The abundance of life and webs of nourishment in the land where I live are fascinating and ever changing. Whether we are tending a hardy houseplant or doing our best to grow much of the food we eat, we are forming relationships with plants, critters, and fungi, and it is a wonderful way to deepen our relationships with the Sacred Earth.
The first thing to do is to become acquainted —and comfortable— with failure.
The ability to fail successfully is incredibly empowering. If you’re just getting started with a garden, you will make mistakes. The way you dance with those mistakes may determine how deep your relationship with your garden will be. I have grown so much from my gardening fails.
“Listen” as much as you “do.”
Spend time just observing in the garden. Sit in it, make it a beautiful comfortable place with flowers and plants you love, and have a comfortable chair. I have a section of the garden that my toddlers were allowed to dig in and it became a place we all wanted to be. I would notice what plants were doing well (those sunflowers really love that sunny spot!) and what plants didn’t seem too happy (is it too hot for those peas?). Before you even decide on a spot to plant things, spend time outside, observing how the light and water move through the day and seasons, and where the snow melts first. I also enjoy planting phenology, or watching for signs for when to plant things. Blooming crocus means it’s time to plant spinach. Daffodils are blooming when it’s time to plant beets.
Honor your boundaries and needs.
Some of us have a lot of time and energy, and a large garden with orchards and a flock of chickens makes sense. Others feel stressed out just by the thought of maintaining all of that. You are part of the relationship you’re building with the land. Listen to your needs and desires as you make decisions.
Enjoy your first date.
Speaking of desire, plant things that will bring you joy. I love eating tomatoes, I love fresh flowers on the table, and I am amused by fast growing plants, so the first year we lived at our home in the Hilltowns I planted tomatoes, flowers, and peas, and I mulched my plants because I don’t enjoy weeding. Listen to yourself, and get your hands dirty.
Commitment and perennials
Perennials are fantastic; herbs, asparagus, berries, and walking onions are some of my favorite friends in the garden, but they take time to establish. Take time to listen to where the plants want to be, think about where you can realistically commit to tending them regularly, and make the decision together. You can always replant, but it will take a couple years for them to sleep, creep, and then leap again.
Plants have friends and frenemies too
We all have different needs and wants, and some needs conflict. If you observe and remain open to your plants, they will often let you know if things are (or aren’t) working for them. I had a close call with planting some trees one year; the town offered a group rate on purchasing black walnut trees, and I liked the idea of nut trees on the land where I live. After I placed an order, I had a strange dream and a gut feeling that I should google walnut trees, and in fact, tomatoes won’t grow near walnut trees (walnuts create juglone which is toxic to tomatoes). My friend was two trees richer, and my tomatoes were glorious that year.
Begin to think in circles and webs.
So often, we think of input and output, and cause and effect, as if things have a beginning and an ending. Healthy relationships, like the ones we’re building with the land, are often more complicated. Listen and open to the Earth, nourish your relationships with it, and let it guide you as you plant, feed your soil with organic matter, encourage mycelial webs to stretch out their fingers to tickle roots, and dance with water flow in your garden. Notice what grows well and look up what it is telling you; different plants grow well in different conditions. If you notice that chickweed is abundant, perhaps your soil is compact, and you might want to grow some daikon radish to loosen the earth a bit. Have tea with the bees and plant flowers, bringing cycles of fertility to your garden and beyond. Feed the worms and microbes with compost, and then let them be; digging disrupts the fascinating and fertile communities that live beneath the surface.
As we in the Northern Hemisphere turn again towards the bright half of the year, I’m looking forward to the sleeping land waking up and stretching new green to the sky. I’m looking forward to warm sweaters and looking for the first snowdrops poking their heads through the snow. I’m looking forward to seeing how huge my heat-loving pepper plant will grow in the microclimate I have near the bricks and asphalt, and I’m looking forward to my children’s faces smeared with dirt and raspberries, with spinach in their teeth. Our relationship with the Sacred Earth is a blessedly messy one, and I wish you all the luck with your plant relationships this year.
Now that the Yule season is over, a lot of my friends have a hard time as they wait for spring. The days are getting longer, but we still have a stretch to get to Spring Equinox.
Here are some things my family and I like to do this time of year, in case they help you. Feel free to add your own ideas in the comment section below.
I set up hot chocolate or tea to be ready when I come back in from some bundled fresh air, yes even when I’m tired.
We light candles, even if overhead lights are on. It’s surprising how they can change the mood in a room.
I always have three or four books going. You don’t need to hold yourself to false moral reading standards. I usually have a comedy, fantasy, and a couple nonfiction books going on in the winter.
Stillness. We use winter to encourage myself to slow down, monotask, and to say “no” to lots of things. This is one of the ways we try to tap into the natural cycles that are so easy to forget with modern technology.
Darkness. I love it and I’m unafraid of it. I shower in the dark all the time and turn on as few lights as I can, both out of silly, childlike “can I manage to put my earrings away, find my pajamas, and get to bed without being able to see anything?” and because the dark allows other pieces of me to surface and flex.
Extra sleep. My Nan talked about how our Nordic ancestors told stories of how people would sleep more in the long dark and less in the endless day, so I often indulge in nine hours a night. I have a lush relationship with Dreams, and when I sleep as much as my body wants, it nurtures that relationship, and it is deeply nourishing to me. This is where the power of “no” comes in handy, because if I said yes to everything, I would not have the time to get this much sleep.
These are just a few ideas that carry us through the dark, cold days of Winter. What are some of your favorite activities, whether playful or self-care-ful?
Editor’s Note: Katie LaFond began the Jolabokaflod tradition for the EarthSpirit Community in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic — when most of us were isolating and unable to see each other in person — as a way of connecting as community. She wrote this two years ago, but just recently submitted for publication. This is the third year (2022) that Katie has run an EarthSpirit Jolabokaflod. 2022’s Book Flood is underway! If you haven’t had a chance to participate and are interested in it for next year, watch the EarthSpirit Facebook Group and Page for information and sign up right around Samhain.
This year was unlike any other, so I shared one of my family’s traditions with the community, in the hopes that it brought some joy to your homes.
Jolabokaflod (Yule Book Flood) started in Iceland during World War II, a time of rationing for many people. Paper was one of the few things that wasn’t rationed, so people gave each other books. Today, the tradition as I understand it, is that people give each other gift-wrapped books and on Christmas Eve they stay up all night reading them and eating chocolate. This is definitely a tradition I can get behind. If you’re interested in learning more about the Icelandic tradition, there are many wonderful resources available.
My ancestry is from all over, but the grandparent I was closest to (and who survived long enough for me to have deep conversations with) was Scandinavian. While my family identifies as American, I have always been fond of Scandinavian traditions, and they’ve made my winter seasons so much happier and fulfilling living in the Hills of Western Massachusetts.
I’m a fan of traditions and have built many with my young family. We have a prayer we say at each meal, we have an annual Dumb Supper at Samhain, and we love Jolabokaflod. Simply put, we give each other books on Yule eve and sit by the woodstove in our jammies, eating chocolate and reading them late into the night. We wake up in puppy piles, kindle a Yule fire, and sing up the sun eating cinnamon buns and drinking spiced coffee.
This year it was my pleasure to extend our tradition to all of you. We each found a book in our homes that we had read and enjoyed and were ready to send on to someone else who might enjoy it. We signed up with a google form, I organized an exchange, and sent out names, addresses, and genre requests to each person. Despite some shipping delays, most people ended up with a book to tuck into, with a mug of hot chocolate perhaps, and a quiet evening of enjoying a good book.
Here are the books that we sent each other this year, in alphabetical order.
Editor’s Note: Westhampton holds a Fall Festival each October, which begins with a town-wide interfaith service. EarthSpirit Board Members Katie and Chris LaFond have been part of planning and officiating that service since 2019. The following is the reflection that Katie offered at this year’s service, on October 16, 2022.
Patterns, routines, rituals. It is a Thing humans Do. It helps root us in time and space, helping us understand our roles in family and community. It helps us save energy as we anticipate events and lets us relax into appreciating the changing elements; new babies and puppies, and the amazing dessert that Aunt Beth has been talking about.
Merriam-Webster defines routine as “a regular course of procedure,” and it defines ritual as “done in accordance with social custom or normal protocol.”
In my pagan home, these words are used fairly interchangeably, but I suppose that our routines are personal, and our rituals are the customs we become accustomed to within The EarthSpirit Community.
When I ask my friends what the difference is between routine and ritual, they often describe ritual as being solemn, and routine as being synonymous with boring.
In my family’s home, I honor routines as a way for us to make sure that our needs are met, and that I’m lucky to have clothing to fold. There is beauty in routine. Most days, I carry gratitude for my daily routines; the washing clean of dishes in anticipation of delicious shared meals tomorrow, and the stacking of wood for cozy wintertime fires. On harder days, routines let me relax into their familiar shape when I’m feeling overwhelmed or sad. If routines and rituals are serving us, they feel good, and they nourish us.
Sometimes though, our routines and rituals aren’t serving us, and still we cling to patterns, because they’re familiar and the familiar feels safe. Changing patterns means creating new paths and that takes energy. It doesn’t feel safe. You don’t always know where you fit in.
Sometimes we choose to change the pattern, and we feel like since we chose it, we’re not allowed to be upset, or to need to rest or ask for help sometimes. Change still takes energy. It is still a process of grieving old shapes, stretching, and growth can be painful. Sometimes the pattern changes without choice, when things we took for granted are taken away, or when Death visits our home. Sometimes the change is joyful; we marry the love of our life and we get to create new patterns together built on love and hope. Whatever the case is, be patient. People will expect old patterns and will be confused and might be hurt that patterns are changing. We do our best to build new, resilient patterns of vitality, meaning, and potency.
In The EarthSpirit Community, the rituals in the Pagan calendar give shape to our year. Some of our pagan rituals are solemn. Samhain when we recognize our beloved dead is often a quiet, solemn observance. It is also true that love, joy, and pleasure are pagan values and our rituals support that. The Beltane Maypole where we join earth and sky and hope for a fertile growing season, the Web Ritual where we weave a web of community that represents the unseen bonds we sustain with all beings of the Earth, and Handfasting ceremonies when pagan couples get married are joyful rituals.
Paganism honors the Sacred Earth and we do our best to have our rituals reflect natural cycles. It would be disingenuous to say that one of our rituals is either all solemn or all joyous. We are like a tree, growing and dropping dead branches, and letting old leaves go, and reaching for the sky.
There are solemn elements within our joyful rituals, and we often dance and sing in gratitude for our lives at the end of our Samhain ritual as the last autumn leaves fall.
“It’s the blood of the ancients that runs through our veins, and the forms pass, but the circle of life remains.”
This piece is a transcription of a meditation Katie shared at an EarthSpirit Saturdays event on July 25. If you’d like to join future events, please follow the EarthSpirit Community on Facebook.
— Hello, and welcome.
My idea for today’s session was inspired by my difficulties with Zoom. Like many of us, I have done a whole lot more Zooming lately than ever before. I find it difficult and an incredible energy drain. I had a moment recently where I was doodling while I was Zooming, and my whole body and brain felt better. I suspect Zoom is mostly left brained for me, and the doodling was helping me get back into more right brained space. So, I thought that today I might share a doodling meditation with all of you beautiful people.
I’ll lead us in some opening exercises, then we’ll meditate as I read some poetic prose I wrote, and draw for a bit. So take a minute, and get yourself some materials for doodling, painting, sculpting, whatever feels good to you right now. It needn’t be serious art, that’s not what this is about. It’s about relaxing, softening, and calming the self in meditation, with art as a way to help that process. I’m hoping this will jumpstart your creative process, and help unstick that creative block. You don’t have to be a trained artist to enjoy making art. Humans make art. You’re qualified.
I invite you to gently close your eyes and notice your breathing. Don’t try to change it, simply be curious about it.
Open to the breath in your lungs; the heat of summer; the waters of tears, sweat, and the sea; to stone; to the trees, that even as they are full and lush have begun to turn within; to the Sun Moon and Stars; and Open to the Unseen Ones.
Gently open your eyes, take up your tools, and create as you’re moved to.
All improvisation starts with the first mark, word, note. That first piece creates entire universes, makes thousands of decisions in a single stroke. Yet we do this every day, all day, with our words, our steps, our thinking. In one breath the urge to consider this first motion is undeniable and thick with significance, and how can we possibly just do it? And yet if we take too much time to consider all the possibilities that come with the infinite before boldly making a decision, we find ourselves paralyzed, unable to move forward. Go with your gut. Make that move. Make your mark. It needn’t be large, perfect, earth shattering, it simply needs to be.
The first move invites the second. The second wants to dance with the first, whether mirroring it from a distance, or intertwining with it as a tango dancer, dragging her toe with the density of her passion. The second move is almost as significant as the first, bringing us a second dimension to the world we are creating with the motions of our bodies. You already know where that second mark goes. Let it flow.
With our third mark, we bring shape to our world. Just as milking stools rest upon three legs because they will always be stable, our third mark creates stability but not rigidity, and the art will begin to take on a life of its own. Our job is simply to be curious and see where it goes. Moving from a place of decisive action, from seeing possibilities and making impossible choices, to watching as our creation evolves on its own.
We plant seeds in our gardens. Tiny hard packets of possibility. We go, armed with tools that bring us confidence if not guarantees. Spades, forks, rakes, cultivators, watering cans, tiny pots to start plants on windowsills, intensely scrutinized as morning coffee brews… Perhaps the seed won’t sprout. Perhaps a bird will eat it, or it will mold before it grows, or it will grow politely in its patch, or perhaps it will grow to take over entire gardens. Seeds are not promises, they’re possibilities.
Do your seeds grow in a garden, or are they wild? What do you notice first? What takes time to become clear? Are there vines and brambles and hidden mushrooms? Are there neat, tidy rows? Do you plant with a ruler, or do you toss them, wild eyed, daring them to compete for light, warmth, water, and will? How does it grow through the season? Does it feed you? Does it feed itself, symbiotic plants fixing nitrogen, creating structures to climb… what other things live there? What bugs, worms, butterflies and critters make their home here? Sleep. Creep. Leap.
So many marks in our lives are not of our choosing or making. We zentangle the corners of our identities, weaving our webs of self in the corners and doorways of our hearts. Sometimes we do the arduous work of shifting some of the major structures, but always there will be a shadow of where the structures used to be.
A sigh. The body heaving and moaning, lungs letting go of their cargo. Another breath, and a moan. Breathe, and keen. Breathe, and sing. Breathe, and speak. Breathe, and whisper. Breathe, and whimper. Breathe and cry. Breathe, and wail. Breathe, and hum. Breathe, and shush. Hush. Hush.
Puzzle pieces, jumbled in the heart. Slowly assembled, but not all the parts belong, and some fit together only tenuously. How do you approach this puzzle? What do you do with the pieces that don’t quite fit?
Another place, another time. A wind comes, and sucks fiercely at the branches, and the stones, and the bones. Taking away anything that is not solid and strong and it is scary but in its wake is a clarity and lightness of spirit that would never have been chosen…… but dances with the vastness of spirit.
Sweat, beading and falling, rolling down warm skin, finding its path and blossoming as a dark patch on fabric. Tingles on sun- warmed skin, and more sweat. A salty sting in the eye, and then the delight of a gentle breeze kissing salty, sweaty skin. A face turned to greet the breeze, and the scent of flowers comes with it. An eternity in a moment, an indulgent moment, in deep awareness of the strong currents swirling, always swirling, in an endless dance.
What sweeps you away? What grabs your fascination with thousands of enfolding hands and everything else falls away before the deep passions of your being? What is it that you pick up, and the hours disappear as you dissolve into the joy of doing? Is there more than one thing? How often do you let yourself become so absorbed in something? Does it scare you? Delight you? Confuse you?
What is the weave of your fabric? What is the warp, running along the length of your life, sticking with you, stubbornly or consistently, supporting you? Is it thick or barely noticeable in the final tapestry of your story? What is the weft? The threads you choose each day, weaving in and out of the other strands of your life? Is your weave smooth and even? Do you feel the threads with your fingertips? Is it sticky and fuzzy and awkward, tangling from time to time? How patient are you as you untangle the threads? Do you change your weft, to make it easier to weave, or do you like that soft, fuzzy wool so much you’ll take the time to slowly work it into your fabric? When you pull a thread from your life, how careful are you to pluck each remnant fiber out? Do you keep it? Do you add it to a new project? Do you let it go?
Consider for a moment,
The sensation of sun on your skin
The scent of rain and leaves in autumn
The crunching sounds of cold snow underfoot
The smell of wildflowers
The sound of bumblebees
The warm heaviness of loved ones sleeping in your arms
The taste of honey
A cup of tea, a toasty woodstove, and a compelling story
Easing into a warm bath
Watching the sun rise
Watching the sun set.
Soddenly crawling into bed after fulfilling, challenging work, to relax into a deep velvety sleep
Bathing in Full Moon light.
The feel of writing with the perfect pen
Waking slowly from a sweet dream, a smile on your lips, as you gently bring that sweetness into your waking day
Gently soaking knitted lace, spreading it out, and seeing the patterns and swirls emerge clearly for the first time
The first flowers pushing their way through the winter snows
Working diligently at a piece of art, stepping back, and realizing it is so much more than you thought as you were working so carefully up close
The way a perfect sunset takes your breath away.
Music so beautiful you gently cry
The first ripe tomato in the garden
What feelings make you stop, forget the past and the future, feelings that make you exist only now?
What is precious to you?
What moments in your life changed you forever?
What mistakes have you made that were actually happy accidents that revealed things to you you can’t now imagine your life not containing?
What is your favorite flower? Color? Bird call? Food? Animal? Person? Time of day?
What do you turn to for comfort when the world feels too big, too hard, too much?
How do you celebrate when things flow well?
How do you know when it’s time to be done? When it’s time to step back, to look at the whole, and to contemplate final touches? How do we know when, and how to let go?
Look at your piece. Close your eyes. Breathe deep and think of puppies, waterfalls, and candle flames.
Open your eyes again. If you were only to make one more mark upon the page, what would it be?
Perhaps things need to sit sometimes. Perhaps the time isn’t now. Perhaps your work isn’t complete, and there isn’t anything you can do about that right now. Are you able to let things be, trusting that when the time is right, you’ll know, you’ll return, and both you and the piece will be ready?
It’s time to set our tools down for now. We are not static. We need to rest, to nourish, to eliminate, to dream. Our art flows like waves in the ocean, with tides and swells and spray.
Feel yourself. Be curious, but not judgemental. Feel your breath, and the points of your body that are supporting your weight. Feel the spots of tension you’re holding. Go ahead and roll your shoulders. Feel the frustrations, and the satisfactions, and the confusions, and the surprises… and breathe.
Feel your chest rising and falling with your breath. Wiggle your fingers and toes, your legs and your arms, give yourself a hug, run your fingers through your hair, take a deep breath, and take a minute to just be in your body.
Thank you so much, and I wish you a beautiful season.
Art by Kimé Moore, used with permission
— To see more of Kimé’s art, visit her page, SwedishWillow Arts, on Instagram or Facebook.
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Lead by example. Not all activism is marching. If your friends and family ask about your new habits, you have some experience now. Tell them about your experiences, reference the materials you’ve used, or you can direct them to this blog post to get started themselves.
Learn to cook, sew, knit, spin, make soap, make detergent, make candles, keep bees, can food, make cheese
Slow cookers and pressure cookers simplify a lot of home cooking and
Photo by Tabatha Alcina, used under a Creative Commons license
allow you to make your own “convenience food.”
Keep your meat bones and use them to make broth. You can keep them in the freezer until you’re ready to make broth. Also consider keeping onion skins, carrot tops, and other food waste that can add complexity and nutrition to your broth
Keep in mind that in any area where you know how to make your own, you’re a more informed consumer
Split the work up and share your responsibility with your housemates or family
Create reminders for yourself so you can keep up on periodic tasks: google calendar alerts, sticky notes…
Organize your house to make it easy to do all these things: keep baskets of rags in your kitchen and a couple of recycling buckets handy so you can sort as you go. Hanging them vertically on the wall with hooks can be super handy.
What sorts of energy do you use? Electricity can often be traced back to fossil fuels, but if you look into solar or wind options for your home, you can reduce some of that. You can also specify with many electric companies that your energy come from renewable sources.
You can rent solar panels for your yard. They don’t have to be on your roof, but if you have a southern facing roof, go ahead and research options for that.
Consider elbow grease, or being more steampunk: electricity is not the only kind of energy out there. When cleaning using natural cleaning products, you often have to use a
A home energy meter. Photo by Digitpedia.com; used under a Creative Commons License
little more elbow grease. Consider it exercise!
If you have a woodstove, check to see how efficient it is. Sometimes, incentives are offered for upgrading to a more efficient stove. Efficient wood stoves and pellet stoves can be a great way to heat your home without using fossil fuels (remember to keep your chimney clean to avoid chimney fires). Fans are also available to circulate hot air that run on the heat power coming from your stove already.
How much energy do you use? Consider converting to an “on demand” water heating system, so that you’re only using energy to heat water when you need it, and not to keeping a full tank of water warm when you don’t need to
How hot/cold do you need to keep your house? Slippers, robes, and sweaters are cozy in the winter, allowing you to keep your home a little cooler, and a fan can help you stay comfortable with warmer temperatures in the summer.
Programmable thermostats are available if you have a thermostat in your home. Bringing the temperature down 6 degrees at night can save a lot of energy. Much more than that doesn’t save as much energy as those first 6 degrees. If you’re away at school/work during the day, consider keeping the temperature low during those hours as well. Set the thermostat to warm up a half hour before you typically get home so that it is comfortable when you arrive. The best part about this option is that you can “set it and forget it.” It is a seamless drop in the bucket that takes a minimum of effort.
Dryers are a huge energy consumer. They also slowly degrade your clothing, meaning you need to purchase new clothing sooner, which is also wasteful. Hanging your laundry inside/outside is much more efficient, and adds humidity to dry winter air inside your house. I use a retractable 5-line in the house.
When replacing your light bulbs, consider CFL, or LED bulbs. Be aware that CFL bulbs contain mercury. Recycle them properly.
Turn off lights when you’re not using them. Consider lower lighting in your home unless you’re reading or doing detailed projects. Consider burning a beeswax candle at night instead of using a lamp, and reconnecting to the cycles of light and dark through the year.
Power strips will draw energy even when there is nothing plugged into them. They often come with switches; turn off your power strips when you’re not using them.
Most chargers (phone, tablet, kindle, laptop) also draw energy even when your items are not plugged into them. Despite it being only a “trickle” of energy, it adds up, home to home. Unplug them when you’re not using them.
Turn off the heated dry cycle on your dishwasher. Open the door at the end of the cycle and let them air dry
Wash your laundry on a cold/cold cycle unless hot water is necessary to get them clean. Towels and diapers benefit from a hot cycle, but otherwise, laundry gets clean on a cold/cold cycle
Many electric companies will do an energy audit for your house to help you learn where you could be more efficient.
Step 9: Look into Environmentally Friendly Products
Be aware that being “eco friendly” is now a fad, and a marketing scheme. Don’t be sucked in.
Many times, you can make your own cleaning products. Baking soda, washing soda, borax, water, and vinegar are great natural solvents. (But be careful when mixing baking soda and vinegar, unless you’re doing a science fair project!). Here’s one resource; there are many
Photo by Arria Belli, used under a Creative Commons License
Inside: put containers (pots, window boxes) in your southern facing windows. Herbs and small things like carrots and bush beans work well.
Your local garden center can help you learn how to care for your plants. Consider your soil and make sure it has enough drainage.
Outside you have a lot of options. You can make your garden as complicated or simple as
Photo by Irene Kightley, used under a Creative Commons License
you’d like. Start small, add to it each year, educate yourself, read lots of books and ask for help.
You can have your soil tested for contaminants cheaply, usually through your local university extension center. In Massachusetts, UMass does this.
Container gardens can be a great option for those in condos or apartments. These can be in or outside, and depending on the size of your container, can be as simple or complex as you’d like.
Rooftop gardens are quickly catching on in the city. Community gardens are also popular.
Start with easy to grow items: beans, tomatoes, carrots, garlic, and squash like zucchini and butternut.
Plant bee- and butterfly-friendly plants like milkweed, bee balm, black-eyed susans and sunflowers to keep your local bee populations fed and healthy
Buyer beware: pesticides are sometimes present in plants you can buy. Last year I was dismayed to learn that there were plants for purchase at a large popular store that kill bees when they visit them. Visit a local garden center where you can talk to an expert and get ideas. It might be a little more expensive in the moment, but well worth it in the long run.