Walls, they hold the windows that let in light!

Humans have been either looking for walls, as in cave and cliff dwellings, or building them, for as long as we’ve had the need to define a space. Our primary reasons for walls are to feel safe, to secure people or property, and for protection from the elements, animals and other people. From small stone walls in gardens, to the walls of our dwellings, or the walls around towns and castles, walls define human life on the planet, and  most out-live the people who built them. There are famous and infamous walls.  The myriad reasons we build walls represent the complexities of human life.  We are not, however, the only ones who build them. Beavers, paper wasps, cathedral ants, and weaver birds are but a few of the other species who build walls, for many of the same reasons we do.

Though walls are an intricate part of our ability to live here on planet earth, should you look up the word wall on the Internet, many references imply walls are barriers to be overcome, they confine and imprison people and are negative barriers to our spiritual, emotional and social growth.  You will see quotes, from the likes of Socrates to Joseph Campbell referring to the “breaking down of walls”.  These metaphorical uses of the word give it a bad rap, as does the recent political rhetoric and reasons concerning the border wall.  Perhaps there needs to be more than one word for ‘wall’.

My musing about walls is due to recent consideration of the walls of our house. This week we’ve begun to paint the inside of our house. When you clear a space of all the clutter of living in it, what is left are the walls and ceilings.  Standing in our almost empty living room, though it is tiny, it’s slight echo gives me thought!

My parents emptied house, walls filled with 42 years of stories. I remember this moment, peaceful, serene (they had an extraordinary view of mountains and water) and eerie.

When you move from a dwelling you pretty much take everything except the walls – walls you adorned with pictures, maybe painted several times, walls that held you, your songs, your tears, your shouts, your music, your loved ones….your stories. Walls you stared at when life left you numb or overwhelmed. Walls that kept your secrets. They are both intimately connected to your life, yet they define, thus belong to the house, not you. I have not moved in four decades. My walls know me well!

The fresh paint was long overdue. Though I fantasized color palate possibilities, even wall murals, in our tiny cabin-house in the northwest woods white is always the choice. The walls that get painted are few because my passion for wood, and need to have few chemicals in my life, have inspired us to use wood instead of the ubiquitous sheet rock on new walls.

The cedar wall. Painting by Liz Reutlinger

1977, tearing out & redoing, windows & walls

It began with a cedar wall. I thought it was a wonderful, ‘natural’ way to cover the existing old boards on a wall.  My house, bought and moved to it’s current location, came full of stories.  Walls, when torn out, revealed studs that were pieces of salvaged 2x4s, some with cutouts in them, nailed and overlayed to get the length needed.  There was a juice glass in one wall, and bits of this and that in others.  After tearing out many walls, replacing studs, and putting up sheet rock, the idea of using cedar instead of drywall on one long wall seemed a quick solution to a need I had to finish the wall. The cedar boards came from an acquaintance who had a small milling operation, the cedar logs from a friend who salvaged downed cedar logs on near-by Forest Service land. A carpenter friend installed the wall, artfully making the herringbone sections I wanted to break the monotony of vertical boards. Over the years the wall darkened as the wood aged. The boards gather dust, cleanable, but not something that gets done often. A unique wall, it takes me back to another time in my life. Though lately there are times I wish I had not installed the cedar wall, there it is, a silent witness and connection to my past.

Pine board wall with stenciled border in meditation building

Since the cedar wall, there have been many pine board walls. Pine, yellowish-white initially, ages to a deep golden color, some boards the color of honey. The walls of our “out buildings” – an office, studio and meditation building, are all pine. We have built many pine “boxes”!

Maple and cherry wood cabinets fill the kitchen wall, designed by me, built by a friend. When late day summer sun shines into the kitchen the aged maple wood, now the color of “light” maple syrup, nearly glistens!

bead board

Our latest wood wall is fir wood bead board, installed last year around a bay window replacement. Much consideration went into the possibilities, the pros and cons of dry wall vs wood, and if wood, which wood. We gambled on introducing yet another wood and are happy with the results. It fits our ‘cottage’ living room.

Though wood, once cut and milled is considered “dead”, there is still a living energy to it. With a little help from microbes, moisture, or fire, wood can return to the earth, become part of the soil, and nurture new trees. We are only borrowing them.

The “paintable” walls, freshly painted, are a clean slate, a fresh new beginning. Old scars, holes, soot from the wood stove, the ‘dirt’ of living, all washed away and covered over. Are the stories and secrets washed away too? Only the walls know!

Walls are not just “barriers”, built to keep out ‘the other’.  They hold in warmth on a cold day, or coolness on a hot day.  They give us a space to create as we wish, to make cozy.  Yes, they shield and protect us when we need it……and they hold the windows that let in the light.

What stories do your walls hold?

Rhododendron rainbows – it’s a family thing!

This bright yellow rhody is in our back yard, actually it IS our backyard! So bright, it seems to glow even at night.

Here in maritime Northwest rhododendrons are ubiquitous this time of year. The tiniest little ramshackle house, hidden behind a huge plain green bush eleven months of the year, barely noticed, suddenly is eye-poppingly beautiful when covered with huge bright red or pink blooms.  I didn’t intend to be a “Rhody” person.  A fan of pollinators, I find rhododendrons are not that useful to most pollinators – hummingbirds and butterflies have no interest in them and bees seem picky, liking some varieties but not others.  Highly hybridized, most plants have one big showy spring bloom then sit quietly in their evergreen garb the rest of the year, blending into the landscape.  But over the years I’ve grown to appreciate their abundance of color and have loved individual plants as though they were pets.  It must be a family trait, both my parents loved rhododendrons, and one of my brothers has planted many here on family property, late-blooming varieties and ones known for their unique foliage.

A new & current favorite, this variegated peach colored rhody is in a pot where we lost to drought a 20+ year old, hot pink rhody.  I still miss it, a favorite, it consumed our front steps,  greeting us coming and going.

This year, a more typical northwest spring than we’ve had for several years, has made apparent one primary value of rhododendrons – in spite of cold, gray, wet weather, front yards and public parks everywhere are lit with the bright hues of rhodies. People make their annual pilgrimages to the many public rhododendron gardens to enjoy this rhododendron festival of color.

A small rhododendron, grows only about 18″ tall.

That’s how we (Mike is especially enamored by their colors) became rhody people. Living 15 minutes from Whitney Gardens, a second generation family rhododendron garden and nursery, we go to soak up the color of the giant, tree size blooming bushes. Caught up in the color bonanza, we buy one, or maybe two, with little thought as to where we will plant them. Alone I can resist, but Mike is powerless when surrounded by all those shades of purple, lavender, salmon, pinks, red, oranges, yellows – a rainbow of rhodies. And if they are a scented variety, he swoons. Ok, I swoon too. (note: we have not made that pilgrimage this year, and if we do, we’ll have more self control as we just planted 5 small Pacific Rhododendron starts, Washington’s state flower.)

Pacific Rhododendron, Washington State flower, less abundant but still found in many wild places.

Rhododendrons were first “discovered” by Europeans in the Himalayan Mountains and other mountainous regions of Southeast Asia , where hundreds of varieties are native. They are the national flower of Nepal, where they grow abundantly.  Archibald Menzies “discovered” the Pacific rhododendron in 1792, though they were certainly already known to native people. (An interesting paper on the history of the Pacific Rhododendron is found here.)  Rhododendron leaves are highly toxic (though I had a Jersey cow, Daisy, who ate some and seemed unaffected, but I wouldn’t recommend it). In traditional cultures wherever they grow wild, rhododendron leaves have been used as poultices for arthritis pain and headaches.

in spite of thick leathery leaves, occasionally some bug finds one that is tasty.

Rhododendrons have been hybridized to have many colors, scents, leaf color and shape variations, to grow to different heights, and bloom at different times, from the winter blooming Christmas Rhody to ones that bloom in June.  The ones we grow bloom early to mid-spring. Except for a rare bug nibble, the primary pest problem we’ve had are mountain beavers who chew off branches and carry them to their dens, where we find piles of branches. This has done serious damage some years, one young bush completely ‘harvested’ to the ground.  Larger bushes are “pruned”, not at all aesthetically, destroying many buds. We’ve also lost a few bushes to drought. But in our woodsy environment most thrive and have long lives. Shallow rooted, though we give them big planting holes with lots of “good” soil, as long as they get some leaf mulch, they seem to tolerate our clay soil.

This is our Christmas rhody, the first to bloom, though not at Christmas where we live.

Rhododendrons come in all sizes, some can be pot grown, some like more sun, others more shade, many different bloom “styles” appeal to people’s personal sense of what makes a pretty flower, and you can probably find one in your favorite color.  I highly recommend, if your climate is right, growing rhodies for the pure benefit of color therapy, especially wonderful on a gray spring day.

Mom and I, squinting in the sun in front of a huge rhododendron at her house in Seattle. Happy Mother’s Day Mom, you live on in spirit in the many flowers we both love!

The rest of the year rhododendron’s shiny forever-green leaves remind us of eternal life.   I’m quite sure whatever corner of heaven my parents are hanging out in, they have planted rhododendrons!

 

Were you there? Seattle World’s Fair

55 years ago today, April 21, 1962, The Seattle World’s Fair “Century 21 Exposition” opened. “Seattleites” living on the east coast at the time, our family flew west that summer to enjoy this futuristic fair of fairs. This collection of memorabilia were the treasures kept by my grandma, my mom, and me, minus my necklace and a pin, (which I can’t find but they are somewhere), and the cool pen with a moving monorail, which disappeared yrs. ago.

I have fond memories of the amazing exhibits of what scientist, engineers and dreamers thought the future would be like. There was cutting edge technology in transportation, the “home of the future” was fascinating, even future clothing fashions were on display! The message of the fair was the future is about science and it looked good! And of course there was the Space Needle, the iconic building of the future that has become the symbol of Seattle ever since.  The fair grounds were fun, clean, colorful and people came from all over the world – the famous and the royal, but mostly families like us!  It is the event that put Seattle “on the map”, so to speak.  Between visits to relatives and the Olympic Peninsula, our family attended many days.

I remember the bright turquoise hats my brothers wore with tall feathers and “Seattle World’s Fair” sewn across the front. They could be spotted in a crowd, a likely motivation for buying them!

No photos have emerged of our fair visit in the family photo archives, though I know pictures were taken. Maybe someday my brother will sort through all the slides my dad had and find our personal remembrances of this grand event.

Were you there? Share your story if so!

Below are fun links about the fair, lots of stories and the history of the fair. It was a grand event!

Seattle Expo 62

History Link

1962 World’s Fair

Spring & Rosy Jam

Cold air keeps the Pacific Northwest in a holding pattern between seasons, at least for us two-legged ones, but in the world of flora and fauna, where there is light there is action!  Birds are hassling each other and singing their breeding and territorial songs, the robins being the last to go to bed. The chipmunk population in our yard has exploded! (This usually means the weasel population is low, and does not bode well for garden vegetable sprouts and peas, which the chipmunks “harvest” before us!)  A cold winter left our evergreen woods less green, many dead fern fronds make for an unusual brown underbrush.  New growth from wild bleeding hearts, vanilla leaf, false lily-of-the-valley, red huckleberry and other plants are a welcome sight of new life.   Longer days means more activity not only for nature but for us,  we take after dinner walks and work outside later in the day….bundled up as though it were January!

(Click on a photo to see slideshow, or move your cursor over pictures to read captions)

Though I’ve been harvesting nettles for steaming and pesto, and munching on miner’s lettuce while walking in the woods, as these and other fresh new plants and herbs become available for a spring diet it’s also time to use up old “stock” that I’ve hoarded all winter.  I forget, a lot, I forget to add dried Calendula blossoms to soups, dried spearmint to tea blends, etc.  Out of sight out of mind in our small house where jars of this and that get stored and tucked away many places.  I was surprised, while making a tea blend for a friend with a cold, to discover a pint jar of dried rose hips I didn’t know I had. Forgetting I’d bought some last fall, I’d bought more in January!  So this year, an “Easter treat” to share is rose hips jam.  It is the easiest jam in the world to make, and not only is it tasty, but with our lingering cold weather, there are lingering colds going around.

Rose hips are packed with the disease fighting antioxidant vitamin C. I’ve collected hips, but separating the fuzzy hairs from the seeds inside the fruit, or “hip”, is a challenge.  They can be used in tea whole (thus no fuzz) if simmered a bit. When you buy rose hips you get nice little pieces of dried red hips, clean of fuzz.

Pouring water over dried hips reconstituted them. Soak overnight and you have instant jam! My pint of rose hips reconstituted when I filled the jar with water, but it was very “solid” so I mixed in: honey, (which smooths the astringent taste) and added more liquid in the form of a warm spicy infusion (tea) made from fresh ginger, a teaspoon of cinnamon chips, a few cardamom pods, and two clove buds. After simmering on the stove 30 minutes, in a teapot, I added the infusion a little at a time until I got a smooth, spreadable paste.  Spread on crackers, it goes nice with a cup of ginger spice tea!

This is a great way to get vitamin C, especially for children or anyone who prefers tasty jam over pills!

Have a lovely Easter weekend, whether you celebrate Easter or just enjoy this season of hope and renewal! Mother Nature reminds us every spring there are always new beginnings and beauty to be found regardless of outer circumstances.

 

Past Easter posts:

A Season of Celebrations, A Season for Forgiveness

Egg Enchantment

Hare Hare Everywhere

Memories of the Season

Celebrating Cycles

 

Celebrating Friendship

March was Women’s History Month, celebrated since the 1980s as a time to honor women and their influence on….well, everything!   Cleaning out old photo albums, reducing my collection of snap shot remembrances down to take up less space, and only keeping those which bring smiles, I’ve been thinking of the many women in my life, especially those I have some personal “history” with! Some are long gone, their life journeys taking them elsewhere. Many I see once in awhile, always an enjoyable connection, they are the ones whose lives take them in other directions but who are still carried in the heart.  Then there are the golden threads, friendships woven through 40+ years of life experiences, women I met when we were young and with whom I have ‘grown old’. The ones I’ve witnessed go through, and have often shared, birthings, deaths, marriages, divorces, broken hearts, graduations, kid’s lives, aging parents, our own aging.  Each came into my life, and I theirs, in different ways. There are, of course, outstanding women who are ‘newer’ friends, oh, maybe 25-30 years! And a few special friends I’ve had the pleasure and honor to meet in recent years. I’ve been blessed to know marvelous women, more than compensating for not having had a sister! Let me introduce you to a few.

Among the long-term ones is my friend Ke who I hired (sometime in the late 70s?) when she was a single mom, living in a log house (where she still lives), the teacher at the local pre-school. Needing a second job, she became the cook for the Senior Meals program at the Community Center where I was director. We quickly became friends, both with a weird sense of humor, we seemed made for one another. We became a comedic pair in the kitchen of the Community Center, if only to entertain ourselves. The laughter and wit bonded us in a friendship that has lasted through decades of personal challenges in each of our lives. It is a friendship that has at times drifted apart and yet over time grown deeper and closer.  Ke also does not have sisters (we each have two brothers), so we easily fill that role for one another, which includes not only love and support, but also the disagreements and differences that sisters have! Through it all, the laughter has held tight the bond.

Anne, who I met when she was pregnant with her daughter Kate, with Kate’s daughter.

Anne I met around the time she was pregnant with her second child (who became my god-daughter). Because her husband could potentially have been called to a forest fire at the time of the birthing, I became a birth-coach back up. Fortunately he did not have to be away, so my role was that of photographer, and baby-carrier as Anne was whisked from the operating room to make room for someone else (no birthing rooms ‘back then’!) That was the beginning of watching their family grow and grow up.  Anne and I gave moral support to one another when, fortunately at different times, we both went back to school and changed life courses.  My partner in many community schemes when I worked at the Community Center, our grandest venture together was organizing the first Community Fair, a tradition that has been carried on for decades since.  Our most meaningful collaboration was providing safe shelter and services for victims of domestic violence. She and Ke, both creative and talented, were my wedding party decoration committee!

Marsha and me at the Lavender Festival.

Marsha and I met when I first moved to the Olympic Peninsula and I owned a Jersey cow, one of many friends made through selling milk. Our friendship became closer when she moved into “town”, she being the only person I knew in “town” when I started to work there. Over lunch time visits, as her bookbinding business grew, we shared the changes and challenges we both were facing in our lives. Though she moved away for a period of years, life taking her on many different paths, Marsha, who still keeps in touch with her childhood Camp Fire girlfriends, easily rekindled ‘old’ friendships when she returned. Our mutual love of Nature, color, art, and history gives us much to talk about. She is a mentor and role model for aging with grace in a challenged body.

A rare visit a few years ago between two ‘soul sisters’.

Terra (Marsha’s cousin) also came into my life as a milk customer and neighbor. Soon we were both following the same spiritual ‘path’ and practice.  When I began a meditation group in 1979, she was my partner in getting the fledgling group going.  She was also my job replacement when I was out of work at the Community Center for months due to mononucleosis. A spiritual sister, though she moved away, our common life goals have kept us close through decades of life changes. Also ‘sisterless’, we bond not only as sisters with a deep sense of spirituality in our lives, but we both live with the challenges and benefits of ‘tallness’!

Shaun and I at my 50th birthday party, 2000.

The woman closest to being a biological sister to me (though with 3 sisters, she certainly wasn’t looking for a fourth!) is my friend and cousin Shaun, with whom I share half my genes! Shaun and I did not grow up on the same side of the country, she was just a toddler and I was 5 when my family moved from Washington. Though we visited her and her family in 1962 when we came to the Seattle World’s Fair, it wasn’t until we were in our late 20s  and I returned to Washington that we really ‘met’.  We quickly became close friends, maybe it’s in the genes! Our lives have followed different and diverse routes, yet having many shared values there is little we have not talked about over the years, from boy friends, jobs, family, politics, our passion and concern for Nature, our fears and joys. We’ve even played music together (see photo below!), she an accomplished fiddle player, me a novice ex-autoharpist! She was my last-minute bridesmaid, she was there two years ago when I had a mastectomy, she painted the faces of my other women friends at my 50th birthday celebration, she puts up with me talking too much on the phone! That is a sisterly quality!

I have tremendous admiration for these women.  All strong, intelligent, quick-witted women who do not suffer fools, have compassionate hearts, and are talented and creative. Women I’ve watched get broken-hearted, heal, grow. They are my mentors and teachers.

Carolynn

This is not the end of the list of remarkable women in my life, these are the ones found in my 40-year-old album! My friend Carolynn, (who also has two brothers, no sisters) is another spiritual ‘sister’ with whom I’ve shared many of life’s ups and downs over 25+ years, and who I admire for her strength under-fire. A strength that has been tested too many times.

My sisters-in-law, Linda and Ginny, are both woman I admire and love (among the good things about brothers is they give you sisters!) This post would be too long if I wrote of all the outstanding women I’ve been blessed to know. Most the older ones are gone from this earthly place, and though I’ve no daughters, my nieces and younger women friends fill my heart with joys and heartaches as I watch them grow and go through their own challenges and delights in life. A month is not long enough to celebrate women and all they have accomplished in the world, in our countries and communities, it certainly is not long enough for me to celebrate and write of all the exceptional women I have known! Who do you have history with?

(click photos to read captions)

Women, Bugs and Storytelling

“The Hexapods are funny folk who have six feet. That is they have six when they are grown up, though some of the children have none at all, and some have as many as twenty-two. You can tell from this that they are strange people, and you may call them fairies if you like!

They have wings, – the grown-up ones do, – wonderful wings of many shapes and colors. Luna’s wings are green, – pale, pale green, – and very lovely, with a purple border on them. Perhaps there is nothing more beautiful in the world than Luna’s wings. When Van flies, you can see the yellow edge of her brown wings; and when she alights – hesto! presto! you can see nothing at all; for she disappears from sight even though she is near enough to touch. Carol wears her wings neatly folded like a fan, except when she is using them. And Gryl, the little black minstrel – oh, Gryl fiddles with his wings.”

Photo from edithpatch.org, web site about Edith Patch, including list of her children’s books.

Thus begins the introduction to Hexapod Stories by Edith Marion Patch. Patch wrote a series of children’s books, (sadly now out of print, but older copies can be found) which were not written just as whimsical tales of make-believe characters, but as tales that educate, with scientifically accurate details and illustrations, about the natural world. Luna (a moth), Van (a butterfly), Carol (a grasshopper), and Gryl (a cricket), are the characters of three of the tales in Hexapod Stories. In each of their tales of adventure the reader learns about their lives, life cycles, habitats, etc.

Dr. Edith Marion Patch was first and foremost an entomologist. Growing up she studied water, bugs, birds and plants, but it was bugs that became her career, both as researcher and educator. Though women in the sciences were not common in her time, especially in entomology (they still aren’t), in 1904 Edith became the head of the Department of Entomology at the University of Maine, and in 1930 she was elected president of the Entomological Society of America. She was the first woman in both these positions.

In her lifetime she was known not only for her discoveries of species, but for her passion to educate the lay person about Nature. Besides her children’s books, written in the early 1930s, which sold well, in the mid 1930s she had a radio show focused on making the natural sciences interesting to the public.

In a speech she gave in 1936 at the meeting of the Entomological Society of America called, “Without Benefit of Insects,” Patch urged the protection of insects, predicting that by the year 2000, if the heavy use of pesticides was not curtailed, many species of birds and insect pollinators would decline, some becoming extinct. Sadly, her science-based warning was not heeded.

There is a good chance you never heard of Edith Marion Patch. In spite of her popularity in her life time, primarily due to her children’s books, and her prolific attempts to make the natural sciences popular, like many women in science, her reputation is known only to those in her field, and likely not even to all of them. Edith died in 1954.

Preceding Patch by a few centuries, there was Maria Sibylla Merian (1647-1717), considered the founder of entomology and, by some, the first environmentalist.  Merian was the first to observe and understand insect metamorphosis. Her life story is remarkable, made more so by the era in which she lived, when not only were women not scientists, but science itself was suspect. Median’s influence on the general public’s knowledge of Nature was through her beautiful and detailed art.  Though she made many breakthrough discoveries in scientific research of insects, she is known mostly for her art.

A few detail paintings of insect life cycles by Maria Sibylla Merian. (Three articles on the life of Maria Merian – Christian Science Moniter, Botannical Artists, Brainpickings)

In reading about these women I reflect on a contemporary woman in science, botanist Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, Professor of Environmental and Forest Biology at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, born in 1953, a year before Patch died. I imagine they would have enjoyed each other’s company, as Patch would of enjoyed Maria Merian (and undoubtedly knew of her!). I’ve been reading two of Kimmer’s books – Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses, and Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As a member of the Potawatomi Nation, Kimmer’s perspective and writings on Nature blend and reflect the cultural perspective and values of her tribe with her knowledge as a scientist. Her observations of Nature are delightfully detailed, her observations of the relationship between people and Nature poignant. She brings the same awe and passion to her observations and writings that Patch brought to her children’s stories, that Merian brought to her art. Her books are popular, her observations resonant with and educate readers.

There are other women of science who were, and are, remarkable in their contributions to scientific knowledge. What stands out as I read their stories is how many of them desired not just to learn and discover the mysteries of Nature, but to share those mysteries, to educate others.  They are story tellers.

“Dancing with Bugs”, from a series of flower doodle girls I made. Nothing scientific about it, but I like my bug! And I hope it tells a story of joy in Nature!

When I was growing up I wanted to be a botanist (also a historian!) but challenged by math comprehension in high school, I gave up that goal. As a child I had my little nature desk in the garage where I would collect and observe bits and pieces of the natural world, from a dead beetle or butterfly to an unusual rock or plant, a habit I’ve never outgrown! But my goal was not research, but education, to become a ranger or summer camp teacher to “turn on” other folks to the mysteries of Nature. Perhaps it’s a “woman’s thing”…..to teach and share Mother Nature. To be story tellers.  I wonder if I had known of Edith Patch or Maria Merian I would have been inspired and not given up my interest to learn more and share my love for the intricate wonders of nature.  Though they both faced obstacles even greater, in the 1960s girls were still not given much support for such endeavors. I had great science teachers, but math teachers simply told me I couldn’t do math, there was no extra support available, no calculators, and to advance in science, I had to advance in math. Or so I was told.

If you have a desire to pass on your love of nature to children or grandchildren, I encourage you to track down copies of Dr. Edith Patch’s books. They are available for download on-line and can be found in bookstores that carry old books.  Delightful and educational, they are stories for children and adults! Reading them to girls will send the message that bugs and birds are cool and becoming a scientist and studying them even cooler!

And if you have not read Kimmer’s books (many of you have likely read Sweetgrass), I highly recommend both. I’m grateful for her perspective and consider her one of the top contemporary Nature writers and a spokesperson for the environment……for the Earth.

 

Candlemas & Imbolc – Take a break, celebrate the returning light & have some comfort food!

February 1 & 2 fall mid-way between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. The most ancient of cultures would have noticed this as a good time to have celebration and ritual. It is the downhill side of winter survival, a time of hope for the future, yet also a time of weariness of winter hardships. People were ready to celebration, to begin preparing for the coming planting season, to honor those who could assure them a successful harvest, and to rejoice in the returning light. It’s a time to clean out the ‘cob webs’ of winter.

dsc02180In Celtic tradition this mid-winter time is celebrated with the Imbolc Festival on February 1. The first written reference to Imbolc dates to the 10th or 11th Centuries in the writings of Irish monks. How extensively it was celebrated throughout the Celtic world no one knows for sure, but ancient Celtic architecture emphasizing alignment with the sun at this midway time in its cycle indicates celebrations go back much further. The Gaelic word Imbolc means “in milk” or ” in the belly”. Foods and beverages made with milk (especially ewe’s milk, as it is the time of lambing, thus fresh milk was available from the ewes) would be prepared, and milk beverages would be used to bless agriculture implements, such as a plow, and poured on orchard trees for fertility in the coming growing season. Homes would be blessed and candles lit.

IMG_0488.JPGIn Ireland, the day is celebrated as the festival of St. Bridget and blends ancient Celtic traditions with newer Christian traditions. St. Bridget herself seems to bridge the Celtic world, as her predecessor was the Celtic goddess, Brighid. Brighid (whose name has many spellings) represents light in many forms – candles, fire and Sun. Foods symbolic of the sun (see below about foods) would be part of the festivities. There is still debate as to who was real and who was mythical, the saint or the goddess. There are certainly overlaps in what each of them represents in their particular spiritual tradition – who they protect, and what their role is in handing out blessings. You can read delightful stories of both. I’ll go with the idea that both were real, and stories and tales down through the ages made them both mythical. I’m always ready to embrace a belief in a strong, benevolent woman who did good things and hands out blessings! I’m sure it is more than coincidence that Brighid and St Bridget have the same name, and both are seen as the personification of light returning and new life. Most Christian holidays follow in the footsteps of, and use many of the same symbols as, pre-Christian holy-days, it was the best way for people to incorporate the old with the new.

February 2 is Candlemas, celebrating the 40th day after the birth of Jesus, the first day his mother could take him to the temple. At the time of Jesus’ birth women had to wait 40 days after giving birth before entering a temple, a period of time they were considered ‘unclean’. On the fortieth day Mary could enter the temple with her baby and have him blessed, so the day is often called “the Presentation of Christ”, or the “Blessing of Christ”. This celebration is observed in many Christian churches, such as the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church. During Candlemas the candles that will be used in the church throughout the year are blessed. It is also a time of celebrating light, and of purification.

Looking for a sun symbol for mandala making, this very odd one was appealing! A pumpkin that froze, instead of rotting, creating an oddly textured yellow mass of yellow! One of my stranger mandalas! ;-)

Looking for a sun symbol for mandala making, this very odd one was appealing! A pumpkin that froze, instead of rotting, creating an oddly textured mass of yellow! One of my stranger mandalas! 😉

There are many versions of these celebrations, many traditions and interpretations. In reading about them, what appeals to me is the preparation for spring planting and the new cycle of life, as well as receiving the blessing of returning light.

It might be a challenge to celebrate hope and light, or seem irrelevant to do so at this time of such darkness and decline in the world, especially here in the United States. But perhaps that is even more reason to do so. Create your own ritual for blessing your home, fruit trees if you have them, and perhaps your garden. Lights candles, inside, outside, and do whatever “purification” and cleaning out you feel inclined to do in your physical environment, make it your place of refuge from the darkness. Make some special foods (food ideas below). Allow yourself to feel blessed by Brigid, either in her Celtic form or Christian manifestation. St Brigid is associated not only with spring and fertility, but also healing, poetry and smithcraft. Write a poem, plant some primroses, sow some early seeds. Let your spirit and your mind take a break and celebrate the light. It is here, we just have to let it in.

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And if all else fails to arouse hope in you…there’s always Mr. Groundhog, the ‘ancient’ American seer of weather! There are no “executive orders” for canceling the coming of spring, so embrace it.

See below for foods and recipe.

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traditional-foods

For fabulous, fancier recipes for celebrating Imbolc , I recommend one of my favorite blogs: Gather.

 

 

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Mandala Chaos and Discontent Plant Bits!

img_7166Another of what I call a “simple story”, sharing a bit of wit and wisdom learned from pondering life’s experiences with Nature…

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winter quarters for plants that need protecting

Feeling gloomy today, so much negativity whirling around. I overloaded on the news yesterday.*  A woodsy walk did not calm the mind. Though uninspired, I decided mandala making might help. As I worked with tiny fallen petals from the geraniums hibernating in my office/storage room, I thought how they sit in the dark, soil dried up, having no idea their fate, yet blooming, petals vivid, almost iridescent in their mostly dark winter quarters. As they reach for the limited light coming in the window, their colors seem even more vibrant in the stressed conditions then they did in summer’s sun.

Hmmm. I was thinking of this metaphor of colorful survival and act of defiance in hard times, thinking how there is so much fear and concern our country is headed in the direction of fascism and wondering if there has been studies of how people survived, even thrived and held on to their values and principles in the face of fascism in other countries, when one tiny bit of purple statice in the top corner of the mandala started to move, as though some micro-bug was under it, rocking it back an forth, then taking off with it. Except there wasn’t any such propelling force, not even a breeze.

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note a few bits of statice trying to escape under leaves!

The sun was breaking through the heavy gray cloud cover. I realigned the rogue purple bit, several times, went inside to get my camera, but when I came out it moved again, then another bit moved, still no noticeable breeze, just a slight air temperature difference from the sun’s rays.

As I rearranged the rebels, quickly snapping pictures with strange shadows from the sun, pink petals began rolling over, soon there was mandala chaos! (I did feel a very slight movement in the air then.)  Though tempted to just sit and watch it all dismantle, I carefully carried the purple porch chair inside, rearranged the now subdued bits of flora, thinking – the winter of discontent! Even bits of flora will not stay put and ‘obey’! They too have “minds of their own.” (I’ve been listening to the audio of The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate, by Peter Wohlleben , Narrated by Mike Grady, so defiant plant bits are not too far fetch to my imagination! I highly recommend the book!)

The sun disappeared, but I am grateful for the multiple metaphors and bit of humor Nature once again provided!

mandala left overs with a very hardy pumpkin that seemed to defy temperatures in the 20s and teens!

mandala left overs with a very hardy pumpkin that seemed to defy temperatures in the 20s and teens!

 *  How to Stay Outraged Without Losing Your Mind is a short article on the importance of taking care of yourself for the long haul, and avoid becoming numb and accepting of these not-normal times.

When carrots give hope!

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

the guard at the gate and his friend moss rock

January 20 was an uncomfortable day for many people, myself included. Not wanting to focus on the ‘changing of the guard’ in Washington D.C., and recovering from my second bout of flu/cold virus, I did not want to feed myself, or the universe, fear and negativity. I’d had enough of that. So I went to the woods. A peaceful walk down our trail ended in a place where I often offer prayer. I poured out my heart to the Divine above and the Earth below. Part plea, part invocation, I felt heard in that somewhat quiet place, with Nature as my only witness.

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Turning around, I was enchanted, as always, by the winter sun filtering through the open canopy of a mixed conifer and deciduous forest. The bare branches of giant, aptly named, Big Leaf Maples allow the low, side-ways sun to flood places shrouded in shady tones under the summer canopy. This light will eventually awaken the first signs of wild bleeding hearts, nettles, and other early spring plants, which will thrive until the Maples block the light. But it is early, and the winter has been exceptionally cold for the NW. Here on our hill the ground was frozen with heave and ice crystals from mid-December until just last week. No signs of spring in the woods…but signs of survivors. Impressive are the tender leaves of little-green-plants-whose-names-I-forget that are fresh and green, while others around them succumbed to weeks of being frozen.

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The peacefulness I was feeling as I stooped to photograph the brilliant green glistening water of a wintertime mini-pond was rudely interrupted by loud repetitive gunshot. For the past few years we have been hearing gun shot frequently. A gun enthusiast  seems to spend his free time on holidays and weekends shooting whatever, somewhere across the street from where we live. But this was closer, and louder. After a minute or so of repetitive shots, there was a long volley, and then it stopped. I suspect it was a celebration salute to the moment of transition in D.C.

My moment of woodsy peace was broken. Abby was gone, though I didn’t see her leave. Though I wanted to make a mandala in the woods, I reluctantly walked back to the house to find a shaking dog on the front porch. Not willing to go inside myself, mandala making took place on the back porch, with whatever I found close at hand.

"survivor" carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

“survivor” carrots, minus the big ones I ate and the ones in the mandala!

The biggest surprise find was the carrots. I noticed them when the ground first froze and heaved back in December. Left behind when I dug out our two little rows in the fall, the frozen ground had pushed them up, but also held them tight. I wrote them off as frozen food, soon to be mush when the thaw came. I forgot about them as I struggled through December into the New Year being sick. Frozen carrots in frozen ground were not on my mind!

But on this sunny day, there they were, brightest color around, freshly washed from the rain, half out of the ground, green tops long gone.  They stood like little round-topped, slightly tipsy sentries, and not the least bit mushy! About a dozen carrots, most small, edible, and tasty!

I made my mandala and thanked Mother Nature for giving me a small, somewhat humorous sign, that “we can survive” (and even be bright and colorful doing so!).  The next day, as millions marched peacefully throughout the world, I have no doubt we will!

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A medicine mandala for hope, with anti-viral and anti-bacterial usnea, leaves of pain-relieving fever few, another survivor of the below freezing temperatures.

How did you survive inauguration day?

Survivors

As we dip into the 20s again, I went out to gather bits for a mandala.  After last week’s temperatures in the teens, there are still masses of hardy violet leaves, green and bright, even a few purple buds (two broke off at the base where the ground froze).  The plants look like they think spring has arrived!

I’m always impressed by the tenacity of Nature and these violet leaves are a wonderful example, remaining green as everything around them turned brown under a thin layer of icy snow in below freezing temperatures.

A sage plant has some browning, but hanging in there,  leaves still soft fuzzy green, and of course there’s the conifers, including big Douglas firs (who lost branches in last night’s wind storm) who keep the woods ever-green! The needles I gathered today are going into finishing salt.

Little geranium blossoms greet me from the back window sill every day from a jar where I crammed plant cuttings on a cold day in early December, before the first big chill. Gathering together potted geraniums to put inside, I attempted to dig and pot up a plant growing in a raised bed, only to discover it already had rotten roots. The leaves of the cuttings all turned brown, dried, and fell off, but quickly there were new roots,  new leaves, then tiny clusters of cheery red-orange flowers blooming. Survivors.

img_6871Together my little collection of survivors make up my mandala today.

Now for some sage and violet tea!

(Note: this post was an experiment in posting via a WordPress app on my iPad, using photos taken by iPad camera. Not so pleased with quality of photos, nor limited options posting through the app. Experiment and learn, eh? )