Winter and the Cycle of Life
“Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that ‘I’ cannot continue, and that nothing can be ultimately fixed. When a man knows this, he lives for the first time in his life. By holding his breath, he loses it. By letting go he finds it.” –Alan Watts
“We need the coldness of death to see clearly, life wants to live and to die, to begin and to end.” Carl Jung, The Red Book
Our modern world affords us the comfort and luxuries of central temperature control, artificial light, and a grocery store full of food from all over the world any time of year, but in the Northeast and other geographical locations with extreme seasonal fluctuations, it is nearly impossible not to be effected by environmental signals. Even in climates that experience less dramatic change there is always some shifting from season to season that influences day to day life. Regardless of our efforts to keep comfortable, our body systems, neurotransmitters, and DNA hold the intelligence of the ages and cannot be easily fooled by contemporary technological environmental management. When we live in a Northern climate the deep, darkening of Winter is difficult to refuse, try as we may. No matter how we may attempt to keep warm and avoid the impact of lack of sunlight, most of us still experience the effects of long nights, cold winds and the isolation that comes along with not wanting to leave the house and go out in the cold any more than necessary.
Winter is the opposite of Summer on the wheel of the year and has been celebrated since ancient times by all cultures as an aspect of the Life/Death/Rebirth cycle. This cycle is the primary creation pattern of the universe and governs the transformation of energy from one form to another. This pattern is eternal and of vital necessity for life to occur. However, in the context of our current world paradigm and cultural indoctrination, the death side of this rotation has come to be feared and misunderstood as something to be avoided, denied, resisted and even fought against as if it were life’s enemy instead of life’s source. Winter is the seasonal correlation to the death aspect and has been honored throughout primordial history as such a force. Winter yearly return can bring dark challenges testing the tinder and resilience of even the most robust of souls. This time can yet be rich with gifts and fulfillment when we open to the natural ebb of the Earth's spin away from the light, active, productive seasons that come before it.
The acknowledgement of this eternal pattern of life has occured across many traditions including religious, mythological, spiritual and scientific. American biologist and one of the major contributors to the theory of evolutionary Symbiogensis, the late Lynn Margulis explains:
“Life and death exist, not as two separate states of being, but as one state that can shape shift, reconfigure and reconstitute elemental qualities in order to animate and re-animate the world. It is because of Death that Life happens. Death gives Life and Life gives Death.” (Lynn Margulis, 1938-2011)
image by artist Lisa Falzon http://lisa-falzon.com/
Mythology is rich with images and deities that express the template of this cycle and most indigenous cultures celebrated these phases of life with ritual, story and seasonal activities meant to provide a healthy and solid container for the human psyche and physical body through these processes.
The Inuit version of “Skeleton Woman” myth as told by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, expresses this universal truth as it correlates to love and relationship and the natural cycles of life and death that occur between two people as they navigate the bond of love. In her commentary on this story, Estes says of the Life/Death/Life aspect:
“Rather than seeing the archetypes of Death and Life as opposites, they must be held together as the left and right side of a single thought….The skeleton is an excellent image for the Life/Death/ Life nature. As a psychic image, the skeleton is composed of hundreds of small and large odd-shaped stick and knobs in continuous harmonious relationship to one another. When one bone turns, the rest turn, even if imperceptibly. The Life/Death/ Life cycles are like that exactly. When Life moves, the bones of Death move sympathetically. When Death moves, the bones of Life begin to turn too.”
This is a very simple concept. Without Death, there is no Life. But in our day to day reality, allowing ourselves to relax into this natural rhythm can be extremely difficult because most of us don’t have the role modeling and lifelong conditioning that would enable us to do so. Letting go into the Death aspect can feel as if one is losing control and reeling into emptiness and non-existence. As human beings, fortunately, regardless of our external life experiences and our cultural indoctrination, we have an innate capacity to align with the tempo of nature. In fact, it has taken at least 200 years, if not more, of technological and industrial programming to disconnect the human animal from indigenous community, livelihood, social structure, and seasonal rhythm. This has come at a great cost. We now live amongst incomprehensible environmental ruin with our physical, emotional and societal values held to the external expectations of a system that places profit above the soulful needs of the people. The sacred and simple have become devalued has time consuming and unproductive.
By tuning into the steady, constant turn of the seasons we can re-establish our own resonance with what is sane, natural and life affirming. It is not necessary to drop out of society and become a hermit to take some small motion toward re-connection with nature.The eternal revolution of the Life/Death/Life cycle can be seen in every cell of the cosmos from the inhalation and exhalation of our breath, to the waxing and waning of the moon, and the contraction and expansion of our muscle fibers. It includes the beating of our heart and the rise and fall of the Sun every day. Even as we walk, one side of our body must move forward while the other falls behind. It is because of this polarity that we can move through the world embodied and act creatively to bring forth our unique gifts, to love and to play.
Winter is the time of natural contraction and retreat. It is the time of gestation for all things to come in the following year. The light wanes bringing long nights along with less outdoor activity which in turn allows for time to rest and restore after summer's busy schedule. It can offer time to incubate new projects, gather resources and plan goals for future endeavors. The dark nights can be a comfort when we realize they hold within them the sparks of potential ready to ignite with the impulse of our dreams, as are the seeds buried in the darkness of the soil patiently still in a seeming state of inertia, but in reality awaiting the precise moment for germination to be possible.
Winter is also a good opportunity to take stock and evaluate the lessons from the past year and what changes we would like to make in the future. It is time to determine what we must let go of in order to make these changes and discern which shifts would better serve our health and happiness or our intentions. There may be behaviors and habits that no longer serve us and these can become good compost. When we are ready to release our old patterns they die, in a sense, and decompose, freeing the energy that was bound up in them. This energy can be turned into newly enrich nutrient dense soil providing the needed motivation, resources, and power to support our aspirations for the year ahead.
Death breaks things down to the bare essence, the underground mycelia, the stem cells, the archetype, the bones, and as soon as the break down is complete, the forces of creation begin to re-create and regenerate. This process is dynamic and in perpetual motion, although there may be an incubation period where patience may be required to allow ripening to occur. When we are tuned to the Life/Death/Life nature we know that nothing is fixed or finite and that even in emptiness and stillness there is always a soft, subtle pulse of existence. With this knowledge we can trust that when we find ourselves in a period of scarcity, emptiness, or darkness, that it is not only temporary, but a time to savor, drink in, and receive this deep sustenance. When we can relax into this, we can let go of the need to act and produce and grow until the time is right again. When it is light all the time there is no way to differentiate what is gold and what is just shiny plastic crap. In the darkness the true treasure shines, and as with all treasure, it is placed safely and sacredly in the dark. True treasure is precious and always sheltered away from the mundane and obvious.
This releasing, letting go, and receptivity is symbolized by the feminine force of the universe in archetypal and mythological practice and study. Femininity is not to be confused with the female gender, but is one of the two primary energies contained in all life with its opposite being masculine. The feminine principal exists in all of us regardless of whether we are male or female and is manifest in every facet of nature. We access the feminine when we practice being with "what is". Being with "what is" can be a great challenge for people conditioned by patriarchal ideals that value action, growth and productivity over 'beingness'. This lack of action can feel like death itself and calls us, again, to honor the cycle of life. These forces are symbolized by many images including the yin/yang, the chalice and the blade, the pre-Christian and Christian cross, and the Gods and Goddesses of ancient Europe.
The Cailleach by Niamh Orourke
One such image is that of the Cailleach. Cailleach is the Celtic Winter goddess and means “veiled one” in Irish. She is often portrayed as an old woman or ‘hag’, but can take many forms. She is also considered a death goddess in her role as alchemist turning one season into another and calling us to descend into the depths of our souls. The death goddess appears across many cultures and has been misinterpreted as evil or as the bringer of pain and suffering, whilst she is actually the one who comes to comfort and embrace the dying acting as midwife and shaman carrying the soul safely from one world to the other. She has been perceived as a goddess of both destruction and creation, as she who creates must first destroy. All creative activities require destruction and breakdown of materials in order for something new to occur. Winter is an opportunity to call on the Cailleach to guide us into the darkness so that we may find our intuition and know the next steps and also what we need to let die in order for us to move forward. This is the time when we disassemble constructs that have stopped working, salvage the useful substance. and begin the process of regeneration
In Hindu mythology Cailleach appears as Kali Ma another death goddess: “Kālī is the feminine form of kālam ("black, dark coloured"). Kāla primarily means "time" but also means "black" in honor of being the first creation before light itself.” Wikipedia
Ereshkigal is the Mesopotamian goddess of the underworld and ancestors. She represented the changing of the seasons, another alchemist, and, agriculturally, the unproductive season or Winter.
The triple spiral of Celtic origin and found on megaliths and sacred sites all over Celtic Europe. The triple spiral represents the three aspects of Life/Death/Rebirth with each spiral segment symbolizing one part of the cycle.
In mathematics we(well some people do, certainly not me) map oscillating cyclical patterns with sine waves. The upside of the wave is the polar opposite of the the downside of the wave both outward limits of the same vibration. Sine waves are used to predict and define natural and technological cycles. Everything that exists oscillates including ocean waves, heartbeats, electronics, and even light.
Below are a list of ideas for embracing the bounty of Winter's dark peace and connecting us to nature's seasonal cycle:
Start a meditation practice- This can just be a time that you sit quietly each day away from external stimulus just noticing our inhalation and exhalation and feeling what it's like to be still
Cook nourishing seasonal foods-Eating with the seasons aligns us physiologically with the best foods to keep us warm and grounded when it's cold. Root vegetables, wild meat, teas made from dried teas and foods preserved through fermentation, smoking and other methods would have been staples for people indigenous to Northern climates. A purely seasonal diet would be nearly impossible when there is snow on the ground for 6 months a year and may not be advisable for most of have nutritional deficiencies due to our modern food practices, but just becoming aware of seasonal recipes and implementing them occaissonally is a great way to fill up on Winter nourishment
Light candles-This can be part of your meditation practice or just becoming a daily ritual to remind you that there is light in the darkness. It's comforting to light a candle at dusk to bring in the evening.
Learn a new skill- If your snowbound, like we end up here in the Adirondacks sometimes, there's no reason to ever be bored. There must be something you have always wanted to learn how to do and with the internet it easier than ever. Learn to knit or play the banjo. One winter I taught myself to hoop dance by watching youtube videos and practicing in my living room.
Journal, draw, paint-Explore your own depths and dreams through writing or visual art. Maybe start taking photos. Winter brings so much beauty outdoors and there are lots of fun photo editing programs that can be expirimented with.
Go outside-snow shoe, ski, experience the weather. Feel your feet on the Earth, breath deeply, follow animal tracks. Tracking is fun and easy in the winter and you can learn alot about the wildlife in your bioregion.
Sleep, nap, rest-Above all winter is a time to restore and rejuvenate. Try to cut back your commitments. Snow storms are good excuses to stay home.
Move-Dance, sing, do yoga, play! Find some local classes or youtube videos. Dance in your living room!
Winter will come to pass as all seasons and Spring will return even if it sometimes seems impossible. The Sun will return with longer days and shorter nights and the warm air will surround us once again. In the meantime, embrace this cold season with the warmth of your soul.
Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Tracking and the Art of Seeing: How to Read Animal Tracks and Signs, Paul Rezendes
Full Moon Feast, Jessica Prentice-Great book about eating and living with the seasons!
Living in Place and the Genius Loci
****All Photos except for 'The Kuyhoora Valley and the Coyote are by Heather Perretta: http://heatherperretta.com/
The concept of “Living in place” is derived from the definition of bioregionalism and has emerged as a new way of connecting to the land and creating a healthy relationship with community, our food, health care and life in general. The term ‘bioregionalism’ was coined by Allen Van Newkirk in the 1970’s. He founded the Institute for Bioregional Research and described a bioregion as “biographically interpreted culture areas…” In other words, he was identifying the inextricable connection between human life, health, culture and the ecology of the land. Land-based activist from Northern California, Peter Berg, further developed the concept as an element of the environmental movement. This movement began as a reaction to the industrial expansion and globalization monoculture that was burgeoning at the time, and still continues to dominate and drive cultural, economic and political values. In the wake of our modern technological and industrial ascension has been the decline of natural resources and widespread, seemingly irreparable pollution along with vast environmentally related health issues. Our collective ideals of competition, production, the amassing of material objects, comfort and monetary wealth drives most Western people away from direct contact with the Earth and the deeper rhythms of nature that once held the dynamic balance of life sustaining forces that fed and nourished our ancestors. These values have also disregarded the essential interdependence of human health on the health of the soil, water, air, plants, animals, bacteria and all that are a part of the network of life. An interdependence that signifies a mutually dependent relationship between synergistic organisms, each with their own unique ecological and life sustaining function.
Author and bioregional advocate Jim Dodge explains the meaning of bioregionalism in his essay in "Home! A Bioregional Reader":
"'Bioregionalism' is from the Greek bios (life) and the French region (region), itself from the Latin regia (territory), and earlier, regere (to rule or govern). Etymologically, then, bioregionalism means life territory, place of life or perhaps by reckless extension, government by life. If you can't imagine that government by life would be at least 40 billion times better than government by the Reagan administration, or Mobil Oil, or any other distant powerful monolith, then your heart is probably no bigger than a prune and you won't have much sympathy for what follows."
As Western people and especially North Americans, we live a transient lifestyle often making choices about where to buy real estate based on job availability, access to shopping centers, health care providers, school systems; all valid considerations, but none of which will bring a sense of self-sufficiency, resilience, belonging, or a deep-rooted sense of home that was once a natural occurrence and birthright imparted to indigenous people all over the world. And yes, this includes people of European descent, all of whom are Native somewhere and come from destroyed tribes. Nowadays our attachment to place lasts only until the company moves or scales back, or a job somewhere else seems like a better option. Americans, including Native Americans who were forced off their homelands via the methods of imperial warfare, murder and genocide, have all been exiled by choice or necessity from their ancestral homelands where the very blood and bones of the people were shaped, formed and schooled by the elements they lived within for generations. Even nomadic tribes were deeply connected to place. In her book “A Field Guide to Getting Lost”, Rebecca Stolnit describes her traveling experiences and the varying degrees with which she felt a connection or lack of connection to the places she passed through or visited. She says that “…nomads, contrary to popular imagination, have fixed circuits and stable relationships to places; they are far from being the drifters and dharma bums that the word nomad often connotes nowadays….”
Whether we move or not we can connect to the land. Even in our vacation travels and adventures we can orient ourselves to wherever we are by learning as much as we can about the geography, ecology and human activities that occur in the places we live and visit. In this way, we not only ground ourselves, but also offer and display repsect for the people, culture and more than human world that we are a guest of. One great way to do this is by creating a genius loci profile or a bioregional outline. The genius loci literally means the ‘spirit of place’ which is a concept that originated in ancient Rome and, is often not just the 'spirit of place', but a guardian spirit that looks over the land and its people. Herbalist, writer and artist Sarah Anne Lawless devised a genius loci profile template that we can apply to our own places as a way of recording the qualities and characteristic of the land and natural ecological patterns where we live, thereby building a relationship with the natural cycles we are a part of. This process can change how we perceive our immediate surroundings, ground us in our daily lives, and engender a strong sense of home. There also several versions of ‘bioregional quizzes’ that can be used in the same way such as this one such as this quiz from Indigenize: http://indigenize.wordpress.com/2013/03/21/bioregional-quiz/ and this quiz from Amulet Magazine: http://www.amuletmagazine.com/2014/04/22/earth-day-bioregional-quiz/. The intent is the same, to become aware of the various attributes and conditions of our home that. if we are in right relation with, we can not only support our physical well-being, but derive emotional and spiritual sustenance that can only come from being interconnected with the natural forces at hand.
I have formatted my own here below with some additions that I felt were important in relation to the work I do with the plants and health care. I highly recommend that, if you have any call to connect with a feeling of home, community and a healthy lifestyle, that you try this yourself with your own place. I have organized these by each of the four elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water as all life contains these in different patterns and proportions. Although these are listed as separate components, they are constantly in dynamic interaction and one does not exist withouth the other.
Creating a bioregional profile
"Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader."
~attributed to an unnamed Hopi elder, Hopi Nation, Oraibi, Arizona
Bioregional Profile for the Kuyahoora Valley
This can be used for your own location. Each individual, even living in the same place, may have some similar answers and some different answers. This outline is flexible and subjective depending on the unique needs of every bioregion and so can be adapted to reflect other qualities as needed.
Town/village/City/State/Country: Town of Newport, NY USA
Major Region: Northeast, Central New York, Mohawk Valley, Adirondack foothills
Bioregion-Kuyahoora Valley, Mohawk River Highlands
Map: From Google Earth-https://www.google.com/earth/
Elevation: 636’ above sea level, Highlands of the Mohawk River
Watershed: West Canada Creek
Terrain: flood plain below rolling hills
Soil type: Sandy loam, some clay, glacial silt. You can contact your local Natural Resource and Soil Conservation office if you are interested in getting a soil survey. In Herkimer County our office is here: http://www.herkimercountyswcd.com/ This was the results of the soil survey we had done of our property: It is mostly Fredon Sandy Loam, 15-20% Howard and Palmyra soils, 3-8% Howard gravelly silt loam and 3-8% Wassaic silt loam.
3 Rock types: Herkimer diamond(quartz), Limestone, Adirondack rock(granite-gneiss)
Nearest Mountain, Valley, Plateau, Plain: Nearest plateau-Tug Hill, Mountains-Adirondacks, Deerfield Hill-1,582 ft above sea level. Mount Marcy is the highest peak in the Adirondacks at 5,344 feet above sea level
Archeological History-The kuyahoora valley was under a glacier until 10,000 years ago. It receded and melted leaving the whole area covered under a big lake that eventually receded leaving many rivers and lakes. The Adirondack mountains were once beneath mountains that were the height of the Himalayas. This explanation from Matt Harvey in his article The Mighty Adirondacks-were they once as tall as the Himalayas? describes what happened:
"The metamorphic rocks that makeup the Adirondacks were formed at great pressures and temperatures far beneath the surface of the earth, as much as 30 km below ground. In order for these rocks to have been cooked to their present form, they must have spent a great deal of time at or near the bottom of a very thick column of crust. This crust would have had to have been about twice as thick as normal continental crust, such as the crust found under today’s Himalayas at the plate boundary between India and Asia. In order for this to happen, the rocks that make up today’s Adirondacks must have been buried beneath a mountain range the size of the Himalayas that was subsequently eroded away (to the tune of 25,000 meters of flattened mountains!), and then the Adirondacks were uplifted to the surface where we see them today."
Mammals-White tail deer, Eastern Coyote/Brush wolf, Beaver, Black Bear, Raccoon, Fishers, Bobcat, Mink
Coyote photo from wiki commons.Attribution: http://www.ForestWander.com
Birds-Eagle, Hawks, Pileated Woodpecker, Bluebirds, Crows, Ravens, Falcons, Blue Heron
Insects and Spiders-Monarch Butterfly, Deer ticks, Black Flies, Orb Weavers
Fish-Trout, crayfish, Bass, Northern Pike
Reptiles-salamanders, snapping turtles, grass snakes, milk snakes
• Trees-White Pine, Maples, Yellow Birch, Black Cherry, Hawthorne, American Beech, Elm, Ash
• Shrubs-Elderbush, Hobblebush, High-bush Cranberry, Barberry,
• Edible-Leeks, Cattails, Groundnut, Wintercress, Blackberries, Raspberries
1. Roots-Burdock, Yellowdock, Dandelion, Angelica
2. Leaves-Nettles, Mugwort, Motherwort, Dandelion, Chickweed
3. Flowers-St. Johnswort, Elder blossom, Red Clover
Native species-Trillium, American Ginseng, Blue Cohosh, Wild Ginger, Bloodroot, Wild Sarsparilla, Ghost Pipe, Orchids
European species-Burdock, Queen Annes Lace, St. Johnswort, Mugwort, Coltsfoot
Plants from other lands-Japanese Knotweed, Japanese Honeysuckle
Sacred Plants and Trees- White Pine was sacred to the Haudenosaunee and considered the “Great Tree of Peace”
Mugwort-Artemisia vulgaris species sacred in Europe and used for protection and healing
White Cedar(Thuja occidentalis) native to the Northeast of North America and used past and present ceremonial and as medicine
Fungi-Reishi mushrooms(Ganoderma Tsugae), Turkey Tails, Amanita flavoconia, Puff balls, Chaga
Ancient-First people inhabited area 9,000 years ago-possibly the Lamoka people
Pre-Colonial-Haudenosaunee(Iroquois) , the Kanien'kehá:ka(Mohawk) people of the(Iroquois) confederacy inhabited the Kuyahoora valley for all of documented history until colonial invasion.. The Kanien'kehá:ka means the People of the Place of the Flint. Flint, as it turns out, is a form of quartz and although it is commonly thought that the Mohawks were named because they were Flint knappers, no Flint quarries have been found in the Mohawk Valley.
"They were known to themselves and to the other Iroquois nations as the Kanyenkehaka, the people of Kanyenke (also spelled Ganienkeh). This has usually been translated "Place of the Flint," but the flint (or more properly chert) sources in Mohawk country were not particularly sought after. More important were the clear quartz crystals now called Herkimer diamonds, which could be quarried in a few local mines and abound on Mohawk village sites. These were highly valued by Iroquois and other nations. Kanyenke was more likely "Place of the Crystals." Crystals were symbolically important as amulets of success, health, and long life, artifacts more likely to inspire a name than a second-rate chert. The Mohawks were the main suppliers of quartz crystals up to 1614. After that they became primary middlemen for the Dutch glass beads that replaced them." Dean Snow, The Iroquois
Colonial-Dutch, German, English, Irish
Industrial-The industrial revolution brought an influx of immigrants from other parts of Europe primarily Italy, Germany and Poland. They came to work the many mills that had been built along the major waterways.
Current-predominately white of various European descent although the Haudenosaunee and their confederacy continue to hold a strong and stable presence and energy in New York State with many activists from their central communities and elsewhere working towards bringing the messages of peace, balanced social structure and ecological law into the mainstream. The Onondaga Nation of the Iroquois is currently promoting their “Two-Row Wampum Campaign” in partnership with their friends and neighbors of all races and cultural backgrounds near and far. This is an effort to establish harmonious co-existence based on a treaty that was made with Dutch immigrants 400 years ago stating that they would all live peacefully. http://honorthetworow.org/
Our nearest city of Utica is an extremely diverse community as it is the fourth largest refugee center in the United States and is home to refugees from all over the world including Bosnian, Somolia, Vietnam, Sudan, Burma, Bhutan, Afghanistan, Russia, and Belarus.
Auriesville shrine-A Roman Catholic shrine that was once the Mohawk village called Ossernenon. Kateri Tekakwitha(below) was born there.
Kateri National Shrine, Fonda, NY- the shrine of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha Mohawk woman who became the first Christian saint in the United States and Canada
Herkimer Diamonds and Ace of Diamonds-Herkimer crystal mines where hundreds of people visit every year to excavate these precious healing gems.
Occupations-Farmers, construction workers, teachers, prison guards, small businesses
Primary form of healthcare-conventional medicine
Rainfall-about 42 inches a year
Growing season-from May-Sept
Snowfall-89 inches a year
Temperature Range-20 below zero to 95 degrees(Fahrenheit)
Weather pattern change in the last 50 years-I haven’t found any official data but everyone who lives here says that if you were born less than 30 years ago you don’t remember a real winter
Winter sky-Big Dipper, Cassiopeia, Little dipper,Perseus Orion
Summer-Andromeda, Big Dipper, Little dipper, Pegasus
Watershed-West Canada Creek which is really a river. It’s 76 miles long and the largest tributary to the Mohawk River. Watershed is 569 square miles. Waterflow up to 1500 cubic feet per second. The West Canada is dammed at Hinckley Reservoir so water flow fluctuates
Household water source-Well
Bodies of water-West Canada Creek, Shed Brook, Mohawk River, Hinckley Lake
Last time there was a flood-There’s one almost every year
Water Quality Indicators: There has been much talk about the high level of pollution in the Kuyahoora Valley but water and soil tests have not proven it to be so. There are several wildlife indicators of a healthy environment Based on my direct observation. They are: Mayflies, Dragonflies, Crayfish, baby Trout in the tributaries, Eagles, American Ginseng and Usnea lichen. These all indicate moderate to good quality air,water, and soil. When I was growing up in the 1970’s there were many species that I had never seen that I witnessed return through time. I had spent a great deal of my life at my Grandparents outside of Old Forge. We never saw ducks or geese or many other small birds as a result of heavy spraying for black flies with the pesticide DDT. Since that was stopped, I have seen wildlife returning in abundance. I can remember the first time I saw a wild duck on the lake and how excited me and my brother were when a whole family came swimming by us. I saw my first bald eagle in my early thirties when one flew over my head while I was driving along the West Canada Creek. The biggest environmental issue that I am concerned with currently is the myriad of corn fields that are heavily sprayed with no buffer zones along the creek, although, apparently, water tests have not shown pesticides above normal levels(as if there is a normal pesticide level).
Heat source-Wood Stove
Energy source- Power grid
Waste disposal-compost and garbage truck that takes garbage to a landfill and recyclables to the recycling center.
Last time there was a forest fire-None that I am aware of. We have major issues with flooding and mold. It's very rarely dry here.
Shortest Day of the year-9 hours, 33 minutes
Longest day of the year-15 hours and 19 minutes
Thank you to Heather Perretta for most of these incredible photos of our bioregion. Heather is a local naturalist and photographer with a great attunement to the land. You can see more of her photos at her blog: The Backyard Naturalist and find her on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/backyardnaturalist
Artist and Author Sarah Anne Lawless: http://sarahannelawless.com/
HOME! A Bioregional Reader by Van Andruss, Christopher Plant, Judith Plant and Eleanor Wright
Kuyahoora: Discovering the West Canada Valley by M. Paul Keesler
Mohawk: Discovering the Valley of the Crystals by M. Paul Keesler
It’s Goldenrod Time!
The wheel of the year is turning once again and the season of Fall is beginning her gentle emersion with first few leaves descending toward the turning Earth. There is a new chill wafting on the morning air and the Canadian Geese have us in their flight path as they embark on this year’s journey South. These signs and more tell us that the times they are a-changing. Many of us, including myself, experience seasonal allergies in the late summer and early Fall that will continue until the first hard, killing frost. Growing up in the Northeast I was always told that my allergies could be attributed to the Goldenrod as these bright yellow flowers are in blossom everywhere we look right now. If I look out to my back field it appears as if there is a sea of yellow flowing flowers that stretches into eternity.
It seems only obvious that a field full of blowing flowers would be the allergy culprit of Fall, but in my herbal studies I discovered that Goldenrod is a highly medicinal plant and one of its main uses is for the runny, drippy, sinus symptoms related to these very allergies. Also, in studying the reproductive cycle of plants, Goldenrod is NOT wind pollinated and if you get up close and personal with a Goldenrod plant you will notice that there are always bees dipping down to draw out the rich, procreative pollen inside the flower. If a plant is not pollinated by the wind then there are not pollen grains blowing around in the air and into your sinuses. If you get even closer and look beneath the yellow canopy you’ll also see another, quiet, inconspicuous, yet volatile, smaller and, yes, wind pollinated green flowered plant called Ragweed. It is Ragweed that is responsible for many of our allergies and Goldenrod just gets the blame because she is so showy and bold. For more on Ragweed and seasonal allergies go to this previous post
Goldenrod(Solidago canadensis, spp.) is in the Asteraceae family and is one of the most prolific plants in Central New York and all of North America with 40-60 species existing worldwide. It flowers from July through September and is prevalent in open fields, along roadsides and any open space. All species can be used interchangeably with species differentiation being tricky as Goldenrod has mixed, matched and cross-bred to make infinite varieties. The most reliable key is to learn a few of the most common shapes such as (from left to right below)Plume-like, flat-topped, Elm-branched,Club-like or showy, and wand-like or slender. These forms each correspond to different species. Photos from A Field Guide to Wildflowers of Northeastern and North-Central North America by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny
The Latin name Solidago is derived from Solidare or from the medieval Latin word soldago meaning to make whole or solid indicating its use as a wound healing herb. Also derived from Solidare is the English word solid that is related to the Old French word solide that goes back around to another Latin word, Solidus and means to make whole, undivided, firm and genuine. The Latin translation of Aster means star and symbolizes flowers that hold star-like qualities. The small, sparkly flowers of Goldenrod definitely remind me of twinkling stars and it was once thought that holding Goldenrod in the hand will reveal secret riches. It is also considered to indicate the location of springs which has proven to be true in my backyard. Our Goldenrod grows thickest right where our springs are found!
Energetics and Actions: Bitter, Pungent, Astringent, Cold, Dry, Aromatic, Slightly diffusive
Main constituents: Essential oil containing salicylic acid, tannins, saponins and flavonoids
Also known as: Woundwort, Blue Mountain Tea, Liberty Tea(used as an ingredient in the tea the colonists made themselves to replace English tea)
Parts used: Leaf and flower
Goldenrod is used as a digestive bitter and bitter it is. This bitter quality is present due to the tannins and the astringent action which tightens tissues making it especially useful for drying up mucus discharge from the sinuses during allergy season It can be taken as a tea, tincture or by simply chewing on a leaf. If I am starting to feel my allergies coming on I will often simply go outside, grab a Goldenrod leaf and chew it in my mouth for a bit. It is also known as a specific for cat allergies and I have used it repeatedly and always with success when I have visitors who are allergic to my cats. I learned this from Matthew Wood who says:
“I know of no better remedy for cat allergy. Boericke describes the characteristic eye symptoms: ‘red, injected, watery, stinging, burning.’ The eyes of the Solidago patient look like a person who has just gotten out of a swimming pool. There is a generalized redness of the conjunctiva. There are not the bright red blotches of Euphrasia, or the bloodshot appearance of Ambrosia. With this there is congestion, sneezing and running of the nose, redness and irritation of the skin. Solidago often has welts from allergy, a fact not mentioned in the literature I have seen.”
Goldenrod is also a diuretic and is nourishing and strengthening to the kidneys and entire urinary tract relieving edema, low-grade chronic Urinary tract infections, and kidney Qi stagnation. Basically, relieving dampness that is occupying space within the kidney.blocking the natural flux of fluids and reducing overall efficiency. It can prevent kidney stones and any other symptom that is associated with a lack of sufficient elimination of waste from the kidneys including hypertension, skin rashes, eczema, psoriasis and inflammation of the urinary tract.
One of my favorite uses for Goldenrod is as a poultice or liniment for bruises, strains, sprains or other soft tissue injury. It works like a charm as a pain reliever and anti-inflammatory while promoting deep and thorough healing by draining and eliminating excess fluid and dampness which allows for fresh, oxygenated and nutrient full blood and lymph to rejuvenate and repair damage. The image I have envisioned for this process is that of a flushing or cleansing that clears out congestion at the same time tightening and toning. This prepares the injured tissue to full access of its natural regenerative capacity. The toning action strengthens to create a flexible yet stable container for new, healthy cells.
These shining flowers that usher in the change of seasons and the darkening of our days are some of the years last blossoms to hold their small faces to the fading sun. These concluding light holders have an important use in alleviating Seasonal Affect Disorder, a common human reaction to small amounts of sunlight. Goldenrod carries the sun’s grace over the winter as an effective uplifter of mood, a nervine for chronic fatigue, nervous exhaustion, depression, stress, shock and disappointments. Particularly those that are correlated to a buildup of unprocessed emotions which, again, refers to that stagnation and heavy dampness that Goldenrod is so adept at releasing whether in our kidneys, respiratory tract or psyche.
Goldenrod grows in great abundance and can be gathered freely, although always with respect and thanks. The different species all contain similar properties and may all look alike at first glance, but as you get to know them better you will begin to observe the subtle variations in not just form but taste and effect. New Mexico herbalist Kiva Rose has determined a few important species characteristics:
Special consideration should be given to the variability of the flavors and scents within the great many spp. of Solidago. If you have multiple species near you (and you probably do) take the time to taste the leaf and flower of each kind, and get to know the subtle differences. The most aromatic tend to be more helpful for mood elevation, kidney problems and external use, while the more bitter or bitter/aromatic spp. are especially nice for digestive issues and the astringent/aromatic types are great for upper respiratory issues and general mucus membrane over-secretion. These type of subtleties apply to all herbs, but Goldenrod tends to be a great example of it because of the many spp. and sensory variances even within a single species or subspecies.
Tincture-2-4 ml 3x per day
Tea-1/2-1 tsp. of dried or fresh leaf and flower per 1 cup of boiling water steeped for 5-10 minutes. You may want to add honey to this as it will be bitter.
References and resources:
The Earthwise Herbal by Matthew Wood
The Energetics of Western Herbs by Peter Holmes
The Medicine Woman's Roots blog by Kiva Rose, just put Goldenrod in the search box and you'll get a list of excellent posts!