Thursday, December 27, 2012

Winter Musings for A New Year

Winter's arrival heralds a time for reflection, planning and goal-setting and is the time of year that finds me at my most creative.  Like my plants in their Winter slumber below the soil, I retreat to the depths of my mind and spirit to bring about new growth in the year ahead.

The Village Wise Woman Gardens are asleep for the coming cold days and nights of Winter, covered in layers of decaying Autumn leaves and bits of evergreen branches not used in our Yule wreaths, swags and vase arrangements.  Only a few plants and bushes continue to grow - the holly in pots at the patio entrance, the Burkwood's Broom in the rock garden, the assorted evergreen bushes and trees, and, amazingly, my Japanese Honeysuckle, which still has bright red flowers on it and mostly bright green leaves.  A couple of chrysanthemums are still green and leafy but the flowers have since vanished.  With the gardens mostly barren now, it is time to plan for the Spring.

The first of my yearly gardening catalogs arrived today and, when I discovered it in my mailbox, I broke into a happy dance.  I find immense peace in curling up near a radiator on a cold snowy day with a cup of herbal tea in one hand and a gardening catalog in the other.  It is what gets me through the Winter.  I can sit for hours paging through these little booklets of hope and happiness, jotting down notes on certain plants, sketching out garden beds in notebooks with colored pencils, and researching and planning uses for herbs that will be grown in the coming year.  Even as snow flurries were falling this morning, I was in the garden bundled in my heaviest sweater and gloves pondering the herb garden and deciding that it must be expanded this Spring.  I also took a few moments to lament the plants that did not work out in the past or did not find their way to my gardens.  Ah, in the Spring...

Many a Winter day will bring hours of writing, working on my books or blogs or articles.  I have always done my best writing in Winter months.  As a teenager, I would sit for hours on snowy nights by my bedroom window banging away at the keys of my Mom's typewriter and page after page of fiction would accumulate on the floor next to me.  The stormier the weather, the more writing I would accomplish.  A blizzard was always welcome because it meant at least a day off from school and many more hours of writing.  Now, as a working mom and wife, there is not as much time for writing but Winter seems to allow for it more easily, especially now that my son is a teenager.  A spiral-bound copybook full of notes that will complete Book Number One awaits transcription in the coming months and another full of article and blog ideas awaits their turn to come to fruition.  I am already thinking about ways to grow this blog, maybe changing its name slightly, promoting it a bit more, and adding some new features.  This is always a work in progress but more so in the Winter.

Winter is a time of deep reflection for me as well.  I look back at the past year, at its triumphs and its shortcomings, at my own successes and failures.  I try to sort the past year's events, emotions, and information into their proper places in my mental filing cabinet.  There are many things to be sorted through this year - the book that was supposed to be but was sidetracked by life events, the close friendship that seems to have come to an end, the growing pains of being the mother of a teenage son, a bit of family turmoil, and the projects that were never even started.  In some of these things, I gained much wisdom and learned many lessons about myself and about others.  Some things need to be placed in temporary folders because they will be addressed again or brought to fruition in 2013.  Other things just need to go in that closed but classified folder in the very back of my brain to be accessed only if absolutely necessary.  And then there are the no-longer-needed things that I just need to get out of my head and into the trash bin.  Much of this mental filing goes hand-in-hand with my writing and will find its way into their approriate folders through putting thoughts onto paper (or screen).

There is much to look forward to in 2013, chief among them is the anticipated birth of my sister's child.  I can't wait to hold my niece, to read to her, to sing to her, to take her out into the garden on a warm Spring day and tell her all about the faeries that live under the lilac bush.  There is also the completion and, hopefully, the publishing of Book Number One.  I can't wait to have it out of my head, onto paper, and put into the Pagan world for reading.  There are numerous herbal crafts to be made, like candles and soaps for which the hubby gave me several items to aid in their crafting for Yule/Christmas this year.  There are the home repair projects that my husband has on his Honey-Do list that will bring my home closer to what I envision for it.  I am excited to see where the continued writing of this blog and my column at The Pagan Household takes me.  There is wisdom and knowledge to gain from all of the wonderful Pagan authors and writers I admire and respect.  There are people to meet, new friends to make, new connections to be forged.  And, of course, there is the magick of my Village Wise Woman Gardens.

So, as 2012 spins towards its end and 2013 comes upon our doorsteps, I welcome Winter, cold and snowy days, gardening catalogs in my mailbox, words appearing on my laptop screen, meditations on what was, what is and and what will be, a new little life, new readers, new writers, and herbs and flowers galore.  I wish all of you a joyful, peaceful, healthy, and prosperous new year.  May it bring good things to all of you!  Blessed Be!

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Uninvited Samhain Guest

A week ago today I was in the midst of Samhain planning and preparation.  I scanned family photos into my computer and printed them out on good glossy photo paper for the Ancestor Altar.  My husband and I purchased several pumpkins, large and small, for carving.  We worked on cleaning up the yard and making new Autumnal arrangements for outside with cornstalks, branches of red, yellow and green leaves, ornamental corn and mums.  The shopping list for our traditional Samhain meal, beef stew, was made up and ready for the weekend shopping.  I worked on writing some simple but beautiful ritual invocations and prayers.   The gradual thinning of the veil was in the air and I was keenly aware of it.

Then came Sandy....

Last Friday it became clear that Hurricane Sandy was coming our way and that it would be a historic unprecedented storm for us here in the Northeast.  She was forecasted to arrive Sunday as a "hybrid" storm, a hurricane wrapped in a Nor'Easter, and, due to Her sheer size, would stay with us through Wednesday.  October 31st.  Halloween.  Samhain!  After mourning this a bit, I set aside my Samhain/Halloween plans and began preparing for our uninvited guest.

The original grocery list was scratched, replaced with non-perishable food items, batteries and lots and lots of water.  My entire Saturday was spent outside, battening down the hatches.  Yard decor and patio furniture was secured and bird feeders were taken down.  Herbs were harvested and were either prepared for drying or bagged for a few neighbors.  The last of the vegetables were also harvested.  Potted plants were moved to the shelter of my enclosed sun porch.  My husband cleared gutters and, with the help of my brother-in-law, worked on mending some "iffy" areas of our roof caused by last year's Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.  The car got gassed up and cash was taken out of the bank.

Sunday morning brought the first bands of Sandy.  We awoke to darkening skies, a light chilly rain, and a more than gentle breeze.  While my husband worked on last minute preparations, like moving items in our water-prone basement, I went outside and reinforced the protective "shields" around our home.  Taking a black permanent marker, I located the flat round stones at several points around our property to redraw the rune of protection, Algiz, on each one.  I then walked the perimeter with sea salt, water and a homemade sage smudgestick, speaking words of protection.  Each and every tree near my home received extra magickal attention in an attempt to protect them from the expected strong winds and torrential rain.  I then decided to walk around my whole block doing the same thing, encircling my neighbors's homes with the light of protection.  (If any of them happened to see me doing any of this, they must have thought I was nuts.  Oh well.  I was just being helpful.)

The weather deteriorated over the course of Sunday and through Monday morning but things didn't get really bad until Monday afternoon and night.  The wind literally howled at certain times and the rain pelted the windows, all as I stayed tuned to local news coverage of the storm's onslaught.  Long story short, we were lucky here.  No damage except a few small tree branches and lots of leaves down.  Our lights blinked alot but we never lost power.  Not a drop of water came into the basement.  Many people were not so lucky, especially those on the Jersey Coast and in the New York City area.  (Many prayers are with those people tonight.)  Sandy is still spinning over us in bands of rain and, again, a not-so-gentle breeze but She is almost gone, but she will certainly not be forgotten.

As I awoke Tuesday morning to a quieter but still gray wet and windy day, I joyfully realized that my Samhain plans were not ruined.  However, as I watched the news coming out of the Jersey Shore and in New York City, my heart became heavy.  So much destruction, so much sadness.  How could I celebrate Samhain when so many people were suffering?  By remembering the people who have lost their homes and neighborhoods and remembering the places that are no longer there.  After all, these are the places where we all come from, the places our ancestors have dwelled.  These places haunt our memories as much as our loved ones do.  These washed away, blown away or burned away places held our memories and so must be remembered as well.

Samhain will be different this year, the original plans fluttering away in the winds of Sandy, drowned in Her destructive surf and torrential rain, buried under the mountains of sand She moved into seaside towns, but it will occur nonetheless and all will be remembered, especially Hurricane Sandy, for She changed so many lives this Samhain.

A blessed Samhain to you all and many prayers to all of the people who were in Sandy's path.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Reawakening the Muse

It is a beautiful Autumn day here, warm and sunny, and I am sitting in the yard attempting to awaken my muse, who has been affected by my crazy hectic life for several months now.  She has popped her head out here and there, for an occasional article or a blog or two, but, for the most part, she has been in hibernation for quite some time now.  Today, she is lethargically creeping around me, drawn out by the vibrant colors and secret language of nature.  She is dazed by the dancing of yellow, red, orange and brown in the trees overhead, by the golden sunshine and bright blue skies streaked with pure white clouds.  She watches a leaf, mesmerized, as it dances on the breeze to its final resting place in the herb garden between the rosemary and the sage.  She closes her eyes as the trees speak to her, their leaves saying who knows what to her as they flutter simultaneously in the wind.  She giggles at the sight of several sparrows perched upon a fence nearby waiting for us to leave the yard before approaching the bird feeder again.  Yes, my muse is quite distracted.

I coax my muse to sit in the chair next to me and she does so with an exasperated thud.  “What do you want of me today,” she asks in a whisper.

I tell her that we need to discuss my book, the one that was put on the backburner several months ago because of my hectic daily life.  “I want to start writing it again,” I tell her.

She plays with her long hair, wrapping it around her fingers, watching the strands twirl, disinterested, distant.  She sighs heavily and replies finally, “Well, you were the one that put it aside, not I.  Perhaps we should just put it to rest.”  She is being difficult.  She has every right to be.  “Besides I am too tired.  I tugged and tugged on your brain for months but you were too busy.  You are always too busy.”  She leans her head against the back of the chair, crosses her arms defiantly across her chest, and shuts her eyes.

“I always heard you.  I was always jotting down notes, when I got out of the shower, while I was cooking dinner, on the way to work, in the middle of typing a report.  I heard you every time.  I know what we have to do.  We just need to fit it into the schedule.”

Her head whips around towards me, wagging a finger at me.  “The creative process is not something you schedule, Dear!”  Uh-oh!  She called me “Dear”.  She’s pissed.

“You’re right.”

“Yes, I know I am.”  Again, her arms are crossed, this time triumphantly.

How can I make peace with her, come to an agreement?  Now I am distracted by a leaf dancing to the ground.  It’s bright yellow and catches the sun’s rays as it falls.  The sparrows are inching closer to the feeder.  A bolder one has just landed there.  What to do, what to do?  I know.  “Can I take notes whenever the creative process takes over and then I can type it out into the book on a scheduled basis?”  Makes sense, doesn’t it?

She reminds me, “You have several pages, post-its and paper towels with notes scribbled upon them that are sitting in a file on your desk already.  What about those, huh?”  She taps her foot demandingly.

“I’ll type up those right away.”

“In the meantime, I’ll already have more notes for you!”

“So I’ll jot the new ones down as I am typing the old ones,” I suggest.  “You know how good I am at catching up with my typing.”

“This is true,” she answers hesitantly.  She is thinking, considering.

I cross my fingers, hoping that she will agree.  “And who knows what will happen once I get in there and really start banging away at the keys?  It may all start just coming out in a torrent, page after page...”

“Chapter after chapter!”  She is smiling, sitting upright in the chair, excited now.

“Yes!  And before you know it, the book will be complete!”  Now I am excited.

“Can we still write other things too though?”  She is fearful.  She does not want to be held down to one project.  She wants to write and write and write.  “The blog, the articles?  Maybe some to be published in magazines and anthologies again?”  She gets up and sits on the arm of my chair, puts an arm around me.  “You know how much I love seeing your name in print!”

“We most certainly can.”

The sparrows are no longer scared of us.  They come within a few feet of us.  A pair of mourning doves have also appeared.  My muse and I look at each other and say in unison, “The element of Air.  Creativity.  The creative process. The air is cleared.”  She and I laugh together.

She points to the laptop.  I can hear her thoughts.  They are streaming into my head from her own.  She is practically sitting in my lap as my fingers begin flying across the keyboard.  She is humming a tune to the birds as she watches the words appear on the screen.  She is happy, content, in her element, her brain dancing through the air to gather new ideas, new words to be jotted down on bits of paper or to be typed into a new document, the pages of that book.  She no longer feels tossed aside, ignored.

As my muse and I finish writing this, she gives me a kiss upon the forehead and says, “I missed you.”

“I missed you too,” I tell her.

“Now let’s go drag out those notes for the book and see what’s what.”  She is quite determined, isn’t she?  That’s why she’s my muse.  She always gets what she wants.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Balancing Act

I like balance in all things.  After all, I am a Libra, a creature of air.  I like lists of all kinds – shopping lists, to-do lists, pro and con lists.  I like schedules to keep my daily life organized and in balance.  I like planning ahead, whether it’s a meal, a day of chores, or a vacation.  (Although, financial planning has never been one of my strong suits.)  I always try to plan my day, weighing my time carefully out between family, household chores, gardening and yard work, meal preparations, typing medical reports for work, my writing, a half hour here to read or a half hour there for me time.  My brain is often rolling through list after list, schedule after schedule.  This allows me to go through my day at a relaxed pace and to get as much accomplished in a day as possible.  Sometimes I joyfully realize that all on my lists are done and I have extra time to write, read, or spend time with my husband or son.

Sometimes there’s just not enough time in a day to get it all done and I have to resign myself to the fact that something must be saved for another day.  Sometimes I bite off more than I can chew and have to choke it down.  But when things don’t go as planned or according to schedule or I am thrown something that is not on the list, my scales tip and I am thrown off balance.  I feel overwhelmed and can get quite bitchy.  I’ve been known to just sit down and have a good cry out of frustration and in an attempt to reboot the central processing unit that is my brain.  I’ve always been this way so I should, after almost 44 years of life, know how to handle the unexpected, the unplanned and the unlisted.

Late Spring and early Summer brought one of the most out-of-balance times I have experienced in a very long time, simply because there was too much happening.  It all didn’t fit on my lists or into my schedule.  My son was winding up his time at middle school and with that came all sorts of events.  As Vice-President of the Home and School Association, I had our annual auction to plan and organize, a task that was often done by a committee of people but, this time around, was being handled by one person – me.  My father and stepmom were moving and, in their failing states, needed a lot of help.  I was involved in a community battle with the school district over funding and loss of programs, which involved meetings, protests, pouring over budget reports, group brainstorming sessions, and writing letter after letter to board members, congress people, our governor, and even the President of the United States.  It was a whirlwind of events, emotions and exhaustion.

There were times, however, that seemed to balance me out.  Working in the garden with my newly planted herb and vegetable garden, surrounded by my flowers and the visiting birds and critters brought me peace.  Writing my article for the Pagan Household every other week and the occasional blog brought me joy and kept my creative juices flowing.  Keeping the homefires burning through the regular tasks of my life like cooking, cleaning, and taking care of my family brought me stability.  A hot lavender bath at night soothed my sore muscles, my mind and my spirit.  These things grounded me, inspired me, transformed me, and shaped me because they brought the four elements – Earth, Air, Fire and Water – together in a delicately-balanced dance around me, lifting my spirit for another day.  I welcomed these simple moments and kept my eye on the prize – Summer.

Summer came and, although things had slowed down a bit, I was still not feeling quite right.  I had to adjust to the new school-not-in-session schedule.  My son was home with me and that changed the dynamics of my days a bit.  He loved to sleep the day away, resulting in me having to be the human alarm clock every 15 minutes.  He raided the refrigerator every time I turned around and I watched the groceries I bought on Saturday disappear by Tuesday.  There were days I loved having him around and others where I just wanted to tear the hair out of my head.  No one warned me how moody teenage boys can be!  Some days he was sweet, helpful and talkative and others…well, you would have thought I had the plague.  Yes, I know he’s a growing boy and that’s what growing boys do.  They sleep, eat, and are in a constant struggle with themselves over whether to like Mom or not.  It’s still maddening!  But, guess what?  I had this on the mental list.  I knew this time would come.  The time where I would stop being Mommy and become Mom.  The problem was that I hadn’t considered how hard it would be.  Once again, my scales tipped.  So, I looked forward to our vacation at the Jersey shore in an attempt to distract myself.

We arrived at the Jersey shore on a glorious Saturday morning, meeting up with the entire Lawson clan for breakfast at our favorite restaurant.  I felt relaxed and ready for a week of fun in the sun.  No such luck!  I guess the salt air brought out the “I Hate Mom” vibe in my son because, as soon as we gathered with the family that morning, he began giving me the evil eye at every turn.  Every interaction with him was full of tension and, as I like to call it, “tangled with ‘tude” (full of attitude).  I tried talking with him several times but walked away feeling like I was the one with the problem.  We were truly at cross purposes.  My husband told me to let it go and to just enjoy my vacation.  But, let’s be honest here, how could I enjoy the vacation when my one and only child was acting like I was the bane of his existence?  I spent the first few nights of vacation wanting to pack my bags and go home.  By Tuesday evening, I couldn’t take it anymore and I demanded that he take a walk to the beach with me to talk one last time (otherwise, I was going home).  I figured the beach was the best place for us to work this out, surrounded by the elements to bring balance to our peace summit.  Standing there in the dunes, we had an open honest discussion (shocking because I thought it would be a screaming match) and the peace treaty was signed.  The scales were tipping back into balance.

I went to bed feeling happy and peaceful for the first time during the vacation.  Meanwhile, other family members were in varying states of discord and it exploded not 30 minutes after turning in that night.  I won’t go into all the sordid details here but, once again, I was ready to go home.  In fact, this time, my husband and son were ready to go home too.  But, another peace summit was held with the parties involved, and my husband, son and I agreed that we would stay for the remainder of vacation.  The rest of the week was tense but manageable.  I did find peace and solace at the beach each day, where Earth, Air, Fire and Water formed a perfect circle of balance around me, and in a lovely midnight walk on the beach with my hubby, our path lit by a beautiful orange waning moon.  However, for the first time in my life, I didn’t cry as we headed over the bridge leading out of town on our way home.  Vacation was over and I was going home, what I wanted to do all week long!

The remainder of August brought balance to the force.  The torturous heat and humidity of June and July were replaced by cooler “blue and gold” days.  I busied myself with preparing the house and garden for the Autumn, back-to-school shopping, and catching up on reading the books that had waited through the Spring and early Summer for my attention.  I began eating healthier and taking my vitamins again.  Requests for assistance with upcoming school committees started coming in and I politely refused, already planning on finishing the book I began to write during the Winter and early Spring and with another one bouncing around in my head.  I began looking into upcoming Pagan periodicals’ submission requests and guidelines to keep in mind for future writing opportunities.  My son and I, for the most part, kept our white flags up and swaying in the breeze, a new age of peace reigning.

Now, here I am, in mid-September, reveling in the peace and quiet of being alone in the house again.  I have adjusted to the new schedule of getting up at five o’clock in the morning so my son can be out the door to school by 6:15.  It gives me so much more time in the day to get the household chores done, to do a bit of exercising and to do the things I love, like writing, reading and gardening.  My book is in the works again and I intend to blog as often as I can.  My birthday and wedding anniversary are only a few weeks away and I have begun planning get-away days, for just me and the hubby.  I look forward to a day trip to my favorite seaside town, Cape May, and a day of strolling through local public gardens and arboretums.  Mabon decorating is done and the plans for celebrating Autumn’s arrival are set.  With Samhain right around the corner, I have started to dust off the Halloween decorations and they’ll be ready for putting out in a week or so.  Things are back in balance.

And the lessons I have learned from the past few months?  Don’t take on more than I am willing to handle.  Just because my son acts like he hates me, doesn’t mean he does.  Life happens and there’s nothing I can do about it.  Lists and schedules are not what makes or breaks me.  The wheel turns at all times and I must turn with it.  And, when my scales are tipping way out of balance, just take a moment to find where Earth, Air, Fire and Water meet, in my house, in the garden, wherever I am, in whatever I am doing, so I can be at their center and I will find balance again.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Mid-Summer Notes from the Village Wise Woman Garden

Lughnassadh, the first harvest, is upon us and, at this mid-point of Summer, there are many changes in the Village Wise Woman’s Gardens.  Some of these changes are glorious and colorful and others are disheartening and saddening.  Some, in fact, leave me questioning my skills as a gardener.  I keep reminding myself that a garden is a constant work in progress, that there will always be some failure involved, whether it is by my own making or by the garden’s making.  I can plan everything out, get the soil just right, do everything organically, have some fleeting moments of success and then – BANG! – a plant just withers up and dies for reasons beyond my control.  Yes, it’s very sad but it happens.  All I can do is try again.

The Summer has not been kind here.  In fact, it’s been brutal, with the majority of days since the Summer Solstice averaging in the upper 90’s.  Factoring in the humidity, many days have felt well over 100 degrees.  We are not used to this here in the Northeast.  Sure, we have suffered through our share of heatwaves but to have one after another after another come over us is an entirely different story.  We have had some rain, usually with violent thunderstorms, but it offers little relief to my plants in the gardens.  I have spent countless hours walking the gardens to check who is in trouble, who needs extra water, who needs some shading, trimming, pruning, weeding, mulching and talking.  When I pull out the hose, each plants seems to yell out, “Me first!  Oh, please, me first!”

The vegetables seem to be in constant need these days.  At first, everything thrived.  We had a couple issues with pests.  Some were picked off by hand and others were handled with an organic insecticidal soap.  By late June and early July, there were an abundance of cherry and Roma tomatoes, the broccoli was being harvested every week, the first eggplant was plucked from its stem, peppers were growing larger every day, and several cucumbers were beginning to show themselves.  The brussel sprouts however were slow to begin and any squash that appeared quickly disappeared due to a pesky squirrel or two.  As we now head into the first days of August, the tomatoes have taken a turn for the worst.  It is as if they have completed their growing season, withering day by day.  My poor cucumber vine has not grown a bit since late June.  Any cucumber that began shriveled up in a day or two and not one has revealed itself since.  I’m not sure what is causing the problem.  They have the right amount of sunshine, plenty of water, but not too much, and the soil is just right.  Other vegetables like the eggplants and peppers are doing very well in the same area.  It makes no sense.  I have spent many a night laying awake in bed searching my brain for answers but have none.

The rest of the gardens seem relatively unscathed by whatever condition has plagued parts of my vegetable garden.  My rosemary plants, which I began growing last year and over-wintered indoors, have nearly tripled in size.  The basil is full and fragrant and its scent catches the nose of most passersby.  I have let the marjoram go to flower because the bees and butterflies seem to love the blooms.  My lemon verbena grows taller with each day.  My first attempt at growing Roman chamomile has been a success, with little white and yellow flowers beginning to pop up here and there.  The cilantro was abundant this year and I shared this with my 23-year old nephew who loves to use this in his cooking.  In the early days of July, it was growing so fast that I couldn’t keep up with it.  It bolted which allowed me to harvest coriander for use throughout the coming year.  I planted a variety of sages this year and have just begun to harvest these, some for freezing and some for drying.  I’ll use them this year for cooking and smudgesticks.

As for the flowers and shrubs, all is well there too.  The butterfly bush, given to me by a gardening friend as just a small 12-inch tall leaved branch, now has three branches, is about 3-feet high and has begun to show beautiful purple flowers.  The hollies, given to me by that same friend as 6-inch high seedlings, are now beginning to look like the start of bushes.  My beloved Burkwood’s Broom, which I feared for earlier this year, has rebounded after some careful pruning and, although I did not think it was possible, has grown taller and fuller.  The pruned branches are still drying for broom-making this Autumn.  The tiger lilies flowered brightly throughout late May and early June and now are showing new green leaves as they so often do after the blooms are gone.  The Black-Eyed Susans, Nasturtiums, Purple Coneflowers and the Japanese Honeysuckle are a continuous delight.  I am still awaiting blooms on the Bee Balm and the Moonflowers which I hope occurs any day now.

With all the sweet fragrances and bright colors of the yard, many new visitors have arrived, especially at the itea virginica shrub.  Each year when it blooms with cones of little white flowers, it begins to hum with activity.  Several varieties of bees and wasps show up out of nowhere to partake in unity of its nectar.  Most notable of these is what I have identified as a blue mud dauber, a black iridescent wasp that I have only seen when this shrub is in bloom every Summer.  And, in a frightening moment just this past weekend that sent me running for the backdoor, we had a cicada killer drop by for a visit.  If you have never seen a cicada killer, consider yourself lucky.  It’s about 2-3 inches long with a huge yellow and black bulbous abdomen and makes a buzzing sound that you will not forget.  Although I cannot make peace with this creature, I know he or she serves its purpose in the world so I have agreed to respect it for that reason…but at a distance!

Of course, our regulars are constantly in and out of the gardens.  The different birds, the squirrels, countless butterflies, Mr. Groundhog, a raccoon,  some chipmunks, a hawk or two, and the occasional stray cat come and go daily for food or water.  In another surprising visit – well, not really a visit – a blue heron flew overhead a couple weeks ago as I was on my way out, probably on its way to one of the many creeks in the area.  I have never seen a blue heron near my home before!  I marveled at this sight and thanked the Goddess for this chance encounter.  I am still working on trying to bring hummingbirds to the garden and am determined to make that happen eventually.

So that is the update from the Village Wise Woman’s Gardens.  I thank Mother Earth for the successes I have had so far in the gardens and for the lessons I am to learn through this growing season.  As I write this, I am in the midst of preparations for the Full Moon/ Lughnassadh celebration tomorrow evening and am about to harvest herbs for drying and for decorating the Lughnassadh altar.  I wish all of you a blessed Lughnassadh and send you bright August Full Moon blessings!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Circle Calling

I have been a solitary witch for quite some time, probably about 20 years.  Some time spent exposed to coven politics, a handful of very large witchy egos, several occasions of imperfect love and imperfect trust, and a smattering of questionable practices sent me running in the other direction in search of a different way, my way.  I stuck with what all my training taught me, doing everything by the Book of Shadows and inevitably lost my way for a while in the monotonous ceremony and correspondence tables of it all.  In doing this, I forgot the main lesson of being a solitary practitioner – It is what you make it.  Long story short, I turned back into myself, took a long hard look at my own spirit, meditated under trees for long periods of time about my Path and what it should be, and stepped out into a new wondrous, magickal life, one where it is incorporated into my very veins, in every step I take, every day of my existence.  I have made many Pagan friends along the way, especially through internet connections.  I am amazed at the wealth of knowledge, the scope of understanding, the overwhelming support and the depths of the friendship I have found there.  Who would’ve thought it?!  Many of them I long to meet in person, to celebrate a Full Moon or sabbat, or simply sit and chat face-to-face for a while.  Someday soon, I hope.

Yet, an idea floats through my mind from time to time.  Sometimes it is a flash of a scene and at other times it is a lingering vision.  It comes to me in very peaceful moments, as I work the soil of my garden, as I sit among my flowers and herbs in the early morning hours sipping coffee and listening to the birds, or as I prepare my altar for upcoming celebrations.  I see myself with a small group of other women, of varying ages and cultures, gathering together to swap magickal knowledge, to enhance each other’s magickal talents, to raise power to evoke change in our lives and in the world, to celebrate nature, to trade herb and flower seedlings, to read each others tarot cards or runes, to clasp hands around a burning fire pit of aromatic woods and magickal herbs.  In the moments of these visions, I know we are not a coven, but a circle, one of learning, teaching, and friendship.  Yes, this solitary practitioner longs for a circle.  But why?  The answer is simple.  Even a solitary witch needs a few other witches around, to connect, to share and to celebrate.  So how does this solitary witch find her Circle?

I started to create a circle a few years back, with a very dear friend, a woman I considered to be a sister.  She was intrigued by my Pagan beliefs and I shared much with her, although never formally taught or mentored her.  Our families became very close and soon we were celebrating Samhain together, creating a joint ancestor altar, sharing a special Autumn meal of a hearty beef stew and bread, and enjoying a night of wine, deep discussion and divination after our boys had gone trick-or-treating.  I cherished her friendship, her understanding and her acceptance.  Our paths have diverged over the past year or two, a situation of both our making, and we have very little, if no, contact, something that bewilders me, saddens me and angers me but one that I must leave to the Fates at this point.  She will always be part of my Circle and welcomed with open arms.  (I am hoping that she reads this and knows that my olive branch is always extended.)  So it’s back to “Circle, party of one!”  Not really a circle then, huh?

Don’t get me wrong.  In some ways, I have my Circle, with those on the internet, with my Pagan friends scattered about the globe, and with my own family.  Some are Pagan and some are not.  Those who are not accept me for who I am, what I am, what I believe and the Path I follow.  We celebrate holidays, sabbats, full moons and personal milestones together.  We swap information, ideas, recipes, and gardening and recycling tips.  I hold late night telephone discussions with long-distance friends about Pagan beliefs and practices, the history of Goddess worship, the religions of the world, and the issues facing the world today.  I make up “witchy brews” or offer natural healing tips for sick family members and they accept them with true gratitude, in perfect love and in perfect trust.  But this isn’t necessarily a circle, is it?  Rather it’s my tribe, my village.

So what do I do?  Put an ad in the local paper or put flyers up around my neighborhood saying “Witches Wanted”?  Nah, can’t do that!  No, rather I leave it to magick.  At every full moon, I send a silent bright calling out into the world for my Circle.  I ask the Goddess to bring me to them, for our paths to intersect and merge, for a few women to hear the subtle call of lasting magickal friendship, of monthly gatherings for shared knowledge, talent and celebration.  My Circle is out there, just waiting to join together.  In the meantime, I continue on my Path, calling as I go.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ode to Farmer McGregor

Oh my, it’s been a long time, hasn’t it?  I am sorry for the long absence but this witch’s world has been a flurry of activity.  There’s been too much happening, too much to do and too many obligations to meet to write for myself these days.  But here I am.  I’m back!  On to business…

For the past several years, as I walk to and from work or on my way to our local Wawa, I have passed a corner house, only two blocks away from my property, that I absolutely love because of its enchanting garden.  The home, owned by an elderly Irish gentleman and his wife, is surrounded by day lilies, rose and holly bushes, and other flowering shrubs and plants.  Every late Spring and early Summer, the backyard would be planted with vegetables and, tucked in among the tomatoes, carrots and lettuces, were two statues, one of the Virgin Mary and the other of St. Francis of Assisi.  Whenever the gentleman was outside working in his garden, he would look up and say a cheerful “good morning, young lady” or “good afternoon, young lady” to me.  Sometimes I would stop and compliment him on the garden.  In return, I received a wealth of gardening lore, as he would talk about this plant or that plant and how things like the weather or their location affected their growth or flowering.  I never got his name or formally introduced myself.  In my head, I named him “Farmer McGregor” because his vegetable garden reminded me of illustrations from a Beatrix Potter book and not of the actual character of Farmer McGregor.  I always looked forward to seeing Farmer McGregor, whether he was tending to his beloved garden or asleep in a lounge chair on the front porch with his brimmed hat pulled over his eyes.  He always brought a smile to my face and a sense of peace and joy to my heart.  Farmer McGregor’s garden enchanted me in every season and I knew it was home to the wee folk of nature.

Over the course of this past Autumn, I saw less and less of Farmer McGregor.  Even his wife, who I would see from time to time, seemed to be making scarce appearances.  I often thought about knocking on the door to inquire about their health and to see if they needed anything but I didn’t want to overstep my bounds.  The garden remained well-tended so I figured that all must be okay.  Apparently, I was wrong because early February brought a “For Sale” sign to the house.  My mind raced through all that could have befallen Farmer McGregor.  Was he ill?  Was he in a nursing home?  Had he passed away?  I saw no one around the house to ask, not his wife or a neighbor.  In fact, the house seemed oddly lifeless.  But the garden still grew.  Each day when I passed the house, I’d say a silent prayer for Farmer McGregor and that his beloved garden would have new owners that cared for it with as much love and tenderness as he had.

In early April, in what seemed like overnight, the sale sign was gone as were the porch chairs, the lace curtains in the windows and the statues in the backyard.  Farmer McGregor, whether alive and somewhere else or passed beyond the veil, was truly gone.  The days that followed brought a flurry of activity at the house.  Workmen tore out carpets, replaced siding and roofing, repaired windows and updated electrical systems.  Every day, a new work truck arrived and something was changed.  All the while, the garden continued to blossom and grow.  But now it was out of control.  The flowers and bushes seemed to be taking over whatever space they could find in the yard or on the sidewalks.  I had a sinking feeling in my gut that the new owners were not gardeners.  Worse, what if they had no interest in nature at all?  This feeling was almost confirmed by the fact that I started to see children’s bikes tossed carelessly on top of lilies or against the Rose of Sharon.  Once or twice it occurred to me that perhaps I should ask them to contact me should they be thinking about removing any of the plants.  I would gladly give them new homes in my garden or in the gardens of fellow Village Wise Women.

After the Memorial Day weekend, I was headed home from work.  It was a particularly odd sort of day.  Heavy dark clouds kept moving in as if a thunderstorm was on its way.  When the sun was out, it was very warm but a very cool breeze would gust up now and again.  I began to pass Farmer McGregor’s house.  I no longer looked up for him as I had in the past, just looked straight ahead and kept my eye on getting home.  But this day, I glanced to the left of the sidewalk. A loud sound of shock escaped from my throat, I stopped dead in my tracks and I almost doubled over, actually reaching out for some solid object to grasp for fear that I would fall.  Someone had hacked away almost everything!  Bits of day lilies, daisies, lavender and every other flowering plant lay where they fell, torn up and withering.  Holly and rose bushes were sawed off at their base, leaving stumps resembling gaping wounds.  I could almost hear Mother Earth crying from the assault.  Tears stung my eyes.  I was suddenly aware that I was being watched.  A man glared angrily at me from the backyard where he was working.  I quickly walked away towards home clutching my chest as if my heart was breaking.

How could anyone be so careless, so disrespectful, so destructive and so hateful?  Sadly, the disrespect of nature is a growing attitude in society and, in my opinion, will be the downfall of mankind.  Mother Earth will take back what is Hers.  I can assure you of that.  I saw signs of that at Farmer McGregor’s on Monday afternoon.  The day lilies have started to grow again!  They are taking back what is theirs!  Of course, they would!  What the new owners of Farmer McGregor’s don’t know but what every good gardener does know is that you can cut down day lilies as many times as you want but they will return, and in greater numbers.  They multiply unseen in the Earth.  I even saw a small branch sprout on one of the rose bush stumps!  That too will return if left alone.  I am sure these new owners will just cut the garden back again and again until they realize that they have to dig the plants out to rid the yard of them but, until that time, I will smile the sweet smile of Mother Earth’s power each time I pass by that house.

Yesterday, Summer Solstice, as I passed by again, I got the strangest feeling of being watched.  This time no one was there.  I caught a feeling of sadness in the air.  A picture flashed through my mind.  It was of a faery sitting on a branch of the Rose of Sharon (miraculously still intact), elbows against knees and hands supporting chin, with a lost look on his or her face.  Aloud I said,  “If you need somewhere to go, you may come to my gardens.  You’ll be happy there.”  An unexplained overwhelming sense of relief rushed over me and I turned towards home.  As I walked along, I felt like I was being followed, not by one or two beings but by several, cautiously yet happily.  Upon reaching my gardens, the Village Wise Woman’s Garden, several emotions came over me.  Feelings of welcome, gratitude and peace washed over me.  I knew then that the faeries of Farmer McGregor’s garden were now at home in mine and that somewhere he was thankful that someone cared as much for his garden as he once had.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Notes from the Village Wise Woman Garden: A Natural Place of Power

Something very powerful and yet very peaceful is occurring in my garden these days.  I have been sensing it building each time I stepped outdoors or gazed out the window.  My years of walking the Pagan path, my magical experiences and just observing the natural world told me this would happen  It was part of the plan but I never thought it would affect so many things, reach out to the people that it has.  What began as an idea, as a few herb plants in pots, a bird feeder in the yard, a couple of adirondak chairs, and a fire pit has flourished into a naturally-occurring place of power.

Flashback to two years ago…After a few years of self-discovery and redefining my Pagan path, I began re-exploring herbal lore and magick and found an affinity with it.  It just felt so right, made me feel at one with the Earth, and brought me such joy and peace.  I studied book after book, took an on-line course, and started growing, harvesting and drying my own herbs, to use for cooking, healing and spellwork.  A bit unsure of my green thumb, I started some plants in pots rather than jump into a full herbal garden.  Since I was spending more time outdoors tending to my plants, with my husband to keep me company, I decided that it was high time to add a chair or two to our small yard.  Within a month, this idea expanded into a fire pit around which we could gather with friends and family to share wine, laughter, and celebrations.  I found, as the Summer progressed, that my husband’s spirit surprisingly began to occasionally linger on the border of the Pagan path, walking close to me but not right next to me, and started on its own transformational path, what I now call the “Natural Path”.  He took new interest in the yard, in the birds and critters that came and went, and in what was growing out there.  He offered advice, from the days when he helped his grandfather tend to his gardens.  Our herb plants flourished that first Summer and, by the fall, bundles of herbs were hung to dry all over my kitchen and we retreated for the colder darker days of Autumn and Winter to the small stacks of gardening books, magazines and catalogs that had accumulated in every room of our home to plan the next year’s garden.

Over the Winter, my husband and I had many discussions about which direction to take things in the garden.  We researched and studied, planned and plotted, saved and spent.  Many a restless night was spent watching over some of our more tender shrubs and bushes as blizzards and ice storms raged in what was a record-breaking Winter weather year.  Come that Spring, seeds were started indoors, plants were moved to new spots, existing garden beds were expanded slightly, and, once again, herbs were set in containers.  Throughout that Spring and Summer, we rejoiced in the simple pleasures of our plants and flowers, stayed up late in the yard watching moonflowers unfurl before our very eyes, and spent weekends caring for our flora and fauna friends.  We added a new bird bath and my husband made a bird feeder or two.  In September, we were welcoming new wildlife.  Goldfinches arrived and nibbled on seedpods from the drying purple coneflowers and Black-eyed Susans.  A lone hummingbird was thrillingly spied once or twice at nearby flowers.  Different species of bees were gathering whatever nectar remained.  Because we were by now so enchanted by and so protective of what we had created in the yard, we took very special precautions when Hurricane Irene reared Her ugly head and took aim at us, spending an entire afternoon temporarily sheltering and relocating plants.  My sun porch looked like a hurricane shelter for everything green!   As the year passed into Samhain, jars of homegrown dried herbs like rosemary, lavender, and lemon verbena were put up on shelves, the garden beds were mulched for the Winter, and all plants that could come indoors did so.  Once again, we settled in for our studying, planning and contemplating.

With the dawning of this Spring, which came very early this year, my husband and I were ready to transform our backyard into what I call “The Village Wise Woman’s Garden”, encompassing our magickal, culinary, and healing needs, the protection of natural habitats for our backyard wildlife, the conservation of our environment, and space for relaxation, celebration and all things magickal.  We excavated all grassy areas to create raised garden beds for herbs and vegetables, moved existing plants to new locations, thinned out abundant bulbs to give away to friends and fellow gardeners, rebuilt retaining walls, made stepping stone pathways through garden beds, and started our very own compost pile.  The trunk of our Yule/Christmas tree was stripped of its branches (which were used as garden protection for the Winter as well as decorative, pine-scented vases around the house) and saved to be placed in our rock garden to become a wildlife feeder, where we can hang suet, seed balls and corn cobs.  Just for fun, my husband put an actual birdfeeder that resembles a lantern at the top.  A new bird bath was added and an old one was moved to the front of our house, which will be overhauled next Spring.  The bat house, mentioned in a prior blog (see “Going Batty”), was finally hung. Flowering shrubs and vines were planted to attract more butterflies and bees and in the hopes of bringing newcomers like hummingbirds.  In the coming weeks, leading into the first day of Summer, we will be adding a patio area, where we can eat, drink and make merry, mending our ailing picket fence and turning an old tree stump we found into a fairy house to replace the smaller one that my hubby made for me for Mother’s Day two years ago and has since been beaten by the elements.  Perhaps we will even get to that rain barrel system we were considering.

Some of these changes were not easy so help was enlisted.  We are lucky enough to have my husband’s sister, her husband and their two sons live three houses away from us.  With their help, the frames for garden beds were built, our entire rock garden and retaining wall was dismantled and rebuilt.  Several trips to the township composting yard were made and bins of “Black Gold” were brought in, dumped and spread out.  My youngest nephew, who is 11, particularly took interest in these projects, going as far as to show up in work boots and a flannel shirt to work on sifting out patches of grass, spread the new compost and to lay out stepping stones.  He even made sure each stepping stone was brushed clean after each job so that you could “really see them”.  He excitedly looked forward to the planting of the vegetable and herb garden.  I explained how, according to the Farmer’s Almanac, among other gardening and magickal texts, it was best to plant during the waxing moon, when the moon is heading towards its full phase, and that we would have to wait until then.  I set the date, Earth Day weekend, and he waited with the anticipation of a kid waiting for Santa Claus to arrive.  In the meantime, we took him to the local hardware store and got him his very own pair of gardening gloves, which he now keeps tucked away at my house so they won’t get lost.  After a rain delay, we set to planting everything.  My nephew carefully dug holes and placed small veggie plants with me and my husband.  He beamed with pride when it was all done.

In the days since, I have noticed that everyone seems to be interested in what’s happening out there in the garden.  My family up the street, especially my sister-in-law and nephew, check the vegetable plants regularly for growth or problems.  My husband lingers out there when he pulls in from work to evaluate things.  Neighbors are asking what’s what, complimenting us on a job well done, and offering us items to protect the new plants.  New birds have arrived.  In addition to regulars like the cardinals and goldfinches, we have purple finches, chickadees, a titmouse and a beautiful yellow bird I have yet to identify.  There are songs and whistles I have never heard before throughout the day.  The whole yard is teeming with the energy of life, of Mother Earth.  I feel the vibration of it in my bones whenever I am out there, see it as a subtle static charge whenever I look out the window, and hear it humming late at night when the world goes quiet.  People are drawn to it and seem to find peace and happiness in it.  Animals gravitate to it and find protection and nourishment in it.  My husband and I find strength, wisdom and healing in it.  The Village Wise Woman Garden has become a natural place of power that goes far beyond my original intentions.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Remembering Joanie

My soul feels heavy today, bogged down in snippets of old conversations, black and white moments frozen in time, and jumpy and choppy childhood memories playing on 8mm film reels in the recesses of my mind.  My brain flashes from memory to memory as if it’s searching its files to see if any data has been lost in the time that has elapsed.  One memory brings a smile, maybe even laughter, and an overwhelming sense of peace.  Another brings tears streaming down my cheeks and that feeling of a hand thrusting through my chest to grab hold of my heart and soul, stopping my breath and choking me on a sob of remembrance.  “No, no, no,” some voice echoes in my head when the pain gets too raw, too near.  Is it her voice?  Is it mine?

I have only two choices.

Give into it, crumble like a fallen tower and lay in a heap all day, not moving, not speaking, just crying and wallowing in the pain of her loss, crying out into the quiet of my home, where my cats aren’t sure if they should sidle up to comfort me or race to the dark protection of under a bed.  I could rage against it until my eyes are swollen from too many tears, my nose feels like cotton has been jammed into it, and my voice is non-existent from soul-wrenching sobs. Oh what a pretty site that will make for the meeting I must attend tonight!

Or I could do what she would have wanted me to do.  Walk on.  Leave it behind.  Let it be.  Let it be part of me and what makes me stronger, never forgetting her, never forgetting what she would have wanted for me, never forgetting the gifts she gave me, right up to the very end.  Do the things she would have wanted me to do to today.  Take care of business as usual.  Continue being a source of strength, comfort and love for my family.  Get my hands good and dirty in the garden.  Read a few pages of a cherished book.  Whip up a great meal for my husband and son when they return from their day.  Keep on writing that book of mine, “The Lessons of Walks Far Woman”, which was a gift from her to me.  Stop and smell the sweet blooming lilacs, her favorite, out in my yard.  Let all that she ever gave me and taught me permeate everything I do today and in the days to come.  Honor her and the memory of her life.

Today it is 9 years since my mother passed through the veil into the Summerland.  The memory of that final fateful day, every single painful detail of it, tends to replay itself over and over again every April 17th.  I am trying with every ounce of my being to push that day from my mind to replace it with all of her lessons, all of her laughter, all of the nature walks, all of the love.  In her honor, I have cut a few lilac blooms and placed them on my altar with a handmade ghostly gray candle, a Goddess candle, infused with herbs of remembrance and respect, to symbolize all of the Goddesses in her.  I spent the morning transplanting seedlings and milling about the garden which she would have loved so much.  If she were here, I know she would have popped in for a visit just to sit in the garden with me, sipping coffee and talking the afternoon away with me.  I plan on heading back out to the garden this afternoon, book and laptop in hand, to read a bit and write a bit, even if it’s just a few paragraphs.  Maybe she’ll be sitting in the other chair, watching, listening, talking, and just being nearby.  Just maybe.

Does it get easier?  Does the pain of such loss lessen?  No.  Everyone said it would, but it does not.  What it actually does is it becomes part of you, wraps itself up in your memory, your heart, your soul, your entire being, and makes you a different person.  Some people choose to open the wounds over and over again, unable to move on, unable to leave it behind, unable to function, creating greater pain for themselves and for their family and friends.  Others choose to feel it but keep moving, to continue living life to its very fullest, to let it transform them and those around them.  I have tried to be the person who lets the pain wash over me again and again.  I don’t wear that well.  “No, no, no,” that voice says to me.  I just can’t do it.  The pain comes in little waves but, with each surge, I wipe my tears away and walk on.  Why?  Because it’s what she would have wanted me to do.  It is what she taught me to do.  It is what she herself did.

I often think I hear her, feel her close by.  Sometimes it’s just a whisper of a few words.  Sometimes it’s a wisp of shadow or mist passing through.  Sometimes it’s the gentle press of a hand on my arm.  Sometimes she sends me little Universal messages.  She did so today.  The phone, cable and internet went out yesterday afternoon because of a major problem with the fiber optics line at the company.  I went to bed thinking that I would be able to get up early this morning to get business out of the way.  I wanted the rest of the day to do things to honor my mom.  When I awoke this morning, there was still no service.  I was distraught over the fact that I would not be able to post a blog today, April 17th.  I went about some gardening and kept checking to see if things were back on.  At , the modem jumped to life.  I noted the time because I was standing right there looking at the modem.  I wrote the time down because the company is promising credits to everyone affected by the outage.  As soon as I wrote the time down, it dawned on me that 1009 is the number of the house I grew up in with my mom.  Universal message from Joanie!

The message is that Joanie still loves me, still supports me, still cares about me.  She is somewhere on another plane of existence cheering me on, giving me that forward shove when I start to falter.  She is proud of me, who I have become and the paths I have chosen.  She is in me, in everything that I am, everything I say, everything I do, and everything I pass on to others.  She is there in my son’s big dark brown eyes and his love of nature.  She is there in my husband’s heart and memory.  She is there in the faces of my sisters.  She is there in the stories of every family member and comes back to life with each telling.  She is there in my garden, in my book shelves, in my kitchen, and in the words I write.  She is never really gone, always nearby in some way, shape and form.

Yet, even knowing all of this, I wish we could have a cup of coffee together in the garden this afternoon and I could wrap my arms around her to hug and kiss her goodbye.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Constantly In-Progress Garden

Around Imbolc, I began researching every idea that popped into my ever-planning keeping-me-up for hours mind:  which plants to grow, which vegetable grew well next to which vegetable, which herb and flower bloomed at which time of year, how to construct raised garden beds, how to keep insects and critters from destroying crops, the proper placing of bat houses and bird houses, the ins-and-outs of composting, various ways of constructing fairy houses.  All of these questions, concerns, and day-dreams were whirling around my head.  In complete OCD mode, I made list after list, rewrote list after list in my better handwriting, and jotted down note after note, sometimes on Post-It notes and sometimes on pages of a yellow legal pad and, if no other paper was available, on my very own hand.

In early and mid-March, I cleaned garden beds of Winter debris and mulching, excited at the sight of earthworms galore and my spirit lifted by the heaviness and richness of soil.  I delighted in planting a huge tray of varied herb seeds like thyme, cilantro, marjoram and tarragon.  I giggled with glee as I discovered the joy of taking cuttings of shrubs, dipping them in rooting compound and planting them in small pots for next year's already-in-the-works garden projects.  The barter system was put in place.  I traded tiger lillies and irises for butterfly bushes and holly.  In return for some technical landscaping advice, I handed over mums, ornamental grasses and more tiger lillies.  I excitedly told neighbors of my plans and invited them to take vegetables and herbs when the time came.  Some offerred cash towards the project (which I refused but still found a couple 20-dollar bills stuffed into my hand insistently), some asked for advice on what to do with plants or flowers in their own yards, and some volunteered to help with the upcoming Summer months of weeding and watering.  I must note here, however, that there are just some neighbors with whom I didn't even bother discussing this simply because they don't talk to me or my kin, who live a few doors down, not even a hello now and again, and are known trouble-makers, busy-bodies or just plain evil-spirited people.

Then it was time for the hard labor.  Last weekend, in a spot shared with my neighbor's property, sort of an in-between place, and with his blessing, I began the tedious job of excavating a grassy and weedy 20' x 4' area, first on my own and then with the help of my husband, my brother-in-law and even my 11-year old nephew (my teenage son opted for video games instead because we all know that XBox 360 takes precedence over all things!).  We pulled all the grass out, removed as many stones and rocks as was humanly possible, and even unearthed odd items like a wooden doorknob, an old ham bone, assorted nails, a C battery, old marbles, and a taffy wrapper from the 1960's.  We laughed, sweated, grunted, groaned, and laughed some more, at ourselves, at each other.  It was a great dirty time!  I moved on to other garden clean-up projects when it came time for construction.  The men set about building my two-tiered raised garden beds where the vegetables and herbs will be planted in a few weeks.  My vision of the "community" vegetable garden was coming into reality!

The remainder of that weekend, and, believe me, there wasn't that much time left to it, my husband and I spent time behind my neighbor's garage and the garage that adjoins it (we live in an area of rowhomes), which is accessed from my rock garden, removing years of fallen branches, stones tossed by the kids into the area, and other assorted trash.  While there, we came upon a wondrous thing.  For years, there have been a couple of trees behind the garages, one tall and slender and the other short and husky.  I'm not sure what types of trees they are.  (I'll have to research that sometime.)  The third and largest tree came down during a windstorm several years ago, decimating my backyard but that's a story for another day.  Both of the existing trees have always bloomed every Spring, full of leaves.  The taller tree we designated for hanging our bat house.  The other tree?  Well, it's quite frankly amazing!  The majority of the trunk has fallen away, with six-foot long pieces laying around on the ground, eaten away by what I assume to be some boring-type insect.  The tree continues to stand though on two great "legs" of what remains of the trunk, the center completely hollow.  I mean you can stand inside this tree!  And the tree continues to live!  Its branches and leaves continue to grow!  As soon as we saw this, we knew it was sacred space and must remain untouched.  So we left the area around it alone.  We placed our new compost bin in the area right before the tree to sort of block it, obstruct it, from anyone who might want to disturb the area.   We cleared anotehr area that would become a path of stepping stones to lead to the compost bin, left a small oferring for the spirit of the tree, and finished our work for the day.

Part two of the hard labor came this past weekend.  Again, it was me, my husband, my brother-in-law and my nephew.  More laughs, more grunts and groans, and more laughs!  The boys made three trips to the county compost yard, each time returning with 5 bins of "black gold", beautiful rich fertile compost.  As they worked it into the vegetable and herb garden beds, I worked on reconstructing our rock garden.  My husband, thank the Goddess, had taken every rock of the existing wall down and lined them up for me early Saturday morning.  By Sunday afternoon, there was a new and improved retaining wall, rocks set randomly here and there to keep the soil in the sloped area from tumbling down, steps of natural rocks up to the area behind the garage and a stepping stone path from those steps to the compost bin behind the garage.  Compost had been worked into every single garden bed behind my house.  The bat house was hung in the taller tree behind the garage.  The trunk of our Yule/Christmas tree was placed into the stone retaining wall and turned into a bird feeder.  Existing bird feeders were moved or taken down altogether and birdbaths were cleaned and filled with water.  We retreated with aching muscles, stiff and sore joints, and battered and bruised hands and knees, covered in dirt, that glorious rich dirt, to hot food, hot showers, ibuprofen, and bottles of Biofreeze with satisfied smiles.   

And now I wait.  Wait for the start date of our next project, a patio where we'll barbecue, entertain, and create sacred space for seasonal and full moon celebrations slated to begin at the end of April.  Wait for the fence around this soon-to-be patio area to be repaired after two long and very harsh Winters which will happen as soon as the materials arrive some time this week.  Wait for planting time, wait for growing time, and wait for harvesting time.  There's always something to be done in the meantime.  Each time, I head outside, a new lightbulb goes on in my head.  It's April, I'm in full gardening mode, I still ache from head to toe, and it feels so good!