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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Fall Equinox: A Kingdom of Chard

End of summer always breaks my heart. Even in the garden, I look at the burgeoning blooms and bounty as they wane and think, this is the last of this crop, that’s the last of that. So many ends of things.

Today, I was stunned to learn of the death my beloved aunt in Russia. At 95, she was my mother’s only sister, and the person (besides B.) that I love most in this world. Having lived through the historic convulsions of most of the twentieth century – losing her father to the gulag system for a decade, my mother when she immigrated, and her dear husband when he died suddenly – she was no stranger to heartbreak. Yet what I associate with her most was her merry face and bright eyes as she told a mischievous joke, took in the fresh air in her garden, and told me the story of our family – beginning with, “I was not afraid.” She was an extraordinary, towering figure in my life.

And, I’d just recently lost one of my oldest and dearest friends, a woman I met as a teenager and knew for nearly 40 years. I’m struck by how hard it’s hit me. “Please come visit; this might be the last time!” she’d say in her later years (of course none of us could know how long she had left). She was one day shy of 97, and bedridden after a broken hip failed to heal – so it was certainly no surprise. I feel as if both women have taken part of me now that they’re gone, tho I’ll always carry them in my heart.

Of course, with ends also come beginnings; without death, there would be no life. With the ends of caterpillar pupae come the metamorphoses into butterfly chrysalis; the ends of plant growing cycles bring new energy and seeds for the next season. And so it is with us, as we begin a new phase of life. As I look at the engorged pumpkins grown from seeds saved by my family in Russia, B. and I celebrate the basil scent wafting across the garden through clouds of bees, our fists full of mint and chard and beans. With the shorter days and plants going to seed and shutting down crop production – storing sugars deep in their interiors and roots over the winter, we’ll soon wind down the garden to begin the season of turning inward – now of mourning, and start preparing for the next growing year.


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Bees, Please!

Happy August! In these hot days lingering toward the end of summer, California is once again in the grips of ever-worsening wildfires. Fire season now spans half the year, due to climate change causing hotter, drier conditions.

Honeybee on hyssop

These conditions also contribute to growing instability in more humble areas: native and non-native bees, imperiled not only from drought and climate change; but also dangerous pests like varroa mites, disease, herbicides/pesticides and other poisons, lack of biodiversity and forage due to monoculture, and habitat loss from human development.

Earlier I’d posted about how integral bees’ health is to human life and systems, as well as on their fascinating behavior, such as the waggle dance they perform to alert each other to pollen sources. Amazingly, California has over 1600 species of native bees. 1600! B and I have focused any garden plantings (which we decreased due to ongoing drought) on mostly native plants to attract bees and other pollinators.

Bumblebee on bog sage

B’s folks have taken up beekeeping, joining the effort that’s restoring honeybee populations in New England.

Individuals and agriculture using more sustainable practices can help offset the damage caused by human development and monoculture. Some critical ways to help with conservation:

  • don’t use poisons in your home or garden! Pesticides, herbicides, and rodenticides affect more than just the creatures you want to get rid of, and kill countless beneficial insects (like bees); keystone species like raptors; household pets, and children.
  • focus on mainly plants native to your area, and non-natives that provide necessary nectar and shelter to attract pollinators.

    Honeybee (right) on bronze fennel

  • as a beekeeper, you can make a small initial investment and sustain a relatively low-maintenance hive population; for help, join a local beekeeping association.
  • support growers of organic produce, and farmers working on innovative ways to introduce various species of native bees to supplement the work of honeybees.

I can’t possibly overstate the joy of living with a healthy garden humming with happy and industrious birds, butterflies, and bees!

Bee feeding frenzy on artichoke flower


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A More Common Flower at Solstice

Somehow it’s already the Summer Solstice (in the northern hemisphere), when traditions prompt us to celebrate midsummer‘s fertility with festivals and bonfires. Earth’s rotational axis on this day tilts at its greatest incline toward the star that it orbits – our sun. It is the year’s longest day and shortest night.

Usually, fall and winter are where my sympathies lie: the cool, dark, and damp. But summer enchants me. The sheer gorgeousness of nature in its fecundity. The nonchalance of birds daily chasing down bugs and beetles. And such birds! Towhees, chickadees, white-crowned sparrows; the dance of cedar waxwings as they wait and swoop in turn down to the birdbath, wings fluttering amidst countless burgeoning blossoms. Every flower has beauty, but often I forget the startling forms of the more humble blooms sprouting from plants that feed us, like onions and artichokes. In the process of growing, these remarkable organisms turn sunlight into their own nutrients through photosynthesis, flower, pollinate by bees and other pollinators, and go to seed. Thus begins again nature’s constant cycle of rejuvenation. 

Currently there’s much sadness in the world: suicide in the news, some dear friends’ personal struggles. I’m constantly reminded of my mother’s painful battle with mental illness, and her strength in persevering through it, not only to survive but to teach me to take succor in nature. I imagine how she might have drawn comfort from the joy of gardening on a cool, rainy day when plants can benefit from soft rainwater; the smell of soil and the feel of digging fingers into it; of turning rich compost crawling with worms, ready to nourish plantings. It is she who taught me gratitude for such moments, for having loved ones to share this with, and it is her memory I share it with every day. Happy Solstice!

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