This Thing Called Courage

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Milkweed and McKennit


I had such an amazing walk yesterday morning-- I was on the edge of a cold, but dogs need to be walked, no matter-- and Fionn is wise enough that he never does 'his business' until at least twenty minutes into a walk. It was, as my great aunt, 'Auntie Mag,' would have called it, 'an elegant winter's day.' The temperature right about freezing, the wind light, the sky a deep blue and flecked with amazingly beautiful white puffy clouds. One sees so many things at a walking pace that one would never see by car. The texture of trees; the colonies and nations of lichens and mosses on boulders and trunks; the colors of winter. We think of winter as being this drab, gray time of year, but there are actually many colors around, if one takes the time to look-- the reds and russets of long grasses and their seed heads; the brilliant whites of birches against the deep blue of the sky; the yellows, ochres, and golds of reeds; the brilliant red of sumac seed heads, and the berries of the holly and bittersweet. The heartening, happy green of arborvitaes; the rich sombre green of hemlocks; the blue-green of junipers, and their deep blue berries.

We had another purpose yestreday morning to our walk, other than for Fionn to do his thing, and that was to make sure we imbibed our MDR (Miniumum Daily Requirement) of Beauty. We had, I would say, a good 100,000 I.U.'s (international units), about double the daily minimum required. We also were looking for milkweed seeds. As you might know, Monarch Butterflies lay their eggs on milkweed, a plant native to North America that is toxic to most other creatures. When the larvae hatch out, they eat the milkweed leaves-- apparently they have built up an immunity to it over the years-- and when they become butterflies, if a bird ever eats a butterfly, he or she spits it out immediately, for the awful, poisonous taste. Pretty ingenious.

Every autumn our monarchs migrate to the the mountains of Mexico, a staggering journey when one think of monarchs and their fluttering, almost haphazard, flight. Several years ago there was a horrendous frozen rain storm in these mountains of Mexico, and a tremendous amount of the Monarch population died as a result. Add to that loss of habitat (where milkweed grows) and it's no wonder that their numbers are down. So, the thing to do is to plant milkweed. Every winter around this time I gather milkweed seeds, and raise the plants from scratch. I plant some of the plants in my garden here, some in Happy Land (the Middlesex Fells Reservation) and give the rest away to anyone who wants them. So, if you want some milkweed-- lemme know!

The wonderful thing about Nature is that so often one can find what one is looking for. I found a beautiful, withered milkweed pod, unopened, and when I pried it gently open there must have been 100 seeds in there. More than enough for my needs. Shortly after this, a red-tailed hawk-- one of my 'totems'-- soared directly overhead (and I do mean directly). After a while we came to Dark Hollow Pond, (surely named by the Puritans!) which was frozen over, and we walked on water-- marvelling at how different things looked from the middle, and teasing Fionn-- it's the only place where I am faster than him, and he can't catch me, much to his bewilderment.

The cd I've been wearing out this week is Lorena McKennit's Ancient Muse.
The folliwng is taken from her web site:

"Tell me, O Muse, of those who travelled far and wide”

Aptly, it is an echo of Homer’s timeless Odyssey that introduces Loreena McKennitt’s seventh studio recording, the latest volume of a project she describes as “musical travel writing”. This time, the journey takes her in search of the Celts’ easternmost paths, from the plains of Mongolia to the kingdom of King Midas and the Byzantine Empire. Along the way, she muses on the concepts of home, of travel in all its incarnations, of the cultural intermingling that underpins human history and our universal legacies of conflict and hope.

Recorded at Real World Studios and featuring a host of acclaimed musicians, the album proffers a treasure trove of instruments, from harp, hurdy-gurdy and accordion to oud, lyra, kanoun and nyckelharpa (the Scandinavian keyed fiddle). Highlights include the seductive rhythms and Silk Road influences of first single “Caravanserai”; “Penelope’s Song”, a paean to steadfast love; and Loreena’s musical setting of Sir Walter Scott’s poem of star-crossed romance, “The English Ladye And The Knight”. Together, the nine songs that comprise An Ancient Muse conjure up a wide world’s worth of human stories that are as unique as they are unforgettable."

One of the things I love best about Lorena's music is the liner note enclosure that comes with each CD, which explain the thoughts and travels that inspired the music and the lyrics. Here's an example:

"The first stepping stone on this journey of discovery was my exploration of the Celts and their history, and the many roads leading off from theirs, both historically and geographically. It is with an eye on this history that this musical document evolved, with ruminations on the universal human themes of life and love, conquest and death; of home, identity, the migrations of people and the resulting evolution of cultures. Our paths may differ but our quests are shared: our desire to love and to be loved, our thirst for liberty and our need to be appreciated as unique individuals within the collectivity of our society.

"Travels in preparation for this creative endeavour have encompassed the hospitalities and acquaintances of people in many places: a nomadic family in the inner reaches of Mongolia and the Uighur people in North-west China where the predecessors of Celts are believed to have been found; on the great plains of inner Anatolia and Ephesus in Turkey; amongst the intoxicating orange blossoms on the Greek island of Chios; and, in Jordan, amongst the echoes of Circassian voices and the stones of the ancient city of Petra.

"Ever-mindful of the weight of history behind us that allows us to draw lessons from its ancient voice, I have not wavered in my conviction that we are a culmination of our collective histories and that there should be more to bind us together than tear us apart. Nor have I ceased to hope that in striving toward harmonious, integrated diversity, we will be guided by collective beliefs that will be life affirming at their core. – LM

Incantation (This is the first song on the cd-- she now goes on to explain how it came to be, and what she was thinking at the time, and where she was.)


"Delphi, Greece, April 2003-- It is hard to imagine a more atmospheric place today, as a mist hangs over the valley below this ancient site. In 279 BC, the Celts attempted to sack the shrine, in a campaign that saw them suffer terrible losses. Were they seeking out the oracle for its divinatory powers? Given their faith in the supernatural world they might well have been hoping that powers beyond the human eye could assist them…

"Cappadocia, Turkey, October 2003-- We visit exquisite early Christian chapels carved in the volcanic rock of this astonishing landscape. In their changing fortunes over the centuries, these communities will have sought refuge here.

"Real World Studios, Wiltshire, August 16 2006- I wonder where our Muslim and Jewish friends are deriving their strength these days, and I think back on the Oracle in Delphi. At this time of global unrest and strife, one seeks such an oracle to summon more empathy and harmony…


"I am reminded of a Rumi poem (Mathnawi I, 3255-3258),translated by Kabir and Camille Helminski:

O brother, Wisdom is pouring into you

From the beloved saint of God.

You’ve only borrowed it.

Although the house of your heart

Is lit from the inside

That light is lent by a luminous neighbour

Give thanks; don’t be arrogant or vain

Pay attention without self-importance.

It’s sad that this borrowed state

Has put religious communities

Far from religious communion.

The Gates of Istanbul

"Jibacoa, Cuba, March 2005-- Reading a wonderful magazine from Turkey called Cornucopia, I find an article on the reign of Mehmed II (1432–1481) in the Ottoman Empire. It was a time of creative renaissance as well as religious tolerance when people were invited to repopulate the city now known as Istanbul, bringing with them their hopes and aspirations. I am reminded of Spain prior to 1492.

"Stratford, Ontario, February 2006-- In Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, Jack Weatherford writes: “As he smashed the feudal system of aristocratic privilege and birth, [Genghis] built a new and unique system based on individual merit, loyalty and achievement… took the disjointed and languorous trading towns along the Silk Route and organized them into history’s largest free-trade zone… [and] granted religious freedom within his realms.”

"Spring 2006 Heightened tensions over the Iraq war; the cartoon of Mohammed versus freedom of speech debate. I have long mused over our need to be spiritually engaged. How do we embark on our individual paths toward spirituality, while respecting the fact that others may take a different road?

"Wiltshire, England, April 2006-- An article in The Independent suggests that the Emperor Constantine (272–337 AD) may be an inspiration to those hoping for religious tolerance. His edict granted freedom of religion, marking the end of centuries of persecution for Christians and permitting Christians, Jews, pagans and those who followed traditional Roman gods to co-exist.



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