Thursday, August 20, 2009

Breathe a Sigh of Relief

It has come, finally, my favorite time of year. This new moon is called the Nesting Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar and it is the moon I was born in. Do you feel most comfortable, most at ease right around your birthday? Maybe it's a Virgo/Nesting Moon thing, but I do. After the hot, frantic month of August, September comes in like a cool breeze. I wake up feeling like the world has color again.

This year the Nesting Moon starts a little early for my tastes, still well in the ick of August, but I still feel a slight shift in the energies around me. The Nesting Moon is the first hint of fall, when leaves start changing and we all start getting ready for what will come. It's a time to take action on plans and put up food, weatherize the car, start settling down for the coming winter. It's a time to start thinking about the future and what makes you safe.

Every evening on my drive home from work I listen to NPR's Marketplace. Kai Ryssdal is totally my NPR crush. Anyone who listens to Marketplace, or other financial news or other news shows, or has not been living under a rock, knows that at about this time last year our economy suffered a pretty serious collapse. People freaked out, people thought a new depression was upon us or that the entire capitalist system would collapse. 12 months later that hasn't happened, but times are tough for many people. Last fall when I was listening to Marketplace on my increasingly dark and wet drive home from work I had my own version of a run on the bank. One night I found myself at the discount grocery store with a grocery cart full of meat for the freezer and canned goods for the pantry. When I got home and got everything put away I had reveled in my sense of security. I felt like I could weather whatever the winter and the next great depression threw at me.

But that stocked pantry probably wouldn't actually keep me safe, would it now. If the electricity went out the meat would rot in the freezer and I wouldn't have a way to heat up all that canned soup. Some people take this idea of self sufficiency to extreme lenghts and stockpile years worth of shelf stable food in underground bunkers. Other people believe that their virtuous actions or right beliefs will keep them safe in this unsafe world. I'm not really sure that any of that will keep us safe. The world isn't safe, it's crazy and unpredictable and diverse and beautiful. What is it that keeps wild creatures safe? Horses have their speed and sharp hooves, but they still get taken down by wolves and lions. Squirrels gather nuts and make a soft, warm nest but they still freeze and starve in the bleak days of late winter. Nothing really keeps them safe except faith that the Mother will see them through, or she will be doing what's right if they don't make it through.

We Virgos and other Nesting Moon natives have a hard time giving up that control to the Mother. We like to think that our full pantries, virtuous lives and pure thoughts will keep us above the fray of this dirty, scary world. This fall, though I am engaging in some food preservation activities like jamming and drying fruit, I am not letting myself get pulled into a frenzy of stocking up to make myself feel safe. God helps those who help themselves, but the Goddess provides.

Instead, I will spend my fall enjoying the weather and watching the leaves turn brilliant colors. I'll enjoy the misty mornings, blazing afternoons and early evening star gazing. What are you doing this fall to make yourself feel safe? What signs of the coming autumn and winter do you see around you? Do you like this time of year or dread it?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Aftermark of Almost Too Much Love

To Earthward
by Robert Frost

Love at the lips was touch
As sweet as I could bear;
And once that seemed too much;
I lived on air

That crossed me from sweet things,
The flow of--was it musk
From hidden grapevine springs
Downhill at dusk?

I had the swirl and ache
From sprays of honeysuckle
That when they're gathered shake
Dew on the knuckle.

I craved strong sweets, but those
Seemed strong when I was young;
The petal of the rose
It was that stung.

Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain

Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.

When stiff and sore and scarred
I take away my hand
From leaning on it hard
In grass and sand,

The hurt is not enough:
I long for weight and strength
To feel the earth as rough
To all my length.


In Earth Time, Moon Time Annette Hinshaw quotes this poem, specifically the lines "Now no joy but lacks salt that is not dashed with pain... ; I crave the stain of tears, the aftermark of almost too much love." At first read, and in most literary analyses of the poem I saw, it is a story of longing for youthful love and discontent with the bitterness of age. Most comments about the poem focused on the sexuality of the first half of the poem and interpreted the last stanza as a longing for death. One blogger, Kelly Fineman, sees the whole poem as a bit more ambiguous than all of that. "I don't think he's a masochist; he's a realist who accepts the complexities of the world, including the negatives along with the positives," she says. I don't even see negatives in this poem, I just see the next step.

Like any good love story the story of this poem can be not only about an individual Lover and Beloved, but also about eternal, universal or cosmic Lovers and Beloveds. It could be about any of us, it could be about all of us, it could be about the God and Goddess or about the Creator and the Created.

In the Wiccan Great Story there comes a time of the year (this time of the year, in fact) when the Father God realizes that he must sacrifice his individual life so that the universal life may continue. He understand that after the spring and early summer of loving his Goddess and their Creation he must shoulder the weight of his responsibility. May and June were the time of those "strong sweets" that caused the "swirl and ache" of the creating-love. Now, August and into September comes the "sweet of bitter bark and burning clove" of sustaining-sacrificing-love. We still get the "aftermark of almost too much love" in the form of the harvest and the hot late summer days, but we know, as he knows, that winter is on it's way.

August is a difficult time of year for me. My birthday is in the first week of September and I feel like August is the end of my cycle. It's that frustrating time before the next start when you aren't quite sure what to do next. I also think the discord between the hot temperatures and shortening days sends me into an existential funk. I seem to weather it well these days, but it's a frustrating few weeks.

How are the shortening days and growing harvest effecting you? How do you feel about the responsiblities you have towards the things you have created? What do you think about Frost's poem?

Thank you to DW and Stubborndev for their beautiful photos.

Monday, August 3, 2009

August Eve, In the Woods!

In the heat of the summer comes the festival of Lammas, Lughnassad or Teltane - the festival of the first harvest. In the Great Story this is the time when the Father God accepts his duty to sacrifices himself so that all life may continue to be reborn. One story of this time of year is that of John Barleycorn, who as he dies turns into the seed which will be planted so he can grow again the next year. The grain's sacrifice allows nourishing bread to be made.

Another god associated with this time of year is that of Lugh, a celtic diety who's many names refer to his "long arm" or "skilled ways". There is a story that his foster mother, a royal by the name of Tailtiu, was set to the task of clearing a forest so grain could be planted but died of exhaustion in her attempt. Lugh declared a feast in her honor and organized games to be played during the feast. This feast and games are in some way the predecessor of our modern county fairs with rodeos and family picnics with potato sack races.

In exploring how I celebrate this festival I been drawn time and again to this idea of gathering together to play games or be outdoors. One year I organized a picnic at the beach for my Americorps team that included crazy bat races, rain gear relays and water balloon tosses. Like most of my Wheel of the Year celebrations it was not explicitely a Lammas celebration, but the meaning was just the same. This year I organized a camping trip to Central Oregon. It was glorious!

I took two whole days off work and spent three night camping along side beautiful lakes outside of Bend, Oregon. A group of friends came out to meet me and we spent our days swimming, lounging, napping and preparing food together and our evenings eating and drinking around a campfire (and moaning over our sunburned shoulders and thighs!). And of course we cooked things over the campfire. You would never believe how good a can of Dinty Moore stew is when cooked in a wood fire and eaten in the woods. We also made a giant batch of veggie packs, a perennial favorite campfire fare.

Camp Fire Veggie Packs

To bring with you camping:
*A big roll of heavy duty aluminum foil
*Cooking oil of your choice (or strips of bacon, if you do that sort of thing)
*A cutting board and knife sharp enough to cut your veggies
*Vegetables - onions, carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, garlic, broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, brussels sprouts, green beans. Whatever is in season and tasty.
*Salt, pepper, garlic powder and/or other seasonings of your choice
To assemble and cook:
*Cut your veggies into relatively uniform size pieces, about 1 inch square. Keep harder veggies a little smaller than softer ones so they cook in about the same time.
*Tear off relatively large square sheets of aluminum foil and lay two on top of each other. Add a little cooking oil to the top square and add a selection of veggies. Mix and match your favorites as you would like - try carrots and mushrooms, or brussels sprouts and onions - or just add a little of everything. You don't want to overload the foil pack with veggies or they will steam and not cook evenly. Imagine the square of foil divided into a 3x3 grid and you don't want your veggies to take up too much more than the center square. Stir the veggies gently to oil them all up and sprinkle with salt, pepper or other seasoning. Alternatively, lay slices of bacon on the foil, add veggies on top and then maybe another slice of bacon. Try this with potatoes or eggplant. Wow.
*Fold the foil over the sides of the pile of veggies and then bring the top and bottom up and crimp it down over itself to seal the packet. It should be pretty securely crimped up.
*Place the sealed up packet of veggies either in the coals surrounding the fire or on a grate over top of a hot coal bed. You don't really want to place the foil over licking flames but instead over hot coals that you rake away from the flames. Leave the packets for 20 minutes or longer, depending on how hot the coals are and how big your veggies are. You can use tongs to pull one pack out, open it up (carefully so the steam doesn't get you) and taste. Crimp it back up and throw it back in if they aren't done to your liking. It's best when they get a little charred around the edges. That's how you know you're camping!

I realized as I was getting ready to leave on Sunday that I hadn't looked at a clock, except incidentally as I drove to and from the swimming beach, in close to 48 hours. I was living according to the natural rhythm of summer camping - wake up when the tent gets too hot, go to the lake when the campsite gets too hot, nap in your tent when the thundestorms hit, cook over the fire as it gets dark and fall asleep when you are tired.

In her book Slow Time, Waverly Fitzgerald writes about how our artificial time of seconds and days and months came into existence and offers activities to help us jump off the hamster wheel and into the river of natural time. It's hard to do in a 40 hour work week when I have to be somewhere at a specific time and get to leave at another specific time but it feels wonderful when I can break away from it.

Like the natural time of waking when the sun comes up and resting when it goes down the festival of August Eve reminds us that a time will come, quite soon, for the year to rest in the darkness of winter. August Eve reminds us that the fields must rest in the darkness of the fallow season and eventually our bodies must rest in the darkness of death. But not quite yet. We still have a glorious harvest season ahead of us including the hot, lazy Dog Days of summer.

How did you celebrate August Eve? When was the last time you broke away from artificial time and swam in the river of natural time? What is reminding you of the upcoming harvest and subsequent winter? What's your favorite thing to cook over a campfire?