Friday, September 30, 2011

Michaelmas Photos

Autumn Equinox

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Michaelmas season is my favorite time of year and I couldn't let it pass without some more photos.

The season started with the yellow flowers of September. The purple asters are called Michaelmas Daisies and I look for them (and find them) eve
rywhere this time of year. Rianna of These Days in French Life finds a color in each month and her September is the deep purple of grape and plum harvests. My September is the golden yellow and light of these flowers. My favorite colors in my favorite month.

The golden-rod is yellow
The corn is turning brown
The trees in the apple orchards
With fruit are bending down

The gentian's bluest fringes
Are curling in the sun
In dusty pods the milkweed
Its hidden silk has spun.

Sedges flaunt their harvest
In every meadow nook
And asters by the brook-side
Make asters in the brook

From dewy lanes at morning
The grapes' sweet odors rise
At noon the roads all flutter
With yellow butterflies

By all these lovely tokens
September days are here,
With summer's best of weather
And autumn's best of cheer.
Helen Hunt Jackson

September is also the month of the Vaux's Swifts roosting at Chapman School in Northwest Portland. It is an amazing natural event made even more amazing by all the awesome Portlanders who show up to watch it every night. The tiny birds nest and rear young all over the are but come together to roost in a chimney at the school before heading out on their fall migration south. There can be over 10,000 birds flying into the chimney on any given night in September and hundreds of people gathered to watch. It is a September ritual for many people in Portland, including myself.

"It looks like pepper flying in the sky!" I overheard a little girl say. "No! It looks like a dragon," her brother insisted. I agree.

Speaking of dragons, I started a new Michaelmas tradition this year by baking a dragon bread. This is a common activity in Waldorf schools and families but it was my first year doing it. A bread dragon is an excellent, hands on way to symbolize both the vanquishing of a dragon and incorporating it's lessons into our selves, and also the harvest aspect of the season.

Fresh baked bread's a yummy treat
Made with love and warmth and wheat
knead the dough, then let it rise
and soon you'll have a big suprise.
From the water, flour and yeast
grows a golden, delicious beast.

I did get up for my Equinox sunrise ritual. It was a lovely, crisp morning at my fruit field. The mountain was visible and so was the old crescent moon. I found a pear to add to my dragon bread breakfast and watched the sun come up in a fiery orange blaze.

The autumn winds blow open the gate,
St. Michael for you we wait.
We follow you, show us the way,
With joy we greet this autumn day.
Good morning, good morning, good morning.

The silver rain, the shining sun,
the fields where scarlet poppies run,
the fallen leaves blow up and away,
with joy we greet this autumn day.
Good morning, good morning, good morning
Wynstones Press book Autumn (I believe)

Happy Michealmas!

In Autumn Saint Michael with sword and with shield,
Passes over meadow and orchard and field.
He's on the path to battle 'gainst darkness and strife,
He is the heavenly warrior protector of life.

The harvest let us gather with Michael's aid;
The light he sheddeth fails not nor does it fade
and when the corn is cut and the meadows are bare
We'll don Saint Michael's armour and onward we'll fare.

We are Saint Michael's warriors with strong heart and mind,
We forge our way through darkness Saint Michael to find.
And there he stands in glory, Saint Michael we pray,
Lead us into battle and show us thy way.

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Autumn Equinox 2009: The Autumnal Equinox and The Earth is Breathing its Soul Back In

Autumn Equinox 2010: Here Be Dragons and A Dragon Tale for Michaelmas

Autumn Equinox 2011:
Michaelmas Season

Monday, September 26, 2011

Michaelmas Season

Autumn Equinox

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The season is swirling around and I am feeling very caught up in it. I love the ride, the golden light, the crisp mornings and hot afternoons, the change in birdsong and the ripening fruit, but I am also feeling pushed and pulled all over the place. I haven't found my new grip yet. Must be the turning of the wheel into autumn.

Autumn is my favorite time of year. I love the cooler days, the yellowing plants, and the harvest. I especially love the comforting feel of the constricting energy that fall brings. In the summer, the Earth is in the height of its long outbreath. It's soul is expelled fully out to outer reaches of it's atmosphere, touching the cosmos. This gives those of us on the surface energy and freedom. We want to be outside, live outside, be up early, stay up late, run and play and swim and be in the world. I tend to feel a little frayed by the end of it all, like last season's prayer flags, faded and rough around the edges. As the earth turns towards the Winter, it begins to breathe its soul back in. This constricting energy makes me feel like I'm being given some more boundaries. A bed time seems like a reasonable idea. Sitting down to dinner instead of just grabbing some food on the run makes sense. Rebuilding the rhythms of a life that includes work as well as play, rest as well as activity. It's the back-to-school season in more ways than one.

Fall, Leaves, Fall

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.

I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

-Emily Bronte

In my evolving wheel of the year, I call this time the Michaelmas Season. The story of Michael is one of a hero who harnesses heavenly and earthly powers to subdue and over come a primeval force of chaos and fear. There are many stories told about dragons and heroes this time of year and all of them help align us with this powerful movement of the seasons, both inner and outer.

My Quaker pastor, who's sermons are always a mix of hilarious and thoughtful storytelling, told a story this morning about a world plagued by a terrifying serpent. It lept out of the ground in a village, ripping up cobblestones, showering the area with rubble and dust, knocking people over and devouring the tinker's faithful mule. The villagers filled the hole in with rocks and logs, paved over the square and put up a statue to the mule. After a number of years the tinker was able to purchase a new-to-her mule and travel further afield selling her wares. She came upon a large city with towers and guards all around it. A friendly guard allowed her in and took her up on one of the towers to show her what the fortifications were all about. There were large cannons on each tower but instead of facing outwards, towards an enemy's army, the cannons faced inward, toward the town square. Specifically, facing the gaping hole in the middle of the square. The guard told her about the serpent and how the city had responded to the threat by building all these battlements. Everyone was expected to do their part in helping guard against the serpent threat, including a tax levied on traveling merchants and tinkers. The tinker owed, as it happened, exactly one mule.

In this time of year when we prepare ourselves for the coming darkness of winter we are also asked to prepare ourselves for the coming challenges of earthly life. There will be illness, poverty, pain, loneliness and eventually an end of this life. The story of the tinker and her mules mules reminds us that we can prepare for these inevitable burdens in any number of ways, some of which are actually more detrimental than beneficial. Michael provides us with heavenly iron to arm ourselves this time of year, but the real defense against debilitating fear is internal strength and courage. These things come from the dynamic interplay between God's love and providence, and our own willful building of our lives.

We wait in hope for the LORD;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,
even as we put our hope in you.

Psalm 33:20-22, New International Version

I marked the Michaelmas with some of my favorite September activities. I put up my St. Michael and the Dragon mobile, watched the swifts at Chapman School and woke up for the sunrise on Equinox morning. I went again to my favorite fall fruit picking field and walked around as the sun creeped up behind Mt. Hood. I made dragon bread the night before, a new Michaelmas activity for me. Bread dragons are easy to vanquish and nourishing as well. At the field, I found a lovely pear tree in full fruit and happily accepted the gift. In prayer, I have been given the image of a pear tree, laden with full and heavy fruit hanging within easy reach, as an image of God's provisions available to me. Pears seem a perfect image for God's gifts. The fruit is earthy, woman shaped and sweet but bruises easily so must be conscientously picked and preserved. It is not a windfall treat.

As the sun came up, all pink and orange, over the misty autumn field I laid out my feast and said my thank yous. Thank you sun, thank you mountain. Thank you pear tree and grain field. Thank you morning and thank you evening. Most of all, thank you autumn!

How are you marking the turning of the wheel into Autumn? What dragons are you facing these days and how are you preparing to meet with them? Are your preparations costing you more mules than they need to? What's your favorite kind of autumn fruit?

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Autumn Equinox 2009: The Autumnal Equinox and
The Earth is Breathing its Soul Back In

Autumn Equinox 2010: Here Be Dragons and A Dragon Tale for Michaelmas

Sunday, September 18, 2011


Full Nesting Moon
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Frog went a courtin' and he did ride, uh-huh
Frog went a courtin' and he did ride, uh-huh
Frog went a courtin' and he did ride
With a sword and a pistol by his side,
uh-huh uh-huh, oh yeah.

He went down to Miss Mousie's door, uh-huh
He went down t' Miss Mousie's door, uh-huh
He went down Miss Mousie's door,
Where he had often been before,
uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

He took Miss Mousie 'pon his knee, uh-huh
He said, "Miss Mouse, will you marry me?" , uh-huh
"Without my Uncle Rat's consent
I wouldn't marry the President."
Uh-huh, uh-huh, oh yeah.

Well now, where will the wedding supper be? Uh-huh
Where will the wedding supper be? Uh-huh
Hey, where will the wedding supper be?
Way down yonder in a hollow tree,
uh-huh, uh-huh, oh yeah.

Now Mister Frog was dressed in green, M-hm, M-hm,
Now Mister Frog was dressed in green, uh- huh
Now Mister Frog was dressed in green
Sweet Miss Mouse looked like a queen.
uh-huh, uh-huh, oh yeah.

First to come in was the Junie Bug, uh-huh
Yeah first to come come in was the Junie Bug, uh-huh
First come in was the Junie Bug,
She brought the whiskey in a water jug,
uh huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

They all gathered round the lucky pair, M-hm, M-hm
They all gathered round the lucky pair, M-hm, M-hm,
They all gathered round the lucky pair
Singing, dancing everywhere,
uh huh, uh-huh, uh-huh

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On the night of the full Nesting Moon I was dancing and feasting in celebration of the wedding of a pair of my good friends. The Nesting moon asks us to celebrate both our current bounties and to plan for our future needs by husbanding that bounty well. A wedding is a perfect place to express that very sentiment.

Both weddings I went to this summer had beautiful ceremonies and fantastic parties. I came away from both so full of gratitude to the families who provided for such a wonderful event. The first bride's parents rented her friends a large house to stay at for the weekend and we had such a great time. The second wedding occurred at the bride's parents property in the Coast Range and the neighbors allowed us to pitch tents in their orchard. Both weddings enjoyed perfect weather, gorgeous natural scenery and dance parties to end all dance parties.

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Come on all right
We're gonna celebrate
One more time
Celebrate and dance for free
Music's got me feeling so free
Celebrate and dance so free
One more time
Music's got me feeling so free
We're gonna celebrate
Celebrate and dance for free
One more time

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Both of my pairs of friends who were married this summer did so after many years of dating, loving and living together. Both couples had faced trials in their relationships and come out the other end feeling even more strongly that they were ready to commit to a lifetime together. The Nesting Moon asks us to get ready for those challenges that we will all face. Winter is coming whether we are prepared or not so it is best to test your skills before they are really needed, to stock your larder before you are hungry and to nourish your support network so it is there when you are in need.

I was so inspired by the communities present at both weddings. I am a part of a large group of amazing lady friends who party together, take care of each other and inspire each other. The adults of our parents' generation at both weddings also showed off their strong communities. One set of parents has lived in a rural community where they have grown gardens, chickens and families together. Another set of parents are pillars in their community with an extended family and friend group that were there to help and love all the kids of the community. My group of friends has commented over and over again that we need to continue to keep our bonds of friendship strong, even as our lives change during these years as we transition from young adult hood into the next stage. We see what a blessing that strong community is and we want it for ourselves and our future kids as well.

Celebrating what is. Looking to what may be. The Nesting Moon asks us to do both, at the same time and so does a wedding. Both ask us to look into making our future the best it can be, no matter what may come up. Both ask us to celebrate our successes, both material, communal and spiritual. Both ask us to think about what we want our home to really look like, who we want our home to look like.

Happy Nesting Moon!

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Alabama, Arkansas
I do love my ma and pa
Not that way that I do love you

Holy moley, me oh my
You're the apple of my eye
Girl, I've never loved one like you

Man, oh man, you're my best friend
I scream it to the nothingness
There ain't nothing that I need

Well, hot and heavy, pumpkin pie
Chocolate candy, Jesus Christ
Ain't nothing please me more than you

Ah, home
Let me go home
Home is wherever I'm with you
Ah, home
Let me go home
Home is wherever I'm with you

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The "poems" are song lyrics from songs actually sung or played at the weddings this summer. The first is Froggy Went A-Courting, a traditional English ballad. One bride's father re-wrote the song with lyrics that told the story of his daughter and her groom's courtship and marriage. We all sang along. The second is Daft Punk's One More Time. The other bride's younger brother chose it as the final song for our dance party at his sister's wedding. The song culminated with the group of friends lifting the bride and groom onto their shoulders and dancing around them. We were all singing. The third set of lyrics is the song Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. The friends and family at the first wedding secretly practiced singing and playing the song and sang it to the bride and groom instead of a traditional maid of honor toast. Everyone sang along.
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Full Nesting Moon 2009: Hey.. It's My Birfday!

Full Nesting Moon 2010: Spider Moon

My Full Milk Moon 2011 post, The Positive Feedback Loop of Love, is also about weddings.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Golden Autumn

The New Nesting Moon

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The New Nesting Moon this year came right before my birthday, which is a very important festival in my personal Wheel of the Year. Falling right at the beginning of September, it marks the real end of Summer for me and the beginning of my favorite season - Golden Autumn.

Golden Autumn is that wonderful time when the trees, the grass and the sky all seem to have turned yellow. It hasn't rained in Portland for weeks and this year a late heat wave really dried up any last herbaceous plants holding onto their green. The maples, sweet gums and alders are turning yellow but none of the trees are quite yet orange or red. And the light! Some days I've been confused about what time it is because the light is so low and yellow making mid afternoon feel like mid evening. There have been forest fires in the mountains close to Portland and the smoke has given us some specatcular gold, pink and bronze sunsets. I'm on the look out for a perfect day - cool enough for a sweater in the morning and evening but warm enough for shorts in the afternoon, with the trees having turned color but not dropped their leaves. It will happen soon, in my favorite Golden Autumn season.

Golden Autumn is my birthday season and it is the birthday season of another woman very important to me, my maternal grandmother. I was able to visit with Grandma Jean for a whole week when I was down in Los Angeles last month and it was a long overdue visit. Jean is my only surviving grandparent and the only one I've ever really known. Grandma Jean has always been a strong, feisty and independent woman and many of my childhood memories of her are more of her being a strange and willful force imposed on my life than as a stereotypical matronly grandmother. She retained much of her Midwestern sense of propriety and there is a family joke about her way of shaking her head and spitting out a "Well... I just... well!" when we did things she didn't approve of. When I was in middle school she and I got in quite a fight over my need for church shoes. We were attending a very laid back Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at the time and I was as likely to wear Birkenstocks and pajama pants to church as anything else. No, Grandma, I don't need church shoes. "Well... just... well."

This September Grandma Jean turned 94 and continues to live an amazing and full life. I was able to ask her questions about her life and just listen to her stories this summer, a rare treat. She was born on a farm in Loup City, Nebraska and during the Depression her father lost that farm and they moved to another one in Litchfield.. Her father raised corn and wheat as well as hogs, dairy cattle and 9 children. There was quite an age difference between Jean and her older sisters so she ran with the younger boys in the family and was quite a tom boy. She said she remembered having the milk the cows, up to 15 in an evening, and she hated it. She much preferred riding horses, a pass time she continued up until her kids were born. She graduated from high school and attended just enough college to get a teaching school. She taught in a 1 room school house outside of Litchfield where she had kids ranging from 7 to 18 years old, including boys bigger and older than she was. She hated that, too, but saved up enough money to go on a road trip with some of her girlfriends. Six of them headed out west in one of the girls' Buick, staying in Colorado before heading on to Los Angeles and Tijuana. I can't even begin to imagine what Tijuana was like in 1934! While staying with one of her mother's cousins in Long Beach, California she visited The Pike, a boardwalk with a roller coaster, a salt water plunge and other amusements. She met the man who ran
the Magruder's Salt Water Taffy stand and he offered her and her friends jobs if they wanted to stay. Jean went back to Nebraska that year, but the following year moved back out to California with the family of another friend.

Long Beach must have been a magical place for Jean. She knew she didn't want to stay in Nebraska and Long Beach was a party town in those years. There is a story that one of the farmer's sons back home had courted her but she told him, "Carl, I'm not staying in Litchfield. You'd do better to go out with my sister, Lois." My mother remembers visiting her Uncle Carl and Aunt Lois in Litchfield in the 1960s, where he ran the service station and still farmed. In Long Beach, Jean tried her hand at waitressing, but when that didn't work out ended up working for Mr. Magruder at the Salt Water Taffy stand. She told me she mostly popped popcorn and that it was a lot of work to lift the bags of corn, pop it and sell it. Mr. Magruder was a fatherly figure to the girls, helping them get accustomed to the city life. Apparently, they got the hang of that quickly and became quite the talk of the town. There is a story of the cops getting called on one of their parties but no one getting in trouble because they just decided to stay and enjoy themselves. In 1942 or 43 she met a handsome, clarinet playing elevator attendant who she later married. She remembers going dancing with Bob and their friends, and learning to bowl. "We sure had a lot of fun," she told me. I can only imagine, Grandma!

Bob and Jean had three kids and moved to the suburban community of Lakewood, just north of Long Beach. Bob died in the early 1960s and Jean had to find work. One of the women in the neighborhood suggested she get work at the new Hughes Aircraft factory. "Jean, you should get a job there," she remembers her friend telling her, "they'll hire anybody!" "I had never even held a screwdriver, but they put me on the line," she told me. She quickly was promoted to a line supervisor, a position she really liked because she got to know everyone on the line. I laughed when she said that, that's a trait I see very much through the generations of our family. When her kids were teenagers she was transferred into the office as a receptionistt, another job she loved because of the people she worked with. My mom remembers her baking a dessert for the office every Friday and the friends she made in that office led her into golf and travel, two passions that sustained her through the decades after her kids left home.

Jean traveled independently well into 80s and lived mostly by herself in the house she raised her kids in until well after her 90th birthday. I see now that those traits that made her such a stern grandmother served her well in her adventure filled life. She was never afraid to do something she wanted to do, and was willing to take care of her friends even as her own health began to fade. She now lives with her oldest granddaughter and her family and though she moves a little slower than she used to, and can sometimes be forgetful or confused, she is still the independent, sassy, clever woman she always was. She was no saint, but she sure is a cool woman to have in my family background.

Birthdays by Robert William Service

Let us have birthdays every day,
(I had the thought while I was shaving)
Because a birthday should be gay,
And full of grace and good behaving.
We can't have cakes and candles bright,
And presents are beyond our giving,
But let lt us cherish with delight
The birthday way of lovely living.

For I have passed three-score and ten
And I can count upon my fingers
The years I hope to bide with men,
(Though by God's grace one often lingers.)
So in the summers left to me,
Because I'm blest beyond my merit,
I hope with gratitude and glee
To sparkle with the birthday spirit.

Let me inform myself each day
Who's proudmost on the natal roster;
If Washington or Henry Clay,
Or Eugene Field or Stephen Foster.
oh lots of famous folks I'll find
Who more than measure to my rating,
And so thanksgivingly inclined
Their birthdays I'll be celebrating.

For Oh I know the cheery glow|
Of Anniversary rejoicing;
Let me reflect its radiance so
My daily gladness I'll be voicing.
And though I'm stooped and silver-haired,
Let me with laughter make the hearth gay,
So by the gods I may be spared
Each year to hear: "Pop, Happy Birthday."

This year is my 31st birthday. By the time Jean was my age she had left everything she ever knew in Nebraska to travel with friends and later move to The Big City. She worked and played hard and had met a man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with. Another Virgo friend of mine noted that I have a prime number age this year. "It's like being a human fortress," she said. "Just try to divide me by anything but myself or one!" I think Jean spent most of her life being a prime number human fortress and I think I am going to strive for that myself this year. I've got student teaching coming up this year and a job search in a scary economy. Being indivisible except by myself and 1 sounds like a pretty good way to step into year 31.

Is it Golden Autumn where you are yet? Is your birthday a big holiday for you or just something you let slip by? Why? Are your grandparents role models for you in any special way? Are you ready for sweater weather? Happy September!!

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New Nesting Moon 2009: Breathe a Sigh of Relief

New Nesting Moon 2010: Ramadan

New Nesting Moon 2011: The Book of Nature

The Full Nesting Moon post for 2009, Hey.. it's my Birfday, is also about my birthday and the Full Harvest Moon 2010 post mentions both my birthday and my crazy family.

The photos are all of my grandmother. The first is Jean fishing in 1939 and the second is Jean with Bob (on the left) and her brother and his wife (on the right) at the Pike in Long Beach in 1948. The third was taken in 1966 after her husband died but before all three kids had moved out of the house.

Friday, September 2, 2011

The Book of Nature

New Nesting Moon
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When I was 21 I began observing the moon. I was well versed in the natural history and geology of my environment, but was woefully ignorant of how the sun and the moon cycles worked. Maybe I was inspired by the months on end of clear skies in Southern Oregon or maybe it was my continuing interest in nature based spirituality. Maybe it was God tapping me on the shoulder and pointing her finger at something I should check out. Whatever it was, I faithfully watched the moon for cycle after cycle that year.

What I found amazed me. I was enthralled by the shapes the moon takes, the patterns on its surface and the relationship between the moon and the sun. I watched the moon wax and wane, and also found myself watching the seasons wax and wane. I saw the sunset move up and down the crest of the hills and the angle of light rise and fall with the seasons. I felt how the earth seems to wake up, be full, release its energy and then hibernate as the seasons wax and wane like the moon herself. I kept watching, kept observing month after month, year after year. The rhythms of day, month, season and year started to feel natural and deep, like my own heart beat and breathing.

I have felt God's presence in nature for much longer than I have ever felt it anywhere else. I knew the liturgy of growing plants long before I knew any church liturgy and heard God's voice in song birds and streams long before I heard it in a meeting for worship. Today, my primary language for accessing God is still the language of the living earth and especially of the natural rhythms of the sun and the moon. I see all life moving in these cycles, from the compact and huddled seed in winter, to the shooting growth of spring, the fullness and flowering of summer into the dissipating, conserving, slowing comfort of autumn. Gardens, creative projects, human lives and even civilizations move in these cycles. Breathing into these cycles, living fully in them and allowing them to unfold seems to me to be the best, highest and closest to God way to live my life.

Our culture seems to be an always on, always up, always growing kind of culture. But do you remember what cells that don't stop growing are called? Cancer. Plants that don't stop growing, like kudzu or English Ivy, are choking weeds. Sun that doesn't stop shining creates deserts like the lifeless land of the planet Venus. I feel deep in my bones that cycles of growth and constriction allow a chance for starting over, for assessing the last period of growth and for resting. I know God is in all parts of this cycle. I feel her in the pruning and contracting of autumn just as much as in the growth and light of spring. God is even in the hibernation and death of winter. God, my mother, knows and loves me through all parts of the cycle. God, my father, uses the cycle to encourage me to grow and challenge myself. The book of nature and the book of time are, to me, the fullest and most beautiful books God has written to help me navigate my life. And all I have to do is watch.

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This post was inspired by both my Quaker Meeting's literary journal query for the Autumn and a Rob Breszny horoscope from a couple weeks ago. The query is "How have you experienced god's presence in nature?" (which I chuckled at a bit - I've been writing about that twice a month for three years and still haven't exhausted all I could write about) and the horoscope is below:

Storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estes loves life's natural rhythms just as they are. She says we can avoid a lot of suffering if we understand how those rhythms work. "The cycles are birth, light, and energy, and then depletion, decline, and death," she told Radiance magazine. In other words, everything thrives and fades, thrives and fades. After each phase of dissipation, new vitality incubates and blooms again. According to my analysis of the astrological omens, Virgo, you are currently going through a period of dwindling and dismantling. The light is dimmer than usual, and the juice is sparser. But already, in the secret depths, a new dispensation is stirring.

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New Nesting Moon 2009: Breathe a Sigh of Relief

New Nesting Moon 2010: Ramadan

My Summer Solstince/Pagan Value's Blogging Month post from this summer is on a similar theme of cycles in nature: Circles, Cycles and Pulses: Pagan Values Blogging Month