Monday, June 21, 2010

Mid-Summer's Eve

"I believe that faeries exist as a tribe of spirits, and appear to us in the form of men and women." -- Donald McKinnon, 96 years old, Barra Penninsula, Scotland, 1910

In Faery Tale, one of the many startling discoveries that I made was that my trip to the United Kingdom to collect faery lore and study what may be left of local belief, followed another momentous search conducted by an academic at Oxford named Walter Evans-Wentz: exactly 100 years earlier, to the very day.

Academics like Walter Evans-Wentz and even poet and writer William Butler Yeats traveled the countryside in their day, searching to solve the riddle of faeries for themselves. They collected stories and first-hand testimonies from the country folk they encountered who referred to the faeries deferentially as "Themselves," "The Fair Folk," "The Shining Ones." Many a farmer at the turn of the century in Britain and Ireland could claim to have spotted lights coming from within a dark glen, music floating on the evening breeze with no explicable source, catching sight of a ring of faeries dancing, hand-in-hand, and even long lines of tall, stately dressed men and women coming down from the dark hills under the light of the moon.

In faery lore, references abound of the faerie's love of feasting, dancing, and celebration. Since faeries are believed to be spirits of the earth, many believe that on important days like the fall equinox, the summer solstice, Samhain or All Hallows Eve, were of particular importance to the faery race, and at these times of the year the world of magic became a little more tangible: our world was drawn somehow closer to theirs.

While we today classify June 21st as the First Day of Summer, in ancient times festivals that honored today celebrated the summer solstice as Mid-Summer -- the ancient Summer season began on May Day and ended on August 1st. So today is actually the very height of summer. It begins a time of incessant heat and humidity for many of us, of global warmth, thriving of plants and fruits and vegetables, and today being the longest day of summer, we will have 15 hours of daylight. All across Europe and Scandanavia bonfires were built to celebrate this, the pinnacle of summer and of the earth's miraculous bounty and fertility. And yet today, with more environmental heartache than we've seen in decades, many of us feel hopeless, sad, and disillusioned.

Many of us are asking, what can we do in a time like now? The press says volunteers are not needed to clean the shores of the gulf. Any who are able can of course send money, but where could we send it where it can have the most impact? It's easy to feel helpless on a day like today, even guilty -- after all, when we acknowledge the importance of today, it's a terrible feeling to understand that instead of honoring the earth and its cycles, we are destroying it. But this has been on my mind a great deal. We can't deny this is a tremendous wake-up call. And I think the most important thing we can do, on a day like today, is give the earth our love.

It's easier than it sounds! I'm not talking about meditating, or chanting, or building your own private ritual bonfire under your next-door neighbor's window -- I'm talking about seeking a way in which to make your own footprint lighter. And there are so many ways that we can begin, today, to make a difference. No matter where we live. We only need to understand that each of us does indeed, have the power to make a change.

-How much trash are you putting in the trash can on a daily basis?
-How many plastic bags are you using, both grocery bags and ziplock, for example?
-Are you leaving lights on and electronics plugged in perpetually, when things could get switched off and unplugged?
-How much water are you using for brushing your teeth, washing your dishes, washing your hands and taking your showers? Can you shut off the water while you soap up, or fill up a dishtub part way, rather than letting it run?
-Can you set your air-conditioner at 76 degrees instead of 72?

Recently Eric and I started composting -- we got a pretty silver container with reusable filters from Crate and Barrel, and a $40 black recycled plastic compost bin for outside. Yes, we were late to the eco-party, but I've been amazed at how conscientious it's made me about everything else. It feels so amazing to see it fill up with summer's bounty: Watermelon rinds, local lettuce, summer squash and garlic skins. All of these will mingle with our shredded paper, our eggshells, our pine straw from our big lady pine in the back yard, producing good, sweet soil to nourish our tiny garden of zucchini, tomatoes, and jalapeno peppers. We walk around feeling unplugged and not knowing why. This is a way to plug in, and the more we plug in, the more we can recognize harmful habits and work to improve our relationship to the one thing that sustains us all: our planet. So in celebration of today, think about what change you might be able to make and do something today to put it into action. You'll feel incredible, I promise!

As I was reading up on Midsummer, as often happens these days, I came across something that surprised me. Any of you who read the book will read about this plugging in, and how once we do, we may even begin to get little... feelings about things. These whispers of intuition have become, since my journey, as familiar as my own reflection in the mirror. A big believer in purifying my living space using the ancient method of burning sage, I recently gave my last sage bundle to a friend who was moving out of town and into a new home. I knew she'd use it well, but it made me sad that I had none left, and no place in Charleston to buy more. It occurred to me then that I have sage growing quite well now, in the little herb garden I planted on the side of the house. Why did I need to rely on someone else to sell me dried sage when I could produce my own? Perhaps this came as a whisper. I read up on how to harvest herbs properly, respectfully, when they are to be used for such purposes, and was planning on waiting until the end of the summer to harvest from my plants. But yesterday I kept feeling that I should harvest it now, now, now. So last night at twilight, I knelt in the dirt and clipped three long bundles of the fuzzy green leaves, making sure to leave enough growth for it to regenerate in  the next few months. Taking it inside, I bound it with thin, pink yarn from New York State Sheep and hung it in my closet to begin its drying process. My very own sage!

It wasn't until this morning that I read that herbs for sacred and magical purposes have always been gathered on Mid-summer or Mid-summer's Eve (the night before) for centuries. This is because it is believed that plants around this time possess their most intense essence, as this is the day when the sun is at its most powerful. So there you go. Perhaps today, if nothing else, is a good day to begin listening to that inner-voice, and see what surprises it gives you!

Attached are some pics I took moments ago of the entrance to our backyard with our gardening shed, my teeny herb garden, and just so we know the faeries are paying attention -- a dragon fly that sat oddly still, letting me snap its photo to say happy mid-summer to us all! Can you spot it perched on the unopened Canna Lily?

With hopes for an enchanted evening of your own,

Sunday, June 13, 2010

For my Mother on my Birthday

I had forgotten about this poem until my sister sent me the most incredible birthday gift -- she had a line from this etched onto a beautiful bracelet. It made me dig through my computer files to find the whole thing. The first half of this poem is a bit private, and heart-breakingly sad, about the death of my uncle Tom, and my mother taking our cousin, Murielle, to live with us. Murielle is a wonder, a delight to all of us who get the unmitigated pleasure of watching her grow up.

But this half of the poem is for my mother.

The Guardian

II). Fall Creek, Ithaca NY

The water rushes under the bridge
crayfish scuttle from underneath the rocks
they learn to play
each teaching the other
this is what it means to be a child
twice by plan, thrice by divine intervention
            I watched you, when I was with God
open the blinds and make the coffee
raise two girls
            until you could raise me

one generation to the next
one generation to the next
alert even at night
when all the children are sleeping
safe in the peach colored house on the corner
where the lilies bloom and tuck themselves away
and the back porch cradles the echoes of a family
who are soaked into the pores of the wood.
I left my tears on the shingles of the roof
under the stars by the window
where she stretches, and kicks in her sleep.

I whisper from here,
to the guardian
when the Victorian house is creaking and settling at night
when everything is less bearable
            you carry us all on your slender spine
            your magic still lingers in the lining of our bellies
in the width of our hearts
you taught us to open
one for the other
and so we are
just a circle of you
stretching through the distance
ageless through the ages
a memory stamped into the earth
we will whisper
we were here
we were loved
and you birthed us all
the ancient mystic roots itself through you
the mother
the guardian
the woman who sometimes forgets she teaches us all
in how to believe. 

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Bunny Messenger

This morning I walked into the sun room to spot a rabbit under the bird feeder. Willoughby the cat has never seen a rabbit, so knowing this would be a particularly compelling development to her Friday morning ritual, I bent down slowly and scooped her up so she could see it, the rabbit eyeing us the whole time. I was amazed at how long its front legs were -- long and graceful -- and how even though we were separated by a wall of screen and glass, I could see its little heart pounding against its chest. It took a moment for Willoughby's eyes to lock on the subject of my fascination, but I could tell the moment it happened -- her tail began to swish violently as she spotted this: her first rabbit. 

After a while, the rabbit got used to us, and we to it, and I put Willy gently down on the floor so she could stare on ground level, and soon the rabbit had relaxed enough to stretch out, lying so prone under the myrtle that I wondered if it couldn't be injured. I was plotting how I might best approach it to get it into a carrier to take to the vet when I realized, no! It was just... hanging out. I couldn't help but wonder: surely something special must happen when you get to begin your day by spotting a rabbit! 

And sure enough, I logged into my email this morning to find this lovely, lovely quote from author Sharman Apt Russell, author of a thought-provoking, explorative book on pantheism: 

“Do fairies exist? There is a certain innocence in the belief that they do and a certain magic in that innocence. With considerable humor and flair, Signe Pike asks us to return to the awe and innocence we knew as children. It's a worthwhile journey.”
 —Sharman Apt Russell, author of Standing in the Light: My Life as a Pantheist

So on this muggy summer friday, I might not have been thinking on this stuff when I rolled out of bed, but I have a lot to be thankful for. A long-limbed brown rabbit, a sweetly curious black kitten, the way wilderness sneaks into our lives, if we only take the time to notice it, and the encouragement of another writer, perhaps the greatest gift of all. 

I hope everyone can find many moments to be grateful for this weekend!

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Dreaming of My Father

When I dream about my father, gone now four years and nearly five months to the day, I wake up forgetting sometimes, that he is still gone. Four and a half years seems like a moment ago. People always say that, and I would agree that it's true.

When I dream about Dad we sometimes end up at a waterfall that is all the waterfalls in Ithaca, put together. Their bits and pieces and personalities blended into a whole that I think must somehow be the Divine Gorge. It is, at one end, far away in the countryside. And at the other, it is nestled in the steep hills of College Town. I wake up feeling fresh and cold, like I have just gone for a swim. Like I have really just seen his face, or heard his voice, or smelled the clean spicy smell of his favorite T-shirt. Because the waterfall is perfect.
And I wonder if it is his.