Summer Solstice

This weekend is full of holidays: today marks the summer Solstice (as well as Father’s Day, honoring dads and father figures; following yesterday’s Juneteenth, commemorating the emancipation of African Americans). On this longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, the sun reaches its highest point in the sky, and we enjoy the shortest night. Also known as midsummer, or the beginning of summer depending on where you are, this holiday traditionally celebrates the height of the growing season. Crops are treated to the greatest amount of daylight, which plants harness using photosynthesis to convert into chemical energy in the form of carbohydrates. Plants, through this amazing process produce oxygen, supplying most of the energy necessary for life on Earth.

Fibershed, a growing global network of sustainable fiber farmers and producers, taught me through classes that, along with helping us breathe and feeding us, plants supply gorgeous natural coloring that’s perfect for all kinds of dye projects. Easily available and often free and waiting to be gathered, these are also free of the many toxins present in chemical dyes (although some plants should be used with caution) – which taint most of what we wear and touch, every day.

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Raw dye materials: (rear row) onions, oak galls, blackberry leaves, pomegranate husks; (front row) lichen, maple leaves, walnut husks, acorns

This weekend especially, I think of my father, who so loved nature and, like me, due to his shy and introverted nature felt most comfortable in the great outdoors. I think of him when I sow seeds in the garden, when hiking in the wilderness, and when creating gorgeous and unique fabrics to wear and use at home. Gratitude fills my heart for his love, for where we live, and the incredible bounty we share with nature.

Acorns

(Acorns)

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(purple cabbage boiling in the dye pot)

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(T-shirts dyed with purple cabbage; left was light blue, right was white)

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(turmeric dye: turmeric mixed with water)

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(turmeric-dyed curtain)

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(oxalis [clover] dye heating in the sun)

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(T-shirt dyed with oxalis)

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(above: T-shirt and embroidered cloth dyed with oxalis)

(below: embroidered cloth dyed with maple leaves, with iron tincture added)

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May Day Wildflowers

May Day (or Beltane) celebrations have traditionally included dancing around maypoles, weaving flower crowns, and other festivities to celebrate (and hope for) fecundity as the growing season approaches. It has also become an important holiday honoring our labor and working classes.

Recently I was happy to write an article on local wildflower hikes – this spectacular time of year passes so quickly, especially now, when climate change is extending severe drought and fire seasons. Some local parks (Foothill, Sugarloaf Ridge, and Pepperwood) partially burned in 2020’s devastating wildfire season, but nature is rebounding. We are fortunate in Sonoma County to have a number of open space preserves that are once again opening to the public, to allow anybody to share in nature’s phenomenal beauty.

Taylor Mountain Regional Park

Tidy tips
View north from Taylor Mountain

Foothill Regional Park

Foothill Regional Park
Shooting stars and buttercups
Rosy sand-crocus and wavy soap plant leaves

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Even the smallest (unidentified!) flowers are exquisitely intricate
Baby blue-eyes (my favorite!)
White baby blue-eyes invite pollinators with their markings

Pepperwood Preserve

Iris
California poppies and bird’s-eye gilia (another favorite, with blue pollen!)
Pepperwood view across buttercup fields

Sonoma Van Hoosear Wildflower Preserve

Lupine and pink owl’s clover
Fields of lupine
Larkspur
Star tulip (another blue-pollen beauty!)
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Vernal Equinox and the Joys of Spring

Happy Vernal Equinox! Today’s celebration signifies approximately equal day and night all around the globe, with the sun directly over Earth’s equator. In the Northern Hemisphere the sun will appear to continue northward with the days lengthening until the Summer Solstice in June. Different cultures each uniquely welcome the season of new life, rejuvenation, and new beginnings, symbolizing plant restoration during winter, readying for the new growing season. 

This is the “official” start of spring, although signs have been popping up everywhere. Longer days, more intense sunlight, and warmer temperatures signal plants to begin flowering in time to attract pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds, or bats (or the wind on breezy days) to get pollinated and then ripen and disperse seeds before winter returns.

The sunny days and warm breezes are a gentle caress after such a harsh, difficult winter – especially this year. The season of death is still with us, as people are still losing their lives to the COVID pandemic. Feeling the warm embrace and loving voices of my late parents always reminds me of how lucky we are. Who really knows how long we have left in this life? How many more times will we witness an equinox? Appreciating these gorgeous plants – seemingly here for our delight alone – flood me with gratitude and excitement for the coming year. 

Daffodil

Poppies and calendula

Plum blossoms

Lupine and California poppies

Flowering quince

White brodiaea (fool’s onion)

Native California honeybee on grape hyacinth

Veronica and grape hyacinth

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Winter’s Gifts

This Groundhog Day, also the ancient festival of Imbolc – traditionally celebrated with spring cleaning, as well as great feasts and bonfires – brings us new beginnings: a new year, new US presidential administration, and renewed hope for combating the global COVID pandemic and ever-present strife and violence. As plants and animals, too, take their rest in order to regenerate for the coming warmer months and growing season, so must we take nourishment and inspiration from nature. 

Storms blowing through our area recently brought with them spectacular clouds and waves, and left behind damp, mossy forests dotted with multiple types of spectacular mushrooms. This trip we did not find our usual edible chanterelles, so we left everything we found in the earth, taking only photos.

Earthstar puffball

Slimy lavender cortinarius

Coral mushroom

Fly agaric

Amanita phalloides? (if yes, the death cap mushroom is deadly toxic!)

Mossy knoll

 

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Winter Solstice and the Longest Night

Today marks Yule or Winter Solstice, the year’s shortest day and the longest night, here in the northern hemisphere. As the earth grows dormant and plants store nutrients deep within their roots for the winter; so we clean up the garden, store and preserve food for the winter, and prepare for spring planting. Traditions dating back to ancient times include bonfires, and eating and drinking in celebration. For a long moment of darkness as our planet tilts away from the sun, we await the eventual return of its warmth and light.

This year, 2020, which we can’t chase away fast enough, the solstice also brings a special astronomical event: in a rare planetary conjunction, Jupiter and Saturn will rendezvous in the night sky. For the first time in nearly eight centuries, these two planets will appear conjoined. Not since the time of Marco Polo, have we been able to witness such a phenomenon from earth. The fleeting union occurs for just a couple hours after sunset, to the west-southwest as the sky darkens. They should be visible to the naked eye, but using a telescope or binoculars will show them individually, glimmering through the twilight. As Jupiter twins with Saturn as a “double planet,” we watch the gods play in the winter sky. 

Now we’re cooking with pumpkins, and due to a hotter year we even have winter tomatoes! In the garden, squirrels chitter and laugh as they run up and down large walnut and oak trees, storing their nuts. We hear the (new) caw of ravens, come to disrupt our neighborhood crows; and the songs of oak titmouse, white-crowned sparrow, finches and towhees.

 

Winter signs are everywhere: the air’s icy bite when I swim at the city’s outdoor pool, as my kicking foot leaves the water. I lost my father almost four decades ago to the day, my mother just eight short years; I still see their faces in the night’s cold stars.

Writing about this powerful, magical change of the seasons, British author Susan Cooper’s poem “The Shortest Day,” says it simply and beautifully:

And so the Shortest Day came and the year died
And everywhere down the centuries of the snow-white world
Came people singing, dancing,
To drive the dark away.
They lighted candles in the winter trees;
They hung their homes with evergreen;
They burned beseeching fires all night long
To keep the year alive.
And when the new year’s sunshine blazed awake
They shouted, reveling.
Through all the frosty ages you can hear them
Echoing behind us—listen!
All the long echoes, sing the same delight,
This Shortest Day,
As promise wakens in the sleeping land:
They carol, feast, give thanks,
And dearly love their friends,
And hope for peace.
And now so do we, here, now,
This year and every year.
Welcome, Yule!




Posted in Astronomy, Birds, Family, Garden, Mythology, Nature, Poetry, Seasons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments