The other day a friend and I had a special tree encounter which I described in the second half of this post at Word to Our Mother. On our walk back to the house we found many naturalistic details to examine and discuss. The downed fragment above was part of a large white faced wasp nest that used to hang high in one of our neighbor's hickory trees. I kept meaning to show it to Jim once the tree leaves were down but then one day it disappeared after a night of strong winds. Now I know a little bit more about what became of it, weeks after the fact.
I have been fascinated by insects since I was a young child and, during the past spring and early summer, I greatly enjoyed watching a paper wasp build a nest on the ceiling of our porch. It had selected a prime location in line with the very center of the walking steps. This was not a convenient place to co-exist with wasps (or, from the wasps' point of view, with humans) but it was fairly close to perfect for ongoing observational purposes. One morning I went outside and found only a few tattered remnants of the nest's base. I don't know exactly what happened but I strongly suspect the involvement of a certain catbird who also polished off the black ants that were living along the stalk of a nearby sunflower.
In the afternoon of that same day I was working on a visual journal page and decided to include a scrap of the wasp-made paper. I retrieved some little strips from the ground beside the porch and marveled at its durable construction. They melded together perfectly with the help of a glue stick.
Celeste looks like a fervent tree hugger, doesn't she? Obviously she's sharpening her nails but I still like the illusion this particular image gives. Our morning investigations of the outside world are changing as the cold socks in and gives us pause in the first-thing sense of our activities. Nowadays we like to go out in the later morning or early afternoon when the temperature's as warm as it's going to get.
The bridge and stream bed are completely covered by leaves and most of them have browned. Many are beginning to crumble. All the hardwood leaves are down save a few of the oaks. We've had three mild frosts; enough to kill the tenderest annuals but not nearly enough to decimate the hardy perennials.
The "red umbrellas" meadowsweet continues to flower in its quiet corner of the largest field garden. The flowers' scent is quite potent - think rootbeer with a low note of thick rich honey. It's hard to see the nectaring bumblebee in the image above but I managed another capture that's working quite well as a fresh blog header.
The calendulas in the field gardens have started to succumb to the cold but the pots on the pool patio are still kicking out a multitude of fresh blossoms every day. At this point I've stopped harvesting from the pots because we're well set until next year's growing season. I do still water the pots every other day for the benefit of the bees and other insects that are continuing to makes themselves known.
Today I'm focussed on sewing little cloth pouches to be filled with freshly dried lavender buds. It's nice to come back to the screen and virtual socialization but I won't lie. It was equally nice to wander without anything on my mind but the direct moment at hand.
eta: I just put up a new post on my other blog about a new little garden space in the front yard.The week that just past left me feeling like I didn't have a minute to myself but that's not quite true. Every day I take some time - even if it's just fifteen minutes - to walk around outside, preferably with bare feet because it's so grounding for me. Sometimes I take my camera with me but most times I don't. Authentic co-creation, for me at least, is best achieved without stepping back to frame and thus impose a basically random notion of what's noteworthy. Last Monday, however, I noticed a particular view in our front yard which looked like it would translate to a beautiful autumn statement. It was Thursday afternoon before I had both time and inclination to go for it. Took about ten pictures but this one was both first and the best embodiment of what I was trying to capture.
In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, it rained. Not enough to give the ground the soaking it craves but enough to put a little sparkle in the air by the time Celeste and I had our pre-breakfast inspection tour. What is your favorite gift from this new season? Mine is the image above and the fact that the ground/falling leaves smell like root beer...
I'm really sorry it's taking me so long to fashion proper responses to comments. Maybe this week I can catch up. Hope so!
I've spent the last week or so immersed in my various garden spaces and the surrounding woods - soaking up every bit of late summer energy I could and shifting slow gentle gears into autumn mode. My inner surfer dude is always quite sorry to put summer in the rear-view mirror. Still I welcomed autumn gladly this morning. I am, after all, in the autumn season of my life's Walk and there is plenty to love and learn as the earth moves and I follow.
This is the pomegranate I dried at age 23. My thinking was very fixed on simply drying the fruit successfully for a place on my newly developing Divine Feminine altar. I didn't realize that in doing so I would also be creating a very new but very potent rattle. For years it barely whispered. Yet its subtle sound chilled and filled me to the bone. This was indeed power as I'd hoped to meet and learn from it. I'd earnestly meant to connect with it but hadn't been at all able to comprehend what it would actually mean to make that connection. Or to maintain it through my life's time moving from maiden to mother, and then to crone, while my hand held time and space with the rattle which has grown steadily louder in its whisper-language as time has passed.
I never held it anywhere but my bedroom in the midst of deeply private meditation or prayer. Over time the skin and seeds dried enough to make a stronger sound. But it's always been very ethereal. As you may recall I recently held it to rattle in the outside world for the first time. I always associate pomegranates with the autumn season and Persephone's inevitable return to the Underworld. I've read alot on the internet about her ruling status there but not nearly as much as her corresponding title: Queen of the Flowers. Equal time in equally powerful realms. No wonder I've always related to her so strongly in the dark and in the light: a foot inevitably planted in both with equal measure. And a heart not so much perpetually broken as permanently cleaved in the manner of a sprouting seed. When it comes to human nature, and the sometimes unbearable scope and shifting dichotomies of being truly alive, Understanding is my strong suit. And, perhaps, it is so strong that this explains why I've never been too interested in receiving empathetic comprehension. It's nearly always more than enough to give it and usually keep my own counsel when it cannot be returned for whatever combination of reasons.
It takes a long time to develop the ongoing wisdom and appropriate psychic armor to Walk with that type of inherent imbalance so that it forms a counter-to-balance - to be balanced. But I do believe in the past few years I've stepped over the thresh-hold or perhaps merely tripped over it to find myself standing upright against all odds and obstacles. And you? How is your day and what are you thinking and dreaming about? What do you celebrate that transcends linear time and what do you Hold from one season to the next as your years swirl by?
My favorite book about my favorite classical goddess is called The Goddess Letters by Carol Orlock. There's a subtitle: The Myth of Demeter & Persephone Retold. Its telling takes the form of letters written back and forth between mother and daughter following the girl's abduction. Over time (I've had this book almost as long as I've had the rattle ...) I've loaned the relatively slim volume to most of my closest female friends. The writing, for me at least, is that rare thing that walks the line between simple declarative sentences and aptly restrained lyricism that reaches deep into the collective soul of the reader. As the old classical myths weave together we see, through this pair of goddesses' eyes, the break down of Old Way - the nullification of a type of sacred be-ing that was as simple and clearly known as breath and air itself:
Nevertheless, I was Queen. I am Queen. This is my realm.
The calendulas, all self-seeded this year, have been producing flowers at a dizzying pace. I've prepared enough tincture, including a couple of just-in-case jars, to keep us going until next year's harvest begins. Now I am gathering the flowers solely for drying purposes: some for calendula-mint oil infusions, some for seasoning winter soups, some for tea blends and some for keeping on hand for as-needed healing situations involving skin, eyes and mouth. And, of course, some for sharing.
I've just posted something new over at Word to Our Mother concerning a recent field trip. I've also re-posted a few old things on this blog which relate to each other and time passing here in beautiful New England.
Goldenrod flowers are a wonderful healing ally for sore muscles. It's my practice to prepare a hot oil infusion in the late summer when this beautiful plant is at the peak of its flowering. At the old place I carefully cultivated a colony of goldenrod right in the center of my main flower garden. Neighbors considered this nuts and it certainly wasn't the only oddity they perceived about me and/or my family.
Be that as it may I now live in a far more private location with copious amounts of the plant scattered everywhere in garden beds and all around the edges of the field, front lawn, and the house foundation. [Update: I now have a "special" circular colony of goldenrod at the heart of our largest field garden. Last time I measured it the stalks were just above nine feet tall.] Yesterday morning I spent a very pleasant hour walking here and there in search of perfect flower stalks. Because the plant is so plentiful I felt it was important not to harvest the entire top of any given plant. Hence the bees and other flying insects are not deprived of their established food sources. This is a flower they adore and visit tirelessly throughout its blooming cycle. My decision made the harvesting process more drawn out and time-consuming but, quite frankly, it was also much more sensual, grounding and life-affirming.
To make goldenrod oil you need to harvest dry flower fronds that have not gone past their peak. These flowers will be a very bright golden-yellow. If you look closely at the individual blooms you will see they are a mass of star shapes with fluffy centers. Collect what's available without being greedy enough to deplete an entire colony. Remember to harvest from plants that are not growing at the edge of a road or high traffic parking lot. As you collect the flowers you'll want to pay attention to winged visitors who may be nectaring. Wasps and hornets love this plant just as much as honeybees and smaller non-stinging creatures. Walk softly, in other words, and move slowly. If you're allergic to bees you might want to enlist someone else's help in flower harvesting.
Gently bruise the flowers. In the picture above I am doing some of this with my biggest pestle as the flowers rest in the ceramic liner of my crock pot.
NOTE: I use this pot only for herbal preparations. Several people I know who like to have this cooking tool on hand for food prep have further invested in another CP (usually with a smaller capacity) which they dedicate to their herbal concoctions. I don't happen to like crock pot cooking. I have a full size pot just for my herbal dalliances. I've found this yields a perfect amount for my family and other first circle members, plus a few impromptu gifts and donations.
Once I have bruised the flowers with a pestle I also crush them in my hands with a slow gentle squeezing motion. This does not have to be excessive; the purpose is not to destroy the flowers' shape. You're simply creating a greater range of surface space so the medicinal healing properties will be released more easily once the infusion is underway.
Slowly add the oil carrier of your choice. I use cooking grade olive oil because I love the luxury of its thickness during the cold new england winters. It's also the most cost effective choice, especially if you work with a larger size pan or crock pot. That said, if you prefer a lighter oil that's easily absorbed by newborn or eldery skin, you may wish to use apricot oil. My friend Ann favors sunflower oil. Pour your choice of oil slowly and evenly over the flower stalks. Your goal is to cover the flowers completely with oil as shown above.
If you're heating your oil on a stove top, you want to use the smallest possible flame (gas) or lowest heat setting (electric). Many herbalists frown on using a crock pot because the heat setting is higher than either a low flame or stove setting. I compensate for this fact by removing the glass lid of the crock pot every hour and a half. I wipe the inside of the lid clear of condensation, stir the contents VERY gently so all the plant matter stays submerged, wait a few minutes, and then replace the lid.
This oil needs to simmer for four to five hours. My general rule of thumb is to keep it heated until the flowers and stalks are just shy of crispy. Remove from the heat source and let your container stand until it's cool enough to handle the last few steps without concern over burning yourself or anyone else (especially pets and small children) who may be curious enough to follow along with your activities.
Once the oil is warm rather than hot it needs to be strained and cooled to room temperature. To strain I line my largest collander with a double layer of cheesecloth. You can get this in the baking aisle of nearly any grocery store. it's also sold in many hardware stores and also through specialty fiber arts shops where it's known by the name of scrim.
Double lined cheese cloth is sufficient for catching all plant matter. A nicely infused goldenrod oil will be green-gold in color. The stains the oil makes on the cheesecloth will be a strong yellow ochew that's familiar to anyone who works with this plant as a natural dye source. I subscribe to the old-school herbal belief that a remedy is not complete until we return the plants we've used to Our Mother. For this reason I always have a special Gaia altar for the dedicated purpose of returning herb matter and essence bowl flowers back to our shared Source:
Will talk more about Gaia altars in another post. For now let's just stick with the linear process of completing a therapeutic oil preparation.
Pour the cooled and strained oil into storage jars. Label the jars by content and year it was prepared and any other information you want to keep on hand. If you regularly work with herbal preparations it's nice to keep a separate log of your activities so it's all in one place any time you have a question or simply wish to review your accomplishments.
Let the jars sit in a spot where they will not be disturbed for at least one week's time. This should be a place that doesn't catch sunlight or steady indirect light. This settling time gives any small bits of plant residue, and unnecessary water content, a chance to separate from the oil. The layered separation point is visible even to an untrained eye. Now it's time to carefully pour the oil (the layer you don't want to keep will have sunk to the bottle of the jar so it's easy to do this pouring - just work extra gently and slowly until you have the hang of it) into clean and properly labeled storage jars.
Goldenrod oil does not have an overpowering scent so you can add any essential oil that's relaxing and soothing. I like to add a lightly crushed yet whole vanilla bean pod to the large storage jars. I also add lavender essential oil to much smaller quantities once I've poured it into individual flip top plastic squeeze bottles or 4 ounce glass apothecary bottles. My family is prone to clumsiness so, for our household (and sending through the mail), I definitely use plastic flip-tops. If this option is offensive to you you may stick with apothecary bottles or any other glass or ceramic jar that strikes your fancy. Store the oil in a cupboard or shelf that does not get direct or indirect sunlight. Use freely for muscles aches and spasms. I like it just after a shower when my muscles are usually quite receptive to a bit of gentle kneading.
Last night I had a very vivid dream of a lovely ceremonial dance circle. Disembodied dance shawls and feathers wove shapes that could be touched but not seen. The space was enclosed by a thicket of enormous evening primroses. The dream left with me with such an uplifted and peaceful feeling that I decided to make a post about this lovely botanical friend. Above two goldfinches feast on the flowers' seeds. I took this picture from my writing desk at the old house. For more than a dozen years I fed and admired a large flock (40-60 birds were counted in summer and maybe 10-15 less in the winter when they clustered together on thistle sacks that I kept filled to the brim) of these beautiful little birds.
In the winter months following the first summer I began to prepare flower essences in my garden I read (and re-read, over and over) everything I could find about remedies beyond the classic Bach series. The Flower Essence Society's book The Flower Essence Repertory by Patricia Kaminski and Richard Katz became a favorite source for learning and also planning what essences I felt would be most helpful to prepare for myself, my family and friends, and client listing. Evening Primrose swiftly rose to the top of my wish-list. And I did wish with all my might that some small petal of this flower medicine spirit's intelligence might see fit to visit me in the garden beds. I knew it grew wild in our area but I hadn't noticed any growing near my home. When spring came I continued wishing. I also bought a cultivated pink evening primrose to grow at the edge of the main garden in my backyard. This is a lovely low-growing flower that will quickly fill spaces in a garden's border or perhaps serve as a standout short-stemmed addition in a container garden grouping.
By late spring it was obvious my wishes had been granted. Indigenous evening primrose seedlings appeared in legion numbers. The biggest plant emerged from a sunny raised bed where I had planned to grow tomatoes. It got so enormous that I reluctantly pruned it quite drastically in the name of having room for the tomatoes. I wish I had pictures but this was during my camera free years. Even pruned that plant got significantly taller and wider than what I noticed growing wild by the roads of adjacent towns. At the height of its blooming cycle I made separate essences from the pink and yellow varieties. Then I combined them in an essence named Evening Duet. These remedies were strong favorites of mine. I worked with them off and on for about a year. The endeavor culminated in my waking one morning with the seemingly spontaneous certainty that I was ready and able to forgive my mother for the variety of abuses and neglect I'd experienced at her hand. By then she'd been dead for about a dozen years. I went to the site where I scattered her ashes for my ceremony of release. It just so happened that the area was covered with Evening Primrose bushes. And they were likewise covered with goldfinches. The birds watched me intently. They sang their beauteous song of melodic sweetness as I spoke, laughed, and cried to my mother's spirit.
Afterwards I sat quietly watching the birds feast on the seeds. This is how I learned how much they appreciate this particular food source. It's the reason (much to a few neighbors' ongoing chagrin) I never cut back the plants in my yard once their blooming season had ended. My attachment to the finches guided me to grow the plants throughout the main garden bed as well as the edges of the property. The more I observed the plants the more I learned. Most significantly they taught me that japanese beetles will overlook a blooming rose bush if they're provided with this particular alternative food source growing close by. And thus I learned alot about the evening primrose's organic stamina. No matter how thoroughly the beetles obliterated each and every leaf on any given plant, the flower stalks would still form buds and bloom. Of course they won't be nearly as eye catching but they will survive in a way that allows them to fulfill their life cycle and its regeneration through seed production.
At the time I was in ongoing contact with a well-to-do englishwoman whose brother was struggling - despite enormous resources and seemingly endless acres of growing space - to establish a scattering of evening primrose colonies. He got the idea that my particular plants held some kind of jack-and-the-beanstalk magic that might break his losing streak. His subsequent wheedling was both flattering and hilarious. Over time I sent him many bundles of crumpled aluminum foil containing freshly gathered seeds. Eventually he got a very modest colony going which he jealously guarded against all intruders. This included dressing-down his daughters who liked to pick the flowers for their bedside nightstands and otherwise beloved dogs who liked to dig. He also went absolutely ballistic once the japanese beetles appeared. The evening primroses weren't growing anywhere near his (extensive! really more than a little mind-blowing even just from the pictures I was shown!) roses gardens. He wasn't about to take my word for the fact that the plants would flower and seed following the beetles' attack. So they were slaughtered without mercy.
My friend's brother relished sharing some descriptions of his war on the bugs. This mortified his sister but it wasn't like I couldn't relate. Before the evening primroses taught me how to live and let live I too had gone ballistic each year when the beetles appeared. But since the teaching I have used this aspect of life's larger circle as an ongoing meditation: Individual humanized action aimed at changing outcome for a large number of species is always bound to be somewhat short-sighted and self-serving. The motivation of good Intention is very often glorified beyond reasonable proportion. Our species judges far too much about wherever we live in the midst of other life forms based upon the superficial facts of whatever we consider beautiful or ugly.
Spring before last, some of the containers I used to move certain garden favorites from the old place to the field gardens sprouted very small and tender evening primrose plants. I also noticed one lone straggler at the edges of the front yard. I rattled and sang to these plants, hoping the little ride-alongs would set seed and scatter even smaller babies throughout the field. When the beetles arrived it broke my heart to see the naked stems with a few buds each at the very top. But I left the beetles alone (manually relocating them when they took up enthusiastic residence in the roses) and this allowed me to learn something else about their heating habits. They apparently love bramble leaves. And we have brambles enough to feed a small continent's worth of beetles.
end note: Last summer I got an email from my British friend that included an image of her significantly-older-now brother standing with a triumphant grin beside the colony of Evening Primroses it's taken him all this time to nurture into a state of authentic profusion.
Over the past two years I have learned that I don't remember things as clearly or three dimensionally as I once did. Thus I have also learned to take tons of documentation pictures. Since we moved here I've been adopting a Slow Is Better attitude towards the overall landscape architecture. When the property was originally put together someone did an outstanding job. Wish I could find some of the original foundation planting and perennial garden plans! Also, I've found abandoned gardening tools in some very unlikely places. So I'd like to know the plans (and dreams) of whomever took up where the professionals stopped. But sometimes it's so overwhelming being "in charge" of how it looks that I just have to focus up and away - looking only at the trees. Was just outside wandering barefoot up the road in order to get detail shots of the entire rock wall. And every tree, shrub and plant stand beside the wall. Am not yet sure why. But it feels like some important winter-planning season obsessing time is beginning to brew ...
I am an endless summer kind of person so I'm glad there will be a lot more barefoot wandering in the remaining summer and early fall. Sorry there are comment problems. At the moment I can't leave any comments myself. Will try to get it sorted out sooner than later.