Thursday, May 29, 2008

A garden in miniature

At the urging of my dear friend, Donald Engstrom-Reese, I'm sharing my love of the Green Bloods.

Although I only have a balcony (there will be full earth someday!), I try and take full advantage of it, growing as many herbs and vegetables as I can comfortably fit (mind you, the definition of "comfortable" is completely subjective).

In years past, I've done tomatoes, acorn squash (which I adore), moonflowers and a smattering of herbs.

This year, I'm doing basil, of course. Every year, come mid- and late-summer, I can be found in my kitchen making fresh pesto with my mortar and pestle - truly the only way to go. I made pesto for years in a blender, but after seeing a handmade version in a cookbook by the eternally lovely Sophia Loren, I never went back. The pesto achieves a texture that is unbeatable.

I overwintered a lovely rosemary plant in my kitchen this year, and now s/he's happily outdoors again.

There's sage, which I (perhaps foolishly) let flower, because I love the purple blooms.

I'm doing Italian flat-leaf parsley this year, which I always end up wanting for recipes, including a wonderful one from Alice Waters' The Art of Simple Food. I make a salsa verde, again in the mortar and pestle. A handful of parsley leaves, one clove of garlic, the zest of a lemon, and olive oil get mashed together until I get a pesto-like consistency. This makes a wonderful dressing for egg or potato salad, as well as an incredible topping/spread for vegetarian sandwiches - oh, the possibilities are endless, really.

Chives were overwintered outside this year and are clearly growing like mad.

This year's experiments are rapini greens (known by Italian-Americans as broccoli rabe). They're a divine green that are wonderful sauteed with some olive oil and garlic and tossed with pasta and toasted pine nuts (garnished with some freshly grated parmigiano reggiano or romano cheese). The greens are also great in frittata, strata, and as salad and sandwich accents.

Not pictured are my rosa bianca eggplant - a variety I fell in love with last summer at my usual haunt, the Dupont Circle Farmers' Market. I couldn't get enough of it, and I roasted and a bunch of them, using slices for summer sandwiches as well as a great recipe of roasted eggplant halves, topped with avocado cream, goat cheese, chopped tomato and fresh cilantro.

I'm also attempting to grow an heirloom variety zucchini this year, partly because of a great recipe I saw for an Italian zucchini and lemon cake from a divine book by Gina De Palma titled Dolce Italiano.

I sing to my plants little impromptu numbers, either while planting them or watering them in the mornings. That and adding some charged quartz to the pots seems to make them happy.

I also keep one pot completely random and wild as an homage to the Faery folk of the green world. I started doing this last year as an offering, and if I'm not mistaken, this year it looks as if I have some kind of maple sapling growing in the pot. Once it's strong enough, I'll plant it somewhere safe, so it can grow into a big tree.

Most of this year's seeds were bought from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co., located in Montana. They had wonderful varieties of vegetables and herbs, and I'm really pleased with my first purchases from them.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Every Tree is the World Tree

I have always loved trees (perhaps an extension of my mother apparently walking through the woods when she was pregnant with me). They fill me with a great sense of mystery, peace, and power, and growing up in New England, I was surrounded by maple, spruce, and pine.

Since working with the Fae, my understanding of tree magick has deepened considerably. It's my understanding that every tree is the world tree - they are all connected. We can travel to other worlds using any tree we see - ones in our yards, on a city block, in the woods, or standing next to a lone house on the prarie.

When spending time yesterday morning with the Fae, I was reminded that we can speak spells into the trees, and they will immediately carry that magick to every tree all over the world. The power of that spell is then radiated out into the air through leaves and sunk deep into the earth through roots.

Quite literally, put your lips next to the bark, intentionally speak your spells of love, peace, beauty, whatever, and send it throughout the planet.

Speaking isn't the only way to achieve this. Send healing energy into a tree, spiraling out that power from your heart chakra. Sing a song into a tree. Touch a tree with intention, and all that will eventually make its way into the air we breathe and the ground we stand on. (One great way to do this for city dwellers is to brush them with your fingertips as you walk by; I do this all the time and find it not only works spells throughout the world, but connects me more deeply to the trees on my walking route.)

Blessed be the trees.

Some of my favorites are pictured throughout this post. The maples remind me of my New England home. The Joshua Trees are so magical and were one of my Grandmother Francis' favorites (they can be found in Arizona, and there's actually a national park dedicated to these beauties). Finally, the Ponderosa Pine is a stunning tree, and one of the world's largest stands of them is in Northern Arizona, along the Mogollan rim, a favorite haunt of mine when I lived in the Southwest.

(Most photo credits were hard to come by: The Ponderosa Pine image was taken by Buddy Mays.)

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Ghost Dance

Recently, I've re-read "Black Elk Speaks," a book in the words of a Lakota holy man, Black Elk, transcribed by John G. Neihardt.

I originally read it in college during my American Indian lit course, but since that time, my own spiritual practice has deepened and expanded exponentially, providing me with a much different look at Black Elk's experience and visions.

Something, the shaman talks about is the famous Ghost Dance, a spiritual dance movement among Amerian Indians that began in the late 1800s in the plains and then spread all over the then-U.S. My general understanding of the dance is that it was a way to change the state of the American Indians (who were in grim circumstances by this point under the crushing heel of the U.S. government and white people); it was a major spiritual working that would restore the indigenous people to paths of beauty and harmony and power.

The government and many whites were so terrified of this dance and its empowering implications that it was outlawed and very often the dancers were attacked by whites and soldiers (some American Indians would walk, run, or ride toward the soldiers while in an ecstatic state, only to be gunned down).

Last Thursday, I and two of my dearest loves, Donald and Mark Engstrom-Reese, went to the National Museum of the American Indian to see the Identity By Design exhibit (through Aug. 3), which is a collection of native women's dresses. The clothing is beautiful, and one of the more spiritually moving moments was seeing three Ghost Dance dresses on loan to the museum. No pictures were allowed, and the garments were in a seculded area of the exhibit. (I saw some Ghost Dance images on the web, but I had real hesitation about including them here on my blog. There really is something too holy about them to include them without the context of movement, chant and spiritual intention.)

Both Donald and I had the impression that the Ghost Dance was a major initial step in turning the culture of North America towards paths of balance, harmony, love and connection. For me, Grandmother Spider arrived at the exhibit case and reminded me of how important spiritual dance can be - in this case, so much so that it terrified a seemingly unstoppable, criminal, murderous and tyrannical government.

What changes can we effect now when we put our bodies in motion with the deep heart of compassion and the intention for beauty, peace, pleasure and transformtion?

These are just some initial thoughts on my seeing the garments from the Ghost Dance and reading about them in "Black Elk Speaks." I hope to think deeper on these things and how I can add my energy to these necessary changes.

(The photo is by W. Ben Hunt, taken about 1939 in the Black Hills of South Dakota)

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Fae Days

One of my longest-standing magickal experiences has been with the Fey. As a child, I saw them, played with them, was comforted by them in hard times - we were pretty tight.

Years later, when going through my initiation process, I chose to become a priestess of the Wild Fae, the Silver Bloods, aligning myself with their ancient, healing, transformative and deep magick, because I believe so strongly in their tenants, their ways of embracing all aspects of life, their endless sense of love and compassion, and their commitment to great delight and beauty.

One of the things I hope to do periodically on this blog is share my experience with the Fae as a counterpoint to the reputation they've gotten from various sources (not the least of which is hideous artistic representations of doe-eyed cherubs staring out at the world from underneath buttercup hats - don't get me wrong, the Fae love a good hat, but still.).

I struggled for a long time with my calling to the Fae, partly because of the cloying ickiness of their represenation and also because they get a bad rap for being capricious and bothersome. It wasn't until I started exploring their world that I began diving deeply into it all and understanding more what it's about.

I work with Elavin, a fantastic Faery who, as I understand it, used to be one of the Queens of the Fae people, she eventually rejected that title as being too hierarchical (something she detests). Originally from the British Isles, she left the land very early in her reign, deciding to travel the world and see how others lived. She journeyed to India, where she introduced herself to Kali, partied hard in Italy and learned the ways of the Mediterranean Fae, wandered through Africa adorning herself with dark nuts and seeds and learning dances of creation and fecundity from the Fae there, painted herrself in tribal patterns in Australia, played the drums and abandoned herself to the ways of the Wild in North America upon meeting the Mysterious Ones of the land there. (I hear it told she has been dubbed a "friend of the bears" by none other than Grandmother Bear, and Grandmother Spider and Elavin became fast friends after Elavin presented herself to the Ancient One at one of her homes, Spider Rock in Canyon De Chelley.)

It was in the Americas where she found some of her greatest hope for how to take back the Ways of the Wild (which include a devotion to freedom) to her kingdom in the Isles. Once home, she presented all that she had learned through a series of talks around sacred fires, but there was much dissention from the ranks, and many thought she had gone mad during her journeys.

Her consort, the Faery King, was not confused, however, and shared her passion for shaking things up. There were great arguments between the Fae of her court over rulership, hierarchy and the need for change, yet Elavin and her King persisted, trying to create a clan, not a kingdom.

Many of the Fae abandoned the effort, too frightened by the prospects and too angry to see past their own needs, but a core group remained, and it is this group that now holds the name Clan of the Wild Ones, Those Who Run in the Moonlight, Those Who Dance Freely on Moss-Covered Trunks and Mushrooms, Those Who Fear No Freedom (among many other descriptors).

It's my understanding that much of this took place in the years from 600-1000 C.E.

More on the Fae another day, but on this May Day, perhaps spend some time outside, sitting in a place that speaks of wildness to you. This could be a garden, a spot by a beautiful tree in a city park, near a stream, lake or on a rock. Bring an offering of something that's precious (which could be lavender buds, a drop of honey or a handmade card - "precious" doesn't mean "expensive"), leave all expectations behind and open up to their depth.

(The above image is by Brian Froud, one of few artists who I think really captures the feeling of the Fae.)