Time as well as space (welcome, Brighid)

As I was winding up my M.A. program at Pacifica Graduate Institute about this time last year, I realized that if I were going to explore the relationship of people with place, I would need to contend with both space and time -- and a big part of the time component had to be the passing of the seasons. I felt the pull to participate in the changing light and temperature, in the ebb and flow of sunrise and sunset that sometimes seems out-of-sync with the official holiday calendar.

Many mornings last January and February, as I was slaving over my portfolio and my final papers, I rose before the sun and saw that "rosy-fingered dawn" beloved of the poets. During the same period, I met Esther de Waal, a scholar and teacher in the Benedictine and Celtic traditions, who makes her home in the Welsh borderlands and visits the U.S. for a few weeks each winter. In her tiny book, To Pause at the Threshold: Reflections on Living on the Border, I found a voice that echoed my own, so much so that I had to quote to Esther something that Gaston Bachelard wrote about the surprise of finding in another author's pages thoughts so congruent with one's own that they engendered the feeling that one could have, nay should have written that book. 

Brighid cross, made from the faded grasses of my gardenNot long afterwards, a path to enjoyment of the feasts of the Celtic seasons celebrated by some of my ancestors came upon me from another source, forming yet another affirmation that I was on the right track. We may mark the first day spring in the northern Hemisphere as March 21, the vernal equinox, but it has its beginnings today, February 1, on the feasts of Imbolc and St. Brighid, when the tenderest shoots of new green are getting ready to show themselves and trees are visibly budding. Esther quotes a wonderful meditation from Brigid Boardman and Philip Jebb:

We breathe a new air,
No longer cold with seeming death.
The flowers respond
to the strengthening Sun, your light.
So may our hearts respond to your love and grace.
The birds break into song and call us to your praise.
So may our hearts give praise at all aspects of our lives.
The frozen earth and water melt to new life:
So may our hardened hearts be softened
to gentleness and love.
We are overwhelmed with images, symbols,
confirmations of your resurrecting, your enlivening.

Image from Ancient Order of Hibernians web site at aoh.comAmong those symbols is the perpetual flame of Brighid, relit (in 1993) and tended once again in Kildare, where St. Brighid established her monastery in the 5th century. Not only do the Brigidine Sisters maintain the fire at their center, Solas Bhride, but the county of Kildare has found a home for the flame in the town square and offers it to a new millennium as a beacon of hope, justice, and peace.

May the peace of St. Brighid rest on you, enflame your heart for justice, and offer a hopeful reminder that the light has turned and the first signs of spring will show soon. 

A little amateur land-sculpture

Mowing the lawn a few times this year -- a chore previously enjoyed exclusively by my husband, Robert -- gave me a new appreciation for the small bit of land that our house sits on in northern Virginia. I'm not skilled enough with the mower to carve neat patterns in the grass. I'm more tempted to take a tiller, shovel, and hoe to one corner (where the grass hardly grows), terrace it, and put in more stepping stones.

But yesterday's 6" snowfall offered an opportunity to sculpt the back yard on a large scale, with tools that I handle more easily than the mower -- a broom, a dustpan, and my own two feet. The result is a 7-circuit classical labyrinth. I can't wait to walk it under the full moon later tonight.

And what do you know? That unobstructed part of the back yard -- far from the bamboo -- is just about the right size for a labyrinth with 10" path.

My backyard labyrinth in Arlington, VA

Snow sculpture on a grand scale

Photo from the Snow Labyrinth blogWhen I lived in Moscow (1996-2000), one of the highlights of late autumn or early winter was building an ice rink on the upper level of the U.S. Embassy compound that could be enjoyed all winter. Once there was enough snow on the field across from our apartments, a group would gather one evening to push it into an oval berm, then use garden hoses to apply water gradually enough that it would freeze. With a little maintenance, it would provide a place place for young and old all winter. I remember well that first New Year's Eve when Annie's friends borrowed all her skating costumes and rang in 1997 on the ice while we sipped champagne. I'm sure those of you from Minnesota view the homemade rink as an annual, commonplace occurrence, but for someone who grew up in Atlanta, it was magical.

Well, here's another do-it-yourself snow sculpture project on a grand scale, far more intricate -- an 80-foot Chartres-style labyrinth using the snow that piles up where he lives in northern Vermont. The photos are just stunning, and the diary of all the preparation and building work is quite inspiring.

It's a living construction, because new snow falls frequently and the paths are walked to keep them clear. The opportunity to dialogue with the land (and the weather) on a daily basis in a space like this must be a real blessing. You can enjoy it from wherever you are with a virtual labyrinth walk on YouTube.

Campaign for Real Snowflakes

By CaptPiper; click for Creative Commons license info.Snowflakes are one of the wonders of winter, but my delight is cut short every time I see an image of an 8-pointed "snowflake" in an advertisement or on some product. Cake bakers, craft stores, and designers should know better! Real snowflakes always have a 6-fold symmetry, because of the crystalline structure of ice.

Therefore, to bring more snowflake realism to the world, I have launched the Campaign for Real Snowflakes on Facebook. Join us!