Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wolves at the Gate

New Birth Moon

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    “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.”

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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?  

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** 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

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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?

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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

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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 -

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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?

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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



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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.

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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

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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!

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** 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

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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.

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** 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.