Little Land Spirits

Sunrise after Solstice

Sunrise, the morning after Winter Solstice.

In Scandinavia, there is a Solstice Eve tradition to leave a bowl of porridge outside for the Nisse, the little land spirit person who helps out with the work on the farm and serves as a guardian to the family and the animals. According to what I learned, it was very important to put a pat of butter on top.  The Nisse can be troublesome if not properly respected.

There are little guardian spirit people traditions in many other places, too.  Scots and English call them Brownies, there is the German Kobold, and I have learned about Wabanaki little people called Wonakomehsisok who were said to be spirit helpers who lived among rocks. The Wolastoqiyik spoke of Kiwolatomuhsisok, who were said to help people secretly at night, and have a breath that smells like mold.

All that said, on Solstice Eve, I put out a bowl of porridge in the back yard, with a big pat of butter on top, (which by the way is how I like my own porridge) as an offering for any little land spirits on our land that might appreciate it.  Perhaps it might be one more way to deepen our relationship with this land, to make friends with the spirits who protect and cherish the land.

Sadly, the next morning, it was still there, and frozen–but I moved it from the middle of the yard to the way back, where more wild creatures tend to go by. (We’ve put other food offerings out there in a similar way, and they disappear.) When I returned from my walk, I was happy to see a crow back there at the bowl, pecking at it with their beak.  They are also guardians of this land.

Crow eating butter – Version 2

Later, I discovered that the crow flew off with the pat of butter but left the porridge.  So I guess that our land spirits might not like porridge–which is after all a very European food tradition.  We’ll have to keep experimenting with other foods, to see what they prefer.  Still, I was happy to give a gift to the crow.

Quickening

At winter solstice, the sun begins to rise earlier each morning, but only by about one minute every couple days.  As we approach the spring equinox, the changes begin to quicken, each day the sun rises earlier by one or two minutes a day. It doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but I feel this sense of speeding up. This morning, I woke at 6, and found myself jumping out of bed, wanting to get outside as quickly as possible, so as not to miss the dawn.

Gang of turkeysI was not disappointed. First of all, there was the waning moon shining bright in the western sky.  Then there was the gang of turkeys marching down the end of my street.  Twenty strong, they roam the place like they own it, and they do, as much as we do. Around the corner, a neighbor walks her little dog: Sparkles is still a puppy and just can’t contain herself when I approach.  She is trying to learn not to jump.  But she jumps. So we say our good mornings with enthusiasm.

Cardinal with tuftsOn my own again, around another corner, I hear a cardinal singing. He is already looking for a mate, or marking out his territory. I can see him in the tree, his characteristic shape visible with its tufted head, even though he is too far away to see the brightness of his red feathers.

The streets are a mix of clear pavement and icy patches, so I make my way carefully, no rushing.  But I feel buoyant in the  early morning light.  Finally, I approach the brook, and look over to the east, where I catch my first glimpse of the sun rising through the thicket of trees.

I am a morning person, but I usually don’t like to get up before 6 a.m. Just before sunrise is my favorite time of the day, but if it gets too early, I have a hard time making it out of bed.  In this regard, I will be saved by Daylight Savings Time on March 10. The sunrise would have been at 6:03 that day, but we jump our clocks ahead, so it slides back to 7:03. Then we have all the days until April 15 before it approaches 6 a.m. again. Nonetheless, everything is starting to wake up now. Buds are starting to appear on the fruit trees. Birds are singing. They know.

Sunrise in trees

[True happiness is not in buying things, but in being thankful for all that we already have. You can ignore any ads that appear at the end of these posts.]

Turkey Sunrise

Turkey in top of pines

This morning, as the sun was rising, I saw a huge bird shape in the top of the white pines at the very back of our yard. I went outside to see what it was. Looking closer, I saw that it was a turkey, and in fact, there were several turkeys perched high in trees all around us. How my heart is warmed and excited by the fellow beings who visit us here on this land!

Turkey in pines close

Then I noticed that there were half a dozen turkeys on the ground behind me, near our ornamental crabapple trees.  Over the next 10 minutes, one by one, the turkeys in the trees flew gracefully down to the ground. They were mostly too quick for me to capture them in flight, though I caught this one as it approached the ground in a blur.Turkey in flight

Finally, the whole clan of turkeys gathered together and ambled toward the underbrush near the pines. I too started on my walk to the brook and around the neighborhood. In the midst of all that we face in the coming years, I pray that there will always be animal and plant neighbors whose daily lives bring us joy. I pray that we won’t forget to notice and appreciate them.

Turkey clan

So much beauty

Snow sun beauty

When the sun rises on the day after a snow storm, there is so much beauty everywhere.  The light, the lines of branches highlighted in white and gold, the patterns… and the songs of birds, which don’t show up in a photo but fill the air with more beauty as I walk along the city streets. I don’t usually like to post more than one photo but I can’t resist today.  After my walk, I arrived home to find a flock of robins in the maple tree next door.  Those berries in the photo are Asian Bittersweet–the invasive vines Margy is working to get rid of–but they do serve as a food source for birds in winter.  The robins were singing too.  How can anyone fail to appreciate such beauty as this morning’s sunrise brought to our world?

Robins

We’re Here!

Boxes in the kitchen

Yesterday, the movers came and lifted our boxes and furniture into trucks and over to our new house.  I directed traffic at the new house.  Margy and I slept here last night, exhausted and aching in every muscle, but happy to be really living here.  I woke early in the morning with moonlight shining through the windows.  Then I took a walk at sunrise, starting by circling the perimeter of our land from north to east to south to west–and–I heard a cardinal singing!  This bird reassures me that all will be well, and offers such beauty and joy.  I am so glad to know that the cardinals will be our neighbors here.  On that happy note, I walked through the neighborhood over to the Evergreen Cemetery trails.

After breakfast, I started unpacking boxes in the kitchen, and immediately began doing more downsizing. As I put things away into fewer drawers and cupboards than we had before, it became much clearer that some things just aren’t necessary.  We didn’t have time to actually sort through most things before the move.  And we didn’t actually move all of our possessions.  There is still the whole basement, and outbuildings.  But we have a few weeks before we have to vacate the other house, so we are doing it in two stages–and that’s a good thing.  There is no way everything would fit here, and we hadn’t finished sorting in the basement.  As it is, our basement here has a lot of boxes in it already.  I think it will be easier to sort back at our old house, now that we are in this space.

The evening before the move, we sent our cats to stay with our favorite cat-sitters.  The cats have never been away from home before, but we figured it would be less traumatic to be off site while everything was being carted away. They arrived at our new home this afternoon, and are sequestered in the downstairs bathroom, with their litter boxes.  They are feeling rather scared and cranky.

Meanwhile, back at our other house, after $1000 of radon remediation work, the radon was tested between Wednesday and Friday, and came back WORSE than before.  That certainly didn’t make any sense, and our realtor has been in touch with the company who did the work, and they are returning to the house on Monday to see what is going on. This has us rather scared and cranky because radon levels are a deal breaker for our buyers, and we don’t want to have to start over in the process of selling our house. Plus radon will likely be an issue no matter who we sell to. If anyone knows any magic or practical tips for dealing with radon, let us know. Until all of that is settled, we feel very vulnerable.

It helps when I remember that our move isn’t merely a move from one house to another–it is part of our search for greener housing, and that change is more difficult than we might expect.  Our whole social system is currently set up to exploit the earth.  Margy and I have been really lucky to be able to undertake this search, and yet it still depends on our being able to sell our old house at a decent price, so we can afford solar panels for our new house.  But, I remember that we are among hundreds (thousands?) of people who are trying through our personal actions to live in greater harmony with the earth.  Each step is a part of the great shift in the human relationship with with our mother earth.  Beings of the earth, help us on this journey!

Waking Up to Joy

I realize not everyone is attuned to rise at dawn. We each have our own circadian rhythms. Scientists have found that individual rhythms have a genetic basis and are incredibly difficult to change. Some people naturally rise early, they call them the larks, while others are tuned to a later cycle, they call them the owls.

So I am not suggesting that everyone should start rising at dawn. I am still not even sure if I can shape my life in that way. But what I notice is that whenever I take some small step toward attuning myself with the larger earth, I feel blessed by it—I feel more beauty and joy.

And yet, for each small step, I also feel challenged—aware of how broken off I am. Aware of how broken off we are as a people from this earth that is our whole life. I have to believe that awakening to this beauty and brokenness is the essence of the spiritual journey. We cannot have one without the other. My greatest hopes trigger my greatest fears. My greatest fears call forth my greatest hopes. I believe that when we enter that place between our greatest fears and our greatest hopes—when we encounter our own vulnerability, and call out for help, something can rise in us like the dawn… and this is the place where God lives.

I am still on this journey. When the days are shorter, the dawn comes later. But then it is too cold to go sit outside like I sat outside during the summer. So I am not sure how it will unfold. Sometimes I sit by the window and watch the sunrise from the comfy chair in my room, a tiny black cat curled up in my lap. But I remember the message of the cardinal singing at dawn: Come outside! May sadness be dispelled, may joy and beauty be awakened in us.Snowy Sunrise

Dawn Rhythms

Crescent Moon at DawnOne morning on Star Island, I heard the cardinal at 4 a.m. Closer to first light. The waning crescent moon was hung over a deep pink rainbow of a skyline. I began to wonder why we don’t always get up with the light. It is actually quite bright in the hour between dawn and sunrise.

Before that summer, I had used the words dawn and sunrise interchangeably, but I learned that dawn refers to the first light that comes before sunrise. There is so much of it. Enough to read and write in my journal. We could save a lot of electricity if we got up at first light, and went to bed earlier. Of course, that is the logic behind daylight savings time, where we set the clock ahead so that we wake up an hour earlier during the longer days.

But what would it be like if our world was oriented to the rising and setting of the sun? Then every day we’d rise a little later or earlier than the day before. Because the sunrise changes every day. We’d have long days in the summer, and short days in the winter. The earliest sunrise in Maine comes in mid June, just before 5 a.m. daylight savings time. (That would be 4 a.m. Eastern Standard Time.) The latest sunrise comes about 7:15 at the end of December, except, because of time changes, it actually gets to 7:22 in early November, before we fall back with the changing of the clocks.

So, people might say that it wouldn’t be practical, in our world, to plan our day according to the sun. We plan our lives according to the clock. But what do we lose by that? While I was trying to discover the natural rhythm of dawn, I could feel how disconnected I was from all natural rhythms. Rising at dawn is a way to deepen my relationship with the seasons of the earth, and to the sun, and to the birds. But it makes me wonder, “Why do we try to shape the earth to our demands? Why don’t we try to shape ourselves to the rhythms of the earth?” And what might happen if we changed that pattern?

Cultures and religions the world over have honored the sacredness of dawn, the sacredness of the sun. Our word “sun” comes from the Old English, “sunne,” which was related to the Germanic sun goddess, “Sunna.” It shows up in our everyday language—the day of our worship is called Sunday. Christian monks, and Hindu priests rise at dawn; Muslims during Ramadan, as well as Indigenous peoples across many cultures. There is something in our human life that wants to be attuned to the life of the earth, which looks for beauty and joy in these simple rhythms.