Nature Articles

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O Earth-Mother, we praise Thee! In all that we do, do we praise Thee: in our getting up and in our lying down, in sleeping and our waking, in our eating and in our drinking, in our working and in our times of leisure; for we are alive only through Thee, and in our every act do we praise Thee.O Earth-Mother, we praise Thee! In all that we see, do we praise Thee: in the sky and sea, the hills and the plains, the clouds and the stars, the moon and the sun, in the birds and the flowers, the butterflies, and the myriad-colored fishes.We praise Thee with our admiration of the sunset and of the mountains, of the trees and of the streams; for thou hast made all things, and for all we see do we praise Thee.0 Earth-Mother, We praise Thee! In all that we hear and smell and taste do we praise Thee: in the song of birds and the roar of the sea, in the perfumes of flowers and the freshness of a summer rain: In the softness of a kitten and the coolness of a lake, in the sweetness of honey and the and the savor of fruits; for all that we hear and smell and feel and taste is of thee, and for all sensible do we praise Thee.O Earth-Mother, we praise Thee! For all that we love do we praise Thee: for the love of our parents and for the love of others; for the act and emotions of love is an act and emotion of praise, and in loving do we praise Thee!Oh Earth-Mother, we praise Thee! In our meditations and service do we praise and think upon Thy works and power.O Earth-Mother, we praise Thee! In all the whole world we praise Thee: from the east to the west do we praise Thee, and from the nadir to the zenith do we praise Thee.We praise Thee in the day and in the night, in all seasons of the year, and in the myriad of years.We praise Thee knowing, and unknowing, believing and of little faith; for Thou hast made all and art all, and we can praise and admire nothing without praising and admiring Thee.O Earth-Mother, we praise Thee!Peace Peace Peace
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The following articles are about the spirits of the land (aka Nature Spirits):Raven
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by Jessica Sanchez(Originally published in Druid's Progress 11)As Samhain draws near, we must explore the dark side of the season. Commonly known as Halloween, this is the time when the souls of the dead roam the earth and bring mischief and death to the living. As with most holidays, symbolism plays a big role in celebrating the season. One animal that plays a role in representing Samhain is the raven.In most cultures, the raven is represented as the messenger of death. There are a few cultures; however, where the raven is seen as the Creator of the Earth and man; in these cultures, it is respected and considered to be sacred.The Vikings thought of the raven as a bird of war because of its raucous cawing and its feeding on the bodies of the slain. It is also said, however, that Odin, the father of the gods, kept a pair of ravens, Hugin (thought) and Munin (memory), perched on his shoulders. At dawn, the ravens were released to explore the earth and return at night to whisper the secrets they had discovered into Odin's ear.In Alaska, the Koyukon see the raven as the Creator of the Earth, moon, stars, people and sun. Oral history relates that the raven first made people from rocks, but they proved to be too strong, so the raven destroyed the people and recreated them with sand instead. The Koyukon also described the raven as a trickster. They say that the raven put mosquitoes on the earth to plague the people because, at the time, their way of life had no difficulties. They also say that water once flowed in two directions at the same time, but again the raven believed that it made life too easy for people, so he made the water flow only downstream. Because of these beliefs, the Koyukon consider the raven to be sacred. It is considered strong taboo to kill a raven in their culture.In Native American culture, it is also considered a bad sign to spot a raven acting in a strange manner. To hear a raven caw at night was a great omen to those who heard it. The Kwaikiutl would offer the afterbirth of a male newborn to ravens, so that when the child became a man, he would understand the cries of the raven.In Jewish folklore, the raven is looked down upon, because it is believed that it was the only animal on the Ark that violated the law forbidding lovemaking on the sacred vessel. It is also believed that the raven was the first bird that Noah sent out to look for land. The raven never returned because it decided to stop and feed on the bodies of the victims of the great flood. It was then that Noah sent the dove.Biblical writers have recorded that godsent ravens sustained Elijah during his retreat in the desert (1 Kings 17:6) . This contradicts the fact that ravens were considered to be 'sinners' who did not feed their young properly and ate carrion.During the time of European settlement in America, the raven was associated with bringing failure to crops, death to livestock, and depletion of game. This belief was strengthened when it was seen that ravens were feasting on the corpses of farm animals.Now as the time approaches for the raven to take flight and join the souls of the dead on Samhain, remember this-- Even though this bird is thought to be the harbinger of death, in some cultures, it is the bringer of life and omen messenger to the living.
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Look in any ditch along any country road in the Eastern part of the United States and Canada, and you'll find Great Burdock Arctium lappa. Look in many back yards and you'll find it there, too. Burdock is one of the most common medicinal plants. It is easily found and is one of the most useful.Arctium lappa grows to be 2 to 9 feet tall depending on where it is in its growth cycle.1 It is a biennial plant, whcih means a plant will generally live for two years.2 In the first year it remains quite low to the ground with large, fuzzy leaves which are slightly heart-shaped. The leaves resemble rhubarb, complete with reddish tint to the stalks.3In its second year, Burdock grows its infamous burrs that almost every dog owner has had the pleasure of removing from his or her pet's fur. Before the burrs, this plant has pink to red flowers which look similar to the blooms on a thistle plant.4Great Burdock has been used medicinally for hundreds of years; in the 17th Century, Burdock was used to reposition a woman's uterus. By placing it on her head, it kept her womb from prolapsing, or falling from its natural position.5 By the same token, if placed on the soles of her feet, it would help the womb fall slightly to assist in childbirth. Placed on the navel it helped keep the child in the womb until it was full-term.6 The root was also combined with pine nuts and given to "them that spit foul, mattery, and bloody phlegm."7 It could be pulverized and mixed with salt to help "those that are bit by a mad dog."8 For snake bites, the juice of the leaves was given with wine.9When the Europeans came to the New World, they found that Burdock was among the herbs used by the natives.10 The Cherokee, Chippewa, Ojibway and Iroquois used it especially for skin diseases.Not only was Arctiarn lappa used in Native American and European medicine, but it was used in Chinese medicine as well.11 In Chinese herbalism, it is known as Niu Bang and is used as an anti-pyretic.12 In other words, it is used to help control fevers. It is also reported used in China as an aphrodisiac.13In modern, western herbalism, Burdock root can be used externally for all sorts of skin diseases. It is especially great for eczema and other dry-skin rashes. The leaves are helpful in the treatment of burns and insect bites. This herb also works as a vulnerary; with means it helps heal bruises and cuts.14Internally, Arctium lappa can be used to help heal kidney and bladder infections.15 It acts as a diuretic and stimulates elimination of urine.16 It has also been used in cases of Anorexia nervosa.17 The digestive bitters contained in Burdock helps stimulate the appetite.18Besides being a useful medicinal plant, Burdock is nutritious as well. The roots, young leaves and flower stalks can all be eaten in many different ways. The roots of a first-ear plant can be gathered in early to mid-fall, peeled and served with butter.19 After the green rind is removed, the pith of the flower stalks may be prepared in the same way as the root, or it may be simmered in sugar syrup and eaten as candy.20 The very young leaves of a first-year plant can also be gathered and cooked as greens, with several changes of water during the process, or they may simply be chopped and used in salads.I have personally used this plant for a few different problems. I once made an ointment for a friend who was suffering from a skin rash caused by stress. It seemed to work nicely for this woman. I have also used the same ointment for my dog who has a bad allergy to flea bites.My favorite use for Burdock, however, is as a sunburn remedy. I got the recipe for this treatment from a friend who was an anthropology student in Mexico. When she received a severe sunburn, the women of the village treated her with squash leaves which were pulverized in tequila. This formula works in three different ways. The chlorophyll in the leaves reacts with the skin's melanin to darken the skin slightly, the alcohol evaporates quickly which cools the skin, and tequila is made from a cactus which has similar properties to aloe vera.I have since experimented with the basic recipe. Instead of squash leaves, I use Burdock leaves. To extract the chlorophylI, you need to boil the leaves in a small amount of water. Then l add this to apple cider vinegar. Just for good measure, I add a small amount of aloe vera gel to the mixture. These ingredients re-create the effects of the original recipe.Magically, burdock, also known in England as Personata, is used for protection and healing.22 It was traditionally cast around the outside of a home to ward off negatiVity.23 Also, the root was gathered during the waning moon, cut, dried and strung on red thread. This necklace was then worn to ward off evil.24As you can see, Arctium lappa is a very useful plant. Despite the annoyance of the burrs, this herb is worth gathering and utilizing. Burdock, with its varied medicinal, nutritional and magical properties is a must for any well stocked herb cupboard.Burdock and Brown Rice251 Burdock root, peeled and soaked in vinegar water for 15 minutes 4 cups water 2 cups,brown rice 1 dash of saltClean root, cut into 6-8 pieces and soak in water with a splash of vinegar. Bring 4 cups of water to a boil Add rice, salt and burdock. Return to a boil with lid on, reduce heat; simmer with lid on for 4O-45 minutes.* I have not eaten any Burdock myself, so I'm not guaranteeing the results of this recipe. However, I am planning to try this out soon so I can see for myself what it tastes like.[Editor's Note: This article is presented for entertainment, not to suggest a specific medicinal course. Always consult a licensed herbalist or doctor before using herbs medicinally.]End Notes 1. Steven Foster and James A. Duke, Peterson's Guide to Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants (New York: Houghton Mifflin Co, 1990,pg. 166) 2. Ibid., pg. 166 3. Ibid., pg. 166 4. Ibid., pg. 166 5. Nicholas Culpepper, Culpepper's Complete Herbal (Herfordshire, England: Wordsworth Editions LTD, 1995. Originally published in early 1650's), page 51 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Ibid. 9. Ibid. 10. Susun Weed, Wise Woman Herbal: Healing Wise (Woodstock, NY: Ash Tree Publishing; 1989), pg. 109 11. Steven Foster, pg. 166 12. Kee Chang Huang, The Pharmacology of Chinese Herbs (Ann Arbor, MI: CRCPress, 1993), pg. 158 13. Michael Tierra, C.A., N.D., The Way of Herbs (New York: Washington Square Press, 1983), pg. 112 14. David Hoffmann, The Herbal Handbook (Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press, 1987), pg. 90 15. David Hoffmann, The Complete Illustrated Holistic Herbal (Rockport, MA: Element Books, 1996), pg. 61 16. Hoffmann, Herbal Handbook, pg. 60 17. Hoffmann, Holistic Herbal, pg. 61 18. Hoffmann, Herbal Handbook, pg. 44 19. Lee Allen Peterson, Peterson's Guide to Edible Wild Plants (Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflfn Co., 1977), pg. 126 20. Ibid. 21. Ibid. 22. Scott Cunningham, Cunningham's Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs (Sf. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1985), pg. 65 23. Ibid. 24. Ibid. 25. Susun Weed, pg. 105
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Thoughts from the Ecology SIG That we are in the throes of environmental 'crisis should come as no surprise to anyone who reads or listens to the news. Species extinction, air and water pollution, and global climate change are but a few of the issues covered regularly in the media. With few exceptions, most experts agree that human' activity has played at least some role in the creation of our environmental problems. Typically, there are nearly' as many proposed solutions to these problems as there are people pointing them out. Some maintain that science and technology provide the' best hope for dealing with issues like pollution and energy shortages (Ray 1990). Others have called for - a philosophical and cultural restructuring that lends more value to' the natural world, (Devall & Sessions 1985, Gore 1992). Still others have invoked religion as the source of their connection to the Earth. Ultimately, I suspect, a combination of all of these approaches will be necessary, but for the purposes of this article, I wish to explore the relevance of religion in general, and Neopaganism in particular, to the resolution of our environmental crises. Religion, though lately unfashionable in some intellectual circles, has always fundamentally shaped human action, with respect to both other humans, and to the natural world. "What people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny- that is, by religion" (White 1967.) Humans could not have created our current ecological problems without the collusion of religion, nor will we solve them without it. In his classic 1967 article, Lynn White blames Judeo-Christian tradition for perpetuating the view that nature exists to be' exploited for human benefit. Whereas many paleo-:pagan religions were hazy on the beginning of the universe and stressed the animism of living things and geologic features, Christian cosmology gave the world a distinct creation event, a linear view of time, and the concept that humans constituted a special act of creation, made in God's image, and distinct from and dominant over the rest of nature. "Christianity, in absolute contrast to ancient paganism and Asia's religions (except, perhaps, Zoroastrianism), not only established a dualism of man and nature, but also insisted that it is God's will that man exploit nature for his proper ends" (White 1967). The Bible also stresses the ideas of wilderness as cursed land, and of an otherworldly heaven as the ultimate goal of the pious (Nash 1989). None of these ideas is particularly conducive to the honoring and protection of nature. White suggests that ecologically minded Christians should look to the example of St. Francis of Assisi, the 13th century monk, who preached to birds and called ants his brothers, rather than that of the Christian missionaries who chopped down sacred groves. In the intervening 30 years, there has been a shift toward Christian stewardship of the land, toward protecting God's creation. Pope John Paul n, for instance, has called the ecological crisis a "moral issue," stating that "The commitment of believers to a healthy environment for everyone stems directly from their belief in God the Creator, from their recognition of the effects of original and personal sin, and from the certainty of having been redeemed by Christ" (1989). Groups such as the Quakers and the Evangelical Environmental Network have responded positively to the ecological crisis, but probably still represent a minority view within Christianity. "Re-greening" Christianity, while important due to the numerical majority of Christians in this country, is only one of many spiritual options for the nature oriented. Connie Barlow (1996) has organized these other paths into four categories. The "way of the ancients," with which most of us are familiar, reclaims the earth-based religions of the Native Americans and Indo-Europeans. The "way of transcendence," manifested in Buddhism and Taoism, uses meditation to connect to the divinity in all things. The "way of immersion" entails direct contact and contemplation of nature, and is exemplified by the writings of Henry David Thoreau, John Muir, Barry Lopez, and Annie Dillard. Finally, the "way of science" draws from our knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology to express the connectedness of all the biosphere. E.O. Wilson is the foremost writer in this vein. I think Barlow's categorization is excellent, expressing the varied (and, of course, not mutually exclusive) ways in which people recognize and celebrate the importance of the. natural world. When I survey the literature of ecospirituality, however, I find that Indo-European neo-Paganism has had relatively little showing compared to the other paths. Perhaps this lack is a function of our relatively small number of practitioners. Perhaps it is due to the other connotations that major religions sometimes ascribe to us. Perhaps it is because we have simply not been active enough in adding our voices to the chorus of those calling for ecological justice. Neo-paganism has several distinct advantages over many of the world's religions: notably, it is heir to the paleo-pagan animism and even pantheism so ruthlessly opposed by early Christianity. Additionally most Neo-pagan traditions profess a doctrinal flexibility (e.g. the doctrine of Archdruidic fallibility) that discourages some of the excesses of rampant fundamentalism. Third, Neo-pagan religions and many of their individual practitioners have grown up with environmental awareness - the Reformed Druids of North America) for instance) was started after the publication of Silent Spring (and ADF was born after the first Earth Day). According to a 1985 survey) "an interest in ecology) a feeling for nature" was among the top five reasons given when people were asked about their path to paganism (Adler 1986). Pagans should only have to "backpedal towards greenness" if we fail to address these issues in the first place. ADF seems to me to be a perfect forum for dealing with the nature of environmental problems and their potential solutions. ADF fashions itself to be "dedicated to the preservation of our Holy Mother Earth," and "dedicated to the day when Neo-pagan religions will be part of the mainstream culture" it seems to follow that ecology and environmental issues should be among the (growing list of) topics with which members should be familiar and conversant. Environmentalism may well be the most important means for Neo-pagans to both live according to their beliefs) improve the state of the planet) and build a rapport with more mainstream religions. References Adler, Margot. 1986. Drawing Down the Moon: Witches, Druids, Goddess - Worshippers and Other Pagans in America Today. Boston: Beacon Press. Barlow, Connie. 1996. "Because it is my religion." Wild Earth 6(3):5-11. Devall, Bill & Sessions, George. 1985. Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered. Salt Lake City: Peregrine Smith Books. Gore, Al. 1992. Earth in the Balance. Nash, Roderick. 1989. The Rights of Nature: A History of Environmental Ethics. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press. Pope John Paul. 1989. The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility. Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II For the Celebration of the World Day of Peace. Ray, Dixy Lee. 1990. Trashing the Planet. White, Lynn. 1967. "The Historic Roots of Our Ecological Crisis." Science 155(3767):1203-1207. Gottlieb, Roger (ed). 1996. This Sacred Earth: Religion. Nature, Environment. New York: Routledge.
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The following articles are about nature, herbs, plants, seasons, etc. Winter Birding Great Burdock Loving Our Mother Oh Earth Mother Making a Natural Connection Through Breath Honoring the Environment A Short Guide to Raptors Learning from the Trees Local Nature Spirits  
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What's a Druid without trees? For that matter, what's a world without trees? Yet most of us take trees for granted. When I was teaching honors and Advanced Placement English to gifted high school students, I gave the same assignment at the beginning of each school year. Go out tonight, I would instruct them, and hug a tree; then write about your experience.My students were, of course, incredulous. This woman is nuts. Hug a tree? What's that have to do with learning English? But being the obedient little honors students that they were, everyone always completed her assignment.The next day each student would read his journal entries aloud. Some were incredibly funny (usually written by self-conscious, he-man, athletic types who reported having crept about in the wee hours of the morning so as not to actually be SEEN doing this dirty deed). But ALWAYS, without exception, the students were amazed at what they felt. While they were aware that trees are alive, their awareness rested at some abstract intellectual level. Once they touched the living thing in its essence, they understood the meaning of the word "alive" in all its nuances.For most of us, awareness is a touch (or a hug, if you will) away. I know of no other interaction that so immediately and intensely renders us aware of the life around us. So go hug a tree and write about your experience. Once you have completed the exercise, repeat it with another kind of tree. Was there a difference? In Charleston, we have a thousand-year old live oak which natives call "Angel Oak." The breadth and sheer power of this tree (protected in a city park) is incomparable. Each time I have visited and sat at its base, my back against its broad trunk, my feet on the humped stool of an exposed root, I am given what I call my "affirmations" (little signs that reaffirm for me the magic of the universe and my part in it). Sometimes it comes in the form of a visiting hawk; sometimes a horde of butterflies; sometimes I find unique feathers at its base. It provides acorns, moss, and ferns for my spellwork and, of course, a deep sense of peace. I always leave three shiny copper pennies in its hollows in return. The crepe myrtles that adorn the city streets, on the other hand, are quieter trees. They stand like shy and beautiful women as I stroke their smooth, shiny, twisted trunks. Willows are sad trees whose song is a wistful whish-h-h in the breeze. Birches emote a sense of freshness and possibility. The tree has long been symbolic of life, but I also like to draw the analogy of the tree to the human brain.Everything in the universe exists in macrocosmic and microcosmic forms. The solar system is mirrored by the atom, a factory by a colony of ants. So, too, are the branching dendrites of our brains which spread from each neuron like the branches of a tree. Dendrites pass information quickly from one neuron to the next, processing at an amazing rate. The better care one takes of a tree, the more branches it produces. The more one uses her brain, the more dendrites are produced. The more dendrites one possesses, the better one's potential for intellectual accomplishment. When Albert Einstein died and left his brain to be analyzed, the only real difference between it and the brains of other humans was in the amazing amount of dendrites Einstein possessed. Science has told us what the trees have always known, that proper use strengthens and enhances.
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I am an Amateur Ethnobotanist, which basically means that the world is my salad bar. Basically ethnobotanists study the complex relationship between plants and cultures. It is an exciting and interesting way to look at the world and I have been lucky enough to receive my training first-hand and not just from books.Growing up in a Northern California hippie family, I have always had a special affinity for nature. When I was a child we, my parents, myself, and my little sister had little money and we lived in a VW camper van in several campgrounds for quite a while. My mother would often work as a waitress while my father stayed in camp with us during the day. My father and I, and sometimes my little sister, supplemented the food my Mom brought home by hunting, trapping, and foraging.My father was no Euell Gibbons but he was a passable mountain man. We would fish and set out quail or rabbit traps in the morning and in the afternoon we would search the meadows and mountain slopes for wild edibles. We collected cactus, sorrel, pig weed, dandelions, mushrooms, fennel, blackberries, gooseberries, acorns, black walnuts, wild onions, wild garlic, tubers, miner's lettuce, and of course wild asparagus. Sometimes we had more food than we could eat.I think this is when my real love and appreciation for nature began. I have always felt at home in the wild, no matter the climate or terrain. So when I was first asked to write this article by a lanky Discordian wearing a fedora hat and a Cheshire grin it seemed like a natural thing to consent to. I sat down and thought about my relationship with nature and the nature spirits and particularly my relationship with the nature spirits of locality.One of the first things I realized is that your relationship with nature spirits is one of hospitality. You are visiting them in their home and are, in a sense, a guest. So it seems natural that you would treat them with respect and thank them for allowing you to visit. Likewise, when you are trying to establish a relationship with a person you visit with them frequently, invite them to lunch, and learn everything you can about their lives. You wouldn't call a neighbor that you wave at occasionally and visit only one or two times a year at barbeques a friend. Neither should you consider visiting nature spirits once or twice a year a relationship.Besides treating nature with proper respect and reciprocating their hospitality, there are two major ways to establish a friendship or relationship with them; visit them and research them. First you can do a lot of research on native plants and animals in your area and how the native people from your area worked with them. You can also learn about the natural history of the area. Second, you can spend time hiking and walking through the natural areas in your region. Find one or two areas that really feel nice to you or choose one that needs a little help and spend time learning every plant, rock, and animal in the area.The research will come in handy because it is nice to know if you are talking to a juniper or a pine tree. It is kind of rude to continue addressing "friends" by the wrong names. Doing this research also helps you to understand the relationship that the native people had with these plants. Are they edible? Were they used to make rope? Were structures often built from them? Were they used medicinally? Did the native people do any particular thanking ceremonies for the plants before or after harvesting them? This is the part where you learn all you can about your "friend's" history.Spending time in nature will also help you to attune with the spirits of the place, also called spirits of locality. You can discover plants and stones that are just calling out to be talked to. You may discover a special place that you feel compelled to do an offering or even a ritual. You will learn the trails and which plants are at each turn. Over time you will be able to tell when plants are getting ready to bloom or send out new shoots and you will become used to subtle weather shifts and be able to tell when it is about to rain or even snow.Once you have learned about the nature in your area and have spent time communing with the nature spirits of the area, doing a ritual to acknowledge the local nature and land spirits is a good step toward establishing a relationship with them. Try using divination in this ritual to determine if you are going in the right direction. Remember that we, humans, have done a lot of harm to the local nature and land spirits and in some cases have even driven away the native people who once honored and revered them. For these reasons they may not have reason to trust you initially. So don't be overly distressed if you don't get a positive divination the first time around. Continue working at the relationship and asking the nature spirits what they need from you.Sometimes it is rather evident from the sad state of these natural areas what they need. Organize a monthly or weekly clean-up or work with an existing group. Carry garbage bags and latex gloves with you when you hike. Make offerings of bone meal or other fertilizing agents but try to steer clear of seeds. While seed, even bird seed, seems like a nice idea in your own yard, many are not native to the area you are hiking and are not appropriate offerings in the wild. Delicate ecologies often do not do well when invasive foreign species are introduced so please avoid anything not native that could germinate (trust me I've been part of eradication teams that are trying to deal with this type of problem, it is hard work).You may want to consider journaling your experience and taking photographs of area that you are working with so that you can see how far your efforts have taken you. Volunteering with local trail guide groups and giving classes on local ecology, water conservation, ethnobotany, geology, or geography are also great ways to get in tune with nature and the spirits of locality. As a guest lecturer I am often surprised by how much I learn from my students and how often I discover new and wonderful places from people who have lived in the area much longer than I have.All this may seem a bit complicated but it isn't really. Basically, a good relationship with nature and the nature spirits of your area is the same as a relationship with a good friend. You talk to them often, share things with them, respect them, help them, and love them. In Frankenstein Mary Shelly wrote, "The very winds whispered in soothing accents, and maternal Nature bade me weep no more." This is a nice reminder that this relationship is reciprocal and that when you need comfort the nature spirits will be there for you in return.
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Caring for the Huron River is a wonderful experience.At a Shining Lakes Grove meeting not too long ago, one of our Grove members brought up the fact that although we profess to be the "people of Ana" (Ana is our name for the goddess of the Huron River), we aren't necessarily living up to that claim. "What have we done for our mother lately?" she asked. The question then moved to "What can we be doing?"The answer had already dropped into our laps, as earlier that week at least a couple of us had received a brochure in the mail from Huron River Watershed Council. In fact, the brochure had prompted the question, and I had already planned to contact the HRWC, so things just proceeded logically from there. I called them a few days later and arranged to drop by their offices and pick up some information. I came home laden with fliers, maps, notes, and a lot of excitement.The HRWC seems to be just what the doctor ordered. In many ways, they are kindred spirits to us, with a respect and love for the river, a desire to learn more about her, and a desire to make humans' use of the land compatible with her health. They have many organized, on-going projects in which we can participate. They offer a variety of volunteer opportunities in various fields, so there is something to suit just about anyone in the grove who wants to help out. We have become involved as a grove, but I also encourage our folk to participate independently if they choose.The HRWC is a coalition of governments of twenty-eight cities, villages, townships, and counties located within or containing substantial portions of the Huron River Watershed. It is a member of the Michigan Environmental Council and the Environmental Fund for Michigan, and has the support of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality.The HRWC was founded thirty years ago under the Local River Management Act of Michigan to "inspire attitudes, behaviors, and economies that protect, rehabilitate, and sustain the Huron River system." To this end, it sponsors a number of projects and activities focused on monitoring and improving the health of the river and her tributaries, and on education and fostering public awareness of the river and related environmental concerns.The Council also works with member governments to provide information on water resources and research services. The Council maintains an extensive library, which is open to anyone who wishes to use it. The Council publishes a quarterly newsletter, which comes out at the solstices and equinoxes (I told you they are kindred spirits!), called Huron River Report. I am receiving the newsletter, and they are on the grove mailing list.Specific projects of the HRWC include the Drinking Water Protection Program; land use planning initiatives for the Headwaters and Middle Huron; Mudbusters, a program to reduce sediment loadings to the Huron and her tributaries; and Adopt-A-Stream, which is much more than an aquatic version of Adopt-A-Highway.One of the big advantages of working with an established organization is that they have a very clear idea of what needs doing and how to go about doing it. They have the assistance and expertise of specialists in the Study of riverine environments and their inhabitants. They are able to tap the resources of the entire watershed, whereas we have a more limited sphere of influence. Thus they have organized a program to allow individuals or groups to monitor a particular stretch of water, using methods and procedures which will produce useful data, and useful analysis of that information.Participants not only help the river system, they get an education. The list of interests to check on the response form attached to the Adopt-A-Stream brochure gives an idea of the range of skills needed: "collecting macroinvertebrates, ID them, planting trees and shrubs, stabilizing crumbling stream banks, cleaning up a creek, stenciling a message by the storm drains, teaching friends about the sensitivity of streams to our routine and behaviors, Mud-Busters: preventing soil erosion, publicity, making useful items, office work, computer work." Even if one doesn't want to get wet and muddy, there are plenty of things to do!Group activities sponsored by the Council and Adopt-A-Stream program include field observations, workshops (on topics such as creek mapping), roundtables and discussions, and restorative work (for example, last summer they spent a day cleaning zebra mussels off of native clams).Shining Lakes Grove has joined the Council and we have adopted a stream through the Adopt-A-Stream Program. Our "baby" is Traver Creek, which is in northern Ann Arbor. We have a specific site, where a road crosses the creek, to do our monitoring. It is a lovely little stretch of water, and it is in fairly good health.Our first assignment in the Adopt-A-Stream program was to take maximum and minimum temperature readings for the months of January and February. Maximum/minimum readings are done for two months in the winter and again for two months in the summer, simultaneously at all adopted sites. We use a maximum/minimum thermometer, which has a U-shaped column of mercury and two metal markers, one at each end of the mercury. As the temperature increases, the mercury rises in the right-hand column, pushing the little blue marker above it. When the temperature decreases, the right-hand column falls, but the marker remains in place.Meanwhile, the left-hand column of mercury is rising, and the low temperature is read on an upside-down scale (low numbers at the top); again, the blue marker is pushed upwards by the mercury and is left behind when the temperature rises again. The thermometer remains in the water at all times and is read once a week, so we have a series of readings of maximum and minimum temperatures for each week throughout the two months. After each reading the markers are reset with a magnet to current creek temperature.Several members of the grove have participated in the weekly readings. Jim Hoyt and I made the first foray out on Sunday, January 12, exploring the stream on both sides of the road and ultimately settling on a location upstream for our temperature-monitoring site. (Other work, such as the stream searches to be done in the spring and fall, will be done at the downstream site in order to be consistent with past surveys).To get to our chosen spot, we had to walk along the railroad tracks until the bank was low enough to get down to the stream valley without breaking our necks. The descent was still a bit of a challenge, and I had a moment's panic when I didn't land quite right and thought I might have twisted an ankle. But I was OK (and subsequently much more careful), and we went on. To get to the creekside, we had to wade through a field of Equisetum (horsetails), and we suspect that when the weather warms sufficiently there may actually be some pretty soggy ground there.(We also made a note not to wear shorts in the summer: Another common-name for Equisetum is "scouring rush," and for good reason). We made a path along the base of the railroad embankment and walked downstream to a point where the creek curves close to the tracks. Here, in a sheltered place next to a tree at the edge of a more wooded area, we lowered the thermometer into the water, got an initial reading, and then anchored the thermometer to a sapling along with the reset magnet.Our duty done, we went to a nearby bakery, had alleged coffee and sort-of pastry, and warmed our frozen fingers and toes.The following week we had some incredibly cold weather, and when Jim and I got to the creek we were presented with a major challenge: The creek was frozen fairly solidly, and most solidly (of course) where our thermometer was located. I took advantage of the solid state of things and walked out on the creek. I wasn't too worried about falling through; our creek is only a couple of feet wide and I figured it was probably at most four or five inches deep, and after the toe-numbing experience the week before, I was wearing my hiking boots.I gave a couple of exploratory stamps and the ice held, so I tried stamping on the ice near the thermometer. It was like stamping on rock. I should mention here that we couldn't actually see the thermometer; the ice was an opaque white, except where it was thin, and it was not thin near the thermometer! Our only clue to its location was the tether string, which disappeared into the ice a foot or so downstream from where it was tied.Obviously, we were not going to have an easy time of this. I went looking for something harder than my foot to try to break the ice. The only real way to go was across the stream, as the horsetails to the left held nothing promising and the trees were fairly impassable to the right. I walked across to the other side, wandered downstream a bit, and saw just what I was looking for: a steel fence post (the angular kind with the knobbies all over it), sticking out from beneath the trees of the stream bank opposite me.I had to cross the stream again to get to it, and of course here was where I found the thin ice, under the snow next to the bank. I found it with my right foot, and I learned that here the water was a little over six inches deep (the height of my boots), and that wool socks work very well to keep you warm even when they are wet. Having received my baptism, I found solid ice and reached my goal.Now, I naively assumed that I would just be able to pull that post right out of the bank, and if the ground hadn't been frozen solid, I might have actually done that. As it was, the pole was embedded just enough that its rooted end wouldn't budge. On the other hand, it was rusted just enough that its non-embedded end came off easily. I had a brief moment of feeling like Supergirl, having just broken a steel pole with my bare hands (well, OK, I was wearing gloves, but you get the idea). I took my trophy back across the stream (avoiding the wading pool this time), back upstream and across to the recalcitrant thermometer. We were going to get our reading, one way or another.I was certain that the fence post would make short work of the ice, but Ma Nature is tough stuff. It took about fifteen minutes of whacking and thumping of the ice, with Jim and me taking turns, before we finally hacked the thermometer loose from the main mass. Of course, we had to be careful not to whack or thump the thermometer itself, as that would have negated the whole point of getting it free, as well as adding yet another dollop of mercury to our burdened environment. As it was, we managed to get it loose, but that wasn't the end of our problems. The stream was a little shallower on this side than the other, and the ice went clear to the bottom. After retrieving the thermometer, we measured the block of ice that still surrounded it at about two inches thick.Since removing this ice with the steel bludgeon would have been something akin to spanking a baby with an axe, we looked about for a smaller tool with which to fine-tune the job. Jim had a pocket knife of some variety; that fit the bill. Some of the thermometer was accessible; fortunately it had been face down in the stream, so once we got the mud off we could read the numbers for the most part. With Jim's pocketknife we shaved away enough ice to get a clear reading.Satisfied at last, we plopped the thermometer back in the creek (in swift-running water closer to the opposite shore) and prepared to depart. We then realized that we still had to reset the thermometer, so we fished it out and found that we couldn't get the magnet close enough to move the minimum marker. Out came the pocketknife again, and after some struggles we finally got the marker set and the job was done.By this time we were feeling like it had been a long enough day, but we couldn't resist the idea of coffee and a browse through Barnes and Noble on the way home. Well, maybe it was just a browse that time, but the bookstore became our after-the-creek watering hole from then on.These weekly trips were not only helpful to the stream, they gave several of us in the grove an excuse to get together, get outdoors, have some thoughtful time and good conversations together; in short, to socialize and get to know each other a bit better. Due to the size of this grove, not to mention the insane schedules that most of us keep, such peaceful time with only one or two other members is precious. I am delighted that we have found such a pleasant way to show our mother that we love her!
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By Spotted Toad"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you...whole cares will drop off like autumn leaves." (Muir) These words from John Muir eloquently describe why we as modern Druids still long for the natural world.Requirement seven of the Dedicant program requires the student to account for their efforts to, among other things, work with nature. It is really up to the students to decide for themselves how they will accomplish this. Many members of ADF belong to organizations that work with the environment or work to protect the earth. This is not, however, a requirement. Some members choose to become vegetarians or only eat food they themselves have grown. This is not a requirement either. What is required of our members is that they experience nature and grow their connection with it. Many students of the Dedicant program bemoan the emphasis on scholarship. This is one of the areas where what is done is more important than what one reads or writes.When most people think of nature, they think of wide-open spaces with green grasses waving in the breeze and the warm sun shining down. Or perhaps a shade dappled wood with the moss draped branches of the ancient trees heavy with the mists. The truth is, nature is surrounds us constantly. Whether one is in the middle of the most remote wilderness far from the works of humanity, or in the middle of the concrete jungle of the city. What?!? Nature in the city? Yes even there the natural world surrounds us. Nature is not only the pretty trees and babbling brooks, but the currents of the air and the rays of the sun as well. It can be found in the cycles of the moon and the turning of the seasons. Even in the largest, and, what would be considered sterile by most, of cities nature finds a way. In New York City, peregrine falcons build their nests high upon the ledges of skyscrapers (DEP). The question then is not where must one go to find a natural place, but rather how can one connect with the nature right outside their door, regardless of where that door is.Ideally, when looking for a natural spot in which to reconnect with the natural world, the your job will be easier if a spot outside can be found, so much the better if this spot is untouched by man. However, if ADF Druidry was easy, everyone would finish their Dedicant program in a few weeks. Furthermore, many of us do not have access to pristine natural areas like those shown in the pages of National Geographic. How then can we connect with the natural world if the only nature we can see is out of our window in the middle of the city?The answer is, in reality, quite simple. You connect with the nature that is present. This holds true wherever you are. Try this simple visualization:Begin by grounding and centering yourself. The Two-Powers works very well for this. Once you are ready begin concentrating on your breathing, in and out. Realize that that with each breath, the molecules that make up the air are moving in and out of your body. The small bird chirping in the tree above you breathed these same molecules moments ago. Before that, the tree the bird is sitting in breathed them. Before that they were carried on the wind from far away, where they had been the breath of mighty stag in the woods. Or perhaps, the hot breath of the puma crouched the ledge above that same stag. Continue tracing those molecules back, in and out of each set of lungs, or leaves or blades of grass the molecules have traveled through on their journey. Come to the realization that you are, and will always be, inseparable from the natural world around you. And breathe.The beauty of this visualization is that is allows you to reconnect with nature wherever and whenever you happen to be. It also strips away all of the perceived barriers between the natural world and ourselves. You only have to remember to do one thing, breathe.Works CitedDEP News: Peregrine Falcons in New York City. Department of Environmental Protection. . Muir, John. Wisdom Quotes. Jone Johnson Lewis. 1995-2006. .
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Fall migration season is a great time to see North American raptors.My husband invested considerable energy into choosing the right magical name. He eventually settled on the Gaelic Seabhag Fionn, literally (we think) "white falcon" or "fair hawk." It is a fitting totem, I think, for someone who aspires to be a Warrior and a Naturalist. Raptors symbolize not only the power, skill and grace needed by the warrior as well as the hunter, but they also remind us that even in environmental crises, trend is not destiny': most hawk species have enjoyed remarkable recovery in the years since DDT- induced eggshell thinning threatened to wipe out avian predators.Autumn is a good time to think about hawks because many of our species are on the move in migration, and you may be able to see birds that spend most of the year in deep forests or on the tundra. Of course, any time of the year is good for thinking about hawks, and spring migrations are equally popular among captor enthusiasts.Catching a glimpse of a migrating hawk is less haphazard than it may seem. Many hawks tend to fly along "leading lines" which influence their direction of flight (Dunne, et al. 1988). Leading lines may take the form of a cold front that pushes birds southward in front of bad weather. Large bodies of water, which raptors are reluctant to cross, form permanent leading lines, and many of the best hawk watching sites, including Cape May, N], Derby Hill, NY, and Hawk Ridge, MN, are located along oceans or the Great Lakes, where birds "bottleneck", changing direction to avoid crossing the water. Mountain ridges also form leading lines as hawks catch and glide on upwelling warm air.To identify flying raptors with precision, you will need a good identification book (see references), many years' practice, and ideally, an informal mentor at a hawk counting station at a popular hawk-watching site. Contact your local parks to find out if anyone is counting hawks in your area. This guide, however, may help you start to distinguish between hawk species.Most North American raptors fall into one of five categories: eagles, kites, accipiters, buteos, and falcons. In most species, females are larger than the males, and both parents usually hunt and care for young.Bald eagles are probably the most easily recognizable raptor, and while the golden eagle is still rare in the east, the bald eagle had made a remarkable recovery and can be seen near waterways (where it predominantly hunts fish and waterfowl in many eastern states. I have seen bald eagles in Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. The turkey and black vulture are commonly mistaken for eagles. Turkey vultures hold their wings in a V-shape during flight, and frequently tip unsteadily. To identify an eagle, look for a very large bird. with wings held flat in a soaring glide, with occasional deliberate wing beats.Kites are agile southern raptors that prey predominantly on invertebrates. The Swallow-tailed kite is easily distinguished by its long, forked tail. These birds breed in the Southern US, but can be seen as far north as Cape May, NJ, during migration.The third category of NOM American rapt or is the accipiter. Accipiters frequent forests, darting between branches to capture smaller birds. These hawks also frequent backyard birdfeeders, earning them a bad reputation among passerine lovers. Our three species share long rudder-like tails and relatively short wings that aid in the navigation of dense forest cover. Males of the three species also share a slate grey plumage. The sharp-shinned hawk and the slightly larger Cooper's hawk are found over most of the continental US, while the largest accipiter, the northern goshawk, occurs mainly in Canada and across the Western states.Buteos are the most diverse group of North American raptors, and are probably the most frequently sighted, as most are known for their soaring flight. The most common buteo is the red-tailed hawk.The red tail is not obvious when the bird is seen in flight from below or head-on when the bird is perched on telephone poles or tree branches, from which it preys on rodents. Look for a pale breast with a belt of tan streaking; in flight, note the lack of banding on the tail. The red-shouldered hawk and broad-winged hawk are also common in the East. The red-shoulder is identified by a crescent-shaped "window" near the tip of each wing where light actually passes through the outer flight feathers. Broad-winged hawks are the smallest of the eastern buteos, but are spectacular in that they migrate in large groups, frequently forming "kettles" over the Appalachians as dozens of birds take advantage of upwellings of air. Other North American buteos include the Swainson's and Ferruginous hawks, found in the Western states, the southwestern Harris' hawk, which hunts in packs and nests on cacti, and the boreal rough-legged hawk, which winters across most of the US. A few other species are restricted to Florida and the extreme Southwest.Most hawk species have enjoyed remarkable recovery since DDC-induced eggshell thinning threatened to wipe them out.And now we come to the falcons, the group which most captures the imagination. Falconry has rightly been the sport of kings for countless centuries, and this group includes some of the fastest animals on the planet. Like accipiters, falcons prey mainly on other birds, but their method is a high-speed chase over open ground rather than a dodge among branches. The American kestrel is our smallest and most common falcon. They commonly perch on power lines and are frequently seen hovering in flight along roadsides, looking for prey. Merlins and peregrines, both familiar to falconers, are larger and less common than the kestrel. The eastern subspecies of the peregrine was actually extirpated by pesticide use, but captive breeding of western birds has precipitated a recovery that rivals that of the bald eagle. In fact, several eastern cities now boast pairs which nest on the cliff-like skyscrapers and feed on the endless supply of pigeons. Prairie falcons and gyrfalcons round out our falcon species, living in western states and Northern Canada, respectively.There are two final species of note, which do not fall neatly into the categories listed above. These are the osprey and the northern harrier, both relatively large hawks found near wetlands. Ospreys feed almost exclusively on fish and build large nests over water in dead trees or on platforms built by wildlife conservationists. Harriers are smaller than ospreys and are distinguished by an owl-like face, a white patch on the rump and a slight dihedral to the wing while in flight. Female harriers have brown backs and wings, males are predominantly grey.ReferencesDunne, Pete, David Sibley, and Clay Sutton. 1988. Hawks in Flight. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin.National Geographic Society. 1987. Field Guide to the Birds of North America.
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Bird watching and feeding in the winter can be fun for us and good for the birdsAs the weather chills and the days shorten, it's easy to make excuses to stay indoors most of the time. The natural world that sustains us physically and spiritually seems to recede beyond our windows and becomes little more than a heating bill and driving annoyance. You can, however, stave off some of that isolation by attracting winter birds to your yard.Songbirds in particular need to eat every day to keep their body temperatures high enough to survive the cold nights. A few dollars investment in a feeder and seeds will do. A four-year study of bird feeding found that common mid-Atlantic birds preferred sunflower seeds, followed by peanut hearts, cracked yellow corn, white millet, and canary seed. Red millet, milo, oats, wheat and rice are generally avoided when the preferred foods are available. You can also hang beef suet (get it from the butcher) or treat your local fauna to the occasional peanut butter, hard-cooked eggs, or bread crumbs.Do not spread moldy bread—it contains potentially fatal toxins—and, by the same token, store seed in a dry place to keep it from molding. Cracked corn should simply be distributed on the ground, as it can freeze and clog the openings in feeders. You can also distribute sunflower seeds on the ground, but the squirrels will almost certainly get most of them.Feeders with small openings and perches boost the odds for the birds: make sure openings are big enough to accommodate sunflower seeds. Ideally, hang feeders from tree branches. If you don't have any trees near windows, you can buy a post on which to erect you feeder. Wall-mounted brackets can be used as a last resort, but you run the risk of birds crashing into your windows.Here is a quick (and admittedly mid-Atlantic-based) guide to the visitors you might encounter:Black-capped chickadee: Year-round favorites for their cheery song and call. Look for a gray back and wings, white belly, and the distinctive black cap and chin.White-breasted nut-hatch: At a glance, look similar to chickadees, but with a white chin. Look for them climbing headfirst down tree trunks, searching for insects that the "up-climbers" miss.Dark-eyed junco: These birds can vary in color, but are usually a uniform slate or grayish color with a somewhat darker head and white feathers bordering the tail. They are ground feeders, and you will often see them eating the seeds that other birds knock from the feeder.Tufted titmouse: Another small and greet bird with a white underbelly. Look for the crest of gray feathers and a black patch on the forehead.Finches: The most common feeder species, the house and purple finches, can be tricky to tell apart. Both have brown backs and wings. The male purple finch has a rose-colored cap and breast, while the male house finch has a reddish breast and more brown on the cap. Females of both are brown streaked with white: look for a white "eyebrow" on the female purple finch. Also, in both sexes, the purple finch has a forked tail and the house finch a squared-off tail.Keep an eye out for blue jays, cardinals, mourning doves and downy woodpeckers as well. The small birds in your yard may even attract sharp-shinned or Cooper's hawks.I have known several people who were greatly disturbed when they discovered that their bird feeder had turned into a hawk feeder. The fact of the matter is that many song birds ultimately end up as meals for hawks. I consider it a privilege to witness Nature in action. On the other hand, domestic cats are not part of the natural landscape. Keep yours indoors or put bells on them, ask your neighbors to do the same, and take strays to the SPCA.If you feel particularly ambitious and live near a decent-sized body of water, bundIe up and head out! You will be rewarded with many species of waterfowl that spend the summer in Canada, including bufflehead, common goldeneye, old squaw, merganser, canvasback, redhead, and scaup. You might want to arm yourself with a pair of binoculars and a field guide if you head into the cold. Look for a guide that shows plumage differences with sex and season. Peterson's Guides and Golden Guides are both very good, but my favorite is National Geographic; because it covers all of North America and has the illustrations, description, and range maps for each species on the same page. You can also call your local chapter of the Audubon Society for good winter birding spots.May the feathered nature spirits, warm your soul this winter!References: National Geographic Society, Field Guide to the Birds of North America. 1987. Pistorius, Alan. The Country Journal Book of Birding and Bird Attraction. 1981.
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