Monday, November 14, 2011

Our Place in Nature

The starlings are back.

Since my husband and I left the bustle of New York City to make a home among the twisting creeks and sandy beaches of Charleston, S.C., the birds and butterflies mark the seasons. Of course, year-round this is a place of water birds. Near the ocean, sandpipers skitter light-footed across the waterline. Back in the creeks, herons sit stock-still on dock pilings, their keen eyes focused beneath the silty surface of the creek. Snowy white egrets stretch themselves in flight against some of the bluest skies I’ve ever seen.

But I know that it’s autumn with Thanksgiving around the corner when I step into the back yard to hear the chorus of chirps, squawks, and cackles of the starlings. They flock by the dozens in the branches of our 80-year-old red pine, their bodies rendered invisible by the pinecones were it not for the interminable calamity they cause. They bully the cardinals and even the blue jays. They shovel seed from the feeders and can empty them in minutes. But I don’t begrudge their presence: after all, it’s not their fault. Starlings are genetic refugees.

In 1890-1891, a small group of European starlings were released in New York City by the American Acclimatization Society. Their romantic but idiotic ambition?  To introduce all the birds mentioned in the works of Shakespeare to Central Park. Today the population of European starlings in the U.S. is approximately 200,000,000. It’d be an understatement to call starlings a nuisance. In my back yard, we get off easy. Across the US each year flocks of starlings are responsible for nearly $800 million dollars of crop damage.

Fiercely aggressive, they root out and destroy the nests of other birds. They’re opportunistic feeders. Sadly, people are encouraged to annihilate eggs, nests, adults and young starlings alike. We have created a monster. Starlings are only one example of how human beings have interfered with the natural course of nature only to cause disastrous and likely irreversible results. Like everything in nature, there is always something to admire in the starlings – the way their glossy feathers refract in the light like so many rainbows, the liveliness of their conversation, the way their jaw has genetically evolved to adapt here. They’re also quite clever and can even imitate human speech.

There are now 2,789 different plants, fish, mammals, insects, reptiles and birds wreaking havoc in the natural environment of the U.S. thanks to human meddling. In America alone, we’ve introduced African bees, snakehead fish, Asian carp, the Red Imported Fire Ant, zebra mussels…the list goes on. My point isn’t to bemoan our state of affairs – organizations like and the National Invasive Species Council are doing their best to mitigate the issues, despite the fact that they’re fighting a largely uphill battle. The time has come when we need to adopt a responsible position in the balance of the world’s ecosystem and stop screwing around with it. It’s a mindset, an intention, and a respect for the natural world that needs to be put into action now, not tomorrow. Because when we mess with nature’s balance, disastrous things happen. My hope is that we can learn from the mistakes of the past and carry that knowledge forward. We need more education, adaptation of these issues in school curriculums at all age levels, more outreach. Stricter regulations. But most of all, we need active thinkers and community members who take the time to say to our corporations and government bodies, “This is not okay.”, Sierra Club and Nature Conservancy are great places to start. Donate your time, donate your money if you can, and most importantly, donate your attention to helping us recreate the way people treat the planet. Sure, this planet is resilient. It lived for millennia before we came, and with hope it will live millennia after. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we’ll be on it. Because when you consider things this way, human beings—with no natural predators, our technology, our adaptability and our incredible intellect—are the most invasive species of all.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Connecting with the Faerie Realm

Hello, Everyone! 

Recently, a reader asked me for tips on how to begin her own relationship with the faeries. There are dozens of things you can do, and the most important thing of all is to follow your own intuition. I've seen tiny and beautiful hand-beaded bags made as gifts and left out, I've seen incredible little faery doors crafted from all natural and found things left in the woods. One woman baked fairy bread with her two young kids and left some outside for the back garden beings. The creativity never ceases, and the possibilities are endless. But here are five basics that I've incorporated into my life - I hope they're helpful! If you've got things you do and would like to share, please, feel free. The more suggestions the better. Also, Faery Tale really can be used as a teaching tool. Do what I did! It's all there in the pages of the book. 

1. Tidy your home and outdoor spaces.
When I first read that faeries appreciate clean spaces, I couldn’t exactly relate to the concept. I’ve never believed that faeries were tiny winged creatures with tempers like Tinkerbell or anthropomorphic characteristics like fastidiousness or “Type-A” personalities, though I do joke about this in my book. These are human conventions born out of our modern-day neurosis and a pre-occupation with the material facets of existence. Faeries are spirits. As such, preparing a space by cleaning it is showing a mark of respect and communicating your intention to connect. The added benefit? You get to enjoy your tidy home and admire your finely kept garden. Cleaning away dust and clutter also keeps the energy of places feeling fresh, which is something you can imagine any spirit (or human for that matter) would appreciate.
The magical 3 year-old Jasmine Cook left this feather for the sunroom faery on her recent visit. 

2. Create a Special Location.
The Quartz tree I found at Penguin gets a special place on my desk in Charleston. 
This was a christmas ornament I received as a gift - it found its way into my kitchen,
where I leave out little gifts for the "Kitchen" Spirit. Haven't burned anything since! 
Whether it is a corner of your desk at work, your kitchen windowsill, a bookshelf, or any other place that feels right to you. I had a small collection of found things that reminded me of faeries in my office at Penguin. It all began with a funky and rather horrible looking quartz crystal tree that showed up in the “Don’t Want” Pile at the office. Oddly, it was the day my book proposal for Faery Tale was going to auction, and it was a pretty unusual thing to see- typically the pile was reserved for books only. Something told me to take it – the proposal sold within five days, and it’s been my lucky charm ever since. No doubt it was a gift from the faeries! 

3. Leave Offerings
My Samhain gifts: Rose petals, apples, cheddar, & chocolate
Now that you’ve got a location that’s reserved for the Fae, you can have fun with it. I like to leave out really nice cheeses, wine, rose petals. Inside, I’ll burn incense or leave small servings of honey by the faerie homes or the crystal tree when I’m looking for a little extra help or just want to say thank you. If you live in an area with raccoons, bears, etc., definitely don’t leave food out. You can leave rocks, seashells, bits of pretty yarn or fabric, etc. It’s the giving that matters, not what is given. For that reason, I’ve stopped leaving chocolate out except for very small amounts on special occasions – it can be poisonous to certain animals, and isn’t really a balanced part of the squirrel diet!

4. Meditate
There are some good meditations out there that help you ground and connect to the natural world. When we’re connected, grounded, and open; that’s when the faerie world can interact with us. There are also a few faerie meditations out there – I imagine you can find them on ITunes. (I’m working on a series of meditations with the faerie world that I want to be completely original so I haven’t explored what’s out there, but if you look, you’re certain to connect with the one that is right for you!) You can also just sit outside, get quiet, breathe, and try to empty your mind. Just listen to the world around you. Magical things can happen!

5.  Faerie Cards
Faerie Cards a great way to connect with the upper world Fae – the Sidhe -- and their wisdom. These are beings of incredible light, love, and ancient knowledge. When you use the cards you’re inviting them to take an active helping role in your life. I am a devotee of Brian and Wendy Froud’s Heart of Faerie Oracle. It comes with a gorgeous instructional book, and one of my favorite things to do is sit with a good girlfriend in the sunroom with some red wine and consult the faerie cards. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you this, but the cards are not a toy. They’re to be used with respect and reverence. For this reason, if I do a reading for someone, I make sure that they have a pen and paper – they are responsible for taking notes. Faerie wisdom is not a one-off or a throwaway thing. It’s a gift, and those who are new to it seem to understand that when they are given a role to play in their collection of the knowledge.