Sunday, January 31, 2010

Full Wolf Moon

This full moon is the Milk Moon in Annette Hinshaw's Calendar, but the Wolf Moon in many other calendars. The Wolf Moon is the moon of deep winter, the dark before the dawn of spring, when the wolves of hunger, darkness and despair are howling at the gates and the doors. Even for those of us 21st Century Americans who are not actually hungry, it can be a hard time.

One of the things that is cheering me this month is a new calendar/day planner I received as a suprise gift in the mail. Waverly Fitzgerald is a writer who speaks eloquently about time and seasonal holidays and I had been a fan of work for years before she asked for photo submissions for a new project. I showed her some selected work from my Flickr stream and she chose 4 photos for her Leaves From the Tree of Time day planner. She sent me four copies of the planner as a thank you. I've kept a sketchbook, day planner or calendar on and off over the years and enjoy the nudge towards mindfulness that I feel when I keep that practice. My favorite calendar ever was Cosmo Doogood's Urban Almanac, a short lived publication with everything from full moon dates, poems about trees and snow and guides to city parks around the country to articles on the natural history of pigeons. I still have both copies ever printed and love them to death. Waverly's Leaves from the Tree of Time is in that same vein with moon and holiday information and short essays to help align your thinking with the yearly cycle. I highly recommend checking out her site and her calendars. She does some amazing writing. Photo by: Uteart

How else do we tame the wolf of winter? Good food, good friends, time outside. Giving thanks and having faith that spring will come again. Here is a story for the Wolf Moon, a story about a man who, by being his best, brought out the best in The Wolf.

Note: This story is from God's Troubadour, The Story of St. Francis of Assisi, by by Sophie Jewett. I have slightly edited it for space, you can read the entire chapter, as well as the rest of the book at


"Said Grey Brother, 'Where shall we lair to-day? for from now we follow new trails.' "—Kipling.

THE huts in the plain below Assisi were the home of the Little Poor Men, in so far as they had a home for they were wanderers always. The Brothers Leone or Francis went on foot, and fought no battles; yet they had need to be as brave as the best of knights, for they went among the sick, and cared for those who were dying of most terrible diseases. They met fierce enemies, too, since many people hated them because they spoke without fear in the streets, saying that pride and greed and war are wicked, and that folk should live by love and labour, not by fighting and robbery. When people saw that the Brothers really lived as they preached, that, when they were stoned by cruel hands and abused by cruel tongues, they returned only gentleness for anger, many began to listen gladly, and even barons and princes came to love Francis and his Brothers, as the poor and wretched had loved them from the first.

Francis himself had a manner so sweet and winning that no one could refuse to listen to him; and sometimes he used to be sent for to make peace between two enemies, because even angry men, listening to his voice, forgot their hatred, and were ready to forgive and to be friends again. The stories say, moreover, that he could control not fierce men only, but the fiercest of wild beasts.
One of the places which Francis often visited is a little city called Gubbio, about fifteen miles north of Assisi. Gubbio looks not unlike Assisi, but is still more steeply built up a mountain side. In those days the stone houses seemed to huddle within the great city walls for shelter, for there was frequent fighting at Gubbio.

Once, when Brother Francis came to Gubbio, all the city was in terror because of a wolf, the largest and fiercest ever known. The huge creature prowled about the country, devouring sheep and goats; but, worse than that, it fell upon men, and had killed more than one shepherd. No man dared to go out of the gates alone, and even three or four together went armed, as if to battle; for the beast came close to the city walls, and his strength was as that of three hunters.
Bands of citizens had been out to seek the wolf, but had found only the track of his big feet, and the bones of the victims that he had eaten. Night after night the children of Gubbio shivered in their beds, thinking of a long shadow that crept about the city walls in the moonlight, and seeming to hear the pad of four swift feet, coming nearer and nearer.

Brother Francis had been often in Gubbio and was well known there, and much loved, and therefore all the people turned to him with the stories of their suffering. He was sorry, says the old tale, to see the folk wishing, but not daring, to go outside the gates, because the wolf was most terrible and fierce. To the astonishment and horror of everybody, Francis declared that he would himself go out and meet the wolf.

Though all the crowd begged him not to venture, and filled his ears with accounts of the cruelty of the beast, the Little Poor Man went out from the city gate and down the road toward the spot where the wolf was thought to lurk. Behind the Brother came the citizens of Gubbio, still frightened, but curious to see what would happen, and, it may be, quieted by the coolness and fearlessness of Francis. Close at the heels of the Brothers marched certain venturesome boys, and at the very end of the procession dangled a group of smaller, timider children, round-eyed and open-mouthed, who clutched each others' hands, and were always ready to scamper home at a moment's warning.

About a quarter of a mile beyond the gate, where a wood of tall oaks and walnuts shadowed the road, those who were nearest turned pale at the sight of the wolf, coming swiftly along, with his great jaws open, eager to spring upon Brother Francis, who walked ahead and alone. He went, not as a soldier goes to meet an enemy, but as one might go out to meet a welcome friend.
As the unarmed man and the wild beast neared each other, Francis called, cheerily: "Come hither, Brother Wolf! I ask you, for Christ's sake, to do no harm to me nor to any one." Then the crowd saw, with wonder, that the terrible wolf stopped running, and that the great, wicked jaws closed; and, presently, the creature came softly up to Brother Francis and, meek as a lamb, lay down at his feet. And Francis spoke to him as one man might reason with another: "Brother Wolf, you do much harm in all this countryside, and you have committed many crimes, hurting and killing God's creatures. Not only have you killed and eaten beasts, but you have dared to kill men, made in God's image, and, therefore, you deserve to be punished like the worst of thieves and murderers; and all the people cry out and murmur against you; and everybody is your enemy." The wolf lay perfectly still, with his head flat in the dust of the road, and his red tongue lolled out like that of a winded hound. The people forgot their fright, and spread themselves in a circle that all might see and hear; the children tiptoed closer, to look at the monster who had filled all their dreams with terror. "But I wish, Brother Wolf," went on the voice of Francis, "to make peace between you and this folk, so that you shall not harm them any more; and they shall forgive you all your misdeeds, and neither the men nor the dogs shall trouble you any longer." Then, with body and head and tail, the great wolf seemed to agree to all that Brother Francis said. Perhaps the wolf somewhat wondered what he should do for dinner, if he could not kill a sheep nor a child; perhaps he was so charmed by this strange, gentle voice that he forgot all about his dinner. Brother Francis did not forget, as his next words showed. "Brother Wolf," said he, "since you are honestly willing to make and keep this peace, I promise you that, as long as you live, the men of this place shall give you food, so that you shall never go hungry; for I know well that it is hunger that has made you do all this evil. But I want you to promise me, in return, that you will never harm any human being, nor any animal. Will you promise me this?" And the wolf nodded his head, as if he said: "Yes, I promise." And Francis said: "Brother Wolf, I want you to make me so sure of your promise that I cannot doubt it." The man held out his hand, and the beast lifted his paw and laid it clumsily on Brother Francis's palm, as much as to say: "Here is my hand. I will keep my part of the treaty." "And now," said Francis, "I wish you, Brother Wolf, to come with me, and not to be afraid, and we will finish this business."

Francis turned back toward the city, and the wolf walked beside him like a pet lamb; and the people of Gubbio followed, in great wonder, silently. But, once within the city, they spread the news from street to street and everybody, big and little, young and old, crowded into the square to see Brother Francis and the wolf.

Beside the fountain, in the centre of the square, stood the Little Poor Man in his grey gown, with the great grey beast at his side. When he spoke, his clear voice carried far, and all the crowd fell silent, striving to hear. "Listen, my friends," said Francis, "Brother Wolf, who is here before you, has promised me on his honour never to hurt you again in any way; and you, in your turn, must promise to give him all that he needs. I will go surety for him that he will keep his promise." And all the people, with one voice, pledged themselves to feed the wolf, and not to harm him.

Then, before them all, Brother Francis said to the wolf: "And you, Brother Wolf, promise again before all this people that you will keep faith with them, and will hurt no man, nor animal, nor any living thing." Then the wolf knelt down and bent his head and said, as well as he could, with his body, his head and his ears, that he meant to keep his word. And Brother Francis said: "Give me your hand here, before all the people, as you did outside the gate"; and the big grey paw was laid again in the hand of Brother Francis, while all the people shouted to heaven for joy that God had sent so good a man to deliver them from so terrible a beast.

After this Brother Wolf lived in Gubbio, and went about tamely from door to door, even entering the houses, without doing harm or being harmed. He was well fed and politely treated by everybody, and not a dog dared to bark at him. He must have led a long life of evil-doing before his change of heart, for, at the end of two years, he died of old age. When he died, all the citizens of Gubbio mourned for him greatly, for his own sake, and because the sight of him walking so meekly through the streets had made them always remember the goodness of Brother Francis.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Forty Two with a Seventy Percent Chance of Rain

Forty two with a seventy percent chance of rain, that's the weather forecast for this week following the new Milk Moon. It was the forecast for last week, too. And next week. Yup, it's January in Portland, Oregon. We don't even get the excitement of a blizzard, or a flood (though those could pop up), it's just rainy and grey all week long. My dog walks are almost always in the dark and I've taken to hanging up my outdoor pants with the dog towels by the door because they are usually muddy up to my knees. My car is starting to smell musty from the wet dog in it so often, and the trees and ferns in the park just look water logged.

Winter Song
by Katherine Mansfield

Rain and wind, and wind and rain.
Will the Summer come again?
Rain on houses, on the street,
Wetting all the people's feet,
Though they run with might and main.
Rain and wind, and wind and rain.

Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.
Will the Winter never go?
What do beggar children do
With no fire to cuddle to,
P'raps with nowhere warm to go?
Snow and sleet, and sleet and snow.

Hail and ice, and ice and hail,
Water frozen in the pail.
See the robins, brown and red,
They are waiting to be fed.
Poor dears, battling in the gale!
Hail and ice, and ice and hail.

This is the time of year when winter really starts grating on a person. The glitter and joy of the holidays are over but spring is a long, long, long way away. It seems like the trees and birds and squirrels are all resting, but I have to keep getting up every day and going to work. It makes me feel pretty gloomy. I have learned that I don't do well if I totally fight against the gloom, nor do I do well if I completely give in. I can tend towards the phlegmatic in temperament and so letting myself just sit on the couch, eat ice cream, read and sleep all winter is a bit too tempting. At this time of year I need to strive for a good balance between honoring my body, and the season's, imperative for the renewal of rest, and finding reasons to celebrate and hope until nature comes marching in with blaring flowers and brilliantly sunny days.

Last winter I wrote a little about hope and learned that the deadly sin we call sloth was originally called despair. Despair was thought of as the refusal to enjoy God's goodness or the inability to love God with all one's heart and soul. So then that means that hope is the act of loving God with all one's heart and soul, despite the grey and wet, despite the unemployment statistics, despite the images coming out of Haiti. How audacious! But that's our job in these dark days of winter. We need to start looking for signs of spring in sprouting daffodils and crocuses, signs of hope amid disasters and signs of hope in our own lives.

What is getting you down this winter and how are you buoying yourself against it? What is the most beautiful, hopeful, delicious or glorious thing you've seen or heard recently? How do you keep your house and car mud-free?

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Story for the Birth Moon

As I was writing the previous post on the Birth Moon I couldn't fit all the pieces in my head together into a coherent post, so I split the post into two. Here is a story for the Birth Moon. No commentary, just my own block crayon illustration.

ST. LUKE, II, 1-16

AND it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria. And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; because he was of the house and lineage of David: To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year!

This year the full moon in the Birth Moon in this year happened to fall on New Years Eve of 2009. I didn't get to see the moon, it was a wet, cloudy, drizzly night here in Portland, OR, but my flickr friends all over the world captured some amazing photos. Not only was New Years eve a full moon, it was a blue moon, or the second full moon in a calendar month. It was also a partial lunar eclipse (not visible in the Western Hemisphere) and a magically powerful moon by all other measures. My friend Riana from the south of France wrote eloquently about the magic of this moon here.

Photo by Bourbon Familia.
Magic is all around on a night like New Years, isn't it? I was out with friends, surrounded by love, liquor and music ringing in 2010 with style. The evening was auspicious, especially considering we hitched a ride home in a stretch hummer limo! I woke up in the morning feeling much better than I had expected (also auspicious!), had a fantastic breakfast with friends, got my change in two dollar bills (!) and went home to make black eyed peas and greens. How can 2010 not be fantastic?

Early on New Years morning (well, not THAT early, but early) I was laying on my friend's couch, listening to the sounds of the city, when a thought came to me about time. What is it that makes this day special? On one level, nothing makes it special. By any objective measure of time this sunrise is exactly the same as yesterday's sunrise. Different cultures all over the world celebrate the "new year" in different seasons - the Celts celebrate in the late fall/early winter, the Jewish calendar starts in the early fall/late summer, the Chinese calendar starts later in the winter and many cultures celebrate a new year in the spring. Our New Year right after the solstice is a hold over from the Roman calendar, and like our day, week and month labels is all pretty arbitrary.

At the same time, the day is different. It is special and unique. We have declared it unique and celebrate that uniqueness as a community. This is why I am so interested in integrating my practice of following the Wheel of the Year with "the real world". I don't want to celebrate by going out into the woods, naked and alone and worshipping a deity (though woods, alone and deity are all important parts of my practice, and can be very fulfilling for other people). I want my celebrations to include my friends and family who maybe have not thought about spirituality the way I have, or not come to the same conclusions. And that communal celebration is a strong kind of magic.

*** *** ***
Ring Out, Wild Bells
by Alfred Tennyson (England 1809-1892)

Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky,
The flying cloud, the frosty light:
The year is dying in the night;
Ring out, wild bells, and let him die.

Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.

*** *** ***

I followed my tradition of eating black eyed peas and greens for dinner on New Year's Day but cooked the peas differently this year than last. I made some goals and reflected on the year and went to bed early ready to face the new year. What bells did you ring to celebrate the New Year? How do "secular" celebrations fit into your spiritual practice? Did you make beans and greens this year? Oh.. and just because I didn't have another photo to post, here is one of me and my dog Tumalo sometime close to the Full Birth Moon.

P.S. I have been thinking about trying to come up with a non-number naming scheme for YEARS to compliment the seasonal names of the moons. In one of my favorite kids books, Redwall by Brian Jaques, the animals that live at Redwall Abbey name the years after events that happen such as The Year of the Late Rose, or The Year of The Giant Perch or some such. Do any of you have any thoughts on naming years? Have you ever named a year? What would you submit for 2009? For 2010?