Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Winter Solstice 2022

 Happy winter solstice! This is my most favorite holiday because of the symbolism and the time of year when for me, the solstice is a quiet and personal celebration as opposed to the hustle of Christmas. Today I’ve seen a few clients, visited the apiary to check on the bees and give them a little food in case they need it, and I’ll be doing some kind of candle-lit walk later in the evening. There are a few things I’ll be leaving behind in this longest night, and many things I’ll be expressing gratitude for. 

The honey bees were all in clusters, which is how they keep warm and stay alive through the winter cold. We have glass inner covers with small circular feeding screens that allow us to check and feed the bees without disturbing them. All seem to be doing well except for the hive that blew over several months ago on a cold, rainy, windy night. We can’t tell for sure if the bees are in the deep hive box or not, and it’s just too cold to take the hive apart to see what’s happening. It’s possible they absconded after the blow-over but we fed in case there is a small cluster still inside. 

The horses have come out of their blankets for the day, and the ground continues to dry out. In a bit I’ll be in the barn setting up new shavings for them ahead of this longest, chilly night. 

The dogs and cats are piled up sleeping inside the house and I’m making a pot of soup when I get in from the barn. I can’t really think of a better way to spend this day. 

Somehow, this visitor on our Red Oak Wander two nights ago makes me think of me on the winter solstice. A time for personal reflection on the darkest night. 

Friday, December 16, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 172

 Winter is here, at least this week, with cold rain and horse blankets coming out in full force to keep this little herd dry. The donkeys haven’t yet needed blankets in their lives, as they are sensible and do not venture out when it’s raining. It’s weeks like this that I daydream about covered arenas where the horses could stay dry and still march about, but they don’t seem to mind hanging out in the barn too much during these cold, wet days.

This morning as I type I’m seeing chipping sparrows in the hollies that are just outside the front porch. The chipping sparrows are the ones responsible for the treasured tiny horse tail hair nests we find in early spring, usually lying on the ground after windy March days. So today, our third very gray day in a row, with heavy fog blurring the winter landscape, it’s nice to see something that makes me think of spring. 

It’s a good day for what’s on my schedule, though: morning latte, then a few clients, gingerbread house decorating and some ongoing Christmas decorating with our grandson, then the first evening meeting of writing weekend with two dear friends and fellow writers via Zoom. 

On Tuesday in the midst of a stressful day, I got a photo from what the call the grassy bald “far side.” I feel like this is one of my spirit animals - elk - joining with the black bear. Seeing them on the mountain land makes me very happy, and seeing them in moments of stress feels like synchronicity in its purest form.

This uncollared elk bull walked up to the bald in the early morning and then left just before sunset. 

Ted Andrews says this in his book about animal symbolism: 

The appearance of an Elk signifies that you are entering a time of plenty. Everything you need – you will get. Alternatively don’t try for quick and easy; long and steady is the key to reaching your goals. Elk also brings you courage in achieving your goals. Sometimes all it takes is the next step.

What a nice message to get that day, or any day. 

Animal Speak is a wonderful book if you haven’t come across it, and I watched a documentary on Netflix this week that is also stunning. Stutz is a filmmaker’s interview with his therapist, who shares brilliant thoughts on therapy and on life. I highly recommend this book and this film, perfect for the winding down of a year and moving into winter solstice week.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

A reprise on the “omen days” post from 2016

 Years back I learned about the omen days from reading Caitlin Matthews’ books, and was enchanted by the opportunity to look at the 12 days of Christmas, which she identifies as December 26 - January 6, as days in which to watch for signs that might portend the 12 months of the new year. 

I thought I’d share this now, in case anyone wants to try it out. This is something I have to be prepared to do in advance, so I remember to start on the 26th. Once you get rolling with it, it is a wonderful way to look for signs and omens, and really, just for beauty and moments of joy, and let those inform the months ahead. See the full explanation quoted at the end of this post.

This year we’re having some gray and rainy days in early December. Some are cooler than others, but it’s a perfect backdrop to the Christmas tree. We had a lovely time selecting our tree from a local farm, along with my son, daughter-in-law, and grandson, who is now 21 months old and a total delight. He exudes curiosity and finds so much joy in the world he’s exploring. I love the years when humans are young and learning constantly about the world. My therapist self of course has to add that we must honor and nurture this in our children. It’s their natural inclination but most fully manifested when children are loved and cared for and also protected. And importantly, allowed to do the kind of free-form exploration that requires the adult humans to be nearby and paying attention - ideally joining the exploration and celebrating it. 

This is our tree for this solstice season:

A few years ago I read the following excerpt from Caitlin Matthews (who has wonderful books if you're interested in mythology and symbols and all things Celtic). 

She writes:

In the medieval liturgical calendar, the festival of Christmas Day stood alone by itself as a supreme holy day, and so the counting of the twelve days began from 26 December which is the 1st day of Christmas until the 6th January which is Twelfth Night, or the 12th day of Christmas.  What has this got to do with anything?

Well, in Brittany and in Wales, the Twelve Days of Christmas, which mark the intercalary days of the year, are called ‘the Omen Days,’ and they have a special purpose. ‘Intercalary days’ are really the days left over from reckoning up the solar year and, in calendars throughout the world and at different times, they are special because they are considered to be ‘the days out of time.’  It is in this interval between the ordinary count of days that gods are born or conceived in many different mythologies, including the Irish one, where Oengus Og, Young Angus, is conceived, grown and born at BrĂºg na Boinne within this time, all in one day, by the magical workings of the Dagda.

Within these twelve days lies a wonderful secret that those dismissive of the Christian tradition might well miss, for each of the twelve days is assigned to a month of the coming year, with the first day of Christmas the 26th December as symbolic of January, the second day or 27th December representing February and so on, right through to 6th January which represents the December yet to come.  It was the custom of many to go out on each day of the Christmas festival to observe the signs in nature and divine from them the state of the year to come. The omens experienced on each of the Omen Days indicate the nature of each month in the coming year.

The divining of oracles from nature has a long tradition in Celtic lore.  The Scots Gaelic tradition of the frith or the augury from the signs of nature is well established. The listening to bird’s calling was a critical part of druidic lore, as was the movement and behaviour of other animals.  Some of these auguries have come down to us, like the little white book of meanings in a tarot pack: some people used them, but others did not.  The real skill is to read the signs in accordance with your understanding at the time, and as it relates to the question that provoked the augury in the first place.  I’ve been teaching this skill for over 25 years and not yet found anyone who couldn’t do it, as long as they first asked a well-framed question.

In this case, you treat each day of Christmas as the opportunity for an augury for the month it represents in coming year.  This might be experienced during a daily walk, or perceived in the nature of the day itself and how it falls out. Personally, I like to make a frame for each Omen Day, by asking to be shown an augury from nature and allowing the next thing I experience, see or hear to be the sign I am expecting.  It helps to find the right place to do this on a walk, to close your eyes, to spin around on the spot and then be attentive.

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

November Hill farm journal, 171

 I have a lot to report today! First, my flash nonfiction essay To The Grassy Bald We Named Sweet Bay has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize! It would be amazing to see it make it all the way to the print anthology but for now I’m very happy it got nominated by its editors and am grateful for the literary journals who do tireless work for little or no money holding space in this world for pieces of writing that need homes. 

The oaks of November Hill, who’ve been holding on to their greenery later than usual this season, finally turned the switch on this weekend and we’re being treated with their colors.

On Saturday we had an odd rainy day that began with cold 40-degree winter rain and ended up in a muggy  70-degree windy deluge that afternoon. By Saturday evening, the sun came out and there were many maple leaves on our deck. 

Little Man had his own collection going.

He also spent a little time in that 70 degree rain!

Thanksgiving was lovely. I made a full meal here and also made peanut butter dog biscuits and apple/oat/molasses horse muffins. The muffins didn’t hold much shape and I wasn’t even sure the horses would like them, but wow, they stood at the fence all in a row and behaved perfectly as I doled them out. It was possibly the most successful treat-giving ever. I told them how grateful I am for them and they accepted that graciously. 

On Saturday I noticed a few mouse droppings on the cover of Keil Bay’s saddle in the tack room. Normally I’d just wash the cover but for some reason unknown to me I brought the cover, the saddle, and the girth inside. I realized as I lifted the saddle onto the stairway banister that was slightly above my head in about the same height that Keil’s back is, that I had brought it in because I know I won’t ride Keil Bay again at this point. That realization in that moment brought me to tears. I do not remember the details of the last ride we had together. There have been so many. Another moment in which the aging of a beloved horse becomes undeniable.

I’ll end with another image, Sweet Bay Bald in November.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Happy Thanksgiving From November Hill!


This photo is from a couple of years ago but I’m sharing it today because of the open sky and the feeling of possibility that offers.

I’m grateful this year for the persistence of my family, my friends, clients, and the world at large. We’ve all been through a few years of chaos and challenge, and while we’re not beyond all of it, and won’t ever truly be, I’ve seen so many people pushing through hard things and in both small and large ways, getting to some good things on the other side. 

It’s a trait we have that we can call on when needed, and we can help each other dig deep to find that persistent core when things get hard. 

I hope that everyone reading here and those who are not all have a day of gratitude and hopefully a little break from the daily efforts of life.