A Sweet and Potent Joy

In this week of global pain and sorrow, with shootings in Paris and bombings in Beirut and around the world, I’ve found refuge not in the forest but in my work. Mostly that’s because I have no choice – an extra heavy workload just arrived and needed to get done, and I found solace in it.  For years the only thing that could heal my spirit was the forest, but this past two weeks has been deer hunting season here in the Hills and I’ve felt compelled to stay indoors more than usual. I suppose you could say, if I have to have an almost unmanageable pile of work, this is the best time of year for it. I don’t really feel safe anyway, in the woods, even with all the neon orange I an find on both me and the dogs. Not all hunters are crazy, but some are, and that minority will shoot at anything that moves. So, I got another humungus article done for Plant Healer magazine, I took on an urgent case on top of an already fully booked week, I coped with the shopping/cleaning/cooking etc that all falls on me, while Alex is away.  I even managed to get through my latest learning adventure, an online Nutrition Intensive with the great Thomas Easley (of the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine). I’m tired – really bonedeep tired – but I’m doing ok.

Then, the attack in Paris. I have a dear friend in Paris, and the first thought for me was, oh God, Marc and family!! They are safe, but the world is shaken by the depths of evil that masterminded this slaughter of innocents. I put up a French flag in support, and offered my prayers, only to see FB connections slam those of us who posted in support of France, when so many other atrocities  have taken place recently. ..and again, I found myself castigated for praying, as though” religion” was the very thing that caused this situation, not human evil using religion as its vessel. It’s been a tiring week, between my own small struggles and the world at large. I feel as though I can’t take refuge anywhere – well, this past two weeks, I couldn’t, anyway. Once the dust settles in this impossible-to-maintain Old House, I’ll get back in balance, but I’ve felt the weight of the world on me even at the same time I keep reminding myself, how good I really have it. A paradox, but one to  keep in mind and heart together.

So. No forest access, way too much work, heart-wrenching world crises exacerbated by bickering in the Internet.  Night before last, just before dusk (which is, horribly, about 4:30 right now) I was carrying some leftovers out to the field for ravens, head down, watching the path in front of me,  probably muttering away to myself as I went. I headed out the back door and up the path towards the large open back field where this time last year, I fed deer every day, watched them cavort by moonlight, fell in love with the White-tail in such a big way I was ordering books, reading their stories, learning their ways and of course, naming them all.

Here are a few of them, November 2014.

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Sorry about the weird colouring – the one on the left is Goat-doe, and her two fawns Salix and Tilia.

This is another shot, better one, a couple weeks later:P1330470

 

Left to right, that’s Stripey-doe, Goat-doe, Tulsi, Salix and Clarissa.

I love these creatures with an intensity I don’t have the words to describe. They are magical, each one with a unique personality, spirit and presence. I run with them in my dreams, I sing to them in the depth of winter, I keep the link from their wild hearts to mine, strong and alive.
And this autumn just past, they were conspicuously missing, all of them. I would see one doe far up the hill, with her fawn; one magical morning I stepped out of my shower to see another doe with two smaller fawns, foraging in the mist as the sun rose behind my house. I wasn’t sure who it was, maybe Clarissa. But the herd, who slept under my cedars, ate all the herbs and pooped all over the garden, who stamped their feet for bread and apples every twilight – nowhere to be seen this year.
I have missed them, but I understand nature. They died over the winter, were shot by hunters, or taken down by wolves. I get that. I try to keep my heart safe and realistic.
But I missed them – and just a few days ago I was thinking, as I watched the furtive doe on the hill, how sad it was that I would probably never see them again, especially Goat-doe. The unmistakable, broad of head, direct of stare, feisty, and very curious Goat- doe. Of all these deer, the one that held my heart most tightly.  The one I felt most bonded to, most affinity for.. and never to see her again! That is nature – but it’s also hard. I  spent a moment by the rowans, feeling that loss with all of my heart.
And then.  Two nights ago – preoccupied,  marching out the backyard path to the fields, staring at the ground and lost in racing thoughts I suddenly stopped and looked up. And there, not ten feet away from me – standing with that cool and inquisitive stare, there she was. Goat-doe, and her baby, as yet unnamed, last day of hunting season, alive. ALIVE! Standing right in the spot she used to stand, last fall, waiting my arrival. I stood and wept and greeted her, over and over, gratitude spilling out of me like a giddy child. She stared back,  unflinching despite the display and then, after a few moments of this, stamped her foot as if to say – “Ok, I’m back, Where’s the bread,  anyway?”
So now, hunting season is past and we are headed into a mild winter, and she and her baby are fine. As the world outside of this little corner of mine explodes with pain and rage and suffering, I am delighted and comforted by the presence of a doe. My heart SINGS to see them (they are out there feeding now) and when I am weakened, faltering, defeated – they help me stay strong. The “beauty of the green earth, and white moon amongst the stars” shines in them and through them, and I am pulled back from my present-day fear into the child I once was, beyond excitement at the chance to see a wallaby at my  father’s college…or stop and rescue a stray turtle from the road.
No small thing, these beautiful meetings, this  twilight rendezvous, this  sweet and potent – untainted  -joy.

I will take every moment I can get.

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Choosing the Beauty is not repression

So, anyone following my FB timeline knows I am obsessed with deer, and learning somewhat more about them as I feed the locals  a little, hoping to both fatten them up for the coming winter, and also luring them close so they stand a better chance of not being shot. Most of the deer I have here are does, and all but one have fawns, one doe has twins. I love these animals with a depth that words fail to describe; I’m not enough of a poet to avoid sentimentality when I write, but fortunately many others are. Lately I’m reading Richard Nelson’s moving and also challenging classic “Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America”…and he is able to capture so much of what I feel. I hope to read much more on deer and learn by direct experience, but right now, I am just chewing on this book, reading a passage or two,a few pages at a time, and using those words as guidance, insight, even lectio divina; for a nature  spirit such as myself, it’s often holy writ to me, poetry like Mary Oliver and Gary Snyder, writers like Annie Dillard and Linda Hogan, speak to my heart so powerfully. But last night, just before I slept, I happened on a few pages describing the severe suffering of deer in winter – some of it caused by humans, as in the doe who became entangled in barbed wire fence and hung there, literally helpless, till she died; much more however was nature at work, and the suffering is extreme. It was horrible for Nelson to come upon carcass after carcass, fawns frozen into the lake, barely alive young ones curled desperately against the frozen bodies of adults. It broke his heart to see, and it broke mine to read.  We err whenever we see nature as all benevolent and perfect; tempting as it is to do so, if we truly wish to know Her, we need to know both faces, the light and the dark, the beauty and the anguish.
I slept uneasily, thinking of what lies ahead for my small herd of sweetness.

 

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And I woke up thinking, it’s not a good thing to dwell on the sorrow, either. Choosing the Beauty is not repressive if it is informed by a knowledge of the fuller picture.

So today I will focus on what I love about deer, starting with their beauty.

“Slowly . . . slowly, I lift my binoculars, and she fills up the field of view. Her coat is light reddish tan. I can pick out every long, coarse summer hair on her flank and the remnants of winter fur that haven’t shaken free. I can see the rise and fall of her ribs, the thin white fur and ripe bulge of her belly, the graceful arch of her neck, the angular shape of her hindquarters, the sculpted muscle and sinew of her legs. I can see the shaggy, white fringe of her tail, and the sooty fur on its tip for which the black-tailed deer is named. I can see the pale white markings beneath her chin, the gray fur and translucent skin of her enormous funnel-ears. And when she turns I can see her slender, elongated face, the conspicuous dark patch on her forehead, the twitching of her muzzle, the brightness of her great, shining eyes.

She leans down to graze, nuzzling back and forth amid the starbursts of yellow daisies, the violet blush of laurel, the snowy clusters of bog orchids, the leathery green of Labrador tea, the delicate dancing blades of grass. So exquisite is she–like a rose petal on a sheet of jade–that it takes a supreme act of self-control to keep myself from jumping up and shouting aloud.”
Richard Nelson, Heart and Blood

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And this is true for me as well. No matter how many times I look out the back windows and see one there, often staring hopefully toward the carport door from which I emerge bearing fruit and pellets – no matter how often, I am thrilled in my soul, with a sense of joy and privilege, humility and happiness. It is this love that sustains me when I face the difficult task of learning more and going deeper into the reality of life in the natural world. It is not repression to focus on the Beauty, it’s a tool for rescuing oneself from an abyss of pain. It’s an act of hope, perhaps even radical hope. And so I trundle out in the frosty dawn to toss apples and scatter a little feed, humming to them, reaching to them but not holding on at all. It’s this hope that carries me along and makes me better, whether it is crazy or not. The grace and beauty of the wild is ours to witness and cherish, ours to immerse in as we can, in tiny bites or full commitment, but not ours to own or exploit.  And it’s the harshness of the wild that reinforces gratitude for the technology we have that keeps us warm and offers relief from suffering, reminds us that all is in fact not terrible with “civilized” life. As always, it’s about the balance.

Touch them lightly, for their wildness is who they are. And once tamed, they cannot be untamed. Leave them with their pure nature intact. That is what I tell myself every day. Be grateful for how they have touched your heart, and be respectful of who they truly are.
They are Wildness incarnate.

They are Beauty…and this world needs as much of that as it can get.

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Samhain Eve – and the Morning After

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Today is November 1, the feast of All Hallow’s,  or Samhain in the Irish Gaelic tongue –  the version most popular in modern culture,  via Wicca and neo-Paganism. There are several linguistic variants — Scottish, Welsh, Manx, Breton — but they all mean roughly the same thing — “Summer’s end”. And boy, this bone-chilling morning, there can be little doubt of that. After the balmy, alternately damp and sunny weather of most of October, November is here with a venegeance. The Crone spreads her dusky shawl across the skies…the last of the leaves scatter and fall, leaving a landscape both haunted and forbidding. I went to bed last evening after some annual traditions (leaving food out for the ancestors, meditation on what needs to be cleared away in my life, a bit of chocolate) and woke up to a much more serious energy all around. The Crone has arrived, there is deep chill in the air, and in case we weren’t getting the message – there is snow.

Light and wet snow, albeit, but still. This morning was different, on several levels it was. As Mara Freeman puts it “At the end of October, the doorway to the dark half of the Celtic year swings open”. I went to bed after a day spent walking in the forest,  sipping hot chocolate outside watching birds, and leaving the windows open –  and awoke to the beginning of Winter.

The ancestors were clearly pleased with my offering; I was a bit horrified to realize, come suppertime, that I had no baked goods, had no energy to start on a cornbread, and my offering plate would be just what I had to hand, and a little eccentric at that. But it seemed to have, for the most part, been well -received; everything but the sliced orange was gone in the morning! That’s Balderson’s extra old cheddar, some candied ginger, a bar of excellent dark chocolate, some raw organic almonds, and my very favorite strawberry yogurt. I photographed before and after, but the Vista gods won’t let me share today. C’est la vie, as long as the food was a hit. I spent some time before sleeping, in deep evaluation of things I need to clear from my life, aspects of my patterns that no longer serve me well, and  of course, in communion with my loved ones who have passed from this world, most especially my brother and my aunt.

A peaceful Samhain eve here at the Ark. And I have the weekend cleared for more.Delint2

 

 

But of course, there is more, not the more I wished for, either. November 1 marks the beginning of firearm season for deer hunters in this area. And this for me is a deep and complex time, of attachment to the deer I have come to know, fear for their safety, and a struggle to understand that while many hunters are looking for trophies or just enjoy killing, others honour their prey and hunt ethically and with respect, making sure not to maim deer and also using the whole animal. I fear that these latter types are the minority.. but I can respect their ideology, if not comprehend how they can look at these visions of loveliness and pull the trigger. Life feeds on life, I repeat; a good hunter takes a life much more quickly than a pack of wolves will. I get that. However… I fear for the twin fawns who come here all the time, they will not survive winter if their mother is killed. I fear, horribly, for any of these sweet beings to be injured but not killed, to escape in suffering and die a protracted death, as often happens.
This morning, for the first time yet, no deer in the back, on the hill, across the road – no deer(.Just checked again -it is after lunch and guess what – no deer). It is most certainly, today, “as if they know”. And why would we ever doub that they do?

Today; an oversized  truck parked by the entrance to one pathway that goes deep into the forest. Ontario plates. We know what that’s about. They are in peril, all of them – Clarissa and the twins; Saoirse and Sassy, Aine by herself, alone and brave, the new girl I call Stripey, with the feistiest (male) fawn, who stomps and snorts and cavorts at the sight of me. All my sweetlings. No matter how sentimental it sounds, they are.

And the back field lies empty and strange, despite the flurry of blue jays and nuthatches and black caps and the endless carry-on of raven and crow.
I walk to the feeders, to the herb garden, to the Faerie corner,making unnecessary compost visits,  pacing, fretting, trying  to let go, praying not to hear the guns.

The vigil begins….as the summer ends.

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And so today; divination for the year ahead…baking…and incense making, so I can consecrate it on this sacred day. Rest. Animal time. Reading. Today has been a Holy day for me for close to 30 years, and I need the magic.
But the countdown is on, and I will be praying every morning and night, for my lovely, lovely deer to make to through this fortnight ahead; alive, together, and unharmed.
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First Encounter – Saoirse

This morning I am sitting here with the usual block about how to start writing, only this time it’s extra hard, because I have been wanting to write about Saoirse for months, since I met her in May, actually, right around Beltane; and of course I didn’t; I’m too tired, just bone-weary/worn-out and pun-intended, dog tired, and all the time. Some of that is my own doing, but its still true. I want to excel at everything and I insist on rescuing animals, growing my own herbs and making plant medicines, running Facebook groups and more. I know I need to focus, because this blog and writing about animals, Druidry, nature and the spiritual importance of making your own catfood are all really important to me. I am sitting here (well, since about 4 am actually) fidgeting, looking at Facebook, watching youtube clips about peak oil and goat nutrition (not on the same clip) checking my forums, answering emails and generally not writing about Saoirse.

Mostly because, there’s so much, it’s been so long, and I feel pretty sure by now, anything I say will be…stale,  uninspired, woefully inadequate to the task. Well, nevermind, I’m going to try anyway. The nice thing about a blog – especially a blog that nobody reads save for my circle of friends – is if I fail to convey the thing this morning, there’s always tomorrow. I can try again.

So, basically, anyone who reads my Facebook timeline knows I have become obsessed, disconcerted, completely smitten  with a white tail doe I call Saoirse. She’s been central to my thoughts, daily routines and spiritual life for several months, but most powerfully so (and how like a human is this) since I realized she was in rather a lot of danger. And, unlike the sometimes crazed heroics I and my friends will go to over a domestic animal we love, with this wild creature who appears only dawn and dusk, only in the distance, and often only for a few moments, there is nothing at all I can do, well not in the same tangible sense. I may truck some corn in for her over the winter; I’m raising a bit of awareness on FB. I pray – well, I always pray, but I think I do a better job when it’s not “prayers for the deer nation” but prayers for this one sweet, vulnerable individual…you know, the one with the name and a story to tell, too.

Saoirse.

First of all, I don’t actually have a really good picture of her to share, not yet, and maybe not ever. I have only an old digital camera; I have almost no idea how to use it, and (sniff) no one to show me; I once hoped to do a little photography, to try and capture some of the soul of animals so those who can’t seem to see it, might get a glimpse; at this point in life I doubt I am going to learn anytime soon. Nevermind; maybe it’s somehow fitting that you, reader, get only glimpses of her, as I do . We all know what white tails look like; Saoirse is fairly unremarkable, if that word can ever be applied to anything as exquisite and magical as a white tailed deer; what I’m saying is, if you’ve seen a white tail you have some idea what she looks like. Maybe the specific marks that identify her to me, are best left mysterious. What I can say, is that she first appeared right about beltane of this year, and she looked to be a yearling at that time. She could well be older, I am no expert, but the fresh innocence about her seemed to point to youth.
Maybe it was the time of year, I mean everything feels  fresh and new around May 1st, in the Gatineau Hills.
Here are the pics I got, when I first encountered Saoirse.
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As you can see, they’re blurry as Hell – the top one, is a sunset moment across the street from my house, where Indian Creek winds around northwards, lined with white willow and hawthorn, and where I rarely, rarely see white tails in the springtime. I was out there one evening last May, and there was Saoirse, much closer to the house than these pictures show, because when she was standing basically right across the road, I didn’t have a camera to hand. By the time I got one, and got back out there, she had started off, but slowly;I had that unmistakable sense of numinosity one gets when close attention is required, when you absolutely need to pay attention. So, I followed this slow moving, wide eyed faerie creature, as she moved step by delicate step up the sloping hill, around the densest patch of willow, stopping every few feet to look over her shoulder at me, as if to say “Are you with me? Are you still there? Good – now pay attention”.
I hate to admit it, but I think the fiddling with my camera blocked some of the experience, some of what I was intended to “get” that day.
That said; I have been reminded all usmmer and fall, so  assuredly, the deer have my full attention now, and especially Saoirse.
After I snapped the last picture, where she is basically twisting her head over her shoulder to stare back at me, she suddenly bounded off, over the meadows towards the line of forest to the west. I was thrilled by the encounter; saddened the pictures were not clearer.Feeling pleased with myself, I more or less put the thoughts away, as I have to, when I return to my day job and my animals and all the focus of daily life.

Until, the following evening, there she was again.

and the day after that, too. I think she was outside the front of the house 5 times in total at sunset, until I began to get worried about her crossing the fence and into  the road. It’s hardly what you’d call busy here, but when trucks do come by they come quickly, and from a blind spot too, from the north. After that, she didn’t come back to the western landscape.
But by then I had already named her.

Saoirse, pronounced like SER-cha – means Freedom.

And I’d know her, now  anywhere and anytime she turned up. There was to be a good, if  also tragic, summer ahead.tumblr_lz3zb53qf61qargfho1_500