Pond Water Plants

Photo: Pond with new plants, and also pine pollen covering the whole surface.

This morning I was up at sunrise, which seemed such a sacred time to finish filling the pond! While the hose was running, I planted several plants that I had previously purchased, and then added three ferns from our yard. Sometimes, I just had to sit and watch, amazed at its coming to life in this way.

I used our city water from the outdoor spigot because the rain barrels nearby were empty from yesterday’s filling. City water is less ideal because of chlorine, but the chlorine will evaporate quickly, especially in our 90 degree sunny weather today. Plus it is being intermixed with the water already there. I filled it until it just started to drain into the overflow channel. Hurray! The overflow channel worked.

The method I used for planting was that recommended by Robert Pavlis in Building Natural Ponds. No soil, just anchor the roots of each plant with some stones. That meant rinsing off the plant roots from the soil they were packed in. I added some more stones in one area because the recommended depth was less than what I had. Here are the plants I planted:

Photo: Sweetflag

Sweetflag was first. It was a bit unclear whether this was Acorus calamus, or Acorus americanus. Online where I purchased it, it was listed as Acorus calamus (Americanus). I was hoping to buy the plant native to here (americanus); the other was brought by Europeans, but naturalized, and then it was also used by Indigenous people. I learned the Passamaquoddy name for this plant in the class I took. Kiwhosuwasq, (which now can refer to either plant). It means “muskrat root,” because the muskrat would eat it, and it was an important medicinal plant.

Next I planted Cardinal Flower, or Lobelia cardinalis, which will have a bright red blossom that is beloved by hummingbirds. It is a native plant. Both Sweetflag and Cardinal Flowers will grow tall, so I placed them toward the back of the pond, across from where we tend to sit.

Photo: Cardinal Flower

The next plant is Arrowhead, or Sagittaria latifolia, which is a shorter plant. It will have white flowers. When I rinsed off its roots, it divided into two plants, so I planted them near each other. It is native plant, but also an aggressive grower so I placed it on the narrower planting ledge where it can spread out on its own. I hope that all of these plants will spread out to fill their areas, but also make room for each other. The goal is to cover half the water surface with these plants on the planting ledges.

Photo: Arrowhead plants
Photo: Blue Eyed Grass

I had two pots of Blue Eyed Grass, or Sisyrinchium atlanticum. This one is also a smaller plant, and in the spring it blooms early with delicate blue flowers. I placed it in the part of the pond nearest to where we will sit.

Because it is so late in the season, a number of the plants I wanted to buy were no longer available this year. I am hoping I can find some Marsh Marigold sometime. (Calthus palustris.) It is another shorter plant, with spring blooming bright yellow flowers.

I was able to purchase a hardy white water lily, on Etsy. (Nymphaea spp.) The hardy variety of lilies can survive the winters in Maine, especially if their roots are deep in the pond. They sent me two root tubers. They arrived in my mailbox on one of the hot days, and were warm when I opened the package, so I hope they will be okay. But I planted them in temporary pots filled with stones, and placed those pots on the planting ledge. When they get bigger, I will move them lower in the pond. Water lilies are important parts of a natural pond, partly because their pads cover the surface of the water, providing shade and inhibiting algal growth. Plus, maybe frogs will sit on them. But for now, they are tiny.

Photo: Water lily in pot

After planting all these, I found two types of ferns among the many growing at the back of our yard, dug them up, rinsed off their roots, and planted three of them in the pond. I tried a few different ones–one tall, one small, one mixed, to see which might transplant best. A friend has offered me some Blue Flag Irises from her pond, so I’ve saved a space in my plan for them. Of course, now the question is, shall we try to buy some more plants to fill in more space right away, or wait for these to grow into larger versions of themselves? In the meantime, by 10 a.m. I had to come inside to get away from the heat, so all future parts of this project have to wait. Maybe this evening, we’ll just sit by the side of the water and enjoy.


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.


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?


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.

Moving Toward East

I feel awe and wonder when I watch the sun come up in the morning and also when it goes down in the evening. Its beauty and grandeur can be breathtaking. It gives me even greater awe and wonder to realize that it is actually we on the earth who are moving, turning toward or away from our view of the sun. Science has taught us that. The earth spins on its axis once every twenty four hours, and this spinning creates our day and night. I may know all this intellectually, but I must use my imagination to experience it: see if you can, too. You can try this anytime, but it is most vivid at a sunrise or sunset.

Face the east just before sunrise.
Imagine yourself riding on the surface of the round earth sphere,
almost like riding in a car, looking out the front window.
We are speeding forward further and further until suddenly the sun comes into view. Feel yourself moving!

Later, just before sunset, face the west.
Again imagine yourself on the surface of this huge globe.
This time, like a child looking out the rear window of a car,
see that we are speeding away from everything until the sun slips from our sight.
We’re always moving toward the east!

It would make us dizzy to be aware of this motion all the time. But for a moment, we can be dizzy with the wonder of it all. Scientific knowledge can bring us to an awareness of reality beyond what we can see with our own eyes. Spirituality is when that awareness moves from the dry realm of intellect into the visceral experience of awe and wonder. The natural world is the original holy book, the original sacred text: the earliest forms of religion were responses to the mysteries of the earth and sky. As our ability to read this book of the universe grows, our spiritual practices are trying to catch up.

Dawn at Star IslandMargy and I traveled to Star Island, a conference center that is an island off the coast of New Hampshire. It is a rather small island—you can see the water from almost every place on it. It turned out that the windows in our tiny room faced the east. The next morning, through my open window, of course I heard a cardinal singing before sunrise. “Come outside!” it seemed to say, once again.

Right beyond the door of our room was a porch facing east, with rocking chairs on it. I could crawl out of bed wrapped in a blanket, and sit in a rocking chair to watch the sun rise over the ocean. That day, the clouds formed variegated patterns of pink and orange, blazing up through the whole eastern sky. The cardinals jumped from bush to bush close to where I was rocking in my chair.Rocking Chairs

Watching the beauty of the sunrise during the next several days, I was again thinking about how the sun generates its own energy, how all the stars do that. We on earth are more like children, we are utterly dependent on this light-being for all our needs. All of the energy human beings generate and use all over the earth relies on the sun as its ultimate source. The whole sphere of life on earth is a child of the sun. Yet the sun is so personal too. We can feel its touch on our faces—it is as personal as the vitamin D that it creates through our skin.

The poet Hafiz said,

All this time
The sun never says to earth,
You owe
What happens
With a love like that.
It lights the

 Poem from The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, The Great Sufi Master, translations by Daniel Ladinsky 

Sunrise Blessings

Mona Polacca, an indigenous elder of the Hopi and Havasupai people, spoke at my church one summer. She talked about how we come into relationship with all the elements of the earth, with water, and air, and fire and earth. She blessed us with the feather of a water bird. Someone at the talk asked Mona what gave her hope. She said, hope comes with each new dawn.

Feeling blessed by her words, the next day, I woke up at 5 a.m. and went outside a few minutes later. It was already so light! The sunrise was to be about 5:18. The birds were all singing their morning songs. I could see the red orange sphere through the branches of the spruce tree.Spruce Sunrise DSC03603 I felt anew the amazing power of the sun. All plants convert sunlight to energy, and animals eat the plants, and we eat the plants and animals and our bodies are formed of this. We are the sun. Every fiber of our being is created of sunlight. All the earth sings to this light, this star from which we are created.

And we can see the sun. We have been fashioned in such a way that we can recognize this parent—all the creatures of the surface of the earth feel and see the sunlight. I felt joined together with that song of the earth, a prayer of thanksgiving to the sun. Thanks for life! I chimed in. Thanks for vision to experience the life all around me of which I am a part, and for hearing and smelling and tasting and touching.

After such a magical moment, you might think that I would be awake every morning after that. But it wasn’t so easy for me to actually get up at dawn. To sustain it I would have to go to bed much earlier than I was used to. The very next morning I had planned to sleep in, because I was up late the night before. But in the middle of my sleeping, I heard a banging sound.

I stirred, and realized that one of our kittens was inside the closet, pushing against the sliding doors. I grumbled, but the clock said 5:15 a.m., exactly five minutes before sunrise. Feeling duly summoned by forces greater than myself, I crawled out from under the sheets, pulled on my shoes, and went outside once more, while the red ball was just appearing in the east.