Field Notes: Summer Blessings


August 1: Harvesting Elderberry

By Jess

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

By Jess

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

By Michelle

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

By Michelle

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.