Lakefront Visit, and some Campy Tips

Hi all!  I’ve recently returned from my annual pilgrimage north, and I have to say the transition back into city life is going fairly well, considering what a spectacular week I had to leave behind.  There were a number of beautiful and memorable moments: a gigantic setting crescent moon sliding down the most vivid crimson sunset sky just minutes behind the sun, glorious weather and captivating clouds, remarkably not-frigid lake water ideal for sauna-ing, the spirits of the bluff shooing us away with absurdly brief and localized thunder and rain (two warning claps and a 15-second sprinkle), mesmerizing sky-wide northern lights swelling and flickering for hours on the night of our sixth anniversary, and – miracle of miracles – our Polish-Swedish and Danish-German skin *not* getting sunburned despite eight straight days under the sun!  That last feat was accomplished only with much credit to some Cataplex-F capsules, gallons of water and diligent/obscene re-lathering of sunscreen.  We even got to have a shivaree* for my cousin and his new bride on her first visit to our little wooded Mecca.

*shivaree or charivari (Fr.): a medieval French custom involving lots of raucous noise-making and satiric songs traditionally used as social pressure to mock and scorn sinners and fornicators, which somehow migrated to the American prairie and my family now uses it to serenade those on honeymoon.  We still begin by parading around and banging lots of pots and pans, however.

On Wednesday my partner and I got up before dawn and trekked out to our secret spot near the border, arriving before 7 am when the mist was still laying heavy over the water and the mossy groves.  (Yes, the very same sacred spot where, six years ago, we first got that twinkle in our eyes and discovered the more flirtatious aspects of blueberry picking.)

Though we have been blessed with unfathomable bounty these last many visits, the northwoods finally made us work for our harvest this year.  Four labor-intensive hours to get anywhere near our usual quantities, with scant and scrawny (though perfectly delicious!) berries to choose from.  I also could have done without the slug patch I wandered into right off the bat.  I should have left some kind of marker for myself in the cattails so as not to repeat the experience… it was not a pretty sight!  At first they were tiny and harmless, but they got progressively larger as I ventured back, transfiguring into grotesquely swollen wood-grain-patterned cashews slurping all over the choicest bushes in oozing piles.  Yum.

Anywho!  What was I trying to get at?  Oh yes, lovely sunny breezy romantic wooded fruitful outing with a loved one.  The birds were flitting and calling, the squirrels scolding adorably, the insects keeping a respectful distance, and the plant life as diverse and impressive as ever.  It amazes me how much certain northern fungi and mosses look like deep sea creatures building soft coral empires under the birches and pines, luring you in your pre-dawn stupor to sink down onto them and relax a moment before you remember the dampness just waiting to seep through umpteen layers of pants…  (It is always worth it, however.)

After several hours of back breaking, I finally stumbled through a bramble onto a perfectly lovely and gluttonously ripe cluster of blueberry bushes.  I inhaled deeply and tumbled down, relishing the thought that I might at last stay in one location for a few minutes without having to desperately hunt for more than a handful.  Only a few branches gleaned, I heard a short call.  It had been a while since our last “Marco!”-“Polo!” exchange that we volley back and forth periodically to keep tabs on each other through the thicket, and I was just about to respond when a chilling chorus broke out behind me.  It was a louder performance than any the wilderness had put on for me yet, and I quickly gathered that this was because the source of the fanfare was only a few short yards away.  And that short call I had heard had *not* been human.

The rally was breathtaking.  I couldn’t find a perfect example, since recordings can’t do justice to the sheer harrowing volume in that early morning forest silence, but to give you an idea, check out this video, around the 2:37 mark.

I love wolves, and I love being around them, but with that love comes a respect for their territory and a healthy dose of awareness of my rank in their food chain.  Granted, I was probably in no kind of danger, since I have encountered them here many times before; this pack has plenty to eat and no interest in snuggling up with humans.  (Many more people are killed each year by pet dogs than by wolves.)  Their playfully carefree howling was perhaps the best indicator that they had no concerns about our presence, since they undoubtedly already detected our scent.  Even so, I couldn’t help but recall that the last time I had heard a cry of this complexity at this time of day had directly preceded a very noisy pack kill, and I was overcome with the need to have a visual confirmation of my partner’s whereabouts.

I (prudently) snatched up my pail of berries and darted off away from the sound towards the last “Marco!” I could remember hearing.  Bumbling through the branches with all the stealth and grace of a careening fruit cart, I found him within a few gasping breaths, calmly standing with his head cocked, listening silently and appreciatively to the cascade of howls still echoing behind me.  I felt foolish, and I never was able to find my way back to that prime berry patch.  Maybe to ease my embarrassment, the boy suggested that we stay a bit closer to the path.

Despite my undignified behavior, it was a truly magnificent thrill, and I look forward to sharing air, earth, woods, lake, sun and berries with the pack again next year.

Brandenburg Wolves

And now for your Witch Outdoors tip of the day:  To repel insects the easy-but-powerful, natural, and better-smelling way:

Pour about a teaspoon of carrier oil of your choice into the palm of your non-dominant hand.  (I recommend Fractionated Coconut Oil because it’s light and absorbs quickly, but you can choose whatever you like: jojoba, sweet almond, sesame, olive oil…)  Add to the carrier two-to-four drops of citronella essential oil and one-to-three drops of geranium essential oil.  Blend with a fingertip, then simply dab on any exposed skin and rub in like a lotion (but try to avoid getting it in your eyes, please).  Any excess can also be patted on clothing or swiped over your hair.  And no need to wash your hands — these oils are naturally antiseptic and bactericidal!  If desired, you can make the blend in larger quantities in advance to store or bring with you on group outings.

An additional tip:  A study conducted at Iowa State University revealed that the principle active ingredient in catnip essential oil is actually more effective than DEET at repelling mosquitoes.  Note, however, that the pure oil is so potent it should be used only in very low dilution (one drop to at least one teaspoon of carrier) if applied directly to the skin, or better yet simply spray/diffuse the oil if you’re going to be in one area for an extended time.  Be forewarned, however, that this can be a risky oil to use extensively if you’re in an area with any kind of wildcat population!  (They don’t call it catnip for nothing!)  Your best bet is to blend with other oils to take down the feline-summoning odor a notch.

That’s all for today, then.  Perhaps I’ll post some pictures once I wrestle them out of my camera?  Hope everyone is enjoying their summer and staying cool and safe.



Heavenly Beauty


Orion’s little brother is a looker!  Thanks, Hubble.


Happy Solstice!

Brightest blessings to everyone on this night when the sun begins its certain return!  Tonight for the first time since 1638, there was also a total lunar eclipse on the day of the solstice, casting the earth in a ruddy glow.  Although perhaps frightening at first, the red hue of the moon proves to be a result of a moment of utter romance.

As explained by NASA, “Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway. You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it’s not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth’s circumference, you’re seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth’s shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.”

In this season we can in earnest deck the halls and light the dark with candles and ribbons, wrap gifts in brightly colored paper, and prepare sumptuous spreads of edible goodies for our loved ones.  Enjoy and share the warmth of kindness, and find pleasure in the promise of good things to come.




Hunter’s Moon

Here are a couple of pictures from my Hunter’s Moon ritual.  I’ll be posting more about some of the items below in the near future!

Return to Surrender

There are certain moments, or chains of moments, that seem to come in waves – moments in which you stop and notice other moments that ordinarily would have passed into the oblivion of normalcy without another thought.  But somehow, by some miraculous recognition, these moments push us above the surface where we open our eyes and realize we’re breathing just long enough to appreciate it before we sink back down into the murky water of human existence.

Some call it coincidence.  Some call it synchronicity.  What we call it ultimately doesn’t matter, as long as we can take something from it, be it wonder, or a sense of humor, or inspiration.

The other day I was eating lunch in an Italian restaurant – well, mostly sitting with my mouth open faced with a couple violently making out just outside the window – when the ballad “Torna a Surriento” began to play.  I found myself humming along, and suddenly realized that it was Elvis Presley’s “Surrender.”  I remarked with surprise to my companion that I’d never heard this song before, although it clearly predated the version I knew by several decades.

That same evening I decided to keep the tv on as company while I puttered around the house, and not a half hour later, my ears perked up to the strains of… “Torna a Surriento.”

As it turns out, this this was just one of a string of strange familiarities lately.  They all seemed to start at one moment a few weeks ago…

August 24, to be exact, I was sitting in my cubicle at work thinking about tattoos.  (No, this is not part of my job description, sadly.)  I don’t have any tattoos, but I go through periodic phases of consideration.  Unfortunately, the tattoo I most often wish I had isn’t really practicable, so I inevitably turn to the temporary satisfaction of henna or a ballpoint pen.  And thus, only so often during the year, I walk around with an extra bounce in my step thanks to masses of unfurling flowers drawn onto the bottoms of my feet.  (There’s something about the thought of walking on flower petals wherever you go that makes it hard to be glum.)

Now, I was at work perusing the internet for new flower designs, when I came across this hypnotically beautiful image:

The caption tells me it is a mandala designed by a patient of Carl Gustav Jung, and an illustration in the text The Secret of the Golden Flower.

Shortly after viewing the flower, I experience a rather profound epiphany regarding my name, and subsequently decide to start this blog.

Not long after, I assembled a post all about a stroke of luck after a long string of failures, my grandmother, and the magic of the eggshell.  At work the following day, my coworker happens to stop by to tell me a funny story about that old wonder that you can’t break an egg by applying pressure to it vertically, because of the structure of the shell.  I cocked an eyebrow at the odds, but I should have known – jamais deux sans trois. That same afternoon, I sit down to leaf through a new book I purchased about the illuminations of Hildegard of Bingen, and I open to a chapter entitled “Egg of the Universe.”

The chapter contained a discussion prompted by the following illustration of the cosmic architecture, as revealed to the mystic Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179):

(If the universe really is egg-shaped, I suppose we can only hope that when it finally stops expanding, the backlash of contractions will only be applied vertically.)

I fell rather in love with this depiction of the cosmos, and I spent a good deal of time looking at the illustration before delving into the text.  I’ll admit that one of my first impressions was akin to the feeling one has when looking at a Georgia O’Keeffe print.  But I started looking at it more systematically and thinking about the layers of the cosmos, and it seemed to me a very poetic reflection of how I myself envision the universe.

On the outside warbles the never-ending expanse of space filled with exploding gases and flaming stars that we can really only experience by the grace of light and the magic of inertia.  Our sun blazes like a tiger lily, the red-faced south wind breathes fire from the right, and our dazzling night sky crowns the ever-changing moon in all its phases.  And encircled by it all, our clouds, and winds, and atmosphere, and waters above and waters below, and the tiny complication that is earth.

[As a side note, I interpreted that interim ring of chunks with fiery tails like meteors to be the asteroid belt.  If you look at the smaller sun-shapes as the other planets in our solar system, the placement halfway between them is even just about right.  I was delighted to read Hildegard’s own description of that region as “full of sounds, storms, and the sharpest stones large and small.”  This description of the asteroid belt (if we suspend disbelief for a moment) would predate the first recorded suspicions of its existence by at least 600 years!]

Drawn by the connection of egg-related references that had been following me about that day, I sat down to read the chapter, and nearly wept at how familiar and welcoming it felt, describing ways I feel about the universe and its sacred significance, my fixation on the dynamics of microcosm/macrocosm, and my longing for the marriage between science and spirituality.  Eager to find additional sources for similar views, I flip to the end notes and start making a list of references to look up.  I almost drop my pen when I realize what I am writing:

C.G. Jung, The Secret of the Golden Flower.

That was only a few days ago.  I have already ordered my copy of The Secret of the Golden Flower, and it shipped yesterday.  In anticipation, I searched for it on [forgive me] Wikipedia, and I found this quote: “If the practitioner sees the Mandala, that means he/she sees part of the “Original Essence”, and he/she is entering the beginning level of the immortal essence.”  Sounds nice, no?

This brings us to tonight.  Tonight my loving one (with whom I had not discussed the Golden Flower phenomenon) came home with especial exuberance, saying, “I have to show you something!”  Inspired by a science podcast he had listened to earlier that day, he had been prompted to look up “cymatics.”  He sat me down in front of his computer and pulled up a video of a cymatic experiment in which grains of sand were poured on top of a metal plate balanced on top of a speaker.  The sand responded to each note played through the speaker by spontaneously shifting into symmetrical, increasingly intricate formations:

The resulting shapes, according to the caption of the video, might easily be called MANDALAS.

Perhaps this feeling was best described by one Hildegard of Bingen, when she wrote about an egg-shaped vision of the universe, and said:

O Spirit, you are the mighty way in which every thing that is in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth, is penetrated with connectedness, penetrated with relatedness.

What a lovely way to feel.


Calling the Moon by Name

A couple of nights ago I was thumbing through my copy of Ann Moura’s Grimoire for the Green Witch (a recent acquisition), and I opened to a list of names for the twelve full moons of the year. I’ve always rather liked the idea of having names for the moons – both to set them apart from one another, and also so that I can welcome them with some sense of familiarity.  So I decided to look through all the variations on this list I could find and filter them down to a set of names of my own that would correspond with the changing seasons as I experience them.

While I was working on this, a couple of complications arose.  First, there was the issue of the Blue Moon, which I grew up believing to be the second full moon in any calendar month, but which apparently originally referred to the third moon in any season with four full moons.  (It seems the Farmer’s Almanac utilized this rule to accommodate the convention of naming the moons by season, as in “early-summer,” “mid-summer,” and “late-summer” moons.)  Misconception as it may have been, the designation of the Blue Moon by calendar month better suits a list of twelve names, so I have resolved to embrace the error of my ways in that regard.

Second, I wondered about names for the new moons in each month.  Rather than separate them, I am inclined to have the full moon name apply to all of the phases of that cycle, from new moon to waning crescent.  This may be a bit of a challenge, since our calendar is a solar one and there will be overlap from month to month, but hopefully worth the effort.  I also learned from Ann Moura’s list that there is a name for the second Dark Moon in any calendar month.  She calls it the Sidhe (‘Shee’) Moon.  Since I don’t feel much connection with the Celtic traditions, I prefer to call this the Shadow Moon.

So!  Here is my list of possible moon names as it stands so far.  The first moon would be that just before Yule.

  1. Long Night Moon (December)
  2. Wolf Moon (January)
  3. Ice Moon (February)
  4. Crow Moon (March)
  5. Rain Moon (April)
  6. Flower Moon (May)
  7. Honey Rose Moon (June)
  8. Thunder Moon (July)
  9. Full Grain Moon (August)
  10. Harvest Moon (September)
  11. Hunter’s Moon (October)
  12. Frost Moon (November)

Tonight the fading light of the Corn/Grain Moon becomes dimmer, and in a few days the Harvest Moon will start to grow, and I will smile and call them by name.