Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Solstice Celebration

Winter Solstice

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One year, the wind blew down the mountain fiercer than it ever had before. The wind screamed so loud sometimes that Lucia could not hear her mother humming as she rocked the baby by the fire. Frost covered the nail heads in the walls, and the wind that sneaked in through the cracks tossed the last of the flour in the barrel around, so that it seemed to snow inside the house as well as out.

One day, the sun did not rise over the mountaintop. And the next day and the next and the next, not a glimmer of sun shown, no matter how long Lucia watched for sunrise. Dark roosted on the land.

"Where has the light gone?" Lucia asked.

"I don't know," her mother replied. "Even the oldest tales never told of this darkness." She wrapped Lucia in her arms. "We will be each others' sun until the real sun returns," she said.

Today is Winter Solstice, the day with the shortest sunlight hours here in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the height of winter, the darkest time of the dark season. Starting tomorrow, the sun will stay in the sky just a little longer. And that is more than enough reason to celebrate.

I spent the day at the Nature Park doing a day off camp with elementary school aged kids. We spent the morning reading the wonderful story Lucia and the Light by Phyllis Root, which I have exerpted here, hiking in the woods and seeing what was growing and what was not out there. We found some awesome newts and an amazing fungus forest, with six or seven varieties growing out of a single pile of logs. Of course, we sent arms full of leaves and twigs over the railing of the bridge and down the swollen Beaverton Creek, an all time favorite activity for kids of every age. 

In the afternoon we made lanterns to celebrate the returning of the sun. We talked about the science of the solstice and how the days will begin to get stronger with each passing day and then provided them with colored tissue paper and plastic lantern forms. As the dusk came on we lit them with electric tea lights and paraded around the office building, welcoming back the sun. Later, ask evening came on for real, the kids asked if we could turn off the lights in the room and they proceeded to leap over their lit lanterns. Screams of laughter greeted the gathering darkness.

Sunlight followed Lucia through the front door and poured across the floor, warm and sweet as honey. A fire blazed and the hearth and the baby cooed and clapped to see Lucia.

"I thought I had lost you," her mother cried, sweeping Lucia into a hug."and then the sun came up, and I knew you would come home. My brave child!"

Lucia's mother held her close. "My sunshine," she whispered. "Light of my heart."

How do you celebrate the darkest day of the year? How did you welcome the dark, or greet the growing light? When was the last time you heard children howling and screaming with laughter? Happy Solstice!

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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 and The Long Nights of Winter and It's Christmas

Winter Solstice 2012: City and Sky Advent

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The PB&J Mix

New Birth Moon

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I'm incubating. The new year is coming, my new plan, my new gwish. It is dark, it is wet and I'm not doing too much but thinking. And listening to music. 

"Now, the making of a good compilation tape is a very subtle art. Many do's and don'ts. First of all you're using someone else's poetry to express how you feel. This is a delicate thing."

Here's my Winter PB & J  mix tape. That stands for power, beauty and joy... or peanut butter and jelly. Both make me smile.  Enjoy!

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I recently discovered this amazing musician, John D Boswell, who is using auto tune software to turn spoken audio clips into songs. He takes the words of well known scientists like Carl Sagan, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawkings and David Attenborough and sets them to music creating inspirational and beautiful music. This one is possibly my favorite, featuring Neil deGrasse Tyson reminding us that "we are part of this universe, we are in this universe, the universe is in us."

Before he died in 2002 Dave Carter collaborated with Tracy Grammer to produce three albums of folk singer songwriter music that are often called Buddhist Cowboy music. His mystical experiences and study of psychology, myth and mysticism show clearly in his music. I heard it said that no one could fit more words into a song than Dave Carter and this song is an excellent example of all of that. "I walk the occam razor way through priests and circus clowns. Am I a missoner of faith or grace or vision or another grinning prisoner of Happytown?"

The guy who did Symphony of Science has turned his talents to turning other celebrities to rock stars with his Remixes for the Soul compilation. This one stars Bob Ross from the PBS show Joy of Painting and makes my heart sing. Anyone who has ever watched an episode of the show has seen just how full of love and encouragment Bob Ross is and how it radiates through the TV screen right at you. It feels like spending an hour with a beatific nun or the Dalai Lama, only with painting instead. "You can almost paint with anything, all you have to do is practice. There are no limits here, start out by believing here." Thanks Bob Ross, I will believe! 

The first time I heard this song was at Winterfest, a folk benefit for Sisters of the Road Cafe, in maybe 2001 or 2002. I cried as Dave and Tracy performed it on stage at the Aladdin. It has remained an important song ever since... "On a sleepy endless ocean when the world lay in a dream, There was rhythm in the splash and roll, but not a voice to sing. So the moon shone on the breakers and the morning warmed the waves, till a single cell did jump and hum for joy as though to say...  This is my home! This is my only home. This is the only sacred ground that I have ever known. Should I stray in th dark night alone Rock me goddess in the gentle arms of Eden.

Featuring Richard Feynman on the bongos, Bill Nye thinking about the vast emptiness of space, Carl Sagan waxing poetic about star stuff and Neil deGrasse Tyson's statement that "we are all connected; To each other, biologically, to the earth, chemically. To the rest of the universe atomically." One of the most popular Symphony of Science videos for a reason. 

The apartment I lived in for three years in college was called Shelter from the Storm. "Not a word was spoke between us there was little risk involved, everything up to that point had been left unresolved. Try imagining a place where it's always safe and warm, "Come in" she said "I'll give you shelter from the storm" The link above is to the album version that I love most, but this live performance is amazing. Harder, harsher, but Dylan at his best.

I first knew Ladysmith Black Mambazo from their work with Paul Simon on Graceland. This version of Cat Stevens' song combines their haunting harmonic style with Dolly's clear voice and makes me just wanna get on that train. Check out Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Amazing Grace.

Possibly my very favorite of the Symphony of Science tracks. "There is a powerful recognition that stirs within us, when we see our own little blue ocean planet in the skies of other worlds... onward to the edge, we're moving onward to the edge. Here we are together on this fragile little world."

A truly pronoic tale of adventure, trial and redemption. The road goes on forever, and the party never ends. I like the Joe Ely version above best, but here's another one with Joe featuring Joel Guzman (who makes the accoridan seem like the sexiest instrument ever), here's one by Robert Earl Keen - the guy who wrote the song, and here's the Highwaymen's version (ya know, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, et al). It's a good song.

A truly unironic celebration of the simple pleasures in life - a new truck, the moon and stars, a campfire and a pretty lady. It makes me smile. 

When I was in high school I was bona fide obsessed with U2. I listened to the Achtung Baby cassette tape on my Walkman on the bus to school, during passing periods, spent the afternoon watching the concert footage on VHS tape and fell asleep listening to the tape again. Some U2 songs send me into that weird place you find yourself when you look at your high school year book, awkward and embarrassed and emotional. This song, though, has stood the test of time and is still in regular rotation.  

When this came on at the bar the other night, my friend said "I feel like I only hear this song at Goodwill." I said, he isn't living life right then. "Some will win, some will lose. Some were born to sing the blues. Oh, the movie never ends it goes on and on and on and on..... don't stop believing. HOLD ON TO THAT FIEEELLAAAYING!"

I think it is curious that I chose to end my PB and J mix with such an intense song. It is sad, yes, but not dark. It brings tears to my eyes, but not always tears of grief. In August of 2003 I watched a full moon ruse over the Oakland Hills as Bruce entreated us to rise up. In November of that same year I visited St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan and cried as the words ran through my head... my city of ruins. I sang this song to my puppy years later, the emotions still fresh but her wagging tail and excited cuddling adding a new layer of association. And of course, any Bruce is all mixed up with my dad, an "it's complicated" relationship if there ever was one. But the take home message is not one of sadness, it is the pronoic belief that every experience allows you to grow, even the painful, terrible and horrific ones. "With these hands, lord, with these hands, I pray for the strength... I pray for your love, lord, with these hands."

What are you listening to in this dark time of the year? What plans are you making, what are you incubating? What PB&J is rocking your world? The photos are images from the Hubble Telescope turned into holiday cards. View all of them at Hubblesite.org  and download your own for spreading holiday PB&J. Blessed winter! 

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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: Wolves at the Gate

Saturday, December 1, 2012

City and Sky Advent

This is a special note to let you know about my other writing project for the month of December. I am making an online Advent calendar of sorts and publishing a short piece every day this month. My regular readers here will probably not be too shocked at what they find - Pagan Quaker Hippy Scientist Nerdilicious goodness. I hope you will stop by and check it out!



Friday, November 30, 2012

Mushroom Season

Full Death Moon

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It is distinctly winter here in Portland. I spent these weeks around Thanksgiving dog sitting for a number of families and have been very busy getting a whole pack of dogs tired, work that means hiking in the woods and fields every day. The days have been cold and wet, but some more cold and more wet than others. Some even sunny lately. They say if you don't like the weather in Oregon just wait a few minutes. With about five weeks of rainy weather behind us, the ground is getting saturated and the trails are starting to get muddy - muddy trail season is a distinct time of year in my lived calendar. The days are short with the sun coming up just after 7 and it being quite dark by 5pm but my "work" has had me outside about as much as I want each day, a real luxury this time of year. 

Hoyt Arboretum Mushrooms
The cool and wet weather is bringing out a special kind of wildlife in the woods of Western Oregon - the mushroom. Every walk this last week has brought me strange and amazing visions of the fungal world. Tall and skinny mushrooms, fat little toadstools, shelf fungus firm, frilly, white and brown, entire logs covered in mushrooms and mushrooms shooting out of the leaf litter under the trees. Some logs have patches of fungus growing on them that seem to ooze a deep red liquid and others collect drops of water like a jeweled crown. The diversity of forms is really mind blowing even just in the small areas and single ecosystem I have been exploring.

What we call mushrooms are the fruiting bodies of fungus that live in soil, rotting wood or some other substrate. Fungus is one of the five major categories of life (the others being bacteria, protists, plants and animals) and despite their outward similarity with plants, they are actually more closely related to animals in many ways. Mushrooms, a specific kind of fungus, can be found in an astonishing array of habitats and are vitally important parts of their ecosystems. They are decomposers, breaking down plant and animal material to get at the nutrients inside and in the process release those nutrients back into the environment for other plants and animals to use. The mushrooms we see sprouting out of logs and forest duff are actually just a tiny part of a huge organism that impregnates the wood or soil. The mycelium, the internal filament like structure of the fungus, spreads out and eats away at the material the fungus is growing in and only creates the fruiting body for a couple days or a couple weeks at most. 
Shelf Fungus in Forest Park

Mushrooms fascinate me. They are mysterious and unlike other living creatures I know in really fundamental ways. Many of the websites I've checked out recently to learn about them use the word cryptic to discuss their life cycle and habits. They inhabit the deep part of the forest but create these amazing and beautiful bodies that push out into the light and they do that so quickly that the English language uses their name, mushroom, to describe something that multiplies almost too fast to be measured. They are an important part of cleaning up the detritus of a forest, making sure nutrients are recycled for reuse and many are eaten by other forest creatures. Some species are even eaten by humans while others are important medicines, some are so poisonous they kill almost instantly and some do other crazy things to our brain chemistry. They are deep, dark forest magic. Not like us at all, but vital members of their communities.

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Mushrooms Berkeley 

A classic recipe from the Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas. Described as such "The mushrooms and peppers will be very dark and evil looking, but irresistible in flavor and aroma."

1 lb mushrooms, halved

1 medium bell peppers, cut in 1-inch squares
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1/2 c butter


2 T Dijon mustard
2 T Worcestershire sauce
1/2 c brown sugar (or less)
3/4 c mellow red table wine
Fresh ground black pepper
Seasoned salt

Melt butter and saute onions till clear.

While sauteing make sauce. Mix together mustard, brown sugar, and Worcestershire sauce till perfectly smooth. Add the wine, season with lots of fresh ground pepper, seasoned salt to taste. Stir well

When onion is clear, add the mushrooms and peppers and saute. As the mushrooms begin to brown and reduce in size, add the sauce.

Now simmer at medium for about 45 minutes or till sauce is reduced and thickened. Serve over steak, polenta, pasta or as a vegetable side dish. 

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Mushrooms remind us of the hidden and dark parts of life. They grow in the dark, sometimes literally but always the figurative dark of wet forests and short days. The mycelium remind me that even when things look dead, like the spongy rotting logs that litter my beloved temperate rain forests, there is often much going on under the surface. The fruit will pop up only when it is ready and then it might just "mushroom" out, being so prolific we can't even believe that was just a pile of dry leaves three weeks ago. Mushrooms have completely unusual and fantastical shapes, colors, uses and jobs. They are, in short, simply unexpected and simply amazing. 
Forest Park Mushrooms

What unexpected and amazing things are popping up in your life right now? Are there mushrooms sprouting in your yard or some other neat natural growth in these dark days of winter? Do you have a favorite mushroom recipe or do you generally stay away from the fungus? Is this a time of hidden growth deep inside the rotting log of your life or are ideas or projects ready to mushroom out? Happy winter!

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Death Moon 2011:
The End of the Year, Favorites and Living in Relationship

Death Moon 2010:
Night and Day , Wear it As Long as Thou Canst, and Doggy Heaven (still makes me cry years later) 

Death Moon 2009: 
The Soldier and Death (one of my all time favorite posts!) and Moving From the Season of the Dead

Death Moon 2008: Full Moon in Taurus and Time is a Circle

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Year Ends

Old Sorting Moon

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I always like it when my human affairs line up nicely with natural cycles and seasonal change. There was a full moon on October 29th that marked the height of the Sorting Moon, the last month of the lunar year, and also happened to fall right at the end of my Outdoor School session. As the last week of the Sorting Moon came and went so did the last week of Outdoor School and right as I was packing and getting ready to leave the coast for the last time, winter showed up. I honestly felt like I left the coast in the autumn and arrived in Portland in the winter with cold air, cold rain and bare trees. 
Smith Lake during the last week of camp
Daylight savings that week made the transition all that much more abrupt. It is now the dark, cold, wet time of the year. 

The end of the Sorting Moon also the end of my fourth year of blogging at The Wheel and the Disk. Holy cow! Really, four years? As I look back over my work this year I see that the 2011-2012 lunar year was a busy (er, totally crazy) one, but there is a lot here that I am very proud of.

At the beginning of the year I was struggling heavily with my work as a student teacher. I struggled with that hard work and other hard work that came up over the winter. At the beginning of the lunar year, I set the goal of working with material from Jessica Prentice's book Full Moon Feast and some of my best writing this year came out of my engagement with that material. The posts about the Wolf Moon and the Sap Moon are shining examples of the kind of writing I do best - an eclectic mix of explanation, spiritual musing and connection making. In the deep winter I did some gwishing and set a theme for 2012 - Grabbing the Tiger By the Tail - which has manifested itself in all sorts of ways I didn't even imagine were possible. The craziness of the rest of the year was foreshadowed by my messing up on the naming of my moons in the winter and having to realign the posts and dates months later. As the spring waxed my focus shifted outward and my posts tended to get shorter, more full of poetry, and more full of pronoic epiphanies. It simply was not a season for digestion or self reflection. It was a time for adventures! In the summer I told you about my adventures in dogs, men, soccer and theme parties. Man, I sure had fun this summer. The fun didn't end, though, as I moved to Outdoor School and enjoyed autumn 
Wondering what tha?
on the Oregon coast. I may not have posted twice for each month, but I did post once for every moon and considering how much else got pushed aside this year I consider that an accomplishment. 

I'm not sure what I see in the future of this blog. It is clearly a very important tool for me in my self reflection and continued spiritual practice. I look forward to spending the winter really digesting the work (and play!) that I engaged in over this last warm season. I would like to continue to incorporate stories and poetry to help illuminate my findings as well as to highlight the science of the seasons as they come and go. I expect to have another very fruitful winter of blogging and hope that I can sustain that into the spring and summer next year. Again, I promise to post for every moon and every festival. That commitment keeps me on track in a very real way. 

I have been enjoying this change in the season and the beginnings of this season of dark. This soli-lunar calendar that I follow allows for a generous season of end before the birth of the new year and I have grown accustomed to using it for all it is worth. Reviewing, putting things to rest, sorting through and making ready to let go or spend the winter working of what needs to stay. It is a fruitful season for inner work and I need some of that brand of medicine right now. How is the year winding down for you? What have you accomplished since last fall? What of that is worth keeping and what of that is ready to be transformed into something worth keeping? How is winter beginning to show itself where you live?

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This post is labeled Old Sorting Moon because it was written so late in the month. Here are previous Full Sorting Moon posts. 

Full Sorting Moon 2011: Snow Moon: Connecting with our Food

Full Sorting Moon 2010: The Rains Have Come and Year Two Complete

Full Sorting Moon 2009: Full Sorting Moon

Sunday, November 4, 2012

How Can I Help You?


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About a week ago we marked the last autumn festival day and began our move into winter. In American culture that festival day is usually called Halloween, but it is similar in nature to the Celtic Sahmain and the Catholic All Saint's/All Soul's day festivals. It is the end of the year, the last harvest of animals, the time when the veil between the land of the living and the dead is thin and the beginning of the cold and dark winter season.

I marked the holiday during my last week of Outdoor School in both festive secular and a more religious manner. On October 31st we had a really fun Halloween party that included carving pumpkins, searching for beads in bowls of gross "guts", a haunted house and costumes. The four of us Field Instructors made capes out of space blankets and were Super Field Instructors all day. Too much fun. The next day the classes, all from Catholic schools, invited a priest to come and conduct an All Saint's Day mass. I made the time to attend that as well.

Taking the communion by amioascension
I have only attended Catholic mass one other time in my life, in the spring of 2005 when Pope John Paul II died. That was at the Catholic church in Ashland, Oregon and I remember the feeling of awe in looking at the program realizing that people all over the world were saying the same words, hearing the same scriptures, engaging in the same rituals as I was and that the older gentleman next to me had been doing these same things for decades. That kind of ritual and continuity are so very attractive to me, but that's another story for another time. This mass was different because it was in a lodge at a camp and the other attenders were 12 year olds. The nun who was their teacher actually did a really good job of reviewing some of the important parts of the mass which was helpful to me. I knew that mass was a reenactment of the last supper, but she explained it very clearly. She also introduced the topic of saints and how they become saints. During the scripture reading portion of the service a number of kids participated by reading singly or by being a part of a chorus of readers. It was interesting to see how into the whole process some of the kids were and how "along for the ride" others were.

It being an All Saints Day mass, the priest gave a homily about saints who are not yet canonized and the priest read a story about a man in a homeless shelter who acted as a saint, even as he was so in need himself. The priest was a bit of a doddering old man, but he asked the kids to share examples of people they know who are unrecognized saints and many of them had wonderful things to say about neighbors and grandparents. In summary, the priest reminded us that Jesus didn't ask us how smart we are, or how perfect we are, he only asked us to help each other. That was how he lived, and that is how he asks us to live.

Food Not Bombs by Ann Arbor Free Skool
There is a flip side to this idea of generosity and assistance. There are times when we are the ones who need to be helped, and it can be even harder to accept help than it is to give it. I saw this in action a couple days later when I was at the Food Basket, the little grocery store in the town near camp in the early morning. A woman, buying family groceries and struggling with her cart and walker, was terribly embarrassed that her card wouldn't go through. The checker was trying to be helpful but a line was building up behind the woman. The man directly behind her was a bicyclest, one of the many who do medium to long distance trips along the coastal highway, and clearly better off than the woman buying groceries. He tried to offer to pay for her things, handing the checker the cash but the woman just wouldn't accept his help. She insisted that there was money on the card and finally ended up not getting everything she had picked out so that she could afford it with the money in her purse. This interaction reminded me that it is not enough to help, but we must also come to terms with being helped in the winter. The woman could have graciously accepted the gift and been able to use her grocery money for other things, or even buy groceries for someone else next week. Instead, she got caught in her insecurity and shame and could not allow the bicyclist's generosity to flow into her life.

(one of my very favorite camp songs, sung this week at camp) 

There's a big river flowing, it'll be there tomorrow
It's time we should be going, there's no time for sorrow
The stars will light the way back home, the song will keep the fire
Remembering the days we've roamed, the song will lift you higher

So sing for the river, and sing for the stars
Sing for the friends you've made, wherever they are
Sing to bring you back again or to take you away
Sing a song for me my friend, sing for today

There's a big river flowing, and it's always in motion
It carves out its journey, on down to the ocean
Now you can choose your path alone, and take it to the sea
Remembering the song's your own, the song will set you free

So sing for the river, and sing for the stars
Sing for the friends you've made, wherever they are
Sing to bring you back again or to take you away
Sing a song for me my friend, sing for today

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Trick or treat by Mark J P
It is now winter, the cold dark time of the year when resources begin to run short. Thinking about how to help and how to be helped is natural at this time of year and one of my favorite parts of the Waldorf autumn and winter festivals is how they ritualize and make concrete this impulse to help. The autumn festivals begin with Michaelmas, at the Autumn equinox, when we receive a spark of heavenly light from God's own warrior. At Martinmas, in early November, we nurture that spark in lanterns and honor a man who cut his own cloak in half to help a person in need. As we get closer to Christmas, we light more lights, spend more energy giving gifts and energy to help each other through the dark time until the cosmic light is reborn at solstice and Christmas. By St. Brigid's day, or Candlemas, in early February our own lights are feeling weak and worn, but the light is taken up by the earth again as spring begins it's rebirth. Honoring this feeling of needing to help and encouraging us to take steps to actually help are important reasons for these winter festivals.

How did you celebrate this Autumn-turning-to-Winter festival? Do you have a tradition of jack-o-lanterns and trick or treating or do you do a different celebration? Have you been feeling the pull of the season of giving? Do you have trouble letting generosity into your life? Happy All Saint's Day, Halloween, Sahmain and winter!

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Halloween 2010: Doggy Heaven (still chokes me up, years later) and The Power of the Dog and Martinmas

Monday, October 22, 2012

I Make Bad Decisions

New Sorting Moon

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Oswald West State Park by Tapestry Dude
At the beginning of each week at camp we have a staff meeting where everyone does a body, mind and spirit check in. We get to report on how we are doing in the different aspects of our lives, and how we are feeling about the upcoming week. It is a fun and meaningful way to debrief from our weekend away, keep in touch with each other and share the things about our lives that are so important to share when living and working together so closely. Often people say things like "I had a great weekend, I got so much sleep" or "I had fun on the beach/in town/reading". Not me, though. It has become a bit of a running joke that I start my check in with a "I made a lot of bad decisions this weekend." We all laugh, I tell my tale and we move on with our morning.

Over the years I have learned that when a phrase comes to me often in a period of time it is probably important. Yes, "I make bad decisions" is a joke, but the fact that it keeps coming up means I should probably examine the sentiment a bit more closely. This week is the start of the Sorting Moon, the last month in Annette Hinshaw's calendar. It is the end of the cycle and the time to look at what we have done, make choices about what to keep and what to let go of, and get ready for the beginning of the next cycle. As I read through the Sorting Moon chapter in Earth Time, Moon Time I noticed that she talks a lot about decision making style during that chapter. Ultimately, the Sorting Moon is asking us to look at not just what we are making decisions about, but about how we make those decisions at all.

About the Trees by Dead Air
My work schedule is grueling these days and my weekends are short. In my 24 or 48 hours off I have to fit in seeing my friends, walking my dog, doing my laundry and taking care of my self care needs for sleep, alone time and reflection. There is literally no time during the week for any of these activities. The "bad decisions" keep coming in the form of choosing the seeing friends portion of the to-do list over the self care portion of the list, and that usually involves alcohol, late nights and other debauchery. When you add in the 2 hour drive from camp to town, that has turned into short nights and busy days when my body and spirit really need the rest. That being said, I don't regret the time spent with my friends or the fun we've had. Last weekend I went to a rock n' roll show, ate amazing Egyptian food at a late night cart and laughed with friends new and old. These memories are the mortar that holds the bricks of friendship together, and as I am spending so much energy here at camp I realize just how important having those strong friendships is to me.

Incoming Surfy by surfonaut
So maybe I'm not making bad decisions. I'm just making a decision. I am valuing my friendships and the (admittedly debaucherous) fun we have over self care. I am quite confident that these decisions will have impacts on my future choices and maybe even my future abilities or health - you can only burn the candle at both ends for so long. But what decisions don't? One of Annette Hinshaw's questions for consideration during the Sorting Moon is "what decision do you feel was most important in getting you where you are today?" I suspect it is rarely a lack of options that makes that question so thought provoking. Every decision we make puts us on the path that leads us to the current moment and into one of an infinite number of futures. I think, like is the case with so many things in life, it is not what you actually do but how you do it that is most important. How am I going about making these decisions? Maybe I'm just justifying gut level decisions, but I think I'm doing some thinking, too. 

As the autumn season builds to a crescendo here in Western Oregon the days are getting wet and dark. We begin to honor the seasonal impetus to turn inwards and to reflect on our choices. What have we done this year we like? What decisions do we regret? Were we able to gather the resources, physical and emotional, necessary for the coming winter? When have you made bad decisions, and how did that turn out for you? What process do you like for making decisions? What does deep autumn look like where you are?

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New Sorting Moon 2011: Sorting it All Out 

New Sorting Moon 2010: Useful, Beautiful or Loved

New Sorting Moon 2009: New Sorting Moon

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Outdoor School Harvests

Full Harvest Moon

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I'm falling behind again in my posting but this time because I am busy and working hard, not because I am off gallivanting. As my summer job came to a close I was lamenting my lack of employment for the fall and a friend suggested I apply for outdoor school. "You'd love it, and they'd hire you in a minute," she said. I sighed and agreed. "You're right, you're right... I know you're right."

Smith Lake, my office
For those of you who did not grow up in northwestern Oregon, a little background. Outdoor School is a residential environmental education program that started by the school districts in the counties around Portland in the late 1960s. It has grown into a beloved tradition for 6th graders to go to camp with their science classes and generations of high schoolers have come to outdoor school as counselor-teachers. Even with the budget cuts in recent years, the Outdoor School programs in the Portland area have survived and continue to give teenagers these really important and empowering experiences.

I went to Outdoor School as a middle schooler and counted the days until I could go back as a counselor, which I did 6 times before I graduated from high school and another time the fall after I graduated. I joke that I went to college to become a camp counselor and got my dream job working for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry's science camp and outdoor school. I worked at camp for a summer and a fall before I decided that I wanted a kitchen, a dog, and a home in town rather than camp life.

Sunset from Camp
Seven years later, after a circuitousness route of work and school, I'm back at outdoor school. It's all the magic I expected and more. Within two minutes of meeting my co-workers I knew we were going to hit it off great and have a really fun fall. The work these last two weeks has been physically exhausting, emotionally draining and absolutely mind blowingly awesomely fun. The high schoolers rise to our extraordinary high expectations and the sixth graders bring energy like you wouldn't believe to our camp community. We adults pull together to support each other while making each other laugh until we cry almost every day. I can not discount the awesomeness of spending all day every day in the woods by the ocean surrounded by squirrels, racoons, chickadees and gulls.

The Harvest Moon

A touch of cold in the Autumn night
It is the Harvest Moon! On gilded vanes
  And roofs of villages, on woodland crests
  And their aerial neighborhoods of nests
  Deserted, on the curtained window-panes
Of rooms where children sleep, on country lanes
  And harvest-fields, its mystic splendor rests!
  Gone are the birds that were our summer guests,
  With the last sheaves return the laboring wains!
All things are symbols: the external shows
  Of Nature have their image in the mind,
  As flowers and fruits and falling of the leaves;
The song-birds leave us at the summer's close,
  Only the empty nests are left behind,
  And pipings of the quail among the sheaves. 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Coastal Huckleberries, the best part of camp.
Coming back to Outdoor School reminds me of the harvests I have reaped from my own past experiences and the harvests I hope I am sowing now. I come back to camp because being a part of a community that really works feels so warm and loving. A good camp community is one where every person is working to make sure that every other person is succeeding and growing. Camp is a community pressure cooker, where we go from strangers to bosom buddies in the matter of a few days and where life long relationships begin. As a teenager, I met caring adults at camp who were able to identify strengths I didn't know I had and grow towards a wholeness I wasn't sure I could achieve. As I looked back over the evaluations my supervisors wrote and felt both intense gratitude and awe at how insightful they were. 

As I complete this week's round of counselor evals I hope that I can be even half as helpful to the teenagers I am working with as my staff supervisors were. I hope that these teen counselors can see a vision of themselves as confident leaders and knowledgeable teachers. I want everyone at camp, the staff, the counselors, the students, the kitchen staff and the teachers to see what a functional community looks like and maybe be able to take that experience into their futures. I want the students and counselors to have good emotional experiences in the woods and beach so they can begin to build a conservationist ethic. I hope that my actions here, and my part of this community, can do what Mother Teresa's words (which are posted in every bathroom at my camp) ask of us:

"Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God's kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, kindness in your smile."

My camp name and red vest of power
The full Harvest moon found me and my camp co-workers out on the beach for a bonfire. We played tackle catch with a glow in the dark ball, talked about the week and laughed a lot. The tide was exceptionally high (it was a spring tide) and we ended up having to move our active camp fire with our bare hands. The Harvest Moon asks us questions about the fruits of our labors in the physical, emotional and spiritual realms. Coming back to Outdoor School has left me thinking about my harvests this fall, and my hopes for future harvests. I really feel like I am working to make the world a better place when I work at camp. Even when we are at our silliest... or maybe mostly when we are at our silliest.

What are your harvests this autumn? What future harvests are you sowing for? Did you get to go to Outdoor School or other camps as a kid or young adult? How is autumn shaping up where you live?

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Harvest Moon 2011: C.S. Lewis on Praise and An Ill Harvest

Harvest Moon 2010: Harvest Moon 

Harvest Moon 2009: The Harvest Moon is New and The Moon When Squirrels Throw Acorns at You (Inexplicably, my most viewed post. Ir has been viewed over 500 times, more than two hundred times more than my second most viewed post. Curiouser and curiouser.)

Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Morning Swift Show

Autumn Equinox

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Some people think the most wonderful time of the year is Christmas but I know it is September. Gorgeous weather, cooler nights, the colors of autumn starting to show. I just love it.

The Morning Swift Show
I have a long standing tradition of waking up for the sunrise on the equinox and a separate tradition of viewing the Vaux's swifts at Chapman school in September but this year I finally combined them. For years, I've been wondering if the birds put on a show in the morning when they leave the roost so this year I combined my traditions and went to see the Morning Swift Show. September 20th was a windy morning and cool, but the sky was clear and it was evident that it was going to be a warm day. I arrived at the school about 10 minutes before the official sunrise time and there were three other intrepid souls waiting for the bird, a hipster couple wrapped in a mexican blanket and an older gentleman with a notebook and binoculars. Just after the published sunrise time the birds started to come out of the chimney, not in the swirling mass they go in with, but like a fountain dripping over the side. The birds would leap out and fall for a couple feet before flapping their wings and flying off into the new day. The Peregrine falcons, a regular visitor to the evening Swift Show, was there with a mate or a friend. Both were very successful in nabbing breakfast. As the sun rose above the clouds the rush of birds ended and I walked across the park to the dog park. Now I know what happens to the swifts in the morning, and it was fun to have the spectacle almost all to myself. 

Steiner identified the archetypical festival of this season as Michaelmas, the celebration of the God's warrior overcoming a dragon or serpent. It is the time when we face our own fears and earn a spark from Michael's iron sword to light our lanterns through the winter. But first, we get to bask in the glory that is autumn. My favorite time of year.

What did you do to celebrate the equinox? What dragons are you facing? When was the last time you got up for the sunrise? How is autumn progressing where you are? Happy equinox!

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Autumn Equinox 2011: Michaelmas Season and Michaelmas Photos

Autumn Equinox 2010: Here Be Dragons and A Dragon Tale for Michaelmas 
Autumn Equinox 2009: The Autumnal Equinox and The Earth is Breathing its Soul Back In

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Discerning No

Full Nesting Moon
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Summer is winding to an end and that always means my favorite holiday - my birthday! I had such a crazy summer that I didn't plan the annual camping trip like I have done for the last couple of years but I knew I needed to do something. I declared the whole week Alyss' Birthday Week and set about celebrating. The big party came on Friday night when I met friends at Chapman School to see the Vaux's Swifts come in to roost and then moved the party to one of my favorite Southeast Portland hipster dive bars. The swifts were fantastic as ever, putting on a really great show with spirals and swirls of birds. Anywhere a thousand people get together to be in awe of nature is a place I want to be. 

My friends and I are theme party people. Actually, my sister and I made a pact one year in college that every party we threw that year would be a theme party. We were successful even to the point of making our impromptu black out party a hurricane and rum themed get together. One of my best friends has a tradition of organizing a scavenger hunt on her birthday that has her guests running around Northwest Portland in teams finding things like a photo of someone in a tree, a fortune cookie and photo booth pictures. I knew I could not let my birthday party go on without some kind of theme or activity so I racked my brain for a week. Finally inspiration hit and I got myself to the dollar store for a pile of Mardi Gras beads.
The game I had my friends play was a simple one. Everyone starts out with some beads and if someone makes you refuse something or makes you say no or not, you give up one of your strings beads. If you lose all of your beads you can steal them back and keep playing by making someone refuse you something and I had prizes for the first person to lose all their beads and the person to have the most at the end of the game. It was perfect - some people loved it and played hard, others let their beads go quickly and enjoyed their evening. Everyone had a few good laughs.

After the party, one of my friends asked me why I had chosen that game. I thought for a minute and then did something I do rather often - said something I know to be true, but didn't know until the minute it comes out of my mouth. "Well," I said, "I have been having a difficult relationship with 'no' lately, so it seemed appropriate." Yup, hit the nail on the head with that one, Birthday Girl. 

This full moon is the Nesting Moon, the moon that asks questions about how we prepare for the future, how we help our community and how we relate to physical, emotional and social resources. Preparing for the challenges ahead, be they winter or other hard times, requires both the acknowledgement of resources and the discernment to recognize things that are a burden rather than helpful. When stocking a root cellar, you need to be able to toss out the apples and squash that are not going to keep - one bad apple ruins the barrel is not just a pithy saying. When getting ready for an adventure, you need to choose your companions and supplies with care. When going through hard times it is important to spend your physical and emotional energy on activities and people that help you, not those that burden you with their own problems or insensitivity words. 

I suspect I have not been doing a very good job of discerning the things I should say no to from the things I should say yes to recently. Rob Breszny, my personal hero and astrologer, challenged me earlier in the summer to say yes at least 51% of the time. I find this an interesting challenge because I tend to be a knee jerk no person. New things are scary and I tend to build a schedule for myself and then not want to change it. At the same time, there are plenty of things in our culture, and my life in particular, that do not need yes said to them. They are draining, harmful and distracting despite their ubiquity and downright pleasure. The Nesting Moon is asking me these questions and more, and it is the season to examine the answers.

What is the Nesting Moon asking you? Do you have a healthy relationship with "no" or do you tend to excel at discerning useful from draining? What is your favorite theme party or party game? How is Autumn showing herself in your neighborhood? Happy Nesting Moon!

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Full Nesting Moon 2011: Weddings
Full Nesting Moon 2010: Spider Moon

Full Nesting Moon 2009: Hey.. It's My Birfday!