It’s just past Imbolc, candlemas, Groundhog Day. The time we witches dwell on the quiet of winter, halfway to spring equinox, when the fields lie quiet beneath the frozen ground.
Most of my life, in New York and Michigan, winter arrived and laid down it’s coating of snow and ice, transforming the world. This year in southern Maryland, Winter and Spring are doing a see-saw dance, from frosty to balmy as the temperature swings from the teens to the 70s.
My body can’t help but respond with joy to the warming temps. Physical happiness arises as I relax outside the bookstore, comfortable on a bench without my coat, absorbing the sunlight. The animals can’t either; I hear the hawks chittering their nesting talk to each other in a nearby tree.
But my mind knows it’s not right. There should be a thick blanket of white insulating the ground. The fallow season may feel harsh, but it’s been the rhythm of life for millennia. That wintry state has its own pleasures, after you’ve hauled the wood and stoked the fire.
So my unease isn’t just north or south, past or present, but Rural or Urban.
The rhythm of ancient life is recorded deep within me. I feel out-of-sorts when I can’t heat my home with fire, nor draw my water from nearby. Without a garden, fruit trees and wildlife I feel incomplete.
There’s a lovely song for this moment, when the seeds that feed us unfurl quietly below the ground, that I love. It’s a round:
Small brown seed Deep dark earth Hungry for the light of fire Driven by a deep desire Grow, grow. (Repeat)
It’s right there, just outside your window: an incredible world filled with (magic, love, science, energy, mystery, god, light, LIFE). A world where the smallest thing is vital, integral to the whole. Where your breath is as necessary as air, where angels really do dance on the head of a pin.
Just step outside and let the modern din, as alluring as it is, fade back. Listen: bird, plane, crickets, another bird, grasses waving. Look: sky filled with clouds like wings, deepening from white to cream to gold in the lengthening light.
It can be so easy to miss, these things, what with all the worries in your world: hurry, money, late, bills, gallop through your day, always reaching further than you fear you can reach. No room for the moment when a Damsel Fly (some call them darners) lands on your hand. She chooses you as the stable place to unfurl new wings. To accustom her new body to air before lifting off.
See the rainbows in her stained-glass wings. See the green-gold scales, irridescent armour protecting her beating heart. See the bulbous insect eyes, comically large, that see your world through a kaleidescope. She’s tender, pulsing, driven by hunger, born to move in the world, alive. She lifts off your hand, ready to fly.
I met her while kayaking earlier this week on the Mattawoman River. Considered one of the last pristine rivers in Maryland, it’s a major nursery for sport fish and other wildlife.
Just a little ways away, right now, lotuses are furling for the night, their generous cups closing until dawn. Their velvet green leaves, big as dinner-plates, ripple, floating. Droplets of water beading like mercury. beads and rolls off the rich . The water is warm silk, the boat parts the way through the lotus forest, somehow not an intruder. Green frog with satisfied grin watches from a floating leaf island. His tiny cousin climbs aboard. Small as a fingernail and perfectly froggy in every way; his orange eyes blink, unafraid.
Froggy rides with us further upriver. This creature that swam below the surface just days ago now sails through the upper world. He lost his swimmer’s tail ashe grew strong legs, preparing to begin a new life above the mirror’s surface. Now he’s on the prow of our craft. vivid green-apple green, skin patterned with leaf-llke veins, fading to cool lemon-white on his belly, punctuated toes ready to grasp or release; dead useful.
We paddle against wind and current, a proud craft with figurehead on the prow. Somewhat later, scratching ashore on gravel bank, Froggy debarks into his uncertain future. Happy hunting, my friend.
Here in this water our life begins, our sustenance is generated, life arises again and again every moment. Sun spun to sugar, consumed by tiny creatures that feed the tadpole, destined to be frog. CO2 into oxygen, caterpillar to butterfly, jellied egg to trophy bass, muddy seed to transcendent lotus: the everyday miracles are countless, and everywhere you look.
Now the sun slips below and only the high wings of the sky still beam us light. Tree swallows begin their dusk ballet and we glide on the outgoing tide, motionless, while the birds fly low and fast over the water snatching their evening meal. They pass so close we hear the flap of feathery wings rustle, as if we were invisible to them.
The lifeblood of these creatures flows around us, buoying the boat, carrying food and messages, pulsing with a heartbeat of current and tide. What happens miles away will determine the story here.
One day when you mow your lawn and dump the clippings in that low spot behind the garage, you may notice a little water moving.The grass clippings, lush with fertilizer, send plant nutrients trickling down, from drain to ditch to creek to river and sea. En route, your contribution joins all the other small amounts of fertilizer and excrement ultimately fouling the River and Bay as they feed great green clots of algae that suck all the oxygen from the water, creating ‘dead zones’ where no fish or crabs can live.
It’s a messenger, the water. It carries your chemical story into their world, but returns a message as well. Listen: in that quiet little shimmer there’s a pulse, a movement not unlike your own. I’m heading to the sea, taking your messages with me. Don’t you want to come along?
River gets bigger, finally spreads out into shimmering marsh lands, whole worlds of wild rice, spatterdock, pickeralweed and lotus, where young bass grow up to be sport fish. Where green frogs grin and lotuses unfurl and soaring birds eat their fill of flying things over the sunset river. You belong here, too.
Maple seeds helicoptor down. Dusty white oak ‘flowers’ cover my patio and clog my gutters. I’m sneezing and sweeping. There’s a fly buzzing on the screen. I swat a mosquito. A cabbage butterfly and a honeybee cruise by.
This week members of the Local Food Forum gathered to view the film Vanishing of the Bees. It’s an academy award nominated documentary about the rise of Colony Collapse disorder that reveals the impact of agribusiness on honey and bee farmers worldwide. Until I saw this film I had no idea beehives were trucked all over the country. Or that monoculture agriculture provided no food for bees, leaving 1000s of acres essentially sterile, absent of the buzz of insect life.
Of course, for our immediate comfort, that’s what many of us want. I don’t want creatures who sting and bite, eat my blood, may give me a disease, eat my crops, even my clothing! I even hate the look of certain creepy things on the wall. OUT! It’s easy to think: “Go away, die, life is better without you, you horrible thing!”
Insects are not easy to identify with. They seem very alien to us, in fact many fictional aliens are based on arthropods. They do not have the soft liquid single eyes of mammals, but weird compound orbs. No familiar warm mouth with pink tongue, but a frightening orafice with pincers and palps. Their skeletons are on the outside their bodies, and muscles inside, the inverse of our structure. They appear sneaky, subversive, ugly, evil, insidious.
But know that the bees, the butterflies, the wasps, even flies and mosquitos pollenate our food and flowers, and provide the food for birds, fish and other wildlife. Know that like us they are born, learn to live, walk, fly, feed themselves. They struggle to find food and shelter, mate and create offspring. Bees live in a highly organized social order, a matriarchy devoted to creating a sustainable community that makes more than enough food in order to insure survival of the community.
When they are successful, we have the sweetness of honey. And, oh, yes: fruit and flowers.
Please consider this when you wish the bugs away, or reach for that pesticide. There is a web of life that connects all things, and we, and the insects, are intertwined within it.