I’m a few days early, but I’ve nearly been living in Northern NY for two years. It feels like I’ve been here longer than that, but I guess winters slow our perception of time. I moved here for a job. It’s taken me awhile to feel part of the area. The forest near our apartment has only felt truly welcoming this past year, for example. I know people here – I’ve made friends! I’m taking classes, attending workshops, and even have some favorite hang-outs. I’ve seen new opportunities spring up like the North Country Arts Council in Watertown, NY. There’s been a small international film festival. There is a growing sustainability movement here. There is plenty for me to get involved in once I’ve obtained my graduate degree and have more time.
Winters are rough in that I stay inside more, see my family less, and tend to stick closer to home. My eyes were looking at jobs near my family. Now summer has come and I’m out on the River just about every week. There is so much to do – craft shows, farmers’ markets, outdoor concerts, swimming, kayaking… And this area is just gorgeous. My parents are talking about moving up here someday. At the very least, they want to get a summer camp. They adore the area.
It’s so easy to be inspired here. There is so much grandeur. No matter where I look, something reminds me of how spectacular Mama Earth is. What a marvelous piece of work we live in! Weretoad and I often talk about traveling to other places, and indeed I love going to major cities to admire human-made works of art and feats of engineering. Humanity is very gifted and some Gods have blessed us with talent to create and manipulate our resources. And yet… I’ve only found myself starring, as if in trance, at a manmade structure once in my life and that was the rose window in Notre Dame de Paris. Otherwise, human structures, while inspiring, fascinating, and breathtaking never seem to capture my attention the way nature’s temples do. Yes, I found myself in utter awe in and around Newgrange. There was a great sense of power there and I felt really connected to my Irish ancestors. But for me, I’ve always been more drawn to the Nature Spirits. It is their sanctuaries, made and/or perfected by their hands, that truly take my breath away and leave me dumb with reverence. They make me feel small. To some that may be discomforting. For me, it is reassuring. No matter what is going wrong in my little life, it is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Something about that puts it all into perspective. I am part of the great pattern. I belong. I’m where I need to be. I’m home.
Some people call getting outside ecotherapy. Sometimes, that’s what it feels like – especially that first time at the river after a long, cold winter; the first sighting of a flower or leaf bud; the first robin; the first snowflake after a hot, humid summer… Nature is my favorite medicine.
Going outside helps me connect to the divine. The Nature Spirits are everywhere, of course. In fact, I’ve seen more wildlife here than I ever did in Central NY – and my parents have a large forest in the backyard. Living in farm country, I feel more in touch with the agricultural cycles. The Wheel of the Year is more meaningful when approached through a local diet. Not only do I enjoy the benefits of seasonal, local food – I see it grown and harvested all around me.
I feel Brighid in the fiery sun as it rolls like a fire wheel over green pastures, corn fields, and lakes. I see the Cailleach in the dead trees and craggy stones of the forest. I hear The Morrigan in the calls of the ravens from the tops of tall pines. The forest itself seems to be it’s own Goddess. I see her leap through the trees as a deer, inhale and exhale with the change of seasons, and hear her in the voice of the loon on the lakes. The Two Powers aren’t merely something I visualize – I go out of my way to experience them. My favorite thing to do on the River is to put my feet in. I feel the sun beat down upon my upper body, and the chilly currents of the St. Lawrence River rise from my toes up. It’s become such a powerful exercise for me that it’s what I visualize and feel when I do my shrine devotionals and meditations.
The St. Lawrence River stretches from the North Atlantic waters, winds itself through the Thousand Island Region, and joins Lake Ontario at Cape Vincent, NY. The waters of my European ancestors – the rivers of Ireland, England, France, and Germany – are there. They course through the rivers of my Native American Ancestors, the Cree, in Canada. They mingle, they struggle, they dance, they mate, they lay together on their backs and stare up at the stars … They mix with the mighty cauldron of Lake Ontario and the other Great Lakes.
Today we stood at Tibbetts Point in Cape Vincent, NY and stared out into Lake Ontario. I sometimes forget it’s a lake – it’s so vast. I thought of all the waters mixing. I thought of the River Gods from many places coursing through to visit. I thought of how interconnected we all are.
Last summer, I started to warm up to life in Northern NY. This summer, I’ve fallen in love with it.