Aug 23, 2015

Wildfire Harvests and Full Moon Renewals

The red tractors were in the hay fields yesterday. As I drove by I watched them trace lazy, winding circles around the pastureland gathering the cut hay and transforming it into massive rolls that looked like the shredded wheat my grandfather used to eat. I love the drive over to the next valley. I pass small lakes favoured by the local fishermen, and then ranchland dotted with cattle, and finally orchards, farms and vineyards that are pulling in harvest after harvest at this time of year.

August evening sky, pre-wildfire haze.

I'm glad I went out yesterday morning, before the wind changed direction. At some point in the afternoon the wind swept in from the south and brought with it thick smoke from the fires burning just below us in Washington state.  Today, I still cannot see more than a block in each direction - there is only a wall of haze. Unless the air shifts, there will have been no sun today at all. More than that, if the smoke isn't blown out off the valley floor soon it could damage the grapes growing in the hundreds of vineyards dotting the hills. 

It is a bad situation all around, but those who have the worst of it - the ones forced to flee their homes, and the wildlife running for their lives - have my most fervent thoughts and wishes for safety. There has already been tragedy east of here where 30 homes were lost, and straight south, across the border, where firemen have lost their lives. We can deal with smoke and haze and sunless days. Our tourism industry has taken a hit this past week and as of today, you could likely stand at the highway (if you could stomach the smoke) and watch the line of tourists heading home early. Revenue and crop losses are not good. But we still have our homes.

I'm heading up to my friend's ranch this afternoon to check in on her and her corn harvest. I'm not sure what the smoke will do to the beautiful sweet corn she grows. She is a farmer though, and used to trials. Last year birds devastated her field. She tried every trick and invented a few of her own to keep those birds away, but they were legion. This year she got ahead of them and put "corn condoms" on the cobs - coffee filters held in place by an elastic. It allows air in to the cob, but the birds don't see the tops of the corn and therefore don't land on the stalks to pick at it. She is brilliant.

We all create our own ways to traverse what life throws at us (whether fire or plague or something a little less dramatic). Of late I've found solace in chanting - something I've played around with over the years but never really committed to.  A few simple mantras have become favourites. The familiar om mani padme hum and the Green Tara mantras have been wildly helpful in bringing me to a place of calm.

The second full moon in July stripped me bare. This time it was a cold fire, refining me. Nearly a month later as the moon grows toward full again, I feel like a new person. I'm finding peace more easily than I have before. I'm sleeping better and finding new ways to stretch my body in yoga class. I've eaten something out of my yard and/or gardens every day. I have been swimming - full-on swimming, not just wading - in the lake for the first time in years. And just like that, the sun moved in to Virgo today - my birth sign. I am all set to renew my life for another year.

 Second full moon of July in the arms of the cedars.

Coinciding with my birth month, I'll be kicking off another year of magic making with the marvellous Briana Saussy as I dig in to her course Spinning Gold. In Bri's words:
This year-long course provides the principles and practices needed for a life of wholeness, holiness and healing. As a student, you'll access and enjoy real teachings from practicing sacred artists, and a sacred arts community full of love, support, and real accountability.
You can reserve your spot in this incredible journey by heading to Briana's site by August 31st.

Also of note: I've had a few exciting conversations with some brillant magical folks about conjurings for October. If you are new here, make sure you stake out a spot during the most magical month of year - there all all kinds of books coming your way in the yearly Great October Book Giveaway! And there are a couple extra surprises too...

I hope the sultry months have been kind to you, and that you too have sampled local harvests and found adventure whenever you could. My thoughts are with those of you in wildfire areas - continued safety to you and yours.

Summer is still here - it hasn't lost its grasp yet. But there are cooler evenings creeping in, and the sound of geese on the wing is already being heard. Kiss your summer loves and hold them extra close - these hot, heady days won't last forever.

Jul 2, 2015

When Witches Grow Weary

"We stand, friends, at a liminal time somewhere betwixt spring and summer, between school and summer break, between one place and another. Thresholds are important for us culturally, of course, but for those of us who truck with the Unseen, there is power and melancholy in these times of shifting space and time. Hold the ragged edges of your hearts together tonight, my dears. Pull the tatters of your soul into some semblance of your sacred garment. Straighten your back, stand tall, look forward. All is exactly as it seems, and yet...everything is a shadow. Ground deeply, breathe into your belly.
Seize the power of the moment and fear not. Fear not."
The above quote was posted on social media by Byron Ballard, author of Staubs and Ditchwater, in early June. I had been feeling weary for a week or so at that point, and simply hearing another spirit worker speak of the deepness of the latest threshold we were moving through, gave me permission to pause and breathe deep. 

Hob, the talented writer and witch doctor in residence at The Orphan's Almanac had, only a week earlier, left me nodding and holding my hands up in a throwback to my church days, when he called his discomfort of the seasonal shift "threshold sickness."
"Bruised, raw, exposed, the fresh green growth and soaring chorus of renewed life came down on me like a white-noise hammer, filling my head with broken glass and radio static, and sent me, howling, down the oubliette. The Sun becomes increasingly feral as the days lengthen, and a 13-year cycle of cicadas has stirred to fill the daylight hours with a constant, machine-like droning. Already nocturnal by nature, I’ve gone full-blown “creature of the night,” grasping for the elusive stillness that blooms like jasmine in the slow hours, after midnight."
"I am not alone," I remember thinking upon reading this.

June used to be a month that allowed us here in The Valley a slow introduction to summer. We would ease in with toes dipped in the lakes, and the first small strawberries from the field. There would be breezes through open windows and long walks into the forest to pick local herbal treasures and wild mushrooms. This year has been different. 

Summer arrived nearly three weeks too soon, and it has not eased in at all.  Fierce heat broke records early in the month, and destroyed my pea crop and sent the lettuces to bolt.  There were thunder storms and heat lightening that left my ears ringing and sparked fires on the hills. The farmers market had heaps of cherries and early peaches laid out right beside the strawberries. I have never eaten peaches so early in the season. June was a whirlwind, and I tried to keep up.

But really, all I wanted to do was sleep through the sweltering daylight hours, and wake when twilight fell.

It was early June when I began sitting outside every evening and noticed the two bright stars in the western sky. Watching Venus and Jupiter moving closer to each other as dusk fell was one of the things that kept me going this past month. Stars leaning in.

I leaned in too. A new working emerged, inspired by the dance I was watching in the sky. Messages that had been fuzzy at best, were being heard more clearly. I dug deeper in my journeying practice. I was exhausted and exhilarated at the same time.

The delightfully magical Paige Zaferiou said this, as the solstice arrived:
"I don't know how y'all are feeling but I am weary and wrung out by this strange thin light veil time.
The land speaks and its voice is a swelling orchestra of complexity, a river that never stops flowing over and around and through me. I am caught in the flood and it bears me down and buoys me up and I like it. So help me, I like it here in the ebb and flow. I like being under water with open eyes. So help me, I love this magical fucked up life."
Preach, Sister.

Something happened in June as the doorway through spring caved under the pressure of an early summer. I felt both wrung-out, and stronger. Weary, and ever more a witch tapped into the cycles and shifts that were both uncomfortable and yet potent times for manifesting.

I've come into July feeling wild, worn-thin, and wicked. This may be a very good thing.

It has not escaped my notice that September eves and the shadows of October make magic seem always close at hand and somewhat easier to access. I wait all year for those days. But ease is not always the best path for growth.

Today I heard Sarah Lawless, in her interview on the latest episode of the Down at the Crossroads podcast, share a quote from her fabulous article "For Fear of Flying."
"Witchcraft is not safe. Witchcraft is not good and kind. Witchcraft is the domain of the trickster, the outcast, the wanderer, and the crooked.  It belongs to those who know every light casts a shadow; who have looked into the depths of darkness in their soul and accepted what they’ve seen along with all that is good.  Witchcraft requires cunning, manipulation, self-awareness, adaptable morals, and dash of madness."
To madness then.  To scorched summer days and sticky nights. To blood offerings given up begrudgingly to mosquitoes and raspberry thickets. The brief hours of darkness. The endless afternoons where bird and beast hide in whatever shade can be had. To drinking in the heat, and using that in ways that surprise you. To making friends with your sweat and your scent. To the animals of summer wherever you are. Here, there are bats beyond number feasting on bugs by the river. There are fat marmots and rattlesnakes sunning themselves, and turtles climbing out of the ponds to soak up the warmth.

To acknowledging the discomfort of 100 degree weather, and getting shit done anyway. To having a summer adventure - and then having a mojito. 

Hob said this, of embracing the challenge of summer wandering:
"There are rivers to follow, and streets to walk, and people to meet, living and dead. We will smell the salt of the ocean, the dust of strange shops, and the breath of the empty places. We will be pilgrims, seeking the roadside shrines to the lost, the forgotten, and the bygone."
To being a weary witch, and still wandering, still seeking, still making magic.

Please check out the amazing folks quoted in this post - they are all linked up to their respective websites and are worth a visit!

Jun 21, 2015

Through Bush, Through Brier - A Midsummer Eve Visit

I followed the honeysuckle and grape vine hedge until I found a small opening. The vines had grown up over the fencing and the gate was hidden well.  I pulled gently at the vines and they offered me just enough room to slip underneath them and through the fence, all the while being serenaded by the buzzing of countless bees that were working on the flowers in the hedge.

The vines were likely planted to soften the view that the neighbours observed when they looked out their windows. The old cemetary was stark and harsh to look at. A small plot of land with no greenery to speak of, covered in a layer of white rock and tiny coloured glass shards. It was hardly displaying any romantic, gothic charm.

Undaunted by the glare of the sun and the heat radiating up from the white rock, I wandered the rows looking for the right headstone. It had been a while since I had been there, and my return was long overdue.

It took little effort to notice that the grave sites had no adornment. No flowers or statues or other such benefactions were left for the residents there. Perhaps the hedge was also meant to deter visitors, save for those whose will to pay their respects was stronger than the vines.

As I wandered closer to my destination, I noticed two large glass jars at the head of a grave. Each jar was open, and contained what looked like small bits of folded paper. I had a moment of biting curiosity, but I moved on. The papers were not my business. I was there to find Gladys.

A more well-cared for, well-loved cemetary that I like to visit.

I found her grave, beside that of her husband's, and wondered at the date of her death. She was only 55 when she died, passing two short years after he had.  I had brought water to wash her headstone and I set to work,  noticing that one of the coins I had left for her at my last visit still remained there. Who or what may have wandered off with the others, only Gladys knew.

I returned what I had borrowed, with thanks, and left her a bouquet of gladiolus. I appreciated the word play between the plant and her name, and I imagined that she might have liked the flowers quite a bit when she was alive. 

I walked back to the living, buzzing gateway - the perfect liminal space to separate the cemetary from the residential area beyond. 

There were dimes deposited at the threshold, a moment of being neither here nor there, and then I was out in the world again.

My fairy lord, this must be done with haste,
For night's swift dragons cut the clouds full fast,
And yonder shines Aurora's harbinger,
At whose approach ghosts, wand'ring here and there
Troop home to churchyards. Damned spirits all
That in crossways and floods have burial,
Already to their wormy beds are gone.
For fear lest day should look their shames upon,
They willfully themselves exile from light,
And must for aye consort with black-browed night. 

~ Puck, to Oberon - A Midsummer Night's Dream

It may seem an odd thing to mark the shortest night of the year by visiting a cemetary, but if we dare to believe that the unseen is more visible or here, at this time of year (and at its opposite on the calendar) then why not give thanks, honour, or commune, while the connection is a bit more clean. The months of intense heat have come, and that can create some static for those of us who don't operate well in the sweltering weather.

Until the cool breezes return, be well good spirits.

May 17, 2015

The Delight and the Madness of May

May is all kinds of madness, and I'm not sure I have ever experienced it any other way.  There is the revelry of the 1st of May, if you partake in it, and the explosions of colour and form as the green world returns lustily to life.  I have seen more bud and bloom in these last few weeks than I will see for the rest of the growing season, I think.  It is dizzying and intoxicating.

I am frantically stringing more and more fishing line across bamboo stakes to keep ahead of the peas that are greedily reaching for the sky. I'm nibbling lettuces and chives while thinning onions and weeding out the clover that has snuck in to the garden beds. The honeyberry bush is delivering up funny-looking purple berries (like a blueberry, but more cylindrical) and I'm fighting off the birds nesting in the cedars for my share.

The lilacs have languished just as the dogwood and wild rose have begun to flower. The columbines opened overnight. And we finally were blessed with some rain.

The high valley desert that I live in can be cruel without enough snow each winter to fill the watersheds. If the snow volume is little, like this past winter, we depend on the spring rains. And until today, we've had little but a sprinkle. As the earth and the cycles shift and change, there is little accuracy in predicting the seasonal weather if you rely on "what used to be." The April and May showers we once were familiar with, are now closer to June monsoons. That can spell the end of some plants in my garden, like the delphiniums that don't like to get soggy as they prepare to bloom (they get dusty and mold), and the Valley's cherry crops can be damaged by the downpours so late in the spring.

But we adjust. We move plants to different locations, or phase them out for more hearty cultivars. We collect water when it does rain. We wander the Valley hills and notice that the harvest times for the wild flowers and trees has shifted slighty - and we shift too. And when the constant sun arrives, around late June until early September, we will leave our prayers and offerings upon the land in the hopes that the wildfires are few and well managed.

In the time between - and isn't it always the time between, these days - I have been wandering a bit, with my wild-hearted friend. I have witnessed the Tamarack needles return, and the chocolate lilies and wild strawberries flower.  A few days ago, I walked through the Valley sagebrush and collected a small basket full for drying, while swooning over lupines and bitter root.  

Artemisia tridentata (Big Sagebrush)

You know it is dry when the bitter root is happily blooming.

There are still activities afoot that are holdouts from late winter. The fire bowl has not been put away yet, but a burning ban in the Valley is imminent if the rain does not continue. Still, there are candles to light each evening when I finally drag myself and the cats back indoors.  There is also a crockpot of bone broth on simmer tonight - a practice that has continued from the cold months, as I find it nourshing and calming. There are blankets folded in neat piles, that I may never put away in the cedar chest. There is some odd comfort in having an assortment of soft blankets at the ready - even if they become merely cat beds until the Autumn returns.

Sagebrush plains between Valley hills

As I have been writing this, the moon too has shifted. A blink or two after its darkest possible incarnation, and it is new again. Although we won't see it as a tiny slice of crescent for a few days, it moves slowly away from its momentary position directly between the earth and sun.  I like this. While many don't consider the moon "new" until they can see it, I have always loved the idea that it starts a fresh journey the next breath after it is at its darkest. 

And what of your journey this month? What is growing around you? What is changing or shifting? Let us lift a glass of iced herbal tea (or something stronger) to the glory of May, the lushness of the earth, and the fresh new moon. Cheers!

Assorted May Mischief:

~ On May Eve I used Sarah's Sabbat Flying Ointment and whisked off to the Brocken. Her shop is closed until the beginning of June, but swing by and read her essay "For Fear of Flying."

~ Mercury now heads into retrograde. Having been born in a sign ruled by Mercury, I find the retrograde weeks perfect for organizing, and letting go of things. I generally go through my closets and find clothes and items in good shape to donate to the thrift store. I wrangle books, paper work, and all those sticky notes I write and leave everywhere, in to some kind of order. Don't fret about the wonky energy (if you even feel it). Simply think before you speak, double check important paperwork, and perhaps take the time to finally sort out your junk drawer!

Bri says it better, in this post about the current retrograde in Gemini.

~ The farmers market is open for the season and I'm in heaven. Also of note: the city has allowed local wineries to have a booth at the market and offer tastings. Just when I thought the farmers market couldn't get any better. And although wine is fine, vodka is better! New to our local spirits trade, Legend Distilling is making a name for itself with local fruit infused vodka.

SlĂ inte!

Apr 21, 2015

The Magic is Everywhere

My little town smells like citrusy evergreen tips this morning. And sure enough, as I headed out to feed breakfast to the local elementary school kids, I took a look at the neighbour's trees and noticed flashes of bright green at the ends of all the branches.*

The wild neon of the weeping willows along the lakeshore has mellowed a bit in the last week. Cherry blossoms are already giving way to leaves, and the large rue plant in the front garden is forming flower buds. According to the local orchardists, Spring arrived two weeks early this year.

In the vinyards every stray, creeping vine, save the two main producers, has been clipped from the trellises. They are bare and sad-looking at the moment, but they will leaf soon. In the cellar at my brother's winery, he is bottling like a madman. Last year's gewurztraminer has just hit the shelves and the 200-plus wineries in The Valley are gearing up for tourist season.

My own energy is trying to keep up with the shifts. It has been an odd and unsettling transition from Winter to Spring. I'm feeling as though a bit of tempering is happening - an adjustment here, a refining there. I wish I could say I've gotten to be an expert at this over the years. I still find change somewhat uncomfortable. I'm perfectly happy to watch the seasons melt in to one another, but watching parents age, and my almost-adult nieces struggle through the last of their teen years, has been a bit more of a challenge.

As always, I turn back to my practice. Busy mornings have thwarted my usual long river-walks, and so I squeeze in yoga, breathing exercises, and bits of meditation throughout the day. I take a moment (or more, if I'm lucky) to linger at the altar. My offerings have been meagre of late. Candlelight and incense only go so far. It's time to uncork a treasured bottle of wine, and add some fresh flowers.

Spring is settling in, and I'm finding my groove again.

Move, stretch, bloom, inhabit, and then move some more. Watch the sun stretch out its stay in the sky each day, and set a little bit further north each evening. Find solace in the cycle, and your place within it. Love more. Smell more flowers, and trees, and weeds. Notice the magic.

The magic is everywhere.

*Should you decide to sample the delight of fir or spruce tips (chock full of vitamin C, and lovely immune stimulating properties) then pinch a small amount of the soft, bright-green tips from a tree (that has not been exposed to sprays) and nibble away!

You might also:

~ soak tips in hot water and enjoy as tea

~ infuse in honey, being sure that all plant material is covered with the honey (turn honey over daily if it is difficult to keep the tips submerged)

~ create a syrup

~ chop fresh tips finely, and add to sugar and a small bit of oil for an uplifting bath scrub

Mar 31, 2015

What the Hell am I Doing With My Life - The Tarot Spread

I'm not a fan of April foolery, so in these last few minutes of March 31st, I'm offering you a silly-yet-useful bit of fun:

For those moments when you are just not sure that the guy, the girl, the job, the trip, the naked fire spinning, was such a good idea.

Card 1 - Where am I at right now?  (What the hell happened?)

Card 2 - Where am I headed?  (And will I find my pants?)

Card 3 - If I continue on this path, what can I expect to encounter?  (Please no spiders.)

Card 4 - How will this play out in the end if I keep moving in this direction?  (Hopefully booze.)

Card 5 - What is the overall theme/sense of this situation?  (Probably booze.)

The layout shown is a quickie sample. If you want a little more symbolism, you can lay out the cards in a compass or crossroads style. Card 1 would be in the north, Card 2 in the east, Card 3 in the south, and Card 4 in the West, with Card 5 in the center or over-laying the spread. Whatever works for you.

I rarely read for "timing" because I'm weirdly drawn to sabotaging myself if I narrow down a span of time for something. (I will purposely stall or rush an action - just to be particular.)
If you are not entirely crazy like me, cards 2, 3, and 4 can be timeline cards. Card 2 can signify immediate future, Card 3 can be a little further out (weeks), and Card 4 can speak to the far off future (months).

Enjoy! And may your path be bright with good fortune. (And may you always find your pants.)

~ Tarot deck shown is The Wildwood Tarot

Mar 29, 2015

The Many Faces of March

My lettuce and green onion seeds have been in the ground for a little more than a month now, and have just this last week made a show of life.  I was so very eager in February, when the unseasonably warm weather arrived. Eager for life and Spring and growth. But there were still frosts, fogs, and dark days to come that required candlelight and tea and some satisfying hibernation.

March in the Valley has a way of teasing you out and still not being hospitable enough to be of any sort of good company. But this month of the Spring equinox, of green beer, of the anniversary of a particularly bad day for Ceasar, and punctuated by astrological oddities and a Friday the 13th, has had its moments, and has now come nearly to a close.

Before it melts into the arms April, I should thank it for the cherry and apricot blossoms. And for the arrow-leaf balsam root flowering on the hillsides, waving multitudes of cheery yellow faces. The Oregon grape bloomed this morning, one brief day after I took the photo of the buds (below, right). Everything is the bright green of newness.

While I've been a quiet blogger, I've still been stirring. Some of what moved me in March, included:

~ Briana Saussy talks about daily practice.
"Daily practice at its deepest puts us right into the mucky middle of life for that is where the magic happens."

~ The amazing folks behind Candlesmoke Chapel are down, but not out. They are selling some rare books, tarot cards, and more to fund a move after a break-in at their home. Some of these are once in a lifetime finds - bid on something and help out some wonderful people.

~ Reading: Night of the Witches: Folklore, Traditions & Recipes for Celebrating Walpurgis Night by Linda Raedisch

~ New World Witchery has a Spring Lore contest going on until the end of April. Great prizes to be had simply for sharing a bit of your family's folklore.

Also, one of the lovely hosts, Laine is struggling a bit with a medical issue, so if you have some prayers or good thoughts to send her way, I'm sure it would be appreciated. We love Laine!

~ Aidan breaks down his theory of practical magic, and I dig it.
"Practical magic is largely about shifting things from the ‘possibilities’ side of things to the ‘probabilities’ side. And then working to increase the likelihood of a particular probability to manifest."

~ I spent Friday the 13th with seven of my best girlfriends, sitting around a farm table eating a ridiculous amount of food, and drinking local wines and lime daiquiris. Some of us were tired. Some of us were sick. Some of us had kids and/or husbands at home waiting (or texting every half hour). But we made time for each other. The laughter was healing. The daiquiris were healing to those of us with sore throats (ahem).

Get your friends together. I know you are all busy. I'm the one often left to organize a gathering and it can sometimes take a month to wrangle all the schedules and settle on a date. Do it anyway. The payoff is worth the effort.