Today, it is raining. AGAIN. Needless to say, this has been a wet winter here in California, and I can't believe I've made it through. I am feeling pretty relieved that I snagged a house sit in a warm home with a bathtub and wood stove for a few months. Much to the dismay of my Vitamin D craving skin and damp sleeping bag, the rain has been good for the earth. After a long period of drought, this rainy winter has provided some relief to the parched land. The huge agricultural operations that grow a bulk of food for our country, as well as our fine wine and other seemingly luxurious but necessarily commodities, depend solely on the winter rains. California has manipulated the environment so much and evolved to precariously depend on exhausting those manipulations, that a drought is devastating. The creeks ran dry sooner into the dry season, the dammed lakes were half full, salmon unable to get up stream to spawn, campfires were banned for miles. Without water in the diverted waterways, the heavy drinking almond groves could barely survive. The dammed rivers are essential for human-needed agricultural pursuits, as it doesn't rain here for 6 months in the summer. The dams allow water to be released slowly downhill from the Sierras into the fertile central valley where every stream has channels branching off into one field or another like an intricate lung ending in grape vine bronchioles. These are lessons in adaptability over rigidity. A rigid system that doesn't allow any variables is doomed to fail terribly, a system that builds in checks and balances, and room for movement as life actually is, will handle the tides much better. This is another argument for favoring the flexibility of permaculture inspired farming practices over the rigidity of mass plantings of one crop and hoping every year everything will work out perfectly.
Imbolc, or Candlemas as some like to call it, falls around the beginning of February. The Chinese New Year is close to this time, as well. It is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. An ancient Gaelic holiday later adopted by Christians, it celebrates the first signs of light and fertility to come as Spring progresses. January can seem like an endless pit of dark and cold for some folks. Once Imbolc rolls around, things feel different. Just slightly. Many a winter I've spent in places or situations where January was tough. I have also spent winters where I was totally in tune with the snow and the landscape and spent many hours out in the cold moving and it helped me get through the lack of light. The first winter I really acknowledged the holiday was about 6 or 7 years ago when I spent a season in a remote cabin on a mountain with my friend Blair in New Hampshire. We didn't have electricity or running water and being a southern girl, I didn't know what I was getting myself into. I had to walk home sometimes in waist deep snow at night, by myself. I hummed songs of protection to myself as the dark forest scared me then. I noticed the subtle changes in the stars every night, and got really good at tracking which animals walked where and when through our snowy mountain path. The cabin was this mythical magical place, full of our art projects and windows that looked out into the woods in all directions. Times were hard though. It was cold and windy up on the mountain. We didn't get much opportunity to socialize. I could barely afford to buy groceries. We had a crappy wood stove and half seasoned firewood. I didn't know how to cross country ski yet so I had to trudge through the snow with snowshoes rather than on top of it. I set up an altar by my bed where I would sit at night by candlelight as snowstorms swirled around our cabin, and waiting for Blair to walk home later as she got off work cooking at the local Waldorf boarding school. I would follow Starhawk's "The Spiral Dance" as I missed my Neo-pagan drum circle community back in Virginia and here I was really being forced to tune into the land. Right around my birthday, as it always falls, I celebrated the season tucked in my wooden enclave amongst the snow drifts and yellow birch with porcupines hanging from the branches, nibbling away. I felt stronger, after that, even in mud season when the ground would fall out under my car. [Unfortunately, I've lost most pictures I took during this time of the cabin and the snowy trails] After Imbolc, the days get just long enough to actually notice. A sigh of relief happens, as winter will be over soon. Yet, the gifts of winter can be finally cherished and enjoyed, as by now we've adjusted to cold and dark. Sometimes, after Imbolc, I actually get attached to the nested winter quiet. Its good to have these marked times of the year, to shift incrementally in our minds how things are flowing. Here I am in the Sierra foothills of California for the fourth winter and it isn't the same as a winter of ten degree days and never seeing the ground like it was for me in New Hampshire. But weeks of rain, mudslides and floods is definitely an experience of practicing patience and adaptability.
The darkness is a rolling murmur. It comes in and takes a stand, hanging for awhile pressing rain and wet and chill. Through the cold elemental drips, we watch our feelings and thoughts feed the slowly growing Miner’s Lettuce and spreading Chickweed. The birds gather in wild Plum branches forming clusters of magnificent chorus. They wash in the wet and our thoughts floating by on the fog. The Fennel and California Mugwort slowly peak out leaves shadowing last years dead stalks from the mud and slosh, waiting for the darkness to let up a bit to push full force. The California Poppy peaks out light green, frilly and bouyant, not yet ready to propel up in orange flowers as the darkness is slow to move along. Elder leaves start to form. California Buckeye starts to unfurl slow palmate fans, Violets flower in subtle blankets across lawns. Scotch broom start to release their yellow explosion that will send thousands of seeds across disturbed soils and old gold mines, fixing nitrogen, aiding in recovery. Poison oak with its red-tinged tiny leaves sticking out into trails snag our bare arms and legs with potent oils on rare sunny days when we try to absorb as much Vitamin D as possible.
Now that it’s post-Imbloc, the darkness is loosening its grip on our thoughts. They wander from the dreamy state to the reality of possibility as the spring greens and slow cascade of flowering trees each sunshiny day release the internal grips. Once we accept the cold and dark, whether in deep snowy places where the ground is still hidden or sleeping, or in places with a rainy season where half the battle is keeping soft warm fabrics from molding; suddenly the darkness is a welcome respite from the movement of the wider world. The darkness forces us to slow down, in some form or another. And that darkness releasing its grip, ever so slowly, releases the heart gently and with a kind of reverse suction, pushing out kindly and gracefully the resolutions of our winter ponderings.
Incense Cedar, loving this season, slows and disperses the drips from the sky’s heavy tears down spread and flattened leaves. Willow changes color slowly through the winter in oranges, reds, blues, flowering softly yet suddenly in early February. Rosemary keeps reminding us Spring is coming by continuing to flower somehow all winter, rugged and woody, ambrosial. Lichens and moss swell from their crispy and dulled summer colors, fanning out into the dark woods, relishing in our dripping thoughts, in the sky’s tears.
Manzanita flowers its pink-white blossoms starting first in the warmest spots of the land, then moving along to catch up in other groves. On sunny days, a break in the clouds, the bees come out and celebrate the fresh release, taking a turn on the fluffed Willows as well. Yerba Santa starts to slowly release freshly aromatic leaves. Madrone pokes out its budding flower sprays, in new green ready to splash white blossoms similar to its cousin Manzanita.
But Spring is not here yet. Just a few more weeks, let the darkness oil our bones, settle our spirits for the manifesting months ahead. The plants show us the movement of the year, the movings our soul makes as it matches the larger rhythms and shadows. When we feel disoriented or taken by the time, the darkness or the immense stimulus of the brightest days, all we have to do is look closely at the plants and see their subtle changes. When doing this, we realize we are changing too, and every day is different than the one before. The most stagnant of states, however ominous and foreboding, rock bottom; can only shift, can only move and flow like life itself. When we hold on to the darkness, or try to keep forever the lightness, we do not allow for the natural cycle of things to show itself to us.
Daily noticing. It’s dark and rainy, but the birds are chirping. The Pine needles are a little greener, recovering from drought and destitute. The rain oils our bones and the stressed roots of plants that have suffered through years of drought. The cycle of things. Periods of abundance and lack. It all balances out in the end. We can ride the wave gracefully, or go kicking and screaming through each moment, each day, each season and each year. To notice the details, is to see them in our bodies and minds, too.
Maybe sometimes I notices the shifts and changes out there so much, albeit reflections of my own self, but yet I forget myself until suddenly I am jostled aware. I realize I have shifted, just like that.