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.