A word of power: VOTE

“Happy for the outcome; sad he had to be treated so badly,” a woman commented on my mother’s Facebook post in celebration of the Senate’s confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh. My mother and her friend teach preschool together in deeply conservative Northeast Texas, where I grew up. Lots of nice, white Southern ladies live in my hometown, ladies who these days seem to be even more passionately Republican than their husbands are.

It’s tempting to excuse their choices. I know these women. They taught me grade school, I attended parties they hosted, I sat next to them in mass on Sundays. They never did me ill; some of these women were even occasional sources of kindness and encouragement during my childhood. And yet they helped elect a self-proclaimed sexual assaulter to the White House, and now they openly celebrate the confirmation of an accused sexual assaulter to the Supreme Court.

It’s tempting to be wounded by their actions, but to take recent events personally would be to misunderstand. The nice white ladies with whom I’ve shared the red soil and green trees of the Piney Woods are just publicly performing their submission to the patriarchy’s display of power. If they’re compliant, at least they’ll fare better than people of color, or so the thinking goes. It’s an old deal, but a rotten one, since we women, all of us, are subordinates and sex objects under the system, and compliance is no guarantee of safety.

It’s tempting to be wounded by their actions, but the next election’s only 29 days away. This is no time to give away power like that. We must dispel fogs of discouragement and despair. We must gather the red hot rage of betrayal and injustice and channel it into our most potent prayers and spells, all of which contain the same word of power: VOTE.

2999130055_8697986e51_bPhoto by Theresa Thompson via Creative Commons

Approaching Autumn Equinox in Austin

Autumn Equinox 2018 approaches; time for a pulse check. What’s unfolding with the living world where I am?

Daylight hours are noticeably decreasing. In summer months I see sunlight peaking over the horizon when I arrive for my shifts around 6:30a, but now it’s still twilight when I walk in to the hospital in the morning.

My family and many others are adjusting to the people and rhythms of a new school year. Homework must be done, lunches must be packed the nights before, and busses and carpools must be met the morning of each school day. There’re backpacks to pack and school clothes to wash. There are practices and back-to-school nights to attend and forms to fill out. *So many* sign-ups and forms.

The 16-day streak of triple digit temperatures that we experienced around the time of Summer Thermistice has subsided, bless it. High temperatures are in the 80s F this week, and September storms, which have the potential to swell into Floodmakers this time of year, have arrived. We’ve received a couple of inches of rain over the past week, and it shows with our plant neighbors. They’re all so green and refreshed!

Silverleaf nightshade, frogfruit, purple bindweed, and rain lilies are in bloom:

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Silverleaf nightshade (Balcones District Park)

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Frogfruit (neighbor’s yard)

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Purple bindweed (another neighbor’s yard)

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Rain lilies pushing up through the rocky soil of the Edwards Plateau (Schroeter Park, Mesa Woods)

Pecans are still green, but prickly pear, American beautyberry and Texas persimmon fruits are ripening:

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Prickly pear (Schroeter Park, Mesa Woods)

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American beautyberry

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Texas persimmon (Schroeter Park, Mesa Woods)

Tx persimmon fruits have large seeds, but their flavor is really a treat: sweet and raisiny, like the sweetness of last spring condensed and simmered down all summer into richness. Bet it would make an amazing jam. Scat signs say that foxes living in a nearby park really enjoy it, too.

Fungus folk are of course loving the recent rains:

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It’s the beginning of our second planting season here in Central Texas. Autumn Equinox is a good time to start cool weather plants like kale, broccoli, parsley, and cilantro.

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Lasagne composting in progress. Saving that bare spot in my herb box for parsley.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds are beginning to migrate south for winter. They’ll fill up on nectar from tubular red flowers like salvia, Turk’s cap, and firebush and on sugar water from feeders before they go. Monarchs will begin migrating south soon, too. Toads are out hunting at night and snails are actively foraging this time of year.

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Poe and I so appreciate that it’s now cool enough to weed walk in the middle of the day.

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Autumn Equinox in Austin

Themes: rain, creeks, floods, Waters of the World, education, second planting, second flowering, cooling, migration

Correspondences for Ritual:

  • Direction: West
  • Time: Twilight
  • Colors: greens, purples, browns, red
  • Plants: purple bindweed, beautyberry, rain lily, Texas persimmon
  • Animals: toads, snails, migratory insects and birds

Some stories are better than others

Some say bluntly that there is no afterlife. That our lives are a “one-way trip.” Easy to assert, because it’s almost certainly true. Anyone else remember those care-free slogans of the 2008 Atheist Bus Campaign? “There probably is no god. Now stop worrying. And enjoy your life.”

Atheist_Bus_Campaign_(2968124420)Photo by Dan Etherington via Wikimedia Commons

Ah, if only it were that simple for all of us. Smells more than a little like trivializing to me.

My nine-year-old daughter is having trouble sleeping, she told me a few nights ago. “I can’t stop thinking about what would happen if I lost you,” she told me. “Why can’t we still be together even if you die? I can’t lose you!” And, tearfully, “Can’t we just go back and relive our lives? It’s going so fast.”

I held her tight while she cried, after unloading so much anguish right at bedtime, on the very night before school started. Then I tried floating my own version of the crappy Atheist Bus slogan: “Our bodies return to the earth to feed new life, but the qualities you’ve inherited from me, the values and experiences we’ve shared, the love we share, those will be with you always, no matter what. We live on through the effects we have on the world,” I sermonized. I also tried a UU response to her questions, one of those responses that begins with, “Some people believe…” and ends with, “What do you think?”

All true, but not ringing true. Still in my arms, she sobbed afresh.

Then, bless my heart, I remembered to try telling a real story. I told her a story from Starhawk’s Circle Round, about meeting Grandfather Deer and offering him an apple. About being carried by Grandfather Deer to the edge of the Sunless Sea, where a guide would ferry us across the Sea to the Shining Isle for the price of a story. Our ancestors waited for us there on the Shining Isle, and God Hirself, too, stirring a cauldron of stars. Look it up, y’all, it’s a good story.

My daughter’s tears slowed, and her muscles relaxed. She began telling her own version of the story, in which we each had our own favorite places on the Shining Isle, but where there were doors between her place and mine. “I’d like that,” I said, “I’ll leave my door open for you.” Eventually she climbed out of my lap and into bed.

The kinds of questions my daughter asked, if you take the pain they express seriously, can only be acknowledged and answered by stories. And some stories are just better than others.

158901175_27c2ef1717_oDoorway by Tony Hisgett

 

Tools for Practice: Waters of the World

One of my favorite Reclaiming traditions is Waters of the World, the practice of collecting small containers of water for ritual use from the oceans, rivers, lakes, creeks, and springs that we visit. A bowl filled with Waters of the World makes a great centerpiece in rituals related to healing of self, community, or earth, divination rituals, or simply as an offering to spirits of the land. During a family visit to Northwestern Montana last week, I collected a small container of water from Harpers Lake to add to our Waters of the World pitcher at home.

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Willow cat inspects the pitcher

For collecting water, any empty, clean, water-tight container will do, but I’ve found the 1-2 oz travel bottles, like those sold at sports and outdoor stores, are ideal. For storage at home, I like a glass container with a plastic lid. Although I would not drink this water, I like knowing that plastic isn’t leaching into it, and metal lids tend to rust. Our pitcher currently contains water from Bull Creek, Sieders Springs, Lake Austin, and Deep Eddy, here in Austin, from the Gulf of Mexico, from our kitchen tap, and now from Harpers Lake, MT.

A Waters of the World practice depends for its meaning on the underlying principles of respect, reciprocity, and sympathy. I try to understand something about where the waters I collect come from, and where they are going. Harpers Lake is a small pothole lake, part of a chain of lakes along the Clearwater River, which drains into the Blackfoot River, which in turn drains into the Clark Fork branch of the Columbia River. In exchange for a small container of water from Harpers Lake, I picked up cigarette butts, tangled fishing line, and discarded fish hooks from the shoreline.

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Harpers Lake, July 2018

Mingling the diverse waters that have nourished and refreshed me reminds me that all waters are part of one earthly well flowing through all living things, including my own body. My capillaries and lymphatic vessels flow into veins, which in turn empty into the heart, just as creeks empty into rivers, which in turn flow to the ocean (Roberts 247-248). Just as my health changes with age, activity, and environmental conditions, water may be clean and supportive of life, or it may be polluted and bear disease. My Waters of the World practice reminds me that I’m responsible and empowered to care for the health of my own body and the health of the one well.

Because all water is sacred, Waters of the World may be collected during travel to far-flung places, or they may come from your home tap. The same principles of respect and reciprocity apply. What is the source of the water you drink and wash with at home? Can you trace the path it would have taken to the ocean, if it had not been piped into your home (Starhawk et al. 373)? With which water sources does it connect you directly? Are there human stories and practices involving the local waters? Do all communities in your area have equal access to clean water? How do you care for and protect your local water sources? The power of the practice lies in reflecting on right relationship with water.

Works Cited

Roberts, Rosemary. “Healing my Body, Healing the Land: Healing as Sociopolitical Activism in Reclaiming Witchcraft.” Ethnologies, vol. 33, no.1, 2011, 239-256, http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.838.3339&rep=rep1&type=pdf.

Starhawk, Diane Baker, and Anne Hill. Circle Round: Raising Children in Goddess Traditions, Bantam Books, 1998.

Practice Well-Being for Earth Day

Even though it’s not on the standard Wheel of the Year, Earth Day, which began on April 22, 1970, when millions of people across the U.S. demonstrated for peace and environmental protection, feels like one of the holiest days of my year, right up there with Samhain. To celebrate Earth Day, I like making a shrine together with my kids, going on wildflower walks, fishing trash out of a local creek, and meditating. Like many of you, I tend to spend the day assessing my current relationship with the environment and brainstorming ways I could better love this one, precious planet that supports life as we all know and enjoy it.

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Honeybee on horseherb growing in my yard

This year I feel committed to quitting disposable plastic straws and to curbing my use of disposable cups and cutlery. Seriously, there’s no reason why I need to use plastic straws. And I already have reusable cups and even a travel spork that I could more reliably pack. Actually pulling the spork out and using it might be a bit socially awkward, but the best part about getting older is that I care less and less what others think of me, and more and more about living authentically, as I creep closer and closer to 40.

Thank you, to those who choose to demonstrate, do community service, or make lifestyle changes in honor of Earth Day. Thank you! For picking up trash, for marching, for building compost bins and gardens at your neighborhood schools, for trading in your car for a hybrid or electric, for pledging to fly less and eat less meat, and to carpool and vote more often. Thank you for doing some of the things on the laundry lists of environmentally sustainable “shoulds” that are flooding all of our social media feeds for this week and this week only.

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Compost bin made from wooden pallets at my kids’ school

But I want to suggest another way of celebrating our beloved Eairth this April 22, one that’s just as much work and even more radical and uncommon than community activism: take really good care of yourself, because real, lasting change starts at home. I’m not suggesting pedicures or expensive chocolate, although I’m a fan of both. Instead, I’m suggesting that the holiest things any of us can do on Earth Day are simply drinking enough water, resting if we need to rest, moving if we need to move, and eating truly nourishing foods. For the love of Her, we need to make our art, hug our people, and pet our fuzzy four-leggeds this week. We need to walk outside and exchange eye contact and smiles with friends and neighbors. We need to breathe slowly and deeply, to journal, and to practice gratitude. This week is the perfect time to take the first decisive steps on the path to wellness, whatever that looks like for you. Because we’re all a part of Eairth Hirself, self-care is Eairth-care.

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Walking barefoot along Bull Creek

And if we’re not healthy, neither is She.

 

March Blue Moon Tea: Dewberry

I have a long history with dewberry plants, since my dad used to grow them along the back fence of our home, when I was a child. He got his canes from my grandparents, who got theirs from my Texas German great-grandparents, who used to turn the berries into wonderful pies, jelly, and wine. Most of the dewberry canes I’ve encountered as an adult living in Austin grow wild in sunny clearings like this one:

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The young leaves and flowers make a wonderful tea. I picked less than 10% of the flowers that I saw in this patch, though, to avoid impacting the insects already enjoying them and to avoid substantially decreasing the summer berry harvest.

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Sweetened with local honey, this was my favorite wildcrafted simple of the year yet.

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Spring in the Texas Hill Country, even in the city, is so sweet.

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Happy Full Moon, and hope it’s just as lovely where you are, dear readers.