I grew up north of Dallas Texas in a suburbia hell called Plano: a concrete, strip mall jungle devoid of nature and trees beyond the contrived and manicured ones. When I married an Airforce pilot and escaped to Minnesota, Mississippi, Colorado, California and then Illinois, I learned how much I needed nature.
Fast forward twenty years and on my second marriage, we moved just south of Huntsville, Alabama to a small valley community where the foothills surrounding it signal the beginning of the Appalachian mountain range.
Home. My cells sighed in relief.
Soon after moving to Alabama, my troubled second marriage ended. And I found myself, like so many other Americans, uninsured. I was able to get my blood pressure medicine online but not the Clonazepam prescription that I have always used for my anxiety. When my dad died suddenly in the 90’s, my panic attacks began, and since then my anxiety had been an always present force in my life.
Are cruelty, violence and greed written into the human DNA? Are we destined as a species to continually and for eternity create our world in a hierarchical manner where the privileged few receive almost all of the goods and services while the masses live in slavery of one form or another?
I was on my knees awash in the kind of grief that only people who have been torn from the same skin can begin to comprehend.
I sprinkled most of the ashes lovingly in the shallow depression that I dug into half frozen ground. I had never felt so alone. Unknown to me, once a beloved companion, my little brother’s ashes had spent 32 years stuffed into a cardboard box in my parents’ attic. Every year since his death my nightmares intensified… he was left wandering in the dark with no place to rest.
Warms spring rain. The flooding fractured a poorly built bridge, rising waters overflowed moss covered banks – roads disappeared under the deluge, and I was out transplanting the last of my perennials! Working in the rain is a sensual experience – the scent of sweet earth grounds me, the sound of rushing waters not only stills inner chatter but reminds me that this is the time of year that every tribal culture used to celebrate the coming of the rains, the rising of the waters, and the blessing of wildflowers. Today, I know of no one that celebrates May Day but me, although some still honor this day as a Turning of the Wheel of the Year. And how can the latter not be?
After transplanting, moving stones, and feeding the tadpoles in my frog pond, I check on the progress of all the wild bee loving violets around the house. No flowers yet. I visit the brook to peer down at budded trillium and marsh marigolds. One golden blossom greets me in the rain; Mary incarnates! The first delicate trumpets of trailing arbutus glow like pearls. Too late for frog breeding, vernal pools are now overflowing.
September 25, 2013 is the second anniversary of the death of environmental, peace, justice, and democracy advocate and Nobel Peace Prize recipient Wangari Muta Maathai.
Wangari Muta was born in 1940 in a round hut in rural tribal Kenya. Wangari’s tribe considered the fig tree to be holy, and she was taught that one is never to cut a fig tree down or to use its branches for firewood. Wangari spent many happy childhood hours in the shade of a fig tree that grew by a nearby stream. Fig trees play an important role in the ecological system of the Rift Valley of Kenya. Their roots penetrate the hard rock surface of the mountains to find underground water, thus opening channels where the water flows upward to fill streams and rivers.
In most cultures white is the color of death. No wonder brides wear white.
When I finally stepped into my life at 39, I entered a mythic world. I married myself to the serpent of life, a creature who is now wrapping itself (both male and female) around the earth four times and squeezing the life out of Her, according to Mythologist Martin Shaw (see Emergence magazine). The serpent, once life bringer for feminists now courts death.
I will always remember Marion Woodman, a Jungian analyst (and personal friend), who stated that every symbol carries both light and dark, and one side of the symbol will always shift into the other… She was speaking metaphorically but my mythic education and life experience as a naturalist have taught me/and continue to teach me that symbols like the serpent that were once holy beings are also living beings that were worshipped by Pre-Christian cultures, and then demonized by Christianity, recovered, and reverenced by feminists. Until now. Today the dark side of serpent has risen again and is swallowing us whole.
I’ve known of the existence of the Sabian symbols for a long time, but not much about the details or meanings – which is kind of surprising considering how much I love symbolism. Sabian symbols, which first emerged in 1925 from clairvoyant Elsie Wheeler are written symbolic meanings of each degree of the astrological zodiac. Recently I heard astrologer, Heather Ensworth, speaking about the new moon of March 21 at 1° Aries and the Sabian symbol attached to that lunation which is – “A woman rises out of the water, a seal rises and embraces her.”
Upon hearing that Sabian symbol recited, my inner eye exploded with an image to match the words and then buried itself deep in my heart. I fought the urge to paint it as I have other projects which need completion. But ultimately the woman and the seal would not leave me, so I began to visualize it resulting in this painting, which might or might not be finished.
But why did it strike me so deeply and what might it mean?
Preface: Yesterday someone asked me to contribute an academic article that had to be cited to be included in a book. I said no because my academic years are over. My life experience has taught me that education is simply not enough to shift perception, and that Story may be equally/ or more important because story taps into the creative side of us, moving us through our childhood senses which include our feelings. Although not specifically feminist in content, I believe the underlying messages belong to feminism. The first highlights the destructive greedy ‘head’ without a body. The second addresses the complicated situation we find ourselves in – offering us a way through. The second story also highlights the primary difference between an exchange economy and a gift giving one.
Speak the truth about conflict, pain, and suffering.
Take only what you need.
Think about the consequences of your actions for seven generations.
Approach the taking of life with great restraint.
Practice great generosity.
Repair the web
In Rebirth of the Goddess, I offered Nine Touchstones of Goddess Spirituality as an alternative to the Ten Commandments. The Nine Touchstones are intended to inform all our relationships, whether personal, communal, social, or political.
I make a vow of self-sovereignty, a declaration of wholeness, a promise to myself that I will keep: I vow to listen to my heart, to claim my power and my voice. I vow to live my own magic, to step into the center of my own life and live from there. I vow to live a life that includes space for me, to stand up for what I need, to listen to my longings, to honor my inner call, to do my own work with trust. I vow to never abandon myself. I vow to inhabit my own wholeness in all ways.
In February, I signed up for a Vow of Faithfulness class with WomanSpirit Reclamation. Guided by Patricia Lynn Reilly (of “Imagine a Woman” and A God Who Looks Like Me fame) and Monette Chilson, the class was based on Patricia’s book, I Promise Myself: making a commitment to yourself and your dreams. Structured as a seven week online women’s circle, the class took us on a deep dive into vow-making, culminating in a vow ceremony in which we made a public (to the class that is) declaration of our own vows to ourselves. As the class unfolded, I found myself reviewing past vows as well as sensing new vows bumping up against my consciousness, whispering to be heard.
Introduction to MAYFLOWER MEMORIES (‘Blood – Root’)
For the past two weeks I have been obsessed by the thought of emerging bloodroot, a wildflower I have loved since childhood that grows just outside my door (among other places). This obsession, and I take each one seriously, always provokes the same question: what’s really going on here? Bloodroot does not bloom under four feet of snow, and my guess is that this year one of my favorite wildflowers won’t burst with white stars until June.
Today, I also remembered with astonishment that in the old ways, Mother’s Day occurred on March 25th, the time when ‘Becoming’ begins, long before the snow recedes. I’m struck by the difference between the two mothers’ days, this one seems so much more authentic, no room for sentimentality when we face this messy, muddy turning from winter to spring (at least in the Northeast).
Experts quiped you would not rise Too old they said Abandoned Pink and Rose No one imagined resilience, pattern birthing form to vine. Gray green veins swell, pulse, pump sugars skyward, powered by a single root. Bowed blade circles round to Beginning Buried deep. Spiral loosens, ascends seeking sun star heat.
In this article I reframe my understanding of feminism through the lens of Mona Chollet’s In Defence of Witches, and reflect on how my psyche as a woman today is still deeply influenced by the effects of the witch hunts in mediaeval times.
By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one.
The air that is my breath . . .is the air that you are breathing. And the air that is your breath . . . is the air that I am breathing. The wind rising in my breast . . .is the wind, from the east, from the west, From the north . . . from the south; Breathing in, breathing out.
So begins singer-songwriter Sara Thomsen’s song, “By Breath,” bringing together many elements I’ve been pondering in the last several days – breath, air, wind, spirit.
In the 1960s and 1970s, American-born Genevieve Vaughan was living in Rome with her husband, philosopher Ferruccio Rossi-Landi, and their three daughters. When Rossi-Landi, using Marxist models, began to write about language as a form of “exchange,” Vaughan was inspired to articulate her alternative theory based on the idea that language was developed and is learned through the gifts of the mother to the child. From that beginning, Vaughn developed an alternative theory of culture based on what she calls the “gift economy.”
Night becomes day, winter becomes spring, children become adults who become elders who become ancestors – transformation is a theme that appears again and again in our myths, legends and natural world.
But transformation is not easy as it requires us to let go of the old, the comfortable, the familiar and make way for the new and unknown. We can look to myth and legend with their many instances of transformation for guidance through these difficult moments.
Historically they used the Eastern flyway but were extirpated by hunting… a slow recovery is in process and the stately Sandhill cranes are once again returning to breed in Maine… so far only birders have been keeping track of their numbers but these majestic pre-historic birds have haunting cries that are often described as bugles, rattles, croaks and trumpets and can be heard 2 -3 miles away. They also utter sounds that combine a kind of brrring in unison. Their impending arrival next month calls up a chant I love…
“There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of women with wings. There’s a river of birds in migration, a nation of warriors with wings.”
I remember the chill that crawled up my spine as those words seeped into my body all those years ago… I wept, not knowing why.
For almost 35 years nature has been my sacred place. As an 8-year old, I started to pray to Mother Earth even though the protestant tradition in which I grew up only recognised ‘God the Father’. I went outside in my inflatable rowing boat to seek solitude (as an only child in a quiet family!) on a small island in the lake of our local park. I practised rowing and walking quietly to not break the sacred silence. I collected herbs to brew infusions in my little thermos flask with boiled water brought from home. I sung to the moon, and danced my love for all creation back through my moving body. Over the last 15 or so years, I spent many days and nights at Neolithic monuments, dreaming in ancestral burial mounds, time traveling in stone circles in Cornwall, Wales, Scotland, England, Ireland and Brittany. This nature-based practice evolved naturally, and later incorporated my training with the Scandinavian Centre for Shamanic Studies and the School of Movement Medicine. Nature is where I reconnect most easily with the Sacred, and listen to the whispers on the great web of life in which all of nature is a great teacher. Nature, for me, is a strong place of prayer, solace, awe, reverence, gratitude, joy, guidance, reconnection, healing and transformation.
Without thinking I threw the old seed into a bag of moist liverworts that I would be looking at under a powerful microscope with my scientist friend Al in a couple of days. I have no idea why I added the seed. The scarlet runner was one I kept in a winter bouquet that I had recently dismantled. The purple and rose bean had to be four or five years old. It would not germinate now …
Imagine my astonishment when I opened the bag in the lab. The bean had sprouted! The fat twisted root was hunting for earth. Carefully I re – wrapped the bean and put it in a little container until I could get home and plant it, but not before we looked at it under the microscope. More about that later.
Most of us are familiar with the mythology around oak trees. They are considered oracular beings in many traditions. The Druids considered them to be sacred, the Greeks associated oaks with Zeus –( patriarchy strikes as the ‘ king’ of trees). In Britain there was a goddess of oak trees….but in general oaks are considered to be male beings though they bear seeds and flowers on one tree.
Mighty male trees ? Nothing could be further from the truth in terms of behavior because oaks are found all over the world and in this country they are what is considered to be a keystone species. What this means is that oaks support and nurture an incredible amount of animals, insects and birds. A ‘ Mother ‘Tree in every way. We have four species in this country, one of which clones itself and behaves like a bush. It is believed to be about 1300 years old ( found in the west).Throughout the world oaks are also considered to be keystone species.
When I moved to the mountains my children were grown and gone…
Finally I had land of ‘my’ own with a brook and mountains that was surrounded by forests. I felt protected by something I could not name. I was living on the edge of wilderness and a hunger I had been carrying for all of my adult life was finally appeased.
Although I had a vegetable and flower garden I felt a deep reluctance to cut trees and eventually lost most of my field to pines. When I finally built my log cabin, I did plant fruit trees, but every action was predicated on my need to give back to nature what she had given to me.
Mountain Mother, I hear you calling me. Mountain Mother, we hear your cry. Mountain Mother, we have come back to you. Mountain Mother, we hear your sigh. Lyrics by Carol P. Christ . Sung to the tune of “Ancient Mother.” (origin unknown)
What do a bunch of feminist women do while riding a tour bus around the Mediterranean island of Crete? If they are on the Goddess Pilgrimage started by Carol Christ and continued by Laura Shannon, they sing songs honoring the Goddess. The song that drew me most from the first time I heard it on the fall 2022 Goddess Pilgrimage was “Mountain Mother.” Not surprising since the rocky, sparsely vegetated, yet hauntingly beautiful mountains of Crete surrounded us much of the time as our trusty bus wound its way up and down and around the island.
Imbolc has come and gone. It appears that Punxsutawney Phil, the American version of animal weather prophets on that cross-quarter day, was correct. Winter cold continues. I’ll admit that I am getting pretty tired of the cold but it does help me to keep focused on the paintings for my winter fairytale – Elena and the Reindeer Goddess.
Though my work on this project will certainly continue into the spring and summer, this will be the last excerpt I post here at FAR. I know you will all be more interested in postings related to the growing times of spring and summer once the days are longer and warmer. This third excerpt picks up where my post from last month stopped. If you missed excerpts one and two you can check them out here and here.
Every spring it’s the same… the hunger to begin starting seeds. As a woman and an eco -feminist I am convinced that this need to work with seeds and soil is an ancient pattern that stretches back to our egalitarian matriarchal beginnings.
Some of us like me come from a family of gardeners so there is something to say about the influence of our ancestors directing this process on a personal level. Both patterning and ancestral influences seem to work together. Another “both and”.
After I broke my foot last year I was forced to cease gardening altogether out of necessity because I could no longer use a shovel. If I am really honest I can say I was more than ready to let go. I have grown both vegetables and flowers since I was a child, then while raising a family. At mid – life when I moved to the mountains I made (what seems today) a radical decision. I decided to plant trees, plants and flowers primarily for non – humans in a small area around my house. Nature determined what grew and thrived on the rest of my land. Today people call this re-wilding but then my intention was simple. I wanted to give back to nature what S/he had given to me. I wanted nature to be the receiver.
This earth is my sister; I love her daily grace, her silent daring, and how loved I am how we admire the strength in each other, all that we have suffered, all that we have lost, all that we know. We are stunned by this beauty, and I do not forget: what she is to me, what I am to her.
These words are from Susan Griffin’s Woman and Nature which I often recommend as one of my favorite books. Over the years I have read this passage and others from Woman and Nature aloud with my students, and we have always been moved, most of us to tears. More recently these words have become the center of the “Morning Blessing” on the Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete.
The patenting of seeds[i] has made the thousands-year-old practice of seed saving illegal, as is the sharing of seeds from farmer to farmer. The most notorious case is that of Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, whose canola crops were contaminated with Roundup Ready canola pollen blown into his fields from neighboring corporate farms. When Monsanto trespassed onto his fields, took samples, and found Roundup Ready canola plants mixed in with Schmeiser’s own canola plants, they sued him for violation of patents. Ultimately, the Canadian Supreme Court ruled in favor of Monsanto, but also ruled that Schmeiser owed Monsanto nothing.
In my own city, seed sharing became an issue when in 2013 our local library decided to start a seed library. The project was begun with great hopes that patrons could check out seeds for their home gardens, with the understanding that they would save a portion of their seeds and return these to the library for next year’s use. [ii] Project leaders hoped this would preserve locally adapted seed varieties. Unfortunately, after the seed library came to the public’s attention, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture informed the library that they were in violation of a Minnesota statute that prohibited the exchange of non-commercial seeds. [iii] Library Manager Carla Powers commented, “ . . . the law went so far as to make it illegal for gardeners to exchange a handful of seeds with one another.”[iv] But this did not end the library’s efforts. Several ally organizations[v] stepped up to create an amendment to the statute that exempted the exchange of non-commercial seeds from testing, labeling and licensing laws. This inspired a state-wide effort to change the law, which was successfully accomplished in that year’s legislative session.[vi]
Author’s Note: This piece was inspired by Janet Maika’i Rudolph’s wonderful FAR post of December 15th, 2022, “Ode to Seeds.”
“. . . I know, yes, there is renewal, /because this is what the seeds ask of us/ with their own songs/ when we listen to their small bundle of creation,/ of a future rising from the ground . . .” – Linda Hogan
The first seed catalogs started arriving in the mail even before the turn of the new year. In an annual ritual of hope, in the depths of winter we turn our thoughts and dreams to growing things – seeds of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, carrots, and beans that will feed us and grace our tables in the summer and fall, and colorful marigolds, nasturtiums, and zinnias that will delight all summer long with their beauty. Is this the invincible summer of which Camus wrote?[i]
It’s another gray snowy day with large white flakes falling from the sky… January lasts “forever” every single year. I feed chickadees on my window ledge until the squirrels show up; then I scatter seed on the ground. Chickadees begin their day just before 7 AM when it is still dark, coming to the ledge. Today the turkeys are absent, fluffed up monks still hidden under hemlock boughs. The blood male cardinal appears with his usual message. I peer into the forest as the turkeys make their way across the brook and start up the hill while gazing at sage green shield lichens and two pure white birches that stand out like sentries, peeling white skin. Some maples and many hemlocks border the brook that is running clear of ice. A multitude of twigs and evergreen spires sway, branches twist and bend filling every inch of space, a comforting sight, even though all the deciduous trees are bare. Global warming turns snow to rain and back again in every storm creating ice bound paths, easily traversed by my little dogs. Dangerous for me. Often now I am housebound.
This gray world of mine needs animation from within…