Saturday, February 25, 2006


I spent part of today ordering seeds and plants for this summer. I get a boatload of garden catalogs, and I spend most of January just going through them, dreaming, changing my mind about what to grow, longing for one of each. Over time, I've learned that I'm better off buying enough of a few things rather than one of each. By early February, I have made some decisions, and I go through the catalogs again, folding over pages. Four or five companies are likely to sell something I want, and I fold over the pages in each catalog that has, for example, ruby thyme. Then, but late February (aka NOW), I get serious. I make a chart with the names of the plants i want down the side and the names of the catalogs across the top. Then, in the proper square, I fill in the price, whether its for seeds or live plants, etc. Finally, I order. For some reason, I like to do it by hand, on the order form. Maybe because I write checks, whereas on line or by phone I'd put it on a credit card and that would provide just a little bit less of a leash for me.

This year, I'm growing the standard herbs, although many of these will come back from last year: Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, Thyme, Woad, Mint (chocolate, peppermint, and spearmint), Sweet Woodruff, Wormwood, Nasturtium and Marigold, Lime Balm, Dill, Basil, and Rue.

I'll grow coleus, which I love, but which are annuals and, thus, expensive, around the tree in my front yard and, along w/ black elepahant ears (this year, I WILL be successful!) in containers near my driveway. I'll grow white foxglove and black hollyhocks (planted from last year's seed; they're biennials) in the front cottage garden along with deep purple Grandpa Ott's morning glories, white moonflowers, and white datura.

For my backyard woodland garden, I've indulged in some jack-in-the pulpit bulbs, absolutely gorgeous and very witchy, but quite dear. I'm hoping the bulbs will make more bulbs and, if I buy a few every year, in a few years, I'll have a lovely bed of them. I bought several kinds of violas, Bowles Black and Psychydelic Spring, which I planted once before and they didn't do too well, so this is their last chance!

I wanted to buy about a hundred lilly of the valley bulbs for the woodland garden, too, but decided I'd have to wait another year to afford those.

Lots of what's already planted will come back. I have two yellow daffodills about to pop and hundreds more just behind. I have black iris ready to go and pink peonies. I'm hoping the black calla lillies that I planted last year and got a few blooms from survived our draught last summer. I have astilibes (white) and day lillies (orange -- they were planted by the people who lived here before me), and tons of hosta, and some helibore I keep threatening to pull out but haven't yet since they come so early. There are a few stray crocus, from the people before me, and some black dianthus I planted in a container that I hope will bloom this year.

I'd have liked some ferns in the side yard, but will have to wait a year or two and, in a perfect world, I'd have liked a few more lilac bushes. But I have two and they're covered with hard little buds, and I can buy more blooms at the farmers' market, so I'll wait until after I tear the whole yard up in a few years and hire a landscaper.

What are you growing? What are you longing to grow? What have you given up on growing? I've been in love with gardening since I read The Secret Garden as a child. How did you fall in love with putting seeds in the earth?

Friday, February 24, 2006

What's Worse Than Eating Your Seed Grain?

This terrifies me. A big part of my retirement plan is to have my home completely paid off by the time I retire.

Also scary is the fact that Americans aren't saving enough for retirement. Social Security may be almost all that many people have. Why DO we keep buying crap we don't need?

Sacred Spaces in the Modern World -- Second in a Continuing Series

I’ve blogged before about the need for Sacred Space and, in particular, the need to find Sacred Spaces in urban areas, which is where most modern Pagans live. My friend Renee, aka the Greatest Cook in the Entire Universe, and my incredibly creative friend Kathy have introduced me to a form of Sacred Space that is springing up throughout urban areas -- the labyrinth.

Labyrinths have become popular again, after falling into obscurity for hundreds of years. Interestingly, they appeal to both Xians and Pagans, although many, but not all, of the labyrinths I’ve seen are in Xian churches (well, to be fair, Xians tend to have churches, while Pagans -- not so much). Renee tends a labyrinth at the local UU church. Our circle has walked an outdoor labyrinth at a Protestant church in Bethesda. The National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. has a monthly labyrinth walk that I keep meaning to get to. Kathy showed me a charming outdoor labyrinth hidden in a garden behind the local HIV/AIDS clinic; it’s there for patients and their families to walk.

What is it about labyrinths that creates Sacred Space? They provide a place for meditative walking. They require enough attention (at least for my deficient right brain!) that the monkey mind shuts down. They remind the participant that the way in and the way out are often the same and that twists and turns are part of the journey. But, like all Sacred Spaces, there’s something undefinable that makes labyrinths sacred space.

Labyrinths are great for urban areas as they can fit into a small area -- either inside or outside (or even online!). The ones at the National Cathedral and the local UU church are painted on canvas and can be rolled up and put away.

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Would you?

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Even If We're Just Dancing in the Dark

Lately, I've been incredibly impressed by the blogging NTodd's been doing. It's creative. It's emotional. It's real. It's raw. And, it's revelatory. That's why it's creative, emotional, real, and raw. His recent podcasts will be examples, I think, when they get around to studying podcasting as an artform, of creative and non-derivative (of, for example, radio) podcasts.

I'm amazed, because NTodd and I have fairly similar Myers-Briggs profiles. And they both start with "I" for introvert. One of the things I enjoy about communicating over the internet is the ability to share only as much as I want. To dart behind the curtain any time I choose. To edit myself before presenting myself to the world.

So, when people ask me, as they have recently in e-mails, what my daily spiritual practice looks like, for example, I tend to want to retreat, move to generalities, obfuscate. I'm a nobody, in the Emily Dickinson sense. Why would anyone care what I do? Mostly what I do is do it wrong. And, yet, lately, part of what I'm working on is what I refer to as "inhabiting my life." By that, I think I mean pretty much the same thing that Ram Dass meant when he urged people to "Be Here Now." (Goddess, I am old.) By that, I mean, living in the real moment and not in either the future where I really WILL have gotten things together, (I once heard Christine Northrop talk about how in the he 1980s we all though that, if we could just get the right daytimer or Filofax, we'd really get it all together and it elicited one of those "Oh YES!" responses from me.) or in the past when I completely fucked it up. So, living in the present, here's my attempt to describe my spiritual practice.

Katrina Messenger once looked me dead in the eye and said that if you are not writing down your dreams, you are inhibiting your spiritual growth. So, even though, when I finally admit that I'm awake, I'm usually an hour or so behind where I'd like to be, I take a few minutes to jot down a few evocative phrases so that I'll be able to recall my dreams. Then, I'm off. I generally look up and gasp for air at about noon. Whatever I'm eating, and it can be lobster at the Palm with an interviewee or it can be a scoop of tuna salad and an banana at my desk, I try to stop and thank the dead fish and the dead fruit and vegetables, and the dead tea leaves for giving me life. And, then, I'm off. Somewhere in there, I try to walk on the treadmill, or do ecstatic dance, or, if I'm very lucky, swim. That's part of my spiritual practice. I don't enjoy it, generally, but I do it. My body IS the tool I use to do magic. I need to take care of my tools. I often work 10, 12, 14 hour days. By the time I drag myself home and feed the cat, I'm tired. And hungry. And wishing I'd gotten more done.

And there are times when my spiritual practice, and I am dead serious about this, is to go to sleep. We are, as T. Thorn Coyle has noted, embodied consciousness. We either take care of our bodies, or we don't. But to have a spiritual practice, I have to have a body. And, as I've learned the hard way from night school and the first years of practicing law, I need sleep.

But, if I can stay awake, I sit down, breathe slowly, and ground. Starhawk describes grounding in The Spiral Dance, and, for me, it is the basis of a spiritual practice. When I ground, it's specific. I see specific roots spreading from my orange and yellow chakras into the specific hummusy ground of my yard. I see my roots pulling up specific energy from my Mother, the Earth, and spreading throughout my specific body. I see any cancer cells being recognized by my immune system and destroyed, I see my right brain, which I often underuse, being filled with light. I see the light from the moon flowing through my violet chakara and blending with the energy from the Earth. This can take me a long time and a great deal of concentration.

At this point, I often call the quarters: "Earth, Air, Fire, Water, Come be with me, I'm your daughter." I call Center and I call the Goddess(es), generally Hecate and, recently, Cerridwen. I do an exercise from T. Thorn Coyle's book, Evolutionary Witchcraft, that ends in what she refers to as "feeding the sacred dove," and then, I do some magic.

Lately, I do some magic designed to protect my son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild during the birth. I've adapted a prayer of St. Patrick (that mothefucker), one that Madeline L'Engle, one of my favorite authors, used. It starts, "In Columbia, at this sacred hour . . . " All the rest, the incense, the altar, the athame, the herbs and stones, and sacred flames are just ways to involve my entire being, subconscious, consciousness, and Higher Self in the process, to seduce my entire being into whatever my left brain has decided is needed.

Then, I thank the Goddess(es) and the quarters and go take a bath, blog, read a book, throw in laundry, mow the lawn, sleep.

It's not much. But tonight, and for the next 29 nights, I'm doing it in complete darkness. We'll see if it makes a difference. Tonight, I went to the dark after about a half an hour of ecstatic dance. I found it lovely, peaceful, deep. I realized that, although I've found a place that's very dark, it's still noisy. i can hear my sump pump. I can hear my furncace. I can hear my monkey mind, just below the surface.

Dancing in the dark. Wherever you go, there you are. Are you ever alone in the dark? On purpose?

The Ability to Change Consciousness at Will??

T. Thorn Coyle has a brilliant post today about the nature of magic and what magic is, and isn't, good for. She opens with an amazing quote I've never seen before:

"Many Buddhist teachers have described compassion as the ability to react freely and accurately in any situation. Being nice or feeling sorry for someone may be called for, but so may being fierce and unyielding. When sweetness is applied indiscriminately, it is seen as 'idiot compassion.'" - Issan Dorsey

She goes on to discuss her reaction to a question she received recently when speaking at a conference: "Someone asked a question along the lines of, "how about social justice? How can our magic affect that?" I believe the first words out of my mouth were: "Go work in a soup kitchen." I went on to talk about how magic changes us from the inside out and we need to patch the ozone layer in ourselves before working magic to patch the ozone layer in the sky. And that we need to do other work for that one in the sky. I don't recall exactly what I said - I was running on too little sleep. Later, a woman chased me down in the hallway to ask about my response. We talked a bit about what magic can do, and I said it could change our consciousness, for one, and then she said "But, can magic clean the air?" I looked at her and said "No. We need to get our shit together."

I was fierce. And it feels better to be affirming, despite the fact that those around me say that being fierce is good.

In retrospect, I wish the first words out of my mouth in both cases had been "What do you mean by magic?" Because the picture I had, from the way both questions were couched, was a group of people holding hands and visualizing global human rights or clean air. And that can be a powerful step in creating an image to work toward, but it also frustrates me because too often that is the only step people take. And it doesn't change carbon dioxide into oxygen, like planting trees and reducing toxic emissions. And when it is the only step taken it becomes not magic, but a salve to make us feel better, and feel like we've done our part. Sometimes we step too quickly to magic to try to affect things outside ourselves when we haven't done enough basic work to affect our insides, nor enough work just doing basic, physical activity. It can, in some cases, become a route of avoidance, like doing ritual by yourself to heal a friendship in lieu of hashing things out with your friend. When I was a baby Witch of 17, I got some great magical advice: "The best spell to do when you need a job is to fill out an application and drop it off.""

I agree completely. But then Ms. Coyle says something I'm not sure that I do agree with: "And unless our insides truly change, change will never come about outside. We'll just keep slapping bandages on gaping wounds." I wonder if that's correct. At first, it sounds completely logical. But change in the outside world can eventually change what's going on inside us, as well. For example, when women first pushed our way into the workforce, scared, unsure of ourselves, feeling a bit guilty for "taking" a job "away" from "a man," men didn't like it. But today, inner attitudes have changed in many ways. Not only do women feel much more entitled to be in the world of work, men today are, more than their fathers and grandfathers, accepting of that. They've changed inside. And other things -- how work gets done, how children get cared for, how involved men are as parents -- have changed too. I don't mean we live in Nirvana, yet, by any stretch. But people's attitudes have changed. Young people, and I include Ms. Coyle in that group, grew up with completely different ideas about race than did my generation. That's largely due to an external change -- they went to school together.

At any rate, something else to think about. Ms. Coyle's brilliant and worth being added to your daily list of places to check in.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Where Are All the American Chestnut Trees?

Once upon a time, there were four billion American chestnut trees. Not so long ago, the American chestnut was one of the most important trees of forests from Maine south to Florida, from the Piedmont west to the Ohio valley. In the heart of its range only a few generations ago, a count of trees would have turned up one chestnut for every four oaks, birches, maples and other hardwoods. Many of the dry ridgetops of the central Appalachians were so thoroughly crowded with chestnut that, in early summer, when their canopies were filled with creamy-white flowers, the mountains appeared snow-capped.

And the trees could be giants. In virgin forests throughout their range, mature chestnuts averaged up to five feet in diameter and up to one hundred feet tall. Many specimens of eight to ten feet in diameter were recorded, and there were rumors of trees bigger still.

Native wildlife from birds to bears, squirrels to deer, depended on the tree's abundant crops of nutritious nuts. And chestnut was a central part of eastern rural economies. As winter came on, attics were often stacked to the rafters with flour bags full of the glossy, dark brown nuts. Springhouses and smokehouses were hung with hams and other products from livestock that had fattened on the harvest gleanings. And what wasn't consumed was sold.

Then came the blight. First discovered in 1904 in New York City, the blight - an Asian fungus to which our native chestnuts had very little resistance - spread quickly. In its wake it left only dead and dying stems. By 1950, except for the shrubby root sprouts the species continually produces (and which also quickly become infected), the keystone species on some nine million acres of eastern forests had disappeared.

The American Chestnut Foundation is devoted to bringing chestnut trees back to America. Goddess knows, we need more trees. Trees make the air we breathe. It's that simple.

I love the work the ACF is doing. In one way, it's this hopeless, romantic cause. And, in another way, it's one of the best uses of science there is.

Can you help them out? They need money, but they also need people to grow chestnut seedlings and report their results. They also catalog trees that have survived the blight. If you think you've found one; let them know!


One of the principles that attracted me to Wicca was its equal emphasis on darkness and light. We're coming to the end of the "dark half" of the year, but I'm still thinking about darkness. I'm thinking about how darkness seems to harbor and nourish our fears and about how exploring the dark can help us to thrive.

As someone who's had her first bout of breast cancer, I'm always interested in research related to preventing breast cancer. Some very interesting research indicates that women who aren't able to sleep in darkness are more likely to contract breast cancer than are women who sleep in the dark.

Lately, I've been thinking about how almost no one in our society is ever, literally, in the dark. No, I don't mean that the Bush administration doesn't "treat us like mushrooms, feeding us shit and keeping us in the dark." I mean, how often are you literally in a place with no light? Even at night, when you turn off your light to go to sleep, there's a lot of light. From the street. From your clock-radio. From your computer. From the tv. Even when turned "off" these devices glow; telling us the time, the amount of battery juice left, the fact that a movie is being tivoed.

In my old apartment, I couldn't even see the stars, I was so close to the city. Here, in my little cottage, I can see the stars, but it's still not that dark. My sweet neighbor across the street has these huge bright outdoor lamps that shine even through the pulled blinds in my bedroom. The electric heater I put in my bedroom to avoid paying huge natural gas bills this winter glows to tell me the room temp and that it's on. Even when I turn my clock-radio to the wall, there's a glow.

So, tonight, I went looking for the darkest place in my house. My half-bath in the finished basement, which has only a tiny window to my backyard is the darkest place I could find. I can't see my hand in front of my face there. It's tiny, but it's where I'm going to do my daily practice for the next thrity days. Just to see what i can learn from the dark.

Where is your dark place? Have you ever seen the stars way out in the country away from the lights of any city? Do you ever seek out the dark? When? What for? Are you afraid of the dark? How does the darkness help us thrive?

Monday, February 20, 2006

My Reality TV Show

One of the many ways in which I'm weird is that I almost never watch tv. I mean this literally. Months can go by and I don't turn the tv set on. Especially when there's no new Sopranos. I watch a clip or two on Crooks & Liars, but, generally, I just don't have time.

And I have to admit that I think I'd genuinely prefer having a root canal to watching what Americans are pleased to call "reality tv" shows. I've read enough to understand the idea behind Survivor. I once made myself watch a reality tv show that was on SciFi, called, I think, Weird, Weird House, because one of the participants was a Wiccan who's managed to turn herself into a minor celeb and I wanted to see if I thought she was helping or hurting -- was she showing that lots of normal folks practice Wicca or was she making it seem weirder than it really is? In the end, the show had so little to do with Wicca, that I really couldn't decide.

But I've come to realize that this form of narrative -- the "reality" tv storyline -- is a narrative that lots of Americans do understand and are willing to follow. I'm the weird one out on this. (But, honest, I'd rather have a root canal. Two root canals.) And I've been wondering if there are worthwhile ways to use this narrative format.

A few weeks ago, there was a bit of a dust-up when some tv stations refused to show a reality tv show that asked neighbors to consider several possible new neighbors and the gay (male) couple won (i.e., was selected to move into the neighborhood). The xian right was up in arms over the notion that people might actually accept gay neighbors. (Duh! Are they that stupid? EVERYONE knows a gay couple will improve property values. It's happened all over Capitol Hill!)

So, I got to thinking, there should be a reality tv show that follows some women through their abortions. And, it should be graphic. If we can show plastic surgery on tv, we can show abortion. People should get used to seeing it. They should see what a simple procedure it is and how quickly women recover from it. I guess at the end, some judges could vote on who moved on with her life the best or whatever, just as there's some reality tv show that's always on in my gym where judges vote on the person who lost the most weight that week or whatever. People should see that women have abortions for lots of reasons, that the women who have abortions are pretty normal folks, that the doctors who do abortions are kind, caring healers.

I don't like this narrative form. But maybe there's a way to use it.