The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Sustainable Living

As Within, So Without: Blight and the Magical Garden September 18, 2013

Relationship with the land leads to fruitful harvest!

Relationship with the land leads to fruitful harvest!

There is an old magical adage, first written by Hermes Trismegistus, that goes “As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul…”  I’ve spent a long time in trying to understand this statement, see it at work in my own life and in the broader world.  And I’ve come to at least one understanding about it–it is certainly relevant when it comes humanity’s relationship to the natural world.  I believe that there is a special relationship with humans and the natural world; we are meant to be in a reciprocal relationship with each other. When we are at peace and radiate love, this is what we get in return.  When we are self-focused and in pain, the land around us also suffers.  This sacred relationship, part of which I explored in one of my recent posts, is critical to our understanding of humanity’s role in protecting, preserving and tending the land.

 

I’m going to tell the story of this sacred relationship as a microcosm, and what happens within and without in my own life in the last 12 or so months.  I’ll end with some larger trends of the macrocosm, the larger region and world.

 

I’ve had beautiful, incredibly successful gardens my first two years of gardening–and these are the source of much inspiration or practical projects that you, dear readers, read about on this blog. These gardens have inspired me, encouraged me, and nurtured me as I was able to nurture and tend them.  We were mirrors of each other; reflections of the spirit.  I was happy, fulfilled, and content–and the garden responded with bounty and seemingly limitless growth.  This year, things are radically different–both within and without.  I’ve gone through one of the most difficult years in my adult life, and most of the major incidents that I’ve suffered this year have taken place in my home or on the land.  I’m seeing a relationship between these events and what’s happening in my garden, and I wanted to take this time to explore that relationship.

 

In a nutshell, I went through a divorce and end to a seven-year relationship in late 2012 and have suffered numerous serious hardships and betrayals with family members and friends since that time. I invited a family member that I was close to to come and live with me after the divorce; he expressed interest in what I was doing here in terms of sustainability. That turned out to be a horrific experience and I was seriously taken advantage of, my world turned upside down…in the end, it was worse than the divorce.  This, and many other events, of the last year consumed my energy and shifted my usually-positive and upbeat view into something filled with sadness and suffering. And these effects were felt energetically in my garden.

 

Blighted tomato leaves...

Blighted tomato leaves…

Despite good soil and composting practices, biointensive gardening, good crop rotations, and so forth, my garden is literally half as productive this year as it has been in previous years. Furthermore, all of the things I went through, mainly,  happened in my home or on my land–which matters.  All seemed to coincide with important gardening events.  Starting seeds and planning my crops was disrupted by the divorce and my need for recovery in the latter part of 2012 and earlier part of this year; the difficulty with my family member and some friends began right as I was planting my tender seedlings into the garden around the end of May.  As the garden was in need of tending throughout June and July more issues with my family and friend circle surfaced, and much of what I could have done was lost to weeds and pests.  Every critical garden event seemed to be mirrored with yet another life event that caused trauma and sadness.  And my usual bountiful garden is wilted, diseased, and withered.

 

Tomatoes are worth discussing here as a specific example. Tomatoes are my most important veggie; I worked for years to be “tomato independent” and grow all of my own tomatoes for sauce, salsa, dried tomatoes, etc. My tomatoes began blighting in early July; this was when some of the worst events with my family member and friends were occurring. A good friend and I spent several hours cutting off the blighted branches to save the tomato crop after we noticed the blight (which creeps up from the ground); despite our best efforts, the blight kept returning. As the events surrounding my family member intensified, so did the tomato blight. By mid-August, my family member moved out but the blight had taken most of the tomato crop. I went into the garden last week and the last of my poor tomatoes were literally all blighted and rotting on the vine before they were even ripe–I cried and cried, and then I cleaned them up and realized that there was a lesson in all of this for me, and important lesson. Its not a coincidence that tomatoes, one of my main crops, were the hardest hit by the blight–these are the plants I care the most about because they allow me to be more independent from the system, these were the ones I put the bulk of my energy into growing in the previous year.  And these are what suffered the worst.

 

Blighted plants...suffering.

Blighted plants…suffering.

I think my own story of what happened to the garden this summer is a microcosm for the broader world.  Events got out of hand in my own life, and that caused my relationship with the land to change–what was within me was reflected in the land I tend.  I’ve spent the last month and a half recovering from these events, and they have caused me to grow substantially, but the process was certainly a challenge.

 

There is an energetic connection between humans and the land–even for those present day Americans who don’t want to admit it, the connection is there.  When we are suffering, the land suffers.  When we destroy the land, we destroy our home but also, our spiritual connection.  I’ve written about this concept before in regards to the forest to which I belong (which was cut when I was 14 and regrew, joyfully, in the years since and now provides healing mushrooms).  I think about the world in peril now-much of what we see is human caused, or human facilitated.  And its a lot of suffering–oak blight, emerald ash borer, some kind of maple spot disease I have yet to identify, loss of habitat, loss of species, ocean acidification, and so forth, are all caused both by humanity’s physical actions, but also our lack of spiritual connection.  When most of America spends its time watching 4-6 hours of TV per day, consuming products that are 90% likely to end up in a landfill within a year of purchase, and engaging in practices that are directly destructive of  the lands we inhabit, I do not think it surprising that we are seeing so many tree blights, floods, and so forth.  There are physical causes, yes, but I would also argue that there are spiritual causes.  For the first time in human history, perhaps ever, our civilization has spent the last few generations disconnecting itself from food growing and production and interacting with the land.  This has a very high cost, and its one that future generations will continue to pay.

 

But all is not lost…as we move through the wheel of the seasons, ever new and yet ever the same cycle repeating, once again, a new season is upon us.  With the coming of the equinox, fall is here.  And with late fall comes the cold, the dark, the winds, the snow.  And with that cold, the land heals, it rests, it lays fallow.  In the spring, at the other side of the wheel of the year, the equinox will be upon us again, and I’ll have a chance t replant my garden anew.  To learn from past mistakes, and to heal myself through the growth of the garden.  I hope that others can do the same–that we can bring our own lives into alignment with the natural world again, so our lives and our lands can benefit.  As within, so without; as above, so below.  This is today’s lesson from the magical garden.

 

Druidry and Citizen-Research: Arbor Day Hazelnuts and Project BudBurst November 14, 2012

When I attended the East Coast Gathering, one of the talks that really stood out to me was John Michael Greer’s talk on “Reclaiming Science.”  In the talk, he argued that science has become rather corrupt, and the funding for science has been shifted away from basic, naturalistic research and into all sorts of money-making areas.  Emphasis on naturalism, the study of botany and nature through observation, has gotten a bit lost in all of this.  And yet, this kind of research is critical as our climate shifts, as species die off, and as we are moving into a more uncertain future. JMG argued that to reclaim science, Druids are in an excellent position to become citizen-scientists, naturalists, and observers of nature.

As someone whose career is based in academia and who does research for a living, I’ve witnessed what JMG suggested first hand.  Funding for basic research in a number of fields is on the decline; its not that there isn’t money available, but that money often comes with strings attached.  And unfortunately, researching things like climate change isn’t really on the agenda of most of those whole hold the purse strings.

However, a new method of science, called “Citizen-Science” encourages everyday citizens who are not formally trained in ecology, biology, etc. to do observational research and contribute to studies (that are otherwise way under-funded).  JMG argued in his talk that druids are in an excellent position to volunteer our efforts in this way.  I happen to agree, and I think that the idea of “oak knowledge” (which I have blogged about before) should include a lot of knowledge of the natural world.  One of the ways we get this knowledge is through sustained inquiry and observation of the natural world and by participating in such projects.

So to see what goes into being a citizen scientist and to heed JMG’s call, I’m going to participate in two of these citizen-scientist research projects and blog about those experiences.  The two projects are: the Arbor Day Foundation’s Hazelnut Project and Project Budburst. I selected these two projects because both, I believe, are critically important projects: The Hazelnut project addresses the need for more sustainable food systems and Project Budburst addresses climate change’s impacts on local plant ecosystems.

The Hazelnut project is testing out various hybrid hazels with the goal of improving food production from perennial woody sources. Hazelnuts are being used in a variety of food forest and permaculture-based systems, and I’m excited to be part of researching them with the Arbor Day foundation.  The Arbor Day foundation asks for a modest $20 to join the project, which includes three hazelnuts, a welcome packet, and regular informational mailings.  The hazels have been planted, and now all that I do is make sure they have nutrients, water, and space to grow. Once a year, the Arbor Day foundation will ask me to report back on how the bushes are doing, what kind of yields I get, total growth, etc.  The project is very low key and easy to do; and I get information and, eventually, a great food crop in the process.

Mayflowers on the forest floor!

Mayflowers on the forest floor!

The second project I’ve decided to participate in, Project Budburst, focuses on observation and documentation of a number of plants in the USA to better understand the impacts of climate change.  I’ve chosen for the next year to track two plants on my property – Mayflowers and Large Flowered Trillium.  Mayflowers are in Project Budburst’s top 10 of needed observations (plus, I have a very strong connection to the plant!)  The Trillium grows in the same area as the mayflowers on my property, so  I will track them both as spring approaches.  I’m hoping to add more plants in the future, but I want to make sure I commit to something manageable for this first year.

I hope to encourage others out there to try a citizen-scientist project! There are many to choose from and its a wonderful way to become closer to nature as well as to give back to create a better world.

 

Sustainability, Climate Change, and Inaction: A Stasis Theory / Rhetorical Analysis September 26, 2012

One of the most frustrating issues in the sustainability and environmental movements today is the lack of serious discussion or action of any kind on the part of world governments and leaders.  While we have stunning examples of people enacting sustainability in local communities, larger political climates, especially in the USA, seem to turn a blind eye to the elevating challenges of global warming, loss of habitat, pollution, and environmental destruction.  From the Kyoto protocol which the United States famously refused to sign to more recent non-discussion on environmental and sustainable issues in the US presidential election, it seems that issues of sustainability aren’t really even being debated, much less solved.  Even within earth-centered spiritual communities like druidry, we see substantial non-discussion of these issues (with the exception of John Michael Greer, who spends a great deal of time examining them in his books and on his blog).

As someone who studies and teaches rhetoric as part of my profession, this lack of serious public discourse really concerns me.  Dialogue on issues can lead to direct action; communication is a path to avoid conflict.  Yet, on the issue of climate change and sustainability, the silence is deafening, especially here in America.

In ancient Greece and Rome, a rhetorical system known as “stasis theory” helped parties who disagreed (in legal cases, primarily) work through a set of heuristic questions that allowed a problem to be resolved.  Stasis theory is quite simple–it involves four steps, each of which must be worked through before moving on to the next step.  By working through the four steps of stasis theory, individuals or groups were able to resolve their differences and seek solutions.  A stasis theory analysis might benefit us in terms of understanding the inaction on the part of the US and world leadership on issues of sustainability and climate change.

So now, lets take a look at the four steps of stasis theory and where we stand on the issue.

Conjecture. The first step of stasis theory is an examination of the facts of the issue to gain understanding about the issue at hand.  You might see questions like: Did something happen? What are the facts in this situation? Is there a problem at all? What has changed to cause this problem? The key in the 1st stage of stasis theory is not to debate what the problem is, but to simply agree that there is a problem and establish some basic facts that help better illustrate  the issues that surround the problem.

For sustainability and climate change, we might think about the facts of climate change–what we can scientifically observe and predict (such as predictive models used in The Limits to Growth as well as direct scientific observations, of which we have countless numbers).  We might look at fossil records, the decreasing diversity of habitat and species, the melting ice caps, the increasing temperatures, the loss of healthy aquifers, the overfishing of waterways and so on. And in terms of scientific evidence, the evidence is, well, overwhelming.  Facts in this area have been around for over 60 years, and each day more and more research provides further evidence pointing to human-caused habitat loss, climate change, and so forth.

We can already see challenges with climate change and sustainability emerging in this first step.  Most political discussions in America no longer work within the realm of what Aristotle called “logos” (or reasoning, logic, facts).  While the science behind human-caused climate change is nearly irrefutable, the facts have yet to be accepted by the bulk of America’s citizenry for a complex set of reasons. So until as a culture, and as a world, we can acknowledge that evidence that points to human-caused climate change and environmental destruction, we have little hope of continuing on through the next three stages of stasis theory.  Furthermore, the facts themselves are not readily part of public discussions on environmental issues.  They have yet to enter our public discourse and, therefore, we are stuck before we even begin.  But let’s assume that we agree on the facts (a big assumption, I know) so that we can move on to the next stage of stasis: definition.

Definition.  The definition stage of stasis theory is where people most often get stuck. In the definition stage, we consider questions such as: What exactly is the problem? Who is influencing the definition of this problem? What kind of problem is it?  We see challenges in getting past the definition stage of stasis in nearly every social issue of our day where the problem itself and how its defined isn’t agreed upon by the two groups, so no headway towards solving the problem is made (think about issues of social justice, welfare, immigration, abortion, gay marriage, etc.).

Its clear that as a culture, as a world, we have not yet agreed on what the problem is concerning sustainability and environmental destruction.  Many people think there is no problem,  and until we do, we can’t move on to the 3rd stage of stasis….which is quality.

We must learn to respect the cycles of life.

We must learn to respect the cycles of life.

Quality. When we consider issues of quality, we consider : How serious is the problem? What are the costs of solving the problem? Is this problem a good or a bad thing? What happens if we don’t solve the problem?  While some are having discussions of quality concerning the problem of sustainability, they are not happening within our larger culture but rather in smaller sub-cultures that may or may not have influence over the larger whole.  Since the bulk of our citizenry doesn’t yet actually agree upon the facts nor the fact that unsustainable/business-as-usual practices are a problem, we can’t really discuss the quality of this problem (which is quite serious indeed).

Policy. Policy is the fourth stage of stasis.  This is when we ask, What steps should be taken? How can we solve this problem? Who needs to be involved for this problem to be solved? It is at the policy stage that we begin to act. We are really very far away from the policy stage at this point, and this is part of why I am deeply concerned. In terms of climate change and sustainability, we aren’t going to see large-scale action until we are able to accept the facts, to have serious discussions about the definition of the problem, and to address the quality aspects of the problem. Discussions typically happen before action; we have to agree that there is a problem and that the problem is serious enough to engage in policy to solve that problem.  Without the earlier steps in stasis theory, policy is uninformed, unclear, and inept.

Conclusion

So what does stasis theory teach us?  I think one thing it teaches us is the value and importance of continuing, logos-based dialogue on issues of climate change, sustainability, and environmental protection.  Until we begin to have these dialogues in a serious way, we can’t expect serious action.

We *must* begin to engage in serious discussions about the living earth, and humanity’s place in it, both from a position of reason and a position of ethics.

 

Druidry and the Environment June 22, 2011

Someone on the AODA listserv put out a call for people to talk about their connection between druidry and environmentalism. It was a good experience to think, and articulate, my own thoughts on the issue.  I thought I’d share the questions–and my answers–here. 

1. Describe your spiritual path?
I am an animist druid. I see my spiritual path as being one of closeness and understanding the interconnectivity of all things. My work involves healing of the land, listening to the spirits, and protecting and celebrating all things.
Everything that I do, I do as a druid. I don’t see my life, my career, my artistic pursuits, or anything else as separate. When I go and teach in a classroom or when I sit quietly by the stream, everything is druidic. Because I hold myself up to this standard, it means that I am constantly working to better myself and live up to the principles that define my spiritual beliefs.

2. Describe your connection to the earth on both a physical and a spiritual level.
I am very connected to the land, both on a spiritual and physical level. I am gifted with the ability to sense the land in multiple ways and to interact with spirit guides and spirits of the land that help me better understand this connection. When I see the land suffering, I suffer. Sometimes I reach out and give healing energy. Sometimes, the land heals me. In both cases, we learn and grow from the experience.
3. Did you feel this level of connection to the earth and the environment before you began following your current path?
Yes and no. I have always been connected to the land, especially growing up in the forested mountains. This is where I spent my time, and where I learned my most valuable lessons. Even as a child, I would speak to the trees—and they would speak back. Since becoming a druid about six years ago, I have learned more about this gift and how to use it. My senses have deepened since undergoing druidic training, particularly discursive mediation and energy work.
4. Since starting your current path, how has your view of nature changed.
I think I understand the complexities and interconnectedness much better than I used to. I used to want to protect the land, and have always been an environmentalist. But it wasn’t until I worked closely with healing the land, hearing the stories of the lost and forgotten forests, and sharing these stories with others that I truly understood environmentalism and protection on a spiritual level. With this knowledge, however, comes great responsibility. The desire to protect and preserve has never been stronger.
5. Do you consider an environmentalist?
Yes. Absolutely. I don’t see my environmentalism as separate from my druidic path. I actually find this question kind of silly, because I don’t really think that someone can call themselves a druid, or walk any pagan/earth-based spirituality and not be an environmentalist. Or if they are, they are likely fooling themselves.
6. What pro-environment things do you do (i.e. recycling, etc)
I do everything in my power to reduce my impact on the planet and to give back, locally and internationally. I have made radical lifestyle changes to support this goal.
1) I try to eat a locally-based, vegetarian diet, that reduces my consumption, carbon footprint, and supports local sustainable agriculture.
2) I grow my own food (and have just started doing this, but am learning)
3) I compost and reduce my waste output. We now throw away less than one garbage bag every two weeks (for a family of 2).
4) I make all of my own soaps and detergents from naturally-based materials. I teach others how to make them.
5) I reduce the amount of travel and trips; we own two fuel efficient vehicles (one hybrid, one 40 mpg), I carpool.
6) We have made various home improvements to reduce our overall energy consumption and making our home more efficient.
7) I write letters daily to representatives, local papers, etc. on issues of environmental concern.
8) I use sustainable feminine hygiene products.
9) I shop exclusively at second-hand stores and yard sales and work hard to ensure that if I can purchase it used, I will do so. There are a few things I must buy new, but not that much!
10) For my teaching, I do not use textbooks, but rather make all materials digitally available. I ask students to submit their work digitally to avoid producing excess paper waste (and quite a bit can add up as the semester progresses!)
11) I can my own food and practice other food preservation techniques (root cellaring)
12) I participate in local cleanups and pick up trash in forests.
13) I financially support a number of environmental organizations.
14) I post environmentally-supportive material to my Facebook account and share it with family and friends to help raise awareness on these issues.
15) I will gladly learn, and gladly teach, and work hard to educate others about their own environmental impact.

7. What sort of things would you like to do but don’t?

I would like to live a completely sustainable life. Right now in America, to do this seems to require an inordinate amount of funds (solar power panels, expensive vehicles, etc.). It is also nearly impossible due to cultural conventions and norms (such as the lack of good public transportation, etc.). I wanted to get a car I could convert to a greasecar—the car manufacturers don’t produce cars that allow you to do so. I wanted to install a composing toilet in my house—the township won’t allow it. If you’ve ever read the book, “Everything I do is Illegal: War Stories from the Food Front (found on amazon) you’ll understand what better what I’m talking about. Most of what I feel I can’t do has little to do with me and my desire, and more to do with larger social systems that are in place to encourage and facilitate our unsustainable way of life.

Everything in our culture is geared to be used and thrown away, and while some things are easy, others are way harder. The worst thing is that “green” has become a new consumerist mindset—but it still doesn’t actually solve the problem. As long as we are still buying way more than we need, it doesn’t matter if its green or not.

So I think my limitations have less to do with my own desire and more to do with a larger cultural tradition that is incredibly difficult to escape. At the same time, I’m also aware of my own shortcomings.

8. How does that ideology fit with your spiritually?
I work as hard as I can at what I can, as a druid and human being, and live as ethically as I can (and in my mind, ethics have to do with how we treat the earth and each other). And what I can’t do now, I work to change on a larger level, and support systems of change (like supporting local, sustainable food producers).
9. What role should Druid play in the environmental activism?
The better question is what role shouldn’t druids play? I think we need to lbe the change we want to see in others. I think we need to be at the forefront of this change, and continually push to improve our own lives, and the lives of everyone else on this planet, human or not. In animism, we talk about non-human persons and their rights. This is very applicable here. I don’t want to live at the expense of other lives.
As I said earlier, I am baffled and shocked by those who claim to be following an earth-centered tradition and do nothing to protect it. I couldn’t live with myself without doing something to help—our planet is in pain, and every day with every action, humans cause more of it.

At the very local level, I am currently cleaning up a garbage dump in the forest behind my house. I’m removing and recycling all materials that can, re-purposing what can, and otherwise doing what I can to help. I like this work because it is tangible and I can physically see the difference. But then, I still have another 30 – 40 feet of trash to get through… ☺.

 

 
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