Neomenia, Eostre & Equinox

Neomenia is a fancy word for New Moon, which we have a splendid example of today. The Super Moon of March 20, 2015 caused a total eclipse of the sun for the North Atlantic and bits of Greenland and Iceland.

Some Pagan folk call Spring Equinox by the name of Ostara, or Eostre, after the ancient Germanic goddess who heralds the spring reawakening. The word is related to East, and Aus, a proto-germanic word for dawn. I’ve often thought is sounds quite a bit like Purim’s Esther and that other rabbit & egg holiday that’s just around the corner!

The Equinox refers to the balance of dark and light, for today, the night is as long as the day, roughly speaking. I see for us the sun rises and sets at around 7:18.

Rumor has it that the heavenly dance of Pluto has big things in store for our little planet. So heed the auspicious signs, plant your seeds, honor your Mother. Let us celebrate the wonder of life.

I wish all the blessings of the change of season to you all, the joy of rabbits leaping, and flowers opening, and delicious boiled eggs of many colors, including chocolate!

 

Strange Silvery Cloud

“As many as 80% of all people on earth today have never had the chance to witness a clear view of the Milky Way.

Have you seen the Milky Way? How did it make you feel? Leave me a comment and tell me about it.

“In 1994 a major earthquake struck LA, causing massive power outages across the city. Residents called 911 to express alarm about a “strange silvery cloud” hovering overhead.”

Illusion of Lights, a film from Goldpaint Photography, specialists in landscape astrophotography

“I like to run at night in the summertime because it’s nice and cool. As I’m running, I’m thinking about work and the discoveries that we’re making.  I look up at the stars. And in that split second, just that fraction of a second when I first saw not pinpoints of light, which are stars. I saw planetary systems. I saw solar systems. I saw other planets out there. It’s really hard to articulate that kind of an experience. It’s something very personal.”

~Natalie Batalha (from a 2013 interview with Krista Tippett)

Natalie Batalha hunts for earth-like planets beyond our solar system. A research astronomer at NASA Ames Research Center, she heads the Kepler Mission.   In its first four years, the mission confirmed over 100 new planets — but the search for one just right for life continues. Early interpretations of Kepler data point to as many as 17 billion Earth-sized planets in the Milky Way galaxy alone.

Suicide and Altitude

BLOG FOR MENTAL HEALTH 2014

I came across this article about neuroscientist Perry Renshaw’s research into what he calls the “Utah Paradox.”

Neuroscientist Perry Renshaw

Despite ranking as America’s happiest state, Utah has disproportionately high rates of suicide and associated mood disorders compared to the rest of the country. In fact, it’s the No. 1 state for antidepressant use.

I was intrigued, since I’ve known for years that a higher, drier clime has the power to make me feel remarkably happier, when I arrive from the sea level humidity where I live.

So I was intrigued, then argumentative, then baffled, then amazed as Brain Mic editor Theresa Fisher dove into the neuro-chemistry and the geo-demography (two of my favorite subjects!!) to identify the experience that I have: I lifelong depressive who feels uplift and well being from altitude.

The working theory is that high altitude hypoxia reduces seratonin but stimulates dopamine. Since I know from a major medication adjustment about 5 years ago that SSRIs alone don’t manage my depression, that helps explain my joy at altitude. Of course more sunlight and spectacular vistas certainly don’t hurt!

Where we live has so much to do with who we are, and how we feel. If you have climate or geography related experiences with your mental health, please tell us about them.

Embracing the Dark Side

I was en route to the bank when had to pull over and send a tweet to the Kojo Namdi Show when I heard what today’s guest, Todd Kashdan, had to say.

At first I thought it was a strange show topic – a guy against positive thinking! But then I realized where he was going with it.  Kashdan is the Director of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena at George Mason University, was there to discuss his new book, The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self–Not Just Your “Good” Self–Drives Success and Fulfillment.

The book takes on the pop culture trend of positivity and challenges the way it reinforces our habit of denying the truth of our painful experiences.

The key is in the title– be your whole self, not just your good self, and it brought to mind my remarkable journey through pop culture fandom that has done so much to help heal my creative blocks. (unfortunately it has not healed my tendency to tweet before spellchecking.)

I was socialized in the 50’s as a nicey-nice girl, a role where there was no room for loud or angry. The more life piled experiences on me, which of course included pain and anger, there was no outlet for that energy. If these experiences are always negative expressions, they have no way to exist without creating more shame and disappointment.

If we hide away more and more of our true experience of life, we inevitably become less and less authentic. Less real, even to ourselves. There are many versions of this in our mainstream culture – ‘John Wayne’ who can do everything on his own and never sheds a tear, that ‘Nicey-nice’ woman who never loses her temper, ‘Pollyanna’ who is always looking on the bright side.

I’m still very much a work in progress. It took until my 50s for me to truly embrace the inner Dark, to begin the dance with my Shadow and accept it as an integral and essential part of me.  I have become more prickly, less polite in recent years, it’s true. And the world has not ended. I have stood on my priorities, not someone else’s. I appreciate myself so much more as a result.

Do my friends? Hmmm, you’ll have to ask them. I might be a little more difficult to live with!

Depression: Not that Simple

In light of the very public death of Robin Williams, and in the spirit of Blogging for Mental Health 2014, I wanted to reveal some of the really challenging things that depressed people live with. (I’ve bolded the ones that have been particularly pernicious for me.) Many of these symptoms and tendencies seem innocuous or unimportant, but they can add up to an unbearable life.

Things Nobody Tells You
About Being Depressed

Reach out, in what ever way you can, to a friend, professional, clergy, online. The headline above links to a wide variety of resources.

Dip Paddle; Pull; Repeat.

9547350874_f5985d855e_qMy paddle felt familiar in my hands, even after 18 months without setting sail in my lovely battered plastic kayak. A twice-postponed trip came about, at last, on a perfect day.

This is an easy to have a boat, really. It’s plastic, it floats even when full of water. No ports or holes in the hull to leak, nothing to rot. Very little gear required.Just get it on and off the car, drag it to the water, shove off and…. ahhh.

There is nothing like that glide, the feel sound and smell of the water all around you.  Such a smooth flowing sensation, and the sound of the dip, pull, swirl, lift, dripping, and repeat again, finding  your rhythm, it’s exquisite, it’s ancient, it’s instinctive.

We all know it’s lovely to look at:

The name comes from Capt. John Smith’s 1608 map, where it is labeled Mataughquamend, an Algonquian compound translated as “where one goes pleasantly.”

My local kayaking river is the lovely The Mattawoman Creek,  a short tributary of the very long Potomac River. Hailed as one  of the most pristine river ecosystems in the state, Mattawoman is prized as a trophy bass nursery. The river also hosts increasingly scarce  anadromous fish like shad, alewife and herring.  Mattawoman’s sweet, wild, water is much appreciated by birds and fish, fisherman and paddlers. I love it because it’s still pure enough to swim in.

Those Magnificent Flying Things

Pandion haliaetusor osprey, with cargo

The bird count wasn’t spectacular, but the bird behavior was great. I watched a gang of male red-wing blackbirds harassing a large white Egret, buzzing the tall bird, who ducked and squualked and lunged at them comically. Later we saw the white bird flying, still trailed by hostile red-wings. Real-life Angry Birds!!

Osprey were on the hunt all up and down the stream. More than once I saw them flying with a nice fish in their claws, back to the brood, or for lunch on a favorite branch. They look like a loaded bomber, carrying their cargo below, but there is no way they’ll let that fish go until they’re ready.

Later, a half dozen swallow fledglings begged fitfully on a low hanging branch as mum and dad ably demonstrated hunting on the wing. I paddled right up to them, and they just eyed me, until I spoke. That always breaks the spell. They flew away with perfect grace.

Nelumbo Lutea, the American Lotus, has the largest bloom of any plant native to the US

Flora in Abundance

The rivers edge is lined with waterplants,: wild rice, cattail, pickeral weed with its lavender spike, spatterdock, the round yellow waterlily and her cousin the American Lotus, which is just beginning its glorious blooming season. These unfurl huge platter-sized leaves that repel water, rolling it into rounded pools like mercury. And the grand blossoms sway on tall stems, each cream petal large enough to drink from. Apparently a thoroughly edible plant, this lotus is found throughout north America

We only saw a few in full bloom, but plenty more ready to burst into bloom in weeks to come. The showy redwings perched on them for lovely effect.

Changes in the Water

Over the 11 years I’ve paddled and swum this river I’ve seen it grow cloudier, more weed choked. That’s the imprint of increased sediment and nutrient load resulting from upstream development. Although a short river (30 miles) it runs through some active DC exurb communities where sand and gravel pits are evolving into subdivisions. Runoff and erosion are inevitable result of this activity, unless mindful steps are taken to prevent it.

It’s still clean enough to swim in, but its not as clear as it was 10 years ago. The water is murky from silt, and Hydrilla weed chokes the shallows, fed by human and farm waste, plus suburban lawn chemicals. The Mattawoman’s productivity as a fish nursery is measurably declining, particularly in the last decade.

You Can Help

Rain capture system

There are steps you can take to help local improve your local watershed health, but it does require some adjustment of behavior.

  1. STOP using chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides on your lawn. Let there be many grasses, clover, even dandelions in your yard! Consider replacing some or all of your lawn with a better habitat for birds, wildlife, butterflies.
  2. CAPTURE and reuse rainwater for gardening, or at least divert it to disperse into the soil.
  3. REPLACE impermeable surfaces with permeable pavers to allow rain water to filter through the earth instead of running into sewers, which washes waste and toxic residues into the local waterways.
  4. SUPPORT the Mattawoman Watershed Society or your local water quality organization in whatever way you can.
  5. GO OUT & ENJOY the beauty and diversity of the waterways, and share your experiences, especially with children.

3585467548_c358293c7b_mDip. Splash. Rustle of cattails. Flop! a fish jumps. Cry of the osprey. Swish, drip, dip, repeat. Breathe. The kayak can take you into intimate shallow glades, where fish drowse amid the water weeds, where birds don’t notice you watching them as they catch bugs, pick berries, gather nest material. The rusted remains of a gravel dredge now creates a sculpture garden where turtles sunbathe.

Get out there, seriously.

Here’s Why We All Get to Eat

new birch leaves
photo by Marilylle Soveran

Today I bring you a tribute to the engine of the life, something that if you’re like me, living in the Northern Hemisphere, you have been outside celebrating in recent days. The cherry trees are opening their blossoms, the lambs are cavorting on greening pastures, and everyone wants to be outside in shirtsleeves, taking in the bright sun.

Photosynthesis!

Mr Latimer’s bottle garden was planted 53 years ago and watered once in 1972. It thrives on sunlight alone, due to the balance of oxygen from bacteria (animals) and CO2 from plants exchanging moisture and nutrients. It’s a microcosm of our planet, which acquires nothing from outside our atmosphere but sunlight (well, the occasional meteorite, too) yet air and water circulate between our lungs and the green plants in a wonderful harmony. You can read more about this HERE.

The light of the Sun is what makes this go. Here’s a simple diagram of the exchange.

photosynthesis

Some of you may remember the challenge of tracking the whole business in organic chemistry — you might remember it as being complicated, and chemically, it’s pretty amazing and intricate. But the way it works is a simple exchange, and because it works, we all get to eat! I don’t know about you, but I find this bloody AMAZING.

Here, this is even simpler:

See that second half of the equation? The sugar is the source of ALL THE FOOD WE EAT. Even if you are a carnivore, the animals you eat grew up eating plants. We are all eating sunlight, by virtue of the photosynthetic process. And yeah, we get to breathe the oxygen. Pretty convenient if you ask me.

And then there’s the icing on the cake:

It’s Beautiful:

Star Magnolia

 

How did you celebrate being alive today?

Miraculous Sounds of Spring

If you heard this sound, would you think it was?

click to play audio

At first listen, you might think you were hearing something like this:

click to play audio

That’s a sound it’s good to hear in the woods these days. The mid-Atlantic winter has been hard on us, and the singing of frogs brings hope that today’s Spring Equinox has really arrived.

Those are ‘spring peepers,’ tiny chorus frogs that awaken and sing in vernal puddles each year in forest wetlands. They’re tiny: adults rarely more than an inch and a half in length. I am transported by the sound: these durable creatures rise from the frozen mud and sing for love in one of the first bright declarations of spring.

But even more miraculous that these singing amphibians is the first recording. Play it again. What you’re listening to is the dawn chorus of the planet Earth, sounds emitted by the energetic particles of the earth’s magnetosphere, stimulated by the solar wind.

These radio waves are at frequencies which are audible to the human ear, if sound traveled in a vacuum, and if you could expose your ear in space! Here they were recorded by two satellites studying the Van Allen belts and other phenomena of the near solar system.

Happy Equinox!

Universe, Part 3: A Bearable Vastness

Part 3

Lately I’ve heard a number of interviews with Natalie Batahla, planetary astronomer and poet. She works with NASA’s Kepler Mission,  a search for earthlike planets. Natalie has a beautiful optimism about the ability of science  to reveal mysteries and nourish the human mind.

“I have a great reverence for the mysteries of the cosmos… Carl Sagan said that understanding is a form of ecstasy.”

It’s wonderful to hear a scientist speak about her work, the discovery of knowledge and joy, so much the way artists explain why they do the work that they do.

“No matter how extreme the environment here on earth there seems to be life. nature seems to be creative, and robust, and my thought is that if it’s creative here it’s likely to be true in the whole universe as well. “

Natalie describes Dark Energy as Love:

“Ninety-five percent of the mass of the universe being something we can’t even see, and yet it moves us. It draws us. It creates galaxies. We’re like moving on a current of this gravitational field created by mostly stuff that we can’t see. And the analogy with love just struck me, you know, that it’s like this thing that we can’t see, that we don’t understand yet. It’s everywhere and it moves us.

“I am the universe, and I am taking a look at myself, using my senses.”

Then she quotes her (and my) hero, Carl Sagan:

“for small creatures such as we, the vastness is only bearable through love.”

Universe part 2: the Gates of Awareness

click on the pic to read the story

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”

So begins HP Lovecraft‘s shortstory The Call of Cthulu, published in 1926. He goes on to reveal ancient terrors beyond our awareness, monsters that that still have a great following today. He writes of opening the gates of awareness, but finding incomprehensible horrors beyond.

Lovecraft was a favorite writer of mine in late childhood. I graduated to his terrifying works after devouring Edgar Allen Poe. I was frightened by his writings, delightedly so, going back again and again for the haunted atmosphere, the richly textured history, and the disturbing, yet intriguing, concept that there is much, much more going on that we know. I love the shivery feeling that gives me.

Things We Don’t Know make up more of the universe than Things We Know; but clever humans, we are learning all the time. While we have yet to find an ancient civilization under the Mountains of Madness, we have recently discovered this:

Based on the  data from NASA’s Kepler spacecraft it seems that there could be 40 billion habitable Earth-size planets in our galaxy.

earthlike planets in the galaxy
From the NYT: A rendering of Kepler 62f and two outer planets, which may lie in a habitable zone where liquid water could exist on the surface.

Take that in: FORTY BILLION. Earth-like planets. In just our one little galaxy, which sails through the cosmos with millions like it. Just look into the night sky, or close your eyes an imagine this unimaginable fact, this spinning multitude of matter and energy we are a part of.

Wouldn’t Johannes Kepler be amazed.