Solstice Inspired

It takes 12 moon cycles for our little planet to cycle once around the sun. The oldest human celebrations known have celebrated that feat quarterly – two Solstices and two Equinoxes. These are celebrations of gratitude that the sun “returns”.

Of course we all know the sun doesn’t go anywhere, we’re the ones moving about, but our ancestors weren’t so sure. Summer Solstice is the precise moment when the tilt of the earth on its axis puts the Northern hemisphere as close to the sun as it’s going to be, and the Southern Hemisphere the furthest (Winter Solstice there). In December the roles reverse.

Ra (Egyptian), Lord Surya (Hindu), Helios (Greek), Khors (Slavic), Sunna (Nordic), Sol (Roman), are but a few of the deity names given to the sun, thought to either be a god, or ruled by a god.

Throughout time, no matter how crazy we’re behaving here on our little spaceship, the sun has been constant, while life here is ever-changing. No wonder it has been consistently cerebrated!

☀️Solstice cheer!

past Summer Solstice post:

Evening Light & Tagore On This Solistice Eve

 

Finding harmonious energies in Nature

“Whenever I have read any part of the Vedas, I have felt that some unearthly and unknown light illuminated me. In the great teaching of the Vedas, there is no touch of the sectarianism. It is of [all] ages, climes, and nationalities and is the royal road for the attainment of the Great Knowledge. When I am at it, I feel that I am under the spangled heavens of a summer night.” Henry David Thoreau

One of my herb harvests became a herb mandala!

One of my herb harvests became a herb maṇḍala! View more on my Flora Mandala page.

We have certainly had some “spangled heavens” this summer, with warm summer nights, clear skied full moons, and an extraordinary meteor shower. Did you see it? Here in our woodsy home, surrounded by tall firs, we only managed to catch a few ‘shooting stars’.

Though most the summer has been warm and lovely, it’s also been challenging for me due to an infected tick bite, followed by several weeks of antibiotics, causing other problems, more drugs, yada, yada, yada. Tired, achy and hot on the 90+ degree days (those same sky-view-limiting trees like to hold in heat!), my muse was looking for a creative, calm distraction from bodily woes.

a few of my little color doodle designs

a few of my little color doodle designs

Ten years ago, sick with what was diagnosed as idiopathic gastroparesis (I wonder about that word “idiopathic”, does it come from idiot? Is it when doctors don’t know what the heck is going on and feel like idiots?), I started drawing mandala-type designs I called ‘color doodles’. The color and geometric foundation of my ‘doodles’ was calming, centering, and focused my mind away from constant nausea and pain. There was something soothing and healing in each little design as I concentrated on drawing it. For about 3 months I drew one design after another and the little drawings became transformational for me.

Geometric form has helped people order and calm their minds, homes and communities probably since people learned to draw forms. Geometric designs and architecture are found in all the great civilizations, from the Incas of South America to Egypt, ancient China, and the Indus Valley culture of India, with which I am most familiar.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cuppula which corresponse with the open space below, or the Brahma, or center. The center of mandalas is also often called the Brahma or center.

Our tiny Vastu building has in common with all Vastu buildings a cupola which corresponds with the open space below, the Brahma center. The center of a mandala is also often called Brahma.

Vastu Shastra, (also spelled Vaastu and sometimes called Vastu Vidya) the ancient architectural principles of India designed to bring harmony to buildings, like many Vedic teachings, was lost as a science and art for centuries because many ancient texts were destroyed or misinterpreted by people and cultures who invaded, dominated, and suppressed the Indus Valley culture. But ancient buildings, both residential and temples, built according to those Vedic principles were not destroyed and through the efforts of Ganaparti Sthapati, who was an architect, sculptor, and teacher, there has been a revival in India of Vastu architecture. We were fortunate 11 years ago to find a young American architect who studied with Ganaparti. He drew up plans for a small Vastu building, designed for us based on the land and our Vedic astrologic charts. Though only a ‘mini’ example of Vastu Shastra, it is a lovely building and folks comment on the ‘energy’ of the building. (You can read more about Michael Borden, Vastu architect, and look at pictures of gorgeous homes built according to Vastu principles here: Vastu Design.)

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little manadala.

a variety of flowers and berries make up this little mandala.

When the ancient rishis, or sages, wrote the Vedic texts Thoreau refers to above, they wrote about Ayurveda, Vedic (Jyotish)astrology, Yoga, and Vastu. They understood the energy fields of the material world, including the earth and everything on it. The existence of those energy fields has been confirmed by modern science. The rishis understood the importance of working in harmony with those energies for health and well being, including the magnetic fields of the earth and cosmos. The rishis understood the magnetic fields of the earth to be laid out in a grid pattern. That grid pattern is a theme repeated in a Vedic astrology chart, in the architectural plans for a building build according to Vastu principles, and the patterns of mandalas and yantras, intricate patterns created for the purpose of calming and interiorizing the mind. The energy grids are the foundation of the sacred geometry found throughout Nature.

A 'floating' mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers.

A ‘floating’ mandala on a hot day of calendula, borage, feverfew, mint, rose and other flowers. You can see in each flower a mini-mandala!

Consciously or unconsciously, people have always sought to reproduce and harmonize with these grid patterns in architect, art and the lay out of towns and cities. Examples can be found in stain glass windows found in the great cathedrals of Europe that have similar patterns to the mandalas of Hindu culture and yantras of Buddhism, or the patterns found in ancient Aztec and Mayan art and architecture, best known being Sun Calendars, or Sun Stones.

a little bontanical mandala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found amongst the dune grass.

a little botanical maṇḍala I made at Grayland Beach of the flowers found among the dune grass.

When my muse began to make botanical mandalas this summer, I realized the theme of geometric design has repeated itself in my life, often at times when I needed an outer expression of creative harmony. Our little Vastu building, my color doodles, labyrinths I draw in the sand at beaches, and now mandalas made of herbs and flowers, all have this theme of symmetry and geometric pattern. It is human nature to be attracted to these grid-like patterns as a way of finding harmony in chaos. We all seek that harmony. The symmetry brings balance, the creation process brings calming focus. I encourage you to try working with the harmonious geometric patterns of energy and Nature in whatever way you find to be creative.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

another floral mandala in Nature! Part of the beauty of flowers is their harmonious forms.

I find the process of actually creating geometric designs most beneficial, but there are oodles of coloring books of mandalas and some of yantras available.  At the very least, notice the spirals and grid patterns found around you in Nature, from a conch shell or snail’s shell to the interior of a flower.  It is not difficult to find energetic harmony in Nature, even when there appears to be such in-harmony around us.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandals grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Nature creates beautiful harmonious mandala grid patterns everywhere, as in the center of this poppy.

Wikipedia has a very informative page about mandalas in art and architecture, with scrumptious pictures! Mandala

 

 

Evening Light & Tagore On This Solistice Eve

Blue skies at 8:45 Solistice Eve!

Blue skies at 8:45 Solstice Eve!

Today, here in the Pacific Northwest, the sun rose at 5:11 a.m. and set, as it will for the remainder of the month, at 9:11 p.m. (website for sunrise sunset times). Tomorrow, Sunday June 21, the sun rises at 5:12, a few hours before the Summer Solstice occurs at 9:39 a.m. .

Most NW woods native plants are through blooming by mid-June, but Ocean Spray is in it's glory, cascading it's creamy white bloom clusters over the surrounding green.

Most NW woods native plants are through blooming by mid-June, but Ocean Spray, in its glory, cascades it’s creamy blooms over the surrounding green.

Walking around this evening, looking at the pale blue sky above the tall fir and maple trees, the few puffy white clouds slightly tinted with sun glow, I wondered what I could photograph that represented, and celebrated, this time of light. It dawned on me any photograph taken would represent the solisitce…..it was 8:45 p.m. yet I could still take bright photos, no flash required! I share my ‘solistice pictures’, taken between 8:45 and 9:00 p.m. this evening.

Poppies often don't bloom until early July in our garden, but with this unusually sunny June they arrived in time for the solstice!

Poppies often don’t bloom until early July in our garden, but this unusual sunny June they arrived in time for the solstice!

With these photos, I also share a selection from my well-worn, and beloved, copy of Gitanjali, A Collection of Indian Songs, by Rabindranth Tagore.

Tagore from the Novel Prize web site page about him. There are several pages, including a very interesting article.

Tagore from the Nobel Prize web site page about him. There are several pages, including a very interesting article.

Gitanjali (song offerings) won Tagore the 1913 Novel Prize in Literature “because of his profoundly sensitive, fresh and beautiful verse, by which, with consummate skill, he has made his poetic thought, expressed in his own English words, a part of the literature of the West”.

Song #57.

Light, my light, the world-filling light, the eye-kissing light, heart-sweetening light!

Ah, the light dances, my darling, at the centre of my life; the light strikes, my darling, the chords of my love; the sky opens, the wind runs wild, laughter passes over the earth.

The butterflies spread their sails on the sea of light. Lilies and jasmines surge up on the crest of the waves of light.

The light is shattered into gold on every cloud, my darling, and it scatters gems in profusion.

Mirth spreads from leaf to leaf, my darling, and gladness without measure. The heaven’s river has drowned its banks and the flood of joy is abroad.

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Clematis, a vivdly colorful vine that loves summer so much it blooms for most the season!

Pink old fashion roses, hudnreds of them, cover our garden gate arbor.

Hundreds of old fashion pink roses cover our garden gate arbor

Happy Summer Solstice all!

Mike spend this summer solistice eve day preparing for the winter solistice!

Mike spent this summer solstice eve day preparing for the winter solstice!

Coops and transitions

IMG_9701It’s been a summer of transitions. In June we attended the wedding of one niece, Labor Day weekend will be the Washington celebration of another niece’s wedding. We missed a friend’s wedding due to mom’s unexpected ‘eviction’ and subsequent move from the adult family home where she lived. (The day after I wrote “The Girl in the Turquoise Swimsuit” we were given one hour to have a plan for moving mom that day, in spite of plans to move her the following week). Sadly, we’ve attended memorial/life celebrations of two long time friends dear to our hearts.

A summer of grief and sorrow, joy, stress…and love.

Though the rapid decline of mom, and the need to move her, has been demanding of time and energy, we managed to find time to tear down several coops, leaving behind a collection of old poultry houses. Losing our last chicken and one duck to a raccoon caused us to rethink, regroup, and ultimately, decide to rebuild. (See: ‘The Unexpected’). As with many things in life, before rebuilding, we thought it a good idea to clean up, clean out and eliminate the old.

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A temporary house in the new coop, originally built to be a dog house decades ago, was unwanted by it’s intended and always housed ducks!

If you’ve never kept chickens, ducks or other types of poultry; a cow, horse or other livestock, you may not understand the physical and mental work required in putting up a coop or fence, or building a poultry house or barn (or why someone would write about doing so). The goal is always to keep the critters in your care in, and keep the critters that like to eat them out. In the past 35 years I’ve built, with help, five chicken coops, three duck coops, four chicken houses, a smaller ‘nesting’ house, one duck house, converted a dog house into a duck house, and, for Daisy the Jersey cow I once lived with, one barn and fenced in two pastures.

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Shiny fencing, fresh paint, a spiffy green metal roof, we thought this little chicken house and coop would be our last. The house is still in good shape but the coop, needing repair, will come down, liberating another space in Nature.

I’ve worked along side, first, my friend Gene, then my Dad, and for the past 25 years, my husband Mike, digging holes and trenches, setting posts, stretching chicken wire, barbed wire, (getting poked and cut in the process), cranking necks to work above our heads to cover coops, weaving wire through all the overlaps. We’ve worked late at night by floodlights (a specialty of Mike’s and my project style) and occasionally in the rain, though we try to avoid that! We’ve hammered, stapled, cut, squared, leveled, installed old windows, roosts, various types of roofing materials, and set many cement blocks, all to make miniature houses of various shapes and sizes for feathered friends.

Old chicken coop and

Never once while building these critter dwellings did I think about when or how we’d be tearing them down. It was always about making them strong and tight to hold up against diggers, climbers, snow, falling trees and tree branches. And over the years they all have needed repairs from diggers and climbers who find the chink in our fortresses, the snow that was heavier than the previous years, and falling trees and tree limbs.

old duck house

With the building of each new coop or house we would take extra precautions, try to build a better coop, make what we thought would be a better house…easier to keep tight, clean, and maintained. Each new coop starts out with shiny silver-gray galvanized chicken wire, pungent and sweet scented reddish-brown cedar posts, yellowish white fir supports, and houses with a fresh coat of paint. As we tear them down, wire, nails, screws and staples are rusted, cedar posts, now gray with age, often rotten, fir supports, many long ago broken, have been repaired with pieces and patches. The houses are faded, some sides green with growth. But all are dry inside. There are sow bugs and ants living in the corners of every coop where two pieces of wood come together. In the houses, where feathered residents kept bugs at a minimum, there are a few spiders and moths.

Tear downs in the past were to move a coop or house to a different site. This time, tearing down was an ending. The woods will reclaim where the large chicken coop stood. If we move faster than the woods, the area enclosed by the smaller coop, yet to be torn down, will become part of the back yard. Tearing down the old duck coop opened new space with possibilities yet to be determined. Nature will decide if we don’t….and that’s okay. With each dismantling of a chicken wire enclosed space, there is a sense of having opened something up, a feeling of liberation. (For Mike it’s liberation from constant repairs of old rusting wire and rotting posts.)

And so it can be with life’s transitions. Death, often written about as liberation, frees the soul from the world, and perhaps from a body that has suffered. Marriage can bring freedom from loneliness. Commitments made at wedding ceremonies bring the freedom of knowing someone will care for, support, share dreams, life challenges, be your partner…and love you. Marriage can mean liberation from the seeking which drives many people’s lives, and inspires artistic endeavors from poems to paintings, movies and songs.

Mom, in her struggles, though freed from her own self-care and a life time of responsibilities, is waiting for liberation.

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Mama Black Duck happily moved her young duckling into the spacious new duck house. The awning over the door has removable posts, it can be dropped down and serve as a door if needed at night, but with our new ‘security coop’, we hope that isn’t needed!

The new duck house, built from the recycled, reclaimed and discarded, is made completely from materials salvaged from the old dismantled duck house and miscellaneous materials found in the barn. It is fresh and new.  Hopefully it is the best house we’ve built, in the most secure coop we’ve built. We tried to think like a duck, a weasel, a raccoon, a rat…..

I’d like to think I learned a few things in the past 35 years, at least about coops, and maybe about life transitions.

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Berry Bonanza

Red Elder Berries
(the heavily laden bushes are now berry-less!)

There is an all-you-can-eat berry feast going on outside our house, and no doubt all over the northwest. The cloudy cool summer has not affected the berry harvest, and harvesting is exactly what is happening in treetops and bushes all around our house.  The treat for us is the variety of feasters who show up.

Early in the summer I love looking out and seeing a rotund red-breasted American Robin with a big juicy yellow Salmon Berry in its beak.  But it is when the Red Elderberries begin to ripen that the action really begins. Plump Band-tailed Pigeons are heard before they are seen, their flappy wing sounds and owl-like cooing tell us they have arrived.  Years of over-hunting, almost to extinction, have left these beautiful gray birds shy, but they are persistent and if scared off by our presence, they return, weighting down branches as they pluck the small red berries.

Elderberries also attract the most colorful of our northwest birds, the Western Tanager.  Flashy yellow-black bodies with orangey-red heads move fast through the bushes, eating here and there, not sticking around and chowing down like the Band-tails.

Cascara Berries
Just beginning to ripen, the feast has just begun!

The party really gets going with the ripening of Cascara berries. These tiny purple-black berries ripen a few at a time, each berry cluster having reddish and green berries along with ripened ones.  I’ve seen Evening Grosbeaks eat green berries, they are usually the first to head for the treetops of the largest Cascaras. But as more berries ripen, the diversity of diners increases. Finally, considered one of the most beautiful of American passerines, the Cedar Waxwings arrive.  Their tanish gray bodies, soft yellow breasts, characteristic yellow-tipped tail and scarlet tipped wing feathers are just part of their unique characteristics.  It is a mystery to me why they are so beautiful, they have the same masked look as a Raccoon, and the feather head-dress of a Stellar Jay, both these characteristics should give them a more roguish look, like a masked robber with a slicked-back do.  But somehow they pull it off as stunning beauty.

I’ve done a bit of reading about Cedar Waxwings, having had a remarkable ‘nature experience’ years ago involving their eating habits.  While walking on a nearby logging road I came upon a small (by conifer tree standards) cedar tree, 20 to 25 feet tall.  It was completely covered with Cedar Waxwings, there was barely room for them all, resulting in some jostling for position.  I stood mesmerized.  Though I could barely see the tree branches through the mass of bird bodies, I did notice it had bumper crop of small green cones, the ‘berries’ of the cedar tree.  Returning the next day, thinking there might be some birds still around, I saw nary a bird and a tree completely void of cones (binoculars helped confirm this).

Thus the cedar part of their name.  These are the only birds who can exist almost solely on berries.  This is to their advantage in some unusual ways, such as, a Cowbird egg laid in a Waxwing nest is not likely to survive once hatched because, unlike the Waxwing chicks, it cannot thrive on the predominately berry diet. Waxwings do feed their young some bugs, but not enough for a Cowbird to survive.  An endearing behavior of Waxwings is the passing of flower petals and small twigs back and forth during courtship, as well as ‘snuggling’.  What’s not to love?  A handsome, roguish looking bird who brings gifts when courting, loves berries, and likes to party (they are often seen in large flocks, though I have never again seen a flock as large as I did that magical day on the logging road.)

This year we seem to have a family of three Cedar Waxwings flitting from tree to tree, they have been here for days, though I think there might be more.  They are birds on the move in the treetops, elusive to my photography equipment and skills. Looking at a photograph of one, I attempted this drawing of a Cedar Waxwing, but neither photographs nor drawings seem to portray accurately their loveliness. (Even Sibley’s Waxwings look fat and unfriendly, not the sleek beauties I see in the treetops).

Waxwings are not the only feasters in the Cascaras.  I watched a territorial Robin try, unsuccessfully, to bully the Waxwings out of one tree.  The Pigeons, having finished off all the Elderberries, will now chow down on Cascara.  There are other birds, not yet identified, flitting in and out.  Fortunately a few Cascara trees just outside our front window have lower branches so we will be watching and identifying these avian berry connoisseurs the remainder of the summer, the staggered ripening of Cascara berries makes them an available food source for the entire month of August.

It is also a bumper crop year for Red Huckleberries, and I was wondering, as I picked berries from the heavily laden bushes to give my chickens, who think they are the crème de la crème of treats, why I don’t see wild birds eating these little tart berries.  Then yesterday I saw out the window a Stellar Jay doing contortions while plucking the red juicy berries.   I was delighted to see a Jay back amongst our feathered friends, (they tend to disappear and be elusive during breeding season) and happy to know they enjoy huckleberries!

Red Huckleberries

To see a photo and read more about Cedar Waxwings: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. You can look up the other birds I mention on the same web site and hear the calls of each one, very helpful when trying to identify birds high in the treetops!

(Footnote:  Our raspberries are also abundant this year. Interestingly, wild birds don’t seem to care for the sweet domestic berries, given the surrounding wild harvest. However, squirrels are ravaging the canes, knocking berries on the ground, and eating them right in front of us! Grrrrrr!)

Surviving Summer

Everyone is complaining about the rain, the gray, the cold, the non-summer season we are experiencing here in the Northwest. In the rest of the country there is the searing heat. It is easy to complain about the weather. There is no immediate target for blame (the issue of climate change aside). There is no compulsion for the conscientious to write a letter to a senator or representative, or the editor of a local paper, no need to change political parties, or join an organization for change. There isn’t much we can do that will change the weather in the immediate future. And yet there are oodles of forums and blogs on the Internet discussing weather. We have a lot to say and a fascination with something we have very little control over. I do not mean we do not impact climate, but the day-to-day weather is beyond our immediate reach for management.

In all that it does, Nature has a remarkable way providing us opportunities for learning and introspection. Weather is no exception. Acceptance? Resignation? How un-American! We are a culture of action – if you are unhappy, do something about it! I’m reminded of cultures who live with dramatic, extreme weather every year – monsoons, sandstorms, unbearable heat one season, frigid cold the next. People who live with these extremes have adapted to them, have rituals, methods of survival, developed a level of sustainability that has lasted for centuries – when the climate anomalies happen, the expected monsoon does not come, the temperatures modify, plants that have adapted don’t flourish, nor do the animals and people dependent upon them, sustainability falters.

Our weather anomalies, still within the temperate zone, have a less dramatic affect on us – or do they? Will produce prices rise with smaller harvestable crops this year, due to lack of sun in the west, or rain in the heartlands? Could there actually be a shortage of food? Are we also susceptible to our basic survival needs being threatened by this unusual weather year? There is some evidence this can happen from past years when weather did affected crops, or increased fuel demand, causing supplies to decreased and prices to increased. The dust bowl of the 30s was certainly a time weather seriously affected many lives. Perhaps basic survival instincts are the deeper, unconscious, reason for our complaining, not the wedding that gets rained on, the vacation plans that need to be adjusted, the hike that is canceled.

It isn’t likely our survival is at risk from food shortages, as much as it might be at risk from our lack of adaptability, which obviously is a survival tool applicable in multiple areas of life. The need to adapt to the long range changes in our culture, economy, personal lives may be more critical than adapting to a freaky weather year. We have, as a society, perhaps been lulled into thinking we should have things a certain way. The weather may be giving us an opportunity to strengthen our adaptability muscles.

Maybe we just like to complain about something we can’t change, leaving us with one option – changing ourselves – our perspective and attitude.

It’s stopped raining, think I’ll go out and enjoy a beautiful wet, windy gray summer day!

Post Script: The sun appeared!

Honeysuckle does not seem to mind the gray – and the hummingbirds love the honeysuckle!