The Elements: In Praise Of Earth

20191002 THE ELEMENTS IN PRAISE OF EARTH

As the days shorten and nights becomes longer, we’re moving towards winter. Already in the UK mornings, evening and nights are becoming much, much colder, and the midday sun sits ever lower in the sky.

Winter is that time of nature’s rest, even death, and plants and insects die; and even then there is a paradox that life is ‘home’ and active deep in the ground, and some of it is dormant and ‘sleeping’ deep in the womb of the earth, the soil that we tread so blithely .

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.

(In the bleak midwinter: Christmas carol)

As winter approaches, here’s a few words of a seasonal introduction; the primacy of story, memory and ritual at this time; a new song; and something for those of an inquisitive nature and interested in a simple but profound scientific experiment centred on nature at this time of the year.

STORY, MEMORY AND RITUAL

With naked trees and animals saving warmth and energy, and many species dying off for the winter (until a new generation emerges) there is a silence that descends at this time – a primordial silence.

Human voices can predominate as animal noises momentarily reduce, and it is no wonder in nature’s silence that our ancestors warmed themselves around tribal fires and recited stories of old.

‘The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all. It is the healer and restorer and resurrector, by which disease passes into health, age into youth, death into life. Without proper care for it we can have no community, because without proper care for it we can have no life.’

(Wendell Berry)

Many of those stories might have been tribal histories, and who hasn’t on a winter’s night, especially at Christmas and the New Year reminisced about relatives that have moved abroad or who have ‘gone ahead’ to that heavenly realm? It is a time of story and of memories.

The landscape, cold and bare, also shares its memories if we ‘look’ deeply. We might see a tree taller than it was, a plant thicker, and the ‘scars’ on tree barks, that still tell their story to those that stop and look. Nature has a memory.

Story, memory and ritual come to the fore at this time.

The following can be incorporated into your Samhain celebration. Samhain starts the evening of Thursday, 31 October and runs for twenty for hours (but there is nothing to stop you celebrating it over the weekend).

The following can be used at (or about) the time of the Winter solstice in December, too, or indeed at any time during the season of winter. Use the following, adapt it, enjoy it.

This is a time to reminisce, tell stories, to remember that death is part of the cycle and new birth is ‘on its way’, and it’s a time of celebration (and yes, even mirth).

Here, then, are some wonderful words that can be incorporated into your seasonal ritual/liturgy:

‘If we surrendered to earth’s intelligence, we could rise up like rooted, like trees’. (Rainer Maria Rilke)

And,

‘We come from the earth and return to it, and so we live in agriculture as we live in flesh. While we live our bodies are moving particles in the earth, joined inextricably both to the soil and to the bodies of other living creatures’. (Wendell Berry)

And

‘The vines that are tended by the Divine Gardener’. (Catherine of Siena)

And

Spirit of the Abundant Earth,
allow me to live in the knowledge that
I am of the earth, from the earth, and returning to the earth.
Blessings of the earth be upon me.

(Christine Valters Paintner, Book: Water, Wind, Earth & Fire, part)

SONG: THE DAYS ARE COLD (A WINTER’S SONG)

The following song can be sung to the old, traditional Scottish tune, ‘The Water is wide”, and hails from the 1600’s. If you want an idea of the tune, do check here. (The tune for each of the three verses below is a repetition of the first forty-seven seconds of the link’s tune).

The days are cold
And night comes soon.
The circle turns
As in days of old.
Nature does sleep
And the winds do howl.
And my eyes do weep
Through the cold air now

The snow falls harsh
Upon the land.
There is a light
Within and without.
We raise our hands
To the Source of all.
And nature responds
with elementals call.

The days of change
Are here again.
Our voices raise
To the loud refrain.
We wish you peace,
We wish you well.
All nature sings
Winter’s farewell.

Tune: “The Water Is Wide”
Words: Tadhg Jonathan

THE QUADRAT
FOR THOSE OF A SCIENTIFIC OR INQUISITIVE NATURE

If you want to get an overall view of what wildlife is present in your garden, local park or nearby wild area eg forest etc even at this time of year, either because of your concern about the biosphere, sheer interest in the local environment, or out of general curiosity and personal interest, then you (and any children) may be interested in making and using a quadrat.

’It is apparent that no lifetime is long enough in which to explore the resources of a few square yards of ground.’ (Alice M Coats)

A quadrat is a merely a hand-made frame, maybe made out of thin cane or similar, and is generally one metre square (three feet by three feet in size approximately), with the four canes tied at the intersections to form a simple square.

Once made, it is a great way to sample a large area by concentrating on a small area. On suggestion is that, once in an area of wilderness, you randomly throw the quadrat (safely and gentlt), and see where it lands. If you want more information about quadrats, please see here.

Then, depending on your time, you can have endless hours of fun surveying plants, wildlife and insect life within the randomly selected area of that frame.

The idea is to explore and catalogue so do be careful not to destroy anything, nor cause too much of an upheaval to that area as you gently brush aside grass and plants or dig a little (and if you, inadvertently disturb anything,  do ensure you return it to its former state as much as possible, so that no one would ever know you had been there).

You might like to take a pen and paper to record results, and/or a camera, too, to take a photograph of anything interesting. With that in mind you might also like to record the scale of something found so you might like to take along a rule(r) or a coin  for comparison sake and lay the specimen alongside it  or it alongside the plant etc – a two (UK) penny coin is 25.9 mm wide (so close to one inch you can call it an inch) as you photograph specimens.

Don’t forget this is an adventure, and experiment, and it is also fun and respectful of nature – so record only, and so, no take-away specimens, please.

’Our world is a web of interdependencies woven so tightly it sometimes becomes love.’ (Tim Flannery)

If you want to email me a copy of your notes and findings (with the date, time and rough location of the one square metre quadrat, I will most certainly be pleased to look at them.

For the mathematically-inclined, if you know the total area of the garden, park or wilderness area in square metres, you can, roughly, multiply your findings by that total amount to gain a rough idea of the numbers and variations of wildlife in that total area.

But, I find just checking and recording what is alive in that one square metre to be fascinating and profound! Have fun!

‘The land is a mother that never dies.’ (Maori Proverb).

 

The Work Of Re-Membering In An Age Of Forgetfulness

20181112THE WORK OF RE-MEMBERING

There are many stories that I can recall and will tell over the months ahead, as I have been doing, tales from my childhood of some meaning, stories told to me by my grandmother, stories that you might like to hear, but there are some stories I cannot tell.

Will you remember me
like the circled stones,
like the secret hills,
where you walk alone,
where the wind can speak ,
my other names,
like the air you breathe.
Will you remember me?

Roseanne Cash (Singer, and eldest daughter of the late, great, country musician Johnny Cash)

It’s not that I want to keep them to myself, but those are the stories where I only have a partial recollection. If I told them it would be like telling a joke to a friend but forgetting the punchline. Then, the reason for telling that joke, or for me telling that story to you will fail miserably because of insufficient data.

‘Apathy takes root when I refuse to remember that which I can ill-afford to forget.’ Craig D Lounsbrough

My memory, then, for those stories is faulty. I can only think of bits and pieces. Fragmentary. I cannot remember them in total.

The opposite to remember or re-member isn’t to forget, it is to ‘dis-member’. Those fragmentary pieces of story-data mean the story is dis-membered, and it’s in pieces, and cannot fulfil what it was originally designed to do.

Yes, the opposite to re-member is dis-member.

To dwell initially on the word ‘dismember’ is an interesting place to start. We all have an inkling of a dismembered relationship: the relationship that, in many ways, is in tatters between humankind and nature, between nation states, within nation states, between family and friends, and even within our own psyche. It is, some would say, sadly, ‘the human condition’. This is not to be overly negative, but it is what it is to be human (and being human is good), and it isn’t always the over-riding way things are.

‘I remember you-ooh
You’re the one who made my dreams come true,
A few kisses ago.

Frank Ifield (released in 1963, and I can remember it!)

If we forget our stewardship to nature, nature will be torn apart (or dismembered). If we forget our duty to one another we will disrespect others (and see them as ‘less’ than us). And, if we forget who we are, we will have a low opinion of ourselves and trouble may ensue as regards what we think, say about, and do to ourselves. Doesn’t much of advertising dwell on this today – you’re better if you buy our product, ‘this is the best a man can get’ etc. All examples of dis-membering.

But, the opposite to dis-member is to re-member.

To re-member, is to ‘repair’ that which is torn apart, broken, or dismembered. It is a putting back together again, to make whole. Remembering needs to take place, and taken to heart.

About two weeks ago I was in a wooded area of Plymouth attending a wonderful Samhain ritual. It was a time of remembering. In an age where many have forgotten about those that have ‘gone ahead’, our ancestors; when many have forgotten about the bounty of nature and the changing seasons; and when many have forgotten about That Which Is Bigger Than Us, a group of passionate and caring people, held a ceremony to re-member! Effectively they stood in a fragmented society, and in liminal space, a ‘thin place’, lived up to their calling of the work of re-membering that which was dis-membered.

‘The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living’. Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today (11 November 2018) is Rembrance Day in the UK and in Commonwealth nations, when many remember the time of the end of the Great War and all those that gave their lives in that, and subsequent conflicts. Some know it as Armistice Day. This article isn’t about those who sacrificed their lives in the defence of freedom, laudable though it is, and it is interesting to note that at his speech today the French President warned of the rise in nationalism and its dire consequences if we don’t remember, as a self-declared nationalist, who had forgotten the horrors of nationalism sat within earshot. If we don’t re-member the past, we will dis-member the present.

‘Man is a messenger who forgot the message’. Abraham Joshua Heschel

Today, we re-membered.

This evening, I was at a small church, that had a deeply-moving communion service. At one point Scripture was recited. It was that part I especially like – the anamnesis, a kind of -reliving the moment as if transported ‘there’ – when the words, ‘Remember this…’ were spoken. Though we are many, we are essentially one, though seemingly dis-membered, in that act of receiving bread and wine together, and taking it to heart, in a deeply spiritual and effective way, we were re-membered. Re-joined. Made whole.

A couple of years back I had a ‘stall’ at the London area Festival Of Mind, Body and Spirit, and so too the year before, when I had met Samantha who was visiting and was/is a very spiritual author, and a good one at that. I saw her last year and as she came up to the ‘stall’, I greeted her by name. ‘Hello, Samantha, it’s really is good to see you again’, I said. ‘Ah, you remembered me!’, she said and smiled.

Re-membering is required, and when we do remember people great things happen. Friendships start. Parts of a relationship are put back together. The member parts become one!

If we forget about nature, we dismember it, and one of the consequences of that is global warming. If we re-member nature, good things can and do take place. If we forget about people we effectively dis-member them or any relationship we had. But, if we re-member people then the potential is there for a thriving relationship. If we forget about ourselves and who we really are, then we dis-member ourselves and don’t function as we should. But if we re-member who we are – remember our Source-given status and calling – then we function as we should.

‘For as long as you remember me, I am never entirely lost’. Frederick Buechner

One of the reasons I am a self-declared Christo-Druid or is it a Druidic-Christian is that both ‘camps’ remember, or, when they take it to heart, they re-member’.

In any religion or belief system it is easy to operate at the surface-level, and doesn’t the world like that? It might be Winter Solstice or Christmas Day, but if I only go for the ‘externals’ then I miss the true meaning of it. Much better to go for the externals (so I’m not against giving gifts) and take to heart the deep and real meaning, or re-member it. Not just remember it, but re-member it: put the whole thing together as one and not just consider the parts of the festival I might like.

And, it is for that reason that I like it when people join small groups, groves, thriving churches and other groups, and are passionate about what they believe, because in a fragmented society they will  have a positive effect, because they are doing the valuable work of re-membering. That’s their calling, its our calling, isn’t it?

‘Remember your connection with the cosmos. Remember your connection with the infinity and that remembrance will give you the freedom.’  Amit Ray,