May Day the old way

May Day treeYesterday evening, eight of us danced around the pitch pine in our yard, dressing it up with rainbow ribbons for May Day.  Did you know that the original Maypoles were not cut wooden poles, but live trees?  It makes sense to me, coming from people who worshiped among the trees, who honored and revered the trees. And so what better way to celebrate the full arrival of spring, the arrival of the May, than to celebrate the tree with an ancient dance?

Earlier, I had attached eight ribbons to a small metal ring, and then Sylvia tossed a rock-tied string over a branch so we could lift the ribbons to a good height for dancing. Margy went to a field close to where we used to live to pick forsythia branches to decorate the bottom of the tree. In this time of the earth awakening, we joined our life energy to that of the earth, that we might all be full of life and regeneration.  It was a magical moment to be weaving in and out between each other, with our bright colors, dancing on the earth, and finally surrounding the tree, hands joined in a circle.

After a rain-filled night, I took photos this morning. We keep hoping for more warmth…it is only in the 40s today.  But we’ve finally finished planting all the bushes. I set up the rain barrels (by putting in their spigots and re-attaching their overflow hoses), and yesterday I found smaller containers for storing a big bag of Kaolin clay (an organic product used for certain orchard pests). Tending and planting and tending.

When I pay attention to what is happening to our planet, I feel so much despair, I feel overwhelmed. I know it is better to plant trees, than to cut them down.  I know it is a good thing to tend this small plot of land.  But even with many of us planting trees, or protesting, or changing our lives, do we have the power to stop the destruction?  No, I think not.  But what came to me the other day was this.  If we are out there, planting a tree, putting our hands in the soil, watering a seed, dancing on the ground, or even lying in a hammock under a pitch pine, perhaps we can learn to hear the voice of the earth.  Perhaps she will see us there, and take pity on us.  Perhaps she will open our ears and hearts and guide us into regeneration and healing. This is my hope.May Day Pitch Pine


Moon rhythms


On my walk this morning I saw this lovely waning half moon, and remembered a conversation after our Candlemas ritual.  Most people have no idea how the cycles of the moon work.  We don’t learn about it in school.  Years ago, when I was in my twenties, I was curious about why I saw the moon sometimes in the evening and sometimes in the morning with different degrees of light and shade.  So I investigated. (This was before Google–how did I do that?)  I learned that the moon follows a consistent and lovely rhythm. I talk about it in my book Finding Our Way Home.

The moon is always half in light and half in darkness from the light of the sun. When the moon is full, we are seeing the whole of its light side, because the sun and moon are on opposite sides of our sky. The full moon rises at sunset and stays in the sky all night, setting at sunrise. Then, as the days go by, we see less of the light of the moon and more of its shadow, and it rises about fifty minutes later each day, until there is only a waning crescent in the morning just before and after dawn. About two weeks after the full moon, the moon rises unseen with the sun and sets invisibly with the sun. The night is dark. This is called the dark moon or the new moon. Then a day or two later, a thin waxing crescent appears in the western sky just after sunset and sets soon after. Each day it is seen in the evening for a little longer time until we come round to full moon again.

What is sad and funny to me is when fiction writers misplace the moon–for example most recently, I read a line something like this one: “I saw the waxing gibbous moon in the morning light.”  The thing is, no one will ever see a waxing moon in the morning light.  Waxing moons are only seen in the evening.  Am I a nature snob if I want the moon to be accurately represented in fiction?  The actual realities of the moon’s cycles are beautiful and magical–like a cosmic dance, which it accurately is.  Here is a rather fuzzy photo of a waxing moon, taken about 8 p.m. in April several years ago.


Unexpected Magic

River MagicI am beginning to wonder if the book I have been writing (whether I publish it or not) is creating a kind of unexpected magic to manifest the visions within its pages. Yesterday, for the new moon, I read my journal from the last new moon until this one–a practice I do every new moon day.  This particular month has been a time for spiritual restoration.  But I noticed something rather curious as I read.  Old rituals and practices are finding their way back into my life after a time of absence.  And it seems related to the writing of the book, Finding Our Way Home.

In one chapter, I write about the practice of diving into water every day, which came into my life when I lived on Cape Cod.  But for 11 years, there was no body of water close enough to where we lived for me to do that anymore.  And I didn’t imagine there would be in our new house, but then we learned about access to the Presumpscot River just ten minutes away.  So now it is a possibility again.

In another chapter, I write about dance as a form of prayer–physical, emotional, a way to experience the energy of the divine in my body, and find joy in the midst of struggle.  When I lived in Boston, I was part of a women’s spirituality circle that danced as a part of our rituals.  But I haven’t had an easy or collective way to do that for a while.  Then, this month I found a community group that meets for free-form expressive dance every Sunday morning–not always so great during the church year when I am occupied most Sunday mornings–but for the summer it is accessible to me, and once a month on my Sunday’s off during the year. So now that is a possibility again.

And then I started thinking about how I had written about wanting to use less oil, to have a house that was zero-carbon–I wrote about it before I could imagine any way that we might really find a way to live in greener housing.   But this past year we started an intentional search for greener housing.  Our new home is not all the way to zero-carbon, but with our solar panels and in-town location we are using so much less oil than before.

Journaling DSC01316I also write about the spiritual practice of writing–and the book as a ceremony of reconnection to the earth, to each other, to the spirit within all.  But the magic I have been noticing this month was completely unexpected, beyond my wildest dreams, and uncanny in its particularity.  I wonder if when we write our hopes and visions, when we express our gratitude, when we imagine and tell the stories, there might be an energy that starts to percolate. What has lain dormant wakes up and tries to find a way to express itself.  All I can say is wow, and thank you.

Fractal Spirituality-The Infinite Within Our Souls

Has known God,
the God who knows only four words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
Come Dance with Me.”

How can a Mystery as large as the Universe find expression within the smallness of our souls? How can we tiny beings experience the Infinite? I found a new way to think about this question when I learned about fractal geometry. Fractals are never ending patterns, with self-similarity at all sizes.

Benoit Mandelbrot was the mathematician who first coined the word fractal, and brought to our attention the possibility of exploring the geometry of the natural world. Fractal comes from the word for broken, and Mandelbrot wanted to explore the rough shapes of nature. Traditional Euclidean geometry could not describe these shapes. Mandelbrot wrote: “Clouds are not spheres, mountains are not cones, coastlines are not circles, and bark is not smooth, nor does lightning travel in straight lines.” Fractal geometry enables scientists to describe the world through complex mathematical formulas.

Mandelbrot Set by Wolfgang Beyer, Wikimedia Commons

Mandelbrot Set by Wolfgang Beyer, Wikimedia Commons

I am not a mathematician, but I was curious to see if I could make sense of the math. Perhaps you have heard of the most famous image associated with fractal geometry, what is called the Mandelbrot Set. It has a dark area that looks a bit like the shape of a bug, with a large round spot, and a small attached round spot. But the edge is what makes it fascinating. It is filled with beautiful complex curlicues that continue to be complex curlicues no matter how much the set is magnified. In fact, it continues through infinite magnification.  (For more images of magnification, see here.)

Mandelbrot Set Magnification by Wolfgang Beyer, Wikimedia Commons

Mandelbrot Set Magnification by Wolfgang Beyer, Wikimedia Commons

But “What is it?” I wondered.

If you have math anxieties, I promise you, I am only going to give a simple explanation with ten sentences. You are also welcome to skip the next paragraph.

A Mandelbrot Set is a diagram of a mathematical equation. The equation is: Z = Z2 + C. You insert a number into the equation, and the equation computes it to a new number. Then you start the equation all over again with the new number. Now here’s the interesting part—we don’t care about the answer. We care about how many times you can repeat the equation, with the number you started with. If you can repeat it only a limited amount of times, that number is part of the Mandelbrot set—and it becomes a black dot on your diagram, part of the black spot. If you could repeat it an infinite amount of times, that number is outside the Mandelbrot set. Depending on how quickly it gets to be infinite, it can be given a different color. Only computers can actually do all of these calculations, but they do them very well, and so we can see the images formed by the equation.

Okay, I’m done with the math part now. (I didn’t go into complex numbers or imaginary numbers, so my apologies to anyone who really knows about all of this. But for the rest of us, it is probably more than enough anyway.) The thing is, when Mandelbrot computed his formula, it created a picture filled with beautiful complex curlicues. And no matter how many times you magnify the picture, you will continue to see similar complex curlicues.

More tomorrow…



For those who would like more detail about the Mandelbrot Set, see the website Introduction to the Mandelbrot Set: A guide for people with little math experience by David Dewey.

Sun and Moon

Campsite View

Morning View from our Campsite

One summer, I was sitting at our campsite at Winslow Park, watching the sun rise over the water. It was a day without a lot of plans, so I could sit and watch the sky and water for a long time. I noticed how fast the sun seemed to move up the sky. I heard somewhere that you can estimate the time by holding up your fist sideways, and counting each fist width from the horizon to the sun as an hour. In a simpler world, it was enough to tell time by noticing where the sun was in the sky.

Curious about this, I discovered that actually, if you took a picture of the sun at noon every day for a year, you’d find that it wasn’t in the same spot at all. Rather, you’d have a photo of an elliptical shape, like a lopsided figure eight. People call this path of the sun an analemma. It is formed from the fact that our orbit is not an exact circle, but an ellipse, and our planet is tilted relative to its orbit around the sun. So we have the seasons, and each day from June to December the sun rises a few minutes later, and a little bit further to the south, passing by due east on Equinox.

The natural world is full of these movements that follow their own intricate rhythms and orderly patterns. As I become aware of them, I begin to feel myself as a part of a vast dance with the sun, the earth, the moon, the stars. Our spiritual journey is such a dance—it too follows intricate rhythms and mysterious patterns. We may imagine that we are going forward, but perhaps we are dancing round and round like the moon.

Each day, the moon rises on average fifty minutes later than the previous day, and the high and low tides are changing at a similar pace. Winslow Park has a tidal beach, so we pay attention to the tides in the summer. You can only swim for about two hours before and after the high tide. One of our city friends didn’t understand about tides. We were planning to go swimming with her on a Wednesday. Two days before, she was visiting the beach and called us from there to make plans. “The sign at the beach house says high tide is at 2 p.m.,” she said, “Shall we meet at 2 on Wednesday?” We had to explain to her that the tide would be later in two days, closer to 3:40 p.m.; that it changes every day.

Once, years ago, I created a moon calendar for my stepdaughter Stephanie, who was six years old at the time. I was curious myself about why the moon was sometimes seen in the morning, and sometimes in the evening, and I thought it would be fun to learn about it and share it with her. So I tracked it, and began to understand its pattern.

The full moon rises at sunset and stays in the sky all night, setting at sunrise. Then, as the days go by, the moon begins to grow smaller, and it rises about fifty minutes later each day, until you can only see it in the morning just before and after dawn. About two weeks after the full moon, the moon rises unseen with the sun and sets invisibly with the sun. The night is dark. This is called the dark moon or the new moon. Then a day or two later, a thin waxing crescent appears in the western sky just after sunset and sets soon after. Each day it is seen in the evening for a little longer time until we come round to full moon again.

Full Moon