Monday, June 20, 2011

The Call of the Sun King

The official start of Summer is almost here.  I can feel its pull, like when you stand in the ocean as the tide is going out and you feel as if the waves will pull you right out with them.  At this time of year, my heart begins to ache for sea and sand, for bright burning sun on my skin and the ocean’s lullaby, for the feeling of diving under a wave as it breaks, for the echoing thunder and streaks of lightning that come with Summer storms, for the smell of all the flowers in blooms, of vegetables ripening under the sun’s rays and of salt air, for the taste of sweet juicy strawberries and other fruits warmed by the sun.  In a few hours, Summer will be here.

Summer Solstice, also called Midsummer or Litha, is the longest day of the year with the Sun at its highest point in the sky.  From this point in time to the Winter Solstice, the days begin to grow shorter and the nights longer.  The first harvest is not long off from now.  All life - plants, insects, animals and people - is at its apex of vitality.  Midsummer marks a time of balance between the elements of Fire and Water.  I find myself being called back to the beach by these elements.  Fire -the Sun- calls to me to soak up its rays, its energy, and Water -the ocean- wishes me to swim in its cooling waters and be reborn anew, refreshed.  These same elements are needed for things to grow and to create abundance.  Both sun and water are necessary to plants for energy for photosynthesis.  Flowers are now giving way to ripening fruit.  It is said that herbs gathered at the Summer Solstice are at the height of their potency.

At Midsummer, the Goddess manifests as the Full Moon of Summer, at the height of her fertility giving birth to all life, as the Great Mother and Queen, and the God as the Sun King, strong and full of energy.  Summer Solstice is a celebration of Fire and the masculine principle.  Without the Sun, there could be no life.  At Beltane, or May Day, we celebrated the sacred marriage between the Goddess and the God, their fertility and the fertility of all life.  Now we see the result of that marriage through the abundance of the crops and in our very own gardens, in the abundance of energy and light.  Great bonfires are lit on Midsummer’s Eve to mirror the power of the Sun at its peak and to attune with the element of Fire and the aspects of the Sun King.  We spend more time outdoors in the Summer to soak up the Sun’s rays and to borrow some of its energy to carry with us through the darker times of the year.  Fathers are also honored at Summer Solstice.  Isn't it interesting that Father’s Day falls right before the Summer Solstice?

As I write this, I am making the final preparations for tonight’s Summer Solstice celebration.  Big beautiful sunflowers, candles, seashells of varied sizes and colors, starfish and driftwood adorn the heart of our home, our hearth, to call upon the elements of fire and water, of sun and sea.  Because I long so for the ocean at this time of the year, I have also added a picture of the sea taken during a hurricane (by the way, June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season).  Strawberries and cream are ready for passing around after the celebration as well as big juicy cherries and grapes.  The birds and critters of my yard will even have some berries in their feeders tomorrow morning to welcome Summer’s arrival.  A small fire will be lit with summer herbs and rose petals added to the flames to scent the air with Summer.  When my son was younger, we would catch fireflies in jars and watch their little lights spark on and off but tonight they will dance in the trees as we celebrate.  So, tonight, think about what Summer means to you, what it brings to you, what it ends for you, and thank the Universe for all of its bounty.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Going Batty

Last week, my husband and I were discussing the yard and gardens – where to move this plant or that plant, when to cut back the pesky vines that keep creeping over a neighbor’s fence into our rock garden, what we may still have time to plant this year, and other garden chores that needed to be completed.  We talked about expanding from tomato plants to a real veggie garden.  We talked about our long-planned backyard overhaul that still has not begun due to his work schedule and time constraints for both of us as well as those that have offered to help with the project.  Towards the end of this conversation, my husband announced that he had a few things he wanted to get for the yard.  I asked him to elaborate and he replied, “Well, a squirrel feeder, a butterfly house, and…a bat house.”  The first two items flowed out of his mouth easily and happily and I was quick to agree, but the last item sort of climbed its way out, knowing that my reaction to it would be less than favorable.  My first thoughts were as follows:  A bat house?  Really?  Why?  What would the neighbors have to say about it?  I had already heard some comments about the increased numbers of birds and critters that visit our feeders in our yard and the rock garden that sits at the very back of our property but what would they say or do about a bat house?  I had sudden visions of petitions being signed.  I based my objections to the bat house on the neighbors and not the fact that I find bats incredibly creepy.  My husband dug his heels in on the matter though.  His reasoning for the bat house was that a bat can ingest up to 1000 mosquitoes in one night.  Uh-oh!  He had done his homework!  He was ready for whatever objection I threw out there.  I didn’t have a chance.  I asked him to let me sit with the idea for a while, saying in true Yoda fashion, “Meditate on this, I will.”

Later in the week, I sat in the yard and, even though I had the citronella candles going, I was being eaten alive by mosquitoes, huge lumps appearing on my legs and arms and wherever else they got me, and I started thinking about the bat house idea.  Like I said before, I find bats creepy.  Why?  Maybe it’s because I’ve heard stories about bats getting caught in people’s hair or stories about them getting into people’s homes.  The true reason, though, is because the subject of bats is not something in which I am well-versed.  So, off to the computer I went to research the subject of bats.  I won’t go into all the scientific jargon here but I did find out some things which really eased my fear of these little creepy flying critters.  Bat populations are declining due to disappearing habitat.  They are essential in maintaining a health ecosystem because they act as natural pest control in garden and farm settings and keep insect populations down where needed.  Yes, they can eat 1000 flying insects per night.  This includes mosquitoes, moths and some beetles.  In a University of Florida News article from October 2001, it was noted that “a few dozen bats can make a difference in a neighborhood” for this reason.  Without bats, we would be overrun by insects.  Right there I was sold.  No more bites with associated crazed itching.  No more threat of West Nile Virus.  No more spraying myself down with insect repellent, which I only do in extreme cases because I hate the stuff.  I also thought about the neighbors and how they would be saved from the blood-thirsty monsters.  How could they object?  It looked like a bat house was in my very near future.

But in doing this research, I found some more information about bats that struck me on a more spiritual level.  Bats symbolize illusion, rebirth, intuition, and journeying among many other things.  They symbolize rebirth because they live in the belly of Mother Earth (caves) and emerge every evening from Her belly.  Because they are nocturnal, they have long been associated with vampires, who also rise only at night.  Hence, Dracula turning into a bat.  Native Americans believed bats were very powerful and would invoke the spirit of bats when they needed the ability to see through darkness to the truth or heart of a matter.  For this reason, they are also symbolic of psychic abilities, intuition and dreams.  They are cloaked in mystery because of their very nature and, therefore, have long been misunderstood as well as greatly revered.  Needless to say, bats aren’t so creepy to me anymore.  I know consider them a necessity and just another connection to nature.

I figured that my husband had already discovered all the scientific ins and outs of bats during his own research so I shared only the symbolism portion of my research, which I think impressed him because this meant I was considering the bat house idea.  We set about our weekend and, once again, another night of mosquitoes biting ensued.  I then started calling the “Bat House Idea” the “Bat House Solution”.  So, last night, we moved on to actually looking at and pricing bat houses.  While we sat at the computer together, the hubby also showed me the butterfly houses he was considering.  A no-brainer.  Who doesn’t love butterflies?  There were also ladybug houses, which were adorable and offer another sort of natural pest control for my plants and flowers.  Then we came across bee houses!  “Do you think we could keep bees?”, I asked him (but that is a subject for another day).  Next, we’ll be delving into the world of how to get the bats to take up residence in the bat house as well as local township ordinances, if any, regarding keeping a bat house.

Through this process, I think we have realized something about our little backyard and the gardens we have created.  We are working towards something self-sustaining and self-preserving.  We are creating a system of natural checks and balances for ourselves and the creatures and plants around us.  We are making a better place for ourselves in this small part of our world and perhaps it will have a larger impact on the world around us, on our future and the future of all of those around us, whether it is human, flora or fauna.