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Living in Season Newsletter

Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 3, Number 5
April 2, 2005
Thirteenth Outside

Contents

  • Welcome
  • My Season: Doing One Thing at a Time
  • April Calendar Up
  • Living in Season: Pilgrimages and Picnics
  • On my Bookshelf: Nature Writers
  • HolidayPacket: May Day
  • Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
  • Signs of Spring, Winter and Summer
  • Copyright
  • Subscribe - Unsubscribe

Welcome
Welcome to my periodical newsletter featuring ideas for bringing the beauty of the current season into your life. If you enjoy this newsletter, please forward it.

If a friend send you this newsletter, welcome! You can subscribe for free at my website: www.schooloftheseasons.com or by sending an email to:
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My Season: Doing One Thing at a Time
For the past two weeks, I’ve been living life at a slower and more satisfying pace. I could attribute this to many factors including spring break and Mercury retrograde, but I like to believe it’s because I am following my own advice, given to others via the Calendar Companion, to give up multitasking. Just as when I teach, I usually do the exercises with my students, when I write, I often take my own advice. And this last week I’ve been trying to do one thing at a time.

Until this week I didn’t realize that I am usually unconscious of the world around me when I walk (unless I am deliberately looking for something to report as a sign of spring) because I’m lost in thought. When I walk with awareness, I notice so much more: the swaying branches of the birch trees, the scatter of cherry tree petals in the grass, the fragrance of privet, the musty odor of the horse chestnuts.

Walking is a relatively easy place for mindfulness but other tasks have been revelations. Driving a car, for instance, without thinking about something else, takes me back to the days when I was learning to drive, experiencing the sheer pleasure of having this huge beast (I drive my mother’s cast-off 1978 Ford Granada) respond to my commands. When it’s hard to stay in the present moment, I use the practice of naming what I am doing to keep me aware. “I am turning the steering wheel. Watching the road. Stepping on the gas pedal.”

I thought giving up multi-tasking would mean I got less done. Instead my life feels more spacious.

Blessings of slow time,
Waverly Fitzgerald

April Calendar Up
Check out the April calendar for holidays to celebrate this month, including several New Years and festivals honoring the Earth Mother.

Living in Season: Pilgrimages and Picnics

When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower;
When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
Into the Ram one half his course has run,
And many little birds make melody
That sleep through all the night with open eye
(So Nature pricks them on to ramp and rage) —
Then do folk long to go on pilgrimage,
And palmers to go seeking out strange strands,
To distant shrines well known in sundry lands.
And specially from every shire’s end
Of England they to Canterbury wend…

Prologue to the CanterburyTales by Geoffrey Chaucer

Spring is the season for pilgrimages and picnics.

On the thirteenth day after Persian New Year (Spring Equinox), that’s April 2 this year, Persians leave their homes before dawn and stay outside all day. It is understood that on this day, the spirits will have the run of the house in return for leaving the family alone the rest of the year. According to Elizabeth Luard this helps speed the spirits towards heaven.

I’m not sure the weather will be nice enough to go outside Saturday (on Friday in Seattle we had the usual end of March wild weather — two bursts of hail interspersed with sunshine) but I’m already feeling the urge to spend more time outdoors and to plan my summer vacations.

Vacation is a funny word. As Jay Griffiths points out in her wonderful book about time, when you go on vacation, you “vacate” the place where you normally live and go off to someplace else, usually alone or with your nuclear family. She was contrasting that to the community-building nature of a holiday (or festival) which is celebrated at home with family and friends. But there is value in vacating the place, whether it’s to let the spirits dance in your house or for you to return and find the place is different because you have changed.

Right now, I’m sorting through many options for my summer including yoga retreats, meditation retreats and vision quests. I’m not planning a big trip this year. I have a sort of horror about being thought a tourist so I prefer vacations where I can stay in one place for some time and develop routines of comfort. So I loved spending six weeks in Aberystywyth on a summer study program sponsored by Olympic Community College, which was my last long trip. On my first day in town, I went to the local library, got a library card and took out 10 books which I set up on a shelf in my dorm room, thus recreating one of the comforts of home. I also savored my late evening soaks in a huge Victorian clawfoot bathtub which was located in a separate room on the floor below mine (all the other Americans took showers).

When I undertake a trip where I’m constantly moving, (like my trip to South Dakota and Minnesota pursuing family history) I usually have a goal, a treasure I’m hoping to gather. What inevitably happens, and I think this happens to all pilgrims, is that the journey rather than the destination becomes the treasure. The totally unexpected encounters — the breakfast with the head of the country historical society at a café in Bison, South Dakota or showing up at the family farm during hay baling — still linger in my memory.

I remember hearing about a traveler like me, rather shy and insecure about journeying to a foreign country, who was advised by a friend to look for one thing everywhere she went. I don’t remember the story exactly — I don’t even recall the gender of the traveler — so forgive me if I get the details wrong. This is how I remember it. The traveler chose apples and everywhere she went inFrance, she went to the local market and asked about varieties of apples, the conditions under which they grew and how they were cooked. She was invited to walk through orchards, to participate in the making and consuming of cider and feted with apple dishes of all kinds in private homes, simply because her interest gave her a way to connect with people.

I suppose you could say she was on an apple pilgrimage. Just as I was considering this topic for the newsletter, I learned that my brilliant webmistress, Joanna Powell Colbert, had written on the topic of pilgrimage and travel in her March 18th journal on her website.

In planning her upcoming trip, Joanna uses Phil Cousineau’s definition of pilgrimage: “a journey towards something that is sacred to you.” But then she asks the question of how we can honor the sacred at home.

Many years ago I signed up for a pilgrimage led by Seattle therapist William Whittman to sacred sites in the city that honored water. I had just returned from Aberystywyth where with the help of local guide books I had tracked down sacred sites like standing stones and magic hawthorn trees, although I passed up the opportunity to spend the night on Caer Idris, from which one descends either a madman or a poet. I felt the sacredness of the land in Britain quite vividly (perhapsBritain is my spiritual home, certainly it is my literary home), but I was not aware of any sacred sites in Seattle. So I was intrigued by the chance to visit them.

Whittman himself was a transplant — he had moved to Seattle from the Midwest and spent almost a year orienting himself to the new landscape, ferreting out special places. Perhaps it was this fresh perspective that helped him notice places I had taken for granted.

Our first site was a popular beach where I had often taken my daughter and her friends to swim. While sitting on the pier in silence, communing with the place, I realized that it had a joyful energy that no doubt attracted people. Or maybe it was the other way around — the joy people experienced at Madison Beach added to the light energy of the place. Even more likely, the two played off of each other.

This site contrasted dramatically with a more northern beach on the same body of water (Lake Washington). At Magnuson Park, Whittman talked about how he experienced the nature spirits of the West as much grander in size and scope than those of other locations. I recognized that I had been trying to sense small beings (the little folk) and when I expanded my perception to take in the whole grand panorama of windswept lake and snow-covered mountain ranges before me, I got an impression of a grand, ancient, brooding energy,

I spent the subsequent year going on pilgrimage on the eight seasonal holidays to another sacred site that Whittman mentioned: an old cemetery within walking distance of my home. But you don’t even have to go that far to find a sacred site. It might be a place you’ve created in your back yard or a particular tree in your neighborhood. When I was a child, I loved to walk to school a particular way so I could touch my “magic tree,” a gnarled fruit tree in a vacant lot, the only remnant of an abandoned home site, and possibly a tree that missed human contact and welcomed my loving presence.

John Tallmadge defines pilgrimage as “homage to one’s origins in landscapes of learning or transformation … an aspect of reflection and witness that preserves the land’s gifts by sharing them through stories.” That’s certainly what he’s done in his marvelous essays on his experiences in nature. He ends his book The Cincinnati Arch with this thought:

“To know where you are, you have to leave and return. You have to travel the full trajectory of the arch, heading out farther and wider before bending back toward the place where you started. And when you get there, it is no longer the same place, because you are no longer you.”

During this month of April, take some time to visit a sacred site or to immerse yourself in the “refreshment of the wild.”

References
Cousineau, Phil, The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seekers Guide to Making Travel Sacred, Conari 1998
Griffiths, Jay,
A Sideways Look at Time, Tarcher 200?
Tallmadge, John,
The Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City, University of Georgia Press 2004

On My Bookshelf: Nature WritingOn the Web: Making Magical Eggs
I’ve been on a nature writing binge recently, inspired by a Seattle Weekly cover story (Feb 16, 2005) by David B. Williams, which describes his investigation (using clues from place names and natural features of the landscape) to piece together a natural history of Seattle.

I heard David read a chapter from his forthcoming book, The Street Smart Naturalist: Field Notes from Seattle, at the Burke Museum almost a year ago and am eagerly looking forward to its publication in June.

Meanwhile I’ve been enjoying books by Craig Childs and John Tallmadge. In The Secret Knowledge of Water: Discovering the Essence of the American Desert, Craig Childs writes about his quest for water in the desert landscape of the American southwest in language that is so stunning and poetic, it sometimes distracted me from his narrative. But I was left with vivid images of the power and beauty of the desert landscape and the ways water works in an arid climate.

John Tallmadge is also a lyrical writer but the language rarely gets in the way of his essays. I would compare him to Michael Pollan (Botany of Desire) in his ability to combine personal story with clear prose. I first read Cincinnati Arch: Learning from Nature in the City, about how he learned to appreciate the way nature shaped life in the city. I’m currently enjoying Meeting the Tree of Life which offers a wider view of his development as a teacher and nature writer, beginning with his first trip along the John Muir Trail. He always interweaves philosophy and reflections from his favorite nature writers (Thoreau, Muir) with personal story and vivid descriptions of place.

Holiday Packet: May Day
“May Day is rich in customs, perhaps more so than any other day of the year.” So says theOxford Companion to the Year. If you are interested in learning about some of these customs, order my May Day packet, an illustrated portfolio of over 30 pages which includes:

  • Ancient traditions of Floralia, Beltane & May Day
  • Instructions for creating a Maypole and dancing around it
  • Recipes for May wine and other traditional May Day foods
  • Special May Day divinations and songs
  • The language of the flowers
  • Ideas for May Day gifts
  • And much more.

The print version is $14; please allow 10 days for delivery. An email version is also available for $9. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours. Order at: Order here.

New Slow Time Class Beginning April 15
I was a bit premature in my hope that a publisher would have snatched up my Slow Time manuscript by now and have it in production for the Fall line (it’s currently being read by Conari). However, the good news is that I can offer the class again as an online course. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know some of my subscribers better and they’ve been teaching me things about time as well. As I work on the manuscript and get feedback from my students, the course is getting richer and deeper.

This twelve week course is designed to transform your experience with time,through a series of exercises and steps, which move you from seconds, through hours, days, weeks, moons, months, seasons, years and finally to the spacious arena of the night skies. You will learn:

  • How to find the tempo that is natural for you
  • The difference between artificial time and natural time
  • The way your past affects the present
  • Simple ways to attune with the natural rhythms of the seasons
  • Ways to slow down and savor your life
  • How to create a sacred relationship with time

You can register now in our Store.

Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
It’s not too late to order the Calendar Companion, the latest offering from School of the Seasons. This is a graceful way to incorporate spirit and seasons into your life. Use it along with your usual planning tools and calendar to help you:

  • Slow time down
  • Consult your soul while creating your schedule
  • Make time for what's truly important in your life
  • Move in rhythm with the seasons and the moon

Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.

Start whenever you like. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next week's calendar companion, along with an introductory email.

$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. Click here to order, or to see a sample reflection.

Signs of Spring, Summer and Winter
Here in Seattle, it feels like Summer. The horse chestnut trees are blooming and the lilacs are in bud. Normally, both of those events occur on May Day at the earliest.

Whereas Tammy from Santa Fe is still waiting for Spring. She wrote that it seemed “Spring was arriving because the prairie dogs were finally out and about, But then we had a huge snow storm hit a week ago and we went from 60 degree weather back to below freezing, and we had another snow storm hit yesterday [March 25]…. I check daily for signs of buds on the trees in my yard.  There are a few nodes on the Japanese cherry trees outside, but normally by now they would have already had blossoms on them and even leaves starting to appear.” 

But it is Spring in some places. Elenya from Oakland reports that the early roses are blooming (along with early aphids!) and the orange and lemon trees are beginning to bloom. “Smells are of late spring flowers alternating with sea breezes or offshore warm and dry winds.”

While Hannah in Bismarck, North Dakota and her daughters were happy to see their first sign of spring: the first robin on March 29. By the following day, Hannah said they saw robins everywhere.

Is it Winter, Spring or Summer where you live?

There are more descriptions of spring here.

I love getting a glimpse of the season in so many different places. Send me the signs of the season where you live, and I will post them here.

Copyright
Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2005
All rights reserved. You may reprint material from Living in Season in other electronic or print publications as long as you credit me and provide a link to: http://www.schooloftheseasons.com. Please send me a copy of the publication.

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