Thursday, December 31, 2009

Chapter 17 - Leaving

As Nola started her drive to Owen's she was trying to work out the best way to tell him that she'd be out of town for a week. She had a feeling that he wasn't going to be happy about it and could already see his pouty, spoiled 10 year old, face. In some ways James was the same way always asking "Will you miss me?" Men. Jamie took it better than James. It was easier to leave now that Jamie was older. Before, the hardest part of leaving was making sure that Jamie had some fun things to do with her friends or grandmothers. But these day Jamie scheduled herself and the hardest thing was arranging her daughter’s transportation. As long as she made time when she returned for Jamie to tell her what had happened while she was away, she was just fine.

The only time that Jamie had ever had trouble with her mom being away for work was after Katrina when Nola had to leave her and James in Austin, TX while she returned to Baton Rouge and Chalmette to work recovery efforts at the Refinery. Nola spent exactly 6 days in Austin after they had managed to float out of their flooded city. (No, they didn’t leave. Yes, they saved themselves, with a little help from family.) She registered Jamie for school in Texas the day after Labor Day and a day later she bought her used replacement truck. Jamie & James were set up in an apartment arranged by James’ sisters, with things bought and borrowed and hauled to the apartment in the new used truck. So many people were generous after the disaster.

Once her family was set up, Nola headed back to Louisiana to work at the job that was thankfully still paying their bills. She stayed in Baton Rouge with a friend of her mom who turned out to also be colleague in Baton Rouge. She arrived in Baton Rouge late Friday evening, slept gratefully in the bed provided and the next morning picked up food and water supplies for the pets, grabbed a member of her new Katrina escapee family and headed back to New Orleans to check on her pets and get another set Katrina escapee family pets from their house. It was 10 days after the levees broke. It is amazing what the badge from a large corporation and bravado will do at a military check point. The water had mostly receded. There were only a few large puddles left on her street and sidewalk. They managed to rescue the pets but were still unable to get to her new friend's house because of the water. After being confronted by Blackwater paid guards on one of the high end streets that was clear for traffic they drove back to Baton Rouge. She started back a work the next day. Nola was the lucky one. She was more than busy, with work and putting her pieces of the refinery back together, with dealing with the home owners, flood & auto insurance agents and claims, pets, the fact that her mother and brother had lost everything and were recovering their own lives, it was the strangest survival of the fittest program ever devised. But being busy kept her sane.

Jamie had floated out of the city, finally getting out the day before her 10th birthday. So she knew exactly why she couldn’t return. During her family’s 2 month stay in Texas, Nola visited for only 2 days, driving from Baton Rouge to Texas for a promised school conference day the same time as the Hurricane Rita evacuation and returning the weekend after landfall through even more devastation. Jamie understood why she had to stay with Dad and why Mom had to go back. Jamie was ok until late October. She knew that the basement of their house had been gutted and cleaned out. She knew her mom had made sure that their main living space was ready for them to come home. She knew her school was ok and talking about reopening. Jamie finally broke down and asked her mom, why Dad couldn’t work at the big job in New Orleans and why her Mom couldn’t come stay with her. Nola got Jamie laughing as she explained why her dad wouldn’t do very well in mom’s corporate job. Then Jamie laid down the law saying fine, then she would come home, live in her house and go to her school. She was tired of Texas. If Dad wanted to stay he could stay in Texas.

Nola had to work on James. He wasn’t sure he was ready to return. Nola eventually had to lay down the law herself, the house was here, the only job left to them was here, Jamie’s very expensive, private and already paid for school was open, his daughter wanted to come home, she wanted him to come home. He had 2 choices: come home with Jamie or bring Jamie home and go back to Texas. James and Jamie came home the end of the first week in November.
Nola shook her head and thought about how tough the women in her family were and thanked the gods that Jamie seemed to have gotten that gene. Yep, she thought the girls were tougher and as she rounded the corner onto Owen’s street and she thought that if necessary she’d lay the law down on a pouting Owen. She grinned at this thought as she watched the big man turn as he were doing laps pacing in the front yard and walk toward the driveway see her truck and smile.

She had arranged to get to his house earlier because she figured it would help cushion the fact that he would miss a training session, so it was still light outside as she pulled into the driveway. She caught herself wondering just how much time he spent waiting for her outside in the front yard. As she got out of the truck she teased him and said, “You know if you’re going to spend so much time pacing in your front yard, I have some landscaping ideas I can share with you.” Settrano smiled at her playfulness.
Owen grinned and said, “Landscaping, huh?”
“mmm hmmm, I often mentally landscape yards of houses as drive past them. I love to garden and get my hands in the dirt, but I’m a lazy gardener. I also hate lawnmowers and think that the typical expanses of lawn should be avoided. So I mentally landscape the lawns into lawnmower independent gardens.”
“No lawnmower?! I hate those noisy, smelly things. You’re hired.”
She just smiled at him assuming he was kidding. But he was intrigued so he said, “Really, I’m interested. What would you do to the front yard?”
She tilted her head and smiled at him again raised her eyebrows slightly not sure if he meant it or if he was just teasing back. “I’d ask you what you wanted in a front yard first?”
“Oh no, you can’t get off the hook.” He waved his hands. My yard is your palette. What would you do.?”
She looked at him smiled and said to herself, ‘Ok you asked for it.’ thinking he hadn’t realized yet that when someone asked her opinion the best thing for them to do was duck, because she’d deliver. “Well I’d plant gardenias along the fence closest to the street, they’re evergreen, and will screen the yard from the street, can take a freeze, grow tall when pruned properly, have fabulous scented flowers that can bloom more than once a year once established. The grass would have to go of course, no lawnmower.” She opened her arms wide, whole palms open pointing to each corner of the front fence, “Then this side of the gardenias I’d plant citrus,” and she started on the right and moved to the left. I’d lightly mulch the bare ground and use reseeding seasonal flowers like red clover, cosmos – Sulphureus because they can take our heat, bachelor buttons, blackeyed Susans, maybe some lavender... There’d be rosemary bushes on the far corners and the inside edge of the walkway would have Blue Daze and Greek oregano... with maybe some daylilies and garlic chives behind that....” Then she turned to the house and after a second or 2 said, “I’d put kumquat trees on this side, they are smaller and wouldn’t block the view from the porch, there’d be ferns along the edge of the garden closest to the house, so you could easily step over them from the porch. With such a wide porch and balcony the gutters could go so the rain would naturally water the area. The ferns would help protect the garden from washing out. I might leave space in between the kumquats for a seasonal vegetable or flower garden. I don’t think you get enough light in the backyard for a kitchen garden closer to the kitchen… or maybe you could do a vegetable garden along the driveway or maybe some more reseeding seasonal flowers. More rosemary at the corners, with the same blue daze and Greek Oregano border for a little symmetry… The edges of both gardens would not be straight but loosely curved so it didn’t look so formal. There would be a path for you to pace on of course”, she teased, “and maybe a fountain along the wall, to give you something to walk back and forth toward, more ferns, maybe some mint or if you got enough sun a muscadine grapevine for that wall”. She turned toward the indented portion of the driveway fencing and said, “There’d be a Moonflower vine and a purple bean vine from City Park’s botanical gardens along that fencing…. Some garlic chives for protection by the door…. Oh I forgot the roses….”
He was doing his best to keep up with her vision of what the front yard would look like and he liked what she made him see. “Wow! How long have you been thinking about this?”
She was still fine tuning the plan in her head and said slowly, “Oh just since you asked me.”
“No way.” He said unbelievingly.
“Well, ok. I guess it’s fair to say I probably have spent about a cumulative 30 minutes thinking about it since I first saw your front yard. I really do this all the time as I drive through the city. I kind of do it without really thinking about it. I think that even though we live in the city our landscapes should be rich and green and more seasonal and produce things that are beautiful and when possible that we can eat too. It’s based on a whole philosophy of gardening called permaculture.”
And he thought, ‘When is this woman not thinking?’ What he said was, “That’s it. Make a list of the plants I should buy and the next time the guys have a break in their schedule we’ll start the transformation. You have to be around to supervise.”
“Owen,” she said a little sheepishly, “your yard is really fine. You don’t have to change it.”
He looked around at the grass and the azalea bushes and said, “My yard is lawnmower dependent and boring. I like your vision much better than what I have today. It’s lush and probably more like what the grounds might have looked like when the house was built. I have officially put this on the list of things you do with out thinking about it.” He hooked her arm in his and said, “Impressive, shall we go inside and choose a wine?”

She smiled at him and nodded and they moved into the kitchen.
“What kind of wine would you like tonight?”
She sat down on a barstool and just shrugged then acknowledged, “You know I really like that you choose and I don’t have to do anything but appreciate it. But it’s warmer than it should be for January so how about a white?”
He smiled, grabbed 2 champagne flutes and pulled the 2nd bottle of Prosecco they hadn’t used for their New Year’s meeting out of the refrigerator and popped the cork. He poured the wine and moved next to her barstool so they could toast. She smiled and clinked his glass with hers. Before she knew it he was giving her a New Year’s like kiss. “Well…” she said making light as he broke the kiss but stayed close, “I wasn’t expecting that I thought I was the hired landscape help.”
“I’ve decided Prosecco requires kissing.” And he did it again.
Thankfully he was standing and she was sitting so he didn’t have as much control of this kiss as he had for the New Year’s kiss. With her hand on his chest she said, “I’ll remember that so that I’m better prepared next time.” He was still close and she figured that now was as good as any to tell him she wouldn’t be here next week.

“Owen, I have some news about next week."
This tweaked his anticipation, “Next week, what about next week?”
“Well next week I have to go to Houston for work.” And there it was, the pouty, 10 year old, face. She giggled quietly and said, “You should see your face.”
“All week? All week long?” and he plopped on the stool next to her.
“Unfortunately yes. I hate Houston, but I have to go.”
“When do you leave?”
“Sunday evening. The session starts Monday at 8AM."
"When will you be back?”
“Late Friday, the session doesn't end until 5PM"
"Aw, 14 days. 14 days until you come back?"
"No only 12."
"12?" he said hopefully.
"Yes, the full moon is on the 22nd and I thought that we could do that ritual together on Tuesday."
And with the pitiful spoiled but not quite so pouty face he said, "12 days is still longer than 7."
"I swear you're worse than my kid. What if I also come back again the Thursday after the Full Moon?"
"Ok, then I guess I won't have to call in my favors and stop the planes."
And she shook her head and him and smiled.

He moved her into the library instead of the living room, then set the wine bucket on the marble table top and said, “What I’m going to do with myself for 12 days?”
“Oh I have some suggestions for keeping you busy.” She said noticing that all the boxes of books were on the shelves.
“Ok I’ll bite. What are they?”
“You can work on memorizing what is said during circle casting. You could use circle casting practice casting to work on your rapport with the Grigori.”
He looked a little dubious and said, “Ok, but while talking about them is one thing I’m not sure about hanging out with them without you.”

And Tago actually chuckled.

She smiled and said, “Well you can practice the Rite of Union, work on memorizing it. I don’t just do it on Full Moons. I do it whenever the moon is visible and I'm alone and can focus. Doing the Rite when the moon is in different phases can have slightly different effects. You should experiment. Some also do it at dawn like the Cherokee morning prayer or Navajo dawn pollen ceremony to honor the sun as well.”
He face changed from pouty to interested, “Hmm I never thought of it like that. I’ll have to try it. Then said, “Cherokee and Navajo... How do you know about those?”
“Really only through reading and travel. Native American culture is rich and spiritually linked to the earth and the web of life in a way I wish that our modern American way of life could appreciate more. America and the world could be a very different place, if our ancestors had respected the native peoples. My paternal grandfather insisted that one of his ancestors ‘married a Cherokee Indian Princess’. When I was a little girl I never dreamed of being a princess in a castle. I wanted to be a Native American Princess, way before Disney made Pocahontas. In 2006 I took my daughter to North Carolina and made sure that she saw he play “Unto these Hills” which tells the story of the Trail of Tears when the Cherokee were forced to walk to Oklahoma. I spent some time in New Mexico and Navajo culture all around you there. I find the link between the Navajo and the northern Athabascan tribes interesting.” And she paused remembering, “Chaco Canyon is beautiful in the middle of January. I think I told you that the yellow soil in my earth elemental bowl comes from a place in Canada where the Native Americans collected ochre from ground considered sacred. And she paused again remembering, “Nothing is more beautiful than the way the summer light polarizes on the Canadian plains. My path is Italian but I’m an American and Native American culture and pagan paths have many similarities. But it is harder to follow a Native American path, even one that you might have a slim genetic link to, with out feeling like a wannabe Indian. So I read and respect the Native American paths as they align with mine…. I think this might be a perfect time to look at the Words of Aradia on the Earth.”

Owen reached around and grabbed the manual off of the table. It was amazing how the manual was close when ever she wanted him to read from it. He flipped to the back and quickly found the page and with out her asking read out loud:

“The Earth is the nurturing power of the Mother. She nourishes us and from the soil She returns that which we sow. She gives us healing herbs and herbs by which we work our magick. The very Earth gives us life, without which we would perish.

There is a healing power in the Earth and a vital force. We know that a wounded animal will lay against the Earth to heal its wounds. They understand, and we are one with them through our religion.

I have taught you the secrets of the circle, for therein is the secret of the power of the Earth. Everything that the world does it does in a circle. The Earth teaches us the doctrine of Cycles. The Sun, the Moon, and the seasons come and go and return again and again. Even so it is with the cycles of our own lives. The Earth teaches us just as Nature does for they are one. Earth is the body and Nature is the Spirit.

We must live in harmony with the Earth and with Nature. To do otherwise is to court disaster. The forces of the Earth are greater than any power we can safely master. To strive against these forces is foolish.

Do nothing to the Earth that shall take away from the purpose it serves in Nature, for this is the natural balance. And the Earth shall alwa ys move against us to restore itself.

Is the tiller greater than the soil he till? Is the family greater than the crops they help grow? Is not the life within the soil, and within the crops, our own? How shall we be without them? What you do to the Earth you do to yourself.

Do not think that we are greater than the Earth, or than Nature. For surely they shall both crumble and dissolve all that we shall erect. And there shall be floods and earthquakes, and hostile weather to show us our errors and teach us perspective.”

And he finished they both sat back deep in their own thoughts. Finally Nola said, “I think that every American should be required to read Aradia’s Words on the Earth every day. It would significantly change our culture. My small efforts at permaculture gardening is only a small way that I try to align myself with the seasons and nature. A lawnmower is a silly way ‘to strive against these forces’.

He thought about that and about how she wove the ways and Aradia’s words into various aspects of her life. He remembered the dreamy way she recalled her travels as she spoke about Native American culture and wondered just how many places she had been.
“North Carolina, New Mexico, Canada, how many Native American places have you been to?
“hmm, I don’t know… Chaco and the 4 corners area, Mesa Verde, the Grand Canyon, most of our National Parks have Native American sites and I’ve been to a number of those: Yellowstone, Yosemite, Lavabeds, Crater Lake, the Olympia peninsula in Washington state, the Smokies of course, Pipestone in Minnesota, the Arcadia on coast of Maine… and in Canada YoHo, Head Smashed In and Writing on Stone Provincial Parks and on the plains Waneskewin near Saskatoon… Central Mexico’s Sierras, Mexican culture is richly woven with Native American influences…”

The talked deep into the night about travel and the beautiful places they had been. Owen was surprised at how broadly traveled Nola was. Nola said that there was still much she wanted to see but that she hadn’t traveled as much as she used to since she married James. Nola said, “I can travel with a sleeping bag and a rental station wagon as my tent. James prefers 5 star travel and we really can’t afford that so, I either travel alone or with my mom or with friends and occasionally with Jamie.” Owen stayed silent as he thought about the fact that he had the means to travel and probably hadn’t seen as much of the world as she had. He thought about how much fun it would be to watch her appreciate whatever she ran into as she traveled.

It was after 1AM and Nola had tried to cover her yawn for the 3rd time when she finally had to admit, “Owen I’m sorry but I going to fall asleep sitting up. I have be at work in 5 or 6 hours”
He wanted her to stay but knew she had to go and so he stood up, held out his hands and raised her from the sofa. He walked her to her truck and gave her one of his bear hugs. As she pulled away he stood there thinking that 12 days sounded like an eternity.

Secular New Year

Many Pagans start their new year at Shadowfest (Oct 31). And to be fair "The Manuals" indicate that the ritual year starts at Shadowfest.

But I've always felt that there were Ritual Seasons which fade out of and into each other. There are no hard and fast rules for when each "ritual season" starts. The environment, which is primarily influenced by the weather but which can be affected by other things as well, influences the edges of these seasons.
The "Growth & Harvest Season" typically includes Summerfest and Cornucopia.
The "Introspective Season" typically includes the Autumn Equinnox and Shadowfest
The "Rebirth Season" typically includes the Winter Solstice and Lupercus.
The "Renewal Season" typically includes the Spring Equinox and Lady Day.

The whole cycle of rituals is designed to work together, to create a web of life, inner and outer life. We have been culturalized to a Cartesian Separatist approach to life. We break things down into their component parts. We categorize things, ideas, experiences, responsibilities. I am wife, mother, breadwinner, supervisor, strega, neighborhood activist... But in reality these are all connected. Experiences and influences of one area or idea affect the others, affect the whole. The rituals both Solar and the monthly Full Moon rituals are designed to ensure that we experience this fullness, this integrated cycle, the web of life.

During Cornucopia we are to review what is good and worthwhile and what can be eliminated. During the Autumn Equinox we are to look at what is passing or has past and work the hidden, introspective aspects of our lives, at Winter Solstice we experience the potential for rebirth in the darkness, at Lupercus we attempt to connect to the past and to what is wild and natural in all of us, at Spring Equinox appreciate tender new growth.

The secular new year starts at the calendar change in January. Considering that this month is named for Janus, a god who looks both forward and backward, it seems that the secular new year works perfectly to bridge the fruits of the Introspective Season to those of the Renewal Season during the Season of Rebirth. So take the time The New Year,the secular world gives you and do as Janus encourages us and look back and forward at the same time and weave your own web of life.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

1st Pagan Invocation at governmental function

Many legislators open their meetings by what is supposed to be a secular prayer. Most of these are done by Christian ministers though on occasion another religious leader may be allowed, usually with some controversy. One by a Pagan minister only happened the first time October this year at the Wisconsin State Assembly. This event comes only after decades of dedicated and public service as a pagan. See details in a interview that Selena Fox gave to Christopher Blackwell for his Yule 2009 edition.

Below is a copy of the opening Remarks & Prayer written & delivered by Rev. Selena Fox, Senior Minister, Circle Sanctuary for Wisconsin State Assembly Tuesday, October 27, 2009 at Assembly Chamber, Wisconsin State Capitol Madison, Wisconsin

"Greetings from the colorful forests and fields of Brigham Township, near Barneveld, in Iowa County in Southwestern Wisconsin.

In this Autumn season, let us appreciate Nature’s beauty in the many colors and patterns on the land throughout our whole great state of Wisconsin.

And, let us also recognize and appreciate the beauty and richness of the diversity of all of us gathered here today in this Assembly Chamber.

We are from many places, many backgrounds, many walks of life, many viewpoints: yet we converge here to serve, and also today, to remember those who have given their life in service of our great nation.

Let us now reflect a few moments on being part of a collaborative and creative community of service, helping the people of Wisconsin and the greater Circle of Nature of which we are all part. (short pause)

And now, in the next few moments of quiet, each in our own way, let us connect with Creative Source, according to the religion, spirituality, and/or philosophy that informs our lives. (longer pause)

O Creative Source, Within and Beyond, You who are known by No Name and by Many Names, including: Higher Power, Great Spirit, Divine Mother, Divine Father, Still Small Voice Within, God, Goddess, Truth, Eternal Light, Reason, Love, and by many other names, across religious traditions, spiritualities, and philosophies.

Watch over and bless this Assembly, its members and its staff -- and all those who are here today.

Bless All with Wisdom, Understanding, Creativity, Love, and Compassion,
in Considerations, Deliberations, Communications, and Decision-making.

Bless All, so that that there is a spirit of cooperation and success in finding effective solutions to the challenges before us,

And so that we can work together for more liberty and justice -- and environmental well-being for all.

So Be It, So Mote It Be.

Amen, A’ho, Ashe, Namaste.

Let It Be So."

Thank you Selena. Thank you Christopher.

To view Selena delivering the invocation Click here,
then go to Wisconsin State Assembly Floor Session (Part 1) for 10.27.09. The first ten minutes of the proceedings is the roll call. That is followed by an introduction of Selena (starting at time stamp 10:10 or 12:11 PM) and then her invocation (starting at timestamp 11:22 or 12:12 PM).

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

"It is all connected" - Tribes buy back land

Indian tribes buy back thousands of acres of land
By TIMBERLY ROSS - Associated Press Writer
Published: 12/27/09

OMAHA, Neb. — Native American tribes tired of waiting for the U.S. government to honor centuries-old treaties are buying back land where their ancestors lived and putting it in federal trust.

Native Americans say the purchases will help protect their culture and way of life by preserving burial grounds and areas where sacred rituals are held. They also provide land for farming, timber and other efforts to make the tribes self-sustaining.

Tribes put more than 840,000 acres - or roughly the equivalent of the state of Rhode Island - into trust from 1998 to 2007, according to information The Associated Press obtained from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs under the Freedom of Information Act.

Those buying back land include the Winnebago, who have put more than 700 acres in eastern Nebraska in federal trust in the past five years, and the Pawnee, who have 1,600 acres of trust land in Oklahoma. Land held in federal trust is exempt from local and state laws and taxes, but subject to most federal laws.

Three tribes have bought land around Bear Butte in South Dakota's Black Hills to keep it from developers eager to cater to the bikers who roar into Sturgis every year for a raucous road rally. About 17 tribes from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana and Oklahoma still use the mountain for religious ceremonies.

Emily White Hat, a member of South Dakota's Rosebud Sioux, said the struggle to protect the land is about "preservation of our culture, our way of life and our traditions."

"All of it is connected," White Hat said. "With your land, you have that relationship to the culture."

Other members of the Rosebud Sioux, such as president Rodney Bordeaux, believe the tribes shouldn't have to buy the land back because it was illegally taken. But they also recognize that without such purchases, the land won't be protected.

No one knows how much land the federal government promised Native American tribes in treaties dating to the late 1700s, said Gary Garrison, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs. The government changed the terms of the treaties over the centuries to make property available to settlers and give rights-of-way to railroads and telegraph companies.

President Barack Obama's administration has proposed spending $2 billion to buy back and consolidate tribal land broken up in previous generations. The program would pay individual members for land interests divided among their relatives and return the land to tribal control. But it would not buy land from people outside the tribes.

Today, 562 federally recognized tribes have more than 55 million acres held in trust, according to the bureau. Several states and local governments are fighting efforts to add to that number, saying the federal government doesn't have the authority to take land - and tax revenue - from states.

In New York, for example, the state and two counties filed a federal lawsuit in 2008 to block the U.S. Department of Interior from putting about 13,000 acres into trust for the Oneida Tribe. In September, a judge threw out their claims.

Putting land in trust creates a burden for local governments because they must still provide services such as sewer and water even though they can't collect taxes on the property, said Elaine Willman, a member of the Citizens Equal Rights Alliance and administrator for Hobart, a suburb of Green Bay, Wis. Hobart relies mostly on property taxes to pay for police, water and other services, but the village of about 5,900 lost about a third of its land to a trust set up for the state's Oneida Tribe, Willman said.

So far, Hobart has been able to control spending and avoid cuts in services or raising taxes, Willman said. Village leaders hope taxes on a planned 603-acre commercial development will eventually help make up for the lost money.

The nonprofit White Earth Land Recovery Project has bought back or been gifted hundreds of acres in northwestern Minnesota since it was created in the late 1980s. The White Earth tribe uses the land to harvest rice, farm and produce maple syrup. Members have hope of one day being self-sustaining again.

Winona LaDuke, who started the White Earth project, said buying property is expensive, but it's the quickest and easiest way for tribes to regain control of their land.

Tribal membership has been growing thanks to higher birth rates, longer life spans and more relaxed qualifications for membership, and that has created a greater need for land for housing, community services and economic development.

"If the tribes were to pursue return of the land in the courts it would be years before any action could result in more tribal land ... and the people simply cannot wait," said Cris Stainbrook, of the Little Canada, Minn.-based Indian Land Tenure Foundation.

Thirty to 40 tribes are making enough money from casinos to buy back land, but they also have to put money into social programs, education and health care for their members, said Robert J. Miller, a professor at the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., who specializes in tribal issues.

"Tribes just have so many things on their plate," he said.

Some tribes, such as the Pawnee, have benefited from gifts of land. Gaylord and Judy Mickelsen donated a storefront in Dannebrog, Neb., that had been in Judy Mickelsen's family for a century. The couple was retiring to Mesquite, Nev., in 2007, and Judy Mickelsen wanted to see the building preserved even though the town had seen better days.

The tribe has since set up a shop selling members' artwork in the building on Main Street.

"We were hoping the Pawnee could get a toehold here and get a new venture for the village of Dannebrog," Gaylord Mickelsen said.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The pantheistic gospel of Avatar

Heaven and Nature
By ROSS DOUTHAT Published: December 20, 2009
(Published in TP 12.27.2009)

It’s fitting that James Cameron’s “Avatar” arrived in theaters at Christmastime. Like the holiday season itself, the science fiction epic is a crass embodiment of capitalistic excess wrapped around a deeply felt religious message. It’s at once the blockbuster to end all blockbusters, and the Gospel According to James.

But not the Christian Gospel. Instead, “Avatar” is Cameron’s long apologia for pantheism — a faith that equates God with Nature, and calls humanity into religious communion with the natural world.

In Cameron’s sci-fi universe, this communion is embodied by the blue-skinned, enviably slender Na’Vi, an alien race whose idyllic existence on the planet Pandora is threatened by rapacious human invaders. The Na’Vi are saved by the movie’s hero, a turncoat Marine, but they’re also saved by their faith in Eywa, the “All Mother,” described variously as a network of energy and the sum total of every living thing.

If this narrative arc sounds familiar, that’s because pantheism has been Hollywood’s religion of choice for a generation now. It’s the truth that Kevin Costner discovered when he went dancing with wolves. It’s the metaphysic woven through Disney cartoons like “The Lion King” and “Pocahontas.” And it’s the dogma of George Lucas’s Jedi, whose mystical Force “surrounds us, penetrates us, and binds the galaxy together.”

Hollywood keeps returning to these themes because millions of Americans respond favorably to them. From Deepak Chopra to Eckhart Tolle, the “religion and inspiration” section in your local bookstore is crowded with titles pushing a pantheistic message. A recent Pew Forum report on how Americans mix and match theology found that many self-professed Christians hold beliefs about the “spiritual energy” of trees and mountains that would fit right in among the indigo-tinted Na’Vi.

As usual, Alexis de Tocqueville saw it coming. The American belief in the essential unity of all mankind, Tocqueville wrote in the 1830s, leads us to collapse distinctions at every level of creation. “Not content with the discovery that there is nothing in the world but a creation and a Creator,” he suggested, democratic man “seeks to expand and simplify his conception by including God and the universe in one great whole.”

Today there are other forces that expand pantheism’s American appeal. We pine for what we’ve left behind, and divinizing the natural world is an obvious way to express unease about our hyper-technological society. The threat of global warming, meanwhile, has lent the cult of Nature qualities that every successful religion needs — a crusading spirit, a rigorous set of ‘thou shalt nots,” and a piping-hot apocalypse.

At the same time, pantheism opens a path to numinous experience for people uncomfortable with the literal-mindedness of the monotheistic religions — with their miracle-working deities and holy books, their virgin births and resurrected bodies. As the Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski noted, attributing divinity to the natural world helps “bring God closer to human experience,” while “depriving him of recognizable personal traits.” For anyone who pines for transcendence but recoils at the idea of a demanding Almighty who interferes in human affairs, this is an ideal combination.

Indeed, it represents a form of religion that even atheists can support. Richard Dawkins has called pantheism “a sexed-up atheism.” (He means that as a compliment.) Sam Harris concluded his polemic “The End of Faith” by rhapsodizing about the mystical experiences available from immersion in “the roiling mystery of the world.” Citing Albert Einstein’s expression of religious awe at the “beauty and sublimity” of the universe, Dawkins allows, “In this sense I too am religious.”

The question is whether Nature actually deserves a religious response. Traditional theism has to wrestle with the problem of evil: if God is good, why does he allow suffering and death? But Nature is suffering and death. Its harmonies require violence. Its “circle of life” is really a cycle of mortality. And the human societies that hew closest to the natural order aren’t the shining Edens of James Cameron’s fond imaginings. They’re places where existence tends to be nasty, brutish and short.

Religion exists, in part, precisely because humans aren’t at home amid these cruel rhythms. We stand half inside the natural world and half outside it. We’re beasts with self-consciousness, predators with ethics, mortal creatures who yearn for immortality.

This is an agonized position, and if there’s no escape upward — or no God to take on flesh and come among us, as the Christmas story has it — a deeply tragic one.

Pantheism offers a different sort of solution: a downward exit, an abandonment of our tragic self-consciousness, a re-merger with the natural world our ancestors half-escaped millennia ago.

But except as dust and ashes, Nature cannot take us back.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Solstice Wreath & Offerings


The Fire Pit was full of water because it's been raining, a lot. This December is the wettest December on record, ever. We cut the branches off of the bottom of our "Noble Fir". When I saw the water in the pit, I put the branches into the Fire Pit to stop them from drying out. When the rain stopped and we were finally able to see the sun again I spread them out in a circle creating a large wreath. A candle in the center will be a great way to mark the Solstice outside.

Kumquats & Gold Sweet Gum Balls - Winter Solstice Offering
Very early New Orleanians typically used Citus Trees instead of firs & pines as their Christmas Trees. The citrus trees bear golden hued fruit at this time of year and are perfect for the Solstice celebration. My kumquat tree never fails to ripen by the Winter Solstice. The Sweet Gum a block away drops its balls. They look remind me of sputnik and also of the Sun and its solar flares. I spray painted them gold and added to the Solstice Offering.

Chapter 16 - New Year

Owen had spent the evening ringing in New Year at Roger's house in Mid-City. The party had moved to the not quite legal bonfire in the middle of Jeff Davis. The bonfire had been a smaller neighborhood gathering and tradition before Katrina but after Katrina it took on mythical and spiritual portions for the larger city. All things were now marked like BC & AD as PreKatrina and PostKatrina, a literal watershed moment. In December of 2005 the few people who had returned to the city were only beginning to link up via neighborhood organizations and surprisingly the blogosphere. These folks and a few valiant neighborhood folks were the primary 2005 participants. By December 2006 social networking had linked the bonfire to the larger recovering city yet most of the people joining in at the 2006 and 2007 gatherings had found out about it from neighborhood activists citywide. By 2008 it seemed like the entire city knew about the bonfire and the crowds got larger. It had become a way to burn off the old and the struggles of the last year and to burn in a passion and drive for the new. People brought their Christmas trees or debris from the repairs of their flooded homes. The pile this year was more than 10 feet tall and probably 20 or more feet in diameter. The flames reached into a sky lit up with fireworks. The whole thing had loads of raw pagan energy. But then so much of life in New Orleans had a natural pagan energy hard to find in other American cities.

Owen found himself wishing that Nola could be there with him to drink in the energy and experience. But she was with her family. She said that she had seen it in years past and had encouraged him to make time to go this year. It seems more raucous than she had described and he knew she would have loved it. It was way after midnight and the bonfire was burning down to embers and the fireworks tapering off so Owen told Roger he was headed home. Roger wanted him to come back to the house. What New Orleanian ever wanted a party to end? But Owen just smiled and insisted that he was ready to head home.

As he drove home he realized that he felt like the New Year had started in November. And smiled at how pagan that was. It started when he met Nola on the plane. It started when their lessons started. It was like Nola said, the seasons didn't have man made definitive markers. The seasons blended and flowed into each other. He had been ruminating so hard that he was surprised when he found himself in his driveway. As he got out of the car he thought to himself, 2 more days and Nola would be back in the driveway too.

As usual he met her in the driveway and escorted her back to the kitchen. He had Prosecco, essentially Italian “bulk champagne” chilling for them. Nola smiled at how he insisted on this accidental tradition and how often he wove Italian wines into the offering. Sitting on the bar stool, he opened the wine with a perfect light pop, poured them each a flute and with a wide grin handed the bottle to a standing Nola and waited.
She smiled back at the quintessential Taurus and said truthfully but also knowing it would make him happy, “I’ve never had Prosecco. You are definitely spoiling me. I really do love this tradition you’ve created.” He was watching her so she did her best to follow tradition and looked at the label: "Villa Santi. Venice. Well, Prosecco and from Italy." She put the bottle down, lifted her glass, looked at the tiny bubbles, smiled again and said “Shall we?”
They clinked glasses and said almost simultaneously, “Happy New Year”, then took their sips.
Owen watched as Nola closed her eyes for a second before she said, “Umm, yum, fruitier than Champagne, but not too sweet, the lovely tiny bubbles feel soft on the tongue.”

They were still close after the toast. Owen reached out and put his hand behind her and pulled her closer so that she was between his knees, swiveled the chair around so she was between him and the counter and said, “Agreed. Now I would really like a Happy New Year kiss. You sent me off to that amazing bonfire ripe with all that pagan energy and made me think pagan thoughts about you. We've finally toasted the New Year. I deserve a kiss.”

Nola continued to be surprised by this man. This was not the kind of feedback she expected from the bonfire experience. She felt a bit embarrassed and a little confused and caught herself starting to blush again. Owen turned on the charm and moved in and kissed her. Not knowing what else to do, but feeling strangely safe, she gave into it and found herself enjoying kissing him back.

Settrano was inordinately pleased with himself. Meana was pleased that it finally looked like Nola would have someone who would try to take care of her. Tago had a small grin as well but nodded to Meana as if to say: Well he can try. Bellaria nodded too, knowing that Nola would do her best to use her intellect to avoid it.

He when he decided to stop kissing her, he found that just like when she enjoyed the wine her eyes were closed and she looked like she was still enjoying the kiss. She let out small, happy sigh as she opened her eyes. She brushed her hand along his cheek, settled it on his chest and said. “Happy New Year, indeed.... How am I supposed to teach you anything after that?”
Owen grinned and said, “I don’t know. But I’m pretty sure that Aradia has some words that might be relevant. Let’s try it again.”
She smiled and with her hand still on his chest doing her best to hold him close to an arms length and failing said, “Yes, she does. But I’m not convinced that we’ve made it to that stage yet.” To keep something between them, she took a sip from her glass before she said, “You really need to get out more.”
Owen smiled as he still held her close and said, “Oh I’m doing ok.”
To which she replied, “I’m quite sure you are.”

He relaxed the charm a little bit and took another sip and brushed his hand across her hair. Tago smiled this time, knowing this would change the tilt of the conversation. If Grigori pout, Settrano pouted.

As he brushed his hand across her hair he really looked at it. Then he lifted some strands. “What color is your hair?”
“Grey.” She teased.
He was looking more closely, “I see the grey, but there are various shades of brown and some that are almost but not quite red. The only colors I don’t see are black or blonde.”
“Even though my father’s hair was black, I’ve never had any black in my hair. I think the brown ones that leaned blonde were the first to go grey. Eventually they will all be grey. I’ve had lots of folks tell me I should cover the grey, but I could spend a fortune trying to get the highlights age has given me naturally.”
He was still fingering the fine multicolored strands when he said, “What is this? Pink paint? What are you painting pink?”
She put her hand where his was and began to work the paint out, “My daughter’s room. I’m painting over her textured wallpaper. She has asked me to paint it for years. I finally agreed on the condition that when we emptied the room so I could paint not everything would go back in. My daughter, who hates getting rid of stuff, diligently worked with me to sort through and donate a lot of the stuff she isn’t using any more, now that she is almost a teenager. The paint job is her payoff.”
“But in your hair?”
“Well I’m a thorough painter and I don’t trash the floors, but I do seem to manage to get it all over me. This room has been especially hard.”
“Hard? Painting is pretty simple.”
“Thanks.” she teased.
“That’s not….”
And she laughed, “I know. This room has been hard because of the texture of the wallpaper, which came with the house and was great when she was little because you could pin her art work or any decorations she wanted up anywhere and not have to worry about pin holes showing in the wall. But the ridges in the wallpaper are so deep that the only way to paint it is with a brush. No rolling. Do you remember the movie the ‘Karate Kid’?”
He smiled and nodded, still pleased that she hadn’t squirmed away from him.
“Well I call the pink she created Miyagi Pink, because the only way to get the paint on the wallpaper is to ‘paint the fence’." And she moved her hand up and down on his chest in a 'Karate Kid - paint the fence' motion. "I’ve been painting the fence for 5 days, specialty light base coat over the texture and 2 coats of Miyagi Pink. Paint the fence.”
And he chuckled at that.
“What’s worse is that because it's wallpaper I have to be careful not to get too much of the wall wet with paint at one time. So I’ve had to weave my way around room painting the bottom part of one wall and then moving to on to the ladder to get the top part of the next so that I don’t end up with the paint peeling the wallpaper off the walls. The fact that you only now found paint in my hair is miraculous considering what I’ve been through. I’ll be glad to go back to work next week to get some rest from my vacation.”

“Poor Nola, have some more Prosecco.”
She grinned as he released her a bit more so he could pour the wine and then he said, “You know I have people for that.”
“People for what?”
“Oh, I can’t afford them.”
“I’d give you a good deal.” And all the Grigori smiled as Owen tried to take care of Nola.
“I trust you would. But no one works for free and I can’t afford them.”
Owen was silent for a moment as he let that sink in. Nola watched him as it looked like he was going to worry and insist and so decided to provide a bit more information.
“I don’t have to tell you that Katrina changed everything. Oh we had both flood and homeowners. But the homeowner’s didn’t pay us anything because they said the damage was just short of meeting the $5000 hurricane deductable. So the flood insurance money covered the roof repairs and as well as the supplies we’ve need to take care of the basement repairs and replacing the little bit of furniture we lost downstairs. James isn’t working as much as he was before. His more lucrative job at a local timeshare hotel as a massage therapist disappeared with the flood waters. So James is doing the building work downstairs while I do the painting, which is much easier because after I block it in I can roll. One day he’ll finish…” She sighed a very small sigh, “We’ve managed to save the last insurance payment so we can have the exterior of the house painted. We’re doing ok because we’re done much of the work ourselves. But I promise you I can’t afford you. It is sweet of you to offer though.”
He let all that soak in, including the fact that Nola was working full time, painting the interior of her house on her off time, working as a neighborhood activist and teaching him…while James was barely working and not finished with the downstairs repairs, 3 years later. He poured more Prosecco in their glasses. Then as the business side of him kicked in, he said, “No SBA?”
“Well I did the paperwork and we qualified, but I didn’t like the thought of essentially signing my equity over the government and then having to figure out if we could actually follow the rules on how they let you spend the money. It’s pretty restrictive. So, no. No SBA. But again, we’re doing ok as long as we do the work ourselves. Besides part of me gets pleasure out of being able to stand back once the room is painted and say, ‘I did that’.”
And to his mental list of things she was doing Owen added, managing the family finances. And Tago nodded in appreciation.
“So you’re ok with painting, just don’t expect you to cook, unless it’s apple pie.”
She lifted her glass to him and said, “Exactly.”
“That apple pie was delicious. Were those currants?”
She smiled and nodded. “Yes.”
“I like the spicy sweetness. What else was in there?”
“I use Granny Smith Apples. I like their tartness. I use lemon to cook them down a bit with the currants and golden raisins. It’s ginger that gives it that spicy kick, and the typical allspice and cinnamon and of course sugar but not as much as is typical in apple pies.”
“Well anyone who can do pie like that can cook.”
She just smiled at him then said, “Thanks, but being good at making one or 2 things doesn’t make me a cook. This is New Orleans. I’m realistic about my cooking skills.”

And just as Tago knew it would, the practical talk had shifted the mood. Owen said, “Let’s move in the living room.” Then stood up, kissed the top of her head, grabbed the bottle and escorted her to the living room.

As Nola passed by the mantle she stopped in front of Papa Eric's photo. She looked at the empty shot glass on the mantle and asked Owen, “May I?” as she lifted her full glass toward the shot glass.
Owen smiled and nodded. So she poured a little Prosecco into the glass and said, “Happy New Year, Papa Eric.”

Owen settled into the loveseat, thinking that his Papa Eric would have appreciated both their conversations in the kitchen: the passionate kiss and the practical talk of painting, cooking and finances. He patted the plush leather of the love seat to indicate that he wanted Nola to sit next to him. She settled into a corner after pulling up the ottoman as a place for them to rest their feet.

“So how are you doing with your Shrine? Do you think that Papa Eric is settling in?”
Owen thought about that a minute.
“Well I did the activation ritual in the manual, using some of the incense you left me. I usually burn a votive when I sit down to review the manuals and I do like the way the candle holder makes the flame look blue. But Papa Eric seems to enjoy offerings of JD more than incense.”
Nola smiled at that.
Owen said, “I was always close to my grandfather. I do think that he would approve of the training you’re giving me. He was a deep thinker and liked others who were thoughtful. He passed away in June 2005. He was the one who told me that I needed to come back to New Orleans, that here was where I needed to be to be happy.”
She sipped her wine and let him continue.
“The week you first talked about the Lare Shrine I was thinking about him and even thinking about going back to Pennsylvania for the holidays to spend time at the cabin he built and where we spent a lot of time together.”
He paused slipping deeper into his own thoughts, then said, “I haven’t felt the need to go back to Pennsylvania. So yes, I think that it’s safe to say that he’s settling in quite nicely. I think he likes the fireplace mantle. It’s a link to the cabin. I also think his likes being close to where the action is … the comings and goings through the living room, without having to be in the kitchen."
She smiled at him and said, “I’m glad that it seems to be working out ok. Just keep refreshing the offerings or lighting candle every few days and before you know it you’ll be able to call on him when you need him. I find that a connection via the Lare Shrine can make the rituals more powerful. I usually light a candle at my shrine before I do any ritual or meditation or spell. I think it helps thin the veil and open the portal.”

And Owen wondered out loud "Open the portal..... Like the Grigori do in ritual when we say 'Assist us to open the way'.
Nola nodded, pleased that he could quote the ritual and said, "Yes, exactly like that."
And she thought that this could be a good time to review the Words of Aradia on the Grigori. "Owen where is the manual?"
It was on the table beside him so he reached around and handed to her. She opened it and then handed it back to him saying, "Why don't you read the Words of Aradia on the Grigori?"
He took the book from her, set his glass down and read out loud:
Before the people walked upon the world, there dwelt those beings which we call the Grigori. Some have called them spirits or gods. Some have spoken of them as powers and forces.

The old legends tell us that the Grigori were once physical beings, but that they are no longer. It is said that they dwell among the stars.

They are the Watchers of the Worlds, and the entrance and exits to the Worlds. Once it was said that the stars were the campfires of their armies, ever watching over us.

The Grigori have set their towers at the four quarters of the world and stand vigil over the portals which lay between the worlds.
Once they were called the powers of the air, and so did they come to be linked to the winds. Then were they known by the Latin names of Boreas, Eurus, Notus and Zephyrus. Yet these are but their titles. Know now their ancient names of Tago, Bellaria, Settrano, Meana.

The Old Ones come to our rituals to witness our rites, for we have a covenant with them. So do they watch over our works and help us. Our covenant with them was established at the end of the Second Age, and from this time do we mark the years of our ways.

The Grigori observe our rites, protect us, and escort us to the Moon Worlds when we pass from the Physical World.

When he finished reading Owen said, "After you left that night you first introduced me to the Grigori, I remember looking up into the sky and thinking they were a bit like some special Star Trek scanning device for Streghe."

Nola grinned and said, "Raven would like that. He's a big Star Trek fan."
"Raven Grimassi is a Star Trek fan? Were you a Star Trek fan before you became a Strega?"
"Oh, absolutely. As a child, my father and I watched The Original Series when it was in syndication. Come to think of it I always preferred watching Star Trek reruns with my Dad to going to church with my mom."

Then she added "The Words do sound a bit like science fiction. Don't they? Corporeal beings who are no longer corporeal. Who now live among the stars and watch the entrance and exits to the Worlds." And grinning she added, "Hint of wormhole there maybe?" Then more seriously "I wish I could tell you what this non-specific covenant or agreement is between us and them. But I don't know anything other than what the Words say. They 'witness our rites, watch over our works and help us'."
She paused then added, "How to you feel about the Grigori, other than as scanning devices for streghe?"

She watched as Owen worked out his answer.
"Most religions have some concept of deity 'up there". So in some ways this is not that different. Pagan religions have the concept of deity as immanent as opposed to non-pagan transcendent."
And Nola smiled Owen used words not everyone would so easily.
"Part of what always drew me to the pagan approach was the concept of the divine in this world. Yet I admit that for me it is not possible to completely eliminate the sense that there is something unseeable and unknowable in the mix. The Grigori are those unseeable parts in Streghe belief system, like the concept of God and Goddess and the all. The Wiccans refer to elementals and watchtowers. But the elementals can be generalized into almost scientific concepts and no one has ever explained what a Wiccan watchtower really is. The Grigori as Watchers are much better defined. Christianity has its guardian angels but somehow the Grigori seem more serious, no, that's not really the right word, maybe intense, yes intense than any Christian guardian angel."

"You have been reading and thinking, haven't you?"
He grinned pleased with pleasing her, "Well it seems only fair considering you are spending about 5 hours a week teaching me."
"In many ways Owen I'm more a guide than a teacher. I expose you to the concepts, adjust your thinking if it is out of alignment with what and how I have been taught and you do the rest. That's why we often refer to what we do as a path or the ways. We're just walking together right now."

Owen said, "The Grigori may be unseeable but I think they are knowable. Sometimes I think I can almost feel them watching. It's as if with that first introduction you somehow placed a tracking device on me."

And the Grigori looked at each other as if to say: As long as we're watching Nola, we're also watching you.

And she laughed lightly at that then said more seriously, "You know I once had a student who loved 'The Ways', until we got to talking about the Grigori. He said the thought of them 'creeped him out' and he stopped studying with me because of it."
"Oh I'm not creeped out. The Grigori are intense and powerful but I see, I guess feel is a better word, huh? I feel as if they are more like crack generals in an army. They are disciplined and professional, serious more than dangerous."
"Raven has often indicated they have military characteristics. So I'd say your feelings are aligned with the views I've been taught. I've always felt protected by the Grigori. One of the things that I was told was that we should work to create alignment with them. Doing the bells and smells work in the ritual helps create alignment, but I've also found I can align myself with them by asking myself, what would Tago do or Bellaria or Settrano or Meana and then realizing that each would probably take a different approach. So I can try out different potential solutions and choose the best one for me in that particular circumstance."
"What would Tago do? I'm seeing that on a bumper sticker."
And they both laughed.

They spent the rest of the evening talking about the various aspects and personalities traits of the Grigori. Nola said she appreciated Tago's quiet strength that often it felt as if he was the one providing protection both physical protection from harm and an almost fatherly protection. She felt that her alignment with Bellaria was easier almost like the older sister she never had. For Nola Settrano was the Grigori who's energy and influence she had to be careful with because when she was younger she had a tendency to be more impulsive, more spontaneous and that this hadn't always been good. She said she felt Meana was the Grigori who had helped her grow the most and that because of this she felt a special connection. Owen commented that if he had to pick a Grigori who was working with him he'd pick Settrano. All his life, he'd been doing his best to do the right thing, what people expected of him. It finally felt like he was being freed to do what he wanted, what pleased him and that sometimes when he did this it felt a bit brash, but it was a lot of fun and he wasn't planning on stopping. Well he said, except when he felt Tago's restraining influence, commenting that when Nola cast the circle Tago seemed to arrive with an impressive thud. Bellaria seemed like an influence that could keep you sharp minded. And Meana felt comfortable and warm, flowing.

And the Grigori looked at each other as if to say: By George I think they've got it.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Plants Know

Plants know naturally the science of seasons
By Dan Gill

In just a few days, on Dec. 21, the 2009 winter solstice will occur.

Here in the Northern hemisphere, we are tilted farthest away from the sun on that day. That means the period between sunrise and sunset is shorter than on any other day of the year, making the night the longest of the year.

The length of our days and nights vary from season to season because the Earth’s axis of rotation is tilted in respect to its plane of orbit around the sun.

The winter solstice marks a turning point: While days have been getting shorter and shorter and the nights longer and longer since the summer solstice in June, after Monday, the days will gradually begin to lengthen and the nights shorten. From ancient times until today, humans around the world have marked this time of year with various celebrations, festivals and religious rituals.

Plant sense
What does this have to do with a column on plants?

Well, I could mention that for thousands of years certain plants have played a role in human observances of the winter solstice.

In Europe, plants that stay green during the winter often had special significance. They were a reminder of life in the midst of freezing cold and leafless, dormant trees and shrubs. Evergreen plants such as holly, English ivy, mistletoe, and conifers such as fir, spruce, cedar and pine, are still used today to decorate our homes, along with winter-flowering plants such as poinsettias.

Speaking of poinsettias, have you ever wondered why these colorful plants bloom now, rather than for the Fourth of July?

Here’s where the horticultural lesson about the winter solstice comes in. It is important for gardeners to understand that the changing length of days and nights from season to season has an effect on the way many plants grow and what they do throughout the year.

Just like us, plants living in temperate climates where major temperature changes occur during the year need to be able to tell when the seasons are changing.

Two ways that plants do this are by measuring hours of darkness that occur in a 24-hour period, and by measuring how much cold they have experienced.

Counting the hours
The fact that seasonal changes in light during a 24-hour period have an effect on plants was researched thoroughly back in the 1900s, and the term photoperiodism was created to describe the phenomenon.

In 1920, two employees of the U.S. Department of Agriculture discovered a mutation in a type of tobacco called Maryland Mammoth that prevented the plant from flowering in the summer as normal tobacco plants do. Maryland Mammoth would not bloom until late December.

Experimenting with artificial lighting in winter and artificial darkening in the summer, they found that Maryland Mammoth was affected by the relative length of light to darkness in a day. Because it would flower only when exposed to the short-day lengths that naturally occur in winter, they called it a short-day plant.

Once this behavior was discovered, it was found to take place in many kinds of plants, such as chrysanthemum, poinsettia, Christmas cactus, camellia and kalanchoe.

Other plants, such as spinach and radish, flower only after exposure to long days and short nights, and so are called long-day plants. Still others, including many annuals and vegetables (such as the tomato), are day-neutral; their flowering is not regulated by photoperiod.

As it turns out, the terms short-day and long-day are not quite accurate. It is not how long or short the period of light is, but the length of the darkness. Photoperiodic plants actually need a sufficiently short or long period of darkness to develop a response. However, once people start using a term and get familiar with it, it’s hard to get them to change, so we still use the terms short-day and long-day plant.

Ready for a change
Plants don’t only determine when to bloom by measuring the length of night. Increasing darkness also plays a large role in some plants’ ability to anticipate the coming of the winter and respond.

It’s why, for instance, shade trees drop their leaves in November and early December, even if the weather is not intensely cold. Because the nights have been getting longer, they know colder weather is on the way.

What mediates this remarkable response are various pigments, called phytochromes, which allow photoperiodic plants to measure how many hours of dark they receive in a 24-hour period. The phytochrome, in turn, can trigger the release of various hormones or growth factors that may cause the plant to bloom or to drop its leaves or to begin forming a bulb.

How do plants know when spring is arriving, so as not to be deceived by an early warm spell?

Some photoperiodic plants can perceive the shortening of nights to know spring has sprung. Many others are able to measure the amount of cold that has occurred to determine when winter is over. When a sufficient number of chilling hours accumulate, they are triggered to bloom or send out new growth.

As the winter solstice approaches, it’s interesting to note how remarkable plants are. They have abilities to sense the world around them and to respond to it.

It might not have occurred to you that it is just as important for a plant to know when it is time to bloom or drop its leaves, as it is for a farmer to know when its time to plant a crop.

And just as we have used Earth’s movement around the sun to develop calendars that allow us to do this, many plants can also determine the time of year based on similar perceptions

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Chapter 15 - Star Trek lessons

James' sisters and their husbands and kids were in town for the holidays. Because James' father couldn't fly any more, their trips to Texas every other year had stopped and now the Texas family came to New Orleans. Everyone silently acknowledging that they wouldn't be doing it for long. James had a great family that was very close. Nola loved that Jamie got to spend time with her cousins. And there was no gift that anyone could give the grandparents better than the gift of everyone in the same room at the same time. But everyone had been here for almost a week and Nola was glad to escape the family gathering. One of her brother-in-laws was a pagan. But his wife was less accepting than James. So he mostly kept his head down and did his own thing. They rarely even got the opportunity to chat pagan while he was here. Once they had tried having more open conversations with James and his sister in the room but that hadn't gone over so well with James' sister. So now they shared quick snippets of conversation on the porch or knowing looks when they knew they were thinking the same unspeakable things as the family conversation flowed. She almost wished she could have taken him with her to Owen's but the fact that she was not going to be around the dining room table tonight was bad enough. Dragging him with her would have been family treason. So she didn't even elaborate on where she was going. Everyone assumed it was a neighborhood activist thing and she knew James would let them think what they wanted.

She had made sure that her cell phone was charged and once she got out of the driveway and down the block, called Owen to let him know she was on her way. Owen was watching the clock thinking now he could get an estimate on how long it took her to get from her house to his. He had checked the wine and set out the glasses and figured he'd wait 15 minutes before he started pacing in the front yard like some caged animal. He knew it was ridiculous but he was becoming addicted to these Thursday gatherings.
It was great when Nola could come near dusk. He hated it when her schedule made him wait until later in the evening. Tonight she was coming around 7PM which split the difference between their earliest and latest starting times.
The traffic was lighter than usual due to many folks being on vacation. So Nola made great time. She noticed that Owen was in the front yard, again. As she drove in the gate he had a pleased but surprised look on his face. As she got out of the truck he said: "Wow, is that a truck or some magic broom? You sure made great time."
Nola smiled and said: "I did, didn't I?" Then she put her finger playfully to her lips and said, "Don't tell the cops but I have a tendency to speed. Plus I probably know this city better than most. I've learned how to time most of the lights."
He grinned and she reached into the truck and presented him with one of her apple pies.
He looked surprised. “Wow, thanks.”
She smiled, “I made many for holiday gifts. I hope you like it.”
He hooked arms with her to walk her to the door and escort her back to the kitchen for wine. He liked this part of their tradition.

Nola saw the glasses on the counter and smiled. "Tradition already, huh?"
Owen grinned and said, "Yep." as he took the cork out of the already opened Ruffino wine. This time it was a Chianti. He poured his glass and then Nola's and then handed her the bottle, knowing she would want to see the label.
"Ah another Ruffino. Fun, a Chianti." And she swirled and breathed in the wine and took a sip and closed her eyes without even thinking about what she was doing as he watched and enjoyed her enjoyment.
"Nice, smooth, uncomplicated, definitely fun. Thank you for continuing to experiment".
"What no kiss this time?"
"Flirt. Shameless." And she kissed him on the cheek. "It's a perfect wine with which to hangout and watch Star Trek and then, as my daughter would say, 'philosophize'. I hope that's OK with you. I thought since we had already spent some time with 'What the Bleep' that we could finish up with the Star Treks. Do you mind?"
Owen's outside voice said, "Sure, but how did you know I hadn't watched them already?" While somewhere deep inside his inside voice quietly, 'you don't care what her plans are as long as she's here. She's right you are shameless'. And he smiled and so did Settrano.
Nola said: "Oh just a feeling. You're a busy guy. You barely had the TV system put together last time so I figured you weren't a big TV person and that you probably hadn't watched. I'm glad it worked out."
He grabbed the wine bottle and managed to hold it and his glass in one had as he hooked her arm with the other and started them toward the library she smiled at his old world manners, thinking that he probably liked the tradition because it fit with his basic tendencies.

Nola settled into the corner of the couch and enjoying the room and noticing that he seemed to have put a few more things a way as there were fewer boxes. She teased, “I see there are fewer boxes, now. So you’ve decided to stay?”
Owen chuckled, “Oh I’m staying. Latasha has been on me about having to clean around the boxes. Her exact words were, “Owen, now that you are finished knocking the walls and windows out of this room, and I have to clean it, you have to get rid of these boxes.”
Nola chuckled too. “Latasha, rules the roost then?”
“Latasha used to work at a hotel downtown but in January 2006 was having trouble finding work because so many hotels were shutdown. I got lucky and now she works for me and one or 2 other people. She prefers it to hotel work. I do everything I can to keep her happy. After 2 years, she’s practically family. I barely knew my grandmother. Latasha is like a grandmother.”

Owen loaded up the ST:The Next Generation DVD, one of the early episodes, “Where no one has gone before” and then settled in on the other corner unable to avoid sprawling his large frame on the even larger furniture. She snuggled into a corner so she could watch the show and watch him watch the show so she would know how to use it figure out where and how to focus his attention later.
Owen smiled at her as he fast forwarded through the opening credits and music. Then, like he did most things in his life, he gave it his full attention.

She watched as he dealt with the images of a reality based on and so completely influenced by thoughts. She smiled as she watched him smile as Captain Picard talked to his grandmother to figure out what was really going on. She figured he was thinking about his own grandfather. Without commercials the show was only 45 minutes. So it was barely after 8PM when it was over.

Owen moved slowly as he was lost in his thoughts about the show. Nola just watched him and waited until he shut off the DVD player.
"Very interesting, woman. Very interesting teaching tool."
She smiled at him and said, "I'm sure that if I had had tried to talk to you about how our thoughts influence our reality, with out slipping you into the world of fiction first, you would not have been so open to the concepts. Now, just like with ritual you are more open, aware and better primed for learning."
"Subtle, you let Paramount and the Star Trek writers do your heavy lifting."
"Well Star Trek is science-fiction and Nature, science, is the great teacher. Why not?"
"Nature is the Great Teacher. Words of Aradia right?"
"um hmmm, Where is the manual? This might be a good time to review them."
"Stay put. I'll be right back." And he went to the living room for the book and was back quickly with it open to the right page.
She said "Go ahead, you read them." as he sat back down with the book.
"Nature is the Great Teacher. In Her are all things revealed. Nature reflects the Higher Ways of Spirit. The Creators established the Laws of Nature so that through them we might come to know the laws of the Great Ones. Therefore observe the ways of Nature around you both great and small. Everything has a purpose and reason. Be not confused by its seeming cruelty, for there is a duality in all things.

Respect Nature in all ways. Take only that which you must from Her, and remember nothing can be taken except that something be given. This is law for all Strega.

Know that the wind speaks of the knowledge of the Earth and the spirit of the kindredeness of all living things emanates from everywhere.

Nature teaches all living things all that must be known. She teaches birds to make their nests, animals to hunt and survive, children to crawl and walk. She teaches life. Once She taught all people of Her ways, but they chose to go their own way. They chose to oppose and to control Her. But for Strega there can be no other way than Nature. A Strega must live in harmony with the Forces of Nature."
Nola said, "Nature, the natural sciences and extrapolating even quantum physics can teach us what we need to know."

Owen remembering all those walks in the woods with his grandfather said, "I always thought of the pagan lessons of Nature as rough and raw and if I had to use the sciences: geological, biological and maybe chemical."
"Well, they are but, 'Therefore observe the ways of Nature around you both great and small.' Great and small. Most classical science deals with the 'great'. Quantum Physics deals with the 'small'. Aradia's words say look to both."
"Hmm. You've moved me from outer space, back to the woods and then into the world of thought. If I'm going to think this hard I need popcorn." And he got up and put out his hand to Nola to invite her to go with him to the kitchen.

She smiled at him and followed him to the kitchen. Stopping off at his bathroom saying, "I'm going to use your facilities."
"Open the closet and peek in."
She tilted her head slightly and raised her eyebrows indicating confusion.
He just smiled and continued to the kitchen.
She opened the closet and noticed her robe hanging next to his and smiled that it wasn't crowded into her box. Her intuition tingled and she had a strange feeling that even Owen wasn't sure why he had done it. She then noticed the wooden spool also tucked in the corner of the essentially empty closet and smiled again. It really didn't belong with the rest of his beautiful furniture. She noticed that he had kept the antique coal storage box she used to hold the rest of the ritual items in his living room. This storage box was a Katrinket. It replaced the round hat box she had used before Katrina and was significantly higher end than what she had previously. She had to admit her new storage box did go beautifully in Owen's living room. Yet, she still missed the old one.

When she got back to the kitchen he already had the pot coated with oil and popcorn heating up.
"I know I asked to be able to leave the box here and it's nice not to have the robe crammed in the box, but it's not necessary for me to have space in your closet."
"Hush, Woman. I have more closets than I will ever have clothes. I thought it was funny to be 'in the broom closet' together.
And she giggled because he was right, it was funny.
"So you really think that our thoughts can influence our physical reality?"
"Yes?... just yes."
"Well minimally, yes. Streghe have a saying: "Thoughts are things." The Star Trek episode illustrated that quite nicely. Their thoughts became things. Our minds are more powerful than we know or give them credit for being. Our brains are electro-chemical. We don't know how much of this activity might be quantum in nature. So, I think it's possible, yes."
The popcorn started popping with a vengeance and so conversation stopped while he focused on working the pot and popping every last kernel. He finished with a flourish emptying the popcorn into the large bowl. Then said: "We still have plenty of wine. Do you want anything else?"
"I think I'd like some water. I'll get it. You don't have to wait on me."
"Hold on." And he reached into the fridge and pulled out a bottle of San Pellegrino water and she smiled at him.
"Owen you are such a Taurus. You get pleasure out of other people's pleasure don't you? Thank you very much. You are very thoughtful."
"A Taurus...?," then he thought about it and she was right. He realized he did get pleasure out of other people's pleasure. No one had ever told him that before. But what did that have to do with being a Taurus? He looked at her curiously.
She didn't respond right away but finally said, "Yes, a Taurus. Taurians are earth signs, you all like to be grounded, this why face to face teaching works better for you. But Taurians love the finer things in life, the best seats at the theatre, the finest tools" and she pointed to his pots and glasses and waved her hand around the room "and they love pleasure so much that they can get pleasure from the pleasure of others."
He smiled and acknowledged, "Well I think you're right. But you sound like you are speaking from experience as much as from some astrology book."
She got a bit of a faraway look in her eyes, "Yes it's a combination of book learning and personal experience. I once knew a Taurus who loved taking me places, dancing with me and making me happy."
"But not your husband."
And she realized that she had stepped in it and that Owen wasn't going to let her slide without providing more information. So she confessed.
"No, not my husband. It was before James became my husband. My Taurus was a colleague, who was married with a bit of trouble in his relationship but who was totally committed to his wife. I liked his wife. We often went out together or as a 4 foursome with their friend. My Taurus liked me but I think that in many ways I was a diversion. Someone he could spend time with, talk with, play with, introducing me to things that he thought I might miss without him. It made him happy to make me happy, to make the women in his life happy. And it was good for him to have me around when he couldn't make his wife happy."
"You had an affair with a married man."
"No," She said quietly. "I had a deep friendship with a married man. But we never totally crossed the line." And he noticed that her eyes had very faraway look. "We could have loved each other but he was already committed to his wife. I told him that I cared for him and that if his wife didn't want him that he needed to know I did. But being an earth sign and fully committed to his wife he stood firm. I respected his decision and we stayed friends until he moved out of town."
"Do you know happened to him?"
"Not really. I haven't spoken to him in a decade. And you have totally gotten us off track."
"Not me! You were the one that brought up me being a 'such a Taurus'."
"You're right. My bad. Where were we? Oh, 'Thoughts are things'."
"I believe you." He said grinning. "For a minute there your friend practically materialized in the room."
And she smiled back at him and managed to say, "You know I think that is a perfect lead in for the next Star Trek. Shall we take the popcorn back to the library?"
"Lead on teacher."

Owen loaded up the next CD and they settled in again. Nola explained that this was the 2 part opening episode of Deep Space Nine. It would take an hour and a half. She watched as Owen smiled as Commander Sisko used baseball to explain the linear time to non-corporeal and essentially timeless, eternal aliens. She watched as Owen turned to her after the Commander again returned to the scene of his wife's death and asked the aliens why they kept returning him to this place. Only to have them respond that they were not bringing him here and to have him realized that he existed here because his thoughts were powerful enough to bring both him and them back there. Then she saw his eyebrows lift as the aliens said: 'It is not linear'.

Owen powered off the DVD and turned to her, "Very interesting teaching tool, Woman. I'm not sure that I'll ever tell my brother what I am learning from you. But I sure have a much deeper appreciation of the Star Trek genre than I ever had before."
She just smiled at him and let him continue.
"I even think I begin to see what you were referring to when you said that the wheel of the year is not linear and how this combines with the power of our thought to bring us back to where our ancestors were so we can learn from the experience."
And she smiled and nodded. "Very good. I knew you would get it if I found the right tool."
He sat there so deep in his own thoughts that Nola was able to get up and take the glasses back the kitchen, pick up her purse and stop at the facilities.
When she returned he realized that she intended to leave, he turned on the charm. "You can't leave already. I'm sure there are a million things we could talk about."
"I'm sure there are too. But I can see that you are all in your head. And that's actually exactly where you need to be. I think that it's best for me to let you marinate until next year."
"Next YEAR?!"
"Yes, the next time we meet is January 3rd."
"What are you doing for New Year's?"
"Oh I'll be with Roger and company at his house in Mid-City."
"Oh then you should definitely make sure that you see the Mid-City bonfire."
And he looked at her quizzically so she responded, "It's a bonfire in the middle of the Jefferson Davis Parkway neutral ground. It's become a practically sacred thing since Katrina. You should see it for yourself and then tell me what you think, next year."
"Ok, you win, this time only. I hate it that you're right. I am inside my head."
And she held her hand out to him and he conceded and walked her to the truck, gave her one of his bear hugs and said, "See you next year."
" 'Night Owen."

Monday, December 14, 2009

Living with the Land

I'm a New Orleanian. A relatively recent one as my maternal German family only arrived here in New Orleans from German around the 1850s. My father's family was 1700's from Spain and Scotch-Irish from before the American Revolution. But my mother drug him to New Orleans.

You may have heard about a little event and its aftermath called Katrina. Katrina was a terrible storm. But I was here and we survived only to have the man made levees and drainage canals and shipping canals built and maintained by the Corps of Engineers fail and flood our home. We floated bicycles and ourselves out on air mattresses and then rode to dry land were we were, after a day on the side of the Interstate and under the guns (literally) of what passed for law and order, rescued by family.

This makes what is said about this place and why we should or shouldn't live here something I can at least have an opinion about.

Today the Huffington Post published an article highlighting just how unnatural the aftermath of Katrina was for us.

The real problem with the Corps of Engineers is that they are run by as an arm of the miltary and they are (primarily) engineers. I have nothing against engineers as people or as a profession. But engineers who work rearranging and controlling the natural landscape need to work closely with other scientists who specialize in understanding how the natural landscape works. Geologists and Coastal Scientists have been saying FOR DECADES that the Corps approach was onesided and not working with Nature. Katrina showed the flaws in their mechanism. We need to learn from this and begin to undo what the Corps has done.

For too long the people of South Lousisana have assumed that those making the decisions were making good decisions. We know better now. We watch many things more closely. We're learning. New Orleans PostKatrina was the canary in the coal mine for our future. We've had our "awakening". I think there are many things that we have done technologically across the globe that will have to be rethought and undone. I'm sure there are examples in your backyard. Pay attention. It's not all about CO2 levels. There's lots more. The Web of Life is rich and complex.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Winter Dress

Information below taken directly from International House in New Orleans

For generations New Orleanians have upheld the tradition of altering their homes for summer and winter in response to climactic conditions. Homes are often outfitted with formal wool rugs and furnishings in the winter which add warmth to tall, drafty rooms. As winter gives way to summer, wool gives way to sisal rugs and cotton slip covers, which allow furnishings to breath during the months of heat and humidity found in this semi-tropical climate International House continues this temporal tradition by dressing the hotel for summer each Easter and for winter each Labor Day.

From Labor Day through Easter, or the "not so hot" months in New Orleans, International House dresses the lobby for fall and winter. Exuding almost living room warmth, set in an exalting space with 23" ceilings and enlivened with activity from the candlelight only bar, intimate groupings of lobby furniture have been tailored in the most sensuous fabrics. Colors are derived from those found in New Orleans' native spices and in her verdant, semi tropical landscape. Fern greens and a gallery of earth tones, for instance, compliment a subtle reaux-like cayenne, and formal wool rugs coupled with flora, such as Vetiver and palms, complete the sartorial composition for the cooler season.

Equally important is staff dress, for in New Orleans people not only dress their homes but themselves in response to climate. In contrast to the cream colored seersucker suits worn in summer, staff members dress in a classic, tropical weight, black suit from Banana Republic and an earth tone shirt, reflective of the more autumnal palette during the winter months. As such, with seasonal change International House celebrates the rich traditions and mores of this temporal city.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Chapter 14 - 1st Full Moon

As Nola drove to Owen's for their first Full Moon she thought how grateful she was that, even before she knew Owen existed, she had planned to be off every Friday in December and be on vacation from December 19th until January 7th. She had felt from the beginning that Owen would want active teaching. It seemed that the only thing that worked for him was having her there in person. He always did his homework but he wanted face to face. Email didn't seem to work for him. Sometimes she teased him that he was working her harder than her corporate job. She usually did an astrological chart on her students because she had found it surprisingly helpful. Owen was a Taurus with an Aquarius Moon and Scorpio rising. His need for one on one was, in her experience, true for most Earth signs. But his facile mind was influenced by his Aquarian Moon. He loved to learn and philosophize. His charm, intensity and forthright fun was all Sagittarius.

It had only been 2 days since she had been at Owen's for the Solstice. One day if you counted the fact that she rarely left his house before 1AM. Now she was headed back for the Full Moon. Meana smiled and then Nola started musing as she drove. She remembered early in her relationship with James when she thought that it was natural for people in love to want to do things together. But James often seemed put upon when she asked if he wanted to go to a movie or a coffee house or well anywhere really. There was a turning point right after they got married when he said that her problem was that she wanted him to be everything and that she needed to find her own interests. It had hurt, mostly because it wasn't true. She was and always had been independent in thought and action. She could do things by herself or with others but she wanted to experience her life with James. Wasn't that the point of being married? But she was nothing if not a survivor and that comment had eventually led to her attending pagan classes and finding her first pagan teacher.

Over time she stopped worrying about the fact that James didn't attend the few and far between work social functions. She always went alone and over time had actually come to prefer it. She stopped worrying about the fact that James seemed uncomfortable at her family functions and focused on bonding with his family at their family gatherings. The fact that James preferred not to go to her family functions really stopped mattering once they had Jamie. As long as she brought Jamie her family was happy. They would ask about James but a happy child is a great diversion. When Jamie was little and needed more mom time, she had spent her time learning via eMail and only occasionally traveling to be with other Streghe. James preference was to stay home. He loved making sure that his family sat down to dinner every night. He was a committed dad. His schedule made it easy for him to get Jamie back and forth from school. The rest of his life revolved around his art: music and acting.

She had figured out the pattern associated with any of James' new artistic endeavors. There was the learning the script or score period. This was a time of intense focus and study. James worked to become the part or the music and forgot about everything else, except, she smiled, cooking dinner. Then there was the regimen of rehearsals. This often meant that they would tag team at the back door or right after dinner. Her job meant she had to be at work around 7AM and sometimes she didn't get home until after 5PM or 6PM. Rehearsals started around 7PM and who knew when they would end. Next was the intense pre-show week when everything had to come together. She, and now Jamie, had learned to walk lightly and to just listen when he vented or stressed. Then there was the glory period of performances. James never failed to do an amazing job. The whole process ended with the week of vegetation and recovery.

James' focus on his own endeavors and preference to stay home had made it easier focus on her own interests, whether that was being a mom, or her pagan studies, or teaching classes at a local pagan store PreKatrina or creating a PostKatrina neighborhood organization with Board Meetings every Wednesday for practically 2 years and to attending endless 'planning sessions' sponsored by the New Orleans City Council or the Greater New Orleans Foundation or the City Planning Commission. PreKatrina if someone asked her if she would become a neighborhood activist, she would have thought they were crazy. But Katrina changed everything and almost everybody. PostKatrina she had opened her home for many of the neighborhood meetings. She could tell that her, now 12 year old, daughter had learned what it meant to truly participate in civic society. Since the meetings were often at her home she never had to worry about leaving Jamie home alone when James was in rehearsal. She smiled thinking that how much fun that she and Jamie had together whether they stayed at home or went to movies or out to a girl’s lunch or anywhere really. Sometimes it bothered James that Jamie didn't seem to be as open with him, despite the fact, or perhaps because, he was home more often they spent more time together. Nola knew that much of it was because so often James didn't realize that he was so busy in his own head that he didn't seem like he wasn't really there. But she didn't worry about it because she knew her daughter loved her dad. And that dad loved daughter.

She came out of her reverie as she reached Owen's driveway. She opened the gate and drove in and there was Owen waiting in the driveway. Because she had left her altar set up at Owen's, all she had were the flowers for the altar. Owen was in the driveway by the time he opened her door and walked her in. He hated it when she left and was thrilled to have her back so soon. He was actually hoping that he would be able to talk her into coming back on their regular Thursday. But he knew she had company and might make him wait an interminable 10 days before she would return.

After only 4 meetings, it had already become habit for them to start in the kitchen with a glass of wine. Tonight is was Brunello di Montalcino. Nola let out a small gasp when she saw the bottle. Owen just smiled. He had chosen the wine intentionally hoping for this reaction. Nola was marvelously easy to please.
"Is that really Brunello di Montalcino?" She said it almost with awe.
"I love the Sangiovese grape. I've heard of this wine but I've never had it."
"Well then tonight is your lucky night."
He had opened it when she called to let him know she was on her way. So he poured her a glass, refreshed his own and then sat back to watch.
She smiled as he poured, watching the dark red no deep purple liquid flow into the glass. He handed her the glass and she swirled it and then took a deep breath"
"Hmmmmm, Fruity, like berries." Then she took a sip, eyes closes as usual so she could focus on the flavor. When she opened them she said, "Oh my god, Owen that is heaven. Rich, cherries and raspberries with a hint of mint. I am ruined for other red wines."
"OK, then we can stop experimenting and just drink this then?"
"You tease. Of course not. Let's keep experimenting. This is such a fun addition to lessons." Then she crossed over to him and planted a kiss right on his lips. "Thank you Owen. Thank you very much."
He was pleasantly surprised but not enough that his arm didn't go around her waist and hold her there. He kissed her back and said, "You're welcome, it seems that tonight is my lucky night." If Grigori do back flips Settrano did one and Meana smiled.
Nola actually blushed. Thinking to herself that it was amazing it was still possible for her to blush at her age. She put her hand on his chest, thinking 'focus on the ritual' and then said, "I'm going to change into my robe. Then I'd like to step outside into the Moonlight before we start the ritual. Did your robe arrive?"
He managed to refocus even with her hand on his chest and said, "Yes. It's here. So I should change too I guess. Then I can meet you in the back yard."

Her robe was folded into the top of her ritual box so she went back to the living room to get it and Owen went upstairs. She changed quickly. Went back to the living room and took the items necessary to set the altar out of the box and placed them on the floor. She wanted to take another opportunity to let Owen watch circle casting from scratch. She pulled out the small black binder with the ritual. Then she went back to the kitchen. Picked up her wine glass and stepped out of the back door and into the moonlight. She shared a toast with the moonlight and took a few minutes to just stand bask in the silver blue glow.

When Owen got to the back door she seemed to be in the middle of a prayer. Her hands were raised, but then she lowered them to her forehead and then her chest and finally her hips and then she opened her arms wide again. She seemed to be finished so he stepped out. She turned to him and held out her hand. He walked to her. She took his hand and then tucked her arm around his. "Isn't it beautiful?"
And it was so he said, "Yes, it is." Then "What were you doing right before I came out?"
"The Rite of Union." and she paused before she said, "Here watch."
Then she started the motions all over again saying:

"Hail and Adoration to you O Source of my Enlightenment.
I pray thee impart to me thy illumination.
Enlighten my mind that I may see more clearly all things in which I endeavor.
Illuminate my soul, imparting thy essence of purity.
I reveal my inner self to thee
and ask that all be cleansed and purified from within.

It is essentially a Streghe's Lord's, or should I say Lady's Prayer. I start with my hands raised up, which isn't traditional but an addition I learned from my teacher that I think is most appropriate. It opens me up and acknowledges the source. Then I move into the traditional part of the gesture which puts the triangle of manifestation over your forehead. Here you do it. Go ahead make this triangle shape with your hands."
And he mirrored the shape she made with her hand and put it over his forehead.
"Then you move the triangle down over your solar plexus. Then you move it down over your pubic region or root chakra. Then I open the triangle and spread my hands. Shall we do it again together?"
"But I don't know the words."
"Don't worry. I do. You'll learn them."
"Hail and Adoration to you O Source of my Enlightenment.
I pray thee impart to me thy illumination.
Enlighten my mind that I may see more clearly all things in which I endeavor.
Illuminate my soul, imparting thy essence of purity.
I reveal my inner self to thee and ask that all be cleansed and purified from within."
And he was surprised at how calm and focused and open this left him. She waited before she turned to him and said. "Let's do it one more time, to help you learn and remember."
She flowed through the movement and repeated the words slowly to allow their meaning to sink in again. When she was finished she turned to him and said, "Well shall we start the ritual?"
"I don't know, that was pretty powerful in itself."
"Yes, it certainly is. But we're here and dressed, your new robe fits you quite nicely by the way, and it is wonderful to have someone with whom to share a full moon ritual. Shall we?"
And they hooked arms, dropped their wine glasses in the kitchen and went into the living room.

Nola cast the circle and did all the parts of the ritual. She explained the various parts, including why the Veglia she used was a slightly updated version of the one in the book. She did a short meditation using a generic description of a peaceful, happy place in nature allowing each of them to go where they where their minds took them and explained that the meditation allowed the energies and the lessons from the astral to flow into them with the Full Moon's energy. It was a Full Moon teaching session ritual. She allowed and encouraged Owen to ask questions before she took down the circle. She wanted to make sure that he understood what to expect, how the movement around the circle and the altar worked. All too often rituals could be chaotic with planning and execution and individual energies and anxieties getting in the way. She explained to him how she liked to do something change her focus from work or the mundane world, often a shower was a part of her preparation and that the Rite of Union in the moonlight was actually her last step. Her hope was that next time they did the Full Moon the ritual could flow smoothly and their energies could be aligned. A Full Moon Ritual should leave the participants reenergized but calm and better aligned with themselves and the universe.

Owen couldn't help but agree and look forward to the next one.