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Posts Tagged ‘Nature Awareness’

Once more, I’m squishing three mini blog posts together into a big one for your viewing pleasure! Here you’ll find some musings on the Spring Equinox, an activity for you to do with the little ones during isolation, and a new excerpt from an upcoming short story!

Growing Food

 

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Lettuce I’m regrowing. The CSA I got it from included the root ball, so I just plopped it back in a pot and watered. Now it’s regrowing! Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2020

My seeds from Pinetree Garden Seeds arrived a couple days ago, promptly followed by the grow lights I ordered to improve my success. With everything shutting down, the shortages, and uncertainty, growing some food at home seems more important than ever. Each little seed is a packet of hope for the future. I enjoy blessing the seeds and planting them as part of our family Spring Equinox observations. If you’re new to gardening, there are plenty of resources online, but some of the easiest plants to grow in my experience are lettuce greens, peas, and chives. Chives will flourish year after year as they are self-seeding  (and quite invasive if you let them have their way). They’re a harbinger of spring in my garden, and even thrive left in pots left out over the winter. I enjoy snips of chives in my salads, potatoes, soups, and stews.

An Equinox Scavenger Hunt

Equinox Scavenger Hunt

My daughter is sad that she’s not able to celebrate the spring with our grovies. She always enjoyed doing an egg hunt and running around outside with the other kids. When the news reported that the virus reached the West Coast, I started buying one treat each grocery visit to ensure I had a basket for her. I also plan to do a scavenger hunt. I made a graphic using free clip art on Canva.com and am including it here for you if you like! I designed it for either hemisphere, and I emphasized the three realms in a kid-friendly way. It’s meant to be open-ended. Your child doesn’t have to find a bee, for example. It could be any insect flying in the sky. Any water will do – whether you go on a nature walk, look out your window, down from your balcony, or search for pictures and videos online. The important thing is you’re having conversations with your children and reflecting on seasonal changes.

A New Excerpt

Invasives excerpt

I push down the urge to utter a curse. My mind is too rattled to fuse words coherently without causing more harm than intended.
Invasives
by M. A. Phillips

I shared a sneak peek into an upcoming short story called “Invasives” on my instagram. I’ll talk about it more as we approach Bealtain, but I’m really excited for you to see it in issue three of Stone, Root, and Bone magazine! As always, I like adding excerpts to my Three Things Thursday posts since not all of my readers use that social media. Speaking of Stone, Root, and Bone, issue one is available for free this month! Just enter the promo code SRB1FREE when you check out. You’ll be able to read my short story “Lemon Balm Tea!” Let me know what you think.

Stay well everyone.

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Sun shimmering on ice. Photo by M. A. Phillips 2020

As my path is bound to the land, I continually work to pay attention to the seasons. In Druidry and other polytheistic paths, we tune into the cycles. Tradition emphasizes agricultural shifts, but they are always linked to whatever song the bioregion is singing at the time.

In elementary school, teachers taught us about the four seasons. I don’t doubt that my parents taught me first, but I distinctly remember dividing a circle into four equal parts and filling it with different colored balls of scrunched up tissue paper in a primary classroom. Yellow flowers, green leaves, orange leaves, and white snow. As I grew up and embraced a polytheistic view, everything become more complex. In a good way!

Many of us modern Pagans subscribe to some form of the Wheel of the Year. I’m not here to untangle that cultural knot, but there’s no denying many of us celebrate roughly eight holidays. Some may practice more or less depending on cultural focus. Then there is the emphasis some place on the lunar cycle.

This time of year, where I live, it is still winter. While others around the globe post photos of flowers or spring floods, we have a foot or two of snow on the ground. In my opinion, February is the hardest month. Many of us in Upstate New York are at our limit of tolerance for the white stuff. Even while I strive to find the silver lining and embrace the Winter Crone’s lessons, her teaching is arduous and painful at times. February brings more daylight. The sun melts the snow, but the temperatures drop below zero at night. Each morning, there’s a new layer of ice. The photo above is my driveway. It’s a sheet of hazardous winter glass hungry for broken bones. To get to my car, I’ve started wearing a pair of ice fishing cleats.

Our winter is more nuanced than a picturesque Christmas card. December, January, February, and March each have their own defining characteristics. The Winter Crone performs a different spell for each and alters her teachings. Paying attention to the subtle changes can enrich our daily practice. As we develop a ritual of mindful observation each month or lunar cycle, we should start to notice patterns – seasons within seasons. These will fuel our traditional practices and perhaps inspire new customs.

 

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Here’s another installment of Three Things Thursday – three mini posts nestled together in one for your viewing pleasure! Three is a magic number, right?

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Offerings at an outdoor shrine in the backyard. Photo by M. A. Phillips

 

Keep Making Offerings: The sun is shining, but if you go outside, the bitter cold will slap you in the face. Still, I felt compelled to put some offerings at the shrine. It’s important to listen to those urges as it helps us build and maintain relations with our spirit allies. I kept sensing a hunger from my closest magical companion. Sidebar: my husband helped me make that weathered sign for a local Faery festival. It now sits proudly by the shrine, adding a touch of whimsy to what is otherwise a half barrel filled with snow this time of year.

Writing Update: Since I’m on vacation this week, I’ve spent a lot of it editing my novel. I’m really proud of my progress as a writer, and sharing excerpts throughout February is both a testament to, and a balm for, my confidence. I’m glad that a story about contemporary Pagans is resonating with others.

River Magic _Famous Quote

An excerpt from my novel, RIVER MAGIC:
“What should we do?” he asked. “Make an offering?”
“We shouldn’t leave anything. ‘Leave nothing but footprints,'” she quoted.
He winced at his own folly.
“But I think a little drop of our water wouldn’t hurt.”

Slow Seeing: I loved this NPR article called “A Photographer’s Guide to Slow Seeing the Beauty in Everyday Nature.” I think many polytheists and animists will relate to the poetry of it, and those who are interested in this spiritual path should consider it. Along with editing, I plan to take my daughter outside to do some slow seeing today!

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Locally found or made magical objects. Photo by M. A. Phillips, 2020

Valentine’s Day brings a focus on relationships. Though I don’t observe the holiday with my husband (my daughter is obsessed with it), I’ve spent the week thinking about my connection to the land. Perhaps it’s the lingering winter and my desire to garden and forage again, or maybe it comes from my discipline kicking in when I don’t want to trudge through frigid snow with offerings.

My spirituality is very much concerned with the earth, and so it makes sense that most of what I work with is locally grown and made. Whenever I go through bouts of “distance” with my path, I always restore it in the garden or forest.

When I took the recent Imbolc course on Irish Pagan School, author and teacher Lora O’Brien discussed her issue with pipe cleaner Brigid crosses. My grove has done them in the past – mostly because they’re easier for the little kids – yet I’ve always preferred using actual wheat or local grasses. O’brien really hit the nail on the head for me when she described the plants, traditionally reeds, as a way to connect with the symbolism of the goddess and holiday. She was really critical of adults (without any mobility issues) taking a shortcut that is normally so rooted in nature’s seasonal changes, yet she tempered this with compassion. We are all learning. To paraphrase, she challenged those without access to reeds or something similar to begin planning for next year to secure a local source. (Provided you have permission, it’s a sustainable source, etc)

In Northern NY, where the windchill was -20 last night, now is a perfect time to contemplate the warmer half of the year. What do we need to do to deepen our relationship with nature? What are your long term magical goals, and what allies do you need to cultivate? What tools or offerings do you wish to procure for the upcoming holidays? When will the plants be ready to harvest? What do the spirits you wish to work with desire in return?

When I look back at some of what I’ve gathered, it fills me with warmth. Rowan branches collected on a nearby island following a storm. Stones from rivers and lakes right here as opposed to a distant pit and mined by child laborers. Beeswax candles from local keepers. Mugwort wands from my own garden. I’m excited to strengthen my bonds with the spirits of this place, but it must be done thoughtfully.

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I was brushing off my car, the wind whipping my hair around my face, when I caught myself silently grumbling about winter.  I actually really like winter, but I dislike driving in lake effect snow, and I don’t know of anyone who enjoys brushing off their car. As true as that is, I stopped the moment I realized that I was mentally whining and started to think about what I enjoy about the season.

  • Walks in a quiet, frosted forest.
  • Seeing animal tracks.
  • Big, fluffy flakes.
  • Feeding the birds in the cold of winter.
  • How prominent the evergreens become in our landscape.
  • The way the light hits icy water just right, making it look like crystal.
  • Frosty patterns on glass.
  • Dusty snow that easily falls away from the car on busy mornings.
  • How most insect pests hibernate or die from the cold.
  • Clear, gelid starlight.
  • Making snow people and snow fairies with my daughter.
  • Throwing snowballs at my husband, and dodging his retaliations.
  • Cozy evenings in with my family.
  • The anticipation and celebration of snow days.
  • The way my daughter’s eyes grow wide with wonder at the sight of snow.
  • How tough I feel for surviving Upstate NY winters every year.

Reflecting in this way made the challenges more bearable.  I hope I can still do this when January, February, and early March inevitably challenge us with even colder, icier days.

What are your favorite aspects of winter?

 

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An Cailleach is wide awake and busy! We woke to a winter wonderland.  My daughter got that excited, magical look in her eyes, and her chief goal for the day was go go outside and sled.  As for myself, I knew I had to make offerings to An Cailleach and get into the trees.

I had already made an offering of bread yesterday.  My UPG is that the goddess loves homemade bread, and she often demands it.  I thanked her for the upcoming beauty and lessons, and I prayed that she would be gentle to my family this year.

Today, after making some offerings at my altar as part of my daily devotional, I brought some maple whiskey outside and poured an offering to her.  I have a bowl in my garden shrine area.  It was full of snow, so it felt very appropriate. I then brought offerings of birdseed, peanuts, and apple outside for the nature spirits, including something for the deer who are sacred to An Cailleach.

The forest pulled me, so I let my feet carry me onto the ATV trail.  There were fresh tracks, but it was delightfully quiet when I was there – quiet save for the pleasant chirp of birds seeking food and a small, gurgling creek I hadn’t known was there before.  The silence of winter gives us the opportunity to explore forests in ways we can’t, or won’t, in the warmer months when they are filled with thorns, tall grass, ticks, mosquitoes, and such. I’m still getting to know the woods around my new home, and I’m glad I gave in to my wanderlust just a bit.

A gurgling stream created a meditative spot in the woods.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

 

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Ghost Flowers at Otter Creek Preserve.  Once upon a time, I had no idea what these were.  I didn’t merely shrug and forget – I took photos and looked them up after a hike.  Now I can easily identify them.  It’s a great feeling. – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2017

I read an article today that captured the spirit and concern of one of my recent posts.  It relates to Britain specifically, but I see a similar disconnect between people and nature in the United States.  It amazes me how many adults (who have lived in Upstate NY all their lives) don’t know the difference between an oak and a maple tree.  These are some of the most common trees around!  Or they can’t name any of the wildflowers that grow near them.

It’s really… strange to me, I guess, but then I think of all the other skills I’m surprised people lack.  Like…hearing that someone intends to throw out a shirt because a button fell off…  Say what?  Reading the article linked above made me realize how lucky I was as a child to learn about the nature around me.  My parents and even grandparents were very involved and passed down their wisdom – the names of plants and animals, how to garden, what not to touch, and even some wild edibles.  I’m always trying to add to that knowledge and pass on more to my own daughter.

There’s definitely some privilege there.  I understand that I was very lucky to have involved parents.  They could afford for my mother to stay home and raise my sister and me.  My father had a good job with benefits so he didn’t need to take any more employment.  My grandparents lived close and were able to retire, giving them plenty of time to teach me and my sibling how to sew, paint fences, weed, press flowers, etc.  Not only did we have access to green space, but we were surrounded by it and actively went on weekend excursions into the Adirondacks to learn more.  We went to the library and museums.  I realize not everyone is able to do those things for a variety of reasons.

I’m thinking about how I can help improve the situation.  Continuing to talk with my daughter about the plants and animals around us is a huge priority to me.  Reading and getting outside as I discussed in that recent post to improve my own understanding, for sure.  Perhaps I should do more with my own grove?  Going on a nature walk together and pooling our collective knowledge would be a great activity.  (Honestly, I want us to get out more together anyway.)  As a teacher, perhaps I should take my students outside.  Perhaps we’ll take advantage of the wooded trail on campus and keep a weekly or even monthly nature journal to improve their writing skills…  Simply getting outside and taking the time to observe can be so powerful*.  There are many possibilities.  Every little bit counts.

What are you doing to improve your connection to nature?  What else could you do to pass on your knowledge to others?

*I once took some little kids out on the playground with magnifying glasses just to observe the insects and spiders.  After calming them, they were entranced by a bumblebee, admitting that they never actually looked at one up close before.  It was one of the most amazing, humbling, and emotional experiences to me as a teacher.

 

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