Sunday, September 30, 2007

Burning Man...a ritual?

Hmm, maybe.

There was just a segment on CBS Sunday Morning about this yearly event in the Nevada desert. The guy who founded it was referring to it as a "ritual" and said rituals were valuable because they showed us things are still the way they always were...

So, does that mean our ancestors used to set big metal neon men on fire?

Give me a real free-standing bonfire made of wood anyday. Starwood obviously kicks Burnings Man's ass. And with far fewer people.

Photo came from this blog.

Today, cow manure

Ah, compost. Also known as plant poop. Is there anything it can't do? My sweetie helped me create my own compost bin. It's in the garage, a big plastic tote with holes poked in it, stuffed with grass clippings and other plant waste. I now know I shold not have put so many roots in it but hopefully that won't be a problem if I pull them out before using it. It should be usable by next spring I hope! Black gold, they call it.

Today, we have a sunny cool day and I plan to work in the yard a bit. Yesterday we bought 3 bags of cow manure and one bag of mushroom compost. I hope it will be enough to enrich all the flower beds. Some of them have fairly rich, well-drained soil already. Some have dry, sandy soil. Some have okay soil but it is full of roots. And some of the soil is full of clay and has lousy drainage. They say compost is the answer to most of these issues, except the roots, which need to be pulled out by hand.

I still have tulip, hyacinth and daffodil bulbs to plant but will wait until after the new moon, and when temperatures are cooler. I got two nice salvia plants with bright blue flowers yesterday at Loews for fifty cents each! Should have gotten more. Plant markdowns are a great deal there. I got two clematis vines for $3.50 apiece last month.

I am also waiting on some plants to arrive that I got via mail order (a purple smoke tree, some daylilies, peonies, alliums and English bluebells). By this time next year our yard-wide "cottage garden" should be well on its way! Between buying a few things at bargain prices (hydrangeas, and replanting a whole lot of stuff from previous gardens (irises, peonies, sedums, hosta), as well as some well-timed purloining of native weeds or overflowing perennials, we have a nice selection of growing things without spending a whole lot of money. By next year though I hope to integrate more annuals for color, once the perennials in the beds are more established.

photo: That is a dahlia planted in front of our garage. It is known as "Tout a Toi" and is a compact variety. It has always done well for me, although this one probably needs a bit more sun.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Difficult equinox

My coven has for years maintained that the equinoxes bring difficult times of personal challenge or even tragedy. I have never completely understood the full reason for this, something to do with the shifting of the tides affecting energy in a general way. It is felt that the "weirdness" lasts over several days.

This week, which also contains a full moon three days after the equinox, I have found out a friend from Brushwood is in the hospital in serious condition following a severe stroke, after entering the hospital with pneumonia. A second friend's mother has died, but at age 84 at least she had a long and full life, and was healthy in recent years. Another friend has been diagnosed with a suspicious growth in her neck which is (hopefully) benign but she is scared all the same. I tripped and fell at the base of the stairs at a friend's house Wednesday night, and while not seriously hurt, it certainly could have been bad as I twisted my ankle and bruised up my right arm and hand.

Then again, I have seen non-equinox weeks where it seems to pour, not just rain. (Oh, and it rained yesterday, and some people in our area lost power, but we really do need the rain!)

I wonder if there is something to this. Some skeptics of astrology say that Mercury retrograde is not the only time travel and communication and contracts and electronic functions tend to go awry...

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

another blog!

I have started a new blog devoted to discussing a new project, a book I am co-writing with my friend Hannah: The Celluloid Bough: Cinema in the Wake of the Occult Revival. You can find it here. There is not much there yet, but in the coming months things should heat up! Both of us will be posting our finds and travails as we work on this very exciting project.

By the way, that photo is of an ancient book of psalms found in an Irish bog.

Monday, September 24, 2007

apples and gratitude

We went apple picking at Indian Ladders orchards yesterday (the photo above was taken there this spring). The place was packed! Not surprising, it was a beautiful day.

But as we stood in line at the orchard stand across the road from the big store and the petting zoo area, waiting to pay for our bag so we coule pick apples, they announced they were officially closing down the "U-pick" section! That meant they were telling cars trying to drive in there was no more picking that day, although plenty of apples for sale in the store, and more picking next weekend. We were told by a young sweaty guy that, after running around the entire orchard (!), there were still apples for picking at the end of the rows, and he told us how to find them.

So most everyone still in line was game for it, and we bought our bag ($11 and you can fill it as full as ya like, plus eat as many as you can hold) and headed in. Empires! The Jonagolds seemed to be gone, but as we walked we saw people with HUGE gold-green apples the size of bocce balls. The Empires were few and far between at first, but as we moved to the ends of rows most people had not gone to (as the orchard runner had described), we found plenty. But at first we were looking under boughs and even on the ground to find lovely apples people had missed, or dropped. Empires are best with plenty of red on them, and we got a few that were a bit green but still ripe. By the time we really found the "motherlode" we had filled our bag.

What got to me was the people complaining about how there were "no apples"! Just because they did not see the trees nearest them groaning with apples (and of course the ground was littered with huge apples that people had carelessly dropped, or taken one bite from and tossed away), they acted like there was nothing. I heard people say "it's really disappointing here today" and "it's like looking for buried treasure" and "there's nothing here!" and was really perplexed. I mean, wasn't part of the reason to go apple picking to, you know, go apple picking? If you just wanted to spend five minutes filling your bag from 3 or 4 trees, why not just buy them ready picked from the store? The whole place is surrounded by apple trees so it's not like you'd get no view of the orchards. Same apples, no effort. Considering a few yards' walk yielded trees full of fruit, I think it was mainly laziness or cluelessness.

What bugged me the most was the people who brought their kids and basically encouraged this lazy, cynical attitude towards what should have been a really enjoyable experience, outdoors on a beautiful day, a way to observe the change of seasons, to reinforce the connection between the living earth and our food, etc etc. I mean, do you really need to teach your kids to think every outing just ends in disappointment because you're too fricking lazy and unimaginative to make it into a positive experience? Also, despite being told politely but firmly by the sweaty orchard runner not to pick inside the taped-off areas, because the fruit was not ripe enough for picking, and that they'd get sick if they ate those apples, some people ducked under the tape and picked from the trees that, despite being covered in fruit, were not designated by the orchard owners for public consumption. Why do people do this stuff?

Of course, some folks were a bit more intrepid and into the experience and enjoyed the search. I pointed out to soem folks near us how many good apples were on the ground (this was before we got to the area where some trees still had plenty of pples on them) and this caused some people to consider this possibility. Maybe in years past, the crowds were smaller? I know the apple crops last year were not great in the Northeast, so maybe people made up for it this year. Maybe all the articles urging people to celebrate fall (and the equinox) by visiting orchards or picking apples (hey maybe they read my Witchvox article!) drove people out to the orchards.

After filling up our bag and eating 2 or 3 apples apiece, we put them in the truck (we had parked quite a ways from the picking orchard) and headed back to the store, planning to get some lovely hot cider donuts. I was even willing to go off my autumnal equinox "fast" (which is only half over, and which has me giving up sugar, meat, alcohol and, later this week, dairy and flour) to have some! But there were at least a hundred people in line, in the hot sun. The smell of spicy donuts frying in oil was enticing, and it was not that hard to believe people were willing to wait in line for them. But we'd have been there for an hour. And, unlike many of the folks there yesterday who only visit Indian Ladders once a year (again, this perplexes me: most of them live locally like we do; and why doesn't the comparative rarity of the experience make them appreciate it more?), we love it there and will probably go back at least 2 or 3 more times this season. We'll go next month at my birthday to get additional apple varieties (the Mutsus and Fijis will be ripe), and will get a pallet of apple wood for our fireplace (cut from the older orchards when they prune the trees), and some local cheese, and yes, we will get some donuts without having to wait in line. Maybe they won't be hot, but they'll still be good!

So we drove home, with our back seat full of apples, and a few more tumbled out of the bag every time we stopped, and though the bag handles broke and a bunch of them fell on our driveway, we rescued them and they are now in bowls and bags in our fridge and on our counters. Yum. Apples. We'll bring some to friends in Boston, and save some for the homebrew being made for our wedding, and enjoy the rest. Gratefully.

Happy Autumn!

Saturday, September 22, 2007


I recently wrote a new article for Witchvox on the autumnal equinox, which is part of a series comparing pagan and traditional views on our most significant festivals.

I had thought it was weird I had not written about this holiday before, as this time of year is so important to me. When I checked the listings on the website, this article did not come up. Even though I had googled a line from a poem I had quoted in it a while agp, which led me to find where someone had plagiarized it as their own (something I detailed on my Livejournal), I had forgotten it was from the Autumn Equinox article.

So now: there are two articles by me with the same title! this one and this here one. Hope you enjoy them! The three year gap has me no less inclined to use poetry to make a statement on this most poetic of seasons, apparently.

As for me, I am starting to fear the early onset of Alzheimer's...and my memory for stuff does seem to be worse the more I use email and the internet, oddly enough. In other words, if I get information from a person or a phone call, or print literature, I tend to recall it better than if I get it online. I think so, at any rate. Hmm. Any research on this out there?

countdown to equinox...

Tomorrow, the tides turn, day and night will be in perfect balance, and autumn becomes official.

I love autumn. The colors, the smells, the produce, and the hint of longing in the air. This time of year feels me with all kinds of emotions and ideas, and my dreams and instances of deja-vu get more intense. I find ithis increases if I spend more time outside, so I aim to do that this year.

Today we are having a yard sale. Tonight we'll go see "Hallowe'en" at the movies. Tomorrow, apple picking at the local orchard. I started my twice-yearly equinox fast this week. Right now, have only cut out meat, sugar and junk food. Next is alcohol, dairy, dough, and, hopefully, coffee. It's a ten-day fast and by the last three days I try to eat nothing but fruits and nuts. Not a "real" fast but a cleansing of the body and re-evaluation of food choices.

But going to the orchard and not having a cider doughnut? This seems wrong. Maybe if I eat nothing but apples and raw nuts for 2 days after? Ah, the little bargaining games we play with ourselves. The equinox is about balance, after all.

Monday, September 17, 2007

the garden, chilled

The unseasonable cold has me somewhat worried my growing flowers won't enjoy their moment in the sun, so to speak. I still have late-planted cleomes trying to grow, and dahlias and roses also in the midst of putting forth many more blooms. As well as the caryopteris, still in full swing, and some sunflowers. The mums were from the garden store and never seem to do that well anyway, so I'm over it, and the purple asters will just have to try again next year I guess.

I am learning more every year about what flowers are in bloom during different seasons, and also starting to realize the limits of the landscape of my home. There is not as much full sun as I first thought, but enough partial sun that I have a lot of choices. My realization of a real cottage garden are probably at leats a year off. But I am glad I have already put a lot of perennials in that we can landscape around, so that when the paths, walkways and other features are done the plants will be mature and full.

The cold is welcome, though. Last year the apple orchards were in danger of losing apples or even entire crops because they did not get cold temperatures early enough to start on their usual schedule of going to dormancy. And the fall colors were never at a proper peak, so the tourism trade in the Northeast did not do well. The lack of snow in early winter also affected tourism. I felt badly for people who rely on seasonal normalcy to make a living. Global warming is having a huge economic impact that is only starting to make itself known. The personal cost may eventually be beyond counting: the loss of experiences and memories of the natural world.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A truly autumnal day...

Is there any more beautiful season? More fragrant, more evocative, more inspirational? No. No I say! Bring it on. Summer is a flibbertygibbet, a ditzy girl in a gaudy sundress, a suburban barbecue with sickly-sweet chicken and domestic beer...autumn is a worldly troubador, comfy tweed and vintage leather, a haunch of venison roasted over a woodfire and served with a crisp cider....


SEASON of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

John Keats (1795-1821)

Up early today and it is unseasonably cold, but bright and brisk is my favorite kind of day. I will definitely venture out somewhere. I had hoped to attend the Regional Food festival at Indian Ladders but my sweetie is working so I can't get out there. Oh well.

Last night was also very chilly! It got down to the upper 30s, much more characteristic of October for this reagion than mid-September. I had houseguests (friend Rosanna and her compatriates attending a conference on Permaculture and similar topics) who had originally planned to stay at a nearby campsite. But they welcomed the warmth and dryness of our little fixer-upper! It was fun to have guests, it would have been nice to have a fire in the fireplace (or outside in our yet-to-be-assembled firedish) but we're still in some disarray from all the indoor and outdoor work. Hoping next time we have guests at least the living and dining rooms will be painted.

Yesterday it rained quite a bit (we need it! a few days' worth have reverse the summer drought, maybe) but when it cleared in late afternoon we stopped by Larkfest and walked among the crowds. It seemed like almost everyone had a beer in their hand! But it was fun to see people out and about, happy the street fair had been salvaged after a rainy start to the day. Washington Park was nice, too and I plan to walk there today.

The equinox approaches...I just wrote an article for Witchvox on Mabon. It was a bit rushed and I now wish I had tied in some other information, but I liked the poem quotes I found. There is one article left in the series to be written (for Lammas) so I look forward to working on that for next summer.

I am excited about the approach of fall. This never fails me, every year, for as long as I can remember.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The Last Peach: an Urban Musing

I am a harvest diva. I get very excited when a particular fruit or vegetable becaomes available in season, and try to enjoy it while it is at its peak of flavor. I will not eat corn in any form but fresh corn on the cob, and it must be picked within the previous 24 hours or I won't touch it. A corn snob, that's me. But I don't want to be part of some foodie cognoscenti; I seek out fresh produce for the sheer joy of it.

This morning, as I have so many mornings in the last several weeks, I enjoyed a fresh peach. I got it at the farmer's market that happens in our neighborhood every Tuesday. The farm stand has a little old lady who slowly but steadily packs evertone's apples, peaches, plums or other fruits into a bag, while her son arranges them in baskets and her (daughter in law? I'm guessing) basically does very little to help customers and rolls her eyes at how slow the older lady is. Their peaches are great; I tried the white ones but prefer the yellow for better flavor, not so syrupy sweet.

I have been eating them with plain organic yogurt for breakfast, and on their own for snacks. There is nothing better than a fresh peach! They are rarely grown organically, at least not commercially, but I like to think buying from local farms means I am getting peaches with less spray than those that have to travel halfway across the country.

I finished the last peach in the bowl today. There is a mound of farm fresh Bartlett peaches beneath them, and I even had one with the peach, sliced into a bowl. This marks the transition from summer to late summer fruits I suppose...I will miss my peaches. It will be an entire year, after all, until I can eat them again, unless I happen across another market with a later variety (which may indeed be the case when I go back to commuting to Boston this week).

It makes me think about what it really means to enjoy foods that are only available for a short time, at the height of their season of ripening. Sure, I can buy a peach any old day at the supermarket. But that's like eating a pink, mealy supermarket tomato: it bears no resemblance to a fresh one picked a matter of hours before I eat it.

Before people in this country enjoyed produce flown or trucked in from far away, they ate things grown locally. They must ahve really appreciated the fact of a favorite fruit's limited availability. Some foods could be stored in cold cellars, like apples, or root vegetables like potatoes, turnips or carrots. But the sweet, juicy fruits of late summer, the tender greens of early spring, these were celebrated in their time and no doubt gave way to the pervasive small-town strawberry fairs, peach parades and fiddlehead festivals. For what else could give better cause for celebration than the incomparable flavor of these jewels of the orchards and fields?

For me, the farmer's market itself is like a festival. The brightly colored produce arranged in baskets, the fresh-cut flowers, the cheery signs, the waving and smiles of neighbors...well, for the most part, anyway. But it's also true people behave as badly at the market as they do in any other retail situation, which saddens me, since it seems so obvous this is an experience to be savored and appreciated, much like the foods we go there to buy should be.

When did we stop appreciating food's beauty? At what point did the smell of apple blossoms, or watermelons ripening on the vine, or fresh basil growing in the sun, fade from our memories? How could the sight of peaches on the tree, peas on the vine or blackberries on the bush not be one of our most fervent quests, throughout the shifting micro-seasons of harvest?

We have been disenchanted by plastic, tasteless, toxic food. And it has clearly had repercussions far beyond the aesthetic realm. Our health, our economy, our communities, our culture, our history and our future: all are intricatey and irrevocably woven into our relationship with the foods the earth gives us. We need to re-enchant this relationship.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

to the BBC!

I am submitting a script to the Writersroom Project at the BBC; it is a pilot for a TV series on witches in London. I worked on the first episode quite a bit and have plotted out several follow-up episodes. I need to get the rest of the submission together and might tweak the script itself a bit more...but it has been through several drafts so I am hoping they see some potential in it...

Wish me luck!