Sunday, October 31, 2010

Overly ambitious

I got lots of library books. I couldn't read them all before they were due, so I kept renewing them. Meanwhile, I kept thinking of more library books I wanted to get.

I'm taking a class, and feeling burdened by the homework. Meanwhile, I'm thinking of the class I want to take next semester.

I'm working on a druid study program, and there is lots to do. I never get as much done as I intend. Meanwhile, I am thinking about all the things I want to do that will be in next year's curriculum.

The world is so full of things I want to learn and do. I keep seeing more, even when I already have too much to do. But I can be like the sugar maple I wrote about yesterday. In the shade of the forest, it can't grow as fast as it would like, but it just perseveres, growing slowly.

New Year

Many modern Pagan and Druid traditions consider Samhain the holiday which marks the end of one year and the beginning of another, although what I've read by historical scholars indicates that this was likely not so for the Iron Age Celts.

I've been on an academic calendar most of my life -- first as a student, then as a university employee -- so it often has felt to me that a new year begins around the beginningof September.

Also, I feel that my year is divided into two seasons, summer and winter. Summer is when after work, it's warm and light, so I spend time outdoors, and when green leaves are all around me, while winter is when it is dark and cold when I get home from work, and the trees are bare.

It never made much sense to me to observe the new year on January 1, which it's not the beginning of anything, it's smack dab in the middle of winter.

Nor does Samhain feel like a new year. From the academic calendar perspective, it's smack dab in the middle of a semester. And while the falling of leaves indicates that an old year is dying, a new year is far from coming.

I think now as a druid observing the stations of the sun, it makes sense to observe winter solstice as the new year. That's the time when the sun has finished moving away from us, and begins to move toward us -- one year has finished dying, and another year begins to grow. From that perspective, January 1 isn't such a bad time to observe the new year after all. They talk about the 12 days of Christmas, so how about the 12 days of the new year, December 21-January 1.


Sometimes I say that there seem to be two seaons here, summer and winter. Or in my more negative moments, I say the two seasons are too hot and too cold. But I think we do actually have spring and fall, I think they are just short. As I experience them, the seasons where I currently live go something like this:
  • Samhuinn to Spring Equinox: winter (5 months)
  • Spring Equinox to Memorial Day: spring (2 months)
  • Memorial Day to Fall Equinox: summer (4 months)
  • Fall Equinox to Samhuinn: fall (1 month)

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Perseverance of the maple

Something I read about sugar maples in An Eclectic Guide to Trees East of the Rockies by Glen Blouin:

Under the forest canopy, seeds germinate with as little as 2% sunlight, frequently carpeting the forest floor with seedlings. Some die because they have landed on a poor microsite; others are nibbled by mice, rabbits, and deer; but many survive, growing very slowly but otherwise healthy, patiently waiting for a clearing above so they can take advantage of the sunlight. When an older tree dies or is cut down, young maples seize the opportunity to fill the void.

To me this is about adversity, perserverance, and hope. The maple seedling does not give up. It does not get indignant that it faces adversity. It simply grows to the best of its ability, and waits for way to open.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Community gathering and wonder

For the past few weeks, I have been blessed with good health, so I went out twice. (I mean, usually I go out to work and grocery shopping, but when I'm not feeling well, I don't want to go places any more than I have to.)

First, I attended a meeting of a simple living group. They meet once a month. At each meeting, they have a speaker on a topic of interest, and a discussion. I liked being amongst people who share my values within my community. I'm accustomed to interacting with people who share my values on the internet, and reading books by people who share my values, but it's something else to be physically in a community. In the discussion, the comment that resonated with me most was about how the politicians talk about growing the economy, no one is talking about reducing consumption.

The other event that I went to was an organ concert. Many cities and towns in my area have one Friday or Saturday evening a month designated as "art night" or a "night out." Tonight was such a night in my town. The organ concert was part of that. It was short, because it was meant to be just one stop as people wander around the downtown. It was put on by a church. I think the people running it were associated with the church, and that the audience was a mix of people from the church and people not from the church.

The audience included people of all ages. There was a little girl (daughter of the organist) who would start crawling away, and the mother would call to her, and then the girl would come back. I was impressed that a child so little that she is crawling would come when called. Before the concert started, when the organist appeared in the organ loft, one of his older kids said from the pews, loud enough for all to hear, "Hi Daddy!"

There were some people dressed in Halloween costumes greeting people as we entered. Up front, there were candles and some of the fake spiderweb stuff people use for Halloween decorations. Also in the front, unobtrusively tucked between two columns, was a skull-like head. Near the end of the last song, a figure appeared. There was a head that was like the skull of a monster, with orange eyes, and the body was draped in sheets. This figure was suspended on a line, and had been mostly unnoticed in the back of the room, but at a particular time during the performance, the figure slid forward along the line to the front of the room.

What struck me was that people put themselves into creating this experience, into the costumes, decorations, and suspended figure. They did this to enhance our experience of the concert. It's beautiful when a community creates something in this way. That's the life I want. I don't want to be shut away in my apartment glued to a computer screen. I want to be a part of my community.

I wrote that the suspended figure had been "mostly unnoticed." The little boy in front of me, who was maybe 8 or 9, noticed it partway through the show. I saw him pointing to the back of the room, and I could tell that what he saw appeared wondrous to him, but I did not turn to look. I heeded the advice of his mother, who advised him not to draw attention, because it would spoil the surprise for other people.

At the front of the room, there was a screen, on which there was a projection of the organist playing. Normally, you just see the back of the organist, and don't see the keyboard, but the screen allowed us to see the keyboard and the organist's hands playing. Before the concert started, on the screen they showed a video clip from Phantom of the Opera. When the little boy in front of me arrived, he wanted to be sure that he was sitting in a way that he could see the screen. To me, the screen was slightly interesting, but not something it was essential to see. Seeing this boy reminded me to view the world with wonder.

Between songs, the organist introduced someone whom he said was going to make an announcement about chocolate. She told us that they had little squares of fair trade chocolate for all of us, and that the chocolate came with a card about why to choose fair trade, about the child labor sometimes used in producing chocolate, and that sort of thing. I thought that was lovely -- that the church used the concert as an opportunity to share their concern for others, that the concern for others was presented in the form of giving chocolate, and that giving chocolate was so fitting for a Halloween themed concert.

I hope my health continues, so that I can continue to be a part of my community. I want to support the people who make the effort to put these things together.


When I was a kid, I thought that wind was caused by the trees waving their arms. I still think of that sometimes when I see the tree branches thrashing in the wind.

Flying leaves

It was so windy, the leaves did not fall downward. Instead, they flew across the sky toward the east for many yards before they finally found their destination and started moving downwards. Trees stay rooted, but leaves soar through the air.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Autumn colors

Autumn has so many beautiful shades. The one below, a shifting, shimmering mix of browns and oranges, is a color I think of as "my color." If I could, I'd wear clothes in this color. I have some clothes sort of like this, but the trees create the color better than fabrics do I think. This color is most often found in oaks and Norway maple cultivars.

I also like the colors of the sugar maples in autumn. Now, they are a bit past their peak, but a week ago, they were exquisite.

I appreciate Norway maples in autumn because they keep the summer green which I love longer than some other trees. Below, we get the best of both worlds: the autumn brilliance of a sugar maple with the summer green of a Norway maple.

Like sugar maples, red maples are beautiful in their brilliance.

Sycamore's leaves are not brilliant in fall, but sycamore's branches curve gracefully all year round. Sycamore is a role model for maintaining poise and grace even as youthfulness (or leaves) drops away.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010


I grew up Quaker, so I've always believed in looking for "that of God in everyone." Ideally, I'd like to look upon all with love. In practice, I can't stand overbearing people, slick people, people who don't listen. But if I was a tree, I wouldn't mind. I would just stand there serenely, solidly rooted, with beautiful green leaves dancing with the wind. Next time I encounter an overbearing person, maybe I can remember to be a tree.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Toolbox for Sustainable City Living

Some quotes I like from Toolbox for Sustainable City Living by Scott Kellogg and Stacy Pettigrew:
  • "If it is not safe it is not sustainable. If a rooftop solar collector falls through the roof, it's going to be even harder to keep the house warm."
  • Regarding the laws which prohibit composting toilets, "We look forward to the day when we will all be free to not poop in clean water."

The Education of Little Tree, Chapter 2

I think I read The Education of Little Tree a long time ago, but I don't remember it much. Today I picked it up and started reading. I realized that I didn't want to read it through all at once. At the end of chapter two, I stopped, because I wanted some time to ponder the things said in that chapter before I went on to read more. There were two things in particular that struck me:
  1. "It is the Way....Take only what ye need. When you take the deer, do not take the best. Take the smaller and the slower and then the deer will grow stronger and always give you meat....Only Ti-bi, the bee, stores more than he can use...and so he is robbed by the bear, and the 'coon...and the Cherokee. It is so with people who store and fat themselves with more than their share. They will have it taken from them. And there will be wars over it...and they will make long talks, trying to hold more than their share. They will say a flag stands for their right to do this...and men will die because of the words and the flag...but they will not change the rules of the Way."
  2. "Ol' Tel-qui is like some poeple. Since he knows everything, he won't never look down to see what's around him. Got his head stuck up in the air too high to learn anything."

Monday, October 11, 2010

Religion as opening your heart to love

Tonight I was listening to "Rich" by Neal and Leandra. I used to think of it as a song about romantic love, but tonight I realized it could be a religious song. It says,

"Let the world go on believing
It can dry up all my dreams
Your love is the water
And I've waded into the holiest of streams"

It reminds me of "Morning Song," which I quoted in last night's entry. "Morning Song" says "I will go with beauty round me."

To me, both seem to be about finding an inner peace, regardless of what is going on around you.

It also reminded me of a blog post I read recently regarding how people who don't believe in God as a separate, sentient entity participate in Quaker worship. Using the concept "God is love" the author substituted the word "love" for "God" in a quote from George Fox (the founder of Quakerism), "that is it which must guide everyone's mind up to love, and to wait upon love to receive the spirit from love, and the spirit leads to wait upon love in silence, and to receive from love." The blog author goes on to say, "there is no object towward which our worship is directed, toward which we proffer reverence. We're simply waiting to feel the motions of love directing our lives. Thus do we avoid the error of attempting to objectify, to reify God."

That blog post, and the two songs, explain what religion is to me. Religion is a set of practices which help us to open our heart to love. And God is what we experience when we do open our heart to love.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Morning Song

I wrote about "Morning Song" by Daniel Dutton just over three months ago. I need to remember that song today. I feel sick, the cold and dark season is arriving, and many people around me are afflicted with illness. Somehow, through all the hardship, can I find a path?

The song says:

Sun I pray, let me life begin today
I promise I will go with beauty round me
Dark nights and cloudy sorrows
Will turn at last to the sunny skies of love
Troubled dreams, fold your wings and vanish
All the fears fade and pass

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fluid identities

One would think that a person either is or is not Christian, Pagan, etc., but it's not so simple.

A Jewish person, seeing that my ancestors were Christian for centuries, and that I celebrate Christmas, would call me Christian.

A devout and conservative Christian, seeing that I don't consider Jesus to be my personal savior, nor the Bible to be the word of God, would say that I am not a Christian.

Some, seeing that I practice an earth-centered religion inspired by pre-Christian traditions, might call me a Pagan.

Others, seeing that I don't believe in gods or magick, might say I'm not a Pagan.

Sometimes we change, but other times, we stay the same as the words attached to us shift, depending on who is doing the attaching.

If a person sees who I am, I don't really care if they call me Christian or not-Christian, Pagan or not-Pagan. If they see who I am, then the words they choose to apply vart depending on how they define the words.

Trying to solve the problems of the world

The problems that face us humans include:
  • How to live sustainably, so that we can live well for many generations to come.
  • How to get along with each other, replacing violence, oppression, and poverty with freedom, equality, kindness, respect, and integrity.
We humans come with many different interests and abilities and perspectives. If we could all work together, maybe we could solve these problems. But, I think in order to all work together, we need to solve the poverty, violence, oppression, and so forth, so it's a bit of a chicken and egg problem. Other things that we need in order to be able to all work together on solving these problems:
  • For everyone to have education and access to information. The internet helps a lot with access to information, though we are still a long way from everyone having access to all information they should have access to. I don't think we are doing such a good job with education, based on the lack of wisdom and knowledge I see. Actually, I think certain aspects of our society (e.g. Glenn Beck) foster ignorance.
  • Health. It is hard to focus on solving the problems of the world when we are exhausted or in pain.
I don't have the solutions to poverty, violence, oppression, and sustainable living. What appeals to me is working on the second list, on education, information access, and health, empowering people to work together on the items on the first list. We need engineers, architects, scientists, policymakers, and activists to work together to transform our world. I could never do a lot of those jobs. But I can work in education, helping students grow into becoming the people who will be able to transform our world.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Mercedes Lackey's early Valdemar books

I don't like Mercedes Lackey's books quite as much as I like books by Robin McKinley, Cynthia Voigt, Tamora Pierce, and Frances Hardinge, but they are solid. They do the job of engaging me, and have more positive than negative attributes. And the big advantage is there are a lot of them, so they can still provide me with fresh entertainment. I've read the books by the other authors I mentioned multiple times already, and sometimes I like something new.

I read a few Mercedes Lackey books, enough to know they were good, and then I decided to read them all in chronological order. That is, in the order in which they happened, not the order in which they were written. She has actually written books about several different universes, but so far I've only been in the Valdemar universe.

That universe starts out with the Mage Wars books. They held my attention, but if they were the first books I read by her, I probably would not have bothered to read any more.

Next were the Last Herald Mage books. Those were good. Very gripping. A young man lives through bullying, isolation, and loss, and emerges to devote himself to serving humanity. Actually quite good, the books in this trilogy are on a par with books by Tamora Pierce and Robin McKinley.

Last night I read Foundation. The other books were in trilogies, and this book is clearly not a standalone book. It is as if a whole book is divided into multiple bindings. (I don't know if this will be a trilogy like the others, so I'm not sure how many bindings the book is divided into.) The sequel will be published three days from today, and I ordered it on inter-library loan a week and a half ago.

One nice thing about this book is that the main character does not come from privilege. For example, they say they are overcrowded, and apologetically ask if it's okay if he sleeps in a heated, furnished room that's in the stable. They think it's treating him poorly to make him sleep in the stable, while he thinks it's amazing to be able to sleep in a heated, furnished room.

There was a nice description of a winter solstice observance. People gather together and take turns sharing stories and songs on the theme of hope in darkness, or something good emerging after a bad time. There is a container of earth, and each person plants a seed in it. The container will be placed outside, and in spring, plants will grow.