Tag Archives: So Many Books

The Witch’s Bedtable: Yule Gifts from the Greenman


Every school child can name the four basic flavors, ticking off on their fingers the sweet-sour-bitter-salty mantra. But just as there’s a fifth finger, there’s another flavor that most of us overlook or simply weren’t taught because it can’t be easily described, any more than we can describe a cat’s purr: It’s umami, or savory. Think mushrooms, olive oil, oysters, or avocados. Their flavors don’t fit neatly into traditional taste tests, so we just say “good.” Same with a cat’s purr.

Likewise many gardening books, like formal education, are mostly derivative, transferring old bones form one pile to another while teaching us methods of coloring inside the lines. This is important for goal-oriented horticulturists, who are all about results; soil testing, pruning just so, planting in rows, special soil mixes, and all those other tools and techniques make sense from a purely productive perspective.

But our right brain urges us to slow down occasionally, to leave efficiency in mid-stroke and savor little unexpected experiences. There is magic in the everyday, and our physical senses are ready to receive. Once you smell fresh-cut basil, just seeing a photo of it will conjure the fragrance in our mind. We need to feel the hot sun on the back of our hands, or raise our arms a bit to let a sudden breeze chill the sweat under our shirts, smile when a dragonfly lands on our tomato stake, taste the tangy sourness of a clover flower stalk, and pay attention to a wind chime as it interprets an otherwise silent breeze into language our eyes and ears can understand.

This is what Augustus Jenkins Farmer — Jenks as I know him — is all about, and more. This book shares his take on both the left-brain basics of how we garden — the quintessential tools and techniques — as well as the intangibles of why we love what we do.

~ Felder Rushing, Foreward, Deep Rooted Wisdom: Skils and Stories from Generations of Gardners by Augustus Jenkins Farmer.

Picture found here.

The Witch’s Bedtable

So Many Books

The ultimate method [that Ted Hughes uses] to balance the forces he finds is the [same] one [with which] he began: myth. In doing so, Hughes sets his shoulder against the Audens, the Larkins, and the whole blank, alienated intellectualism of the modern enterprise. As magicians, we are doing the same work. Our culture is hostile to the numinous, disenchanting nature that it might be destroyed, splitting man and woman into consumer slaves[, and] selling us the grave goods of industry. It is time that we made our spells potent in song and deed, make terror our ally. Hughes relates to that: The inner world separated from the outer world is a place of demons, the outer world separated from the inner world is a meaningless objects and machines.

I suggest we befriend and bring back the demons, the abominations, the jaguar spirits and with them destroy the machinery that is murdering us, singing meaning back into things. Yet we must also face up to our own complicity, our own guilt. The confession must be made. We are not somehow set apart from this, as some of the egocentric approaches to the left hand path suggest[;] we are inseparable. There can be no self-deification unless the hero undergoes change. Entropy is not attainment.

~ Apocolyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey

Sudden Light
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before, —
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turned so
Some veil did fall, — I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite
And day and night yield one delight once more.

~ Dante Gabriel Rossetti in Pre-Raphaelite Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Paul Negri

The technology that’s useful to help a human worker do his job more effectively is not the same as the technology that’s needed to replace him or her with a machine. As cheap abundant energy becomes a thing of the past, replacing workers with machines will no longer be a viable option, but providing workers with tools that will make their labor more productive is quite another matter. The problem here is that very few people are used to thinking in these terms. While every industry in the world once had a vast amount of practical knowledge about the tools and training human workers needed to do their jobs well, nearly all of that knowledge is endangered, if it hasn’t already been lost.

~ The Wealth of Nature: Economics as if Survival Mattered by John Michael Greer

Picture found here.

Close Your Eyes and Listen

third eye

Judith Laura has recoded audio for some of the meditations in her books, all 20 of the guided meditations from Goddess Spirituality for the 21st Century and from the 1999 and 2010 editions of She Lives!

If you’re like me, you’ve read dozens of books that include meditations or other exercises that you can do to improve your experience of the material. Some of them even suggest that you record the meditation, etc. so that you can listen to it with your eyes closed, while drawing or journaling, or while doing the described movements. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never bothered.

I love the idea of having the meditation recorded, especially by the author. I’m a complete techno-Luddite, but surely it’s possible to embed the audio for such meditations in Kindle books? Or to include a CD or a link to a website in dead-tree books? A link to a YouTube video?

Picture found here.

I’d love to see more authors follow Judith’s example.

Friday Book Fanfare

Robert Michael Pyle

Robert Michael Pyle

Next on my booklist: The Tangled Bank by Robert Michael Pyle.

What’s next on yours?

Picture found here.

Nicely Done

I haven’t read the book, yet, but there’s a level of professionalism here that’s really refreshing.

Garden Reading in the Snow

Snowy Portal

Snowy Portal

We had rain last night and snow this morning — big, fluffy flakes that dusted the ground and the magnolia trees before more rain made them melt. There are a few things I’d like to do in the garden — weed the southern half of the herb bed one more time, put away some wire supports that are still out in the cottage and woodland gardens. I’m worried that the daffodils and day lilies are already trying to sprout — it’s been unseasonably warm here until the last week or so. I’d like to do a bit of protective magic on them. But today was too cold and wet. Instead, I stayed inside and read about gardening.

A very dear friend gave me One Writer’s Garden: Eudora Welty’s Home Place for Yule, and I’m loving the discussion of early Twentieth Century gardening and Welty’s relationship with her garden.

Gardenista has a lovely post about cottage gardens. This, in particular, rings true: “The gardens we love are more about feelings than facts.” Another beloved friend recently sent me a picture of a plaque with Alfred Austin’s quote: “Show me your garden, provided it be your own, and I will tell you what you are like.” And every garden is, of course, greater than the sum of its parts.

One of my favorite garden writers, Amy Stewart, has listed tons of gardening ebooks available for $1.99. I’m adding half a dozen of them to my iPad Kindle, starting with Mrs. Whaley and Her Charleston Garden. Who knows? By the time Spring comes, I may even have read all of them.

Is gardening one of your resolutions? If so, or even (especially) if not, you should read what Andrew Weil has to say about it. I especially like his Wendell Berry quote about growing our own food: “It is — in addition to being the appropriate fulfillment of a practical need — a sacrament, as eating is also, by which we enact and understand our oneness with the Creation, the conviviality of one body with all bodies.” I know that gardening is, indeed, a sacrament for me.

Do you garden? How do you pass the months when it’s too cold?

Picture found here.

So Many Books, So Little Time

Thursday Evening Potpourri

*When I grow up, I want to be Rima.

I find that my walking is teaching me; each time I go out one more stranger has become friend. I look at the wayside plants through vehicle windows with longing as I zoom by. . . . Even the mud in the middle of the road sprouts tiny plants, determined, unnoticed and driven-over. As time goes on, my book will fill with green learnings, as I make my apprenticeship with the hedge.

These hedgerows are my home, and in time they’ll be my food and my medicine too.

*I really need to read this book: The Fifty Mile Bouquet:

“In my business practices, I work hard at engaging and educating my immediate community – literally my neighbors – and the city in which I live. I try to always be transparent about what I am doing and what my goals are when people ask about my business. I have recently hired my first employee and I am paying well above minimum wage (more than I can afford, really) and providing flexible work hours that fit into his schedule so his quality of life improves because he is working for me. I make a point to donate lots of flowers to different non-profits and to nursing homes. . . .

Most important[], to me at least, is that I have a rule: my flowers never go further than 75 miles from where they grew. I want my flowers and my business to enrich the lives of those who live around me in as many ways as possible. To me, that’s giving back more than I take from this world.”

*New guilty pleasures: (1) Leonard Cohen’s I Caught the Darkness, as I’m doing stretches after the treadmill. (Come to think of it, the stretches are guilty pleasures, too. I’ve always skipped them before, but now that I’m so sore from all the gardening, they feel really good.) (2) Following @theLadyGrantham on Twitter. If I can’t be Rima in my next life, I want to be Maggie Smith. (3) Pea shoot, borage, & vinaigrette salads. Why have I never grown borage before? (4) Now that it’s getting warmer, G&Ts on the porch with Catoctin Creek Watershed Gin. (5) Morels. They’re only here for a short time. Life is short. Eat as many as you can. (6) Ditto: ramps. (7) One drop of BPAL Morgause mixed with one drop of BPAL Hygeia on the best, crispest, most transparent, most carefully-ironed linen handkerchief I own, slipped into the fridge in the morning before I go to work and retrieved when I come home and sit at my altar. No need for incense now that it’s warm.

What are yours?

*I tend to shy away from best-seller books, esp. the ones that sound as if they combine the worst of Lifetime Specials and Oprah. But I kept reading and hearing rave reviews of Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed from people whose tastes run at least parallel to mine, so I bought it on Kindle and figured I’d read maybe a chapter or two. In the end, I got engrossed and read the whole thing.

On the list of Things That I Will Never Do, starting out alone, completely inexperienced, and without resources to hike from Southern California to just north of the Bonneville Damn is pretty near the top. (It’s followed, quite shortly, by starting out with company, experience, and resources to hike from Southern California to just north of . . . well, Moon in Taurus, old broken ankle, and addicted to hot running water and a firm mattress; just saying.)

But I’ve been thinking a lot about Strayed’s point that serious physical challenges, especially in nature, can transform a lot more than one’s body. I may have more to say about this, eventually. (I will say that some editor must have cut stuff from the end to keep the book “best-seller length.” Strayed’s transformation is too rushed and too little explained near the end and the writing style suddenly seems “edited.” Minor complaint. I’d really have liked a chapter or two that explained what it was like for her to re-enter civilization and deal with “the real world,” with getting a job, staying off heroin, becoming a writer, dealing with her family, etc. Too many of us have had experiences at a retreat, festival, workshop, etc. that seem transformative, only to find that returning to our “normal” lives makes it difficult to live out our new revelations. Major complaint.)

Have you read Wild? What did you think?

Picture of wisteria in the blogger’s garden by the blogger. If you copy, please link back.

Starstuff and a Farewell to America’s Reach to the Stars

All people (and I include plants, and animals, and mountains, etc. as people) are, as we Pagans are fond of noting, made of starstuff, made of “billion year-old carbon.”

I was born in 1956 and the “Space Race” — America’s competition with Soviet Russia to reach the Moon — is generally thought to have begun around 1957. (One v good side effect, and I admit there were many bad ones, but one v good side effect was a massive amount of money spent on America’s education system, esp. science, math, phys ed. from which I definitely benifitted. We could use a similar spur today.) So I grew up sitting, at various (often early-morning) intervals, hunched with my family, around our tiny black-and-white TV watching this amazingly exciting thing: monkeys, and then men (of course, they were ALWAYS men, back then; Hillary Clinton famously applied to be an astronaut and was turned down for lacking a penis) going INTO SPACE.

I can’t think what events in human history may have been at the same time as communal (the WHOLE COUNTRY was up at 4:00 am to watch the launch, re-entry, space walk; it was ALWAYS front page news in both the morning (Post) and evening (Star) papers; it was ALWAYS what Walter Cronkite mentioned first on the evening news) and as exciting as those space voyages. The first fan letter that I ever wrote was to John Glenn, who wrote back to me — a typed letter on NASA stationery! — to thank me for my “nice thoughts.” I’m not sure that he was completely able to make out my six-year-old printing, as he addressed the letter to a conglomerate of my first name, my brother’s first name, and my sister’s first name, as my mom had insisted that I sign the letter for all of us. But he wrote back to a six-year old girl and that’s something.

As I got older, science fiction became my genre of choice (followed, only shortly behind, by biography; I was sure that SOMEONE would show me how to live!). You name a science fiction author, I read them. (Which may be why I so much enjoyed reading Among Others (huge subplot devoted to girls who like Science Fiction) over Yule this year.) I think that I started, pretty much by accident and because it was one of the few books that I hadn't yet read at the Silver Spring library, with The City of Gold and Lead by John Christopher (beginning, as always in the midst of the hardest movement; I think I can count on both hands the trilogies that I DIDN’T begin reading in the middle; someday, I’ll tell you the story of me reading LoTR) and worked my way pretty much through the entire genre, esp. paying attention to Madeline L’Engle through Octavia Butler and Dune and everything (from Heinlein to Anthony to Verne and Wells to, well, you get the idea) in between. My very first lesson, as a student teacher, to a real class (of fourth graders!) was devoted to understanding Science Fiction. Nowadays, I’m a bit selective; I’ve read a lot of those plots before (as we all know, there are really only two plots in the entire world: (1) Someone Goes on a Journey and (2) A Stranger Comes to Town; and that’s really just one plot, told from two different points of view). But it’s still “home” to me — Science Fiction.

I admit to developing some ambiguous feelings, over time, about the money spent on a space race (which more and more seemed to be about developing space weapons) while people starved and went without health care and about the notion of colonizing other planets when we were all-too-obviously incapable of taking care of our own. And, yet, in the end, the notion of pushing forward the boundaries of human knowledge and the value of understanding our universe always won out for me, always lured me back into the excitement of those moments when everyone in the world watched people walk in space, walk on the Moon, splash back down. (Though I’d still hate to see a colony on the Moon — my Mother, mystery, the source of my monthly devotions.)

I still remember the exact moment when, teaching high school, I stepped out into the hall during class change and the math teacher next door to me told me that The Challenger, carrying a woman, and, for the first time, a teacher, (years after NASA told Hillary and many other girls, “NO,” they decided to admit women) had exploded after lift-off. I went back to my own classroom (luckily for me, it was my planning period) and wept for the better part of an hour.

And so, it was with a lot of tears today that I stepped outside, onto the roof of the office building where I do law, and watched Space Shuttle Discovery fly over DC before being grounded. There are gorgeous pictures all over the web; maybe my favorite is this one, which shows Discovery flying past the scaffolded statue of Columbia (Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace) atop the U.S. Capitol:

(Picture found here.)

Or maybe my favorite one is this one, taken by my beloved and brilliant friend, E:

Or maybe my favorite one is this one, which shows DC so well:

(That’s me, that teeny, tiny, less-than-a-tenth-of-a-pixel over in the far right-hand corner, the woman in a navy blue suit waving, with tears running down her cheeks.)

(Picture found here.)

Or, maybe, and, yes, I think this is really my favorite, my favorite picture is this one that shows Discovery flying past a wonderful sculpture (in my city of sculptures upon a swamp) known as Awakening:

(Picture appeared in Capital Weather Gang blog).

I love it best because it combines the elements of the human hand with one of what (I still want to hope) is the highest products of human hands: the reach into the stars.

I started this post out as a potpourri post, but it’s grown too long. I’ll end here. What do you think about the move into space? How do you feel about the fact that America has abandoned that goal to the Chinese and others so that we can give big tax breaks to the already-too-rich (counsel is leading the witnesses)? Did you grow up reading Science Fiction? What books formed you? Who do you still read?

Initial picture found here.

Looks Good