In Betweens {and Martinmas}

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Making a nest I daresay – look at how STUFFED his little mouth is.

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There is a stillness this time of year as we settle into the darker days and colder weather. It’s an in-between time, falling after the vibrancy of October yet before winter truly sets in. We are inhaling, readying ourselves for the bustle and excitement of the holiday season. Around here, days are filled to the brim with teaching! I’ve been so busy creating lesson plans, grading, and reading my mountainous stacks of folktale books. It’s good to feel connected to learning again.

I’ve also been attempting to keep up my daily walks. It’s certainly more difficult as the weather gets colder, but the fresh air and open sky always changes my frame of mind if I’m juggling a million things at once. The geese in the park have been particularly active recently, and it’s not unusual to see five or six different formations fly over, honking to one another. The diving ducks have also returned for the winter. Goldeneyes and Buffleheads are now populating the lake with the usual collection of Mallards. Winter birds always make me think of Gladys Taber. She writes about how the birds that stay over the winter are her true favorites, because they weather the storms with her. She distinguishes this as the difference between true friends and fair weather friends. I couldn’t agree more. I love the chickadees, nuthatches, juncos, and blue jays who visit our feeders in the back yard all year round.

We also celebrated Martinmas on Saturday. We were going to dip candles, but the entire process was curtailed because the wax I bought smelled TERRIBLE, and the dipping pot was too light and floated to the top of the double boiler. Sigh. I will try and procure new wax and a new pot and try again another time. We salvaged the night by making yummy roasted carrot and parsnip soup and lighting candles. Martinmas is all about nurturing your inner light during the darkest time of the year, a message I always feel I need to be reminded of as the days grow shorter. For more on the holiday click here.

Next week we are planning a slow Thanksgiving at home. I’m so excited to cook some delicious food, and have a chance to relax. We also might be getting a certain tree for another certain holiday at the end of next week… Is it too soon?

Sending warmth and light to all.

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Celebrating Lammas

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Around here, the summer has shifted. Though we are still steeped in heat, there’s a glimmer of something else in the morning and in the evening, a slight whisper of chill in the air. By no means have we entered into autumn, rather, the summer is in a different faze. Gone are the long days of June or the scorching hot early July days, and here instead are thunderstorms in the afternoon, ripe peaches and tomatoes, and a transition to the harvest. Our garden has begun yielding its bounty, with green beans, tomatoes, and cucumbers harvested last week. We’ve used garden thyme, basil, chives, tarragon and rosemary in our cooking, and we are enjoying golden plums, peaches, and tomatoes from our farm share. What a wonderful time for cooking and eating!

In the spirit of celebrating this bountiful season, I chose to celebrate our first Lammas at the beginning of the month. The name Lammas originates from the pagan holiday “Lughnasadh,” which was later christianized to “loaf mass” and then “Lammas.” Observed on August 1st, Lammas celebrates the first loaf of bread baked from each year’s newly harvested wheat. Though we don’t grow our own wheat, we nevertheless baked bread to mark the beginning of our harvest season.  I like that this holiday recognizes the beginning of the bountiful time of year, and also marks the transition I was already feeling from early to late summer. Our bread ended up being a partially successful experiment… We think our dough was too wet, and are eager to try again soon! Now, I’m trying to soak in these stormy days and raucous nights as the crickets, cicadas, and buzz-bugs create a cacophony in the trees.

A storm is beginning outside my window, and the trees are sighing as the wind picks up. I hope everyone gets a chance to go outside and enjoy some thunder!

The Muse

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My Greenman tile from artist Dwight Davidson.

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That flighty player, the temptress, the mercurial muse! The harder we try to grasp her, the more out of reach she becomes. We curse her, sigh, throw our pens across the room and make yet another cup of tea (in hopes she will lie in wait at the bottom). We do a crossword, write a letter, do ten jumping jacks and still she won’t appear. But the inability to reach the muse lies in our own misunderstanding. We imagine that suddenly she will swoop down to our shoulder and give us an idea, when in reality the muse springs up from days upon days of hard work. I believe in inspiration, dreaming and epiphanies, but with a caveat. I don’t believe great works of writing appear, or great bouts of inspiration descend, without sitting down and writing, that is, doing the hard labor. Writing is a practice, something we must embark upon day by day even when its hard, and even when what we write will never see the light of day. There are no shortcuts, no real “muse” to do the work for us. The magic of writing is in the dedication, even if you are tired or your feet hurt or you are preoccupied with your new job, you write anyway.

In the last few weeks I’ve truly turned a corner in my writing practice, writing for at least 20 minutes every day (of course I try to write for a few hours if I have enough time). Some of these writings are timed, more like an athlete’s stretch than the winning goal of the game. But this allows some self consciousness to be stripped away. Criticism dissolves when your writing is the result of ten minutes non-stop scribbling across the page. Then it’s time for business, and I work on my longer poetry project and developing my portfolio (some of which I’ll use for graduate school applications – fingers crossed).

In helping me overcome writing challenges I’ve been inspired by a few different writers and artists. I highly recommend Wild Mind by Natalie Goldberg, as a guide to writing and an interesting perspective on a writer’s life. If you want to watch an inspiring short video, I recommend author Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk where she talks about the frustration and hard work that comes with creativity and inspiration. I also have been reading Terri Windling’s blog Myth & Moor, where she has several excellent posts about creative processes and self criticism. This is probably my favorite blog out there, I highly recommend it!

I hope everyone finds time this week to follow their own passion, whatever that may be!

The Greenman image is by the artist Dwight Davidson, visit his website here: http://www.davidsonsculpture.com/.
Natalie Goldberg’s book: Goldberg, Natalie. Wild Mind: Living the Writer’s Life. New York: Bantam, 1990. Print.
Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk is here: https://www.ted.com/talks/elizabeth_gilbert_on_genius
Terri Windling can be found at http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/. Her posts on creative processes are here: http://www.terriwindling.com/creative-process/.

Ritual and Rhythm: Daily Walks

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A few days later…

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A Double-Crested Cormorant (harbinger of warmer weather) made an appearance.
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The whole flock of Northern Shovelers took off at once, flying in a cloud away from the lake.

I’ve been trying to find time to take a walk every day. I realized when I was at Kenyon, I had to walk at least 30 minutes each day to and from the dining hall or to and from class. The rhythm was intrinsic, part of my comings and goings on campus and the only way to navigate our little college on the hill. Now however, walking has become a choice, a luxury, a non-essential part of my daily life. My commute to work is a bit too far to walk (without setting 30 minutes aside) so I rely on my trusty hatchback to drive around the city. Of course, I do still take walks frequently, but without the necessity of making it to class on time, or eating dinner, my excursions lost regularity. So, in order to remedy this situation, my dear friend Chloe and I (Chloe is currently studying baroque violin in the Netherlands) have decided to hold each other accountable for daily walks. We send little updates about the weather, pictures of puddles or squirrels, and it’s become a new part of my rhythm, once again an essential part of my day. A few days ago at the lake nearby, I watched an entire flock of Northern Shoveler ducks “hoovering” the algae and little bits of vegetable matter from the top of the lake. As I continued past them and made my way to the other side of the lake, the entire flock took off, whirling up into the air and growing smaller in the distance. How amazing!

Meanwhile around the garden… daffodils are blooming! New shoots poke up from the sleepy earth, squirrels, finches, and robins visit and quench their thirst at the bird bath. And sometimes, if you’re really lucky, a bluejay will alight.

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The nature table is beginning to reflect the burgeoning spring! I had to move its location in the house, but I think the new table is a better size – a little smaller, but more intimate and therefore each fairy or twig or blossom has to be even more carefully selected.

Sending peaceful thoughts to all.