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