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Posts Tagged ‘druid in this place’

Older man, delivering pizza: Wow, I hope you have someone coming to mow that lawn soon, it needs it.

Me: It was mowed Sunday, and it’ll just have to wait until the weekend.

Pizza Man: Then you’re definitely fertilizing it too much.

Me: We don’t use chemical fertilizer, just a mulching lawn mower.

Pizza Man: Then you should stop watering it.

Me: I don’t water the lawn unless it’s horribly dry, which it hasn’t been. It just likes growing. <reaches for pizza boxes>

Pizza Man: Oh, well, here’s your pizza.

Internal Voice: They say a Druid lives here. Maybe that’s why the yard grows like crazy?

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Recently, alongside all my scholarly reading, I’ve been indulging in a bit of what I’ll call “brain candy” reading. Fun, fast fiction reads that I can sit back, eat some popcorn, and just devour for the sheer pleasure and entertainment of reading. Some of that has been at the behest of friends who are authors (being a beta reader is a LOT of fun, you get to watch good stories turn into published novels), but the rest of the time I’ve been making my way through Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid Chronicles – so far I’ve read Hounded and most of Hexed.

They’re especially fun, as Urban Fantasy goes, since Druids don’t usually feature much in those stories, and this one is focused on one Druid (Atticus O’Sullivan, but that’s not his real name). Specifically, he’s the last Druid still remaining, and the books chronicle his many adventures and misadventures with creatures, witches, demons, faeries, Gods and Goddesses, a talking dog who wants to be Ghengis Khan, and his team of lawyers (who happen to be a vampire and a werewolf). It’s silly, snort-with-laughter fun, but at the same time there have been a few poignant moments that really resonated with me as a “modern day” Druid.

First, his connection with the Earth is amazingly powerful. It’s where he gets all his magic and power, and he clearly returns that favor with love and care. I am inspired by him to be a better herbalist, and spend more time with my connection to the Earth Mother.

Second, his relationship with his Gods and Goddesses is based on the same rules of hospitality and worship. He keeps the old ways, and they keep him. Hearne’s portrayals of the Tuatha de Dannan are really something else, and especially the Goddesses are powerful forces of action and change and movement in the novels. They’re also clearly acting out of their own interests, and are not above pulling a fast one on their favorite Druid if they think they can get something out of him.

But third, I was reading last night, and he said something offhand while trying to get away with yet another one of his shenanigans that really stuck with me. I don’t have the full quote, but when his lawyer was arguing about his ability to climb up into his neighbor’s tree, he turned to him to reassure him with the words “That tree loves me.” He then went on to talk about how he spends time tending and talking to it, and making sure it’s well cared for and loved back, and how it would keep him safe.

And I thought to myself… do the trees in my yard love me? Have I really taken the time to get to know those trees on the level that they’d say they cared for me, as much as I profess to care for them?

Of course, I hold no illusions that I’ll ever be an Iron Druid out of a fantasy novel, weilding powerful Irish magic and living for thousands of years, battling witches and evil fae and demons and all that. (Though, admittedly, I’d sign up for the 12 years of memorization and the ritual tattoos for the privelege, but that’s what wish fulfillment fantasy novels are all about, right?)

But I have trees I can care for, and a garden full of vegetables and herbs, and a piece of land to tend.

And maybe, just maybe, my trees will love me back.

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This week’s assignment in the Wheel of the Year book has me answering some specific questions about my landbase and my relationship to it. I thought I’d answer them here in full form, since most of them are near and dear to my heart, and I think it’s important to be a Druid of Your Place.

1. Where does your trash go?

There are several landfills in my area, and my trash goes to those.

2. Are there options for recycling that you’re making use of? Why or why not?

Yes! My area recycles most plastic, glass, aluminum, and cardboard, and I do my best to put everything that might be recyclable into our big green bin each week. My curbside pickup will not take paper, however, and I am not doing nearly as much as I could with that. I’d like to start keeping our recyclable paper in a place where we can take it to a local school to drop off. My community also has “shred days” where you can bring personal and confidential paper trash to be shredded and recycled. I have a pretty big pile of junk mail that needs to go to the next one of those.

3. Are there steps you can take to help reduce the amount of refuse you create?

I am already buying less plastic packaging (mostly through purchasing fewer pre-packaged food products), recycling everything we can, and composting most of my food waste to put on the garden. Also, I make use of a garbage disposal system for foods that don’t go into the composter (namely meats, because while I like raccoons, I have no desire to set up a raccoon buffet in my side yard). I could be more particular about not purchasing heavily packaged or plastic wrapped products, and I could probably be re-using the clear plastic sacks from the grocery store for fresh produce each week. (I already use reusable grocery bags, though that is as much because they’re much more convenient than the silly plastic bags as it is for the fact that they’re made of recycled plastic themselves.)

4. What happens to your wastewater?

It goes to the wastewater treatment plant about 5 minutes from my house, where it is sanitized and then released.

5. What rivers are nearby? Do you have a connection to them? What sort of connection?

There aren’t any actual rivers nearby, though there are a few large streams, a large runoff/drainage area that has water flowing in it year round, and the perpetual bayous and wetlands so common to this area of Texas. I am on good terms with the runoff/drainage area, since I do a lot of walking there, and I frequently go visit the park that sits on the nearest bayou. I have not, however, been to the local nature preserve in a long time, which I should fix. Perhaps I can even do some volunteer work there, since they’re directly involved in protecting this area and it’s native flora and fauna. The San Jacinto River is the closest river to me, but it’s on the opposite side of town from where I live, so I never see it. I am likely to remain more connected to the wetlands.

6. Describe the basic climate of your area. Is it often wet and rainy? Dry and sunny? Wet and sunny? How has this affected the kinds of plants and animals in the area?

This area is predominantly tropical – wet and relatively warm in the winter, drier but still humid in the summer. We are affected by the marine layer (Galveston Bay) and our weather in the summer is typical of the tropics, with frequent but short lived afternoon storms and intense, humid heat. Plants and animals here tend to do well in the heat, but do not tolerate frost or freezing weather at all (it only actually gets below freezing once every few years or so, and even then only stays below freezing for a few hours). Palm trees are typical, as are ferns, and cacti and succulents all grow freely here – I have aloe growing “wild” in my back yard.

Wildflowers are also common in the grassier areas, but do not thrive here as well as they do in other parts of Texas (We do have Bluebonnets, but Indian Paintbrushes and Mexican Hat flowers are more common here). One of the things I like about living in Texas is the protection that the state gives to wildflower areas, so each spring I can look forward to seeing these flowers along the sides of the road without fear of them being mowed over. There is a running joke that anything that survives in Texas probably has thorns or is poisonous, and that’s actually relatively true (though not as much here by the coast, where we get enough coastal rainfall to make up for the heat). It doesn’t take long to get to much drier areas though, and our trees are smaller, gnarlier, and deeper, much more sprawlingly rooted as a result.

Animals include the typical small songbirds (wrens, sparrows, cardinals, robins in the winter/spring, tufted titmice, finches, mockingbirds, blackbirds, bluejays), all sorts of waterfowl, a large assortment of birds of prey (owls, hawks, and falcons), as well as buzzards, crows, grackles, and cara caras. Most of the animal life here has been driven out by civilization, but we still have large numbers of white tailed deer, opossums, the occasional armadillo, raccoons, rats, and mice – and the expected snake population that feeds on them. While rattlesnakes are not super common here, water moccasins are, and are extremely poisonous. Because we live near the water, we also get the occasional turtle (usually snapping, or red-eared sliders). Squirrels are ubiquitous, but compared to their northern cousins are scrawny-tailed and skinny.

7. What visible effects have humans had on the natural landscapes around you?

Our effects are nearly total in the majority of this area, though I do live close to both a university natural preserve, NASA preserved areas, and a wildlife refuge. This area has been settled for at least the last 50 years, and is largely a concrete jungle. While the older homes have mature trees, flooding is a huge problem when we get heavy spring rains, since the few creeks can not handle the runoff problems adequately, and being in the marine layer means we frequently get extremely heavy, if short-lived, rain. Power plants, oil refineries, and chemical plants are also common in this area, and they don’t do good things for the environment, especially when accidents happen.

8. Where do the winds usually come from? Are there different winds at different times of the year?

The most predominant wind in our area is from the southeast, which sets us up for the typical hot, humid air off the Gulf of Mexico that the Houston area is so well known for. This southeast wind is also responsible for heavy fog in the fall and winter, when warm air meets the cold fronts that come through from the northwest. Also common (especially in the summer) are onshore and offshore breezes, created by the pressure differences caused by heat over the land vs. over the ocean. Interspersed with the predominant southeast wind is a dry, hot wind out of the southwest, which causes the dry heat waves that strike periodically during the summer. This southwest wind is strong enough to disturb the sea breezes, and is responsible for long periods without rain. In the winter, the warm, wet southeast wind is offset by a northwest wind that brings in strong cold fronts periodically. While we don’t usually get long stretches of cold weather, these fronts are often wet and bring the danger of frost. In between cold fronts, the southeast wind picks up again, and our weather is mild and pleasant.

9. What major crops are grown in your region? Why are these particular crops grown here?

Most things grow here, and we have multiple growing seasons. Depending on the availability of irrigation, crops can be grown year round. Common crops are corn and cotton, as well as pretty much every vegetable that does not need to freeze to do well (asparagus and rhubarb both refuse to grow here, for example, but cabbage and onions grow well as winter crops). Some areas can support rice as well. The “dead season” happens in the heat of summer, when only established crops will survive the blistering heat and lack of rain. Farmer’s markets here frequently operate close to year round, with the two primary growing seasons in the spring and fall. A lot of our agriculture is hybridized, with plants being bred to tolerate the heat or to take advantage of our shorter (but more frequent) growing seasons.

10. Where does your power come from?

I live in a major oil and gas processing area, so my local power plant is natural gas based.

*****

I will admit to having used Google to answer one (and a half) of these questions. I didn’t know the specifics of my local power plant (I knew where it is, but not that it is a natural gas plant), and I didn’t know the actual wind directions (beyond cold fronts coming from the northwest and the sea breezes coming from the ocean). Still, I’m glad to take the time to answer questions like this, if only because it keeps me thinking about my relationship to my environment.

As to where I think I would like to be, quite frankly there are a lot of things I would like to do that just aren’t possible right now. I can’t afford to install solar power, and my plumbing is firmly directed through the concrete slab foundation so I can’t reuse my greywater as irrigation. I do plan on installing a gutter system that feeds into a rain barrel/containment device to help alleviate the watering that I do in my vegetable garden each spring and fall, but we’re at least several months away from doing that, if not longer. Some things we’ve thought about doing but then decided against it. When we had our plumbing replaced, we installed a gas-powered tank water heater instead of going tankless, because our water heater is in our (large, high ceilinged) attic, and we use almost no power to have hot water in the warm months – which is most of the year here.

I already use almost entirely recycled paper products, and use non-paper cleaning supplies when I can (rags instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, etc). I use biodegradable cleaners for everything that it is feasible to do so (bleach is only ever used in the master shower, since it has mildew problems). Most things get cleaned with soap, vinegar, baking soda, or some combination therein.

I also have been switching out our light bulbs to LEDs (we already use CFL’s – which have their own set of problems, as they contain some heavy metals that can make them difficult to properly dispose of). The LED lights are expensive, but they produce almost no heat, which helps in the summer with the air conditioning bill. I also keep the house at 80 degrees or so in the summer to cut down on AC usage (though I admit to keeping it a bit warmer than I could in the winter as well. I have an extreme dislike of feeling cold, so the house stays at about 70 degrees in the winter). I’ll probably be purchasing a new AC unit in the next year or two as well, as our current one is both inefficient and lacking any sort of labeling that would allow a technician to repair it if it breaks. I also make frequent use of ceiling (and other) fans to help stay cool without needing to run the AC as much.

In general we try to choose native or semi-native plants, especially plants that will attract birds and bugs to the area. As a result we have a thriving ecosystem of spiders, lizards, toads, and the occasional turtle living in the yard. We also get monarch butterflies and several types of hummingbirds when they migrate through, and I try to feed the local songbirds in the winter (though with Harold around, that didn’t happen this year). We also do not use pesticides or herbicides on the yard as a blanket treatment. Small applications of fire ant poison or weed killer on the driveway cracks aside, our yard is “organic”. We also use almost entirely organic fertilizer in the garden, a combination of compost, manure, and purchased organic soil supplements.

I’d love to ditch my car and use a bicycle for primary transportation, but I work 35 miles (each way) from my job. Instead, I drive a small, fuel-efficient car and keep it in as good of repair as I can. I’d also, quite frankly, like to work in another industry – my job is on the periphery of the oil and gas industry, and while I know it’s good work, it feels a bit soulless to continue to work to make that industry better (my company does safety engineering for refineries and chemical plants) when I’d really rather be working on something more sustainable. I comfort myself knowing that fewer oil spills, refinery explosions, and catastrophic chemical leaks is always a good thing, but it still feels a little out of place to be a Druid working in oil and gas.

All in all, I think I’ve made a solid start. Unfortunately the changes I’d like to make now all require significantly more time, money, or both – and all of that is in a bit of short supply right now. Making the little changes was easy, but it’s a bit of a slippery slope to the bigger, more life-affecting changes that I’d really like to make to reduce my footprint and be more conscious of my affect on the Earth around me.

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With the last frost date less than two weeks away, it’s time for me to really start thinking about my garden. It’s sat, rather sadly neglected, since last June, so I have some work ahead of me to get the ground ready for transplants. (I use transplants since our growing season is rather short, and I like to get a head start on things like tomatoes that will suffer in the heat.)

I suspect, with as mild as our winter has been, that I could probably get my first plants in the ground as early as this weekend, but I still prefer to wait until that official frost date. Maybe it’s a bit superstitious, but I don’t want to freeze my tomatoes.

My garden is about 10×12, raised bed and mostly organic. I compost all my kitchen scraps and yard waste in two bins on the side of the house, but I’m not sure either is ready to go into the garden just yet. I’ll have to check them and see. They’re both pretty full at least, so once things warm up I’ll have lots of compost to spread around the plants.

The whole garden needs to be cleared of weeds and grass and turned over to be ready for this year’s plants. Since we don’t own a rototiller/cultivator, I have to till the earth by hand. It’s always kind of cleansing (as well as somewhat back-breaking) to grab a shovel and turn over all of the earth there.

I’m probably mostly going to put in green beans and tomatoes – for some reason I have a great deal of trouble with curcurbits (cucumbers, zucchini, squash) getting downy/powdery mildew and dying on me (or getting big but not producing any fruit). I’d like to try melons this summer as well, but beans and tomatoes are my staples. They grow well for me, and last year I ended up at one point with over 15 lbs of tomatoes – out of which I made a delicious vinaigrey, peppery salsa. This year I’d like enough to make some marinara sauce to freeze in quarts. I’d also like enough green beans to make another few batches of “dilly beans” – spicy dill pickle green beans that I eat by the jar if I’m not careful.

I’ll also grow hot peppers, but I put those in pots. Hot peppers of various kinds tend to like to have periods of dry, and tomatoes need at least an inch of water a week, so if I water the tomatoes enough to be fruitful, the peppers don’t do much. They do well in pots for me though – I’d like to grow a nice assortment, from jalapenos and hot banana peppers to some larger Anaheim peppers that I can stuff with sausage and roast. Yum!

At some point I need to figure out what’s causing  my problem with curcurbits (I suspect it’s a fungus problem with the soil), but with as much time as I spend at work, I don’t really have time to troubleshoot a lot of garden problems. I wish I had more time to devote to it, since I get a lot of satisfaction out of growing things, but work has to take priority over hobbies, even useful ones like growing food.

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Fall is slowly creeping in here, with the leaves on some of the trees turning and falling. Many of the trees here are Live Oaks though, so they’ll keep their leaves until spring, when the new leaves will push the old ones off the trees. Our yard has mainly a southern variety of weeping Ash trees and a Poplar tree (plus palm trees of various types), so we’ll be dealing with fallen leaves for a bit longer. The grass is mostly dormant at this point, so we’re only mowing once every 2-3 weeks. Things are looking pretty dry, so I’m hoping we get some rain soon.

The monarch butterflies are pretty much gone by now as well – they pass through here on their southerly migrations, so we get a good number of them. They’re one of the reasons I really love my butterfly garden in the fall. Sadly my salvias don’t seem to be doing well – I will try giving the garden a good watering, but they just don’t seem to be making it right now. Which is sad, as they were huge and gorgeous.

We also had a cold front this week, so some of the less hardy potted plants are coming inside. We need to build a drape frame for our lime tree as well, since it’s now too big to keep in a pot, and will need to be sheltered if it actually gets cold. Our lows this week are in the lower 40F range, so some of the tropicals definitely need to join the dumcane inside the porch. This will be interesting with the plumeria, which has gotten so large that we’ve put it’s pot on a wheeled platter. I’m not sure it will fit through the porch door, but I guess we’ll find out!

The lizards know where the warms are and have been attempting at cost to life and limb to get inside the house or screen porch. Unfortunately the cats think they’re both fun and tasty, so we’ve found a few corpses and made a few rescues so far. That will likely continue through the winter.

It’s probably time to get the bird feeders up as well. (Or the squirrel feeders, really) There won’t be any more hummingbirds this year for sure; we only saw two all summer, which was sad. Usually there are tons. I wonder if the climate is affecting their migration, or maybe we didn’t have the feeders up soon enough or something. I love having birds in the yard, especially when it’s cold – we’ve had breeding pairs of cardinals and bluejays for a few years now. The wrens usually make a nest in the yard (or in the wreath on my door), but I’ve yet to find a seed they’ll eat. I think they’re more interested in the bugs living in my potted plants.

I’m not planting a winter garden this year, mostly because things were too crazy when I would have needed to get it planted. Instead, we’ll compost the garden plot with leaves and kitchen compost over the winter. It could stand to rest for a little bit anyway, especially since we planted corn this summer. I don’t think I’ll grow corn again, just because it takes up a lot of space for not a lot of produce in the end. Maybe one more try now that I’ve done it before, but I’m not sold on corn as a backyard crop.

The days are approaching their shortest now, and the sun has already set when I get home from work at 5:30. The sun is about 15 minutes shy of rising when I get to work at 6:30am.  Having it be dark when I leave and dark when I get home is hard, but at least I still get some afternoon sun on my commute home.

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I’m pretty plugged in to being the Druid of this Place. I think it’s important to connect to the Earth – both as a global construct and something we should care for, and as a specific thing that we are entrusted with. My yard is my sacred space, and I can make an impact there even when my impact on the global world is so much smaller. I’m intimately connected with the land around me, and I work to make sure my connection to local spirits is strong and respectful.

For example, my yard is pesticide and herbicide free, and chemical free as often as we can manage it (with the exception of fire ants, which my husband and I are both terribly allergic to. I usually try the grits trick first*, but if that doesn’t work, they get poisoned).  As often as possible, we plant native or semi-native plants, to feed and attract native bugs and birds.

Because of the lack of stuff-that-kills-things, my yard is FULL of spiders, toads, lizards (especially lizards), and the occasional earth snake, brown snake, and even sometimes a snapping turtle, as well as having lots of squirrels and birds in the winter. I love opening the door and seeing the baby lizards sunning on the sidewalk.

I also love to garden. I grow vegetables and herbs, and I have a garden specifically designed for bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. While it’s much harder with my new job to plant a profound and interesting and finicky garden, I can almost always get tomatoes and green beans to grow without much prodding. I love the act and art of growing things (though like any gardener, I occasionally kill plants), because it connects me so strongly with the forces of Earth and Life and Death. This year for Lammas I was able to cut down the corn stalks (long dead, but left for that purpose) and it was a really powerful reminder of the cycle of sacrifice and rebirth.

This is one of the points where my Wicca training and Druidry conflict a bit, because in BTW, the God is a God of Nature and the sacrifice of Life and Death and Rebirth. While some variants of Wicca (specifically the non-initiatory traditions) often spend a lot of time with the Earth Mother, I’ve learned to identify the energy of growing things, and their life cycle, as an aspect of male divinity.

Still, the Earth itself is easily something I can identify with as female, even if that particular piece of the agricultural cycle is something I associate with a specific God.

Of course, the Nature Spirits and Land Spirits are of mixed genders, so there’s no problem there. I like leaving offerings for them in my yard. I have an old stump piece from one of the trees we lost after Ike, and it sits up like a table in the back near the fence, so that’s where I leave my offerings. Usually I leave bits of food and drink, as often as possible things that I’ve made myself. If I’m going to live here, I think it’s important to have a good relationship with the other spirits who live here, and make offerings to them in return for their blessings on my house and gardens.

I am, after all, the Druid in this Place, as opposed to That place, or Some Other place. This is where I make my home, so this is the piece of Earth I need to truly connect with. Of course it’s important to take care of the whole earth, to be aware of my footprint on it and make sure I’m doing all I can to honor the life I have here. It’s just also important to me that I specifically plug in to my little corner here in the swamp.

*The Grits Trick: Take grits and sprinkle them liberally around an ant mound. This frequently causes some of the ants to get sick and die (as they eat the grits and then die of bowel impaction), which will cause the mound to move elsewhere. This really only works on relatively small, unestablished ant mounds.

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