Dirty Feet

Anyone who gardens in the north knows that this is the season for dirty feet. It doesn’t seem to matter if you go barefoot, wear shoes, sneakers, or mud boots; somehow the dirt from the garden finds its way to your feet. I’ve tried tucking my jeans into the boots, wearing them on the outside of the boots, even going so far as putting a rubber band at the hem of the jeans around the boot. No matter what I do at the end of the day my feet still look like someone has dumped dirt into my boot and rubbed it into my skin.
I blame the garden gnomes.
I saw a garden gnome some years ago. Not one of those statues of garden gnomes you see all over the place, which I believe give them a good laugh. No, this was a real, honest to goodness gnome. Did you know that what people think is a pointy hat on their heads is actually the shape of their heads? Yup, that’s what I saw.
It was a one moonlit summer night when he appeared in my flower garden. He stood about three feet tall and just stared at me as I stared back at him. I got the feeling he was just as surprised to see me as I was him. It was difficult to make out colors due to the blue cast the moon gave everything but I did notice that he was not wearing clothes and he was a bit hairy all over. And, like I said, there was no hat on his head, just that domed point with long, dark hair cascading from it. His facial features were quite flat, eyes that slanted toward pointed ears held close to his head, a wide nose with flaring nostrils and full lips below a large mustache that hung well past his chin and his skin appeared greenish-blue in the summer moon light.
The night I saw the gnome I was wearing my wellies due to a resent downpour which made the garden wet and muddy. When the gnome disappeared – and I mean disappeared, he just seemed to sink down into the earth on the spot he was standing – I finished the ritual I had been doing when he first appeared then I went back inside. As is customary in many pagan paths, I had bathed before doing my ritual so imagine my shock when I removed my wellies and found mud caked on the top of my feet and between my toes. That was the first time I made the connection between dirty feet and gnomes.
That was the only time, so far, that I’ve seen a gnome but I know they’re out there in my garden just beneath the surface. I know they are waiting for me every time I go out to weed or water, gather or plant. They are just waiting to use their own little brand of earth magic to somehow put dirt into my boots. Sometimes I make their job easier by wearing sandals or simply walking around the garden barefoot, letting the dirt toss up onto my feet, squish between my toes. I can almost see them smiling knowing I have gotten their message to not forget what is responsible for making my garden grow.
Now when I take my boots off and knock the dirt out of them heading for the bathtub to wash my dirty feet, I think of that gnome staring at me in the moonlight and smile.

 

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No Shadows

They were lost and alone with no shadows to guide their way, no sense of direction only the wind and rain. The sky had been grey for days on end and at night there was darkness so thick they huddled in a hollow tree with their eyes closed in order to glimpse a little light. They wandered in the rain seeking any glimmer of light; a candle flame, a little camp fire, a glow worm or firefly. But the rain was so steady it put out all the fires and the cold was so harsh the tiny light-bearers stayed underground. Without light there were no shadows, without shadows there was no direction and so they stumbled in circles from one hollow tree to the next.
The children listened to the stories of the elders who spoke of a time in the past when the sun and moon had grown tired of all the complaints of the people and so refused to guide them until they stopped their grumbling, fretting and whining and once again found their joy. The elders warned the people that this had come upon them for the same reason and encouraged them to be brave and find something to be joyful about else their days of wandering with no shadows would continue.
The people grew sad many succumbing to tears which only aided the task of the rain and the sobbing at night frightened the children to tears as well. All hope seemed lost as the people pressed close in a mass of anguish and despair within the damp void of a large tree.
Then one darkest empty night the people were awakened by the sound of a reed flute and the tapping of a small drum that pulled them all up from their fitful sleep. The darkness was so dense they had to rely on the sound of the music to guide them. And so holding onto each other they ventured out into the cold dark rain in search of the sweet sound. As they drew closer to it some of the people began to smile others to hum along with the notes that filled the night air. Some even found they had not forgotten how to dance, the soles of their feet itching to step to the beat of the tiny drum. By the time they reached the source of the music all their sobbing had ceased. Most of them had smiles on their faces and the tiniest glimmer of dawn lay flat against the rain soaked sky. They gathered around a piper and drummer who sat upon a wet mound of green moss playing the most joyous music any of the people had ever heard. Before long they were all dancing and singing, laughing in spite of the rain and dark grey that filled the sky above them.
The elders smiled at one another as one of them slipped a silver coin into each of the pockets of the musicians, then moved toward their people to join in the celebration as a tiny sliver of golden light could be seen on the eastern horizon.

 

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Vampire of Trees

Many years ago I did a ceremony to become one with trees. The first phase of the ceremony involved going deep within the woods and listening to the wind in the trees to discern which one was to be my sire. I found her, a maple, near a stream, standing alone on a moss covered berm, the wind whispering a soft serenade through her branches.
I set my pouch down that was filled with the tools I would need to accomplish the ceremony and then I undressed. In order to become like a tree one must cast off all the encumbrances of the human body. I was first to become naked as a tree, my skin becoming my bark.
The next step was to gather some of her fallen branches that proved easy since there was one leaning against her trunk. I broke it into tiny pieces making a little stack of them within reach of the tree. Then I dug a hole at her base with a knife from my pouch just large enough for my feet to fit into, stepped into it and placed my arms around her in a hug. We stayed like that until I could feel her life force and she mine. I curled my toes into the soft earth at her feet. I felt a hum of life emanating through her bark, entering my heart, climbing up through my feet, a slow steady hymn of life and love as I asked her permission to become one with her spirit. A breeze sauntered through her branches, I looked up, she nodded her assent and a trickle of affection joined her hum of life entering my body. I thanked her, stepped out of the hole and knelt at her feet to begin the final phase of the ceremony.
Into the hole I placed a drop of my blood and the tiniest pieces of her fallen branch, lit them with a match – the only fuel allowed in the ceremony – and fanned them with my breath until the flames took hold. Then I began feeding the fire while humming a tune, whatever came into my mind, a love song to this beautiful tree person. All of the wood I had piled up was fed to the fire and burned to ash. Then I stood and stepped back into the hole while it was still warm from the fire. The ashes from her spent and burned body covered my feet, squeezed between my toes and I felt the warmth of them like the caress of a lover. I put my arms around her again and we stood there, a single entity bound by blood and fire, standing together between Earth and Sky.
Since that day my love and connection to trees has grown to nearly obsessive proportions. At the time of the ceremony I lived in town with a few trees in my yard. Now I live in the woods surrounded by them. I hug at least one tree daily, talk to them as often as possible and plant more of them yearly. But the most interesting thing that happened to me after the ceremony was the overwhelming desire in the spring to drink the sap of the maple tree. The desire is so strong I have begun to feel like the vampire that is in need of the life blood of another human being in order to continue living. But in this case it is the craving of a human who has become part tree by ceremonial transmission needing a yearly transfusion in order for that element to stay alive in her. When the craving first started a neighbor was tapping trees in his yard to make maple syrup and would share some sap with me. Now I have my own trees.
I tapped two trees a couple days ago, with their permission, of course, and today I collected two gallons of clear, sweet liquid, the blood of the maple tree, my friend, sister, lover. She freely gives me her life blood so that I may continue to nurture my tree self. I drink and feel renewed.
I am sure a psychoanalyst could have a field day with this situation but I know what I am. I know that one day a long time ago a tree sired me and made me one of Them and now I am a tree vampire. I can’t help myself, I must feed to stay alive, to continue being one with the trees.

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The Strength of Love

Love is more than
a feeling you have –
it’s more like a tree
standing tall and strong
it’s more like the rain
giving life to the earth
it’s more like the sun
giving warmth and comfort
it’s more like flowers
filled with beauty and grace
it’s more like the ocean
with the power of ebb and flow
it’s more like the sky
too large for us to fathom –
Love is stronger than life
and death
and the universe
And every time someone
truly loves
they become stronger
for having done so.

n&o3

Winter Solstice Chant

Solstice fire

burning bright

Give us back

the sun’s pure light

Smoke and ashes

taking flight

Turn the wheel

and make it right

Yuletide blessing

flames of might

Dance with us

this Solstice night.fire 1

 

Dead Things

I’m wandering from the house to the garden and back again gathering the last of the summer’s bounty. Tomatoes, some ripe but most in shades of green, emerald, jade, piling up in the woven basket hooked over my arm. I snip the few okra left on the plants and mourn the last of their flowers that will never mature. The corn was finished a month ago, the beans two weeks ago and all the squashes, summer and winter, are safely tucked away in the pantry and freezer. All the herbs are drying to be put into savory dishes through the winter months or steeping in alcohol to be made into medicines. The last struggling watermelon now the size of my fist will never be eaten.
And then there are the flowers.
Masses of marigolds, zinnias and cosmos still bloom in patches all over the garden. My house will be overflowing with vases of their beauty for days as I work at picking as many of them as possible. Morning glories, blue, pink, red, white, still cling to the fence so heavy they threaten to topple it. There are new buds on the rose bushes that will never open. This life still teaming around me defies the inevitability of the death I know is about to descend. Jack Frost is coming with his icy scythe to cut down all the life that I and his brother Jack In The Green have toiled to bring forth.
I use to hate Jack Frost. I would envision him as a mean old man all bent over with anger and malice whacking away at all the beauty and bounty of summer. I thought of him as the enemy brutally killing his younger brother Jack In The Green with every swipe of his deadly instrument taking a piece of my heart along with him. Some years he would plod along bringing an agonizing slow death to everything I cared for. Some years he would strike hard and fast smashing my green world into snow white oblivion over night. But every year the results were the same. The death he brought was absolute and all encompassing. There was nothing I could do to stop him. I would work feverishly bringing in all I could, potting up some flowers, searching frantically for the last vestiges of life to save from his icy fingers. It was almost as much work as building the garden had been through the spring and summer.
Jack Frost and I have since made our peace. I know now that he is not that old ugly being I once thought. He is young and strong and has a job to do and does it well. He works to break down all the green into fertile brown soil that will give life to the new plants of the next spring. His wisdom of death brings life. We, his brother and I, welcome him. We watch in awe now as he takes the life that is left in my garden, gently, lovingly lays his crystalline fingers on it putting it to sleep, readying it for the transformation from life to death then back again.
Dead things are not truly dead, not in the way we humans think of death. According to Jack Frost and Jack In The Green life and death are intricately woven together to create all that we know as existence. Death is just the other side of life just as life is the other side of death. Below the surface of my garden in the dead of the cold white winter life rests in the arms of death – waiting.

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I think I’ll make green tomato jam with all those leftover tomatoes to give as Yule gifts.

The Return of The Muse

He climbs the hill behind her house wondering if it can be true. Did he really hear her voice, the voice he knew so well from so long ago? Her song fills the air around him, blue and misty like the twilight that he pushes through on his way back into her life, a life she pushed him out of when her fears became too real, when she convinced herself she wasn’t good enough. Then when death came knocking, knocking so hard it broke down the door and she was never the same after that, no amount of prodding or cajoling could convince her otherwise. She simply put away her brushes and her paper, rolled up the unfinished canvases, closed the pan of watercolors, tucked her guitars and drums in the closet behind the winter coats. She was finished. He was abandoned to wander the green lands where they use to meet, where he whispered in her ear of the beauty she could create with her mind, her heart, her hands. He could still feel the hole it left inside her, see the hollowness in her eyes that only knew how to weep after that, could not see any of the beauty they use to, only the fear and the grief – only the emptiness in her heart where love had once lived.
His hands dig into the soft cool earth as he climbs the last few feet out of the ravine. Then he sees her. She is sitting in the flowers singing so softly he knows he is the only one who can hear her. He knows he is the only one she wanted to hear her. So he sits down beside her, fills in the words she can’t think of, touches a few notes she hasn’t thought of, fills her head with all the lost days between them, whispers his joy to be back in her thoughts again, back in her life.
Colors of dawn and summer wrap around them shielding them from the past and a life that could have been. Her music is golden yellow with wings taking it up into the early morning sky, a song of renewal. She is the phoenix and he the ashes. They soar into the rest of her life and neither of them cares anymore if anyone notices their creations. They have the trees for their museum, the birds for their audience. The wind applauses a standing ovation.
He follows her inside happy just to be floating next to her again, filling the hole in her heart, drying the stale tears that have left stains on her cheeks. A whisper, a touch, a breath of midnight blue and she pulls out her brushes, dusts off the yellowed paper, smoothes color and life across its surface. When she is finished he looks down at the image, she whispers and he hears,”For you my beloved Muse – for you.” And glowing off the paper he recognizes the face he has seen reflected in pools of water, off dragonfly wings and her glistening eyes. He sees himself. He sees her muse. And she picks up a river cane flute she has made with her own hands and plays for him.Tam Lin's Son

The Fine Print – a faerie tale

Sylvia had always heard that calling a faerie lover would end in disaster but that had never stopped her from wanting one. She read everything she could get her hands on to try and find a loophole, something that would give her a glimmer of hope. Maybe there was a faerie man out there somewhere who didn’t play by the rules, one who could love a human and not leave her crazy, blind or dead when it was over. Or maybe there was a spell she could cast that would make her impervious to the consequences of loving a faerie.

 
Now as she looked at the ancient book she’d found in an old book shop that glimmer of hope poked a hole through the impossible shining down on the words that just might make it happen. The book was handmade, tied together with leather thongs that threatened to crumble every time she turned a page. Dust puffed out between the pages and she had to squint to make out the small, delicate script but there it was; the spell she’d been looking for. It was simple. So simple she was having trouble believing it would work but the writer had attested to its efficacy by gluing to the page a fine glistening hair said to belong to her beloved. It was wound into a spiral, silvery white with just a hint of green and looked to be at least two feet long.

 
After reading the spell she sat staring at the hair, the urge to touch it bordering on need. It took her more than an hour to make up her mind, alternately pacing the room then sitting to stare at it some more before finally giving in. Sylvia took a deep breath, closed her eyes briefly then gingerly let the tip of her finger alight upon the glinting hair. An immediate warmth spread from her finger all the way up to her elbow before she pulled her hand away. Three times she touched it with the same reaction each time but after the third time the hair on the page flashed a soft, pulsing green light like a firefly. In that moment the decision was made.

 
The forest was dark and still the night of the warm new moon in August. With just a candle to light her way Sylvia slowly stepped along the familiar trail, crickets singing their chorus, a cacophony of sound that drowned out the sound of her footsteps and breath as she stumbled along. At the huge ancient oak tree she placed the candle on the ground, plucked a single strand of hair from her head then placed it at the foot of the tree. She hugged the tree, kissed the bark, and then closing her eyes said the three simple words from the spell book and waited.

 
The same warmth she had felt from the faerie hair began spreading through her starting at her feet then climbing up her entire body until she was so warm the desire to free herself from the cotton dress she wore became a priority. But she knew from reading the author’s account in the book that continuing to hug the tree was essential to completing the spell. So she hugged, clinging to the rough surface like a life boat in the sea, sweat pouring down her face, between her breasts, behind her knees.

 
Just when she thought she couldn’t stand the heat anymore a low voice whispered in her ear, “Here, let me help you with that”, and the dress slipped from her body like melting butter. She looked up. The tree was gone and in its place stood a tall, glowing man more beautiful than anything she’d ever seen. His skin was a warm coffee and cream brown that contrasted dramatically with his extremely long silvery green hair. The only piece of clothing he wore was a suede breach clout and a single silver chain dangling from one of his pointy ears that brushed his shoulder as he dipped his head down to kiss Sylvia’s trembling lips. She felt the waves of heat from his kiss all the way to her toes, a gasp escaping her open mouth when he finally pulled his head back. His lips turned up in a warm smile as a quiet laugh sounding like the rustling of leaves slipped from between his star-white teeth. Taking her hand, his green firefly eyes flashing into hers he breathed, “Shall we walk?”

 
Her candle flickered and went out.

 
The only light in the woods came from the dryad’s body which glowed a pale green casting ghostly tree shadows as they walked. He led her to a hollow where the moss was so thick she sunk into it up to her ankles. It was there they made love, the kind only angels whisper of when clouds cover the moon and rain threatens.

 
Sylvia woke by the ancient oak, her head pillowed on her crumpled dress, a golden sky predicting a glorious sunrise. She dressed, picked up the cold candle and trudged back to her house, where she fell into a deep sleep. When she woke at sunset she saw something glinting on her window sill – a long silver-green hair was coiled neatly on the beam glinting in the purple of dusk.

 
For days Sylvia felt lost like part of her was missing. She kept forgetting things, simple things like brushing her hair in the morning or turning out the lights before going to bed. Then a longing set in, a deep velvet hunger for something she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Chocolate became her best friend and ice cream was the only thing that stilled the heat that rose into her throat every night at moonrise.

 
Days, weeks, months poured out of her life until it was August again and the new moon found her at the ancient oak once more. But the words didn’t work this time and the night grew darker while she hugged the tree watering its bark with her tears.

 

After dragging her weary body back home in the morning rain Sylvia found the old book of spells tucked behind the bread box in her neglected kitchen as she waited for her toast to pop. After spreading chocolate frosting on her toast she took the book to the table and opened its crumbling pages to the spell. She looked at the two strands of hair glued to the bottom of the page, the longing clutching at her heart like tiny fingers begging for air. Then she noticed some diminutive words just below them, so small she had to get a magnifying glass to read them. There in the grey light of a drizzly August morning Sylvia read the fine print:

 
This only works once so enjoy it while you can.

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The Magic of Life

This time of the year I become obsessed with growing things. By that I don’t mean just planting seeds to watch them grow – although that is a big part of it. What I am blown away by is this wondrously magical serge of growth bursting from every living thing. Here is the north the winters are long, cold and hard. Everything that grows in nature stops to rest. The world turns brown then white and takes on a distinct aura of death. Then little by little the snow recedes and the green returns in a magical explosion of rebirth. The hope and power of life wins again.
I’m spending a lot of time in my gardens. Because I have only lived here a couple years there are many bare spots that I’m constantly itching to fill. I’ve planted seeds bought from various stores and mail order catalogs and purchased plants from local garden nurseries but the thing I’m enjoying the most is the gifting of plants from family and friends. Everyone is aware of my obsession and to feed it they have cheerfully given me plants from their own gardens. Some of these plants would have found their way to the trash or compost heap like the ivy I received from a friend while visiting her on the day she was ripping it out of her garden bed in order to plant flowers in its place. I planted them all, about thirty vines, and was thrilled to see that three of them made it and have already developed new growth. Some folks would think the ivy planting was a failure because only three of thirty lived but I see it as a victory. In a few short years those three little plants will spread and cover the shady ground on the north side of my house. This is also how I acquired some cone flower plants and irises, saving them from the trash heap when my daughter aggressively thinned out her crowded flower beds. And at my son’s house there is lily of the valley to dig up that has invaded an area he wants it out of.
I have ten acres of woods but only one small evergreen, a hemlock which I can’t even see from my house. Again, there is an obsession – get more evergreens! My youngest daughter surprised me on my birthday with three baby pines that she dug up on her own eighty acres of mostly pines. Two of the three not only survived but have new chartreuse tips sprouting all over them. Then on Mother’s Day, rather than mow it down, her husband dug up and brought me another baby pine that is also sprouting new life.
Anyone who gardens becomes use to the fact that not everything you plant lives. I currently have to water the afore mentioned cone flowers twice a day or they wilt and threaten to die. Not all the seeds I put into the soil will grow to be adults; a lot of them will never even sprout and some of them will become bird food. That just makes the ones that make it even more precious.
When I look out over a vast green field or a cool shady forest or any of my gardens the first thing that comes to mind is LIFE – so much of it! And so intent on staying alive! But I know through experience that there is a whole lot of death going on out there as well. It’s not a bad thing. The things that die will become food for the living or have actually died in order to become food. After all, that’s what vegetable gardens are all about. This cycle continues unendingly. Life always follows death just as death always follows life. Through this enormous example Mother Earth is teaching us something very profound and beautiful; nothing ever truly dies because life is the original and continuing nature of all things.

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