Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Wild Places: Deer, Gnats & More

20190720 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED WILD PLACES EVERYWHERE DEERS GNATS

Ah nature! It is true the ancients were far more ‘in tune’ with nature than modern humankind, but all is not lost.

It is possible to rekindle that which in us is muted and appreciate nature (in a rural setting as well as in an urban setting). There are benefits. Awareness of nature around us can give us new insights, not only about the universe, but ourselves; not only in preserving the planet and therefore preserving humankind; not only enlarging our wisdom about the physical world but also about that that inner world we also inhabit in our innocence and essence.

It’s a warm morning.

The temperature is rising and the current humidity level heralds an even hotter, balmy and sweltering afternoon ahead, and I’m in London. But, having travelled just a short distance, several miles west of London, I am quite comfortable sitting in the shade of a huge, ancient, gnarled and majestic oak tree. And it’s bliss.

This particular old and ancient oak tree is in Richmond Park in west London, a huge open area consisting of over 2,500 acres of unspoiled space, and which has protected status as an important habitat for wildlife. And, that’s where I am. I’m in a wild place.

‘All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child. Marie Curie

There are six species of deer that inhabit the park, regal, wild and yet surprisingly tolerant of humankind. Red deer and roe deer are indigenous. Fallow deer were introduced after the Norman conquest, almost a thousand years ago. Other species arrived later.

And as I sit under this tree, wildlife, because of my earlier ambling has ‘retreated’, vanished, gone. And yet, within minutes, almost oblivious to me it returns. In many senses of the word, by being quiet and still I am becoming ‘invisible’.

It seems to me, that nature, once it has been disturbed, ‘returns’ seemingly in order of height, or weight or complexity. I’m aware of the insects returning first: butterflies, bees, assorted flies, and those black flies or gnats – the ones that seem to swarm and fly above your head regardless of which way you turn, or does that just happen to me?

I’m told the reason gnats fly around your head is because they are attracted to the carbon dioxide flume that you and I emit when we breathe out.

Most gnat  repellents rely upon us spraying ourselves with large amounts of chemicals or sweet smelling perfumes to help prevent gnats from landing and biting, but the trick, however, may be not to prevent the gnat from biting you, but rather to prevent them from finding you in the first place. If you wear a hat, allegedly, sprinkling it with Geranium or peppermint essential oil (properly mixed and properly applied) or anything that is peppery this will keep them at bay. You too, will become invisible to them.

I’m wearing a hat, yes, but no spray, and they’re back. So far, they seem to be leaving me alone, but they are there. Just a nuisance? Apparently not!

‘One should pay attention to even the smallest crawling creature, for these too may have a valuable lesson to teach us, and… may wish to communicate with…[us]’. Black Elk

Gnats are small flies of the suborder Nematocera, so I’m told, which also includes midges, craneflies and mosquitoes. And, whether we like them or not, they, even as small as they are, and sometimes as irritating as they can be, they do serve a purpose in nature. They are an important food source for birds, bats and larger insects, and they also pollinate flowers.

Should I move to avoid them? There is no point as they seem to follow me (and you), and hover over our heads! Nature is wonderful.

As I continue to sit quietly, bigger creatures seem to ‘return’ next. The tops of some long grasses ‘flick’ monetarily as grasshoppers spring off them, and maybe a mouse scuttles nearby, then a squirrel somewhat timidly draws closer. After many minutes, a small herd of deers come close – not too close, but close enough so that I can make out individual markings, and hear their grunts and sighs, and that distinctive ‘bark’ as the communicate with each other. Nature is awesome.

‘Every creature is full of God and is a book about God’. Meister Eckhart

Still some way off, but close enough to relate to them, eye contact to eye contact is made, and it feels like a secret communion has taken place. Soul to soul? Shy, vulnerable and gentle as they are they approach even closer. A few of them, particularly those nearest to me in this small herd, are ‘side on’ to me. It’s a defensive strategy. They know I’m here, pose no threat, and yet they are wary of me, and rightly cautious.

The closest deer licks its nose. This wets its nose with saliva and the moisture on its nose improves its sense of smell, and then its ears twitch. It is checking me out.

Having researched me, those deers nearest to me, join the others is foraging, lowering their necks below the ‘browse line’ of the tall grass, with only a periodic lifting of their heads as if to double-check on me. They’re acknowledging that I’m no threat.

I remain still, watching them for about twenty minutes, and as cramp sets in in my ‘nether regions’ I have to shift my weight as I sit under this tree, and a few small twigs crack. It is enough. Immediately, a few deer’s heads arch upward quickly, gazing over the ‘browse line’ of the long grass and look in my direction, their ears twitch, and the deers let out a muted, but distinctive ‘bark’ – an alarm call to the others. Nature is so balanced – we can learn a lot from it.

‘Only animals were not expelled from Paradise.’ Milan Kundera

I watch, now, as they run away from me, in a zig-zag motion. Some do a typical ‘bounce’ upward before the turn and scatter, others who were ‘side on’ to me only have to do a quarter-turn to flee (which is probably why they were not ‘face on’ to me as one would expect, because then they would have to do an about turn, a half turn to flee. That would take more time and energy. ‘Side on’ to me is more efficient, quicker and safer for them).

Even, there departure is beautiful to watch. They all run for about two hundred feet, and then stop, regroup after a few minutes, and start lowering their heads to feed, with the occasionally lifting of their heads above the long grass. And so it goes on.

‘The truly wise person kneels at the feet of all creatures’. Mechtild of Magdeburg

Over the millennia deer have been admired, revered and even worshipped. They have been the subject of children’s stories, fables and myth. In English folklore, Herne the Hunter is said by some to be a ghost associated with Windsor Forest and the Great Park in the English county of Berkshire. He is said to naturally have deer-like antlers upon his head, ride a horse, torment cattle, and rattle chains.

It has been suggested that the concept and name ‘Herne’ is derived from an ancient source, citing that ‘Herne’ may be a cognate of the name of ancient deity Cernunnos in the same way that the English ‘horn’ is a cognate of the Latin ‘cornu’. It makes you wonder, yes? Cernunnos being the conventional name given to depictions of the ‘horned god’ of Celtic polytheism. Cernunnos was/is a Celtic god of fertility, life, animals, wealth, and the underworld. Ofcourse, the aforementioned is a brief outline only, and others will know more and have varied beliefs on this theme. This is an outline only, and an attempt to show how marvellously nature ‘speaks’ to us even through story and myth.

Indeed, Some see the qualities of Cernunnos are thought to have been subsumed into the life of the fifth century Saint Ciarán of Saighir, who is acknowledged as one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland. When he was building his first tiny cell, as his ‘sacred journal’ tells, his first disciple and monk was a boar, followed by a fox, a badger, a wolf and a stag.

It’s time to go.

And so, I’m  walking back to the car, and within half an hour I will be home. Whenever you can escape to wild places, and even if you can’t, my encouragement is to pause and look at the wild things around you. Nature abounds in all its wildness even in the city, even in London (or wherever you are) for those who are aware. And though our ancestors may have had a head start on us in relating deeply to nature, it is a ‘skill’ that we can develop, especially as in essence we too are part of the web of nature and not apart from it; and that awareness can be awakened and grow.

Go out, go out I beg of you
And taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
With all the wonder of a child.

Edna Jaques

 

Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Clouds (2/2)

20190624 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS 2

How we perceive clouds, when we stop and stare, pause and look up depends on our intensity, or mood, our worldview.

For some the cloud they see might only be a combination of water billowed along by barometric pressure, for others there might be a recognition that that type of cloud heralds a storm, for others it may be a portent of a future event, for others it might initiate something deep inside. Whatever it does, clouds have a certain mystery about them, and hold a wisdom from which we can learn if we are open to that natural awareness like the Ancients were.

‘Never lose hope. The darkest clouds precede the loveliest rain!’ Avijeet Das

Last time [see here] we looked at low level and mid-level clouds, and now we consider those above that level.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

At about 7000 feet to 23000 feet are altostratus clouds – mid-level layers of thin, featureless grey cloud. Usually thin enough to reveal the position of the sun, and sometimes the moon at night, and because these diffuse clouds may contain ice crystals you might also see a halo, a coloured ‘corona’ around the sun or moon in the clouds.

Laying on my back, aged six years (and so, some years ago), at home in Capel Curig, with friends and gazing at the sky, and spying a halo around the sun we would make a wish. I would like to say that the wishes were lofty and noble, but we were only young and on the few occasions we saw those halos we would wish for (more) sweets, a tree-house or new bicycles. Typical children. Happy days.

‘Ring around the Moon, Rain Real Soon’. Anon

cloud b BrockenspecterWith that kind of diffuse cloud in mind, it is worth mentioning the Brocken Spectre. Sometimes called Brocken bow or mountain spectre, this is the magnified (and apparently enormous) shadow of an observer cast upon clouds opposite of the Sun’s direction. The projection is often surrounded by the halo-like rings of coloured light.

The phenomenon can appear on any misty mountainside or cloud bank, but the frequent fogs and low-altitude accessibility of the Brocken, a peak in the Harz Mountains in Germany, have created a local legend from which the phenomenon draws its name. The Brocken spectre mentioned by Johann Silberschlag in 1780.

‘The colour has faded out of the sky. It is grey, becoming darker as the world turns herself round a little more. The clouds are long and black and ragged, like the wings of storm battered dragons.’ Keri Hulme

If you’re thinking of thick grey clouds that bring heavy rain, hail or snow, then look no furtheNimbostratus virga. Bearbeitung: Unscharf maskieren auf HS_V_, Weiche Kanten.r than nimbostratus clouds which reach altitudes of 2000 feet to 18000 feet. These are the clouds that you might see in the distance and actually see the rain failing as a thin, diaphanous ‘curtain’.

The word ‘Nimbo’ comes from the Latin word nimbus, which denotes precipitation. And, whilst on the origin of words – and you know how I love myth – nephos is Greek meaning “cloud”. In Greek legend Nephele was created from a cloud by Zeus, who shaped the cloud to look like Hera in order to trick Ixion, a mortal who desired her.

‘Clouds are just nature’s stepping stones to the heavens.’ Anthony T Hincks

clouds 33 untitledLeaving the mid-level clouds behind we look at those high level clouds, the first of which are cirrus clouds. The clouds ‘reside’ at altitudes of between 17000 and 45000 feet. These clouds are usually detached from each other, and appear as patches or bands of cloud. These are fast-moving clouds, buffeted by high winds – think of aircraft turbulence; but because they can be so high, as anything far away, the ‘illusion’ is that they are slow moving. But, this isn’t the case.

clouds 4 Cirrocumulus_clouds_Thousand_Oaks_July_2010If there are to be any clouds about on a summer’s day, then the lofty cirrocumulus clouds at 17000 feet to 45000 feet are the ones that will delight. These clouds are high and are really tiny ‘cloudlets’, regularly spaced, and maybe with a ‘rippled’ effect. Cirrocumulus clouds tend to reflect the red and yellow colours during a sunset and sunrise, and so they have often been referred to as “one of the most beautiful clouds”. This occurs because they reflect the unscattered rays of light from the early morning or evening sun.

‘Clouds are on top for a reason. They float so high because they refuse to carry any burden!’ Jasleen Kaur Gumber

clouds 5 cirrostrat 240px-Clouds_CH7Finally, in our brief look at clouds, the ‘high-flyers’ are cirrostratus clouds, ‘floating’ above 20000 feet. These can often be referred to as ‘the clouds that aren’t really there’, as they can cover hundreds of square miles, but can be so ‘thin’, so high and so subtle that they’re often overlooked by earth-bound observers.

Hopefully, this and the previous article has (re)kindled your love of the nature of clouds, and further your knowledge, wisdom and awareness (of them).

‘A parade of clouds
and little puffs behind them
they follow as their Mother’.

Julia Hartwig, Spojrzenie

Clouds, I would suggest are not just to be seen as objects to be scientifically analysed (though there is nothing wrong with that), but also to be understood as part of weather-lore, and something more – that they might trigger a deeper spirituality of awe in you, and yes, for some, to be seen as wonderful objects that give us some other-worldly wisdom, and/or entertain us for hours as we gaze at their majesty and changing shapes. Was that a whale? A television? An angel?

Next time you see a cloud (and it’s safe to do so), why not pause, and when you can, let me know what you ‘saw’, and if it had a deeper meaning to you. Perhaps it’s a ‘message’ from the Great Cloud-Giver? Happy cloud-spotting!

 

20190624 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS 2

 

 

Looking Afresh At What We Take For Granted: Clouds (1/2)

20190620 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS

Since the dawn of time, when our first ancestors were capable of craning their necks and looking at nature in awe, the sky has mesmerised humankind. The blue sky, insects buzzing and birds flying, the stars in the night sky forming a myriad of patterns in which to form their mythology and track the course of time, enthralled the ancients. And clouds. Clouds, too, caught the imagination of those giants of old.

For those wanting to journey further along that path of awareness, living life to the full, and being close or closer, or at one with nature, ‘cloud spotting’ is an awe-inspiring, encouraging, ’enveloping’, enlivening, and entertaining event.

‘To think creatively, we must be able to look afresh at what we normally take for granted’. George Keller

As I lay on a picnic blanket in Richmond Park, west London, with my mother beside me – and I should point out I was about six years old at the time – we played that game of looking up at the clouds and imagining what the various cloud shapes looked like. ‘It looks like a television’, my mother said. As the high winds slowly changed the cloud’s shape, I waited, laughed and then exclaimed loudly, ‘It now looks more like a whale.’ And, so it went on.

Ofcourse, years later, I took the photograph that appears at the top of this article. What an amazing cloud. Isn’t that an angel?

cloud cumulus 799px-GoldenMedowsThe lowest clouds are cumulus clouds. They’re usually fast, floating around about 3000 feet above the ground. Low, puffy clouds with flat bases, generally, their upper parts often resemble cauliflowers, and they are not the harbingers of rain. But, it may be these that are the ‘shape-shifting’ clouds that, in my boyhood, resembled animals and inanimate objects.

‘I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.’

(The Cloud. Percy Bysshe Shelley)

cloud cumulonombus Wagga-CumulonimbusAbove this layer of cloud lie the slow-moving, rather majestic cumulonimbus clouds, soaring from about 4500 feet to 45000 feet. With their huge height and volume, these are the clouds that bring rain and storms, and even thunder and lightning.

There is an ancient Hindu tradition that says that high above the earth it is elephants that are the bringers of rain, and that clouds themselves were the celestial relatives of the white elephants that roamed the earth. And the rain? Well, the elephants would use their trunks to shower the earth below with rain.

cloud stratus UntitledStratus clouds are those are fog-like, misty, diffuse clouds. They are the kind of widespread cloud that uniformly blanket the whole sky, and which can be seen especially, but not only around mountains and coastal areas.

They can form at ground level as fog or mist, but can also reach up to an altitude of about 7000 feet.

cloud stratocumular jacobs ladder 450px-Sun_over_Lake_Hawea,_New_ZealandStratocumulus clouds, about 7000 feet above us, are thick, but usually patchy clouds, with ‘gaps’ that allow you to see the blue sky occasionally, or if its near dawn or dusk allow the suns rays to shine through in several shafts of light. This effect is called crepuscular rays, God’s rays, Buddha rays or Jacob’s ladder.

Boats sail on the rivers,
And ships sail on the seas;
But clouds that sail across the sky
Are prettier far than these.

There are bridges on the rivers,
As pretty as you please;
But the bow that bridges heaven,
And overtops the trees,
And builds a road from earth to sky,
Is prettier far than these.

(Christina Rossetti)

To the Moari’s these ‘fingers’ of sunshine were known as the ‘Ropes of Maui’ (from the Maori tale of Maui Potiki restraining the sun with ropes to make the days longer), or the sun drawing water, from the ancient Greek belief that sunbeams drew water into the sky (which isn’t altogether odd as it seems to be an early description of evaporation).

cloud altocumulus mackerel sky 220px-MackerelskylincolnshireAbove these clouds, at about 16000 feet are altocumulus clouds. They can be a multitude of rounded ‘clumps’ of cloud, almond shape, and resemble fish scales – hence it may be called a ‘mackerel’ sky. In France it is sometimes called a ciel moutonné (fleecy sky); in Spain a cielo empedrado (cobbled sky); in Germany it is known as Schäfchenwolken (sheep clouds), and in Italy the clouds are known as a pecorelle (little sheep).

Hamlet: ‘Do you see that cloud that’s almost shaped like a camel?’
Polonius: ‘By the mass, and it’s like a camel, indeed’.
Hamlet: ‘Methinks it is like a weasel’.
Polonius: ‘It is back’d like a weasel’.
Hamlet: ‘Or like a whale?’
Polonius: ‘Very like a whale’.

[Hamlet. Williams Shakespeare]

Still laying on my back, this time a few months later, and back home in Capel Curig, in Wales, I was looking up at a mackerel sky, one evening. I have found the ‘cure’ for insomnia, not that I suffered from that at six years of age. But, in laying down, looking up, I decided it would be a good idea to count those clumps of altocumulus clouds, the ‘scales’ of that mackerel sky, and promptly fell asleep. For me, then, it seemed better than the proverbial counting sheep in one’s mind’s eye.

Clouds are fascinating, and there’s more. But, meanwhile, I would encourage you to sit, pause and gaze heavenward, and just meditate on clouds. Enjoy their beauty, the bounty of the Cloud-Giver, recapture your childhood and see if you can see a dog, a whale, and elephant, a television in cloud shapes, or even an angel? What are you missing?

[Part 2, soon]

20190620 LOOKING AFRESH AT WHAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED CLOUDS

 

All About Mistletoe: Meaning, Myth & ‘Magic’

20181124 ALL ABOUT MISTLETOE

Sitting under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe),
One last candle burning low…

We’ve looked at holly recently (see here), and then we looked at ivy (see here), and associated with this time of year, with Christmas and the Winter Solstice coming up, is mistletoe. And, we’ll look briefly at mistletoe from the botanical view, mythological and historical point of view, and current uses for Christians, Druids and others, with some ideas for yourself about its use.

It is a most wonderful shrub.

Botanical View: Science & Nature

From a botanical point of view mistletoe is fascinating. It is a semi-parasitical evergreen shrub, but caution is needed: mistletoe leaves, stems and berries are all poisonous.

Common name: mistletoe, also known as European mistletoe, European white-berry mistletoe, common mistletoe
Scientific name: Viscum album
Family: Santalaceae

Its scientific name aptly reflects its sticky nature – viscum comes from the Latin ‘visco’ meaning sticky.

Mistletoe has a positive effect on wildlife. The white berries of mistletoe aren’t usually sought out by birds as they often prefer those that are red, orange or purple. But, some will eat white berries. It is an important source of winter food for the mistle thrush, redwings and fieldfares.

Several species of insect are mistletoe feeders, such as the mistletoe marble moth (Celypha woodiana) and mistletoe weevil (Ixapion variegatum).

All the sleepy dancers gone,
Just one candle burning on,
Shadows lurking everywhere:
Some one came, and kissed me there.

Mythological & Historical View: Ah, Mystery

There is a tradition that mistletoe can ward off evil. It was/is thought that mistletoe brought into the house at Christmas, or mid-winter when the days were darkest, or at the time of the New Year should be kept hanging for a full 12 months, and this would protect the house from negativity or  evil.

Ancient and latter-day Druids believe mistletoe to be sacred. It was at the Winter Solstice ( ‘Alban Arthan’ by the Druids) that, according to Bardic Tradition, the Chief Druid would cut the sacred mistletoe from the Oak using a golden sickle on the sixth night of the new moon after the winter solstice.

According to Pliny the ancient Druids would climb the tree to harvest it, cutting the mistletoe and let it fall naturally to be caught in a cloak before it touched the ground. If it did reach the ground it would lose its special properties.

Branches of mistletoe were/are then cut into many sprigs and distributed to the people to take inside their homes or hang the sprigs  over doorways as protection against thunder, lightning and other evils.

Tired I was; my head would go
Nodding under the mistletoe
(Pale-green, fairy mistletoe)…

And, ofcourse, that event which can be fun, lovely and/or embarrassing takes place: kissing takes place under mistletoe. But, why?

Well, there is an ancient Scandinavian custom that led to the tradition of kissing under the mistletoe. This tradition went hand-in-hand with the Norse myth about Baldur whose mother was the Norse goddess, Frigga. When Baldur was born, Frigga made each and every plant, animal, and inanimate object promise not to harm her son. But Frigga overlooked the mistletoe plant, and the mischievous god of the Norse myths, Loki, took advantage of this oversight. Loki tricked one of the other gods into killing Baldur with a spear made from mistletoe.

According to a happier ending of that legend, Baldur’s mother wept tears onto the arrow which turned into white berries that she placed onto Baldur’s wound, bringing him back to life. Overjoyed at new life springing forth in her son, Frigga blessed the mistletoe plant and promised a kiss to all who passed beneath it. Now you know it is a positive symbol of new life, resurrection, and in many ways symbolises eternal friendship.

Also, when the first Christians came to Western Europe, although some tried to ban the use of Mistletoe as a decoration in Churches,  many still continued to use it! York Minster Church, in the UK, for instance, used to hold a special Mistletoe Service in the winter, where wrong doers in the city of York could come and be pardoned. And, many church buildings are gaily decorated with holy, ivy and mistletoe today, and look splendid, indeed. I love.

Today, mistletoe still has some interesting English connotations and traditions attached to it.

And Today: You & Me

The English town of Tenbury Wells, on the Worcestershire/ and Herefordshire border is famous for its annual mistletoe auctions. However, in 2004/5 the owners of the  market site in town said they were closing the site and leaving town. A small group got together to think of other ways to keep the mistletoe traditions alive and the result was the Tenbury Mistletoe Festival which now runs alongside the auctions.

Did you know that 1st December (or usually the first Saturday after the beginning of December) each year is National Mistletoe Day?

Another fixture is the Mistletoe Queen, crowned on National Mistletoe Day. She is the Head Girl of Tenbury High School and is accompanied by the Holly Prince, the Head Boy. A new tradition in the making.

No footsteps came, no voice, but only,
Just as I sat there, sleepy, lonely,
Stooped in the still and shadowy air
Lips unseen—and kissed me there.

So, what to do today?

What to do with mistletoe in our faith groups and groves, or by ourselves?

Well, maybe cutting or buying some mistletoe to hang in our homes for tradition-sake and/or for protection is one suggestion, and you can always continue the kissing-tradition under it.

How about giving some mistletoe away to someone special, in the same way an ancient or latter-day Druid might cut springs of mistletoe on the sixth night of the full moon to give to others the following day – though I think, in the spirit of this, there can be great flexibility (and so if the intention is there, the moon phase need not hinder you from doing that noble deed).

At home, individually, or in our faith groups and groves, especially at the time of Winter Solstice or sometime over the Christmas period we can meditate upon mistletoe and/or recite some words which have meaning to you, or a classic poem (such as the one used here aptly called ‘Mistletoe’ (indented, above), and penned by Walter de La Mare).

Meanwhile, many blessings to you and yours, Tadhg.

 

All About Ivy: There’s More To It Than Meets The Eye

20181117 ALL ABOUT IVY MEANING MYTH AND MAGIC

Oh, a dainty plant is the Ivy green,
That creepeth o’er ruins old!

(Charles Dickens)

Much misunderstood, and the subject of myth and magic in the winter season, Winter Solstice and at Christmastime, Ivy is a wonderful ‘climber’ that has a story of mystery to tell from over a millennia ago. Ivy can be viewed from a botanical point of view, as a friend of nature, and as a plant of myth and magic. And, each is fascinating and spell-binding. So…

Botanical view
Ivy grows well throughout the UK and is native to Europe, western Asia, and North Africa, and can be found in many habitats including woodland, scrub, wasteland and on isolated trees. It quite likes shaded areas, and can live in all but the most dry, waterlogged or acidic soils.

Common name(s): Ivy, common ivy, Atlantic ivy, English ivy, British ivy, European ivy
Scientific name: Hedera helix
Family: Araliaceae

It is an evergreen plant so its easily identifiable leaves can be seen all the year. It flowers in September to November, and fruits ripen in November to January.

But, there’s more to Ivy than meets the eye
Fast he stealeth on, though he wears no wings,
And a staunch old heart has he.
How closely he twineth, how tight he clings,
To his friend the huge Oak Tree!

(Charles Dickens)

It is a woody climber which can grow to a height of 30metres. It has two different forms – juvenile and mature. It climbs trees, walls and building, using specialised and adapted hairs which help it ‘stick’ to surfaces as it climbs.

There are many views as to whether ivy climbing on brickwork damages the brick. It seems its doesn’t crack or damage brick but exploits any cracks and damage that were  already there – but if you have ivy on your house etc it’s best to take professional advice.

As creeping ivy clings to wood or stone, And hides the ruin that it feeds upon, So sophistry, cleaves close to, and protects Sin’s rotten trunk, concealing its defects.

(William Cowper)

But, it is not a parasitic plant, and has a separate root system in the soil and so absorbs its own nutrients and water as needed.

But, there’s more.

Friend of nature
Some may be inclined to pull ivy off a tree fearing that it will harm the tree (though in individual cases it may need to be trimmed back), but Ivy growing on trees does no harm to the tree, and, indeed, it provides an abundant supply of food for insects and birds.

Ivy is the wild lady of the greenwood; she gathers us all together, entwinning and embracing.

(Danu Forest)

Nectar, pollen and berries of ivy are bountiful during autumn and winter when food is scarce. And it provides shelter for insects (especially hoverflies, wasps and bees), birds, bats and other small mammals.  It is also an important food plant for some butterfly and moth larvae. It’s a wonderful plant.

But, there’s even more.

Myth & More
As an evergreen plant ivy (along with holly – and we looked at holly recently: please see here) was seen as an especially powerful symbol during winter, and it was brought into the house to keep negativity and evil spirits at bay.

In ancient Rome wearing a wreath of ivy leaves around ones head was supposed to prevent one from getting drunk –  unlikely, I would think  – and the Roman god Bacchus, the god of intoxication, was usually depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines.

However, Ivy was also seen as a symbol of intellectual prowess, then, and wreaths were used to crown the winners of poetry contests.

That headlong ivy!
Not a leaf will grow,
But thinking of a wreath,
Large leaves, smooth leaves.
Serrated like my vines, and half as green.
I like such ivy, bold to leap a height,
Twas strong to climb! as good to grow on graves,
As twist about a thyrsus , pretty too,
(And that’s not ill) when twisted round a comb.

(Elizabeth Barrett Browning)

In ancient Greece wreaths were also given to winning athletes, and they were also seen as emblems of fidelity, and priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married couples. Even today it is still often the custom for bridal bouquets to contain a sprig of ivy. Ah, sometimes the old ways and wonderful traditions live on, even unbeknownst to many.

English ivy also has a tendency to travel along the ground – and who hasn’t tripped in the matted roots system as it spreads over the ground. Sometimes, if its growth is unchecked it can travel from one plant to another, binding the plants together, and this binding ability sometimes has a deeply symbolic meaning.

But, like ivy, we grow where there is room for us.

(Miranda July)

Some early versions of the medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde, refer to the ability of ivy to bind.

Here’s the story: Tristan, a Cornish knight went to Ireland to ‘claim’ Isolde, an Irish princess, as a bride for King Mark. During the arduous journey back to Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde drank a love potion made from ivy and fell madly in love. [But, please don’t emulate them in making or drinking any Ivy concoction as it’s poisonous, and so this story is for historical and mythological study purposes only). For them Ivy ‘binded’ them together.

In some other versions, Tristan and Isolde do die and are buried in separate graves by King Mark so that even in death they cannot be together. However, in that story, an ivy vine grew out of each grave towards the other one. The ivy vines, then, met and entwined around each others body, forming a loving and eternal connection. And, even when the King Mark cuts the vines they regrow and reconnect. Wonderful story.

For ancient Celts, Druids and medieval Christians, Ivy represented peace, perhaps because of its ability to bind different plants or even different kinds of plants together. And it is for that reason I would advocate you buying and bringing in some Ivy into your house, especially at the darkest part of the year when we celebrate the Winter solstice and/or Christmas.

It’s also for the reason of peace and fidelity that many Celts and Druids of old, and today (including me when conducting a handfasting or marriage ceremony) wear holly wreaths at some events – do see an earlier article where I did just that, which included the line: ‘‘You’ve got grass on your head, mister’.

Also, during the winter solstice, in years gone by, there was a tradition of a nominated boy wearing a holly wreath, and a girl wearing n ivy crown to symbolise the different sexes, the ‘battle’ between sun and moon, between dark and the barrenness of winter and light and the green fecund world, the endless turning of the circle. Yes, the ivy is a wonderful plant full of mystery and magic, and surely has a place in our homes this yuletide.

For the stateliest building man can raise,
Is the Ivy’s food at last.
Creeping on, where time has been,
A rare old plant is the Ivy green.

(Charles Dickens)

Rivers: Nature And Supernature. The Power & The Myth

20180908 RIVERS NATURE AND SUPERNATURE

Where is a body of water things happen. It’s not just that humankind sometimes uses oceans and rivers to (artificially) mark out territory at a superficial level, and things happen because of that. But, it’s deeper. There’s more.

As you know I’m in Hay On Wye, just inside the country of Wales, and chuckled to myself last evening as I walked the twenty minutes to the shop. To get there I crossed over a bridge over the small but vibrant Dulas Brook. It’s a wonderful Brook.

’It is life, I think, to watch the water. A man can learn so many things.’ Nicholas Sparks

Momentarily I stood there and looked down, and pondered the fact that half of me was in England, and half in Wales. I know, sometimes my inner child runs rampant – but, what not?

I was in no particular rush,  and so sat down beside the brook, away from the road, and enjoyed the solitude. 

Water, bodies of water, rivers and lakes have played an important part over the years in the belief system of many religions and faith groups. 

Millions of Hindus, with ashes over their bodies, plunge into the River Ganges in the hope that their sins will be washed away. The ancient Hebrews believed  that the Pool of Bethesda would heal them when it’s waters rippled declaring the presence of an invisible angel. And, many Christians bathe in the River Jordan for a blessing. The latter, ofcourse, use blessed or holy water in christenings and on other occasions when it is ‘flicked’ at the congregation. And, who can forget the old story, and one of my favourites, of dear Brigit turning bath water into beer!

’he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the [blind] man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam”. So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.’ John 9: 6b-7, The Book

Cleopatra, it is said knew of the healing properties of the water of the Dead Sea, and many today bathe in it, (or buy its water for home use) in the hope it will heal them (and indeed some say it may have some beneficial effect for skin ailments etc  because of its high salt content). But, there’s more.

Ah, water.

As I sat there and gazed into the Dulas Brook and with the sun setting, I wondered of the number of ancient Celts, Christians, Druids, Pagans and others that have done the same. Wales is that kind of place. It is a land of mystery and magic, where ancient voices can be heard in the wind and the energy of bygone ritual flows through the earth. Water, it seems, invited, and the Giver of Water moves through this land.

The ancients believe water could heal. And, at Buxton in Derbyshire is the ‘well’ that was flowing before the Romans invaded England, and which was used by Druids and others for healing. It was originally called Aqua Arnemetiae meaning. ‘the waters of the goddess who lived in the sacred grove. Know it is known as St Anne’s well.

Healing?

The ancient Celts and Druids told of stories where the Otherworld is reached by going under the waters, such as pools, lakes, or the sea, or by crossing the western sea. In Irish Immrama tales, a beautiful young Otherworldly woman would oftenapproach the hero and invite him to go away with her, as she sings to him of this happy land. He follows her, and they journey over the sea together and are seen no more.

A gateway?

Could Dulas Brook be a gateway to Annwn, the OtherWorld in Welsh mythology, that place of eternal youth and where disease was unknown?

The ancient Celts and Druids (and others) also believed that around water, such as lakes, rivers and brooks, elementals inhabited the area. Many still believe this today, and stories abound of good and not-so-good events around, or involving, water.

The spirits of watery places were honoured as givers of life. Sequana, it is said, seems to have embodied the River Seine at its spring source, the goddesses Boann and Sionnan give their names to the rivers Boyne and Shannon, and the ancient name for the River Marne was Matrona ‘Great Mother’.

Could there be a correlation between the River Lugg, just a few miles away, and Lugh? In the past I’ve dismissed it, but now I’m seriously considering the link.

It makes you think.

And, as I sat there gazing into the Dulas Brook I could see how water and the human imagination could ‘connect’ and deep thoughts take place. Ofcourse, many might dismiss such thoughts,  but what if imagination, like water, houses mysteries that defy rational explanation? What if we are surrounded my the miracle and magic that is water, but are oblivious to the fact?

Just a body of water? I would venture that when we gaze upon a lake, river or ocean there is much more than the eye can see. 

’Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.’ Albert Einstein

 

 

Here Be Dragons: Encountering Nature In The City & Looking Beyond The Veil

20180715 HERE BE DRAGONS ENCOUNTERING NATURE IN THE CITY

It is no secret that I like ritual. Ritual, if the intention is there, takes us out of ordinary time and into sacred time, away from only an awareness of mundane space and into sacred space; and it opens up a doorway, a liminal threshold to the Other. We enter a place and time where things happen. Really happen. Even if we’re unaware of the sequence of events.

And, it doesn’t have to be formal ritual. There are many rituals, simple ones, too, that are useful to us as individuals, that we do daily, beneficial routines that open the path to the imaginal realm, that realm of power and potential. This can lead to an encounter that can be wholly other (as in the imaginal), wholly ‘here’ (as in the physical realm), but is usually witnessed as a somewhat confusing combination of the two.

Holy superimposition.

‘There are two worlds: the world we can measure with line and rule, and the world that we feel with our hearts and imagination.’ Leigh Hunt

park1

Bishop’s Park, London

Today was very much like that. One of my daily rituals when in London is to take some valuable time out at the beginning of the day and visit the Magic Café, when in Fulham, south-west, inner London. There, over a latte I pore over a good book for an hour, at least. It is a time of grounding, ‘earthing’, drawing energy into my being to prepare myself for the day ahead.

In many senses I am so absorbed by the book I’m reading, at those times, that events can happen around me and I’m totally unaware of them. I might have ate a croissant and looked up about half an hour later only to find the empty plate has gone from my table. In such circumstance I try to catch the baristas eye and thank him or her for clearing the table, as it might have appeared rude not to acknowledge their good work at the time. Totally absorbed, was I in that liminal realm. The baristas know me well.

Something similar happened again, today. Serendipity.

The weather in London and, indeed, the UK has been unusually hot. Usually after a few days of hot weather (say, 26 Celsius or hotter), here, the weather breaks, we have a thunderstorm and it goes back to being mild and changeable. It’s been hot, between 25 and 31 Celsius for about three weeks, and although some local areas have had very brief rainstorms, they’ve missed Fulham.

‘Serendipity is the faculty of finding things we did not know we were looking for.’ Glauco Ortolano

park2

Bishop’s Park, London

And, as it happened, all the outside tables and chairs at the café were all occupied by others when I arrived there this morning. It was clear, there was only one thing for it: order a take-away latte and take myself (and the good book I was carrying) off to a nearby (riverside) park. Bishop’s Park. Ironic, really, as the book I was reading was about encountering nature deeply (in both rural and urban settings), and so I walked the four minutes to the park, slowly (as it was hot) to put into practice what I was reading.

I found a wonderful shady spot near the lake (which, courtesy of the local council’s ‘bio-diversity’ and wildlife welfare policy, is amazingly overgrown at the edges). It is a beautiful area. The sun was hot, the sky blue and cloudless but I was in shade. The air was filled with the fragrance of a myriad of flowers, and birdsong. I sat on a bench to read my book and occasionally sipped the coffee.

I read for about half an hour but was disturbed by a few ducks that had arrived and stayed for several minutes, a couple of dragonflies who seemed to want to ‘buzz’ me, and a large water rat that ambled out of the undergrowth and came towards me at some speed, stopping about six feet (two metres) in front of me, sniffed in my direction in an exaggerated manner before shuffling off.

Ofcourse, these weren’t interruptions at all.

‘We live in a relative and contradictory world. We go to work, care for our family and friends, and manage ordinary details every day. And yet we are timeless. We are the rhythm of life’. Llyn Roberts

If the book I was reading was anything to go by, and it is a good book by Sandra Ingerman and Lllyn Roberts, then this was just the time to take up one of its suggestions to put the book to one side. I did.

I relaxed, adopted a meditative state, half-closed my eyes and revelled in nature that was all around me, and if you take into account the fragrances in the air, then nature was within me! And, there’s more. As I sat there, in the middle of London in a lovely park, and in an awesome, overgrown, lush area of the park, ‘disturbed’ only by nature,  I was in bliss. I wasn’t apart from nature looking on, but was part of it, part of that rhythm of life.

Liminality.

It was then that I saw, resting on undergrowth to my side, a wonderful dragonfly – well, actually a damselfly. Very similar to dragonflies, but they’re smaller. They are close ‘cousins’ to the dragonfly. Both are members of the odonata order. So-called by a Danish zoologist some two hundred years ago who, mistakenly, thought they had teeth. The lovely creature resting on a flower was a (UK) common blue damselfly. Magnificent.

In the world of the imagination, myth and magic, it is said that dragonflies and damselflies were the dragons of old: think scaly winged, fire-breathing creatures. Now, much smaller they are ‘disguised’ when they appear in this realm.

park33

Bishop’s Park, London

They are said by some to be one of nature’s shape-shifters because they inhabit two elemental realms: air and water. Some believe that to see them up close means that your life will never be the same. Others believe that such creatures break down ones illusions and expose truth, usher in winds of change, wisdom or enlightenment, and if one lands on you then good luck is sure to follow. Dragonflies carry messages that deal with deeper thought – and they ask that we pay attention to our deeper thoughts and desires.

‘It is one thing to read about dragons, and another to meet them.’ Ursula Le Guin

I’m told the Swedish name for them is trollslända, which means ‘hobgoblin fly, and comes from a time when dragonflies and damselflies were thought to be the ‘horses’ for elves, brownies and the fae, who would travel around on their backs.

Meanwhile, that wonderful common blue damselfly was still resting on that nearby plant, and then suddenly he or she flew off. Gone. Did its presence have a significant meaning?

At one level it’s clear that nature is flourishing in this place and I (and you, wherever you find yourself, and even in the city) are part of it: connected. At another level, there is the view of acceptance, that we are one with nature and nature is one with us: kin. And, at a still deeper level, maybe there was a ‘message’ today in that damselfly’s visit that was pertinent to me (just as at other times and places other events are pertinent and meaningful to you)? Awareness.

Mark Nepo calls such events ‘quiet teachers’: natural events that can speak volumes to us, if we but take time to rest and let natural wisdom ‘soak’ into our being so that we are ‘taught’ something special, and deep, and wholesome from that event. It’s what our ancestors, ancient Celts, Druids, Pagans, ancient Christians and others would have understood, almost without trying. Participation mystique, or mystical participation. Something that doesn’t come easy to us, but which can be experience with some intentionality.

Why, then the wise thing to do is ponder upon its meaning and apply it to ourselves. Or, perhaps, or in addition to all this, is the fact that each of us are blessed in living on a wild and ‘life-full’ planet (whether we live in a rural or urban setting), and are part of the web of life; and today, in one small way I spied another creature, a dragonfly/damselfly also attuned into, and part of the web of life, and in looking beyond the veil I understood it to be a gift from the Source of All to you and I, and others. Gratitude.

’Hic sunt dracones; here be dragons’.

 

20180715 HERE BE DRAGONS ENCOUNTERING NATURE IN THE CITY

 

 

An Encounter With Vulpes Vulpes In London: Nature In An Urban Environment

20180619 AN ENCOUNTER WITH VULPES VULPES

Last night was one of those evenings where it occurred to me that I had been sedentary for far to long.

It was approaching midnight, and I had emailed a few urgent emails, completed a liturgy for an upcoming handfasting of two wonderful people, had watched the football on tv, and had just picked up a book to read. Sedentary, that the thought that occurred to me. It was if my whole body was experiencing restless leg syndrome and not just my legs, and it yearned for movement.

The best option seemed to be to go for a walk, and that’s what I did.

I’m back in the city, in my small ground floor maisonette in a central London borough, which nestles very close to the River Thames. I am surrounded by city parks, an abundance of wonderful cafes, and densely packed housing, And so, with the thought of movement in mind, I strode manfully out of the door at midnight.

’Solvitur ambulando.’ A Latin phrase meaning, ‘It is solved by walking.’

The streets, well at least the side streets, here, and not the main road in the distance, were deserted, empty of people and devoid of moving cars. It felt great to be in the city and yet have space to myself. Surrounded by thousands of people and yet no one in sight. Oh the people were there. Inside their houses, curtains drawn, and in some the light from the tv flickering away was perceptible, but only just, as I walked by.

I thought I might walk towards Parsons Green, and to get there I’d have to walk down a long, well-lit side street. It had now just gone midnight, and I was half way along that street, and it felt, unnervingly, as if I was being watched. I purposely stopped, looked around, expecting to see a stalker or some ne’er-do-well, but saw nothing. No one.

’Being a nocturnal creature myself, I often find myself in dark alleys or strange places late at night. If there were werewolves around, I’d be likely to run into them, being the night owl that I am.’ Dean Ambrose

I continued walking, and still the feeling of being watched persisted. I carried on walking and the line of cars parked either side of the road ended. I was passing by a school and the road marking prohibited parking at that point. I walked on about thirty paces further on, giving enough time for my stalker to be denied the shelter of parked cars, and I stopped, turned around in the most untimid manner I could muster, and faced my stalker. And, there he was.

Vulpes Vulpes.

Yes, my stalker, my ‘watcher in the night’, was a rather splendid, well-fed red fox. Fulham has many urban foxes on its street, and most can be heard, or seen, or smelled when they move about at night.

My companion was about twenty (human) paces behind me, and he too, stopped, and just looked at me. I didn’t move a muscle. Not afraid, but I didn’t want to scare this little chap away. I stopped for some time. He remained still.
Looking at me, his little head cocked to one side as if trying to solve a mystery of what I was doing. I felt the urge to do the same, but resisted it.

It is thought that there are about 150,000 foxes in the England. Here in London they scavenge their food from litter bins and so their food is usually an unhealthy diet of human food scraps, consisting of curry, chips, fish fingers and bacon butties, and as were near the Thames, maybe the odd water rat or two. Considered by man to be a nuisance, I have to admit that I am in awe of nature as it pushes back to reclaim, in part, the domain that was once solely its world. And, the fox is a particular favourite. I admit crows come a close second and they can be seen early morning and throughout the day in Fulham, but I love foxes, especially city foxes. And, this particular fox was still looking at me, and had sat down.

Did you know: The red fox is the most common type of fox, but there are about 47 different subspecies of red fox; Foxes belong to the dog family and use similar facial expressions and body postures to pet dogs, such as wagging their tails when greeting family members; Foxes have strong family ties. Young foxes often stay with their parents for a few years and help raise future cubs.

Having watched this wonderful beast for sometime I turned away and carried on walking. But only for a few paces. I stopped and deliberately turned. He had moved, about the same distance I had covered and had stopped when I had stopped, and was still twenty paces behind me. I laughed, and walked on and stopped. I turned and there he was. Twenty paces behind. I was nearing Parsons Green, and so stopped one last time, turned, and…he was gone. I felt a little loneliness creep in, having lost my companion and that feeling of being watched.

There are some who say that when humankind was in its infancy and we lived in peace with all animals, that communication between humans and animals, and vice versa, was possible. Others say that in that world of blurred boundaries, even shape-shifting was possible. Are these ideas true, or metaphorical or romantic? That’s a rhetorical question, as I don’t need an answer as I love mystery, and however we interpret those ancient-world notions, there is always something to learn.

There are some others who believe that animals that appear ‘out of nowhere’ and come unusually close to us are attracted by our inner being, our soul. Have you ever been somewhere and an animal or insect has come close, perhaps too close, and unexpectedly so, to surprise you?

Or, perhaps, they say, the animal companion (for a while) is a manifestation of our soul.

In Philip Pullman’s fantasy trilogy ‘His Dark Material’, Lyra Belacqua has an (external) animal representation of her (inner) soul which manifests itself as a red moth when she’s a child, but as a red-gold pine marten when she’s an adult.

Or perhaps an unexpected animal, the red fox in this case, is a messenger from That Which Is Bigger Than Ourselves (and who cannot but remember those old Sunday School stories of Balaam’s donkey and its urgent spoken message?).

’We need another and wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals…We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form far below ourselves. And therein we err, and err greatly. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost…living by voices we shall never hear.’ Henry Beston

Being a man in this age, ofcourse I wanted to know. And so, I researched something about the red fox, and sadly discovered that they are generally hated as a terrible nuisance on city streets. Okay, I accept in January, or thereabouts, the cry of the vixen, can sound like a baby’s cry, and can be somewhat unnerving or alarming on city streets, and the result of all those curries they eat does make a mess on the pavement – and what an awful smell! But, they are wonderful creatures.

They have lost much of their habitat to humankind (and if truth be known it is us who are a nuisance to them, as they were her first), are they are sorely misunderstood, and present no real danger. I like the idea of nature ‘pushing back’ in the city, as if to say, ‘I’m still here, and I don’t mind sharing, but just share with me, too, please’.

Understanding wild creatures is one thing, but there’s more. There is a point where we can so draw near to them that we can sense them – and I do believe that being ’watched’ feeling I had, or the surprise you might have had when an animal or inset came unusually close to you, is part of an intuitive sensing and connectedness with that animal that we might experience in short bursts, but our ancient ancestors, druids, celts and others would have experienced it much more or perhaps all the time. Lucien Levy-Bruhl, a French philosopher, calls this ‘participation mystique’ (mystical participation) and it occurs beyond our logical, rational thought processes. It is like a ‘sense’ that we have but seldom use now , but it can be increased by usage, like a muscle, if we choose to exercise it.

Foxes, I believe, are a gift from the Universe, from That Which Is Bigger Than Us, and are a reminder that nature is abundant and beneficent, ubiquitous (even in the city) and to be enjoyed, and can be understood at a cerebral and knowledge-level, but also by that ‘sensing’, by taking hold of that mystical participation of deep connectedness at a soul level that our ancestors possessed.

And so, I’m almost back home, having completed my walk. I’ve walked for almost an hour, my fox-companion is nowhere to be seen, the streets are still deserted, but I am left wondering: just a chance encounter, a shape-shifter, an outward reflection of my inner soul, or a guardian of some kind who kept me safe from an otherwise dangerous event, or a messenger from Beyond? Thank God for Vulpes Vulpes.

What was the meaning of that encounter? No, don’t answer it. I want to revel in the mystery of not knowing cerebrally, as it brings me (and us) closer to the Mystery.

 

 

The Forest’s ‘Quiet Teachers’ And Time

20180511 THE FORESTS QUIET TEACHERS AND TIMEIt’s a wonderful morning. Sunrise was about an hour ago, and the early morning high and mist-like clouds are slowly being ‘burned off’ by the sun – yes, I’m back in north Wales. Valleys, here, have their own micro-weather system – and it is glorious. It almost seems that time itself has stopped and you can see and hear elementals hopping from one flower or blade of grass to another. Bliss.

’Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, “Grow! Grow!”’, Talmud

Timeless, yes.

I am sitting in my garden, sipping a cup of nettle tea, my favourite, and words cannot really do justice to the wonders of nature that I am beholding. Wherever we are, rural or urban landscape, we are part of the wildness and beauty of nature – you are beautiful, and however much we are told we’re separate from nature or feel so, it is an illusion. We swim through nature, breathing it in, breathing in air as a fish swims in water and gulps in that water and ‘exhales’ it to live.

Nature is awesome, even though I can spy a few weeds growing here and there on the lawn.

’ Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better’. Albert Einstein

There are different schools of thought about creation, the origin of all that is. And, as I sit here sipping this tea, my mind wanders to consider two of them. Journey with me.

Firstly, there are some who read ancient sacred text and interpret it (because the notion isn’t actually present in the text, so we have to take that information and work with it where we are), and deduce that everything was perfect (or good) on Earth but somehow it ‘went wrong’ [emphasis on the latter]. Many call this ‘the fall’.

And then I got thinking a wee bit deeper.

But, suppose, secondly, the perfection we have in our mythic memory is of Home, before we ‘arrived’ on Earth? And, the Earth didn’t ‘fall’ and ‘go wrong’ (although it may seem so in comparison from our pre-life ‘Home’ – see Jeremiah 1:5a), but that the Source Of All created everything good, and left a just little bit of it for us to do in ‘finishing it off’? Rather like, perhaps, our mum did, when we were wee kids, when she baked a cake, say, and let us stir the mix so we could, with pride, understand that we had a small hand [no pun intended] in baking that cake. Then we can say ‘I did that’, and then our parent (and the Source of All) can say, ‘my child did that’.

This idea, some call tikkun olam.

Tikkun olam has everything to do with ‘finishing off’ or ‘repairing’ the world. It, along with the ‘fall’ idea really is only understood by our own particular viewpoint, whatever it may be: ‘fall’ and in need of ‘repair’; or ‘unfinished’? I prefer the latter.

As I look out at the length of the garden the gardener, who initially worked on the garden some years ago, ensured that about three-quarters of it was a well ‘manicured’ lawn with plants and small trees ‘sprinkled’ throughout and a few paving stones here or there, as I had suggested. And, now there’s a few weeds. But, I digress.

But, the furthest quarter of the garden, the part that leads into a wild copse is wild by every stretch of the imagination, and that’s exactlyhow I asked the gardener to leave it.

The lawn area is different to that wild area, but just as much as nature as anywhere else. That wild area does need a bit of attention from me every so often. Tikkun olam.

Most of my garden is easy to manage, but the wild area needs some extra special care, understanding and management, stewardship from me. It is forever requiring attention so that I can appreciate its wildness and yet walk through it rather than me being ‘crowded out’ by the unbridled growth of plants and trees.

A human presence is needed to ‘repair’ or ‘finish it’ depending on your viewpoint) until, ofcourse, the following year and growing seasons repeat themselves. And so it goes on. I love it. It grows, I tend it, It grows. Tikkun olam.

Perhaps, that ‘finishing off’ applies to every walk of life, and not just to garden weeds. What do you think?

That wild quarter of the garden is a ‘guiet teacher’. It ‘speaks’ words of wisdom to us and all who are attuned to it. The area of my garden is lovely, but it may not be perfect as some people define perfection. If I waited until that part of my garden was perfect in human terms I might have to wait longer than one life span!

Perhaps, nature, the ‘quiet teacher’ is informing us, that life is good, but until we get Home, it won’t be perfect or well ordered – there will be challenges and upsets along the way, weeds. We can do our best, but we will have to wait a long time before everything is orderly in our life (if ever), and if we are waiting to start a project or do something only when that happens, then we will probably wait ‘forever’.

’We carry these [to do] lists near our heart and finger them like worry beads. It doesn’t matter what is on them. They are thieves, and it is the insidious virtue to have everything in order before we live that is the greatest thief’. Mark Nepo.

Life is a wild and sometimes circuitous journey, with challenges along the way but always an adventure, with things to learn along the way as we move through it. Yes, move through it.

As I walk through the wild copse, now having no more nettle tea left in the cup, I look at the contrast in the garden, the lawned area (and the weeds) and the wild part, and though different and not perfect (from a gardeners point of view) I love it just the way it is.

It’s almost as if the forest and garden are saying to us, ‘You will always have a few weeds  here in your life, but embrace them and work with them, but don’t let them bother you and procrastinate or you’ll wait forever’.

For the moment we are in time. Are there things in our life that we’ve put off, and like me, can look back? It’s never too late to start! Maybe it’s an educational course, a new hobby, a project at work or at home, or maybe it’s a long overdue phone call to tell someone you miss them and love them, or something else that you’ve put off? Until now. Tikkun olam. Is there something to start, ‘repair’ or ‘finish’?

’I swing between procrastination and being really thorough so either way things aren’t getting done quickly’. Freema Agyeman

Finally, ofcourse, there are times when it is right to pause and wait, but invariably we know the difference between honest waiting for a good reason and kicking things time and time again into the long grass.

‘We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?’ Dr Who

After all that deep thought, here I am walking back to the house thinking that I deserve a second cup of nettle tea. How about you?

 

Earth Hour 2018: A Joyful Response

20180319 EARTH HOUE 24 MARCH STEWARDSHIP MEDITATIONSoon it will be the time of Earth Hour 2018.

Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia, in 2007. That event saw over million homes and businesses turn their lights off for one hour to make their stand against climate change that year. Now, Earth Hour is a worldwide movement organized by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), and annually encouraging individuals, communities, and businesses to turn off all non-essential electric lights for one hour, from 8:30 to 9:30 pm on a specific day towards at the end of March, as a symbol of commitment to the planet.

‘Eventually, we’ll realize that if we destroy the ecosystem, we destroy ourselves.’ Jonas Salk.

The ancient Celts, Druids, ancient Hebrew tribes, first century Christians and others were Earth-focussed, in-touch with the seasons and the land, and knew that their livelihood depended on the Earth’s bounty. Somewhat removed, now, in modern society it is easy to forget our inter-connectedness and dependence upon the Earth, and a feeling of helplessness can overtake us.

What can we do?

Earth Hour this year will be on 24 March, and so all of us can participate in large ways and small, and all are encouraged to turn off all non-essential lighting and other non-essential power-consuming devices, wherever we are on the planet from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm (our) local time. A symbolic easy-to-do act just for one hour.

Below are some ideas, quotes, liturgies/poems and memories etc that have been used, and that you might like to use, adapted, or which can be used as prompts to encourage each of us to do something symbolic for the planet, this Saturday, and live simply for one hour, and joyously. The latter is important, as it shouldn’t be seen as an arduous task or a chore, but as a profound time, an enjoyable time in the main.

Blessing:
And so, before eating, by candlelight, we used the following as a blessing:

‘All praise be Yours, my God, through Sister Earth, our mother
who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces
various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs.
[St Francis of Assisi]

Meal:
We wanted to meet as friends and have a simple meal together. Just bread and soup in gratitude of the immense bounty of the Earth that we often forget. A simple meal in good company was perfect.

As a centre-piece on the table, as a reminder of why we had gathered was symbolism to represent the elements (five in this case, but you might have less or more), and so we had: a flower to represent earth/soil/rock, a small bowl of water, a joss-stick to represent air, a few candles to represent fire, and a small clay wild goose (an ancient Celtic representation of the Spirit).

We ate, we laughed, we enjoyed the occasion immensely. Ofcourse, afterwards you can supplement the time with music and/or singing.

Meditation:
Bathed in the light of a few candles, each member of the group was asked to close their eyes and imagine a scene. Initially, the co-ordinator asked the group to visualise the Earth as seen from space, blue, cloudy, majestic, full of life, a planet set in a sea of stars. One by one each person described what they had imagined.

After a short pause, the co-ordinator, asked each member of the group to visualise one distant land, perhaps seen on tv, full of animals and vibrant nature, and to describe it, and one by one each person did in just a few words. The co-ordinator summed up with a few words of gratitude to the Source of All.

After a sort pause, each person was asked to imagine an element of nature from their local neighbourhood, some to be thankful for. Each shared, and the co-ordinator summed up with a few words of gratitude to the Source of All.

Then, the co-ordinator asked each to imagine one scene where the Earth was ‘distressed’, through pollution or over-farming, through the loss of natural habitat, the further extinction of species, and each member shared what they ‘saw’. The co-ordinator summed up with prayerful words.

Lastly, the co-ordinator, asked each to imagine the Earth as it was when they started this meditation – a wonderful blue planet set in a dance amongst the stars, and to ‘flood it’ with our thanks, well-wishes and good-thoughts.

Sharing-time:
We shared prayers and poetry in a circle of fellowship lit by the light of one candle. Each invited person was asked to bring some prayer or relevant poem to share, and after each recitation a few minutes of silent meditation and reflection ensued. One such prayer was:

Deep peace of the quiet Earth to you,
who herself unmoving, harbours the movements
and facilitates the life of ten thousand creatures,
while resting contented, stable, tranquil.
Deep peace of the quiet Earth to you.
(Old Celtic Blessing)

A variation of this, one year, was to ask those attending to prepare a piece about their favourite mountain, or animal, flower, tree, ocean or river, as a way of giving thanks.

For instance, one person talked at length about trees and their connectedness, and how they actually ‘communicate’ with a beneficial and ‘joined up’ root system. Something similar was televised recently with Judi Dench, and can be seen on Youtube, here.

Another person shared about a written piece (and a short video) wolves and what remarkable animals they are, and something similar can be seen here.

Another shared a short video about Snowdonia – my favourite, and I admit to a slight bias here, see here.

Eucharist:
We shared a simple breaking of bread and wine in the home. One person blessed the bread and wine, and we passed the bread around. Several minutes later, the wine was passed around (and as we also wanted to think about the Earth, on many occasions the wine was substituted with unfermented red grape juice). And then several read relevant verses from the Bible, such as:

‘In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.’ Psalm 95.4 The Book.

All very simple, easy to plan and expedite. Very profound.

Baraka:
On this occasion, with lights off and the tv turned on, we watched part of the video ‘Baraka’. If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. It is a wonderful series of profound clips and ethereal music that is nature-based, deep and spiritually moving, and highlights  our interconnectedness with all that is around us. It can be seen on Youtube, here.

Conclusion:
How will you commemorate Earth Hour? Whatever you do, by yourself or in the company of friends, my wish is that you do something simple, symbolic and joyful to mark the event, which ofcourse, is a prompt for us all to have a greater regard for the planet thereafter.

Blessings of Earth Hour be to you and yours, Tadhg.