Monday, February 15, 2010

Living In Season (also, some nifty news & NOFA notes)...

...all brought to you by your favorite vagabond herbalist, who finally got some business cards printed up, just in time for this year's Northeastern Organic Farming Association winter conference. Also handy as I travel down to Mexico this Friday.

Did I say Mexico? I meant Mexico. Viva la aventura!

Let's do a little backup, catch up, "what the heck has Blackbird's Daughter been doing for the past month and a half, 'cause it sure as shooting wasn't running a blog" Q&A, shall we?

The quick answer is that Blackbird's Daughter has been trusting in the slow, dark, incubatory energy of the post-Yule, pre-Imbolc season, that's what.

The longer answer is that I've also been working incredibly hard to envision and craft what the next growing-cycle of my life will look like, while also striving to stay grounded and present in the here-and-now.

The tricky part of this late-Winter, early-Spring time (and yes, according to the Euro-pagan -for lack of a better phrase- calendar, it is now early Spring!) is that there's not a whole lot you can actually do, other than wait to see how all those bulb crops come up, tighten your belt, plan out your new plantings, and enjoy the quiet of the woods. Sure there's lots of stuff like missing buttons and old mail and the back of the refrigerator to attend to, and that's all fine and good and necessary, but it doesn't have the same feel of easy production as, say, a few months from now, when you won't be able to set foot outside without walking over parties of tender, delicious little baby dandelions and plantains and other weedy delectables, all popping their nutritious and impossibly green little selves out of the ground and shaking their little baby groove things in the wet and warming air. I don't even know what to call them, they're so many and cute and everywhere, like a blanket of tiny green rainbow gatherings with miniature drum circles and euphoric ant dancers all over the place. Those ecstatic, brave little plant-friends aren't just adornment for the lush and muddy soil, they are a full-on, plan-ahead, bring-the-kids Event; a not-to-be-missed Happening unto themselves.

But of course, that time is not this time, and this time is, by most accounts, pretty darn stark. Money's tight. The apples are wrinkled. There are only so many root vegetables you can cook in so many ways before you find yourself re-rummaging through the back-of-the-cupboard international cookbook pile, desperate for any legume-based culinary inspiration, and even those $5.99 boxes of insipid, pinkish strawberries start to look like a possibility.

Luckily for us, it's not actually that long a season. I know, I know, I can feel readers' polar-fleece-lined indignation from here, but bear with me on this one:
I'm not saying that almost six months of cold isn't a long time - I'm saying that it isn't just one extended limbo of non-growth and desolation. What we think of as "Winter" is actually comprised of multiple seasons: Winter (from November 1 through January 31), and Spring (Feb. 1 through April 30). This doesn't show up on the current American (political) calendar, but then neither does Presidents' Day on mine, so I guess we're even. (For the full and righteous eco-faith shebang, you gotta git on over to the Mystic's Wheel of the Year - go on, git!)
The way I've taken to viewing the year means that while lots of folks are bemoaning a dull and dreary landscape, I'm taking emotional refuge in a richly diverse series of gloriously minute shifts and soul-expanding beauty. Look at it this way:
When the year ends at Samhain (October 31), we have three months to reflect on and cast off the old patterns of the previous year before Spring is born at Imbolc (Feb. 1). Now that Spring is here and the castings of the previous year have fully sunk into the earth to fertilize the new one, we can look forward to the growth that is quickly working its hidden magic beneath the soil. The past few months have been a time to let go and relax into the greater cycle, acknowledging that we've accomplished all we could with last year. It's done. Let it go. It's time to allow ourselves to have faith in what's new.In the counseling world, this would be considered the Season of Closure, followed by the Season of New Beginnings. (Mumma, I'm giving this one to you- the "Mental Health Wheel of the Year" - see bottom of post.)

There's powerful medicine in this particular season of darkness, but if we're not used to living cyclically, it can be a time of great depression and emotional difficulty. We can remedy that by 1) accepting the Truth that nature, the planet, and our bodies are telling us, and 2) letting go of the rigid expectation that we strive for chronic consistency. This (often self-imposed) drive for uniformity & peak performance is akin to planting a tree and then expecting it to take root, acclimate to its new surroundings and climate, bud, blossom, bear fruit, produce sap, store nutrients for later, use those nutrients, photosynthesize, grow a healthyMycorrhizal network, interact with said network, grow taller, insulate itself from cold, feed millions of critters (both minuscule and large) etc etc etc....all at the same time. We wouldn't expect that of our plant allies, so why on Earth do we expect it of ourselves?
This sort of seasonal disconnect isn't just unrealistic on a personal level, it's incredibly unhealthy systemically, culturally, and planetarily, and it's a recipe for exhaustion, burn-out, illness, and a whole host of other unnecessaries.

So while it's true that I've been staying busy bopping up and down New England, selling my car, reconnecting with my amazing and talented sister-goddess (you can find her amidst the vanilla-scented cloud over at Life Is Short. East Dessert First.), planning for a spur-of-the-moment trip down South to explore the Curanderismo (herbal medicine) of Mexico, attending the NOFA Winter Conference, and planting seeds of possibility for this summer, I've been consciously working at respecting the fact that this particular liminal time in my life is both necessary and healthy. And you know what?

It's working.

I've been in Vermont for eight years now, and the longer I stay, the shorter the winter feels, and it's got nothing to do with global warming. It's the fact that I quit my jobs and got out of my car.

Here's what my old Winter schedule used to look like:
-Get up in the dark.
-Drive down gray city roads lined with gray, exhaust-covered snow to my gray and green place of employment.
-Stay inside for the entire time it was light out, with occasional breaks to accompany students somewhere or dash across the parking lot for a pre-meeting cup of coffee.
-Drive the same gray route home in the deepening dusk.

Here's a sample of what it looks like now:
-Get up when I want.
-Work for someone else when I want.
-Work for myself when I want.
-Go outside when I want.
-Travel when I want.
-Repeat (when I want).

This new schedule leaves me very broke, extremely open to possibilities, intensely aware of my choices & challenges, and pretty darn happy. It forces me to be consciously vulnerable. It lets me be stressed out in way that I have control over changing. It teaches me to breathe.

And for the first time since I was a kid, it gives me the opportunity to really live with and in my surroundings, experiencing the climate and ecosystems the way we used to, from our feet on up.

On that note, I'd like to offer a huge thanks to NOFA and all the amazing agriculturally-minded folks that attended this year's Winter Conference.
Thanks for bringing the median age of farmers down for the first time in over 40 years. Thank you for revitalizing our soil and keeping our food chain real, healthy, and local. Thanks for taking on the absolutely critical role as the next generation of farmers, growers, bee-keepers, and more. Thanks for following your passion.

I guess the long answer to the question that started this all - What have I been doing? - is simply that. Following my passion. It's all I know how to do. But I do it well.

The Mental Health Wheel of the Year

In which Seasonal Affective Disorder is not an illness, but a positive sign of unconscious connection to our animal, place-based Selfhood; a "sane response to an insane world"; a 'symptom' of deeply-rooted wellness and an opportunity to grow and live in synchronicity and ease with Nature.
Samhain Season – active (act of) change making
Winter Solstice – closure
Imbolc Season– planning and readiness, new beginnings
Spring Equinox – new changes, skill growth, reflection on new needs
Beltane – big new change/awareness of possibilities/fertility of choice
Summer Solstice – maintenance/balance
Lammas – harvesting new changes
Autumn Equinox –reflection, readiness for change

For those who don't know, my mom is a pretty amazing holistic mental health counselor. She founded a practice called Liminal Therapy, where she references things like the hero's journey and helps her clients change "I should really..." to "I could really...". Here's a quote from her:
Refers to the middle stage of change, the threshold between what was, and what is yet to be.
It is when we are forced by circumstance or choice to leave what is familiar; to journey into a place of uncertainty. It is a normal part of being human.
So inspiring! Anyway, I bet she does amazing stuff with this one :)

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