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Posts Tagged ‘Nature Awareness’

I’ve borrowed my title from a post by Nimue at Druid Life in which she writes feelingly of this sense of belonging as a distinctly Druid idea and as a basis for ethics and practice. “If we belong first and foremost to the land,” she writes,

… then we do not belong to our human communities above all else. We are not the property of the state, or owned by our employers. This affects how we perceive ourselves and our human relationships. We are not owned by the job, or by the demands of human expectations. We belong instead to the land, and consciousness of that allows us not to be ruled so easily by misguided cultural norms, or social pressures. We are also less inclined to see the land itself or anything that lives upon it as property to be owned by humans. We belong to it, it does not belong to us.

I’m not sure I would agree that the sense of belonging is the defining characteristic of Druidry, but I certainly agree that it’s an important one. What I want to point out here is that Nimue lives in Gloucestershire, in southwest England, and I live in Maryland, in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S., in North America. The land to which Nimue belongs is not the land to which I belong. The United States of America is an enormous land compared to the island of Britain, but while I have travelled some, I have never lived anywhere but this one city, in this state, not too far from the western edge of the Atlantic.

I think there is a challenge for those of us who are Druids in North America, Australia, South America, or indeed any place but Northern Europe and the U.K. to belong to the land we live in and not imagine we belong to the land our traditions come from. At least, I know it’s a challenge for me, and I imagine I’m not alone. Many of the trees of the Ogham grow in North America as well as Europe, but they are not the same species. The British holly and the local holly are not identical; the British robin and the American robin are two entirely different birds, alike only in their orange bosoms.

I dream of visiting England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales. I imagine that I might feel more at home there than I do here, in the only place I’ve ever lived. But unless I actually move to the U.K. (not bloody likely), the land to which I belong is the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and my Druidry has to work with that fact. So I’m working on it.

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A mourning dove and a small flock of sparrows are foraging in the bushes just outside my front door. After watching them through the window for a bit, I grabbed the only bird guide I could find (where is my Peterson’s???) and tried to identify the sparrows. They are not the English house sparrow but a true, native sparrow with a distinctive white “eyebrow”. I turned a page in my guide and saw the entry on the dark-eyed junco, a frequent visitor to these parts and one I have no trouble recognizing. When I looked up from the book and out the window, I saw the first junco of the season coming in to forage under my bushes.

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One of the chief reasons I am a druid is because “nature spirituality” is important to me. But when I ask myself, “What is nature spirituality? What is ‘nature’?” I find I don’t have any easy answers.

The root of the word “nature” is the Latin “natus”, which means “born”. Nature is that which is born, not made. That which is made is culture, artifice, artificial; that which is born is natural. Nature vs. culture, nature vs. nurture.

You and I were born, not made. Born live from a mother’s womb and suckled at her mammal breast, or by a facsimile thereof, we are nature.  Creatures that hatched from eggs, sprouted from seeds, formed in the earth from heat and stress, they are also nature.

Birds build nests. Beavers build dams. Spiders build webs. Humans build houses, villages, cities. The sleekest, most computerized automobile is made by human art and craft from materials drawn from nature. To make things, to create culture, is part of human nature.

Years ago I read a statement by Z. Budapest to the effect that the Goddess is part of nature because there is nothing outside nature. At the time I did not understand what she was saying, but I think I do now. We talk about things that are supernatural, or paranatural, paranormal, unnatural. But from a pagan perspective, and I think from a Buddhist perspective as well, it’s all nature. Gods and goddesses, angels and demons, land-spirits, animal spirits, all these things are part of nature.There is no super-nature, no way outside nature, no “away” where we can throw things and they won’t affect us. To be a druid is to affirm that Susan Griffin is right:

We know ourselves to be made from this earth.
We know this earth is made from our bodies.
For we see ourselves.
And we are nature.
We are nature seeing nature.
We are nature with a concept of nature.
Nature weeping.
Nature speaking of nature to nature.

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I heard the cooing of a mourning dove while walking to work today, for the first time in months. It’s one of my favorite sounds, hollow yet intimate, distant even if it’s right outside your bedroom window. The voice of the turtle is heard in our land, as it says in the Song of Songs–“turtle” meaning “turtledove” in this case.

Crocuswatch 2009 has begun; I am scanning my neighborhood park and other patches of earth for the first signs of yellow, white, or violet flowers. It’s warm and humid today, with forecasts predicting temperatures in the seventies, yet the weather this weekend is expected to be chilly again. That’s Imbolc-tide in my part of the world; if “spring” is what happens between Imbolc and Beltaine (as it is in my definition), then spring in Maryland is a series of short sharp shocks, fire and ice, snow and crocuses, wooing pigeons and slippery streets.

Lent is approaching, looming into my awareness because I am once again singing in a church choir. We have already begun to rehearse the austere, crisp-textured Tudor anthems which we pull out every year–“Hide Not Thou Thy Face from Us, O Lord” and “Call to Remembrance” and William Byrd’s tour de force “Bow Thine Ear, O Lord,” with its low E in the alto part and its ever-shifting repetitions of the phrase “desolate and void”. I have seen an etymology for the word “Lent” that connects it with “lengthen”; the days lengthen even though the cold deepens and the snows come, and the sunlight burns blindingly across iced-over ground. I have also read that the Lenten fast and the Mardi Gras consumption of pancakes came out of the realities of medieval life, that winter stores of food were running out just as the Church’s season of repentance and purification rolled around, that people fasted partly because they *had* to, until new milk, butter, herbs, and vegetables became available.

With the surge of energy that came to me at Imbolc came a fresh surge of insight and resolution: Yes, I really am a Druid. Back in late December I wrote decisively that I was finished with Druidry, that the path of AODA was not for me. Gentle readers, never believe me when I say I have renounced something or given it up. When I say that, you may be sure–even if I have forgotten–that I am on the verge of embracing something and committing to it in my life.

My good friend in AODA, Oakmouse, gave me a piece of advice (requested by me) that solved most if not indeed all of my problems with my Druid path: She reminded me that progressing through the degrees of the Order is not obligatory. If I don’t feel like working on Second Degree or starting a study group, I don’t have to. It’s perfectly all right to be a solitary First Degree, or even to remain just a Candidate, and progress on one’s own. And for all my occasional longings to be a ritual leader, a teacher, an Authority Figure, I think solitary work is my true calling.

I am a Druid of AODA. And a Buddhist, a Hermetic magician, a polytheist, a monist, a Neopagan, and even an Anglican. And a writer, musician, and friend of birds. I’ve resolved that for Lent, I’m giving up giving up things. I’m renouncing renunciation. The Druid hermit shack and webcam is back in business.

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Bird-related, and simultaneously heart-warming and weird!

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “My favorite combination!“, posted with vodpod
Thanks to the Birdchick for pointing this out!

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I am not a birder.  That is, I’m not what the uninitiated call a “birdwatcher”.  (I suppose it’s like the difference between “Trekker” and “Trekkie”, though I’m so old-skool that I do call myself a Trekkie.)  The birds I watch are the two who live in my home with me, and whatever other birds happen to be in my environment.  I pay close enough attention to know that birds in my urban environment include English sparrows, house finches, pigeons, mourning doves, mockingbirds, starlings, several kinds of gull (they come up the Chesapeake to our harbor), crows, bluejays, cardinals, migratory juncos, some other sparrows I haven’t been able to identify, and the occasional goldfinch and woodpecker.  That’s in a city, folks, and while I’m walking on foot.  Ducks live by the harbor, too.

I know those birds by sight and sound, plumage and silhouette, but I don’t go out into rural areas to see birds, or take trips out of state to meet other birders and go out with my camera or field glasses to see them in detail.  I do, however, read the blogs of some wonderful people who do.

Sharon Stiteler, the Birdchick, provides wonderful close-up photos and short videos of birds.  Whether it’s a wild-haired osprey thinking about building a nest or a fierce-looking great-tailed grackle thinking about its gracklehood, her pics are wonderful.  She also maintains the Disapproving Rabbits blog for her bun, Cinnamon (ha, is pun).

Susan K. Williams Gets Native with bird rescue, Earl the female turkey vulture, censored cleavage, and all sorts of wacky adventures.  I would like to learn how to hold raptors on my arm the way she does.

Julie Zickefoose, aka The Zick, provides some spectacular photos and posts on nature awareness, demonstrating how to hike in the woods, teach your kids to examine potentially icky or interesting things gently and wisely, watch a monarch caterpillar change into a butterfly, and just generally Pay Attention to Life.  Plus, her blog has a fabulous guest star: Chet Baker the Boston Terrier, a dog of great personality who holds his own against many interesting bird pictures.

Bill Thompson at Bill of the Birds, travels far and wide in search of new birds to share with his readers.  Recent trips to Brazil have yielded photos of birds who look like tiny jewelled miniatures of avians, but they are in fact alive and feathery.

All four of these folks enhance my practice of nature awareness and help me to pay closer, more respectful attention to the natural world that underlies and supports my urban life.  They provide me with enjoyable reading pretty much every day.

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