Aug 4, 2016

Marking Time and Tide

On the first evening of August, the immense black locust offered dappled shade until the sun slipped over the western hill. I have always loved that tree, and the wide swing that hangs from a massive branch. There were days, a decade ago now when it seemed that I had more time, I would sneak away from work on a summer afternoon and steal into my friend's parents' yard with a book, and sit on that swing beside the small pond with the burbling waterfall. Now the pond is still and the garden is overgrown. Though the dozen birdfeeders have come down, the quarter acre is still brimming with avian life and happy bumblebees. The roses have all bloomed despite their mistress forgetting their names. The hollyhocks and foxgloves have grown tall and continue to flower, lending to the fae quality of the land that skirts the guardian tree.

I have wondered if the birds miss the man that fed them everyday. He has been gone two months now, and his wife has had her memory stolen, though she can still remember a few old stories from the days she used to go dancing with her husband. She cannot recall her plants anymore, their variety, or where they came from. Seventeen years ago she took a piece of land, bare but for a large black locust tree, and crafted an oasis of beauty and magic. She created meandering paths and hidden 'rooms' - a secret garden if ever there was one. Now she has moved in with her daughter and the house is being emptied and put up for sale. Life is change. There is no stopping the tides. The new little lines around the edges of my eyes remind me. The quiet pond and the enchanted garden grown wild, echo the sentiment.

That place, untended yet still so magical, hosted witches who came together to mark time and create poppets with corn husks, and work with old keys and a cauldron. It gifted us the whispers of cool wind through the sanctuary of lush green, and the sounds of the winged ones settling in as the day waned. At the place where memories faded, our own remembrances were laid out for each other. Stories were told. Sighs were deep. August was ushered in with benevolence and quiet good cheer.

Some sabbats and observances can be raucous or racy, dark and hushed, solitary or rung in with a host of others. I am just as likely to forego a formal celebration as heed one, and equally teeter-totter between wanting company in my revels and preferring solitude. I have spent the bulk of my sacred time this year, from the winter of my discontent to the sweltering late July afternoons, with almost entirely my own company and that of the spirits that find me vaguely pleasing, laying my workings and altars out and wandering the scrub desert and forest. I have left libations at crossroads, communed with a crow that leaves feathers (and at times the egg of another bird) on my doorstep, burned endless woods, herbs, and papers in fires in my backyard under the watchful stars, sacrificed my own blood and tears to the land that allows me to live on it, and I am content enough working these and other rites on my own. But that night beneath the thorny sentinal that was once struck by lightening during a summer storm, it was truly lovely to mark the shift of time and light with company.

August is often considered the sticky, oppressive step-sister of July. Those who do follow a wheel-of-the-year of sorts often shun the idea of First Harvest at this time, assuming "harvest" harkens to more autumnal weather and activities. While here in The Valley the lakes are warm and the beaches are packed with strange sun-worshipping creatures, this is in fact the height of our harvest. At the farm stands and farmers markets you can find everything from the very last cherries of the season to the earliest pears and fall squash. Almost every crop that can be grown in our climate is available now, and I am putting up jars of boozy peaches and plums while skewering all the local vegetables I can get my hands on and searing them on the bbq. My farmer friend has her first planting of corn almost ready to pick and there will be a bonfire celebration to mark the bringing in of the ears. Corn on the cob with a whiskey-butter sauce will share the table with savory corn fritters and corn chowder, and far too much local wine.

This past weekend, while wandering in the eastern hills, there was a bite in the wind that has not been present in the last months. The tips of some of the deciduous trees up the mountain are starting to blush. The wild elderberry is hung heavily with its dusty purple fruit, and the goldenrod is nodding along the roadsides. I don't observe month or season because I am told to in a book, or as part of a practice someone else has laid out for me (though I am not opposed to being inspired). Instead, I note that the fruit of the wild apple tree is fat and flushing. I look to the sky and see that the big dipper tilts its cup overhead to the north west, just above my eyebrows. A few months ago I had to crane my head back to see that great bear, and in a few more months it will wander closer to the northern horizon, past my nose and out of sight. By that time Orion and his pup Sirius will return in the east to keep me company.

I enjoy a celebration. Life can become a string of weight-bearing days that pinch not just our backs, but our spirit if we aren't inclined to find joy. I chose to greet August with breath and blood (the mosquitoes were well fed that night) and blessing. Each year offers another chance at shifting and adjusting our observations as we watch the earth find its rhythm. This year the self-heal bloomed late and the tansy flowered early. The dandelions were not nearly prolific enough for my tastes, but the plantain and wild mustards were showing off everywhere. There were more summer storms than I can ever remember seeing, and as a result we have had almost no wildfires. There are new red-tailed hawks in the area, and so many twins born to the mule deer this year that it seemed like everyone had fawn lawn-ornaments in their yard. I can think of dozens of reasons to revel, without much effort.

One day, not too far off, our own memories may begin to fade. We might forget the name of the handsome Joe Pye that stands so tall in our garden. We might neglect the offerings to birds or spirits that we once gave so steadfastly. Until the time that I can no longer remember why I love the rowan tree that sits at the edge of the four-way crossroads, or recall that the lake that hides a monster also holds a key and herbs from a garden two thousand miles away; until I cannot tell you why I delight in staghorn sumac or damson plums, I will continue to mark the months, the seasons, the way the light shifts and changes, the land's many harvests, and the traveling stars.

I hope that your own harvests have begun to come in, lush and rewarding. I have heard from many that this year has been difficult thus far, so I am sending my own good wishes, via milkweed seeds and the upcoming Perseids, out into the world for you. Look up.