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Preserving Fruit to Soothe the Soul

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pretty berries but not on my stove today

I have spent the last few days preparing for the winter Solstice giving season.  My year of travelling continues one week from today as we head northward to my husband’s family in New York.  Then a few days at home before travelling to Florida to spend time with my daughter’s soon-to-be in-laws.

Only a few days to write the annual letter, to send off packages, to mail cards to those I love in Britain. I have baked cakes (and there are more to come) and I have hauled beautifully frozen fruits from my freezer to become jams and jellies and sauces. Once they are cooked, bottled and labeled, they will go into bags and baskets, to be delivered to friends and neighbors.

I am finding all of this homeliness a salve for my bruised soul. What a sad time it is now, for so many. The ill mother of my dear friend and sister Sarah has made her way across the veil and into Tir Nan Og.  And only a few days later, the sweet mom of my dear friend and sister Oriana made the same journey. And in the rain earlier this week, I held the joy of its arrival while balancing the terror of dear Gatlinburg, burning to the ground. Holding all those things–and others, so many others–has left me feeling like a slow-motion plate spinner, carefully watching them dip and re-balance, only to be thrown off-kilter time and time again.

But the rain–a deep, cold and soaking rain–has come to the Smoky Mountains today. The rain we needed weeks ago–months ago!–has set in for the day and the simple act of boiling canning jars and adding sugar to the bright berry juice has settled my spinning for now.  There is always time to think as the fruit is stirred and the scum scooped off.

I have been considering the totality of this year which has been filled with excitement and a depth of both grief and love that is astounding to consider.  In this year in which I turned sixty, I have learned so much about myself and my world.  And the Divines that I serve have challenged me and infuriated me and given me more than I could have ever wished for, at the point where I had stopped wishing for those sorts of things. 

For me, the year ends with Samhain but it is obvious that 2016 is going to hold on to the last possible moment and will not be fobbed off with my notion of the ancient calendar. So I look to the Winter Solstice with some expectation, as well as longing.

And the berries in their jars are rich and vibrant and sweet as summer wine.

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little green apples become Cloud Jelly

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On the Intricacies of Candleflame

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ancestor altar 2014

We are in the final weeks of the half-year season that I call the Long Dying. The Winter Solstice will be arrive on the longest night of the year, when all hope of mercy and aid has been smoored to the palest glow of renewed fire. In interfaith circles we talk about the importance of this time of lighting candles in the darkness, of using nature as a convenient excuse for giving in to ennui and despair.

Harumph.

“It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” No doubt it is, since cursing the darkness implies we don’t understand the importance of healing and rest and deep nurture, which all wait for us in the dark. But I am working with a different candle metaphor these days. I don’t encourage participating in it because it is hard, lonely and bitter work that can only be undertaken through will and determination. It is not for the faint of heart. It requires seeing through tears and veils of weariness, of hearing the unhearable and taking on the impossible.

There are ugly, hard edges in this work. Ugly and hard don’t work so well for many of us in our modern soft lives. It is homely work that will not be curated but is possibly artisanal in the way that hand-work sometimes is.

Candles are extraordinarily simple and beautiful things. A wick holds the flame that is fed by the wax of the candle. Candles come in many styles and sizes and colors. Like people do, now that I think of it.  Ideally–and sensibly–candles stand upright and the flame burns at the top end. Simple, proper, safe.

When we work too hard, we speak of burning the candle at both ends. This technique offers more heat and light but is trickier to house and uses the resources of the candle–the wax and wick–twice as fast. Many of us are in this place right now. We stay up too late, then get up early, then arrange our thoughts into words and our limbs into actions. We have intentions and chores and promises to keep. 2016 has been an extraordinary year for many of us. Death, birth, disappointment, love, lust and the Great Cycle writ large: the cycle of destruction and creation.

You do not want to read this next part, so please return to the photo of the Ancestor altar from a couple of years ago and go back to your challenging life here in Tower Time, here at world’s end, here at the birthing of tomorrow and the day after that.

Some of us have looked into the days ahead and have contemplated the days past and we are also burning the candle–that useful and ubiquitous metaphor–in the middle. It can’t be held, it can’t be contemplated with any sort of logic or reason. It is the Fool’s course, the one way we see to live life as fully as it can be lived.

Vision, miracle, metaphor. We are witch and shaman and beggar and thief. We see a new way and a potential for new worlds, and we can’t shake the vision of the signal fires and the scrolls kept and the temples to be built. Of circles on the ground and a simple light that clearly shows love and freedom in the healing of the darkness.

Per ardua ad terra, friends 

Carpe diem.

Carpe noctem.

Carpe vita.

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Harvest Home. It’s complicated.

It may be that celebrating the harvest was always a complicated matter. After spending months in the anxiety and hard work of planting, tending, harvesting and preserving the crops, we were exhausted, worn out. We faced a winter that was uncertain as to its duration and severity, causing us to worry if we had set aside enough food and wood for heating. There would be fresh game to supplement the salted or canned food. There would be long cold nights and short cold days.

Great rejoicing at harvest time but never a sense that anything was finished–only a continuation of the cycle of the agricultural year. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter. Repeat, repeat. It wasn’t a total crap-shoot, of course, because you would have been through a winter within easy memory and would have a rough idea of how much of everything was needed. But a poor harvest meant a lean winter and there were folks who didn’t survive a fat winter. Our Ancestors used alcohol and sex and religion to dull the edge of panic that must have highlighted the move between seasons.

Fast forward to today. Thanksgiving Day, 2016. Social media is a harrowing battle ground where a simple greeting of Happy Turkey Day! can get you the strappado. How dare you celebrate this terrible day?  Don’t you know the real meaning of Thanksgiving? Are you so thin-brained that you don’t know what we did to the Native peoples?  Stealing their land, giving them smallpox?  Trail of Tears, anyone?  And right now, as I type these words–full as a tick with traditional Thanksgiving foods–the situation in the Dakotas with the water protectors and the Dakota Access Pipeline debacle rages on, with water cannons and sound grenades, and no help from the Obama administration. How can I eat pie and play peek-a-boo with my great-niece when this injustice is being perpetrated Right Under My Nose. How?  How can I? Have I no heart?

That sort of thing.

We seem to have lost the handy skill of being able to hold more than one idea in our wee heads at a time. But we have certainly not lost the knack for judging each others every mood based on our own beliefs and passions.

Cut it out. Seriously.

Thanksgiving and other times of family in-gathering are few and far between for many families. The old days of lingering around a table telling stories–hearing the mythology that makes up our family and cultural heritage–are slipping away from us. And many of us choose–rightly or wrongly–to embrace chosen families because our birth families are so toxic to us, so different from us. So we may not be able to pass on the story of Cousin Evvie’s pound cake or the way CB used to crack black walnuts. We are encouraged to bring to the table the full-throated cry of our political position and to let the racist/homophobic/sexist members of our extended family have it. Except if we spent more time with them, in spite of our political differences, we might find that the thing we think of as racist is simply an awkward and old-fashioned use of language and an unfamiliarity with cultures outside their limited worldview. It will certainly bring them to your rightness of opinion if you come to the Thanksgiving table as an arrogant snot who is here to shed light on the benighted world they still cling to.

That technique is not an effective strategy in most cases, friends.

You may choose to prove your perceived superiority on this field of battle–indeed you have every right to do that. And heaven knows there are plenty of your online acquaintances who will demand that you de-platform Grandma because her languaging on a particular social issues is so dated and triggering. But I invite you to take a longer view and to hold out both your hands to hold onto contradictory ideas.

You can love your Grandma and cut her some slack, knowing her life story and sheltered life. You being a bright light of modernity and kindness may go much farther than you tone-policing your Elders.  You can acknowledge that this horror happening to the water protectors in the Dakotas is a continuation of what has been happening to Native peoples all over the world for a very long time. You might wonder why American First Nations peoples and their plight and continuing search for justice seems to get so little traction in social media or mainstream media.  Ditto women’s issues. How can it possibly be true that in this day and age, women can be told they are being paid less than a man doing the same job simply because they are women… and monuments are not blowing up all over the country? Hmmm?

You can hold in your heart that a period of intense colonization was horrible and continues to be tragic for indigenous people without blaming it on your hapless Uncle Bill. Honestly, you can. In fact, I encourage you to celebrate the harvest as it sets on your table in all its messy American glory, while celebrating your hopelessly outdated and parochial family and its corny stories. Your cred as an activist will not be compromised because you weren’t the sullen know-it-all at the family gathering.  And if it is, you may be hanging out with some short-sighted people who are too judgy by half.

Guilt rarely accomplishes what we intend when we either wallow in it or inflict it on others. There are better ways to change minds and hearts, more effective ways. The best being the technique of walking your talk. Of being in the world in a way that reflects your ethical standards and your courage and your love.

Enjoy this brief time with people who share your bloodline but not your political views. There is much work ahead of all of us as we tackle this brave new world of ours, these strange-bedfellows alliances that may have real possibilities for shifting the culture. For today–and maybe tomorrow–you can regain your perspective, listen attentively to people you think are not like you and practice radical kindness. The revolution will still be there waiting when you return. And you will be the better for a slice of homemade pie.

Viva le Revolution!

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Symbol. Omen.

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gazing pool

The smoke has returned here. We had a couple of clearer and more hopeful days but today the air quality took another downturn and I am coughing and red-eyed again. As North Carolina continues to struggle with who is and is not our governor, the burning of the western part of the state feels much like symbol or even omen of what is to come.

The Old North State has endured the stranglehold on government that the Republic is about to encounter. As a Republican-owned General Assembly and a Republican governor have roiled the education, healthcare and other systems throughout NC, we have endured a steady barrage of quips from people outside the state and outside the South.  Serves us right for electing them, is the general theme. The quipsters never take into consideration that the districts are thoroughly gerrymandered now, making a fair election darn night impossible. Given a generally ineffective Democratic response, the citizens of the state have struggled and mourned, have marched and petitioned to little effect.

Now the Repubic gets to face the same thing and I don’t look forward to it. Because the opposition party is even more moribund on the national level. And the Republicans have been terribly efficient here–as though they came in with an ALEC-inspired and Koch-funded masterlist and have gone down it, item by item, checking out the accomplished items.  The Republic needs all its citizens paying attention now and making our own lists, readying ourselves and our networks, girding our loins.

This afternoon, I had a brief meeting with the Cranky Clergy group to which I belong. The group includes a dear friend who is Jewish and I looked at her, sitting across from me at the table. The clergy group is made up of all sorts of miscreants and potential radicals–Pagans/Witches, Lesbians, Jews. As I looked across the table, I thought (and said)–I think I worry about you and your congregation the most. And it isn’t the potential for violence as much as the horrific triggering that the Nazi comparisons must cause for you.

We went on to talk about security issues at our houses of worship and what sorts of disaster/emergency plans we need to draft or renew. And the whole time there was a part of me that wondered how far all of this was going to go.

In the smoke of a renewed mountain wildfire, I felt the reflection of destruction in my heart and in the eyes of my colleagues. Microcosm, macrocosm. What sorts of alliances will we need to stand together in ways that are meaningful, helpful, strategic? How can we be truly stronger together in the face of fear and potential revolution? 

I wish I knew the answers, that I could read the omens. But I can’t.

I am living in the Mystery of time and history, of love and madness.

As we all are. 

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The Day After

Hello, all!  We spent some time earlier this week getting me relatively competent with this blog on my revamped (revamping) website.  There’s still the challenge of moving the old posts over here but I have a way to do that.  “Slow and steady wins the race” may be my spell in the coming year.

It is the second day of January which feels more of a beginning than yesterday. The first of January is a touchstone of normalcy in my world–the kitchen is filled with mostly-good smells (fresh collards should always be cooked first so that the gassy funk has time to dissipate or be covered over with roasting pork and apple smells).  And the menu is always the same–collard greens, cracklings in cornbread, black-eyed peas, applesauce or apple butter, roasted pork.  Sometimes there’s salad, too. But that first menu is always present and has been for years.

Because of the comfortable and homely sameness of that First Day, the second always feels like the start of the year, the place where time begins to move again following the Week Between.  How nice that is it a Saturday this year!  I had a simple breakfast and some tea and have a sturdy little list of things to be done, including a blog post here.

When I first started blogging, I was part of a set of community bloggers on the website of our local Gannett daily.  I did that for years and cut my teeth on the ideas of blogging and what was possible. When Gannett re-did the site and decided to go with staff bloggers, I moved to the ease of WordPress and now we are consolidating the blog site and the website and sticking all my Village Witch self into one place.

All eggs and one basket. Except for social media and the actual presence of me at actual places with other beings.

When I started blogging, I wrote something nearly every day for years and I still admire those blogs I follow that do that. But I can’t seem to blog daily with any sort of consistency anymore–maybe because I’ve written two books since I began my blogging adventures or because I have a regular column at Witches and Pagans magazine or because I’m doing more on social media and in Real Life.

Today is the Second Day, then.  I have that wee list of things to be done on this First Saturday and will continue those when I’ve marked this off the list.

My intuition is that 2016 is going to be at least as challenging as 2015 but that we have many more skills for dealing with challenges and much more resilience.  We’ll waste less time lamenting what we can’t repair and much more time fixing what we can.  We’ve learned lots of valuable lessons in the past year–we’ve dabbled in speaking out, on loving deeply, on tending the beings that require our tender and good attention.  We have spoken of self-care and even done a bit of that.  We have realized that we are in Tower Time now–it is not coming down the pike or waiting for us over the next hill.  We live in times of great change which require us to be thoughtful, intentional and fearless.

I am glad you are part of the dear old world at the same time as I am.  We have some glorious journeys ahead of us. This year will teach us more about the value and power of homeliness–lessons we will integrate into the lives we choose to lead from here on out.

These, as you well know, are the times we were made for.  Let’s get on with it, shall we?

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