Posts Tagged ‘animal spirits’

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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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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Well, we were planning to go visit some friends this day, but they called at the last minute (while we were already on the road) and had to call off. So instead, we turned the car back toward Thorn Creek to have a bit of a hike.

Because this was so impromptu, I didn’t have any of my usual things along — a planned offering, my many garbage bags, my camera, my binoculars and guide books, my backpack — nothing. But we stopped along the way to fill up the gas tank and I hurried inside and bought a banana and a bag of sunflower seeds (still in the shell, but roasted, so they wouldn’t sprout) as a hasty offering. There was nothing else really suitable — no honey or maple syrup, no oats, no barley, no other fruit, no wine — so this had to do.

I found a new place at the foot of yet another tree for the small gift I had brought (and at least had the bag the gas station clerk had put them in, to gather garbage with):


There were plenty of new plants up, including a few I didn’t already know.  This one, which I looked up when I got home, is Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine canadensis) — edible and peppery:

This one I still haven’t been able to ID yet:

Then there’s this, which looks an awful lot like privet hedge:


And then I found a raccoon skull in stunningly good condition (just three or four missing teeth, not all smashed up):

(I didn’t know it was raccoon originally; I thought it might have been a fox, given the prominent canines. I knew it was too small to be coyote, but I ended up looking it up when I got home.)

Of course, I took it home with me. It felt like the nature spirits had given me a very precious gift.

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We came back after just a few days; the warmer weather made it impossible to resist.

The things I brought for the offering were about the same: honey in the comb, steel-cut oats, dried blueberries, dried apricots, wine, sunflower seed kernels, chopped walnuts.

Again, I went with the triskele pattern, this time at a different spot, not on a hill. As a result, the “arms” of the triskelion turned out much better.

I drew them with steel-cut oats, using a chunk of honey in the comb as the core of the pattern. At the end of each arm, I put a trio of dried blueberries, circled round with sunflower seed kernels.


Around the core, I placed apricot halves, bracketed by three small piles of chopped walnuts.


And at the far borders, in a circle around the whole, I poured the wine (the dark circle):


It was in the mid-60s today, brilliantly sunny. I’d learned that the most interesting parts of the forest aren’t on the path, but are found when you wander off the path for a while, so I did, quite a bit, while my patient husband indulged me.

And that’s when I found the deer skull. It was very old — had been sitting in the grass by the fallen tree for at least a year, I think — and was fairly fragile. I gathered it up carefully and wrapped it in extra plastic bags and took it home with me, murmuring to it all the way. No antlers, or places on the skull for them to attach to, so it was pretty clearly a doe’s skull.  I was too excited to look to see if there were other bones at the site (i.e., from a coyote kill, or natural causes).  Will have to look around next time I go back.

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This is going to be a very short post, as the batteries in my camera died before I’d gotten to take very many pictures.

Thorn Creek Nature Preserve is a short drive away from where I live (less than half an hour), just over the border in Forest Park, Illinois. Like many nature areas in Illinois, it is chronically underfunded and has no paid staff at all, just volunteers.  It is one of my favorite places, with an oak/apple/hawthorn/white pine forest, lots of deer, a huge resident coyote population, several miles of trails, a fair-sized colony of owls near the furthest lake (which boasts a huge colony of bullfrogs), and plenty of other interesting things around every turn.  Spring plants include trout lily, trillium, cutleaf toothwort, violets, hepatica, skunk cabbage, and at least one species of swamp buttercup.  Lots of birds besides owls.

Over the last two months, I’ve sort of adopted Thorn Creek and go there to clean up trash and leave offerings there in the same way I do at my own park. My own park is a very sparse bit of city ground — baseball squares, seesaws and swings for the kids, and picnic tables. Thorn Creek is nothing but forest and hiking trails and boggy spots, much closer to actual nature (for all that I love my own park and my willow-tree temple!)

On this first visit, I decided to be a little more ornate with the offerings that I usually leave, instead of piling things up on the ground in heaps. I tried to actually be artistic and make a pattern with everything.

I had brought along a banana, green grapes, raisins, honey butter, wine, chopped walnuts, raisins, and rolled oats, and decided to try to draw out something based on threes and fours.  I drew out a wide outer circle with the oats, then a smaller inner one of grapes. At the 12:00 position, I put a handful of chopped walnuts. At the center, the banana. At the six o’clock position, raisins. At the seven-thirty position (it turned into a peace sign), honey-butter.  And at the four-thirty position, the wine.


I got a couple of pictures of the individual components (banana and honey-butter), but that’s when the batteries died (and I didn’t have my cell phone with, it’d been malfunctioning lately).

But apparently the spirits appreciated the offerings (and all the trash I picked up that day, three bags), because not far from where I left the offering, at the base of a dead tree — and that, about 500 feet off the path and down in a ravine — I found about half a deer skeleton, very well-gnawed.  Ribs, vertebrae, leg bones.  I’ve found that communicating with the spirits — especially those of the animals — is easier if I have a physical relic to use as a tangible focus, so this seemed almost like the spirits’ way of saying “thank you”.  I collected the bones respectfully, with thanks to the deer that had died and the coyotes that had hunted it and benefited from its flesh, and then went on my way.

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