Posts Tagged ‘Thousand islands’

My yoga mat on a soft bed of moss.  Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

My yoga mat on a soft bed of moss. Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2014.

Today I did something special. Special for me. I gave myself permission to leave my toddler with my husband for a couple hours so I could do some yoga. The Thousand Islands Land Trust teamed up with River Yoga to offer some “Yoga Treks.” Basically, they were monthly outdoor yoga sessions, each taking place in one of TILT’s nature preserves. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend June or July’s offering, but I made sure I got to attend today’s.  It was held at their new Otter Creek Preserve  in Alexandria Bay, NY.  Although still under construction (there’s currently no parking lot and a sign that you will miss if you aren’t looking carefully), it was an amazing place*.  I wasn’t able to see all of it as we only entered a clearing in a forest to do our yoga.  Everyone was wearing yoga shorts and flip flops – not exactly what you’d want to wear on trails that consist of the woody remains of plants poking up to stab your toes.

The clearing reminded me of the Adirondacks.  The soil was dominated by a thick, soft bed of moss that occasionally opened up to reveal stone painted in an earthy mosaic of lichens.  Here and there, baby oak and white pine pushed upwards, promising that this clearing will have more shade someday.  I unrolled my seldom-used yoga mat on some of that delightful moss.  Getting comfortable, I realized I selected a spot next to a mother and chid white oak.

The class was lead by yoga instructor Liz Price-Kellogg.  The moment I saw her, I felt her nurturing energy.  She had a kind, patient voice and an approachability about her.  I knew I needn’t feel self-conscious about my rustiness and inexperience.  This class emphasized the philosophy of yoga, and her focus was on yoga as a moving meditation rather than simply exercise.  She gently lead us through grounding and centering exercises, invited us to listen to our inner messages, to the Earth’s voice.  The experience was so earthy, so animistic, so, well, Pagan feeling that I sometimes thought I was at a Pagan pride event!

As I lay on my back, starring up at the cerulean sky and oak branches brimming with green acorns, I realized how much I needed this.  I spend so much time organizing rituals and leading others.  At home, I meditate on my own, but it’s still my voice, my own inexperienced guidance, so often interrupted by household noises.  To spend this long in meditation, guided by another’s experience and perspective, was liberating, inspirational, and deeply informative.  At times, it was difficult to relax since I have a very busy and talkative mind, but that eventually hushed so that the only obstacles were the sun sometimes shining too brightly on my face, and the ants crawling over my body.  Yoga outside was, as Liz said, a humbling experience.  Laying on the Earth Mother, surrounded by forest and wildlife, was precisely the intimate retreat this Druid needed.  I need to give myself permission for this more often.

Although the yoga treks are done for this year, both TILT and Liz are poised to offer them again.  I definitely plan to take part as often as possible, and am already thinking about when I can fit more regular yoga classes into my life.

* When the trail is completed, there will be a lookout point and a suspension bridge.  It will be amazing and I can’t wait to explore the whole thing!  Expect a “North Country Druid” post when I do!

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When I first started this blog five years ago, it was originally called “North Country Pagan” because I wanted it to reflect my experiences finding things relevant to Paganism and Pagan culture in Northern NY.  My blog title eventually changed because I wanted to narrow my focus more on my spiritual path of choice, but I’d like to revamp and revive it as a subtopic within my blog.  As the Druidic community here grows, I thought it would be nice to discuss different events that are not organized by Northern Rivers Protogrove but, nevertheless, relate to, nourish, or engage us as Druids in training.  Much of what I discuss will likely be relevant to other Pagan paths as well.

Like many good little Druids in the modern era, I was called to my path out of a deep love and reverence for Nature.  I’m naturally drawn to organizations and activities that also embody that love and respect, regardless of religion.  The Thousand Islands Land Trust is such a group.  They work hard to put aside and preserve land along the Thousand Islands, build and maintain trails, plant trees, and install nesting grids for common terns.  They have also organized hikes and kayaking excursions.  Over the last few years, they have expanded their selection of community activities to involve people who may not be willing or able to engage in such physically demanding activities but still want to learn and engage with the local environment.  They now offer children’s programing, a community garden, yoga for all levels along the river, and now – “green movie nights!”

The first featured film was called “Chasing Ice.”  Part of the synopsis reads:

In the spring of 2005, acclaimed environmental photographer James Balog headed to the Arctic on a tricky assignment for National Geographic: to capture images to help tell the story of the Earth’s changing climate. Even with a scientific upbringing, Balog had been a skeptic about climate change. But that first trip north opened his eyes to the biggest story in human history and sparked a challenge within him that would put his career and his very well-being at risk.


The film was exciting as it sounds and did not dissapoint. It was emotionally moving, intellectually stimulating, and visually spectacular.  The icy, glacial landscapes he and his team visited were as magical as they were distant to me.  It’s amazing how the glaciers are all at once mighty and fragile in our changing world.  Even if you are already convinced of global warming and of the urgency for us to make changes in our lives, the film is still worth seeing as it demonstrates the possibility for skeptics to change their mind which is uplifting.  If you consider the Earth your mother, you won’t want to miss seeing a side of her most of us take for granted.

I hope the Thousand Islands Land Trust hosts more green movie nights, and I hope that more Pagans in the area take advantage of them to expand their knowledge and awareness.  After all, our devotion to the Earth Mother shouldn’t stop with ritual.  We must remain educated on environmental issues and make practical changes in non-ritual contexts.

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Three Cranes Grove, ADF, did an “Earth-Along” last weekend with people all over the world.  You didn’t need to  be part of Three Cranes, or even ADF, to participate.  The first day was of service to the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits.  As I said recently, I take a bag into the woods with me every year right after the snow has fully melted.  It tends to come around Earth Day.  What perfect timing!  So I joined my brother and sister Druids around the world and went into the forest to do what I could.  A bit of styrofoam here, a broken toy there, a stray decoration here, a plastic bag there…  The hardest part is saying, “enough.”  There’s still more, but I can’t do it all by myself.  Whenever I visit the woods, I make a point to take three things back with me for the trash or recycling bin, yet rubbish continues to find its way in…

Yesterday, a few of us from Northern Rivers Protogrove  attended The Thousand Islands Land Trust’s Arbor Day Celebration in Clayton, NY.  It was a lovely time and gets better each year!  Kudos to my friend, C, for organizing so much!  I led several children in an active meditation in which we used our imaginations to become trees.  It was basically the Two Powers for children but much more secular.  It was a hit and I will definitely do it again next year!  There were many other family activities such as making peanut butter and birdseed pinecones, leaf rubbings, and visiting animals from a local organic farm. One of our grovies helped children write environmental goals on a mural, and a few others helped to plant some trees.  After that was lunch and chatting along the majestic St. Lawrence River.

Today, my husband, my daughter, and I joined with others in Thompson Park in Watertown, NY for an “Earth Week Celebration.”  First was a discussion on sustainability lead by  Mr.Juczak, founder of Woodhenge in Adams, NY.  Then we broke into groups to clean up the park.  My family found so much litter!  It was hard to help with a baby in a carrier, but I pulled my own weight.  It felt great to give back to Nature and the community.  For many of my urban friends in the area, Thompson Park remains one of the most accessible natural locations so it’s important to keep it clean.

As I explained to one of my fellow cleaners today, as someone who reveres the Earth, it’s important for me to truly practice what I preach.  It isn’t enough to send out healing energy and give offerings of seed and herbs.  You have to embrace sustainability as a lifestyle.  That can mean many different things to different people, and the important thing is that you start to take baby steps to live in better harmony with the Earth and Nature Spirits every day.  With that in mind, I remind all of my readers that we shouldn’t leave service to the Earth Mother and Nature Spirits to Earth Hour, Earth Day, Arbor Day, or Earth Week.  We need to live and breath it!

May we honor the Earth Mother in all we think, say, and do!  So be it.

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I had a girls’ day out today with my friend Miss Corinne of A Green(ish) Life.  I’d not seen her since New Year’s Eve, so it was really nice to catch up in person.  FB is no replacement for a true social-outing!  She’s involved with conservation efforts in the Thousand Islands Land Trust, and therefore keeps me up to speed with different events in the area related to outdoors activities and environmentalism.  On the agenda today was a lecture about winter photography by Vici Zaremba and Steve Diehl at the Minna Anthony Common Nature Center on the lovely Wellesley Island.  I’m no photographer – my husband knows more about our cameras than I do – but I’ve felt drawn to learn more about nature photography.  Their focus was on winter photography, and they shared slides of some beautiful examples.  Some that really stood out to me and captured my imagination featured ice.  Often, the photographers confessed they’d taken the photos in ditches, but you’d never known.  The examples were so beautiful and focused in on the way the ice captured ripples around reeds.  There were also some lovely shots of ice on rocks and thin sheets just barely obscuring decaying oak leaves in a stream or pond.

One of the big take aways from the event was their focus on conservation.  They spoke at length about their efforts with the Indian River Lakes Conservancy, a local organization that works to preserve land, educate, and provide recreational activities to the public.  I learned a lot about the biological importance of my beautiful home.  I can’t wait to further explore it and share it with the little one.

The lecture pleased this Druid in training because, not only was it a blend of art and environmentalism, but the photographers really emphasized natural awareness.  They shared their process and admitted to photographing the same little spot for hours and hours, or waiting outside for lengths of time until the lighting or wind were just the way they wanted.  Photographing the land around them, they have come to know many different plants and creatures – some I had never heard of before!  They made Northern NY sound a bit like the Amazon to me with their talk of newly discovered and rare species.  It’s all quite exciting!  Some of the photos they shared demonstrated their growing ever closer and more aware to just a small corner of the world.  First a normal shot, then closer, then closer still thanks to their amazing lenses.  Their perspective of nature has become very intimate because of the time spent in it, visually meditating on its shapes and colors.  They studied decaying leaves, ice bubbles, and snow drifts in loving detail.

It really inspired me to look closer.  In the winter, especially, we can forget about that.  The green world has mostly gone to sleep, and so the landscape seems very monochrome and bare of the interesting details we all celebrate in the warmer half of the year – the spiral of a young fern, the color and texture of moss on a log, the soft ridges on a fungi…  And yet winter is also full of its own beauty and intricacy.  When I returned home, the first thing I noticed upon exiting my car was a sheet of black ice, cracking and full of lace-like patterns.  I wish I had had a good camera with me at the time. And a macro lens.  And a tripod.

As we learn to grow in appreciation and awareness of the natural world, we Druids could learn a lot from photography – their methods, their aesthetics, and their zen-like patience.  Even without a camera, why not take an hour or two to explore and appreciate the simple beauty all around us?

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Feet in Clayton, NY

Hubby and I relaxing in the St. Lawrence River, 2011.  Each year, my relationship with the local spirits strengthens. – Photo by Weretoad.

Sometimes, I ponder my path in relation to my location and nationality. There are times when I can’t help but wonder if my Druidism is somehow “less connected” than if I were actually living in Ireland, Scotland, England, Cornwall, etc…  Am I less connected to the Tuatha de Danann who are so intimately intertwined with the land of Ireland?  What of the myriad of other unseen spirits connected to Ireland?  And what of the spirits native to America and living cultures who still work with them?  When I make offerings to the Local Spirits, am I talking to spirits who followed my ancestors from their homeland, the Native spirits who dwell here, or both?

This post from August, particularly the last paragraph, had me thinking about it once more.  Are we, the descendants of Celtic and English diaspora, trying to overcompensate in the form of Celtic Reconstructionism and its methodology?  The seed of ADF was planted in America.  Although it is an international Druidic organization, the girth of its membership continues to be in America.  Compare ADF to OBOD, as John Michael Greer did and you’ll notice some interesting differences.  Having been a member of OBOD for a few months* I came to the conclusion that its rituals were more similar to Wicca, although still very beautiful!  So what does it mean when the biggest Druidic tradition in the UK feels more like Wicca compared to the American-born ADF with it’s reconstructionist methods?  As Greer notes, neither tradition is “real Druidism” as in historically handed down from the ancients.  Similarly, both address different needs and can be combined.  Indeed, some folks on the ADF e-lists were just discussing how they’ve successfully combined ADF and OBOD in their personal lives.

But let’s move beyond the organizations because, when it comes down to it, the bulk of a modern Druid’s time is spent in his or her home and environment.  What about living modern, American Druidism?  You know – connecting to the spirit world in all we do every day.

When you start studying the folk beliefs of the Celts, it becomes clear how location-centered it is.  Well X has a being associated with it.  The spirit of Well X lives in Well X, not Well Z over in America.  At least, so the old beliefs would make it seem.  The Ancient Celts did migrate, and some deities seemed to travel with the tribe.  Peter Berresford Ellis writes, “There are over 400 names of Celtic deities, male and female, recorded but the vast majority would appear to be local deities, tribal gods and goddesses.  However, that leaves some hundred or so who are to be found throughout the Celtic world; indeed, many of the deities are clearly the major deities of the Celts” (160).  What this says to me is that the tribal deities, beings like Lugh, Brighid, and An Dagda, are concerned with humanity and open to communication regardless of location.  My theory has been that, by creating welcoming altars, we create a means of communing – a “spirit phone” or a “guest house”.  But the spirit of Well X?  He or she is only reached at his/her well.  Make a pilgrimage and visit, be inspired by that well’s lore, but otherwise you must find new well spirits in the “New World.”

But who are these American spirits?  Nature Spirits?  Gods?  Demigods?  Nature Spirits elevated to some Godhood status through increase worship thus power?  Are they Native or immigrants like our ancestors?  The answer seems to be, “It’s complicated.”

Arch Druid Emeritis of ADF, Rev. Skip Ellison, presented a workshop called “The Fairy Races of the British Isles” a few years ago in Utica, NY.  He explained the various beings and how to work with them, of course, but he also shared his theory with regards to the question above.  Ellison postulates that some spirits emigrated with the diaspora.  It makes sense if you consider beings attached to tribes or households.  Why wouldn’t they follow the people they have a relationship with?  Ellison suggests they settled where their humans settled.  If so, is there antagonism between those spirits and the Native?  If spirits mate, did they mate with Native spirits?  Is thinking this horrendously disrespectful to Native American cultures?  Add to that the reality that the Ancient Celts would take up worshipping the spirit of the rivers they settled near, what do us modern practitioners do in America?  I feel very drawn to the rivers I live near, particularly the St. Lawrence.  Before their lives and traditions here were disrupted by white settlers, the Iroquois who lived in the North Country called the Thousand Islands “The Great Spirit’s Garden” and considered it a sacred hunting ground (Jacox and Kleinhans, 7).  When I go to honor the spirit of the St. Lawrence, am I disrespecting Native culture?  The Ancient Celts saw rivers as female spirits, and I have felt similarly about the St. Lawrence – but is that just my intellectual assumption or genuine unverified personal gnosis?  It is difficult to find information on Native beliefs surrounding the river.  Did they believe it to have a guardian spirit?  Was it female or male?

Once more, the answers seem complicated, and I suspect my perspective will grow and evolve as I learn and practice more.  Despite the uncertainties, it feels important for me to connect to this land.  My time spent in England, Cornwall, and Ireland was precious.  I felt a deep reawakening, a feeling of ‘coming home’ in some ways, and a connection to the history and my ancestors there.  When I went to Ireland, I could not help but wonder if my ancestors who left it all those years ago for a chance at a new life were looking at her again through my eyes.  When I visited ancient, sacred sites, I felt that I was visiting the oldest and most favored “homes” of the Gods I love.  Yet when I returned to Upstate NY, although the Nature Spirits have their own personality, the Old Gods I strive to honor were still there to listen.

In this month of October, as we move towards Samhain, I am going to explore, research, and reflect on my relationship to the ancestors.  I cannot do that without considering my place as the descendant of the diaspora who came here over a century ago.  Without a doubt, it influences my Druidism.  The question is how?  I hope you’ll join me in my thoughts and discussion.

* I left OBOD because the study program was too expensive for me and, as Greer’s article points out, it’s a huge part of the organization.  There are also fewer groups in America.  Community is important to me, and ADF just has more easily-found groves in the US.  I may look into OBOD down the road when I have more funds, especially because their approach is so beautiful and lyrical.

Ellis, Peter Berresford.  The Celts: A History.  Carroll & Graf Publishers, NY: 2004.
Jacox, Helen P. & Kleinhans Jr., Eugene B.  Thousand Island Park: One Hundred Years, and Then Some.  Valhalla Printing Co, T.I.P., NY: 1975.

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