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Meditation Journal

June 1, 2012 (Friday)

Came back from Wellspring. Discouraged by Mr. Corrigan’s remarks on “people who say they can’t meditate are like people who say they can’t walk”. Some days I *can’t* walk, the bursitis and fibro are so bad. For those days, I have a cane. I suspect by the time I am 60, I will have to trade in the cane for a wheelchair.

Nonetheless, even though every attempt over the last twenty years has failed — Zen, TM, Wiccan grounding and centering, ADF’s Two Powers form (we’re told to imagine ourselves as trees, with branches in the air and roots in the ground; invariably, the first thing to pop into my head is “What kind of tree am I?”, and it only gets worse from there), Buddhist breath meditation, dyhana, and Mahāyāna techniques (my knees scream in agony if I try to get into the lotus position any more), Hindu japa mala beads, New Age forms — I’m going to try again, starting tomorrow. Having read through a number of DP journals of other members for this, I’ll be experimenting with other forms than the Two Powers one.  I intend to start making the attempt 2-3 times a week and see if that helps, and I will be starting with Kevin Silverstag’s Three Powers variation.

June 3, 2012 (Sunday)

I started by shutting myself in the bedroom (so my five cats couldn’t interrupt) and lighting some incense and a candle. Well, tree, fire inside me. I went through the Three Powers meditation steps (found here: http://atthesignofthewhitehart.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/the-three-powers-meditation/ ). I can see the images he describes — I have no problem with visualizing things — but I was able to last only two minutes of holding those images in my mind, before my mind began to wander. Every time I jerked my thoughts back to where they were supposed to be, the amount of time they stayed focus before being derailed by the babble in my head got shorter. I needed to remember to make a grocery list, I needed to remember to call the pharmacy to have some prescriptions refilled, a cat was scratching at the door to be let in, I needed to take the garbage out — on and on and on it went. I tried acknowledging the thoughts and then dismissing them, but the problem is that my mind has a seemingly endless stream of minutiae to bring up, and every time I dismissed something, that void would be filled with three or four other things.

Ended it after ten minutes, very discouraged.

June 6, 2012 (Wednesday)

Three Powers meditation again. Trying to focus, before I began I went through most of the same steps before: candle, incense lit. Distracted the cats by leading them to the back porch and giving them kitty treats. Showered first and washed face and hands with khernips, ritually blessed water in the Hellenic style, in the thought that perhaps the distractions were as much from miasma as my recurring distractedness.  Then shut myself into the bedroom.

Brain didn’t want to settle into one track from the get-go. My streak of procrastination tried to remind me that I had a number of other essays to write up for the DP program, and not to forget about them. Well, tree, fire. I tried to concentrate on them. Well, tree, fire. What kind of tree? Bizarrely, my brain fixated on that for almost five whole minutes: was it an ash inside me? An oak? Red oak, or black oak, or pin oak, or burr oak? Or was it apple, or hawthorn, or blackthorn, or cedar? A tree sacred to the Irish? To the Gauls? To the Norse? To the Greeks? My mind seized the tangent and tried to run off with it. I hauled it back, kicking and screaming.

Well, tree, fire. Well, tree, fire.

And then my phone rang, shattering the quiet. I had forgotten to turn the ringer to silent. I tried to ignore it; they called back three times. By then I had a migraine blooming. When I gave up and called it quits, got up and went to go see who had called me, it turned out to have come from a blocked number. Lovely. Time: 12 minutes, most of which was not spent in focus.

June 9, 2012 (Saturday)

Bathed, distracted cats, turned phone to silent, lit candle and incense. Retreated to the bedroom. Loose sitting position with my legs out straight in front of me, rather than in lotus position, which hurts far, far too much to hold it for even fifteen seconds (and the pain, of course, interferes in trying to concentrate). Lights off; window covered; room dark except for the candle’s flame and the glowing ember at the tip of the incense stick.

Dull ache at the base of my spine after sitting for five or six minutes, same spot my tailbone was broken back in 1994. Pain was very distracting. Realized that, next time, I should probably take some ibuprofin or Tylenol about an hour before I do this, then realized that I’d been distracted into a tangent again. Tried re-centering and managed to hold it for an entire minute and a half before there was a huge crash from outside the bedroom, toward the direction of the kitchen, and then  the sound of five cats running hellbent for leather. Got up and went to look. Found that they’d gotten up on the sink counter to investigate the scent of lunch and knocked the empty hot dog pan off the counter. Cleaned up, then called it quits for the day. Apparently I have to start locking them all up in their travel carriers before I do this. Fifteen to twenty minutes in a cage won’t kill them.

June 12, 2012 (Tuesday)

Cats locked up. Showered. Tylenol taken. Lights off, candle and incense lit, window covered. Dark. Bedroom door shut. Phone ringer turned to silent.

Well, tree, fire. Well, tree, fire. The room mostly silent, although from time to time through the closed door, I can hear the cats’ meows as they protest being locked up. Try to ignore it. Try to ignore usual tangents. Lots of tangents. Start to wonder if so many distractions indicates the possibility of adult ADHD, then realize I’ve been distracted again. Refocus. Well, tree, fire. Cool water. Branches gently waving in the wind. Warmth of fire.

Knock at the door.

Try to ignore it. Knock comes again. And again.

Finally go to answer it, on grounds it might be an emergency. What if something happened to my husband at work, and they tried to call me, and I didn’t answer because the phone’s ringer was turned off? Panic a little.

Get to door and find it’s just Jehovah’s Witnesses canvassing the neighborhood. Try to refuse them politely and instead spend the next fifteen minutes explaining to them I was pagan, and if I wasn’t pagan, I’d be a humanist agnostic. Wish them a nice day when they leave. Go blow out the candle, let the cats out, and spend the next three hours sulking.

June 15, 2012 (Friday)

Even with the Tylenol beforehand, ankle I turned while cross-country hiking yesterday is hurting far too much to concentrate. End it after only three minutes.

June 17, 2012 (Sunday)

Began beforehand with a fervent plea to the gods to let this attempt work. To be able to focus, uninterrupted, for even just five minutes. Five minutes would give me something to build on. It would be, at least, a good start.

Went through the usual preparations. Candle, incense, placated and locked-up cats. Dark room, pain meds taken beforehand. Put some quiet, melodic, instrumental music (specifically, Dead Can Dance) on the stereo at a very low volume to help screen out cat meows. Phone off, new “no soliciting or proselytizing” sign on the front door. Have made appointment with shrink for ADHD testing in the future.

Got comfortable. Loose, cool clothing so I won’t overheat in the hellish, high summer temperatures (it’s in the 90s and not, technically, even the first calendar day of summer yet, for pete’s sake). Tried to relax, to focus.

Fell asleep. Didn’t wake until my husband came home from work.

June 21, 2012 (Thursday)

Summer Solstice. Contemplated, beforehand, the fact that apparently I am not the only one who finds this difficult (a friend sent me a link to Ceisiwr Smith’s page on mental discipline for his DP work, here: http://ceisiwrserith.com/dp/mentaldiscipline.htm ). Tried the Three Powers meditation form today for the last time, with no more success than previously. No interruptions this time (thankfully!), but just could not keep  focused for more than three or four minutes at a time. Distractions came up — mind going off on multiple tangents — and even though I dismissed each one in its turn, there was an endless supply of things to actually think about, rather than being able to remain focused on what I was doing.

Since I’m already incorporating a lit candle in my attempts, am going to try Smith’s “gazing at a lit candle” method from now on. Will see if it works any better than all the other methods I’ve tried.

June 23, 2012 (Saturday)

Candle-gazing…helps. It doesn’t completely make everything “work”, all of a sudden, nor does it banish the distractions completely, but with something tangible to focus on, instead of having a million clamoring voices in my brain each shouting something different at the top of its lungs, the voices are much more quiet. Properly prepared beforehand (cats locked up, incense lit, phone silenced), I was able to manage seven whole minutes, uninterrupted, before the distractions got to be too much to handle.

Only folks who know me well and know how much trouble I have with focus will wholly understand how much of a sea change this is for me, but nonetheless, it’s an amazing improvement. At last, and at least, I feel like I might be on the right track.

June 26, 2012 (Tuesday)

Continuing to use the “stare at a lit candle” technique. (Needs a better name.) My eyes follow the flickering without drifting off as much as usual, and afterward today, I wondered if this is akin to a form of self-hypnosis. Even if it is, it’s working better than every other form I’ve tried. It’s not perfect, of course; after about ten minutes (I know!), I could hear ambulance sirens some ways off. Tried to ignore them, but they got closer, and louder, and closer, and LOUDER…  Eventually stopping in what sounded like my driveway. Had to get up and check, at that point. Turned out to be half a block down; no idea what for, of course.

But frankly, to get as far as ten minutes without being distracted by my own brain every thirty seconds is nothing short of miraculous for me. My main concern now is that, having found a method that seems to work, I’ll eventually get burned out on it, and it’ll stop working.

But I’ll tackle that crisis if and when it happens, and try not to worry about it beforehand. Much.

June 29, 2012 (Friday)

Realized today that, if I continue updating this as often as I have been, and in the depth I have been, it’ll be much longer than the maximum length cited as acceptable for the new DP work guidelines. My desire to be thorough and clear conflicts here with what’s on the rulebook. I can sacrifice frequency or thoroughness, but not both. So from here on in, I’ll just be updating once a week, I guess.

Began with the usual preparations (and will note that this should be taken for granted from this point on, in the interest of brevity). No headaches, no catastrophes. Managed to go for a full twelve minutes before my mind began to wander uncontrollably. Have been reading about counting my breathing, and I think I will combine that with the candle-gazing from here on in, and see if it works. If it proves to be more of a distraction than the candle alone, I will go back to just the candle.

July 6, 2012 (Friday)

Today was a disaster. The idiots in my neighborhood are still going ahead full-steam with the firecrackers, even though Independence Day was two days ago. Having something loud exploding outside my house every thirty seconds did NOTHING for my concentration efforts, and I quit after eight minutes and went to yell at the damn kids to get off my lawn. (Seriously. They do this every year, and then I spend the next two weeks picking spent fireworks cartridges out of my garden.)

July 13, 2012 (Friday)

Added counting my breaths to staring at the candle. Ended up breathing too deeply after awhile and got hyperoxygenated and light-headed. Quit after ten minutes so I wouldn’t pass out. Still dizzy.

July 20, 2012 (Friday)

Fifteen minutes, no interruptions, no ill effects. Feels like a minor miracle. Will probably never have it go so smoothly again.

July 27, 2012 (Friday)

Only three minutes in before the mailman pounded on the door with an unexpected package to deliver. The regular mail had already come, and I’d figured it was safe to start. Had to spend the next half-hour calming down before I could get back into the state of mind to try again, at which time I managed ten minutes.

August 3, 2012 (Friday)

Eight minutes in before the cats started fighting between the bars of their carriers. Moved the cages a couple feet apart, came back to the practice, managed another four minutes. Not sure I was meant to be able to meditate, given how often I get interrupted. I note no specifically-connected effects on my concentration or attention span.

August 10, 2012 (Friday)

Ten minutes with no interruptions. Cautiously, attempted ten minutes more. Got them. Tried for ten minutes more. No phone calls, no cat fights, no leg cramps, no one at the door. Note to myself: check to see if the stars are aligned perfectly for the first time in a thousand years.

August 17, 2012 (Friday)

In the middle of a horrendous three-day-long (so far) migraine. Made the attempt anyway; it’s not like sitting in a darkened, quiet room would make my migraine worse, right? So much medication in my system, my bloodstream would be deemed a toxic waste dump by the EPA. Managed twelve minutes before a new head-spike broke my concentration to bits. Put out the candles and went to lay down for a bit.

August 24, 2012 (Friday)

I have discovered, quite accidentally, that if I am sitting at my desk with my eyes closed, the hum of my computer’s CPU lulls me into an almost meditative state. Interesting, but unfortunately, I can’t switch where I’ve been doing my practice, as I couldn’t keep my cats from jumping into my lap; they’d howl pretty loudly if I locked them all up. Still, I wonder if some sort of white-noise generator when I do my practice wouldn’t help?

Managed at least ten minutes each time I sat this week. I think that’s some sort of minor record.

August 31, 2012 (Friday)

Am now managing about ten minutes each time I try, without fail. I have gotten to the point that I can hold on to that timespan through minor distractions (though not major ones, yet). Getting a humidifier for the bedroom and using it as a white-noise generator helps, screening out noises outside the room that might otherwise distract me. Have learned which sitting positions remain comfortable for longer periods of time and which will instantly start building up joint pain from my sciatica, bursitis, and fibro.

September 7, 2012 (Friday)

Worked my way up this week to twelve minutes each time.  Managed fifteen minutes on one day. Baby steps, I guess.

September 14, 2012 (Friday)

Amusingly, noticed today after practice that there is a fairly large soot stain on the ceiling above where my candle sits. Will have to clean that up soon.

Fifteen minutes/thirteen minutes/fourteen minutes.

September 21, 2012 (Friday)

New candle, cleaned the ceiling (mostly). Am on my way to working my way up to fifteen minutes per session, which is a thing I thought I’d never achieve. Almost done with the five-month period, but I have to wonder if it’s possible to reach twenty minutes per session by the end of October. Probably not, but no reason not to try.

Now that I’ve learned how not to hyperoxygenate myself, the counting breaths thing is a useful adjunct to staring at the candle. I also think it might be a good idea to abstain from caffeine in the two hours leading up to each practice. Will try it next week and see if it helps.

Fifteen minutes/thirteen minutes/sixteen minutes this week.

September 28, 2012 (Friday)

Sixteen minutes/eight minutes/sixteen minutes.

Second session was cut short by the early arrival of a thunderstorm. Weather Channel didn’t have it due for three hours yet, but the pouring rain and howling winds made it too hard to concentrate, even with the white-noise dehumidifier.

The other two sessions went pretty standard; however, the rapidly-cooling weather/approach of Autumn means I’ll be turning the heat on in the house soon, which will blow all the dust out of the air vents for the first few days. Will probably alter my pattern from M/W/F to Th/F/Sat to give the first half of the week to let the dust re-settle.

October 6, 2012 (Saturday)

Abstaining from caffeine is helping, although not as much as I initially thought it might. This might have something to do with the fact that I don’t drink that much (I drink diet soda, tea, and hot cocoa, rather than coffee). Nonetheless, cutting back on the stimulants helps slow down my brain enough that my sessions this week were all at least fifteen minutes (17/15/16), even with the fact that the house is still a bit dustier than usual, having turned the heat on.

Twenty minutes no longer seems out of reach, although I doubt it’ll be possible to get to over 20 minutes for all my weekly sessions.

October 12, 2012 (Friday)

Bursitis and fibro are getting worse with the advent of cooler weather, alas. Making sure to take heroic amounts of pain medication (well, half again my normal dosage) two hours prior to sitting down, so the pain won’t keep me from the work.

I still really don’t enjoy meditation; it doesn’t seem to add anything to my path. One reason, of course, is that I consider what I do to be religion, and don’t do anything that could be considered magic, so being better able to concentrate (and visualize, or whatever) isn’t really a necessity for me. I can pray wherever and whenever I am, and generally meditation isn’t something that’s ever been a part of that for me.

Nineteen minutes/seventeen minutes/nineteen minutes.

October 19, 2012 (Friday)

Another thunderstorm, this time on Wednesday. Fortunately, after my session, but I could feel the changing air pressure while I worked.  No great epiphanies this week; it’s started to feel a lot like having a job I don’t hate but don’t particularly like, either — something to get through and get over with. I doubt that point of view will win me any friends, but not every technique or practice is right for everyone, and meditation has simply never worked for me. It doesn’t harm me, but it doesn’t help, either.

Twenty minutes/eighteen minutes/twenty minutes.

October 26, 2012 (Friday)

Last week. Fibro has been particularly bad this week, even with the medicine, knocking my times down to where they were more than a month ago. Winter is always the hardest season for me, and we’ve been having unseasonably cool weather of late — more like early December than late October. I won’t be surprised to see snow soon.

Fifteen minutes/sixteen minutes/twelve minutes.

October 31, 2012 (Wednesday)

Monday and today were my final sessions. No sense of nostalgia as I took my last practice today; no desire to continue with this after my five-month period is over. Just relief that I’ve finished. Wish things might have turned out differently, but despite some improvement, the practice of meditation never really became easy for me; instead, it was like trying to jog uphill through a slough of half-set oatmeal while wearing heavy lead boots. The amount of environmental intervention I had to undertake each time I went to go do this was disproportionately high, and I reach the end of the five-month period still so easily distracted that it’s ridiculous. I still have random thoughts pop into my head at any moment, and I still have to stomp on them hard to have any chance at being able to continue. Glad I’m done.

Twenty minutes/eighteen minutes.

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The House of the Turtle

Being a lost chapter of the voyages of Odysseus, on his journey homeward after the Trojan War.

I. The Woman in the Flames

O Muse! I beg thee, Calliope, come hither, hear my cry;

Give grace to my tongue, and gift unto me the fire you bring;

Let no line of this, my tale, stumble inelegantly

And let not the spirit of the story desert me until it reaches its proper end.

Adrift for so many months after the departure from Troy;

They wandered, clever Odysseus and his crew:

At the mercy of Poseidon in his fury, blown hither at the sea-god’s command.

Escaping the land of those who devour the flower, faring out from the cave of the one-eyed giant,

Braving flesh-eaters and the sorceress with her magic and metamorphosis,

Deaf to the alluring song of the winged singers, they sailed.

At last coming to a tiny island which bore no terrors nor dangers.

There, becamped on the sands of the isle’s broad and beatific sands

They built a fire, heaped high with wood cast upon that shore by wind and wave.

And there, within the flames of that blaze, they saw shadows dancing,

Moving, twisting sinuously, suggesting form and shape unfamiliar

Yet somehow known and gladdening to their hearts.

Within those flames they saw the visage of their own captain, he who stood

Upon the sands of that isle begirt by waves, wind ruffling through

The tangles that crowned his brow, and swirling down to stir the sand on which they sat,

Scattering it into their eyes until he thought he saw

The fair form and face of one he’d loved, long before that cursed voyage.

At clever Odysseus’ side another stood: the shade of a warrior bold and brave,

Weary survivor of many a battle, skilled with sword and spear and shield,

His companion from Troy and survivor of the terrible quest to gain the Golden Fleece,

Nestor, transported there from Pylos by the whim of the gods.

One among had been entertaining his fellows with tales of home,

But ere he or any other could raise his voice to call out to either man there,

A sound echoed across the sands, clashing with the roaring waves: the creak

Of a door opening, and there within the fire did open a door,

And from its haunted space a girl appeared, and all gathered there did marvel.

Her eyes shone with the luster of the dawn, and the silken locks round her fair face gleamed;

No man but looked upon her that did not find her fairer than any ever he had seen before.

Even Helen, over whom so many men had died, did not seem more beauteous in their eyes,

And without a word or sound, she cast into the leaping flames the fan of feathers

She held in one slim hand.

“Which man here, to gain my company, would not brave the terrors of Hades’ realm itself?

For I shall name as coward any who fears to take the chance.”

Odysseus, beguiled by face and form so lovely, stepped forward to claim his chance;

Nestor, having grown wise after decades of battles, deigned to risk the few years he had left,

Nor would he anger Hera by spurning the wife he had at home, sweet Eurydice; he knew

That tactics and strategy were his greatest strength, not the folly of disaster.

And so the captain stepped forth; the maiden, with the grace of one

Of the stags of wild Artemis at her rest in Delos, rushed to meet him,

Wrapping her alabaster arms round his broad shoulders;

As when he had been seduced by Circe, and Calypso, so now he succumbed to her charms.

And if such a choice was wise, it is for lesser mortals to say.

For the teller of tales may not make that decision; his tongue falls silent,

And no more will the audience hear the tale.  For is it not his task

To enlighten, and lead those who listen to ponder, and not by more blunt words

Force the answers upon them, rather than letting them come to those truths of their own accord?

The end of this tale is left unsung; gold we gift to the teller of tales, in hopes that

He will return to end the story, or to share another; but such a gift cannot be purchased

With mere coin; and now, O Muse, I beg you, listen on, for I continue the tale

That I have been commanded to recount.

II. The House of the Turtle

Within me, let insight and passion combine, O Muse, I beg of thee:

With every hue let me paint the tale, and with all parts of order and glory

Bring charm to the words I offer up to you;

Let your will be as a shield to hold back the grey dull chains

Of grief and desolation and gloom; no greater gift, nor any

Further art will I beg of you, though within the telling of this tale

I confront the unknown, so immense and shadowy that all words

Seem inadequate to paint the picture I have been told to tell.

Within this tale, heroes strive and fail, and in their endeavors also win

For themselves and for others a more lasting glory

As they set out on the journey

To the House of the Turtle.

At night, with no more radiance than the flame of one small tallow lamp,

He counts the stars that glimmer in the vast sky above;

Though most are too weak to recognize, one alone shines down from its accustomed place:

The brilliance of the clearest diamond in Aphrodite’s gleaming crown

That appears first closest to that moment

When Helios’ chariot first appears in the sky, and which outshines all others.

In that portion of the sky, past the light of the dog’s tail,

By which all mariners set their course, we hear the song of insects,

Their sweet voices rising in a melody never before known.

The House of the Turtle lies within the shadow of the moon,

And it is to that distant destination, by that road we travel,

And which we shall arrive at, when the journey is finished.

The captain cannot understand the Turtle’s Lord,

Though he has been guided by that friend of man many times before;

Clever Odysseus, for all his wiles, is as a child before He who stands at the final gate,

And the captain knows not if this road marks the beginning of a new journey

Or the end of an old one.

The Lord of the Turtle beckons; the ship lies waiting,

And the ocean stretches before the sailors as dawn comes

And the ship’s sails boom as the wind rises to fill them,

And the sun rises to show the way.

III. The Last Stop Before Journey’s Beginning

Penelope understands:

There is no place, while her lord and love is away from his home,

That knows the light that he carries about him when he is present.

Instead, even the tiniest of corners and doorways

Is shrouded with darkness, as if Helios’ chariot had fallen from the sky,

And one had come to collect the shade of the deceased

For the final journey.

Even the plainest fact is forgotten, or secreted away,

In the absence of Ithaca’s lord; with no firm ground on which to stand,

Or truth to cling to, only one last comfort remains:

The star that points to the House of the Turtle.

The wings of the Moirae echo like the crack of Zeus’ thunderbold,

Heralding the storm;

And in her heart, she knows: clever Odysseus will return home

Only if he first finds his way to the House of the Turtle.

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Went back out to Thorn Creek on Sunday, after a busy day Saturday. The weather was cool by my house, so I dressed warmly — long underwear shirt, t-shirt, sweater, hoodie.  Got out to the park and it was in the 60s.  I ended up ditching most of the warm stuff.

As always, I roamed around for a bit until I found a place that felt right to leave my offerings at.  Found a LOT of garbage to pick up by the time I got there.

For the offering, I brought sunflower seed kernels, dried cherries, dried blueberries, dried apricot halves, a banana, maple syrup, wine, and turbinado sugar.

The place I decided on for the offerings was a bare spot between a group of five oak trees; the area encircled by the trees was no more than ten feet in diameter:

 

I started by placing red grapes in a circle and then putting the banana parallel to the top of the circle, almost as if to mark the horizon.

At the center, I poured out a pile of sunflower seed kernels, then bracketed the kernels with a triangle; each point of the triangle was made of three dried blueberries.

Next I marked out an upward-pointing triangle around the pile with dried apricot halves (two pieces at each point).  Bracketing the apricot halves, I placed dried cherries in similar triangular points, two at each point.

Then I made an inverted triangle around all this with the turbinado sugar:

 

Finally, I poured the wine in a circle around the whole, and then poured maple syrup over the banana:

 

The rest of my visit there was rife with signs of Spring.  There were plenty of new plants to record, including one of the buttercup species:

 

Skunk cabbage in abundance:

Hawthorn trees everywhere:

Horse chestnut trees leafing out:

I also saw plenty of animal tracks, including deer:

And raccoon:

Found plenty of bones.  No skulls, but that’s not the primary reason I go there, after all…just a pleasant extra.

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Still cold out when we went back to Thorn Creek. I wish Mother Nature would make up her mind. It’s certainly true that the extreme warm weather of a week ago was unusual for this time of year, and that the temperatures we’re getting now are more customary for this time of the year. But my body had adjusted to the warmth, and now, with my fibromyalgia, it isn’t responding happily to a return of the cold.

We arrived at the park fairly early (around 1 PM) and split up; my husband went to take a solo walk that looped along the trail once around. I went my way to wander, finding a place after about an hour to leave my offering: a single granite bounder in the center of a patch of oak trees:

I started with a pile of turbinado sugar on the center of the rock, a banana arching over it, and three dried cherries and three dried blueberries in two interlocking triangles around the sugar. Around the stone I placed four dried apricot halves and a handful of grapes:

At the base of the stone I put a pile of sunflower seed kernels with another blueberry at the center and three more in an upward-pointing triangle around its border:

Close-up of the stone, sugar, and fruit:

Over the banana, I poured maple syrup:

The spirits must have liked this particular offering. On my wandering through the woods this day, I found four deer skulls (and a number of other bones). Below are pictures of three of the skulls (the batteries in my camera died before I could get a picture of the fourth):

On my way back, I saw that someone had torn down a number of big branches from one of the hawthorn trees next to the bridge that runs over Thorn Creek, and then tossed them into the brook. One of these branches was decorated with a little cloth herbal sachet, a charm from — I imagine — some other pagan who visited the park like I did. Like it did with the apple branches, the sight filled me with rage. I made my way down the muddy bank without falling into the water or on my backside in the mud and managed to hook the branches out of the water. I untied the little charm and, once I had carried the branches up to the top of the bank, retied it onto one of the other still-attached branches.  The torn-off branches I salvaged and took home.

Trees are living things, too.  Like people and animals, I believe they feel pain when damaged, although they have no voices to scream. Why do people do stupid, thoughtless things like this?  How would those people like it if I tore off some of their fingers, or ripped their arms out of their sockets?  Why is hurting people like that illegal, but no one cares when trees (and at a state-supported park, too!) get damaged?

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…and then it got cold again, and all the nice warm weather we’d been having went away. Both unfortunate and unpleasant.

I made my trek to the park in low 40*F temperatures and a brisk wind coming off the lake that made it seem even colder, toting my backpack full of garbage bags and offerings for the nature spirits. I’d bundled up in a heavy wool sweater and a grey hoodie with a fleece layer inside, although I left my gloves, scarf, and hat at home. It was at least sunny out, and not raining, so there was that small balm to be appreciative of.

When I arrived, there was nothing remaining of last week’s offerings (and I noted that a  small thistle had sprung up inside the crumbling tree hollow):

There are several small saplings growing up around the willow-tree, an elm and a mulberry:

Today the pattern that I drew out with the offering was a combination of threes and fours. For the center, I used three nuts, a buckeye and two acorns:

The other treats I brought as part of the offering included a banana, steel-cut oats, the last of the buttermilk, wine, maple syrup, indian corn, dried apricots, dried blueberries, dried cherries, sunflower seed kernels, and barley.

Around the three nuts, at the cardinal positions, I divide the indian corn into four equal piles:

Then I drew a path between each of the two piles outside with the steel-cut oats to connect them, and put the banana down above the top in an arch:

Then I put three piles of barley down around that in a triangle, with the top point above the banana, and bracketed each pile with three dried cherries:

Then, on the inside of the diamond, I put one dried apricot half at each cardinal point, mirroring the indian corn:

Around each pile of indian corn, I placed four dried blueberries at the cardinal positions, bracketing each pile:

I poured out wine in an inverted triangle (solo point at the base, opposite the piles of barley pattern):

The maple syrup I spilled into a hollow piece of wood down at the base of the pattern by the bottom-most pile of barley:

And then I took the buttermilk and walked a circle around the tree, pouring it out around the willow. What was left I spilled into a hollow in the roots:

The final pattern, from above:

 

Despite the chill, it was a pretty good day. Everything here is turning green:

 

Through the veil:

 

The only bad part of the whole day is something I found when I went around picking up trash.  There are a lot of trees planted at the park to replace the old ones that the winds and rot and time have felled. Most of these are either ornamental crab-apple or river birch.

When I got over to the playground part of the park, I saw that there were a number of very large branches on the ground under some of the new crab-apple trees.  Not old, rotten branches — new, healthy ones, ripped off the trees, most likely by kids. The flowers and leaves had already wilted considerably, so I think it most likely it had happened the day before. There was no way to save them or graft them back on.  All I could do was bring them home with me and hope to use the wood in one of my projects (I make wands, walking sticks and staves, and rune sets and ogam fews out of fallen wood. On the very rare occasion that I actually harvest something myself, I always ask the tree for permission — and respect their answer if they say no — then make a neat, SMALL cut with very sharp pruners, which is far less damaging to the tree than tearing a major limb off with ripping force.

These are the limbs down in my cellar workshop, once I got them home. As you can see, they’re pretty big (one was more than six feet long):

Probably not thick enough at the tips of the branch to make walking sticks out of, but good wood for wands and ogam sets. I try to bring something good out of every bad thing, when it’s possible. But I still wish I knew who the kids were who did this, so I could report them to the police and park service.

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It’s not quite reached the level of an addiction, I think, this visiting the new park — but I do feel anxious when a few days go by and I can’t get out of the house to either the new one or my original park. This is a good thing, I suppose — a sign of increasing connection with the nature spirits (as well as an appreciation for the beauties of nature and the good burn of exertion that comes with the exercise of a cross-country hike!)

I brought an offering, as I always do; as this was the day after the Ostara rite put on by the Grove I’m a member of (more on that in a later post), I brought the remnants of the homemade Irish soda bread I’d baked, with dried cherries, as well as bananas, dried cherries, dried blueberries, wine, raisins, sunflower seed kernels, dried apricots, barley, maple syrup, and steel-cut oats:

When I finished leaving the offering, I turned around…and there were bones everywhere (I really think I must have been blind in all my past walks through forests never to have seen ANY before!):

(The above is a deer’s pelvis.)  If nothing else, I’m certainly becoming more observant of the world around me, which can only be a good thing.

In the end, this turned out to be a nearly-complete, un-coyote-gnawed doe skeleton, lacking only the skull, one lower jawbone, the bones of one full leg, and the two shoulderblades. I found every other piece — all the ribs, all the vertebrae, the sternum, the tailbone, the other three legs (including all the tiny hoof bones, which I had never found before), the pelvis, the atlas bone (which supports the head), and one jawbone. It was amazing.

Not 500 feet away from this site, I found what might have been the missing leg; it was all there, including the hooves. Also there was half an older pelvis bone:

I took the bones back to the car — I was less than five minutes from the parking lot — and then took my garbage bags and my empty backpack and went wandering for awhile.

I was out for a good three hours. And then I got lost, wandering farther and farther from the trail. I found a good many more bones, but did not take them all; I found a grove of hawthorn and apple trees in the middle of an oak forest; I found another lovely raccoon skull, this one with one of the lower jawbones:

I collected that one. It was in as good of condition as the first I found, though missing a few more teeth.

I wandered further and further through the woods until I came to a wire fence. I followed the wire fence until I came to a gravel road. I went down the gravel road until I heard the sound of traffic, and then I checked to see if I could get a GPS signal.

My GPS told me I was over 4 miles, overland, from the entrance to the park where I had started.

I followed the gravel road til it came out near a paved road. And this is where I came out at:

I had no idea Valhalla was located in Park Forest, IL. (Note: a search on the name and town after I got home revealed the estate is for sale to anyone with half a million dollars. Four bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms, a swimming pool, a fallout shelter, and six acres of forest. Nice.)

I guess even if I thought I was lost, the gods knew where I was all the time, and guided me back to where I needed to be. 😉

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Came to the park again for the seventh time in two months (or a little less). There really is much more room here to explore, spread out, walk around.  More garbage, too.

I brought a prepared offering this time: steel-cut oats, raisins, dried blueberries, a banana, barley, sunflower seed kernels, and wine:

And I placed it down in a ravine, at the base of a fallen tree. Turned around and not five feet away was the flash of white that marked more deer bones.  This time, a second skull — and in far better condition:

There were other bones there, too — in the end, about enough to make half a skeleton:

I gathered them up dutifully, accepting the gift I had been offered in return for the gift I had brought, and carried them carefully back to the car.

Then I spent the next two hours in the spring warmth, straying far from the path, picking up a great deal of garbage (three bags!)

I found more bones, as well:

There was also some startlingly beautiful fungus of a type I didn’t recognize, growing on a dead tree:

Both the bones and the fungus remind me of a quote you usually hear only at funerals: “In the midst of life, we are in death.” The bones are clear evidence of the teeming population of deer here at the park; I figure for every site I find where there are bones, there must be a dozen live deer still out there, feeding, mating, running. And fungus all feed on dead and decaying matter, whether that’s shelf fungus on a dead tree or the athlete’s foot fungus on the dead cells of a person’s foot. It’s important to observe these things: we think we might know what comes after we die, but the only way to find out for sure is to die ourselves. These little reminders are all around us, calling us to be mindful of how we spend the time allotted to us — hopefully, to spend it in the most practical and best way.

But there were plenty of signs of life, there, too — vibrant and gorgeous and bursting uncontrollably over every possible boundary in the warm spring weather. I found a stand of daffodils growing wild in one of the thickest parts of the woods:

And the first mayapples are up:

As is the skunk cabbage, thrusting up from every marshy, boggy spot in the forest:

It was a gorgeous day.

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