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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The Golden Sugar Bowl

An Absolutely True Story

The first step she took into the woods behind her new house felt like coming home. Strange that she would know what that felt like since she couldn’t ever remember feeling at home anywhere her entire life, a life that was now in its sixth decade. She had lived many places and turned a good deal of them into homes but none of them ever gave her this incredible sense of belonging completely to the land, the place.
This land spoke to her soul as she trod its hills and ravines, its tiny streams singing while moss faeries danced on stones, tree stumps and logs. Wind in the tops of a thousand trees whispered their ancient language guiding her to all the secret places in the woods. There were places untouched by humans where moss grew thick over everything, the heady scent of humus filling her nostrils, mushrooms at her ankles, ferns at her knees. Then there were places where humans had tread lightly never straying from trails carved by years of deer migrations. And then there were the places along the borders where people had treated this sacred place like a dumping ground. But even these places were being slowly reclaimed by the forest, saplings poking out of old stoves, moss spreading across broken sinks, ferns growing out of old glass jars. The heaps of trash made new hillocks where years of leaf decomposition covered them in fresh fertile soil, baby trees gaining a foothold on their slopes.
Now and then on her journeys she would come upon these places and find bits of old china, rusty iron buckets or old pickle jars sticking out of the little mounds. Sometimes she would pick them up, try to imagine their previous owners, pick up any latent vibrations from the past. Tiny painted flowers circling a fragment of china saucer conjured up images of delicate women sipping afternoon tea. Chucks of crockery carried thoughts of cucumbers soaking in brine solutions, rusty buckets of farm chores carried out before dawn.
One sunny spring day, the stresses of a financial crises pressing heavily on her mind, she sought the solace of the trees, the comfort of the woods. While leaning against a tree admiring the tenacity of some grape vines climbing out of a rusty pot belly stove laying on its side she noticed a shimmer off to her left. It was coming from one of the smaller mounds of junk a few yards away that she had investigated a couple of weeks before. She hadn’t noticed anything out of the ordinary then but now there seemed to be something shiny sticking out of the earth. As she walked the short distance she thought about how old everything was on these trash heaps. The houses and farms that built them were long gone. No one dumped anything here anymore. What greeted her atop the little knoll took her breath away – a golden china sugar bowl lay on its side. She immediately recognized it because in her china cabinet at home was an exact twin of it. There were only a few pieces left of the golden Fire King dinner ware, golden leaves chasing each other around the edges of each, that had belonged to her mother many years ago. She fully expected to find it broken but when she picked it up, brushed of the little dirt that clung to it she saw it was in perfect condition!
The awe she felt was complete.
Explanations, on the other hand, were hard to come by without other worldly inclinations. Faeries or her dead mother’s spirit were at the top of the list. Maybe faeries and her dead mother’s spirit were responsible. Whoever it was that left it she was certain it was a sign. How else could something so out of the ordinary be explained?
On her way back home with the golden sugar bowl tucked carefully in her pocket the symbolism of the sign became clear. Gold symbolizes wealth or money and sugar is, well, of course, sweet. The message was clear in her mind – stop worrying about money. Everything is going to be alright. Help is on the way.
Within the month her financial struggles evened out and within two months the situation was mended.
She’d always thought of money being a necessary evil. Now she thinks of it more as a necessity enabling her to navigate this world with more ease. It doesn’t bring peace in and of itself but the lack of it can definitely try robbing one of it. The golden sugar bowl has taught her that those on the other side, the spirit world, understand this and are willing and able to help us. Life is full of wealth, the sweetness of it all around us in the trees, flowers, birds – nature. It’s evident in the smile of a loved one, the laughter of children, a kind deed toward a stranger. She knows it can also manifest itself in the form of signs from the invisible realms that exist all around us. And when all these things come together and work in harmony the sweet wealth of life is the result.
The golden sugar bowl now resides in an honored place in her kitchen as a reminder.

 

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The Little Magic Bells

 

It was two days before Christmas and the excitement was rising. My brother and I spent our time sneaking around looking for hidden presents with no luck as usual. Our parents always hid them well and we were into our teens before our annual hunt yielded one of their hiding places. I was nine that year and even though I’d discovered that Santa Claus wasn’t real over the course of that year I spoke and acted as if I still believed. I wasn’t quite ready to let anyone know that I knew. There was a tiny fear in my heart that as soon as I admitted it to anyone the magic would stop.
So I carried on as usual. My brother and I pretended we were elves, reindeer, faeries and angels. Cookies covered in red and green frosting magically appeared in the cookie jar, ribbon candy piled high in bowls on the coffee table and hot cocoa becoming a staple at the breakfast table. Christmas was coming and we were ready for all its magic and wonder even if one of us didn’t believe in its most important mascot.
There was also another tiny fear growing within me. If my younger brother stopped believing I feared a darkness would settle on the holiday and no amount of sparkly lights, colorful decorations or endless holiday music piping from the stereo would turn the light of it back on. I set about that day before Christmas Eve to ensure his continued belief in the jolly old man.
My mother’s sewing area was a young artists playground. Hours were spent leaning on the end of her sewing machine watching her create seemingly from nothing the clothes my siblings and I would wear. Buttons, bows, threads of every imaginable color, beads and trinkets were tucked into drawers, jars and boxes. It was in one of those containers I had found the tools I needed to accomplish the deed that would help my brother continue to live the Santa Claus dream. I had seen them one day when my mom was looking for some buttons in the big button jar. She turned it around, tipped it on its side and dumped some of the disks into her hand but couldn’t find what she was looking for. So she took the jar, me trailing behind, into the kitchen, pulled a large bowl from the cabinet and spilled all the baubles into it. There they were dancing among all the button and what not, five little silver jingle bells singing their jingle bell songs. My eyes nearly fell into the bowl with them. I reached in and picked one up. It was cool and smooth and when I let it slide off my hand it sang its song all the way back into the bowl. One by one I began picking them out of the bowl while mom searched for her buttons. Then she said, “Here, let me help you,” found the last few bells and handed them to me. They were now mine. She said so.
Now on the day before Christmas Eve I searched through my sock drawer where I had the bells safely hidden in a white ankle sock. Ribbon wasn’t hard to find in our house this time of year so I cut a length of red from a spool and began the work of tying the bells onto it. When I finished the whole thing went back into the sock and under my pillow to await their performance the next night.
At the ages of eight (my brother) and nine (myself) we still shared a bedroom. We slept on bunk beds, he on the top and I on the bottom (because I had a habit of sleep walking) but there were many nights when my brother ended up in my bed usually because of a bad dream. He seemed to have a lot of them. Sometimes we simply didn’t want to sleep yet and he’d come down where we’d talk and make each other laugh or secret toys into the bed and play under the covers. The night before Christmas was always one of these nights. What child can sleep on Christmas Eve?!As he climbed into my bed with his stuffed bunny rabbit I reached my hand under the pillow where the bell bedecked ribbon lay now out of its sock and ready for action. I was so excited that I was giggling at every word that came out of my brother’s mouth giving him incentive to continue talking and making funny noises (his specialty) giving me time to begin putting my plan into motion.
Carefully I gathered the ribbon into my hand and slowly lowered my fisted hand over the walled side of the bed. My brother was wiggling and squirming and making snake and cat noises giving me the opportunity to unroll the ribbon without worrying about the bells making sound. And there my hand stayed for what seemed like hours until he finally calmed down and began showing signs of tiredness.
The room was completely quiet. The house was completely quiet. I could see the soft colors from the Christmas tree lights slipping around the corners of our opened bedroom door. I looked out the window and saw it was snowing big fat flakes glittering in the light of the street lamp. There was magic in the air. I could feel it just as certain as my brother’s cold feet on my leg.
I jingled the bells.
He stirred.
I jingled again.
He snuggled closer and his brown eyes became saucers. He opened his mouth and nothing came out. That in itself was an act of magic.
I jingled again.
“What was that?” I asked
“Dunno.” He answered.
I jingled again.
He whispered into my face, ”Santa Claus!”
He jumped out of the bed and ran to the window. I quickly tucked the bells back under my pillow. I convinced him to come back to bed before Santa saw him awake and didn’t leave us anything. He jumped back into bed, curled up into a ball completely under the covers informing me he was scared and was going to sleep now.
I fell asleep with a smile on my face. I had made magic happen.
Christmas morning was – well – Christmas morning, crazy, wild and wonderful! When things settled down I was sitting on the floor next to the tree with my new doll admiring the pretty decorations when something very familiar caught my eye. There hanging among the shiny balls and glowing lights was a red ribbon with five little silver jingle bells tied to it.
I ran to my bed, tore the pillow off, then the blankets. I crawled under the bed searching through the dust and toys. I pulled everything out from under the bed to get a better look. Then I ripped the sheet off and pulled the top of the mattress up to peer under it.
It wasn’t there.
It was on the tree.
To this day the sound of tinkling jingle bells sends a shiver up my spine – in a good way.

 

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The Sleepy Muse

I’ve been struggling for weeks to wake up my Muse, a desert of wordless nights, cold and dry, drifting beneath my bare summer feet. Every time she would suddenly open one eye, a sweet idea trickling from its corner she would just as quickly slam it shut leaving me empty of words, a shell of disconnected nothings.

Oh, my days were lovely enough! The growing and blooming of my first woodland garden keeping me in awe of the miracle of soil and seed clinging to each other, waiting for the shower that would bring them to life. Afternoon visits from a mother deer and her twins stopping to stare at me as I did them. And then there was the joyous experience of teaching young grandchildren how to plant seeds and wait for their bounty of carrots, squash and flowers. Daily walks in the woods with my little dog; watching my honey bees busy in the garden; picking the first tomatoes and finding those first eggs given by chickens I hand raised. Yes, my summer has been filled with joy and wonder but words on paper were not a part of it.

And now as I write I realize that my sleepy Muse is smiling. She knows me better than I do. First you must experience…then you write. Her words echo in my spirit. She shows me sunsets –  pink, purple and golden; the first fine grass growing in the sand like baby’s hair, soft and sparse; the music of two owls calling to each other every night outside my bedroom window; thunder and lightening, a rainbow in my back yard…. So much beauty and wonder sometimes leaving me speechless, wordless, unable to lift pen to paper, powerless to explain the irrepressible elation bubbling in my soul.

I sit breathing in air that still feels like summer but smells like autumn. The Earth has decided to stretch summer a bit longer, a second chance at warm nights and sunny days even as dry leaves fall to the ground and crunch beneath my sandals. I am grateful for this long season and all I have encountered while my Muse took a long nap at my expense.

But she is forgiven.
After all, she seems to have been talking in her sleep a bit…look at all these words!

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Butterfly Nursery

One of the many herbs I collect each year is nettles. It is a most useful herb for many afflictions and I try to gather as much of it as possible hoping to fill a gallon jug. Nettles grow wild at my daughter’s house between her black raspberry patch and her wood pile. At the end of May the nettles were looking lush and green but not quite mature enough to pick yet so I left them to grow for another week.

When I returned I was shocked and saddened to see that something had been feasting on my lovely nettles. The harvest would not be as plentiful as I’d hoped but I put on my long sleeved shirt and leather gloves and proceeded to gather what was left of them. I spread a large pink flannel sheet on the ground and piled up all I could onto it, gathered the corners together and dragged it into the back of my car.

When I got home there was surprise waiting for me inside that sheet – dozens of fuzzy black caterpillars were working at escaping the closed up sheet creeping in all directions. I knew then who had been feasting on my nettles.

It took at least an hour to pluck all the little beggars off the sheet and the back of my car then dump them into the chicken run. The girls were clucking like they were in caterpillar heaven!

After stripping the leaves off the stems (and gathering more caterpillars and making more happy chickens!) the remains were finally spread onto the screens of my home-made food dehydrator. There, done! Now we just wait a couple days for them to dry.

Well not quite. For the next few days as the leaves dried in the warm dehydrator I kept finding caterpillars crawling out of it. Oh the chickens were so happy! I was not.

Finally the leaves were dried, crushed and placed in the glass gallon jug they were supposed to fill up but only made it half way. Oh well, at least it was half full and not half empty.

A week later I gathered purple clover and the first of the year’s mint and put them into the dehydrator. The next day yet another surprise awaited me when I checked on the drying herbs. A Red Admiral butterfly flew out and fluttered around the room, beautiful with black and red wings. I gathered her into cupped hands and set her free outside. But the surprises weren’t over yet. Later that day I found three more butterflies. The next day brought six more and after that I started to lose count. In my giddiness while catching all the butterflies flitting around my house I realized I apparently hadn’t collected all of the caterpillars from the previous week and the warmth of the dehydrator must have accelerated their transformation. I even found a cocoon on the bottom of the dehydrator that never made it to the next phase of development.

I like the phrase, “When life gives you lemons make lemonade.” Well, Mother Earth gave me caterpillars so I (sort of) helped make them into butterflies.

Next year I’ll be picking the nettles a week earlier.

 

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Seeds

Seeds. Those wonderful tiny creatures that have the ability to pull my tired old bones up and out the door each spring to start life anew.

The Wheel of the Year has finally turned again and I bid the death of winter goodbye and welcome the rebirth of spring. Every year around this time I get into a manic state about growing things. I dig through containers that I’ve saved that seem ideal seed starting receptacles, fill them with soil and begin tenderly dropping all manor of seeds onto their surfaces. My house becomes a greenhouse and I become giddy with anticipation.

This year is a little different in that it is my first spring in a new place surrounded by woods instead of streets and houses. The fallow land encircling me calls me to fill it with herbs, flowers, vegetables and fruit. My mind is reeling with the possibilities around me! This little piece of earth I’ve been granted has become my new canvas, fresh, clean and empty, waiting to be filled. The seeds in those containers waiting to push their way up through the dark earth have become the paint that my hands, the brushes, will use to create a lush exhibition for the woodland spectators around me. New earthy faerie acquaintances have been slowly manifesting themselves to me and seem eager to discover what this mortal will help to give birth to on this land they have nurtured. In a way this is a new beginning for them as well as myself. I will introduce them to new plants with colors and textures they may never have seen before as well as the new faerie beings that most definitely will accompany the new residents. It will be a delicate state of affairs as the old native inhabitants strive to welcome the new teaching them the ways of the woodland as they are teaching me as well.

Now that the seeds are all nestled in their dark beds and I wait to see their tiny heads pop out of the earth I am reminded of the metaphor of the seed that speaks of the circle of life and new beginnings. Just as death is not the end of life so the seed that dropped off the dead plant was not its end. This tiny bit of life, the essence of the plant, holds the life force that now is pushing up through the darkness, going toward the light, knowing that when it reaches it a new life will begin.

One day I will be that seed…again.

 

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Springing Forward with the Wicked Witch by Barbara Ardinger

Barbara ArdingerEl Presidente was enlarging his war against his citizens. This meant the roads were more crowded than before with refugees fleeing the capital city for safety among the farmers on the plains and up in the hills. Some of these refugees arrived, of course, at the farm of the wicked witch.

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Whenever a family arrived, the witch would put on her wickedest face and voice (she’d been practicing) and tell the children she was going to roast them and eat them with mashed potatoes and baby gravy. The children believed her for about a minute and a half, whereas their parents just smiled as each family was taken in hand by the senior refugees and led to rooms where there were new beds. The tenured refugees had (with the witch’s permission) taken charge and somehow found enough lumber to build two new rooms (lean-tos) at the side of the house…

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Aunt Krampus

When I was a child my family would travel to the north country in December to visit my mother’s family. We always stayed with my Aunt Raina who lived across the road from a railroad track in an old farmhouse at the edge of her village. Aunt Raina cleaned houses for a living and so was not very wealthy but she was one of the most generous people I have ever known. She bought me my first guitar, took in orphaned children and would go out of her way to help anyone in need if she had the means. I loved her like a second mother.

There were always fresh cookies baking when we arrived, the air filled with the scent of cinnamon and cloves, honey and raisins. Big thick molasses cookies and tiny butter morsels filled her small kitchen where we feasted on tea, laughter, cookies and tears of joy.

One night the year I turned eight Aunt Raina asked if I would like to take a walk and surprise someone. I loved walking in the snow, loved surprises even more so of course I said yes.

“For this surprise we have to wear costumes,” she announced with a grin and a twinkle in her eye. “This one’s for you.”

She handed me a wool suit the color of dark moss with spots of black woven through then a hat with bells on its long pointy end, brown fur tucked into its opening. The costume fit perfectly as if it were made for me which, knowing my aunt’s sewing skills, it may have been.

We walked silently up the road in the cold wintry twilight of an early northern December, inky clouds spilling over dark purple sky, snow softly crunching under our boots.

“Where is your costume, Aunt Raina?” I couldn’t hold in the question any longer.

Here I was decked out in elfin finery, Aunt Raina’s glitter sparkling on my pink nose and cheeks, a foot long leather strap of huge jingle bells hanging from my green woolen mittens and she looked like she always did; nothing out of the ordinary.

She winked, took my hand glancing toward the darkening sky, “There’s magic in the air tonight. That’s all the costume I need.”

Just as the first star was visible we came to a small house where a candle flickered in a side window. We walked toward it.

“When I squeeze your hand ring the bells till I squeeze it again,” Aunt Raina whispered.

I nodded, excitement climbing into my throat making speech impossible.

We arrived at the window as Aunt Raina squeezed my mitten clad hand signaling my other hand to start shaking the strap of bells.

The bottom of the window was at my eye level so I could see inside the house as soon as the candle was removed from the sill. On the other side of the pane the face of a child appeared with the hand of an adult resting on his shoulder. He looked to be around six or seven years old and when he spotted me he smiled but then his face went cold and white as he looked up at my aunt. At that moment she squeezed my hand again stopping the ringing of the bells. Fear was now very evident on the child’s face. I had to look up to see what was scaring the kid in the window. Surely it wasn’t the face of my lovely aunt whom I cherished.

Surely it wasn’t the same Aunt Raina I had walked to the house with!

Standing next to me still holding my hand was what I could only describe in my child’s mind as a devil. My dear aunt had sprouted the horns of a large goat and the furry face to match them. Her eyes were a glowing orange, and I do mean glowing, like a fire raged within them. All this was frightening enough but then I noticed her mouth had grown a set of sharp pointed teeth between which dangled a long red tongue!

I started to pull away from her grip on my hand when her usual gentle voice whispered to me, “Don’t be afraid, my dear, this scary surprise is not meant for you but for the naughty little boy in the window.”

A calm came over me then. Turning back to the boy at the window, his eyes wide and full of fear I felt the magic Aunt Raina had spoken of earlier. Magic that could turn my sweet aunt into a fearful monster. Magic meant to scare the naughty out of a bad little kid. She squeezed my hand and I smiled, bells jingling as the child turned, crying, running from the window, the candle returned to its sill.

By the time we reached the road Aunt Raina was back to herself and we laughed and talked under the starry sky, our breath like smoke rising to their light.

Aunt Raina told me the boy in the window had been stealing from his mother’s change jar.

“He needed a good scare and Krampus specializes in good scares.”

“Who’s Krampus?” I asked

She smiled down at me squeezing my hand.

“Just ring the bells, dear, and hope you never have to find out.”

 

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November

Forward eye

on the cursor

corner eye

on the window

yellow leaves falling

tiny suns drifting

leisurely to earth,

grey sky hovers

no shadows cast

just showers

of yellow dancers

caressed by autumn wind

drawing my eye

from screen

to window

watching the party

outside.

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