Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wolves at the Gate

New Birth Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

    “Lose the bobcat?” she asked him.
    “No, lost you. For a while.”
    “Not for long, I see.”
    He was wearing his hat again, with the brim pulled low. She found it harder to read his eyes. “You weren’t after that cat today,” he accused. “That trail’s a few days old.”
    “That’s right.”
    “I’d like to know what it is you’re tracking.”
    “You’re a man that can’t hold his horses, aren’t you?”
    He smiled. Tantalizing. “What’s your game, lady?”
    His eyes widened, only for a second and a half. She could swear his pupils dilated. She bit her lower lip, having meant to give away nothing. She’d forgotten how to talk with people, it seemed – how to sidestep a question and hide what was necessary.
    “And bobcats, and bear, and fox,” she piled on quickly, to bury the coyotes. “Everything that’s here. But especially the carnivores.”
    She shifted, waiting, feeling her toes inside her boots. Wasn’t he supposed to say something after she finished? When he didn’t, she suggested, “I guess you were looking for deer the other day?”
    He gave a small shrug. Deer season was many months over and gone. He wasn’t going to be trapped by a lady wildlife ranger with a badge. “Why the carnivores, especially?” he asked.
    “No reason.”
    “I see. You’re just partial. There’s birdwatchers, and butterfly collectors and there’s gals like you that like to watch meat eaters.”
    He might have known this one thing could draw her talk to the surface: an outsider’s condescension. “They’re the top of the food chain, that’s the reason,” she said coldly. “If they are good, then their prey is good, and its food is good. If not, then something’s missing from the chain.”
    “Oh yeah?”
By Jerolek
    “Yeah. Keeping tabs on the predators tells  you what you need to know about the herbivores, like deer, and the vegetation, the detritovores, the insect populations, small predators like shrews and voles. All of it.”
    He studied her with a confusion she recognized. She was well accustomed to watching Yankee brains grind their gears, attempting to reconcile a hillbilly accent with signs of a serious education. He asked finally “And what you need to know about the shrews and voles would be what, exactly?”
    “Voles matter more than you think. Beetles, worms. I guess to hunters these woods seem like a zoo, but who feeds the animals and cleans up the cage, do you think? Without worms and termites you’d be up to your hat brim in dead tree branches looking for a clear shot.”

 *** *** ***
The new moon this month is the new Birth Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar and the new Wolf Moon in Jessica Prentice's. It is the dark of winter, the testing place of the wisdom and support we gathered over the last summer both physically as well as emotionally and spiritually. Did the fields and herds provide enough food for us this year? Did we store enough food to last the winter? Do we have the friend and kin support to get us through the dark times?  

Humans are like other large animals top predators in that we require huge amounts of land to support our needs. Each one of us requires entire armies of farmers and ranchers, crop plants and livestock animals, food packagers, butchers and cooks to meet our food needs. Estimates of how much land a human needs to meet their food needs range from 1/5 of anacre to over 10 square miles, depending on the climate and intensity of agriculture, but no matter what, we are resource intensive creatures. In the last 50 years agriculture in the western world has changed drastically with the input of petroleum fuel and chemical fertilizers, reducing some of the human labor required to feed our growing population that now tops 7 billion souls. Unfortunately, this oil based food system is not sustainable in the long term. Unlike natural ecosystems, it both requires an in put that is not renewable and 
By Ricky NJ
it also produces waste that is not useable by the system. In fact, the waste and destruction caused by our modern agribusiness practices makes the entire ecosystem unhealthy for both humans and many other animal and plant species.

Wolves and other large carnivores were some of the first species to feel the effects of western civilization as we developed the technology to take the land we needed for our agriculture. Wolves were hunted virtually to extinction in Europe and North America as industrial agriculture grew and by the middle of the 20th century there were only remnant populations in the far reaches of their former range. The environmental movement of the last 40 years has changed the way both the public and the government views wolves, however, and in the 1990s there was a program to reintroduce wolves to the northern Rocky Mountain areas of Idaho and Wyoming. By 2004 the original couple dozen wolves relocated from Alberta,Canada to central Idaho had expanded to over 450 animals and some of those were making their way across the Snake River into Oregon. Nearly sixty years after the last wolf bounty was paid in Oregon, the fish and wildlife department confirmed two pups born to the small Imnaha pack, the first in the state. Six more pups were confirmed in the 2009 breeding season and there are two other packs now roam the wilderness of north eastern Oregon.

This autumn big news broke when a young wolf left his home pack and started heading west across Oregon. By December OR 7, as he is known, had traveled over 700 miles and set up camp in the heavily forested land between Medford, OR and Crater Lake. OR 7 is a bit of a celebrity these days and his journey, and the notoriety it is getting, is stirring up the rural/urban, rancher/conservationist divide over the reintroduction of wolves to Western States. Like Eddie Bondo, the Wyoming rancher and hunter in Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer which I excerpted above, many people in rural Oregon view wolves as threats to their livelihood. The irony, of course, is that wolves returning to their mountains are in direct opposition to the real threat to their livlihoods.

By Fremlin
In Kingsolver’s beautiful novel, Eddie learns from the forest ranger Deanna about how important large carnivores are to the entire ecosystem they live in. Yes, large carnivores kill young and weak livestock, but another character in the novel notes that there are 10 other ways she might be responsible for the death of her animals. In fact, the land that supports a healthy population of carnivores can support a larger and healthier population of grazing animals. Even crop farmers benefit from the healthy ecosystems that support wolves, coyotes, bobcats and cougars. Those ecosystems provide clean water, balanced insect populations and habitat for pest rodents to live in so they are less likely to harass stored grains. Turns out, healthy ecosystems make for healthy farms, which in turn allow all people to live healthier lives.

I think one of the hardest things to wrap my city born brain around is just how detrimental our culture is to both wild things and to our own lifestyles. Our current practices of mining the earth’s resources are simply not sustainable – and I don’t mean that in the green washed way that Whole Foods or American Apparel mean it. I mean really, really for real, there is not going to be enough food, clean water, breatheable air or fertile soil to support the human population. We are filling our house with garbage and toxic waste, eating everything out of the fridge and refusing to see that things can’t go on like this.

The struggle for me, an environmentalist who cares about food issues and wildlife issues and really knows all about this stuff, is what to do on a daily basis. How do I make changes in my life that make it more sustainable, without abandoning civilization and living off dumpster diving and walking everywhere? I currently live a life that requires a car, and electricity and buying food at the grocery store. How do I take steps towards a life that this earth can actually support? Jessica Prentice quotes Martin Prechtel, the author of the book The Party’s Over, as he talks about the big, mechanized slug of a culture of progress. This “culture crushing mentality” has left behind a homogenized, lifeless civilization of freeways, big box stores and franchise restaurants. My sister went to India and her traveling partner insisted on eating McDonalds and KFC. It is mind boggling that you even can eat that food 
By Eoin C
so far away from the American heartland where it was invented! How do I fight this overwhelming slug without being a total outsider to my culture and community?

Prentice and Prechtel leave us with a simple, yet profoundly life shifting call to action; to recreate the interpersonal relationships found in our ancestral villages. Not to reject modern civilization (I do truly believe that appropriate technology will be profoundly useful in creating a sustainable culture) but building the human community within our civilization that makes life meaningful, valuable and worth honoring. In terms of food, this community is built through becoming a producer as well as a consumer, and trading with other individual producers. Buying eggs from a neighbor or local farmer, shopping for vegetables at the farmer’s market where you can shake the hand of the woman who grew your cauliflower, trading your dried oregano and wild harvested nettles for your neighbors apples or lettuce. These things allow us to see each other as valuable individuals, not just cogs in the wheel or obstacles on the way to our own fulfillment.

By Wiz411
We can create these webs of relationship in ways that don’t involve food, too. Taking the bus or walking allows us to really see our neighbors (and sometimes hear them, and smell them but that’s how we know they are real people). My group of friends is great at having the kinds of parties that allow us to build relationships, like Christmas lights viewing or cheese and wine parties or trips to the pumpkin patch. My church, like so many other places of worship, is another bastion of community relationships. When I was having such a dark time this last fall I realized that the culture of my church community involved explicitly being open with our needs and equally explicit with our ability to help each other both through encouragement and physical or material assistance. I learned that I had to be equally explicit with my non-church friends and once I did my needs were met quickly and lovingly.

The wolf is at the gate, this time of year. The days are dark and we are lonely, both in our daily lives and in our cultural life. Wolves show us how interconnected we all are and how important strengthening and honoring those connections really is. How connected do you feel these days, to your friends and family, your community and your larger ecosystem home? How do these connections nourish you, ground you or leave you feeling confined? Who do you like to buy your food from or share your food with? Do you have any wolf, coyote or other large predator sighting stories to share?  

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Milk Moon but it was really the Birth Moon. Since the post itself is more about the Wolf Moon, I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

New Birth Moon 2008: Waiting

New Birth Moon 2009: Advent, Awaiting the Birth

New Birth Moon 2010: Winter is Dark, Yet Each Tiny Spark

My full Milk Moon post in January of 2010 is also about the Wolf Moon, and retells the wonderful story of St. Francis and the wolf of Gubbio.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

It is Christmas

Winter Solstice

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

It's Christmas time again! They claim it is the most wonderful time of the year, and in some ways I am apt to believe them. The month of December is full of a heady mix of memories of childhood Christmas wonders, of comforting 
White Christmas
rituals of sweets, songs and good cheer and the palpable divine mystery that both the Christian Christmas and the pagan Solstice celebrations commemorate.

Don't get me wrong, there is plenty wrong with Christmas. Finding a balance between the "putting Christ back in Christmas" religiosity on one side and the crass consumerism on the other is difficult. I was actually nauseous the other day, seeing someone's lawn decorations of five foot tall inflated snow globes and light up Santa's sleighs on the roof and fifteen miles of electric lights. The money and resources wasted on such displays is so very needed by poor and starving people all over the world. How can we look ourselves in the mirror when we spend money on that? But neither does the austere, focus on the infant Christ born of a Virgin to die for our sins type of Christmas appeal to me. And then there are the
A Charlie Brown Christmas
smaller, more intimate and familial land mines to navigate during this time of year. Sometimes I wonder if I should call the whole thing off. 

In her wonderful story, Visions of Sugar Plums, Margaret Morrison struggles with this dilemma. She is cleaning up after her Wiccan coven's Winter Solstice ritual when who should come to the door but jolly Old St. Nick. She tells him in no uncertain terms that she doesn't believe in Santa Claus, or baby Jesus or any of the other things that Christmas is all about but he... well, you should go read it to find out what he says to her. Let's just say, that friend speaks my mind.

Rivkah from the blog Bat Aliya, in her post on Sukkot, wrote in other places Jews celebrate Sukkot, in Israel it is Sukkot. In thinking about Christmas this year, I realized how it is important to me to celebrate the festivals of my culture. I don't have any particular desire to be a cultural outsider and really enjoy being a part of the larger activities and celebrations of the people around me. I see enough of the earth based or pagan spiritual impulses in many of the majority culture holidays that I have never been uncomfortable with any disagreements in theology, and in fact, find great comfort in reliving, reinventing and rebuilding childhood traditions around holidays like Halloween, Easter and Christmas.

A Muppet Christmas Carol (the best Christmas movie ever!)
I've said in years past, Christmas is all about treats and traditions, Santa and Sinatra, a tree and a nativity scene and puppies in Santa hats. It's about the Muppet's Christmas Carol, Charlie Brown's tree and candy canes. As I build traditions that come out of my Quaker community it is getting to be more about O Come, OCome, Emmanuel, but I sing about all that snow in Vermont with my other friends.

How does your family celebrate Christmas? Do you have to reconcile theology with culture or do the two mesh well at this time of year? What are your family traditions for food, movies, songs or activities around Christmas time? What did Santa bring you this year?

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Winter Solstice 2008: Good Morning Sun! and also Solstice Creche

Winter Solstice 2009: Christmas and Advent, Awaiting the Birth

Winter Solstice 2010: Christmas, 2010Solstice Story, and The Dark of the Dark 

Winter Solstice 2011: Advent and The Long Nights of Winter

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Long Nights of Winter

Winter Solstice

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

by Tim Nolan

So much I've forgotten
the grass

the birds
the close insects

the shoot - the drip
the spray of the sprinkler

freckles - strawberries - 
the heat of the Sun

the impossible

the flush of your face
so much

the high noon
the high grass

the patio ice cubes
the barbeque

the buzz of them - 
the insects

the weeds of them - the dear
weeds - that grow

like alien life forms - 
all Dr. Suessy and odd -

here we go again -
we are turning around

again - this will all
happen over again-

and again - it will -

*** *** ***

Solstice night found me at a friend's house for a lovely party. It was low key but energetic, full of people I know but none of the heaviness that can sometimes come with the most intimate of our relationships. We drank homebrewed cider and played music well into the wee, wee hours. The cider was fantastic, a blast of summer sun and autumnal ripening into this dark winter night and an interesting kind of intoxication I don't get from beer or liquor. It was wonderfully planty and sunshiney. The music was equally invigorating. It's been much too long since I participated in making music and it felt like a deep and connecting thing to do on the longest night of the darkest season.  

Winter Sunrise
I did not wake up for the sunrise - my justification is that I have seen quite enough winter sunrises recently, thank you very much. I did, however, take a lovely walk first thing in the morning and soaked in all the winter sun I could get. 

And now, the days get longer. Thank Goddess for that!

What did you do to celebrate the longest night? Did you stay up all night or go to bed early to dream magical dreams? Do you wake up for the sunrise or eat a special meal or is it just another short, dark winter day? What do you miss most about summer?

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****


Winter Solstice 2008: Good Morning Sun! and also Solstice Creche

Winter Solstice 2009: Christmas and Advent, Awaiting the Birth

Winter Solstice 2011: Advent

Wednesday, December 21, 2011



**** **** **** **** **** **** **** 

My Advent creche is out again and getting filled, week by week, with creatures awaiting the rebirth of the light and the year.

After Thanksgiving, as the spirits of the Beloved Dead still lingered around the holiday festivities, we took down our Dia de los Muertos altara, carefully putting away the mementos of those loved ones who are no longer living.

In it's place came the Nativity creche, barren and empty at first. This is one of my favorite moments of the advent season, when the creche that represents our hearts in the deep of winter, is empty. ready to be filled.

And then it begins to fill. 

A candle I light 
On the creche tonight 
One candle now is seen 

For rocks and bones and shining stones 
One candle now is seen. 

We await on Earth 
The holy birth. 
Our hope arises with the flame. 
Our love and faith shall grow the same. 
One candle now is seen.

On the first week of Advent we added stones, shells and bones. My quartz crystal cluster goes on, looking like something straight out of a Waldorf school story, and so does that improbably twisted bit of rock I collected in Southern Oregon all those years ago. Barren, still, but filling. And waiting.  

Two candles I light 
On the creche tonight 
Two candles now are seen 

For grass and trees, fruit and seeds 
Two candles now are seen. 

We await on Earth 
The holy birth. 
Our hope arises with the flame. 
Our love and faith shall grow the same.
Two candles now are seen.


On the second week of Advent plant material is added. Boughs of Douglas Fir from out in front of my apartment building, bottle brush trees and a garland of green beads bring the realm of plants into the waiting, as well. 

Three candles I light 
On the creche tonight 
Three candles now are seen 

For creatures all who run, fly or crawl 
Three candles now are seen. 

We await on Earth 
The holy birth. 
Our hope arises with the flame. 
Our love and faith shall grow the same. 
Three candles now are seen.


On the third week of Advent the animal realm came in the form of horse, frog, goat and owl figurines in ceramic, enamel, wood and plastic. On the fourth week of Advent humans join the waiting. Mary and Joseph, some magi, a fairy godmother and a few others. Look how festive and full the creche is now! 

Four candles I light
On the creche tonight 
Four candles now are seen 

For you and me, all people who were or will be 
Four candles now are seen. 

We await on Earth 
The holy birth. 
Our hope arises with the flame. 
Our love and faith shall grow the same. 
Four candles now are seen. 

And soon, soon, soon it will be Solstice and then Christmas. The rebirth of the sun and the year! This year, my sister and I are also filling an Advent calendar with little gifties for each other. What a treat to open the drawer and find something tasty each day.

How does your family celebrate Advent? Do you decorate a creche or have an Advent calendar? Do you light candles on a table centerpiece or do something else to count down the weeks and days to Christmas or solstice? I'd love to hear about your traditions.

**** **** **** **** **** **** **** 
Advent 2008: Waiting and Solstice Creche 

Advent 2009: Christmas, Advent, Awaiting the Birth, and Moving from the Season of the Dead 

Advent 2010: Winter is Dark, Yet Each Tiny Spark 

Advent 2011: Living in Relationship

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Living in Relationship

Full Death Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

During one of the last really difficult times in my life I found myself on a bus in Providence, Rhode Island right around this time of year, in fact. It was a terrible, dumb night and I looked out the window to see a sign on top of a cab that read, "Sometimes you're the pigeon, and sometimes you're the statue." It felt apt then, and it still feels pretty apt.

Life is hard and sometimes we make it harder than it needs to be. Once again, I feel like I am being shown and asked to work through the same situation over and over again in various aspects of my life because it is just that important right now. The situation this time is all about relationships. How do we live in relationship with other? How do we form and nurture relationships when we come from very different kinds of lives? How do we nurture relationships as our lives change? How do we address issues we have with other people's actions and values within the context of relationships?

This is the darkest time of the year when days are short and cold. The Earth has breathed her soul back in, bringing back the experiences gained from a summer of living out in the cosmos to be worked into wisdom in this dark time. This inward motion pulls the creatures that live on her surface into various kinds of rest, repose and reflection. Some creatures are sleepy and dormant, others have actually died, living on only in their seeds or eggs that will burst forth in life as spring warms them. Humans, too, feel this pull to be indoors, introspective, dreamy or reflective. In some cultures winter is the time for story telling, retelling and recreating the narrative of the culture's beginnings and values each winter. In the Christian calendar this is the season of Advent, of waiting and preparing for the birth of the savior at the darkest dark point of the year. In my eclectic pagan theology, it is the time when we are also waiting, working on the wisdom we gathered during the last year's cycle and waiting for the new birth of the year at solstice.

As we consciously and unconsciously work through all the things we experienced over the last season of growth and harvest we discern patterns and come to conclusions about how our life is and how we want our life to be. The really tricky part comes when we have to make decisions about how to act on any of these conclusions.

At West Hills Friends the first light of advent was called the light of the prophets. Prophets are in direct relationship with god and speak up to their community about what they know. Their speaking up often puts them at odds with the people around them and can even sever relationships with people they used to be in strong relationship with. When Abram got word from Yaweh that he was to leave his home in Ur and travel to another land, it meant leaving behind everything and everyone he had known from childhood. John the Baptist was beheaded for his prophesying and Joseph Smith was run out of town (er, three of them), tarred and feathered and finally murdered for his prophetic visions. Being true to what you see, what you know and what you believe requires great courage and faith; courage to act despite the uncertainty and faith that you deserve to be heard, no matter the outcome.

The second light of advent this year at West Hills Friends was dedicated to the Angel Gabriel and those who receive his word with wonder. Our pastor told the story of Zachariah who, when told that his wife would become pregnant in her old age, asked how that would be and was promptly struck dumb. Many people consider this a punishment on Zachariah for questioning the Angel, but our pastor pointed out that Mary asked the same question and was not silenced. Zachariah's silence, our pastor argued, was a gift. He didn't have to explain himself, he didn't have to expound on his experience and he didn't have to defend his actions, belief or wonder. I see parallels between Zachariah's silence in the face of mystery with the silence of plants, the correspondence for the second week of advent in the Waldorf tradition. Plants and trees stand tall in the face of all the glory and mystery that is life on this planet.

Sometimes, as we wrestle with how to be in an authentic relationship with other people that is true to our own needs and beliefs, but also loves and honors the other person's innate humanity, we wrestle with these polar positions of speaking and being silent. How do we speak our truth with courage? When do we stay silent in the face of wonder that is god incarnate in another person's life? When do we speak up to protect our own integrity and how do we stay silent when we don't understand what is going on?

This month's full moon, the full moon in both the Death Moon and the Moon of Long Nights, is asking us all these questions and more. The full moon was fully eclipsed over much of the world on the night of December 10 and it feels like that eclipse brings even more questions and mysteries. As we spend these last two weeks sinking further into the darkness before the solstice, we might find ourselves wrestling with these questions. How do we live in relationship with other people? No one knows how to do it, but we all have to do it.

Moon photos by lamentables and jpstanley. Click on the photos or their names to see more of their amazing work. Thanks!

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. I wrote this thinking it was the Birth Moon but it was really the Death Moon. Since the post itself is more about the Moon of Long Nights, I just changed the tags and labels. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

Full Death Moon 2008: Full Moon in Taurus

Full Death Moon 2009: Moving From the Season of the Dead

Full Death Moon 2010: Wear it As Long as Thou Canst

The Full Birth Moon post in 2010, The Dark of the Dark is also about a lunar eclipse.

Saturday, December 3, 2011


Birth Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

I've always had favorite landmarks and trees and animals and views on my drives. I always note them and greet them when I drive past. I mark the changing seasons based on how they change and enjoy coming back and seeing them when my path takes me back that way after an absence. There is a potted tree on a balcony near the Marquam Bridge that I watched change with the seasons for three years. I still wave to the sign for Hugo, OR that was a landmark on my drive up from college in Ashland.

On my long drive to The Quiet Little Mountain Town I have a few... the field with the cows up near Colton, the guard llama in the field with the reservoir near Molalla and this tree. It is a huge, stately oak tree on the corner of Hwy 99E and Hwy 211 on the outskirts of Woodburn. It is so huge that it must have been there long before the Little Ceasar's pizza it now stands in the parking lot of, or the Arco and Safeway across the busy intersection. It must have stood there when this was a sleepy corner in the middle of berry, lettuce or alfalfa fields. It might even have been there when this was still a soggy oak meadow frequented by mule deer, coyotes and Kalapuya people.

But now it is a friend of mine. A big, stately tree, silhouetted against the winter sky marking my abrut turn from south to east or west to north, heralding the beginning of the scenic, post-sunrise portion of my drive of the dark, straight shot to home. Thank you, tree. Thank you for surviving. Thank you for sporting those dashing yellow leaves and now the splendid black branches against the grey sky. Thank you for surviving, and still being here to show me the way. I hope you are here for another century or more, doing your tree thing.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****
** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. The moon that this post was written about -the Birth Moon - and the moon that it actually was according to Annette Hinshaw's calendar - the Death Moon - are not the same. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **

This is an extra, bonus post for the Birth Moon this year. There will be a full, solid, Full Birth Moon post next week sometime. Check out my other posts labeled Birth Moon.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The New Birth Moon

New Birth Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Lest that last post leave you worried that I am drowning in depressing and darkness....

The veil has lifted. The Birth Moon is risen!

I can't tell what made the change. I finished a big writing portion of my student last week and am actually teaching now. Maybe I finally was able to hang onto the positive attitude breakthrough I've been bobbing in and out of for a few weeks. Maybe it was God showing me, through a question asked at Meeting last weekend of what would heaven look like, that really cemented the change of heart. My response was that heaven looks just like this life, only I get the unshakable, undeniable knowledge that everything that happens is part of the Divine System and really will make everyone stronger, smarter, wiser and happier. It felt like as soon as I wrote those words down the scales fell from my eyes and I really did see heaven here and now.

Yes, I'm still tired. Yes, there is tons of work and stress. But I do really, honestly feel... really know in my heart... that it is all just the work that has been set up, uniquely and purposefully, for me.

Have you ever felt this realization? How have you worked through hard periods in your life? What sooths you in times of stress the way the sight of the new crescent moon soothed me this week?

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. The moon that this post was written about -the Birth Moon - and the moon that it actually was according to Annette Hinshaw's calendar - the Death Moon - are not the same. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. ** 

New Birth Moon 2008: Waiting

New Birth Moon 2009: Advent, Awaiting the Birth

New Birth Moon 2010: Winter is Dark, Yet Each Tiny Spark

New Birth Moon 2011: It's Hard

I also talked about Very Hard Things in the post Very Bad Things and Our Lady of Sorrows.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's Hard

New Birth Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

I'm student teaching right now and it is possibly the hardest thing I've ever done.

What's so hard is the commute. A solid hour each way with the sun rising halfway through the morning drive and setting halfway through the evening drive - if I leave right on time, which I rarely do. It's a long, stressful drive and it leaves me exhausted every day.

What's so hard is how tired I am. To get there before class starts means waking up at 5am. I rarely make it back home before 7pm and then it's essentially make-dinner-pack-lunch-pass-out time.

What's so hard is how lonely I am. I don't see my friends, or really have much contact with them. My days are filled with strangers and people I'm not terribly fond of. And those long, long drives.

What's so hard is how stressed out I am. I have so much schoolwork, both for the student teaching itself and for my other classes. I'm behind in everything, and this knot in my stomach hasn't really left in a couple weeks.

It's all hard, and sometimes I drown in the hardness. Sometimes I can't see out of my own Debbie-Downer attitude about being tired and lonely and stressed out. Sometimes I cry. OK, more than sometimes.

The new moon we are celebrating this weekend is the Birth Moon in Annette Hinshaw's calendar and the Moon of Long Nights in the calendar Jessica Prentice lays out. The Moon of Long Nights is the month of the Winter Solstice, the month of darkness.

In her book, Full Moon Feast, Jessica Prentice discusses a number of authors and researchers who have looked at how the human body responds to light and darkness, disease and health, known and unknown. She says something I've stated before on this blog - that our culture is a culture of light and growth and bigger, better, onward and upward but our physiology needs rest periods. Too often we deny the darkness and fallow periods in life to the detriment of our psychological, spiritual and physical health.

What is interesting to me is not so much the darkness of winter, but other kinds of darkness. I have spent a number of years allowing myself to sink into that rhythm of the seasons and have come to quite enjoy the rest that comes with the long nights and wet days of winter. What I am experiencing right now, though, is a different kind of darkness, a dark time of a trial or that dark night of the soul some people experience when they feel so far away from god. It's just so hard.

Some days, I drown in the darkness. I am lonely and sad and tired and freaked out. I am being pushed and stretched and molded and it hurts. I think about staying in bed or of driving to Texas instead of to my Quiet Little Mountain Town. Some days I am sure my friends don't care about me and I'll never be able to do what is asked of me and it will all end in disaster. It is dark, and hard.

Other days, or other hours, I can bob up out of the darkness and feel the pull of the Birth Moon even in the midst of the darkness. The Birth Moon is the time when new light and new hope is born, even in the middle of the hard. I can see clearly, my head is on straight and I know this is all for the good. The hard is the call, it is the point of it all. If I didn't do anything hard I'd never get any better and this particular hard only lasts a couple more weeks. I am actually coping well and learning so much. And the sunrises, and the beautiful mountain valleys, and the leaves and the kids are all amazing.

On these days I feel so clearly and strongly my pronoic foundational beliefs. The Universe really IS a conspiracy to make me smarter, wiser, happier and better. The difficult is doing the exact same thing as the delightful; making my life more fully useful to god's purposes. I am being tested and trained in the crucible, but it is all for the best. Hard is the calling, hard is the name of the game. But it's still really, really hard.

My family's Thanksgiving tradition is to go around the table during dinner and say what we are thankful for. This week I had four different Thanksgiving dinners with four different "families" and four different delicious spreads of food. And at each dinner I said what I was thankful for; I am thankful for my friends and family who do love me, even if my monsters sometimes try to convince me otherwise. I am thankful that no matter how poor or disadvantaged I may feel, I can still buy gas, socks and chocolate ice cream. I am thankful for the hard. It really is working to liberate me from suffering, shower me with blessings and make me smarter, stronger and happier.

*** *** ***

For the wide sky and the blessed sun,
For the salt sea and the running water,
For the everlasting hills
And the never-resting winds,
For trees and the common grass underfoot.
We thank you for our senses
By which we hear the songs of birds,
And see the splendor of the summer fields,
And taste of the autumn fruits,
And rejoice in the feel of the snow,
And smell the breath of the spring.
Grant us a heart wide open to all this beauty;
And save our souls from being so blind
That we pass unseeing
When even the common thornbush
Is aflame with your glory,
O God our creator,
Who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

A Thanksgiving prayer by Walter Rauschenbush.

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. The moon that this post was written about -the Birth Moon - and the moon that it actually was according to Annette Hinshaw's calendar - the Death Moon - are not the same. For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. ** 

New Birth Moon 2008: Waiting

New Birth Moon 2009: Advent, Awaiting the Birth

New Birth Moon 2010: Winter is Dark, Yet Each Tiny Spark

I also talked about Very Hard Things in the post Very Bad Things and Our Lady of Sorrows.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The End of the Year

New Death Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

I just started my student teaching this week, or my "pre service teaching" as my University likes to call it (student teaching sounds too wimpy, they argue), and have been placed at a very small school in a rural community about an hour from my house. The early morning wake up is hellish, and the predawn drive a bit harrowing, but the school is very good and my cooperating teachers are going to work out really well. The real upside, besides finally getting into a classroom and beginning to actually teach, is my afternoon drives back through the farming country of the Willamette Valley. This is the land people crossed the mountains and deserts to get to, and still are, in fact (the town of Woodburn, about 40 minutes south of Portland, is the largest community in Oregon with over 50% of the population claiming Hispanic heritage). It is a beautiful country full of farms, fields and forests.

As I have been driving back and forth this week I have been noticing just how "done" the agricultural year is in the Willamette Valley. At the hop farms north of Woodburn the vines are all down and the tall support structures empty for the winter. There are many small farm stands along the way with signs up that say "Closed for the Winter", their vegetable patches empty and muddy. Alfalfa fields are mown and the rows of berry bushes are turning crimson and gold in the chilly nights. Higher up, closer to my school, most of the fields are either Christmas tree farms or horse, sheep or cattle pastures which are changing their character for the winter, too. The tall weeds are blackening and the grass is low and wet, just hanging on until spring. Horses have blankets on to ward off the chill and the sheep are woolly with their thick winter coats. One field of sheep has a guard llama in it and it took me two days to figure out exactly what that giant, woolly beast was. Everything is done growing and either dying back or just settling in for the winter. The people who work the land are settled in, too, or have moved on to other places where harvests are still happening. The land is just holding it's breath until the storms of winter come and, later, the renewal of spring.

It's the end of the cycle here at The Wheel and the Disk, too. This post marks the beginning of my fourth year of blogging. Again, this year, I posted for the new and full moon of every single month of the year plus at least one post for each eight solar holidays. In fact, I posted quite a few more posts than that, including two posts that were published in my Quaker Meeting's journal (here, and here) and two posts for Pagan Values Blogging Month (here, and here). Again, I celebrated Ramadan by finding meaningful information about Muslims, Islam and Ramadan and sharing it with my Facebook friends and then with you here at The Wheel and the Disk. My writings this year did an excellent job of highlighting the eclectic mix of inspiration I gather my own thinking from, including Quakers (and here, too), Catholics (and here, too), Buddhist stories, Greek mythology, Waldorf thought and practice and more modern stories, to name just a few. Some of my favorite posts from this year are the stories I wrote about Johnny Appleseed and Krishna and the Gopis. Neither of these stories are truly original - the plot and characters are as old as old can be - but I took them into my own self and brought them back out as original retellings.

This next year will be hard for me. One week into student teaching and I am already exhausted and overwhelmed. I wonder how this blog will fare when my time is so much more dedicated to teaching. I hope to keep writing both for myself and for you. I have seen my own thinking about the topics I explore deepen and broaden over the course of these three years and I want to keep exploring as long as I can. Next year, I would love to incorporate thoughts from another excellent book I have that is organized around the lunar months, Jessica Prentice's Full Moon Feast. She talks about seasonal food, community and connection through the lens of the seasonal round of moons. I think bringing this focus to my thinking, practicing and writing would be a wonderful challenge to align my life with my ideals about safe, sustainable and healthful food. I will take the year of blogging one step at a time, but promise to post something for each full and new moon, even if it is just a note or a photo.

As the land readies itself for the deep of winter, so do we. It is time to light our lanterns off the spark Michael took off the dying sun just those few weeks ago. It is time to bundle up, cuddle up and turn inward. Our season in the sun, expanded out towards the cosmos, has brought us a treasure trove of knowledge, now is the time to spend time working that into wisdom, as the gnomes work the sun's sparkling light into crystals during the winter.

How are you noticing the end of the year? What did you do in the last 12 months that you are most proud of, or from the last cycle you completed whether it took shorter or longer than 12 months? What wisdom did you bring back from your journeying and how are you lighting your lantern for the winter ahead? How has this blog touched you and your thinking? What would you like to see me think about, change or add next year? What was your favorite post from this last year?

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

** This winter was tough and I got messed up in my calendar. This post was written at the right time for the right moon, but there are other posts dated the same time about a differen moon. What tha? Where was I?? For more on my thoughts about this, see this post. **
New Death Moon 2008: Time is a Circle

New Death Moon 2009: The Soldier and Death (another one of my all time favorite posts. I absolutely love this story, and am quite fond of my own retelling of it :)

New Death Moon 2010: Night and Day

I reviewed my first year of blogging at The Full Sorting Moon and my second year a Year Two Complete!

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Snow Moon: Connecting with Our Food

Full Sorting Moon

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

The moon a month before the winter solstice in Jessica Prentice's book, Full Moon Feast, is called the Snow Moon. In a pre modern society, this is the time of the year when the larders are full and people are beginning to live off their stored food rather than fresh food. It is fascinating for us, modern people with modern conveniences, to ponder life without refrigeration or electric freezers. What exactly does it take to make sure your household has enough food stored in a way that it will keep until fresh food becomes available again? And what does it mean to us and our connection with our food, with our food producers and with our larger community of spiritual beings that we don't have to think about where our food comes from?

Like most Americans, I get most of my food from grocery stores. On any day of the year I can easily get to a store and bring home almost any kind of fruit or vegetable, hygienic foods preserved in cans, bottles or frozen and even any number of prepared foods for a rather reasonable price. It is a rare week when I have to think about what I am going to eat further in advance than a couple of hours or maybe a day or two. Jessica Prentice points out that Americans tend to act like big babies when it comes to their food. We expect it to be available to us at any time with very little thought or effort on our own part. She notes that we are aghast when people claim they don't know how to drive but hardly bat an eye when people say they don't know how to cook.

Our ancestors, and many people all over the world, put infinitely more care into their food than we generally need to. Many people need to spend hours of the day for months of their year to collect, prepare and preserve enough food to meet their needs. These people are intimately in touch with their food from the exact part of the garden or field that it came from or which individual animal provided the food, through to what it looks and feels like in the kitchen through how it acts when it is prepared and preserved. They have an deep, visceral connection with their food.

Over the past few years I have been making small, spiraling movements towards this kind of connection with my food. I grow a garden each year and revel in my own small harvests of snow peas, snap beans, cherry tomatoes and radishes. My garlic crop is my pride and joy and I relish the yearly rhythm of planting it right around Halloween, watching it come up in the February, monitoring it through the spring and deciding exactly when, in late June or early July, to dig up the whole patch. Then there is the process of tying the bunches to dry and checking on them every few days until they are ready to be trimmed, brushed of dirt and sorted into seed garlic and eating garlic. Luckily, garlic is good to eat at every stage from sprout to cured, so there is no wasted garlic out of my garden.

I also have taught myself to make a number of foods that are traditional ways to preserve foods for the winter. I recently made a big batch of yogurt and have made sour cream and kefir, another fermented dairy product, in the past. I occasionally make sourdough breads and really enjoy making fermented vegetable pickles. Sauerkraut, kimchi and other fermented vegetables are, as Jessica Prentice points out, excellent ways to ensure a supply of enzyme and vitamin rich vegetables through a long, dark, cold winter. The fermenting actually increases some vitamin levels and also provides lactic acid, a digestive aid that no doubt helped our ancestors deal with an otherwise plain and coarse winter diet of dried or salted meat, beans and grains. Even today this tradition continues to serve fermented vegetables with heavy foods like sauerkraut with sausages and cornichons with pate. In Korea, kim chi could provide up to half the food intake for a family during the winter and is especially full of healthful food compounds thanks to the garlic, onions, ginger and chilies that usually spice the potent cabbage dish.

This autumn I finally gave in to the giant "sauerkraut cabbages" for sale at my favorite pumpkin patch farm. For less than 4 dollars I was able to take home 18 pounds of cabbage to turn into as much lacto fermented goodies as I could fit in my fridge. I used some of it to make a giant batch of coleslaw and another goodly pile of it became a braised cabbage dish but the rest became three kinds of sauerkraut, a fusion kim chi and three jars of cortido. My fermented cortido is based on the Latin American cabbage salad with pineapple, onion, garlic, chiles and oregano spicing the cabbage. It took me over a week to process the entire head of cabbage but now I have enough kraut to last at least through the winter.

*** *** ***

2011 Fusion Kim Chi

Check out my other blog for some more detailed instructions for making fermented vegetables like sauerkraut, pickled vegetables or kim chi.

Shred a pile of green cabbage and put it in a large mixing bowl. Fill it up about half way.

When you get sick of shredding cabbage, wash out a couple jars with lids, maybe two quart jars, or four pint jars, or whatever old spaghetti sauce jars you have. Slice 2 carrots into thin coins, planks or match sticks and toss them in with the cabbage.

Slice half an onion into longitudinal planks and toss that in two. Add in two handfuls of pineapple chunks, if you happen to have some sitting around like I did. You could add firm apples, pears or jicama instead, or leave that out all together.

Sprinkle about a tablespoon of salt over the cabbage and toss it. Peel a big ole knob of ginger and about 10 cloves of garlic. Chop them all up together into a fine mince, or slice them into planks. Toss that in with the vegetables. Doesn't it smell delicious?

Add a big shake of ground red chiles. (I usually use New Mexico chiles because I like the warmth and flavor but this time I used Aleppo pepper, a middle eastern variety. You can buy ground pepper for kim chi at an asian store, but every brand I've found has added MSG or other flavorings.) Add a little pepper flakes if you want more heat, or even some cayenne or fresh peppers if you like your kim chi fiery.

Look at it now. It should be glistening and moist, and bright red. Mix it up -
with your hands, of course.

Taste a piece of cabbage and add some more salt if you need to. When it is good and salty, good and red, good and tasty start packing it into jars. Press the vegetables down until the brine comes up over top of the veggies. Pack the jars full but not over the threads of the jar. Close them up,
let them ferment and then move to the fridge. Enjoy with macaroni and cheese, rice or anything else you serve at your winter table.

*** *** ***

Our spiritual connection with food is a huge topic that I intend to explore more fully this year but even this vast topic starts with the daily actions of eating and preparing food. We are adult beings who are able to take responsibility for feeding ourselves and do not need to abdicate that to restaurants or food manufacturers. Taking back our connection to our food starts with making dinner, with an pot of herbs on the windowsill, with an experiment in making jam or pickles or yogurt. I certainly don't claim any special knowledge on what is the most healthful or most ecologically sound diet, I just know it is important to care about what goes into our mouths. That food becomes us, it is our vital, physical, chemical, energetic link with the rest of creation. That shouldn't come out of a box.

What foods or dishes are you most connected with? Have you ever done any food preserving or growing food in a garden? Does what food you serve change as the seasons change or do you continue to take full advantage of our modern food distribution system (or both, like in my house)? What food means winter to you?

**** **** **** **** **** **** ****

Full Sorting Moon 2009: Full Sorting Moon

Full Sorting Moon 2010: The Rains Have Come

A number of posts from my first year of blogging here contain recipes. At the Harvest Moon 2010 I shared a recipe for another of my favorite preserves, plum ketchup.