Conversation With A Bog in Ireland:
First of all, I had no idea that I was walking on a bog in the beginning. We had just arrived in Ireland and I was anxious to get out on the land.
It just looked like a field any normal field in central New York State where I live. We had asked a local server at the pub why the “holy well” shown on the map seemed to be on private property and how did others access it.
His answer, “Fences are for keeping the sheep in, not people out.” So we climbed through and through and through.
What is this place, I asked?
My feet sink in and there is a silence that I’ve never heard before. A silence that is so still. Like the still point of balance. Like the worlds, under, above and between, were in perfect soundless harmony.
And the water, ohhhh, the water. I am walking on water. Aren’t I?
Then an awareness, a sudden sense occurred. It was a realization that I had slipped or, it would be better said, sunken, into the watery soul of an Irish bog.
Simultaneously, and even more profoundly, I was struck by the loss of my constant and lifelong sense of homesickness. It had been such a chronic companion that I had actually forgotten that I even had it until this moment. It was gone. I was no longer homesick. After traveling 24 hours by car and plane and car again, over the Atlantic ocean, to a place I had never been before but had only heard about and where I had been for just one day and now, having wandered into what looked like a normal pasture that was really just a green ocean like I had never experienced before full of strange flowers and smells that were owned by people that, apparently, were ok with strangers walking on their property to find hidden sacred places and my heart, soul, and sopping wet socks, knew I was home.
Where did my homesickness go?
It left when you returned.
What is that silence?
It’s the sound of the wind standing still.
I think it was what Irish poet William Butler Yeats described as “that condition of quiet”.
“Even to-day our country people speak with the dead and with some who perhaps have never died as we understand death; and even our educated people pass without great difficulty into the condition of quiet that is the condition of vision. We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life….” ~from The Celtic Twilight
Will I fall through?
You already have. Why are you here?
I’ve come for my ancestors. Where are they? I’ve come because I have been orphaned and have no homeland. I’ve come because I was born in America but my mother told me that I’m Irish and Italian and in elementary school we were assigned a class project where we all had to research where we were descended from and none of us could say America. We were all from somewhere else. Ireland, Italy, Poland, Africa… Like orphans, homeless, a motherland we only imagined and grandparents with accents that they tried to hide and stories they didn’t tell. No stories. No ancestors. No sacred burial grounds. In Ireland the signs said "burial ground" instead of cemetery. The word "cemetery", so clinical, so dead.
I’ve come because there is a gaping hole in the tapestry of who I am. A place where the threads were dropped or cut, left, unwoven.
Your people left here because they were dying.
Wouldn’t dying have been better? Dying here. Dying to this place, dying to our ancestors, our clans, our cheiftans, our kings, our holy mothers, the stones, this mist, the rain, this softness beneath my feet. What life do we have without the water to shape and tender our roots?
You have a lineage. Yes, unwoven so.
And the grass, my cousin was with me and she noticed, the grass was like our hair. Coarse, thick, unruly. We laid down in it.
I can’t stay here.
Return is not the same as going back. When you return home you awaken a place in your heart that exists now. Feed it. Tapestries aren’t made from sewing back and forth over the same stitches. Make new ones.
Make a home for exiles.
And the well. We found the holy well finally. It took all day although we had passed right by it when we first set out. It was not a grand well but a hidden pool where the water rushed out and along the surface. As did we.
“You did not come into this world, you came out of it.
You are not a stranger here.”
Why I Garden
I remember the day a friend asked me why I was wasting so much time tilling and digging and planting and weeding my garden when vegetables were so cheap in the grocery store, especially during the summer. I had to admit, it was a reasonable question that I didn’t really have an answer for. I just gardened unconsciously and never once wondered why I was doing it. It just seemed like something important like doing the dishes. That was all I could say, “I guess I like it.” But it made me think and, since then, I have asked myself the same question over and over until it has become a longstanding internal missive of mine. “Why I garden” has become what I like to call a life thesis that cycles through my day to day during the growing season as I plant rows and pull weeds. I have put this question to not only myself, but to the soil, the seeds, and the green beings with whom I engage in this activity. I don’t expect to ever really have a concrete “answer”, nor do I particularly want one, as I truly enjoy the rush of curiosity such a question incites and prefer to stay in the “asking” state indefinitely. This allows me the joy of contact with the infinite and magical depths of this sacred and ancient human activity with presence while staying open to the authentic responses of my own heart.
Instead of coming up with the answer to “why I garden”, I have discovered many truths:
I garden because my father planted a garden that took up almost our entire city backyard even though my brother and I begged him for an in-ground pool. And because he planted tomatoes that we ate fresh for dinner every night, sliced and sprinkled with salt. I garden because he used to sound so happy when he said he had planted the “basilee-gal” which means sweet basil in his interpretation of his father’s Italian dialect.
I garden because every time we went to visit an extended family member during the summer they gave us a tour of their garden.
I garden because I think I’m in Eden. I think we all are and we are only cast out when we forget this and think we need something more than this great, green quintessence.
I garden because my grandparents lived on a sandy, rocky mountain and they dragged in topsoil, piled it up and built a 6 foot fence around it to keep the deer out so they could plant their own food.
I garden because my Irish grandfather was a farmer.
I garden because my Irish great-grandfather snuck into the United States so he could own his own land and grow his own food.
I garden because my ancestors starved.
I garden because digging a potato out of the ground makes me feel like I’ve found gold.
I garden because I wanted my kids to eat their vegetables and the only way they would without coercion was if they thought they were getting away with something by sneaking the vegetables right off the plants before I had a chance to pick them. I used to even pretend to be mad about it so they would try even harder to sneak them.
I garden because I love catching small children with their faces smeared with half-chewed green snap pea juice.
I garden because of the time my daughter said “Mom, all you care about is your garden” and I thought “Yes, because it’s one of the ways I know how to love you best. This garden, this garden, every flower, every leaf, every root and every weed, I give this all to you and do this all in praise of my love for you and your life.”
I garden because I was a young stay-at-home mother who often felt isolated and depressed and I had to garden to save my life and my mind and, not only did I save my own life, but I grew and grew and grew.
I garden because it kept me from running away
I garden because I’m afraid that growing your own food is becoming a lost skill and I want to participate in the remembering of it.
I garden because I want my children to know how to grow their own food.
I garden as an offering to the beauty of nature and my love of creation.
I garden to stay humble and close the Earth.
I garden because it makes my body strong.
I garden because the tomatoes I grow taste better than any that I’ve ever tasted.
I garden because some plants have become endangered and I want to keep them alive.
I garden because I want the spirits that live in the plants to know I’m here.
I garden because I was trained by some powerful wise women and that’s what they did.
I garden because I love the smell of dirt.
I garden because I was told the only other options were heaven or hell and I prefer Earth.
I garden because in the winter, when everything seems dead, I know it’s just strategizing.
I garden because I find gardening activities meditative and I often discover insights about personal problems or situations while I’m weeding and planting.
I garden because some distant ancestor of mine, of all of ours, decided to gather a seed.
I garden as an act of civil disobedience.
I garden because there are people starving and homeless and war-torn and I don’t know what to do about it except to keep feeding the good in the world and myself in hopes that, by feeding the good and healthy, the collective good will increase. That maybe if I keep up the seeding and planting and eating there will be more seeds and plants and fullness in the world. Because I don’t know what else to do except to keep replanting the love and abundance that has been made apparent to me instead of denying it or ignoring it or feeling guilty or wringing my hands and feeling helpless. Because every seed is a wish for new life and a new world and burying it in the ground is the one thing that I can do. And each seed reminds me that something must be buried and die in order for something new to be born.
I garden because some people can’t and so I do it for them and while I’m doing it I imagine some great, giant God. This is the God of human gardens and it’s the God that creates all the food in the world and he has a big cauldron labeled “human gardens” where the spirits of all the gardens on Earth live and when someone calls to him in their need he dips in a giant sized ladle and pours food on the hungry.
I garden because it's one of the ways I pray and bow my head to the divine. It's how I lift my heart to the Sun and kiss the ground at my feet.
May your roots grow deep and your gardens grow wild,
Hawthorne~The Faery Tree
The Hawthorne tree, Crataegus spp., is one of the most ennobled trees in the Old Ways of Ireland and the Celtic nations and, when combined with Oak and Ash, forms the sacred tree triad. These three trees each indicate the presence of the Sidhe(Shee) or Faery race. The Hawthorne, specifically, demarcates a bridge or barrier into the faery world. It can be a bridge for those that are prepared for the journey or a barrier for those who have not yet developed the skills required for travel into other realms. It has been often warned that one should not unwittingly fall asleep beneath a Hawthorne for fear of the uninitiated crossing into the otherworld and not knowing how to get back. It is a small tree or large shrub although I've seen some enormous full tree sized Hawthornes. They seem to like to grow in groves and often there will be several in a cluster and, where I live, they shelter many white-tail deer families beneath their thorny branches.
Hawthorne's prominence was expressed by it's representation in the ancient Irish tree alphabet called Ogham (OH am) that attributed a different tree to each of its characters.
Hawthorne, or Úath/Huath(HOO-ah) corresponds to the letter H and is the sixth letter of the Ogham alphabet. It also represents the sixth lunar month of the year that we call May but, because the phases of the moon are dynamic and don't follow our numerical calendar precisely, is about mid-May to mid-June. May is the time of year that the Hawthornes are in bloom and, at this very moment in my gorgeous valley they are at their peak.
The pagan festival of Beltane happens in May and is celebrated by blessing the land and asking for fertility during the upcoming growing season as well as honoring the sexual and reproductive forces of the Earth and all life. Hawthorne has been called "The Queen of May", was used to decorate Maypoles, and it has been told in the old tales that fair maidens would bath in the dew from the Hawthorne on the first morning of May. It is also known as the May Tree, Whitethorn, Hedgethorn, Red Haw, and Maybush. The word "thorn" is often included in the name because of Hawthorne's signature very large extruding thorns that run up and down the length of it's branches and stems.
There are at least 100 different species of Hawthorne and they are native throughout the Northern hemisphere. Herbal medicine then and now has considered Hawthorne to be a primary remedy of the heart on all levels from emotional, psycho-spiritual, and the physical heart and cardiovascular system. It is indicated in any instance of heartbreak, grief or significant life transitions that may challenge or vital resistance and lower the strength of our heart field. Most traditional use focuses on only the berries but the leaves and flowers can be used as well. I generally mix half and half, one part leaf and flower to one part berry. Preparations include tincture, tea and, if you please, Hawthorne berry jelly or fresh berry juice. To combine a leaf and flower tincture with a berry tincture requires that two separate preparations are made. One in the Spring when the flower blossoms and one in the Fall when the berries ripen. I also absolutely love the deep, musky smell of Hawthorne flowers and couldn't believe it when I learned that some people absolutely hate it. I haven't explore what may be behind this but I do dry the flowers to put in my homemade incense.
Hawthorne is a member of the Rose family that loves to form alliances with our hearts. Hawthorne, perhaps, has the greatest physiological affinity of all the rose family species and is categorized as a cardio tonic, heart function restorative, nervine, relaxant, and nutrititive. It is high in antioxidants which reduces oxidative damage to capillary walls preventing the adherence of cholesterol to the vessels as the body does this in an effort to repair the damage ultimately leading to high cholesterol. Hawthorne can be a great accompaniment to a healthy lifestyle intended to prevent cardiovascular disease. It may be most widely known as a heart strengthener as it improves blood flow to the heart and opens coronary circulation while allowing blood to move more efficiently as well as reducing congestion and heat. It also reduces heat in the nervous system alleviating stress, anxiety, and irritability which are all contributing aspects to heart conditions.
Hawthorne medicine comes to us from the element of fire. Although it is in the rose family and of cooling nature, it relates to heat and fire by tempering over-excited tissue states while improving proactive function. Herbal doctor, Nicholas Culepeper placed it under the rule of Mars, a planet of heat and action, that when in balance guides us in making conscious choices. The element of fire also inspires us and, when we use Hawthorne to lift and open our hearts, we can feel safe and trusting enough to release our grief that may be an obstacle to living a full life.
The flower essence of Hawthorne strengthens the heart chakra to help us to address any uncomfortable situation or circumstance. The Úath Ogham inscription symbolizes it's capacity to aid us when dealing with duality and the opposing forces of polarity. The singular perpendicular line reveals the third way or the middle road that can be actualized when we can hold the tension of opposites long enough and steady enough for a new and creative path to emerge. The thorns of Hawthorne call us to attention and act to warn us not to take the path of incarnation lightly as the work of the embodied spirit is profound and deeply challenging. The sharp, pointed presence of these thorns also reminds us to hone our ability for restraint and patience along the journey along with enabling our capacity for objectivity and detachment where we may otherwise be captured by the spell of overwhelming and inappropriate emotions. I also love Hawthorne for supporting us when we need to connect with the heart of who we are and our personal medicine. Hawthorne brings us to our heart center and brings the center to the heart!