty miles outside of Moscow, he’s obviously rural. How much land does he own? Does he raise most of his own food? How near is the nearest town? Can he walk to a general store or market for things he can’t grow? Solar panels on the roof power lights and a computer, but not much else. He apparently cooks and heats with wood. We’re told a generator tides him over for the few months each year when the sun isn’t enough.

How does he wash clothes? Is he still covered by a state health care system, or has he opted out of that too, living as most of humanity has until the last few generations? No car? Public transport nearby — even a bus — would definitely help.

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I’m going to use Maine as a starting point, because land taxes are quite high in Vermont where I live. In New Hampshire, there’s no income tax, but various other taxes take a larger bite. Live in a scenic NH area with appealing vistas and you pay a “view tax”. Maine has fewer services, but someone like Yury isn’t looking for such things anyway.

So here’s my accounting:

1 — Property: .5 to 5 acres of land (I used Maine Listings): $3-10,000.

With careful shopping, the land may come with a well and/or septic in place. Composting toilets and rain collection systems can provide other options. A few miles from a town of a few thousand people will generally give you reasonable access to supplies, at least during the summer months, when hiking or biking with backpacks is relatively easy. A friendly neighbor you trade with — occasional transport to and from town in exchange for vegetables, firewood, yard work, etc. — can also make such an arrangement more doable.

Rental or leasing would allow for less expensive options for property and for the next item — taxes.

2 — Annual taxes: $100-1000

This depends of course on many variables — property size, township, distance from town, structures in place and added, etc. If you’re supporting yourself with any sort of service or product — eggs, firewood, craft items, seasonal labor — the figure rises.

3 — House/other structure(s): $1000-10,000+

Yury’s underground house is straw, clay and wood, with some sort of insulating and waterproofing membrane. Building aboveground lets more light in, alleviates many waterproofing issues, but increases heating needs. Earth-berming is a powerful compromise — imagine a house with only south-facing windows — all other sides are bermed. A sod roof of a foot or more of earth is cheap and effective insulation.

Earthwood Building School run by Rob and Jaki Roy in West Chazy in northern New York has links and images to give you a range of ideas. (Rob, here’s some free advertising!) What you’re willing to do for yourself, and your minimum requirements, your “without-which-not” list, can shift the price quite dramatically up or down. Sweat equity also makes an immense difference here. Do you need perfect, or serviceable?

Add to this a chicken coop, wood storage, gardening equipment, perennial plantings as needed, etc.

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4 — Annual living expenses: $2000-10,000+

Ivan McBeth, whom I’ve mentioned previously on this blog, lived with his wife Fearn for many years until his passing last year on about $8000 a year on their 40-acre property in northern Vermont. Much of his income derived from running Druidry workshops and building megalithic structures on site for clients.

Again, it might be possible to pare the lower end of that $2000 still further, especially with barter. Everyone has their necessities.

5 — “Future Fund”: ?

If you plan at all for the future, old age, emergencies, or a desire to change your life once again after a 1, 5 or 20 year experiment, a modest nest egg of any amount can help smooth the way.

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deltadepartOr you decide instead to relocate to another country.  More expensive, very likely. Learning another language, living in a different climate, with different lifestyles, social norms, history, national trajectory and attitudes towards foreigners, and Americans in particular, will all play their part in your experience.

So does any of this whet your appetite, or discourage you?

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Images: earth shelters; airplane.

A Druid’s Compass   Leave a comment

[A version of this post was originally published in Druid Magazine. How do we orient ourselves, and what guides and markers can we use? The things I write about are part of my own “Druid compass” — you probably have a similar set yourself. The article gets a little purple in its prose, but if you’re a regular here, you’re used to reading past that.]

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Inwangsan (photo by Gael Chardon)

 

Sometimes it takes another country to teach you lessons about your own. Five summers ago while I was teaching English for a busy month in Seoul, Korea, I encountered a local land spirit who showed me that this lovely country I was just beginning to discover was decidedly not my home.

It was about a week after I’d finally joined OBOD and requested the Bardic course. It was also my last weekend to explore Seoul and its environs before I flew back to the States to await that first of a series of welcome brown envelopes with the British postmarks of the OBOD course.

So on a foggy Sunday morning I made my way by train toward Inwangsan, a sacred mountain a handful of kilometers from my one-room apartment in Seoul, and then on foot into the mist. Outside Dingninmun Station and under the overcast sky, I managed to miss the tourist signs and markers , but the mountain loomed nearby, unmistakable, so I began my ascent off trail, figuring I’d intersect it higher up, near where a Buddhist and shamanic shrine coexist peacefully. Inwangsan is famous for its commanding views and granite cliffs. As for the view, I had little hope for on this gray day, but exposed granite slabs and outcroppings shone slick in the rain.

Forty-five minutes of climbing later, wet, muddy, and annoyed with myself, I paused to catch my breath. The fog had thickened, but the rising slope was still a reliable guide for the direction I wanted to go. I took a step, and –- how to describe it? –- up rose a wall of resistance in front of me. Something challenged me and barred my way from further ascent. At first I thought, stubborn and oblivious as I can be, that it was merely the tug of my own fatigue, but when I took another step it was clear this issued from something other than me. The hair on my arms stood up. Heart pounding, I apologized out loud, mumbled the few phrases of polite Korean I knew, turned around and slogged back down.

What was it? I rarely see anything inwardly in such situations, but impressions came this time as I made my way off the slopes. Something with multiple arms, big as a pickup truck, banded in stripes of dark and light, and determined to block me from advancing any further. I’ve not written about this till now, and just putting it into words makes the feel of it march again up and down my spine, vivid as if it happened this morning, a heavy ascent of wet earth, a tang of juniper and Asian pine and dead leaves. Yet I’d forgotten the mountain’s name, and the train station’s, too, and had to consult my journal from that summer. That as much as anything reminded me yet again (as if I need any further sign) of my “outlander” status there: I did not know the proper names for things.

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Rupert Brooke, 1887-1915

After British poet Rupert Brooke visited the Rocky Mountains some hundred years ago on a North American tour, he wrote: “There walk, as yet, no ghosts of lovers in Canadian lanes … it is possible, at a pinch, to do without gods. But one misses the dead” (Brooke, Letter XIII, “The Rockies”).

Brooke was young – it was just a few years before his untimely death at 27 – and he wrote with a young bard’s flip ignorance to cloak his discomfort with an unfamiliar country. For of course ghosts walk this continent, millennia of them. Brooke simply hadn’t yet listened closely enough. But new landscapes often strike us that way. A Chinese proverb I heard while working in The People’s Republic of China sums it up handily: shui tu bu fu – “earth and water aren’t comfortable.” We don’t yet know them, and neither do they know us. But stay in a place long enough, sweat and sleep there, plant and harvest, raise families and bury your dead, and the land begins to learn you, too, and to recognize you. And as you work out names for the shapes of water and earth you find in the neighborhood, and come to greet the stones and trees as friends, the words get shaped by mouths that eat and drink here, by lungs that take in the local air.

In the way of Bards, another who grappled with the same challenge comes to answer Brooke’s verses with words of his own. At 86, Robert Frost was asked to deliver a poem for President John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in January, 1961. The day dawned cold and bright, and with his failing vision and the sun in his eyes, Frost couldn’t read the words in front of him, so the old bard made do with memory instead, and recited another of his poems.

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Frost at Kennedy’s inauguration

“The land was ours before we were the land’s,” he begins in “The Gift Outright” (Frost, 1975, p. 348). How often a bard finds a way through error and trial and awen. Frost continues, naming an experience common enough among many American Druids who may strive to honor a rich heritage originating east of the Atlantic, while also heeding new-old voices here on what some First Peoples still call Turtle Island:

But we were England’s, still colonials,
Possessing what we still were unpossessed by,
Possessed by what we now no more possessed.
Something we were withholding made us weak
Until we found out that it was ourselves …

Here in what homesick settlers called New England, older names still linger for things no one truly possesses. Within an hour from where I live you can find Mt. Monadnock, Mt. Ascutney, Wantastiquet Trail, Skatutakee and Nubanusit lakes. Anywhere you go on this continent, similar names and undercurrents whisper, and careful listening will repay any effort to attend to lore and myth and what the land wights may have to say. (The earth’s an old house: many lands have the same overlay of newer names on older ones.) Sometimes it takes long patience to regain their trust, if careless previous inhabitants squandered it. Sometimes it takes longer practice to stop withholding ourselves from our places, and to inhabit them fully.

Here in Vermont the Yankee accent and sensibility rise like springwater from long winters and sap from local trees boiled to syrup, pork from free-range pigs that graze the oak mast on Windmill Hill, which we can see from our living room window, and Okemo State Forest not so very distant. “Eating local” needn’t be mere marketing of another yuppie indulgence. It’s what we all did until just a couple of generations ago, growing it ourselves, letting the land feed our bellies and spirits. And it makes sense if you’re committed to “Druiding” (let’s make it a verb!) –- the taste and smell of home, and of a new place, too, can be powerful guides. The body leads the way by a kind of homing instinct.

Names, listening, tastes and smells. What of ritual and ceremony? Once my wife and I settled in Vermont, walking to learn my neighborhood became a go-to practice for me, with a three-mile loop of dirt roads my almost-daily ceremonial. When I honor the four quarters, I see the fish pond east of our house the former owners stocked with carp, and I remember water-of-air. The cold fronts each winter sweep down from Canada: air-of-earth. And with a hill named for a grove of hemlocks to our east beyond the pond that obscure the horizon, we never get much in the way of sunrises, but dramatic sunsets make up for it: fire-of-water. Online you can still track down Mike Nichols’ Wiccan classic “Re-thinking the Watchtowers: Thirteen Reasons Air Should Be in the North” (Nichols, 1989): it’s now a “sacred text” itself, though it started out as an observed deviation from traditional practice. Rules change with places, but ancient patterns abide.

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Works Cited:

Brooke, Rupert. (2004). Letters from America. Project Gutenberg EBook #6445. Retrieved from http://www.gutenberg.org/files/6445/6445-h/6445-h.htm

Frost, Robert. (1975). The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Nichols, Mike. (1989). “Re-thinking the Watchtowers or 13 Reasons Air Should Be in the North.” Internet Sacred Text Archive. Retrieved from http://www.sacred-texts.com/bos/bos089.htm.

IMAGES: Inwangsan by Gael Chardon; Rupert BrookeFrost at JFK Inauguration.

“Not responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen”   4 comments

treesun-smNot responsible for spontaneous descent of Awen or manifestation of the Goddess. Unavailable for use by forces not acting in the best interests of life. Emboldened for battle against the succubi of self-doubt, the demons of despair, the phantoms of failure. Ripe for awakening to possibilities unforeseen, situations energizing and people empowering.

Catapulted into a kick-ass cosmos, marked for missions of soul-satisfying solutions, grown in gratitude, aimed towards awe, mellowed in the mead of marvels. Optimized for joy, upgraded to delight, enhanced for happiness.  Witness to the Sidhe shining, the gods gathering, the Old Ways widening to welcome.

logmoss-smPrimed for passionate engagement, armed for awe-spreading, synchronized for ceremonies of sky-kissed celebration. Weaned on wonder, nourished by the numinous, fashioned for fabulousness. Polished for Spirit’s purposes, dedicated to divine deliciousness, washed in the waters of the West, energized in Eastern airs, earthed in North’s left hand, fired in South’s right. Head in the heavens, heart with the holy, feet in flowers, gift of the Goddess, hands at work with humanity. Camped among the captives of love, stirred to wisdom in starlight, favored with a seat among the Fae, born for beauty, robed in the world’s rejoicing, a voice in the vastness of days.

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Knowing, seeing, sensing, being all this, you can never hear the same way again these two words together: “only human”!

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Images: three from a sequence taken yesterday, 3 Oct 14, on a blessed autumn day in southern Vermont two miles from my house.

 

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