Fall/Autumn equinox

These are dark days. Literally, as it was for Sonoma County and the SF Bay Area when we awoke to an oddly dim daylight resembling a post-apocalyptic doomscape. Amidst brutal heat, the very air we breathe has for weeks been choked by wildfire smoke that’s now traveled around the globe. Climate change is here for us all, with a vengeance.

This Autumnal Equinox – when the sun crosses the celestial equator and day and night are, as it seemed that day, nearly equal – comes in one of the strangest and most difficult years in memory. Covid-19 laying waste to the world’s populations, massive social unrest in response to historic injustice, and a dangerously divided citizenry. Yet fall has still arrived, showing up in some of its old reliable ways: leaves falling, shorter days, change in light, familiar constellations like Libra, Virgo…

This equinox has traditionally been the celebration of the harvest, with feasting and merriment. Humans have an ancient connection to growing plants that feed us and give us pleasure (as well as cleaning the air, feeding and hosting other creatures, and feeding the spirit); as does getting our hands dirty in rich, brown soil. Planting and the associated work (such as tending, mulching, composting, and harvest) ties us close to the cycle of seasons, to nature, life itself. And indeed, being outside in the (usually) fresh air, together, helping feed each other during these hard times, bonds our communities as well.

The joy of planting is quite literally the joy of life.

 

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Celebration of the Harvest

Lughnasa, or Lammas, is here – traditionally the time to celebrate the harvest, and appreciate Earth’s bounty. Lugh, the Sun God, and Demeter, the Harvest Queen, are honored with feasting, bonfires, and dancing. Here we are, in high summer, during the strangest year in memory!

I want to express the great gratitude I feel for our garden, our friends and family, and most of all, for B. We are also lucky enough to live in community-minded Sonoma County, a place filled with opportunities for sharing and helping each other during these very, very tough times. These range from checking in on neighbors, to gleaning crops ripe for the picking and donating to distributors, to food banks and nonprofits dedicated to aiding struggling folks and businesses. Visit your city, county, or state websites for more info; and because it’ll pass before we know it, enjoy the season!

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Summer solstice and Juneteenth

Happy summer solstice! As our earth spins on its axis, on this day in the Northern Hemisphere its pole tilts at its maximum toward the sun, on the longest day and shortest night (in the Southern Hemisphere, summer solstice occurs in December – our winter solstice). In this extraordinary time of global coronavirus pandemic, you can even watch the sunrise at Stonehenge online – the place where, thousands of years ago, people placed stones to perfectly align, marking the beginning of summer. Traditions celebrated worldwide include building bonfires, and celebrating with great feasts the fertility of the Earth and its inhabitants.

Here we prepare for our own, planting vegetables and enjoying the luxury of tending the garden more, due to most of society being shut down. Gratitude is a major part of observing this important holiday, for us. As is taking the time to learn, and reach out more to the community.

Acknowledging that health care workers, and other essential workers, do not have that luxury, I know they’ve been at great risk during the COVID crisis. Poorer folk may not have anywhere to shelter in place, or must live with multiple roommates – all situations that increasingly risk personal health.

 

Amidst this unprecedented situation, communities everywhere – not just Black and people of color and LGBTQ, those disproportionately affected – are taking to the streets and governments and media in historic numbers to protest racism and police brutality. These historic convulsions, which echo other violent incidents in both the recent and distant past, are bringing together allies in numbers not seen for generations. When white college kids and grandmothers unite with young activists organizing Black Lives Matter rallies, this momentous occasion must not be squandered. Action in the streets coupled with phone calls/letters/petitions, and voter action at election time, is at its most powerful.

With so much information circulating throughout social and news media, all of us have greater opportunities to learn. Juneteenth is a holiday I never learned about in school, never learned about the Tulsa Massacre or that neither Independence Day nor even Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation made every American free. (That there are still so many prevented from voting is an issue that must be remedied as a larger part of the current protest movement. And, the New York Times’ 1619 Project has put forth a curriculum that schools everywhere can adapt, to address rewriting history in a fairer way.)

With so many organizations, private businesses large and small, speaking out on our current situation, another fact comes to light: that nature is not equally accessible, or equally safe, for all people. Black Birders’ Week was a wonderful response that garnered much support. How could it be, that this resource that usually costs nothing and provides such joy and solace – especially when we aren’t going out in society – cannot be shared by everyone? Camille Dungy’s gorgeous Black Nature reaches back through four centuries to examine poetry through the eyes of African American poets: “There has always been promise and survival in the natural world.” Lauret Savoy, author of the powerful Trace and other books on science and nature, writes, “Our lives take place. Who are we in this place called the United States?”

Who are we? How can we help better care for one another? This is something others teach me more about every day, and every day I discover I still have much to learn! As we pass through this date – one marking this historic year by a “ring of fire” annular solar eclipse – maybe that’s something to think about no matter where we live, whether watching the skies or looking at a patch of soil rich with blossoms like blue stars.

Posted in Astronomy, Birds, Garden, Literature, Nature, Poetry, Seasons, Writing | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

May Day

Happy International Workers’ Day, May Day, Beltane! However we honor this first day of May, whether attending virtual or car caravan protests and demonstrations, planting or relaxing in the garden or walking out in the fresh air – worker and immigrant rights, and the deepening of the spring season are things to appreciate and celebrate.

Around the world, this day has been observed as a spring festival since ancient Romans showed their devotion to Flora, goddess of flowers and Ceres, goddess of agriculture, fertility, and grain crops (and origin of the word cereal). Beltane rites include leaping over fires for luck (especially in terms of agriculture, crops, livestock, and fertility), dancing around a Maypole, and crowning a May Queen with flowers.

May Flower (by Emily Dickinson)

Pink, small, and punctual,

Aromatic, low,

Covert in April,

Candid in May,

Dear to the moss,

Known by the knoll,

Next to the robin

In every human soul.

Bold little beauty,

Bedecked with thee,

Nature forswears

Antiquity.

 

And in our own garden, after a “sprinkling for the May Queen” (immortal words of Led Zeppelin), the May flowers open.

 

Posted in Garden, Literature, Music, Mythology, Nature, Poetry, Seasons, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Earth Day and the Human Family

Today is the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. It comes at an odd, uncertain time, unprecedented in this generation, when the Earth itself seems paralyzed by the coronavirus pandemic. But upon closer look, it’s us humans who are taking a great pause, as we struggle to understand and curb the damage this disease has wrought across the globe. The Earth, as it turns out, is doing quite well as we slow down: the air and water are cleaner, and species are proliferating at rates recently unseen – “without” us.

On this auspicious occasion, to mark the day in 1970 when 20 million Americans took to the streets to agitate for protecting our planet, we need to renew mobilizing into action: to demand a recovery with social justice for all, participate in global climate strikes now forced online by the pandemic, and connect with neighbors near and far and build new communities.

Rachel Carson, whose amazing 1962 book Silent Spring paved the way for the first Earth Day, was a true heroine: a marine biologist, ecologist, and powerful, lyrical writer, she sounded the clarion call against synthetic pesticides and was attacked mercilessly by the chemical industry. She died from breast cancer in 1964, but left the world a vast legacy that includes great responsibility: that we can must all play a role in our interconnected world.

“Only connect,” wrote E.M. Forster in Howard’s End, and “connect without bitterness until all men are brothers.” (I prefer to read that last part as “… until all of us are family”!) This crisis, with all the grief and horror it has brought us as a species, also offers us a rare opportunity: to remake the world in the image we want. How can we help feed, comfort, and care for one another? We each should ask ourselves, what can I do for my life, my family and friends, my community, my nation, my globe?

So, we celebrate spring in our garden, harvesting beets and onions, sleeping among the poppies, hunkering down until social distancing orders are lifted and it is safer to come together again – hopefully, to a more equal, just world for all of us.

   

 

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