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Happy Feast of Brigid

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Or Groundhog Day, or Candlemas, as you prefer.  The sun has made a good strong start on its trip north (yes, I know it is really the earth’s axis that makes the difference, but we all know what it feels like.)  At this cross quarter day we complete the darkest quarter of the year in the northern hemisphere.  The sun doesn’t know it is still winter. P1000705

Pansies in their pot have been holding on through some quite cold mornings.  I hope they survive what is still to come and begin to fill out soon.

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Getting to work in the front courtyard, my would-be herb garden, I had a nice surprise.  For the first time ever I have a field of little parsley plants.  This is the result of not being prompt at cutting down the seed heads, but it also required a certain mix of moisture over which I had no control.  I hope these too survive any cold spells still to come.  Surely there won’t be many more, but the worst freeze we’ve had in our years here came at the beginning of February one year.

On cold days it’s nice to light a candle in honor of Brigid, patroness of fire, among other things.

 

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Happy Feast of Brighid

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I thought of calling this post “Stupid Groundhog” but why be so negative?  That “Will there be six more weeks of winter?” question was meaningless back in Pennsylvania, where I knew I couldn’t get out in the garden until late March – and then only on good days.  It is equally meaningless here in the desert southwest where this is the beginning of spring.  But I suppose there must be some place where the question is worth asking.

I’ve celebrated the Feast of Brighid instead for several years now.  She is a Celtic goddess who is also a patron saint of poetry and smithcraft,  I use this date as a moment to consider what I’ve accomplished since the solstice, and ask whether there’s anything I’d like to do differently in the approximately six weeks until the spring equinox, that official start of spring.  Working for myself, I don’t have any deadlines to speak of, so a check-up point seems like a good idea.  But, since an artist never really knows where she’s going, it is all approximate.

One thing I do know.  This is the date when I realize that once again I am behind on the garden work.  So many plants should be cut back in January, I never get to them all.

Close up of rosemary branches that need to be cut back.

Close up of rosemary branches that need to be cut back.

The Wheel of the Year Keeps Turning

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Halloween. Why does this holiday get so much attention?  Are so many adults unable to give up the childhood game of dressing up?  Are we all afraid of the dark?

I understand the Day of the Dead, honoring ancestors, and sensing a closeness to the “other world” a little better. But zombies, big parties, and extensive ugly decorations?  It’s not where I want to spend my money.  Some extra candy for children is enough.

Night Scene from Last Winter

Night Scene from Last Winter

There is a lot of dark out there, particularly Ebola and ISIS. The demand to close our borders on both these counts is a case of fear taking over sense, because neither illness nor terrorists can be kept out by limiting flights.  If we knew where and when the enemy would enter, there might be some sense to it.  (“If the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, , ,he would not have let his house be broken into,”  Matthew writes.  Now, as then, there is a limit to what defenses and walls can do.)

In a personal context, going into the dark at this time of year makes sense to me. I suspect that part of the success of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is that this moment in the year is a great time to find an excuse to stay indoors, and even to spend time in an imaginary world.  Holiday festivities and then lengthening days will draw us out again.

November is a time for burrowing. I hope to spend some extra time at my desk this month.

Feast of Bridget

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It’s another marking point in the eight-part year, half way from the winter solstice to the spring equinox, variously known at Imbolc, the feast of Bridget, a fire goddess, and Groundhog day.  I prefer Bridget, because she is said to be the patron of blacksmiths and poets, a fiery combination if there ever was one.

In Pennsylvania they make a big thing of the groundhog.  But shadow or no shadow, we knew there would be six more weeks of winter.  The traditional day to plant spinach where I lived was March 17.  We liked to pretend that spring began in early March with the big flower show, but that only happened indoors.

Here in the desert, this is the beginning of spring.  I’m behind in the garden already, because there are still two plants, one tall grass and a chamisa, which need serious cutting back before they begin to put out green again.  I intended to cut them back in January, but I only got half way around the yard.

One of the treats of this point in the year is that the sun rises between the time I get up and the time I settle in to work at my desk.  This means that I get to enjoy some grand light shows.P1000030

This one came on January 31, as if to celebrate the Chinese New Year.  It is an added pleasure to have a new camera with which to –approximately–capture the moment.P1000031

Half Way to Fall

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It’s another cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the summer solstice and the fall equinox.  About this time I begin to notice the days are getting shorter, and there’s some logic to this, because of the sine wave nature of the changing sun patterns.  This means the changes are faster in the middle than at the peak and nadir of longest and shortest day.

This is the day commonly called Lammas.  it is the early harvest.  If you think it is too early to be harvesting grain, think corn.  We have been enjoying corn on the cob for a few weeks now.

Any harvest time is a thanksgiving time.  When we receive the bounty of the earth, we should give thanks, one way or another.  Here in the southwest we give thanks for the rain, which has come sooner and in greater abundance than for several years past.  Not enough to cancel the drought of course, but a pleasure all the same.  The plants too are showing their gratitude (to speak anthropomorphically) by putting out their flowers.  Here are two making a show in my yard this week.

Desert Globemallow

Desert Globemallow

 

 

 

The desert globemallow is a third generation plant from one I transplanted from the arroyo beyond our housing development.  The purple mat came with the house; it is hard to photograph because of its small size.  It takes many of the little purple flowers to make an impact.

Purple Mat

Purple Mat

May Day Reflection

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Another cross-quarter day.  Are we really only half way through Spring?  Here is Southern New Mexico it doesn’t feel like it.  The extreme drought doesn’t help.

When we moved into our house it had orange stone in the front yard, apparently a recent decision to give up on grass.  Evidence suggests that when the houses on our street were built, in the 1980s, front yard grass was the norm.  One by one the yards have been converted to stone and xeriscaping.

We didn’t want to invest in replacing the sprinklers with a new watering system for native plants, so we invested in sculpture instead.

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We now have a resident roadrunner, a small yucca, and an ocotillo.

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We are saving water, even over nature’s version of the same plants.  But there are a few weeks each year when the real ocotillos make our metal one want to hide its head in shame.

My Neighbor's Ocotillo

My Neighbor’s Ocotillo

Not Just the Groundhog

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There’s more to say about Thomas Paine, but today is another cross-quarter day, the midpoint between the winter solstice and the spring equinox.  It’s an appropriate time to pause and appreciate the cycle of the year which shapes our lives, whether we admit it or not.

The Wheel of the Year

The Wheel of the Year

February 2 did not always belong to the groundhog.  In Christian tradition this is candlemas.  The name comes from the blessing of candles.  The day also marks the 40th day after Christmas, which was a day for purification of the mother after giving birth in Jewish tradition.

The association of this day with light goes back before Christianity.  And with light goes fire.  The tradition I like best associates this day with Brigid, either a saint or a goddess depending on your beliefs, who is the patroness of poets and blacksmiths.

Why this combination of poets and blacksmiths?  I think it is because they both deal with fire, although one is literal and the other metaphorical.  They both are makers, crafters, one in matter and one in language.  I don’t recall where I learned of Brigid and her support of this particular pair.  Other sources assign additional causes to her, but I prefer to stick with these two.

I learned of Brigid in Pennsylvania, not too far from the site of Punxatawny Phil, that obnoxious groundhog who gets most of the attention on Groundhog Day.  In that part of the country it is a given that there will be six more weeks of winter whether he sees his shadow or not.  In contrast to his big show (I wonder how many groundhogs have played the role) I light a candle and celebrate the returning light, the lengthening days, and the fact that this old earth has still not been thrown off its axis by the follies of human beings.