Little Joys- Signs of Spring

Garden Gnome keeps watch

I am not the only one watching for signs of Spring.

Celebrating the Earth

This year’s Spring vacation was actually a “stay-cation” and I couldn’t be happier.  I spent a glorious week noticing the daily subtle changes in my own backyard.  Every day is Earth Day to me and every moment of every day has it’s own, never-to-be-replicated beauty.  From a gathering of bluejays to a spectacular sunrise, blink and I miss it.  Gaia calls us to be fully present to experience her rich bounty.

Daffodils in my Garden

The daffodils in my garden lift their joyful heads to the sun.

I celebrate the early spring color palette with each new blossom and blade of grass.  Blink and I miss the brilliant yellow daffodils in my garden lift their joyful heads to the sun.  The yellow forsythias wave their arms in greeting.  The white, delicate lace flowers of the serviceberry act as a veil between me and the clear blue sky.  “Everything is holy now,” Peter Mayer wisely wrote.

A veil of serviceberry blossoms against the bright blue sky

“Everything is Holy now” wrote Peter Mayer.

Blink and I miss the yellows and whites make way for the purple of lilac and hyacinth and the delicate pinks of cherry and dogwood.  Each has it’s own cycle within the greater cycle of transformation that forms the wheel of the year.

Blink and I miss the little place in my garden where a rabbit is preparing a nest for her young.  One day, I noticed the mulch in a flowerbed pushed aside.  Soon, dried grass and straw appeared in a neat little pile.  Then, this little nest materialized.  As I write and look out my window, the nest is completely hidden from view by a mother who instinctively knows what to do for her young ones.  How much wiser would we be if we were more attuned to Nature?  What do we know that we have forgotten?

Rabbit mother prepares for birth

Mulch and soil are pushed aside as a mother rabbit prepares a place for her babies.

Ok, confession time.  At the time of the Winter Solstice, I hung a wreath by my front door.  Amazingly, it stayed perfectly green through December, January, February, and most of March.  I should have taken it down but procrastinated.  By the time I thought about it again, I noticed a bird flitting back and forth from the wreath to wherever she needed to go for food and… you guessed it… building material for her nest.  Well, what could I do?  The wreath is brown and brittle but she loved the location and gave birth to three wee ones.  When they fly the nest, I’ll toss the wreath.  I promise.

Mother bird chooses a safe place for raising her young.

A winter wreath becomes the birthplace of three birds.

Honoring the Earth

I could sit in reverence all day every day, observing the beings in my yard live, grow, and eventually die.  The cycle of birth-death-rebirth is the natural way of things.  I know.  But Mother Earth calls me to action.  It’s not enough to take, I must give back to stay in right relationship with Her.

I honor Her by vowing to be a steward of the land entrusted to me for as long as I live here.  Ancestors of bloodline and ancestors of place are with me as I cut back dead raspberry canes and clear the space around my grapevines.  I hear my grandfather’s voice echo in my heart, gifting me with his wisdom of flora and fauna.  I see the rainbow of jars in my grandmother’s root cellar- her connection to the land made visible.  I sense the presence of those who tended this plot of land long before “my people” even set foot on the shore of North America as immigrants in the early 20th century.

So I garden without herbicides and pesticides.  I hang prayer flags and make offerings.  I grab a lawn chair and my watercolors for a quick plein air session with the tulips and squirrels.  I pick up every bit of trash that blows into my yard.  It’s heartbreaking to see a birdnest with trash woven in among the grass, straw, and twigs.  I plant native species and compost as much as possible.  I do what I can the best I can.

Most importantly, I sit in silence and listen to her many voices– the wind, the rain, the birdsong, and my own contented sighs of belonging.  Call it prayer, call it meditation,… I call it CONNECTION.

Being in Relationship with Mother Earth

I love them all… all of the beings on our beautiful planet.  My view of “beings” has greatly expanded with my awareness of indigenous cultures and earth-centered traditions.  Trees, streams, oceans, plains, mountains, polar bears, glaciers, bees, wolves, … do you get where I’m going with this?  We are all connected.  All life is one.

I weep for the fact that we live in a time where we have to march to protect our planet.  In less than three centuries, we have littered the world with plastic, fossil fuel pollution, and chemicals.  We have killed more species than I can fathom- extinct, gone,…forever.  We continue to threaten all life with our choices and this breaks my heart but I’m hopeful that we are raising awareness and more of us are doing what we can to help the environment… for all of us…and I do mean ALL OF US.

I pray that we can educate and enlighten the ignorant.  I also pray that love, light, reverence, and stewardship quickly replace greed, hatred, destruction, and domination.  May we each do what we can to protect our home… our Mother.  I hope you take part in one of the marches around the world next Saturday.  Raise your voice for those who don’t have a voice.

Mother Earth, Mother Earth,

Take our seeds and give them birth.

Father Sun, gleam and glow,

‘Til the roots begin to grow.

Sister Rain, Sister Rain,

Shed your tears to swell the grain.

Brother Wind, breathe and blow,

Tell the blades so green to grow.

Earth and Sun, Wind and Rain

Bring to life the living grain.

Waldorf Song for Children (Writer Unknown)

 

 

 

The Web of Life

“Humankind has not woven the web of life.  We are but one thread within it.  Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.  All things are bound together.  All things connect.”  

Chief Seattle (1780-1866)

Treasure in the Gulf

Treasure in the Gulf:  My homage to the lives lost to the horrific BP Oil Disaster of 2010.

With all of the darkness right now from the embarrassing US presidential scene to Orlando shootings, I am choosing to stand on the side of love and light.  I will do what I can from a place of joy, love, honor, and respect.  For me, that is creating art that lifts up what I value most — nature, the Divine in everything, and the beauty in the everyday.

On April 20, 2010, the horrific BP oil disaster killed and injured countless animals and damaged miles of sea and land.  My empathetic nature brought me to a place of being nearly overwhelmed by the magnitude of what humans have done and continue to do to the earth and sentient beings.  Thankfully, I was inspired to use my art as my voice.  I created a mixed media piece called Treasure In the Gulf to honor the lives of those that suffered and died, specifically the sea turtles.  Art matters.  The Georgia Sea Turtle Center on Jekyll Island, Georgia, got wind of this piece and asked to sell prints.  I agreed, donating a portion of the proceeds to the center for the rescue and rehabilitation of sea turtles victimized by the tragedy.  In some small way, my art made a difference.  We each have to do what we can when faced with darkness in all its forms.  Sometimes, we cannot fathom how our actions will impact others.  It’s just important to act from the heart.

I’m feeling called again.  We (and this is the universal “we” of the larger culture) invade their (the animals who were here long before us) territory to build homes and businesses then wonder why they are encroaching on “our” space.  We destroy their habitats and put those that remain into captivity then wonder why they act the way they act.  We call ourselves thrill-seekers, putting our lives in harm’s way for the rush we get for being in danger, then wonder why we are attacked.  We wonder why there aren’t as many of a species (or why they vanished) when we hunt them for “sport” and pose for “cutsey” pictures of ourselves with rifles and a beautiful dead beast lying in a pool of its own blood on the ground in front of us.

Look at us.  There are some who have taken the position that we are here to hold dominion over the earth and its other inhabitants (the animals, the trees, the ocean, and all others).  Dominion… domination.  Look where that has gotten us.

My belief holds that we are stewards of the land and that we are here only for a little while to take care of, honor, protect, and love.  Yes, we need places to live and yes, we need food.  We can have those things and be stewards of the earth at the same time.   “In our every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.”  Iroquios saying circa 1700-1800.

It is a tragedy when an animal does something that harms or kills a human being.  I do not diminish that with this blog post by any means.  I want to broaden our perspective and take compassion on all the beings involved in these stories.  It is also a tragedy that the animals are blamed and killed when their action is a direct result of our own actions.  They are acting out of their own nature.  It is how they are and how they have lived for thousands of years before we came along and put them in these unnatural positions.

I’m going to let my art speak for my pained heart.  I am only one person but I’m not helpless.  The best emerges when we each stand and do what we can.  For starters, I am inspired to create art that honors Alligator, Silverback Gorilla, Lion, and Shark.  I am sad for people who have suffered or died and I am equally sad for the other victims in these situations– the animals.

“When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover you cannot eat money.”  (Cree saying)

 

 

Wisdom from My Garden: Meditation on a Blueberry Bush

Picking blueberries in my back garden in the coolness of the morning is both a meditation & a prayer of gratitude for me.  I planted the 8 bushes that line one side of my yard, nurturing them over the years so they can produce flavorful berries that nourish me, my loved ones, & the local wildlife (which I also consider my loved ones).  The act of gardening is a spiritual experience, connecting me to all that is.  It also allows me to quickly disconnect my overactive mind & fall into a gentle easiness that a familiar task can bring.

There is no need to analyze or worry for I know from a lifetime of experience that all I must do is pluck the plump berries that fall easily from the branch.  If I have to tug at the berry to get it to fall into my pail, it’s not ready& all I gain from forcing the situation is a hard, sour berry that is unpleasant to eat.  I’m finding life works in exactly the same way… if I have to force it, whatever “it” is, it’s most likely not going to work out the way I’d like it to.  Yes, I must show up & invest wholeheartedly in the moment, but it’s equally important that I willingly surrender to the natural flow of things.  We’ve all been there & we all know the difference between when something feels right & when something feels forced.

Blueberry Bounty

Blueberry Bounty

I have also learned that if I look at the bush from one perspective, I may think I’ve seen all there is to see, missing out on the bounty that may be tucked under some leaves or hidden around the back of the bush.  Shifting my perspective allows me to see  a treasure that wasn’t visible from my own narrow viewpoint.  I can carry this lesson into my daily life & relationships… acknowledging that my point of view is just that– one point of view– and that there are other perspectives I can consider, opening my soul to understanding, compassion, & empathy.

There is wisdom in books, gurus, & retreat centers but there is a simple yet profound wisdom gained by being still, being present, & being authentic.  This I can do in my own back garden, among the blueberry bushes.

A Blessing To Each Flower

For Summer Solstice, my friends and I are gathering to honor this special day & recommit ourselves to one another… unique blossoms that together form a garden of incredible beauty, grace, & strength.  I wrote this poem to remind us of what makes us thrive.

 

A Blessing To Each Flower

A seed secure in the soil asks not, “What shall I be?”

It’s unique beauty comes naturally, effortlessly.

Nourished and nurtured, it grows more fully into itself

And what it is IS what it is meant to be.

 

The birch envies not the willow

Nor does it strive to be anything other than Birch.

Daffodil degrades not the dandelion

Nor does it mock the maple.

 

For all have a place in Gaia’s garden.

All are loved & accepted unconditionally.

And while each has needs that differ from another

All radiantly bloom with this blessing….

 

May we each have the tender care we need,

May we each be given the space to grow,

May we see our own beauty,

And may we celebrate the uniqueness in every blossom.

Boundaries & Priorities

The other evening, I had a few moments to sit in a lawn chair in my back yard, soaking up the scenery & listening to the birds.  At one point, I looked down at the arm of my chair & saw a delicate little insect with an iridescent green body & transparent wings.  It stayed only a second & was gone.  If I hadn’t looked down at just that moment, I would have missed it entirely.

That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that it’s been a while since I just stopped & participated in nature fully.  I don’t mean glancing up at the sky as I run between my car & the grocery store nor do I mean staring out at the trees as I walk down the hall at work.  I mean sitting in stillness & silence IN nature…. feet on the earth, breeze on the face, & sun on the skin.

Participating.  Being present.

When the realization hit me that I’ve been too busy to connect, I took a cue from people who keep track of expenses so they can see where their money goes, and kept track of where my time goes.  I listed every group, committee, class, & work obligation.  I even listed my boyfriend, dogs, & housework.  I wanted to see it all in black & white.  Am I focusing on what I love or have I gotten distracted by other things?  The answer, I’m ashamed to say, is that I got distracted by other things.  And what’s worse, I make the little things the priority & pushed what mattered to the back burner.  Can anyone out there relate?  It was quite a wake-up call for me.

I admit it; I’m an overachiever.  I’m a woman who says “Yes” and “Sure, I’d love to” without thinking about the time commitment because I like to be helpful & do things I know I’m skilled to do.  We all want to make a difference & feel important.  Right?

But here’s the reality check– I can’t do anything well when I’m doing too much.  The amount of time I need to fulfill all my obligations is greater than the time I have in a given week.  And what’s worse, there is zero time for things like “fun” and “relaxation”.  I cannot do it all.  So it’s time to do 2 things…

Set priorities & establish boundaries.

I put the items on my list in order from most important to least important.  Then, I considered how to scale back.  For some things, it’s easy.  An on-line class ends at the end of the month & an art class ends in early June.  I just won’t take any more classes for a while.  For other things, it’s a little more difficult.  I have to resign from a couple of committees.  I hate to do that but I know that I cannot give my best when I’ve stretched myself so thinly.  Instead, I’ll give the few things that truly matter more of my energy & thereby, make a greater contribution than I am now.  I’m going to keep scaling back until I can take a deep breath & not feel like I’m wearing a corset!

Establishing boundaries may prove to be a bit more challenging for it means I have to look someone in the eye and say “No.  I’d love to help you but no.  I can’t fit anything else in my schedule at this time.”

Some people are masters at multi-tasking.  I’m not one of them.  I prefer focusing on one thing at a time & giving it my best.

Some people can run from one task to another, eating their dinner on their lap while they are driving.  I don’t want that to be my experience.  It’s too stressful.  Plus, I can only eat so many french fries & still fit into my jeans!

I want to have a quality life- balancing the giving & the receiving.  I want to support the causes I care about but I also want to support my own health & well-being.  I need time to watch the insects crawling on my lawn chair.

If it feels like you’re doing too much, YOU ARE.  

List your priorities.  

Start saying no.

There are countless takes on the phrase “Keep Calm & Carry On” but there is an alternative that I saw on a magnet… “Let go or be dragged.”   If it no longer serves your highest good, stop doing it.  Make space for what matters most.  Give as much as you want but remember you have to give to your Self, too.  It’s not selfish… it’s self-preservation.

 

 

 

Sacred Smudge Sticks

Like people, each plant has a purpose.  Some provide nourishment, while others offer shelter or have healing properties.  In addition to its use as a culinary herb, Sage is known for protecting one’s environment & healing the energetic field (aura) of the person who uses it.  Some even call it the “Spirit Caller”.   For early Egyptians it promoted fertility & for the Celts, it represented immortality.  At 47, I have no desire for either of those!  Instead, I focus on this aromatic plant’s ability to banish evil & unwanted influences, create sacred space, heal, & inspire wisdom.

I use smudge sticks of Sage (sometimes combined with juniper or cedar) for a variety of reasons, most often, to bless my home.  I light the stick & use an owl feather to direct the scented smoke to the corners of each room.  As I walk in awareness, I say a special blessing for this space to be full of light, laughter, love, & warmth.  I also pray that my family & friends feel welcomed, nurtured, & loved when they enter my home.  Other times, I use sage to prepare for meditation or to dispel the negativity that can follow me home at the end of the day.  I imagine the day’s stress floating on the smoke & eventually disappearing.

Sage 2

As the chance of frost threatens my herb garden, I decided to harvest the varieties of sage to make smudge sticks for my friends. Before I cut the silver green leaves from their woody stems, I said a prayer of gratitude.  Once my basket was full, I brought the sage inside & selected 7 different colors of embroidery floss, representing the chakras, to wrap my sage into bundles.  I grasped a handful of sage, cut the stems evenly across the bottom, & secured them with the floss.   I set the intention that each smudge stick will bring healing & wisdom to the person who uses it.  There is exactly enough sage for the 7 major chakras.  Perfect!  I hope they enjoy the smudge sticks as much as I enjoyed making them.

Autumn Feeds My Soul

Perhaps it’s because I’m an October baby.

Perhaps it’s the sight of skinny scarecrows in their denim & flannel, standing watch over dried cornfields.

Perhaps it’s the growing darkness & thinning of the veil that lets us receive messages more clearly from those who have passed.

For all those reasons, and more, October feeds my soul.  I feel a greater connection to all that is across time & space, a humble sense of awe for the beauty around me, & a quieting of my spirit.

My sister called with a very simple wish to fulfill… “We need a traditional fall experience.  Fi and I will be there Friday night.”  She need not say any more.  I knew exactly the kind of experience they would love– a crisp, cool day on a farm.

Farm 6

The next morning, we parked near the farmhouse surrounded by orchards dotted with bright red apples & fields dotted with bold orange pumpkins of all sizes.  A John Deere tractor, pulling a wagon, stopped so we could climb aboard & sit on hay bales as the driver took us up to the orchard.

Farm 2

Armed with empty bags, we jumped down & wandered among the trees, looking for apples to pick.  Not all of them made it into our bags… one apple the size of a grapefruit tempted us too much.  Like three Eves, we took enormous bites, letting the juice run down our wrists & soak our sleeves.

We munched leisurely & made our way to the pumpkin patch.  Men & women of my generation will understand the reason why I immediately pictured Linus hugging a blue blanket, waiting patiently for the Great Pumpkin to arrive.  (Secretly, I want to see him, too.)  Choosing a pumpkin was difficult, for how do you choose the perfect pumpkin when they are all perfect?  A young man with pruning sheers clipped the stems of our chosen pumpkins & we rolled the orbs into our arms, trying hard not to spill the bags of apples.  Now we were both sticky & a bit dirty but isn’t that what it’s all about?… enjoying the moment to the fullest?

Farm 4

By now, our cheeks & noses were as red as our apples & it was time to go but not before my sister & niece posed for one last photo.

Farm 5

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”  LM Montgomery

After the Quest

I hesitate writing about my Vision Quest so soon after the experience, knowing that my initial response to it will resemble spaghetti sauce right after combining the ingredients– good but not nearly as good as it will be if I let it simmer for a while.  My view of my Vision Quest hasn’t gotten the richness, depth, or complexity it will have after it “simmers in me” for a few weeks or months, but I want to share it with you anyway, for these early realizations have merit of their own.

At the campsite, our spiritual guide prepared five of us for our quests by quoting Ralph Blum’s “Druid’s Vow”.

I honor your gods.

I drink at your well.

I bring an unprotected heart to our meeting place.

I hold no cherished outcome.

I will not navigate by withholding.

I am not subject to disappointment.

Intellectually, I got it– no expectations, no disappointment.  What is meant to be will be.  Spiritually, on the other hand, I was to find out that the message hadn’t made it into my heart.  (More on that later.)

Our guide suggested that we take a few things with us- a rattle, objects for an altar, writing materials, & art supplies.  I felt very uncomfortable taking a journal because I wanted to “turn up the volume” on my intuition without the critic in my consciousness interrupting.  She explained that we aren’t to analyze what we experience, merely record it so we don’t forget details that may be of importance to us later.  I questioned the wisdom of that for me, “Can I record without judgment?”  Eventually, I made peace with the idea.  She’s right.  There are so many subtle signs & messages in nature that I may want to jot them down so I can reflect on them later.  My journal & pen went into the backpack.

After what was a sleepless night for some of us, we rose to begin our Quests with a profoundly sublime purification ritual that connected us to one another, our inner selves, nature, & the benevolent spirits around us.  Following the ritual, I practically ran to my place in the meadow, eager to get the logistics of setting up the site over with so I could begin the spiritual aspect of the Quest.  Almost immediately, I heard something greater than myself correct me, “There is no separation of logistics & spirituality; it’s all part of the Quest.”  Chastised, I changed my attitude, walking into the meadow with humble reverence.

I created a sacred space by fastening prayer ties in the north, south, east, & west, invoking the spirits of the directions, then set up my tent & lay out an altar of objects that are deeply meaningful to me.  I raised my voice in prayer, “I’m vulnerable & open to accepting & acting on any message of love you send me for my greatest & highest good.”

There I sat on the mountainside overlooking trees, wildflowers, & the vast expanse of sky I needed to establish a serene sense of connection with all that is.  The nearby brook, babbling noisily over the rocks, was a comforting companion.   “I’m part of this & this is part of me”, I sighed, taking notice of the ground literally vibrating with ants, beetles, dragonflies, butterflies, & other creatures whose entire world is this mountaintop.  “This is all that matters to them– being in this place at this time”, I thought.

While countless species of insects accompanied me both day & night, it was the grasshoppers who stood out from the rest.  At any given moment while I was awake, at least 6 were simply hanging out on my altar.  Sure, butterflies landing on my knee & ants crawling on my skirt are to be expected when I sit in a meadow,  but 6 or more grasshoppers sitting silently on an altar seem a bit out of the ordinary!  I got out my sketchpad & drew each one, noting how different they were.  No two looked alike.  Every creature is unique… it’s not a quality reserved just for the human race.

(Once home, I referenced Ted Andrews book Animal Speak to find out the symbolic meaning of grasshopper.  He wrote, “When grasshopper shows up, there is about to be a new leap forward…  Grasshopper can show up if we are not listening or if we are afraid to make the leap off our mound… Remember, a grasshopper always leaps up or forward.  It doesn’t leap backward… Trust your inner voice.“)

My Vision Quest had both peaks of joy & contentment & valleys of doubt & fear.  At times, I felt at one with all around me & other times I felt like a fraud for even attempting this highly spiritual experience that stretched me far beyond my comfort zone.

Remember what I wrote about having no expectations & not subjecting myself to disappointment?  I have to confess that I did both… I expected a spiritual epiphany in the form of a burning bush or some spiritual being hovering in blindingly white light before my eyes.  After all, I fasted, drove hours from home, & slept in the dark among the deer flies & mosquitoes… didn’t I deserve a spiritual epiphany?  When that didn’t happen, I was disappointed, accusing myself of being a bad Vision Quester.  Really?!  I’m going to beat myself up because I didn’t get a miracle?  That sounds ridiculous but that’s what happened.

I was human.

At that moment, I realized a purpose of my quest… to face my Shadow, the Perfectionist.  I didn’t get a lesson from an angel, Native American spirit guide, or even my power animal; instead, my teachers were the insects all around me, for they knew better than I to live with no expectations & hold no disappointments.  Simply be your authentic self.  That’s all that is asked of any of us.

I knew that… I just needed a reminder.