Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Blessings of the Solstice

What I love about this time of year, is that, because I celebrate both Yule *and* Christmas, it's like having several holidays all in one week. Many pagans celebrate both holidays, whether because of family obligations or choices, or merely because Christmas is so ingrained in our culture, and there are so many ways of taking part in the festivities, that it seems silly not to take part. Whether you enjoy stringing lights in your trees, decorating with greenery, exchanging gifts, baking cookies or singing carols, there are so many wonderful things to do to keep our spirits uplifted at this dark time of year.

My husband and I exchange gifts on Midwinter day, and have a special meal (today, rib eye steaks with fried mushrooms. sauteed kale and roasted fingerling potatoes). It was too cloudy here to see the eclipse, but I'm sure the energies will continue to be felt for the next month.

I enjoy throwing parties and attending them, too. Sadly I don't have a Yule ritual to attend locally and am too far away from my coven to attend their Yule rite, but I think there are ways to observe the holiday and feel the magic without performing ritual. Harnessing the energy of this full moon for meditation, creative work or renewal of vows (to oneself, to others, to our work or art) is also a way to make Yuletide a powerful festival.

I'm looking forward to at least one more holiday part this year, at New Year's. I know there will fine food and drink, music and singing, and possibly sitting in the hot tub in the open air under the stars (or the snow). I'm thinking of proposing a wassail ritual, too, because the party hosts planted a small orchard of fruit trees this year.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My 2011 Apple calendar, on sale!

So, if you still need a 2011 calendar, today is the day to get one for you or your loved ones. Lulu.com is having a special today only: 30% all calendars. Just put the code "DEC16" into the line at check-out.

My calendar "Brushwood Apples" has photos taken in the past two years throughout the seasons, featuring the wild apple trees of the Brushwood Folklore Center in Sherman, NY: a beautiful campground where many music and pagan festival events have taken place over the last three decades.

All photos were taken by me with a 1960 Pentax Spotmatic, or a Nikon Coolpix digital camera. I hope you'll get one of my calendars for yourself or a friend or family member.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mistletoe, orchards: endangered?

The Guardian reports today that mistletoe may disappear in the next two decades, due in part to the continuing decline of traditional orchards in Great Britain. Fortunately the National Trust and Natural England have united to try and forestall this complex and alarming problem, by encouraging the growing of orchard fruits in "traditional" forms. To qualify as a "traditional orchard" there must be at least five trees evenly spaced, and they must be"allowed to grow gnarled, hollowed and eventually fall where they stand." These "unique habitats" provide shelter and food for many animals and other species and their loss may well irrevocably alter the British landscape, as in Devon, which the Guardian reports has lost up to 90% of its orchard in the last 50 years.

Of course, this is not "new" news. The Telegraph reported on it in 2008 (as did I). Websites designed to encourage apple growers in Devon and Exeter (which has many apple varieties unique to the area, like the "Cornish Pine" pictured) may help generate some interest in this enriching, environmentally useful activity.

If you're reading this blog, you know that orchard activism is my passion. I'd love to hear your own observations, stories and ideas for helping to preserve the beauty and utility of this agricultural tradition.

The orchard photo above was taken in Glastonbury about ten years ago, in the old orchards at the base of the Tor.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

All apples are good in this state, and your jaws are the cider-press.

"Before the end of December, generally, they experience their first thawing. Those which a month ago were sour, crabbed, and quite unpalatable to the civilized taste, such at least as were frozen while sound, let a warmer sun come to thaw them, for they are extremely sensitive to its rays, are found to be filled with a rich, sweet cider, better than any bottled cider that I know of, and with which I am better acquainted than with wine. All apples are good in this state, and your jaws are the cider-press."

Henry David Thoreau, Wild Apples, 1892

This charmingly fine piece of writing, in which apples in the wild are discussed in delicious detail, can be read entirely online here.