August 1: Harvesting Elderberry
It’s an overcast, humid day, and the sky is threatening rain. Likewise, my body feels heavy and slow, as though I’m moving through an ocean of honey. On days like this, I give myself full permission to move at whatever pace I can muster, allowing for spaciousness to relax, read, nap, or simply be. But no matter the day, no matter the heat or weight of thought, I go to where my soul calls, to where my heart opens wide, my mind is set free, and my body feels at home. I go to where the birds sing and weave through the branches, I go to where the whisper of the trees are heard, and where my feet taste the sweetness of humus and pine.
Today, I’m heading to the edge of the woods, along the eastern border of the pond where I’ll be harvesting elderberries with Hope. With a bag and basket in hand, we make our way through the woods marking trees as we go since we are simultaneously looking out for a cluster of mushrooms she came upon the other day. We move slowly and deliberately, taking care to watch where we are stepping. We pause often to orient ourselves, to see who is with us or watching, and to observe the particularities of this place. Pausing, we appreciate.
After wandering through the woods for about 20 minutes we finally reach the inconspicuous elderberry tree who is hiding among more pronounced sweet gum saplings and eastern red cedars. Her berries are deep purple, almost like eggplant, and they are shining as though reaching and asking to be enjoyed! Many of her berries have already been gobbled up by the goldfinches, robins, and eastern bluebirds, among others.
In folk medicine today, Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, nigra, is considered one of the world’s most healing plants. Elderberries are chock full of vitamin C and anthocyanins, which are antioxidant. Both of these are great for supporting good health every day. They are said to help tame inflammation, lessen stress, and protect your heart, too. Bear in mind that the seeds, bark, leaves, flowers, and fruit of the elder are poisonous so special care must be taken when preparing.
To make a strong elderberry tea, the dried berries need to be gently simmered rather than steeped like most tea. To do so, add 1 Tbsp. of dried berries to 2 cups of water. Gently simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, in a small covered pot; then strain and drink. Elderberry tea can be simmered like this on its own, but also mixes well with other herbs such as rosehips, cinnamon and/or ginger for a delicious beverage.
According to Herbalist and Ethnobotanist, Steph Zabel, there is much folklore surrounding this treelike-shrub and was commonly called the Elder Mother in Europe. She says that:
The spirit of the elder was thought to be the queen of the underworld and has always been associated with fairies and the hidden realm. Elder branches were once commonly hung over doorways to protect a house from evil. The Celts made flutes from hollowed-out elder stems to communicate with the dead, and it was used by many cultures as magic wands, whistles and pipes. (Interestingly, the genus name Sambucus refers to an ancient type of musical instrument.)
August 3: Children of the Night
One of my favorite times to go wandering outside is right before dusk as the sun is setting. It's a threshold moment in the span of the day, as light transitions into darkness and the land and waters become still again. Jovial, diurnal expressions of life turn into hushed whispers of reverence as nocturnal creatures of the night come out from hiding. When most tend to head indoors for the night, I like to go out.
It's a moment in the day where I feel like I am being given the opportunity to align to this energetic shift within my own being which feels necessary for creating balance in my nervous system. My outward focus on the day naturally begins to turn inward as I walk more slowly, paying closer attention to where I place my feet, and being careful not to disturb the sacred silence that begins to engulf me. Of course, the sound or quality of silence changes over the course of the seasons. The quiet of night in August is full and rhythmic compared to the deep, cold silence of winter. Both are magical.
On this night, I am with Michelle and our friend Lara (who lives here at Common Ground). We quietly make our way to the large open field by way of the Fern Forest trail. We come to an area at the edge of the woods and are enthralled by a cauldron of bats circling, diving and whizzing above our heads. Their agility and speed is astounding, and so we lie down in the grass to witness the mini acrobatic air show! With their forelimbs adapted as wings, they are the only mammals capable of true and sustained flight and are actually more maneuverable than birds.
If you've never done something like this before, I encourage you to try it!! By lying in the grass and merging with the landscape, the bats flew very very low to the ground and right above our faces! We shared our delight with hushed giggles and wide-eyed wonder which seemed to titillate the bats even more. We received this experience as an intimate gift from the land and a blessing from the goddess of night.
August 11: Coming Home to Her Waters
I carry within me many homes from all the lands of earth that have and do shape me, call to me and remind me. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve touched the lands from which I took my first breath: Michigan. Freshwater, lake affect winters, musty lake smells, and rocky beaches are all place-based qualities of my childhood.
I grew up on a gravel road along black river next to a horse farm about 20minutes from Lake Huron. Season after season, Lake Huron became my soul sanctuary, the place I could reflect, be heard, share my heart and remember the beauty and love in life. She reminded me of my inner truth and of who I am when I felt separated, alone and sad. I would go to her to rest, to clear, to cry, to connect and she always held me. Sun rise after sun rise, she witnessed my changes, challenges, and chapters.
When I was 25, I was in a major life transition and I knew that I would be leaving Her and these lands for awhile. I wasn’t sure when or if I’d ever return as an intimate resident again, but I knew that I would miss Her. On my last day I woke up really early to watch Her reflect and sweep the sunrise against Her expansive body. I needed a moment with Her to say goodbye. I sat with Her for hours, cried, shared my fears and hopes, asked for courage, and whispered to Her the prayers within my heart. She listened to me, held me and touched my tears like she always had. I told Her it would be awhile before I could visit Her again but that when I return she’d be the first I would see.
This August, Jess and I finally were able to return to Michigan. It would be the first time I’d see Her in Her summer glow after about 5 years. I couldn’t wait to touch Her and feel Her body against mine. When we arrived, I went to Her, walked into Her embrace and then plunged into Her heart. She felt just as I remembered: fresh, invigorating, and yet warm and soothing. She had that clear summer green with hues of deep blue and a sun ray sparkle. I stood with Her, feeling Her waves rock me back and forth for awhile as I connected to all the moments with Her and this place.
Touching Her is touching into me. She carries the memory of my first experiences of being human, of being alive in this body and with all the waves of sensation. She will always be one of my soul sanctuaries; a place that reminds me of home within. Sacred places are touchstones of remembrance that call us back to our deepest selves. Lake Huron is that place for me. I thanked Her for all the years she held me, and then whispered to Her that I would return again.
August 17: Mobbing
It was about 8am and the morning air was already warm from the August summer heat. I had just turned the corner from the field trail onto Fern Forest trail. As soon as I stepped onto the pine needle path edged and sloped with ferns all along, I noticed a significant change in the temperature. The field felt like it was pulsating with heat and wetness. There was a blanket of mist hovering over the tall grasses and as I ran, I could feel the water seeping into my shoes and grass seed spreading with each stride.
The forest felt cooler and quiet. As I ran, I passed by two moss mounds when I heard a murder of crows calling out to each other in their raspy signature call of “caw, caw, caw”. Shortly after I heard the screeching call of a red tailed hawk. When I heard the interplay between the calls of the crows and hawks, I knew that they were at it again. They were in a dispute known as mobbing. The calls were getting louder, and as I ran, the intensity of their banter was building.
I turned another corner from out of the forest toward a large prominent oak tree. The calls were right next to me. All of a sudden, I see a large red-tailed hawk flying with a crow in its talons. I thought to myself, “whoa that’s unusual,” and so I paused for a moment. This mobbing behavior typically includes a group of smaller birds like crows harassing and annoying a larger predator bird like hawks in order to drive them out of a certain territory. This could be for survival, mating or some other form of protective purposes. Normally, hawks find the annoyance unworthy of their time and move on, while the crows get to celebrate another win.
However, in this case, the hawk had the crow dangling from its talon. “What is going on?” I ask myself. The rest of the crows were cawing in a short burst of sounds. Then, seconds after I saw the first hawk, another hawk screeched along following the first. “Holy shit, two hawks!!” I thought to myself. It’s unusual to see two hawks together in this way. I began to wonder if perhaps they came together to overpower and attack the crows? What happened anyhow? The crows continued to call out, flying all around the oak tree. Slowly, the caws became less and less; the screeches disappeared altogether and the details of this rivalry remained a mystery.
August 20: Tiny Encounters
August was filled with many tiny encounters, but I was only able to capture a few of these precious moment, including the one that took place this evening with a baby grasshopper.
But first, let me tell you about my moment with a young praying mantis who I found hanging out among the tips of drying grasses along the ponds edge. It was late afternoon when I made my ritual appearance to the pond and there sat under the glaring sun to receive that good medicine. The dragonflies dashed this way and that, and I made a game of trying to keep my eye on one at a time just to see how long I'd last. I didn't last long. After losing track of a Common Whitetail Skimmer, my eyes wandered to the reeds to see who else was nearby. That's when I spotted this Praying Mantis who was completely still and strategic in their positioning since they only feed upon live prey within reach. In this case, it's the perfect place to blend in while remaining stationary, waiting for the right moment to ambush a resting, perhaps unsuspecting dragonfly. But that didn't happen... not while I was there anyway. I moved closer though, and sat next to this regal critter for some time, taking in all the intricate aspects of their delicate form.
The next encounter was with a Little Glassywing moth who happened to pass us by while riding on a wind current and who, with great gusto, fluttered toward the glistening rest stop of Michelle's sweaty hand. From what I could tell, she was in her version of some kind of paradise, because she actually never left of her own volition. She wandered about the soft surface of skin, perhaps tasting human salt for the very first time. I should mention that butterflies and moths taste their food, not through their mouthparts, but rather through their feet! Under normal circumstances, she uses her delicate proboscis, which is a tubular sucking organ, to extract sweet nectar from the flowers she feeds upon, but this time... well, I guess it was sweat juice.
The final encounter I had while sitting next to the pond was with a baby grasshopper pictured above. Somehow it caught my eye and I was immediately taken by how cute it was! I reached my finger out toward it, hoping it might want to play. To my delight, it quickly hopped upon the tip of my finger where it then began to feel and taste around with its two sensory palps in front of the jaws. Like the moth, I think it must have been enjoying this new smooth and salty landscape as revealed in this short clip. We sat there together for about 20 minutes as I enjoyed the tickling sensation of its tiny feet and sucking mouth.
August 25: Late Summer Blooms
Can you imagine a summer without flowers? A world without such beauty and grace? Whether we realize it or not, flowers play quite a significant role in our lives. They reveal the hidden magic of life, inspire awe and wonder, awaken eros and sacred delight, and carry different symbolic meanings across cultures. People have used flowers since prehistoric times to express their feelings, enhance their surroundings, and to commemorate important rituals and observances. All forms of art, depict the use of flowers: music, books, paintings, sculpture, ceramics, tapestries, etc.
Flowers are powerful teachers when it comes to living a life in wholeness. Much of the lifespan of a flower happens unassumingly, spending it’s formative years focusing on growing strong, deep roots and a stable stem, while staying focused on the light and directing energy into expansion, yet all the while staying humble in learning how to maintain flexibility in the face of inevitable storms and changing winds. The journey of a flower builds up to the sacred moment of her blossoming, when after much growing and adapting, does she finally have the chance to reveal the light of her internal essence. The journey of becoming is no easy feat, but one of steadfast determination and trust.
So for this month, I’m sharing some of my favorite captures of a few blooming beauties who remind me of the sacred adventure of my own inner journey. I hope they inspire you on your path of blossoming!
Solidago (Goldenrod), is a genus of about 100 to 120 species of flowering plants in the aster family, Asteraceae. They are native to North America as well as some areas in South America and Eurasia. Young goldenrod leaves are edible. Native Americans used the seeds of some species for food. Herbal teas can be made with goldenrod, as well as tinctures.
Monarda didyma (Bee Balm) is a genus of flowering plants in the mint family, Lamiaceae and is native to North America. They are hermaphroditic, with male and female structures in each flower. Due to the presence of a high thymol content which is a strong antiseptic, Monarda has been used in infusion form for a variety of ailments in its long past: colds, flu, upper respiratory problems, gas, diarrhea, nausea, fevers and whooping cough, and topically for skin problems and wounds.
Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower), is a species of flowering plant in the bellflower family Campanulaceae native to the Americas. Since most insects find it difficult to navigate the long tubular flowers, Cardinal Flower depends on hummingbirds, which feed on the nectar, for pollination.
Goodyera oblongifolia (Rattlesnake Plantain), is a terrestrial perennial monocot in the orchid family, Orchidaceae, rising from a fibrous rhizome. Even though it is not abundant, rattlesnake plantain is widespread throughout North America extending from Canada and Alaska in the north, to Mexico in the south. It can be found in both coniferous forests and mixed woodlands. A smaller orchid, it stands erect and may reach up to 15 inches.
August 28: Sacred Love
Every time I go into the woods, the contrast between the quiet, calming, rhythmic sounds of earth and my fast-paced, busy, distracted and noisy internal environment of being human is healing and revealing. She opens me to encountering forgotten aspects of what it means to be alive. It is in these moments when I can really be with each subtle energetic shift of sensation, from the vibration of butterfly wings rippling through the forest to a tree trunk gently swaying to a soft fingertip caress. I am open, present and can hear the encounters with the sacred universal essence of creation. It surrounds me always but sometimes I’m too taken over by the human currents to notice and experience the heartbeat of earth, except in this moment with the box turtle. His name is Supernova.
I was walking back from the pond through Streamside trail with our tent in one hand and a bag full of our sleeping bags and inflatable mats in my other hand. Its about 1:30pm on a Friday afternoon. I have a meandering, relaxed rhythm to my stride, knowing that I have most of the day completely free for just beingness. As I am leisurely walking, I’m taking in the scents, sounds, temperature, texture, movements and reflections of light. I look over to my right at a moss covered decaying tree and I see a box turtle in the spotlight of the sun. I slowed until I stopped and took a moment to gaze at him. I’m assuming it’s a male because of the bright orange colored eyes and long front claws. I held onto my bags for a few minutes while I just gazed at him. I was surprised because as I gazed, he didn’t retract his head into his shell.
After a few minutes, I really wanted to get closer. So I energetically asked him if I could come closer to him, and within just a few seconds his right eye blinked. I thought to myself that must be the sign. After all, I had been there for several minutes now, and he has not blinked once. So I proceeded to walk closer and kneel down in front of the log where he sat. Still, he did not retract his head at all. I thought that's a pretty clear indicator that he feels safe and trusting. As I knelt beside him, I observed his turtle features. I scanned to take in the intricate patterns of his front legs with these long claws. There were layers of orange to yellow to red hued scales, each overlapping each other. He had long claws blended perfectly in color from black to a light gray at the tips. I could feel his heartbeat by watching the rhythm of his breathing at the bottom of his neck. I began to feel something inside of me as I witnessed this beauty. His posture, openness and complete stillness activated in me such an omnipresence sensation. I wanted to see him more deeply; all the details, each curvature, wrinkle, and shape. I began to trace him with my eyes slowly, imprinting and absorbing the entirety of his essence. He gazed back at me as I did this.
I felt an urge to get even closer so I could gaze into his eyes and maybe caress him or place my hand on his back. I wasn’t sure if he’d let me because I was already so close, but I thought I could at least ask. So I visually and energetically asked if I could sit right next to him on the log and place my hand on him. And holy shit, he blinked his right eye again! I realized in that moment we were communing together. He could sense me and I sensed him. So I moved and sat right next to him. Slowly, I began to place my hand on his back. His eye moved up slightly watching me place my hand on him. He was just watching me curiously. He kept is neck stretched out and observed me as I caressed his back. Every once in a while, he would gently open his mouth as if he was groaning without sound.
Then I slowly traced my fingertip down his front legs and felt the reptilian, rough scaled texture of his legs, down to his claws. He just watched me the whole time. Then, I moved my forefinger to the top of his head where I stroked the flat top of his crown near his eyes. He continued to gaze up at me. I really kept calm for the sake of maintaining the trust and safety, yet inwardly I was bursting with love to be sharing such a profound moment. I then rested my hand on his back for awhile as I gazed into his eyes. I wanted to connect to his soul. I began outlining the shape of his eyes first, letting him know that I’d like my soul to enter into his soul if he’s willing, to feel and connect to the entirety of his essence. And again he blinked! This would be his last blink and my final request. I felt confirmed at this point that we were speaking a language together.
I started looking into his pupil, noticing the blackness, such clear, transparent blackness. There was no cloudiness, fuzziness, or energetic blocks, walls, protectors or barriers to cross before I could get to his heart. He was there fully, purely, and completely. I began to feel the depths of ultimate space. A boundless space. Pure darkness. As I looked into his pupil, I could see myself reflecting back with such perfection. It was in this moment that I felt tears well up inside of me. He gazed at me in silence and stillness, and so much beauty. I watched a small butterfly flutter between us through his eyes. Everything passed by with such intensity, such awareness. I felt the deep quiet of the forest coarse through his body as if he was one with it.
As I fell more and more into him, I could feel my own pain of being human. I felt the struggle of effort, forcing, consuming, forgetting and harming. All the ways in which we prevent love, have learned to guard from loving. Yet here he is in complete presence in every moment. No mind, just breathing, observing, listening, responding and loving. Pure being, pure love. So completely quiet without a drop of interference. Tears fell as I felt the pain of my own heart from not allowing love, pain for all the ways that humans have hurt earth and the ancestors of this turtle. As I floated in his universe, a creation story of pure love, I could see so clearly the world humanity is creating. A world that hurts life.
I began to make my way to the iris of his eye and immediately felt a surge of light coarse through my body. It was as if I left the silent, still black hole of love into a surge of light. A rapturing of love. The supernova. The swirls of glistening orange, yellow light intensely pulsed through me. I watched love through light enter into me in flashes. I felt my heart imploding and exploding at the same time. I felt as though I was no longer human. I felt formless, timeless, spaceless, and felt pure essence. It felt so familiar, a homecoming yet at the same time so distant and far away. I had fallen, fallen into the heart of Supernova, fallen into love and remembered the capacity of my own heart to love. The capacity of love through darkness and the capacity of love through light. Together they are the love of creation itself. I have no idea how long I journeyed into the turtle's soul and something in me wanted to stay forever. Slowly I reconnected to his breathing and then reoriented to my own.
My encounter with Supernova will forever live with me; in fact he is already me and I him. Yet I forget and remember and then forget and remember. Sometimes the gaze of another can allow you to touch, to experience and to remember deeper layers of who you are; deeper layers of love.
If you liked this blog post, we'd love to hear from you!
What miracles are you bearing witness to?
How is nature teaching you?
What forces, practices, awarenesses, or insights have shaped you over these past several weeks?
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Yours in wonder & beauty,