Harvest Bounty on Lughnasa

Lughnasa (also called Lammas) marks the halfway point between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox. Celebrating the first harvest of the growing season, the holiday provides a perfect time to appreciate our garden’s bounty. Winter’s copious rains have nourished our clay soil, normally hard as a rock. Keeping the crops watered with drip irrigation in the summer allows fragile seedlings to transport nutrients from soil, compost, organic fertilizer, and mulch up into the stems, leaves, and eventually the plants’ flowers and fruit.

I appreciate so much just being out in the fresh (or hot, depending on the day!) air – redolent of the rich perfume of tomato flowers – and putting our hands into the soil, surrounded by the buzzing of innumerable native bees, butterflies, and songbirds like finches. Each plant we lovingly placed in the soil, each hole we dug in spring, when the earth was still moist from all the precipitation, will feed us, our friends, and neighbors thru the season and beyond. And each reminds us of our loving families, who nurtured our love of plants and nature; and of our good fortune at this wonderful time of year!

 

 

 

 

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Summer Solstice: The Longest Day

The Summer Solstice marks the longest day, shortest night, and the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere. The sun appears at its highest, northernmost, point in the sky. Our planet will be at its farthest, or aphelion, in orbit around the sun. Then the days grow shorter as the earth continues to revolve around our star.

Traditions around the world since ancient times include bonfires and feasting in the US and UK, and all over Europe. In Russia the holiday celebrating fertility can involve casting flower garlands and nude bathing in rivers – many of the rituals centering around water.

In the fullness of the season, the outdoors thrums with activity: bees and other pollinators pouring into the ceanothus and other flowers in our yard, including poppies – the very face of summer.

This June, my mother’s birthday also fell on Father’s Day, reminding me even more of my parents – whom I already think of constantly. I’m flooded with memories of my father taking me on hikes around the hills where I grew up, poppies and lupine lulled by summer breezes; and my mother’s rapture over her garden’s every flower.

Artichokes continue to feed us, while also nourishing the bees that cluster into their massive open blossom. Such moments especially fill me with gratitude for each day, and for this glorious season. Happy Summer!

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May Day Blues

On May Day, or Beltane, we celebrate spring as well as honor the hard work of people around the globe on International Workers’ Day. International traditions variously involve marches, and rituals like dancing around a May Pole, bonfires, and crowning a May Queen. Just getting outside feels like a celebration.

Sunny weather awakens and warms the earth, enlivening seeds to sprout. Longer days give plants more exposure to sunlight, providing energy for photosynthesis. This transformation of carbon dioxide and water into sugars feeds plants, quickening and helping them grow and flower, like these baby blue-eyes.

This is acutely evident out on the Sonoma Coast, one of my favorite places in the world. Just knowing I’ll soon be there restores my spirit and calms a worried heart.

For a few years, I’ve been volunteering at Bodega Marine Lab, out on their reserve. This land includes over 360 acres of beaches, coastal prairie, scrub, bluffs, and wetlands; providing habitats for an incredibly diverse number of species – many of them threatened. BML’s research puts them at the forefront of conservation.

Bodega Head is one of the most stunning natural landscapes I’ve ever seen. There, high cliffs lashed by waves border narrow trails that take visitors past vast fields of wildflowers, where deer and coyotes share an uneasy detente. Falcons nest along the bluffs, and red-tailed hawks hover and screech high overhead, diving earthward after sparrows and voles and other prey. Seabirds like cormorants and black oyster catchers abound on spectacular rock outcroppings. Depending on the time of year, whales are seen regularly on their migrations. Breathing in the fresh air, wind whipping past, makes you feel the year coming alive.

Happy May Day!

 

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Spring Equinox under a Full Worm Moon

The vernal equinox is upon us, and with a bonus: the Full Worm Moon. The supermoon appears larger than usual as it reaches its closest point to Earth in its oval-shaped orbit. As the sun crosses the celestial equator, both northern and southern hemispheres experience equal daylight and darkness – equinox in Latin means “equal night.” The earth’s axis is exactly perpendicular to the sun’s rays, before returning to its tilted orbit around the sun. The sun rises and sets equidistant between sunrise and sunset locations of the summer and winter solstices. Now the days grow longer, as the sun continues its northward journey, until June.

 

This full moon signifies soil’s softening after winter rains, and the return of earthworm castings, which beckon to robins – a sure sign of spring. In the garden, I marvel at the fluffy white plum petals like snow against a field of blue: ceanothus, forget-me-not, grape hyacinth. Delicate scents of all the flowers are like spring’s first breaths. This time of year, as farmers have done through the ages, we dig compost into the soil and begin planting for the new growing season.

The burgeoning blossoms draw many species of birds (robins, cedar waxwings, house finches, goldfinches), their songs drifting inside through open windows. The air is filled with the frantic buzz of native honeybees and bumblebees on blooming rosemary, newly energized with the warmth of the sun. Such abundance and birth of new life in nature beautifully symbolize life’s possibilities of renewal. Happy Spring!

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Rainy Imbolg/Candlemas/Groundhog Day

Happy Imbolg (or Candlemas, or Groundhog Day)! Now we commemorate the coming of spring, which is surely around the corner. On a rainy weekend, thanks to what seems to be a strong El Nino weather pattern forming this winter, we visited one of our favorite places, Salt Point State Park on the northern Sonoma Coast. Our mushroom harvest fed us for three dinners and an omelette-rich breakfast, the fungi thriving with all the moisture.

Rather than my usual plethora of words, I thought I’d feature photos this time, showing the fabulous diversity of fungi, lichens, and mosses there and that we’re also lucky enough to have in our garden. Grateful for rain, in this drought-heavy region!

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Solstice in a Season of Smoke: Winter Begins

As Winter Solstice approaches, the horrific smoke from Butte County, California’s Camp fire – the most deadly and destructive in state history – has finally abated, as the fire is at last contained. Even here, over 150 miles away, the smoke and its accompanying symptoms (headaches, respiratory problems, post-traumatic stress flashbacks, to name some of the most serious) were nearly as bad as our 2017 North Bay wildfires. Thankfully, this fire is now over. But, as recovery here in Sonoma County continues, so it will take a long time for these newest sufferers and survivors. (These dedicated groups have helped many; and can use help in this season of giving.)

 

Winter and the solstice (or Yule) has traditionally been a time to go deep within – for the earth as well as its denizens, to heal and nourish for the next growing season. On this shortest day and longest night, we can also look to the lengthening days, and the coming of the light. I think of poet Robert Frost’s “Acquainted with the Night”:

I have been one acquainted with the night.
I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
When far away an interrupted cry
Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye;
And further still at an unearthly height,
One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.

In 2018 came the unfathomable losses of my beloved aunt, and of one of my oldest, dearest friends. They both lived into very old age, filled with wisdom and humor and love that they gave to everyone in their orbits. These losses bring home so vividly the absences of my mother and father – who each died around this time of year.

In our garden at home, my sadness is echoed as we pull out the last tomatoes, basil, peppers – plants that thrive in the summer sun. But with the turning of the wheel of the year, there also comes hope for the new planting season; and joy in the lushness accompanying the first rains, the showy gorgeousness of Christmas cactus in bloom, the thrill of a sunset on the shortest day, and of a “Full Cold Moon” and meteor shower on the longest night.

In the end, I’m left with nothing but gratitude – for the natural world that never ceases to amaze, for family and friends who teach me so much, for this life and the love that fills it.

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Redwoods: Samhain in the Silence of Giants

Samhain, Dia de los Muertos, Halloween: This time of year, observers variously honor their ancestors and deities, or thumb their noses at the Grim Reaper while whistling through the graveyard. It’s during this season that the fading light reminds us how thinly separated are the worlds of the living and the dead.

This October we visited Jedediah Smith and Prairie Creek, in northern California’s Redwood National and State Parks – places we hadn’t seen in 10 years. The coast redwoods or Sequoia sempervirens (“ever-living”), growing over 350 feet, are the tallest trees in the world. These ancient beings seem to breathe with the centuries – inhaling our carbon dioxide, and exhaling the purest, freshest air I’ve ever encountered. They also create their own climate: Thriving in the moist coastal environment, they trap fog in their needles and transpire that water back into the atmosphere, these amazing trees holding onto carbon even long after they die.

The forest’s brilliant verdure is impossible to capture. Light rain of needles falling on us, gentle breath of giants eons old – seemingly timeless and ageless, they began in a primordial Eden, and may remain long after human folly ends. Shuffling through fall leaves, I’m spellbound as thoughts of my mother and aunt, both now gone, intermingle.

California red-legged frog (under sorrel leaves)

In these forests we saw salamanders, Steller’s jays, chipmunks, squirrels, deer, Roosevelt elk, even the endangered California red-legged frog. In our camp, two lovely foxes, surreptitiously seeking snacks in empty sites. How can such creatures exist, on the edge of wilderness, yet so nearby? The night before it poured, Prairie Creek rilling by. Our last evening, we sit by a warming fire ring, the night clear, with a scattering of stars. How is it that we live so separate from nature, that a fallen leaf seems miraculous, shafts of sunlight slanting through the trees a revelation? Maybe this is how nature renders the mundane extraordinary. Perhaps in this enchanted wood, I can find the sorcery to reunite with my beloved mother and aunt once again.

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