Monday, August 5, 2013

Loving Nature For Who She Is

Warning, this may be too graphic for some to read (it was graphic for me to see).


In 2008 we had the snowiest winter ever recorded in this area.  A record 142 inches fell.  It was strange because for 2 months almost every Friday brought a blizzard that dumped double digit amounts of snow.  The kids hated it because they never got a complete snow day and the plows would have it cleaned up by Monday.  As the snow piled deeper I had to start plowing trails for the cows, horses, sheep, llamas and pigs to make their ways around the barnyard.  We had to shovel the roofs of many of the older buildings like the corn crib, the woodshed and the chicken coops to keep them from collapsing.  Just feeding the animals became a huge chore of first plowing and shoveling a place for the animals and then for the hay.  If we just dropped the hay from the loft it would disappear into the deep drifts.  My great Pyrenees sheep dogs looked like they were swimming as the walked the perimeter of their flock.  It was a hard year.

Pogo in the snow

But as bad as it was for us, wildlife had it worse.  The snow as too deep for the hawks and owls to hunt through it.  Many had to migrate south to survive.  We found grouse who sleep buried in the snow, covered too deep to get out.  They smothered in the huge snow falls.  And the whiletail deer, with their sharp, pointed hooves, broke through the snow and sunk to the ground.  They couldn't run, instead floundering as they tried in vain to lift themselves out of the deep snow.  One animal that did well that year?  The gray wolf.  With their huge feet that acts like snow shoes, they could run over the surface of the snow, it's deepness hardly even slowed them down.  The deer were unable to run, the wolves was a blood bath.

I found this out at the end of February when I strapped on my snowshoes and headed out to the sugar bush, or the sugar maple tree forest that I tap for making maple syrup.  As I trudged up through the trees I could see the snow covered with blood.  It looked like something out of a horror movie.  And among the blood soaked snow...14 frozen bodies of whitetail deer, none of them eaten on.  All of them appeared to be healthy animals, there were ever several pregnant doe in the group.  The tracks and sign spoke for itself, the wolves had happened on a yard of deer (deer herds in the winter are called yards) and when the deer began to try to run, the wolves easily brought them down and killed them.  They weren't hungry as they didn't eat the deer, but, like all predators, when the deer took off running they gave chase.  It's called the predatory response, and all predators from the king of beast, the African lion, to your little house cat has it.  Once it is triggered you can't just put it back into the box it came from.  Try calling your cat off a mouse it is playing with and see what happens.

Now when I tell this story to some people they get angry with me.  "No, wolves are a good part of the eco-system.  They don't just kill willy-nilly like that.  They only hunt the sick and injured.  The wolf keeps the deer herd strong!"  They act like I am spouting lies out of hatred of the wolf.

Wolf caught on trail camera
Which seems very odd to me.  I do not hate the wolf.  I am one of the few farmers in the area that actually look forward to hearing their howl as summer winds down (wolves don't howl when the young are helpless in the spring and early summer).  I brag about how I live the such a wild place that it has WOLVES!!!  I own great Pyrenees and llamas to protect my flock so I can live in harmony with such an apex predator.  I do not hate the wolf, I love it and the wilderness it represents.

But I don't try to make them into something they are not.  They are not human beings with their judgmental needs of being right or wrong.  They don't care if the deer is healthy or if it is sick.  They have never read a new age book that says what they should or shouldn't be.  Will they take a sick deer before a well deer?  Of course.  Being wild animals means they have a limited amount of energy to work with, they have to fight for every calorie they take into their body.  They certainly aren't going to waste those calories going after something they could never catch.  But if they come across a perfectly healthy animal that may be trapped against a rock wall, it can't run and they will bring it down.  They don't ask if it is healthy before they make the kill.

To try to make the wolf into only the "cleaning crew" of the forest is to not truly love the wolf.  It is to love an idea of what you want the wolf to be.   Nature doesn't work this way.  She doesn't read the books we do and then try to make herself in those book's image.  Believe me, if it were that easy I would write a book on exactly how I would like the nature in my backyard to be, and there would be no 100+ inches of snow falling in any given year. 

No, nature is not this sweet lady running around in hippy clothes.  To give some sobering statistics, every year 3 out of 4 bear cubs will die from parasites, predation, and starvation.  Less than half the wolf pups born this year will live to see their first birthday.  Only 1 in 8 deer fawns make through their first winter.  I have heard numbers as low as only 1 in 30 baby bunnies live for six months.  Nature does not look at these precious little ones and say "I must protect them."  Every animal has a chance and if they are lucky, they make it, if not, they feed other animals.

To see nature as a sweet caretaker of us all is to really not see nature.  And if that is the ideal that makes us love nature, then we really don't love her at all.  No, loving nature means that you do not put judgments on her.  We accept her the way she is, after all she's been doing this life thing for quite awhile.  Nature is not good or bad, she just is and we need her, not to do our bidding, but to be as beautiful, awe inspiring, magnificent, tiny, insignificant, terrifying, deadly, and frightening as she is.  When we can love every side of her, then we truly love HER, not what we want her to be.

Deer bed in last year's sugar bush

I did not like seeing all those frozen corpses scattered around my sugar bush.  I am human and there seemed something wrong about the whole thing.  But it did not even come close to making me hate the wolf.  I was grateful for this small insight into their amazing world.  I wish they would have done it somewhere besides where I had to work for the next two months, but they didn't call me for my opinion before they did the deed so I guess I had to live with it. 

I love the wolf.  I love the natural world around me.  I try to work with nature the best I can but even I have had to do battle from time to time.  So far those battles come out draws as she doesn't kill me and I work with what she has to offer.  Every morning that I am allowed to wake up and be in her presence I am amazed at the world around me.  There really aren't words in the human language that can communicate what she is, though I hear it in the bubbling of the creek, and the whoosh of the wind through the trees and yes, in the howl of the wolf.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Dumbo's Feather

Our minds are amazingly powerful forces that so many people overlook. Because I am a herbalist and a healer I often hear people say "Oh, that doesn't work. People who feel better because of that are just experiencing the 'placebo effect'."  And they say this like it's a bad thing.  I don't care how a person is healed, whether it be from an herb or their own mind, all I care about is that they are healed.  The mind is powerful enough that if it believes it can do anything.

To clarify, you cannot force a mind to cannot shame a person into believing that all things will be well if they will only believe.  That is not the way the mind works.  I have often heard people try to shame others into positive thinking.  "If you were only more positive, you wouldn't have cancer."  "If you would only believe, you could lose weight."  How horrible of a person we would have to be to try to HURT someone like that.  Sometimes even the most positive person is overwhelmed and some people suffer from a chemical imbalance called depression.  NEVER try to shame a person into being positive.  First of all, it won't work-shame is not positive, and second of all it is just plain cruel.  Sorry, I had to write this paragraph because I volunteer at a cancer center and I grit my teeth every time I hear those cruel words coming from people.

Back to the topic.

This idea that in belief we can do many things is nothing new.  When I was a child my parents took me to see two movies, both Disneys (that was all there was for kids back then).  One was Robin Hood, where Robin was a fox.  My parents had to have regretted that as I swore I was going to grow up and be an outlaw (and I have succeeded in some ways lol).  The other one was Dumbo.

Dumbo was the story about a little elephant with big ears.  Everyone teased him about his big ears.  Then one night he accidently got drunk (a good lesson for young minds to take in) and woke up in a tree.  Some friendly (and racially portrayed) crows told him he had flown up into that tree.  He did not believe it so they gave him a "magic feather" that was really just plucked from another crow's butt and suddenly Dumbo could fly like the crows.  I won't spoil the ending here for those who haven't seen the movie. ;-)

The point is that Dumbo didn't need this feather to fly, but he BELIEVED he did.  Holding the feather let Dumbo do what Dumbo could do, he could fly.

Okay, okay, I know, this is just a movie.  Pluck a feather from a crow's a** and you probably aren't going to be able to jump off a building and fly, even if you believe it with all your heart...then again, maybe you can.  Though I wouldn't try it if you have even a smidgeon of doubt.

We all have our Dumbo's feather.  We all use tools that allow us to do what we can do plainly without those tools but with them we believe.  Have I confused you yet?  Okay, I'll give you an example.  The big "in thing" for getting in touch with our other senses in the witch world is THE TAROT! <cue mysterious music and add a great deal of hand waving>.  Tarot, for those who have lived under a rock, are a deck of cards with different pictures on them.  Readers lay these cards out in certain patterns, look at the pictures and see with their mind's eye.  It's all very mysterious.  Except it isn't.  Tarot cards are nothing more than little piece of laminated cardboard with pictures on them.  Many of them may even be made in sweat shops in China.  Cardboard is not mysterious, it's compressed paper. 

The power of the tarot does not come from the cards, it comes from the reader of the cards.  The person looks at the cards and then follows their intuition to come up with the answers to questions.  Intuition has been used for many centuries with many other mediums as interpreters.  The rune stones, crystal balls, horoscopes, the I-Ching, tea leaves, palm reading, head bump feeling, what the first animal you see of the day means...the list can go on and on.  Developing the skill to "read" things is nothing more than developing your own intuition.  You are powerful, you have a wisdom none of the rest of us have (because we are not you), you are magic and magical in your own right. 

But most people (myself included) need our Dumbo's feather from time to time.  People feel more in control of their intuition if they are looking into the familiar.  Seeing change coming inside your own head or heart is different than drawing the death card from the tarot.  There you hold the concrete answer in you hand.  The tarot shows you what you already know.  Change is coming.

Now why is this whole conversation being written down?   So we all work with the placebo effect, so what?  It goes back to one of the basic beliefs of my spirituality.  We are all different.  Some may be able to afford 50 tarot decks and they can pick and choose which one suits them at that moment.  Other people may need to save their money to pay for...I don't or food.  The person with many more Dumbo's feathers is no more magical than the person who closes their eyes and trusts in what comes from within...because it all comes from within.  Other's feathers may be home made runestones because they like the tactile feeling of a three dimensional item in their hand.  Others may call to the totems and what ever animal they next see will hold the key to what they need to know.

Then the other thing is too many new people don't trust their intuition.  It's been wrong before.  So instead of looking to themselves for the answers, they try to memorize what the meaning of each of the cards or stones or animals means.  They buy a dream book that tells them what their dream mean, even though the person writing the book is NOT the person dreaming the dream.   No one else can give you your intuition.  They may be able to give you a safe place for you to develop your own intuition, but they can't give you what you already possess inside yourself.

What it all boils down to is that it is YOU that are magical.  Some people have really good intuition, others may not but they may excel in other things.  Some of the people who claim to have good intuition have proven they don't.  I knew a witch the claimed she could see the future and then she and her family lost everything is the stock market crash of '08.  Didn't see that one coming?  I did and I'm not the most psychic person in the world.  Other people, and this is where I fall, like surprises.  I like the adventure of life so I don't want to skip ahead and read the ending.  It will come when it comes.  These people may not practice any reading and they probably get ticked when a dream or a vision forces itself on them (I know I sometimes do).

You are magical in your own right and your magic may lead you down a different path than the more popular psychic one many witches follow.  This does not make them wrong, it does not make you wrong.  Neither is more powerful than the other.  There is no way to compete with magic because you are the most powerful you there ever has been and ever will be.

Oh, and spoiler alert;

 Dumbo eventually lost his feather, spent a few terrifying moments floundering for his life, then spread his ears and flew.  Sometime you go farther and faster without it than with it.  Disney may have been a bigot Nazi, but he gave some good lessons to young children once and awhile. :-)

What...Another Blog? Why?

 So I promised myself I would start a blog when I found the time.  I never found the time (time is really good at playing hide and seek).  So finally I made the time and I've enjoyed writing on it, I'm certainly not going to stop doing that.  But here's the problem, being a person means I have opinions.  Some of them are important to me, some I find too funny but I still can't shake them, others of them are just things I would like to share.  As a secular witch I often find that people make assumption of witches that aren't me.  Then when who I am comes out some people get miffed.  "You don't believe in the Law of Returns?  You can't be a witch!"  "Why don't you have a tarot deck?  All the good witches have them!"  "You don't meditate, believe in a deity, cast a circle?  What the heck kind of witch are you?"

The thing about spirituality and religion is that, because it is about belief, each of us brings our own experiences of our whole life with us.  So even if we go to the same church, get preached to by the same minister, come from the same family, live in the same town, we cannot totally believe the exact same thing.  It's not that were trying to be different, but life (and some believe other lives) is not the same for each person.

To give an example: I don't believe in a deity.  I do not turn to the gods or goddesses for help.  I roll up my sleeves and get it done myself.  See, I was raised on a farm surrounded by nature.  My good times as a child were wading in the creek, taking horseback rides, camping under the stars. Freedom was my best friend.  Could it be dangerous?  Of course, I often wonder how I survived to adulthood when now we don't let our children out of our sight.  My parents often didn't know where I was for the whole weekend.  I loved it.  I felt a special connection with nature.  From this came my spirituality.  The idea of a god or goddess watching over creeps me out.  I can't be free if I am always worried that someone is staring disapprovingly at me as I squish mud between my toes and soak my jeans so I can watch tadpoles turn into frogs.  A belief in a god or a goddess would take away from the beauty of the world for me.  So I chose not to have that belief.

Now a friend of mine who is a witch as well was held captive by her stepfather as his pawn to get back at her mother for leaving him.  She hid in her bedroom with her younger sister while he drank and became unhinged.  She looked up and saw the picture of the Virgin Mary on her wall and felt a sense of peace that the Mother Goddess was watching over her.  It helped her to survive her ordeal.  To this day she carries that feeling of peace with her connection to her goddesses.

For me to demand that she stops believing in her goddesses would be an exercise in futility on my part.  I could pass laws that say she can't believe, I could raise armies that would kill all believers, I could leave their bodies hanging from the tallest tree for all to see, and I could NEVER wipe the feeling of peace my friend gets from her connection to her goddesses.  It would be the same if she tried to make me believe.  Oh, if I were threatened badly enough I could lie and say, "Of course I believe."  I could be forced to go to church every Sunday.  I can take communion with the rest of the people, but in my heart of hearts I cannot believe.  It goes against all I feel is good in the world.  A creepy man or woman watching over me makes me want to pull inside of myself and hide, not dance in a rainstorm and rejoice.

So no matter what, we all cannot believe the same way as each other.  It is impossible because belief comes from who we are and we are each different.  So when I share my beliefs, and some of them are harsh, I am not saying that ALL MUST BELIEVE AS I DO!!!  I have too much to do with my life to waste trying to do the impossible.  Instead, for the most part, I celebrate our differences.  I have the right to express mine and be loved (or hated) for what I believe, not for what others think I believe.

That is the reason I have started this other blog.  Because I want to talk about my being a witch...and because my other blog; From the Briars while it does have a witch's perspective, it's more about my simple life than it is about my spirituality.  This one will be about that.