Ode to the Hawthorn and the Merry Merry Month of May

May…  A most hearty (if not a little tardy) welcome to you!

Almost every morning at the moment, I am awakened by birdsong.  Somehow, though, it’s hard to feel annoyed about this, because it is, quite simply, exquisitely wondrous. These so often invisible beings fill up so much aural space!  I love that they (birds) are always there, and yet so often hidden from view.

Outside, there is magic happening.

The countryside is literally exploding with life!  All the new leaves are young and fresh. Suddenly open space is smaller, as grasses, bushes and trees erupt with new growth. Openings are filled in and suddenly my perspective zooms in closer.  No longer can I see the horizon so clearly, and there is so much beauty to behold right in front of me.

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Everything about this time of year fills me with aliveness.  This is nature at her most vibrant – she is almost shouting “Look at me!  You thought I was dead.  Haha!  See how luscious and ALIVE I am!”

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The air is warm and the smell of blossom is on the wind.   Cherry, apple, pear, horse chestnut, all of them bursting with beauty.  And my favourite, of course, the hawthorn. Some people say how hawthorn flowers are meant to exude the scent of female sexuality.  Whether or not I know this to be true, I find the aroma that fills the countryside when the hawthorn is in full bloom completely intoxicating.  Yes, maybe even a little seductive.

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The hawthorn, also known as the May Tree, is truly a tree of the HEART.  Traditionally, the Celtic fire festival of Beltane, marking the start of Summer, began when the hawthorn came into blossom.  Myths proclaim that this is the time when The Oak King reaches his manhood and the May Queen takes him as her lover.  Through their union, the May Queen becomes pregnant, and so all life begins.  Because of this mythology, since ancient times May is the traditional time of year for handfastings, marriages and unions of all kinds.  There is something about this month, and the bewitching magic of the hawthorn tree in particular, that incites passion, vivacity, joy, and the making of vows.

Besides its magical properties, hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) also holds healing properties within its flowers, berries and seeds.  Known by some as ‘valerian of the heart’ and others as ‘food for the heart’, hawthorn is perhaps most commonly used as a heart stimulant, increasing blood flow to heart muscles and restoring normal heart beat.  Simply because of these heart toning properties, patients using hawthorn medicinally are therefore  guaranteed a higher sense of aliveness and vitality.

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The blossoming of the hawthorn and the arrival of May never cease to give me hope. They lift my spirits and make me laugh out loud at the sheer shameless beauty of all I see around me.   And, they remind me that no matter what our Winter is like – no matter how dark, lonely, hopeless and despairing we might feel that things will ever change – there they are.

Out of nowhere springs growth.  Out of death springs life.

They remind me too, that long after we are gone, all of this wild abandon of nature will continue.  Even without human beings to bear witness to this annual bursting forth of sheer vitality, the leaves will keep on greening, the hawthorn will keep on flowering, and the wheel will keep on turning…

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Home is where the heart is


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My friend made this crochet heart for me as a farewell gift when we set off on our travels earlier this year.  Little could she possibly know how much it has played an intrinsic part in my journey across oceans, through forests, round and around and back, always, to myself.  (Or maybe she did.  She’s quite clever.)

Home is where the heart is.

This, I know.  I really do.

And yet…

…as I start my long and winding journey back to my motherland after a not insignificant period of time away, I find myself asking where ‘home’ is for me now.

I’ve come to recognise many things about both myself and the nature of existence these past few months. Some bright days, much of this can feel quite positive! Other mornings, I can wake up and struggle to find much good about myself and I long for sleep to return me to the land of dreams where my living, breathing ego holds no power. Sadly, sleep evades me far more often than I’d like, and so, on these days, I remind myself that nothing is permanent; that this feeling, too, will pass.  And it does, always. Eventually.

One thing I have realised is this: having lived in someone else’s house for the majority of our time away, and then stayed in numerous other homes since we left Cape Breton, I realise how important living in a space that not only speaks to me, but speaks of me, is to my general sense of wellbeing.  I see that so much of my heart takes comfort in the living space around it – being surrounded by colours, shapes and materials that I can connect with becomes quite crucial to my state of mental health.

I love making home. I love creating beautiful space. And, me being me, I also often question whether this is a good use of my time – should I put so much effort into what things look like?  I remember school reports that said “100% for presentation, content could be better.”  Both a compliment and critique, then.  And, most likely, knowing how uninspiring I found the majority of my educational years, fair enough. I recognise that perhaps I do try to put a lot of effort into how things look – I guess a question I’ve recently found myself asking is: “Do I do this at the expense of developing a depth of understanding behind the presentation?” Am I thinking too much about the ‘home’ and not enough about the ‘heart’?  Perhaps.

I have friends who make truly heart-warmingly, soul-nourishingly beautiful homes. Homes that make me feel immediately welcome, loved, happy and inspired.  What I now realise, no, what I now know, is that wherever I may go from here, whatever land or place I may seek to call ‘home’ next, I, too, want to create a space where other people enter and feel welcome, loved, happy and inspired.  Of course I know that all this has more to do with the heart behind it than the home itself, and believe me, I’m working on that.

What I would MOST love to do in the world is to make our own home from scratch. To create something with our very own hands that is truly unique to us, that speaks of us and who we are in every board that is laid, every beam that is raised.  In many ways, it feels an essential part of being human to me – to raise our own dwelling. To find our own place on the land and build our home. On our journey these past months we have met so many people who have done or are doing this very thing, and there is something about it that feels just so right. To mould ourselves into the very place in which we reside, to create somewhere that allows parts of ourselves that are not always easy to find words for to come into being.  Surely, this is what we, as human beings, have always done?  Just because we have now created a world around us where it is both easier and cheaper not to do so, does not nor should not diminish that instinctual desire.

I know my heart sings when I am in spaces that inspire me.  And, I know how affected I am by being in environments that do not speak to me. Yes, yes, there’s that voice inside me that says “It shouldn’t matter where you are, your heart is always the same”, but actually, I disagree.  And I know I am not alone in this. We each seek out people and places that call to our souls, whether we are aware of it or not.  Some of us can not silence the condemning, critical, negative voices in our heads unless we stand, sit, sleep in places of (wild) beauty.  Our own very small island gets more full by the day, it seems. And yet, still I believe we can carve out our own tiny pieces of beauty and serenity in the places where we choose to call home.

So, my main realisation is this: a home is nothing without a heart.  And a happy, loving, inspired and open heart can created a happy, loving, inspired and open home.

This, I know.

 

 

Samhain medicine

Today is Samhain, beginning and end of the Celtic New Year.  A time where the veil between the “seen world of matter and the unseen world of spirit” (Glennie Kindred) is at its thinnest.   It is a time for our Ancestors to step forward from the land of shadows and sit with us once again in the circle of light; a time to honour all those who have gone before us – those that once were here in body and now are gone beyond our Earthly reach.  We name them and we remember them, for it is in this naming and remembering that they remain alive to us always.

As has been tradition in our home for a few years now, it is also the time where we all choose new Medicine Cards.  Medicine for us to muse on for the coming year.  Medicine that may help to shine a light on those places that may be hiding from us in our own shadows.

For me, this year is for the Black Panther, whose medicine is Embracing The Unknown.

If the Black Panther has appeared today, it may be telling you not to worry about the future.  Trust that you are not supposed to mentally “figure it out” at this time.  You may need to confront fears of the unknown, of being less than you truly are, or an inability to simply BE.  Let go of fears that appear as obstacles or barriers.  Embrace the unknown and flow with the mystery that is unfolding in your life.  The next step may be leaping empty-handed into the void with implicit trust.

Medicine Cards, The Discovery of Power Through The Ways of Animals Jamie Sams & David Carson

In many ways, Black Panther tells me nothing I do not already know.  And… the words I read today allow me to peel back yet another layer of the mystery that continues to unfold before me.  Indeed, Black Panther’s medicine speaks to me LOUD and CLEAR.  This Entering the Stillness and Embracing the Unknown are journeys I am very familiar with.  Words such as ‘trust’, ‘acceptance’, ‘void’, ‘stillness’ are ones that echo around and around me with faithful repetition on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis.

And so… on I go…

Knowing that the Black Panther is just there behind me, though, waiting patiently in the shadows, gives me comfort beyond words and a new found confidence in my ongoing journey…

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Into the woods

The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness

John Muir

In the past, T and I have discussed the question “Are you a plains person or a forest person?”  So, if you had to choose, would you live on the top of a hill with wide views all around, open space in abundance, or would you choose the closer confines of a woodland environment, surrounded by trees?  He’s always said forest.  I’ve been plains.

Here, in Cape Breton, we are surrounded by trees.  Everywhere we go… trees.  It is only when we’re on the beach, looking out on to the Gulf of St Lawrence, that there is not forest as far as the eye can see.  Other than the Daintree Rainforest in Northern Queensland, I have never before spent so much time in and amongst so many trees.  And it’s interesting what it’s doing to my psyche.

Intellectually, I feel excited.  All the reading I’ve been doing over the last year or so, about ‘wilderness’ and the impact of the loss of our native large fauna on our natural world, tells me that this landscape is how our own small and terribly overcrowded island would have looked before the forests disappeared.  This is what projects like Trees For Life, who’s aim it is to restore the Caledonian Forest up in Scotland, are envisioning.  A land literally COVERED in trees.  In fact, before we left home, someone said to me “Nova Scotia is just like Scotland, before they cut down all the trees”.  While this is true in some sense – there are huge numbers of lakes, some vast, some small, there are hills , there are blackflies aplenty (midgie equivalent), there is even a man playing the bagpipes just outside the cafe where I’m sitting right now – I don’t feel the immensity of space that I do when I’m in Scotland.   This is because not only are the ‘mountains’ here that much smaller, but in Scotland the bare and open landscape, devoid of trees in many parts, gives me much more a sense of expansiveness somehow.  And, although the Gaelic music also floats around in abundance here, what I hear around me are Canadian accents, and so I feel very, very far away from my own ‘culture’ and, most importantly, my own land.

But what is “my own land” (by that I mean the land of my birth)?  What does it really look like?  I know WHAT it looks like in present times, of course, but now I also have a sense of what it must have looked like way back when (and perhaps what it ‘should’ look like now?)  And it’s pretty radically different.  While humans have clearly made their mark here – dirt tracks disappear off main roads, marking out thoroughfares used by people living in the near and far reaches of the forest – because of the impenetrable nature of this forest, it feels like there are large areas where no human foot can ever have stepped.  Up there in the hills reside bears, coyotes, moose, and lynx.  The kinds of animals that conjure up feelings of fear, excitement and WILDNESS in me.

So, it’s interesting.  As I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with those ecologists that lament the loss of our native wildscapes, those who campaign for the return of our vast forests, for the reintroduction of our lost megafauna, I also find myself questioning just how I personally would cope living in and amongst so many trees again.  I say “again” because once upon a long time ago all of our ancestors walked these forests. These tree-covered lands are in our blood, in the ancient memories stored in our very bones.  Their roots grow deep within our souls.  We are of the forest and we are one with the forest.  It is only because we cut the vast majority of them down so very long ago that we have lost that conscious knowing of the wild woods cape.  Not only that, but we have also, tragically, become afraid of it.

That comes as a huge sense of loss, for me.  When I was in the Daintree I felt fear of ‘what is out there’.  At times, I couldn’t fully enjoy where I was because I was worried about what I couldn’t see.  And here it is the same.  What is out there IS unknown and unseen.  We, as humans, do not fare well when we do not know and can not see what is coming towards us.  Or, indeed, as my own small family takes its first tentative footsteps out into the world, far away from the comfort, safety and loving arms of our home, family and friends, when we do not know what we, ourselves, are heading towards.

So, I take these forests as a fine metaphor for where I find myself in life right now.  I literally CAN NOT see what is out there.   I must let go of knowing, and trust that, step by tiny step, we will find our way.

When I first read John Muir’s quote above, I thought “Ha, not for me!”  Clearly, I have much to learn.  Or re-learn perhaps…

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Facing the unknown

“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.”

Pema Chodron

The unknown.  Ah what romance and delights it holds!  What potential, what excitements, what empty, open spaces lie in wait for us to step into and uncover all those hidden mysteries!

The adventure.  The open road.  The one way ticket out of here and into there…

And yet…

And yet, how can we possibly know if we have the courage or not to face it when we don’t really know what IT even is?

Sadly (in my opinion), it is almost impossible to experience the complete unknown in our modern world.  Think of a place.  Any place.  Someone has already been there.  They probably stuck a flag in the ground just to prove they got there first.  And then they went home and wrote a book about it.  It is probably a very ‘interesting’ book.  It might even be the best book you’ve ever read! And I can totally understand that desire to share something you’ve done, something you’ve seen, something you’ve heard, something that feels so extraordinary that you just HAVE to share it with someone else just so that they, too, can get just the tiniest glimpse into just how extraordinary it really was.  (I am a blogger after all…)

And yet (again)… in that very action we take something away.  Not only from the other person, who was not there when said extaordinary thing happened, but actually we take something away from ourselves too. In the very moment that those first words are spoken, we have lost a bit of the preciousness of our experience. We have released it, and, therefore, imperceptible as it may seem at first, we no longer fully, selfishly own it.

Luckily (and frustratingly), we know that no retelling of a story will ever pass on to the listener the true, unique magic of the moment from which our story evolved.  We have all seen and felt that missing ‘something’ in our listeners as their eyes glaze over, their attention drifts, they start to ask irrelevant questions.  How can they possibly see what we’ve seen?!  How can they possibly feel how we feel? We saw it with OUR eyes, we walked it with OUR feet.  And so, always, they will be OUR stories and no one elses.

So perhaps, after all, even with all the maps, books, songs, stories and far flung tales that are out there of lands already discovered, seas already sailed and dragons already spied, it still IS possible to visit new places and discover a whole new story just for ourselves.

Any new adventure takes true courage, yes.

This, I am learning in abundance at the moment, as the unknown beckons me into her mysterious, tempting and delectable depths.  I am teetering on the edge of complete surrender and at times I feel truly afraid.

Simple pleasures

I like to think I’m actually quite easy to please. (Yes, I appreciate this might not seem 100% true 100% of the time but…)

Take my latest source of deep and divine (yes really) pleasure…

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Yes, it’s a sofa.  But it’s not just ANY sofa.  THIS sofa is in what I like to call my new ‘snug’.

I really wish I’d taken a before AND after photo now, but to be quite honest with you, BEFORE made me deeply unhappy.  I’d even go as far as to say despondent, hopeless and despairing. And why would I want to take a photo of something that had such an effect on me?! Well quite.

So, all I have is the after photo.  It may not seem like much to anyone other than me, but what it represents brings words like calm, serenity, quiet creativity, order, beauty, and MINE to mind.

This is a space I’ve carved out for myself in amongst the piles of stuff and things to do and general chaos and mess that I feel takes up most of the rest of our house most of the time.  And I have decreed this ‘snug’ a whinging/complaining/arguing/shouting and above all mess-free zone.

Kids (and farmers actually) make unbelievable mess!  I am still amazed, after 9 years of parenting, at just how much of a mess they can make.  I’d like to say I’m totally zen with it all, that it washes over me like a Himalayan waterfall of enlightened non-attachment.  However… I do struggle with mess when it is EVERYWHERE, and in a farmhouse with 1 farmer, 1 basketmaker, 2 home-educated kids, 1 dog, 2 cats (one of whom brings in a semi-consumed dead offering at least twice a day) I feel like there is mess everywhere all of the time.

So, this little niche is a place for me to escape to when I need to remember what it is like to feel clutter-free.  Somewhere I can go to to escape the chaos of everywhere else.  Somewhere to meditate.  Somewhere to dream.  Somewhere to turn soul-pleasing things like this…

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…into things like this… (more on the delight of mandalas soon…)

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I believe everyone needs space like this.  Whether it’s a whole room or a corner of a room, a window sill or a special place outside somewhere. One friend disappears into a caravan when he seeks reconnection. For some people it’s their car.  Or their bed.  For others, it’s a particular cafe that they go to for escape and to connect into the part of them that they know is buried deep beneath all that chaos. And for others it’s not even a place, but a time in the day or week where they can carve out that space and give back to themselves the love and nurturing that we all, on one level or another, really, really need.

I know that the stillness and centring I seek when I spend time in my snug can be found within my very self.  I know that through yoga, meditation, mindfulness and conscious practice I can tap into this part of myself more and more easily.  And yet I’m not sure even the Buddha himself could have attained enlightenment if he’d been surrounded by hungry, demanding children, a throwing-up dog and a god-forsaken mess to tidy up first.