After breakfast and a few runs through Willow Waist exercises, we were in the garden, oohing and aahing over the new arrivals: tricosanthes, atractylodes, skullcap barbat, skullcap baicalensis, lycii, ashwagandha, belladonna, two kinds of poppy, three kinds of spilanthes, jack-in-the-pulpit, bryonia, sarsaparilla, henbane, borage, leonatis, pennyroyal, red sage, Thai basil, turkey rhubarb, fennel, chamomile, grindelia, pleurisy root, blue vervain, and more I’m sure I can’t remember. Some medicinal, some ornamental, some purely magickal. Many of them rootbound thanks to waiting in flats in Ima’s rooftop greenhouse for a Midwestern summer that never came.
Until that day, that is.
Like the mosquitoes I didn’t anticipate because of our enduring cold weather, I neglected to bring sunscreen or lightweight clothes because I didn’t think heat and sunshine would be much of an issue.
So perspiring in one too many layers (left on as a deterrent to mosquitoes), I weeded my bed and helped a few foundation students know what to leave and what to compost. Every few minutes Ima would call me over to look at this or that, and I did jump up to join her, and I did look, my gaze following her smooth white arm to wherever she pointed, every little green thing a new mystery to be unraveled.
And once again I remembered: “Yes, this is exactly where I want to be, and this is exactly what I want to do.”
For someone who has searched for so long to find the place where they belong, this is a very reassuring affirmation. It happened for the first time last year when I was harvesting calendula, motherwort and sugarsnap peas on a nearby property and realized that if I were someone else and had seen a picture of myself and my beloved classmates (like you, Claudia!) in that spot, engaged in that very activity – I’d wish with all my jealous heart that I were there.
After a few hours of weeding, planting and lunch, I decided to escape the heat by joining Ima and the first-year students on a wild herb walk through the forest.
I let myself have the luxury of tuning out sometimes, hearing her voice only as a comforting drone, much like I would listen to my mother speaking in her native language on sleepy afternoons when I was little. Every once in awhile one of the new students would ask a question, and most of the time, I had a ready answer. And sometimes my classmate Leslie would point something new out to me, and I’d take a picture, learning from her gentle observations – for example, she showed me the patch of flowering mayapples in which we found ourselves wondering about escharotic salve recipes and when they might actually be a preferred form of treatment.
In the shady forest, Ima pointed out all the usual landmarks to the new students, like Maple Woman, a huge old maple tree at whose foot I aspected for the first time a few years ago.
Someone asked Ima, “Why did you name your land Glastonbury?”
And as she told her story, I remembered how that name drew us together: It was about six years ago, and I had just returned from my first trip to Glastonbury in England. I was checking out massage schools but was particularly intrigued by the herbal curriculum Ima set up, and so I showed up with Lugh for an open house. I walked into the school and spied a foamcore display across the room, on which was a photo of bleeding heart, a plant I’d met for the first time in the Chalice Well gardens in England and with whom I’d meditated.
I made a beeline for the display to see the photograph more closely, exclaiming, “Dicentra!” Ima – a stranger then – came to my side and asked if I knew botany. Alas, no. She went away to welcome more potential students and called the group to order. I backed away from the display slowly and as my vision broadened I finally saw the large title at the top of the display: “GLASTONBURY NATURE SANCTUARY.”
I had a feeling I’d be sticking around for awhile.
Toward the end of the herb walk we startled a spotted baby fawn, the second for Ima that weekend. Star and I had seen about ten of them on the way up in the adjacent meadow. At Spring Equinox I had been blessed with finding a large antler while on a hike deep in the forest.
After we returned from the wild herb walk, I put another couple of hours or so to planting and announced that I would need to harvest nettles for a phyllo-feta-nettle pie I was making for our potluck dinner. We’d hardly seen any on the weed walk; where were they? Would they be growing in their usual stands in the adjoining meadow? (For the first time in recent memory , this was one definite difference between this Glastonbury and the first, so rich with nettles that they are almost impossible to avoid.)
Ima borrowed a pair of my gloves and spare clippers and volunteered to help me find some nettles. Star came too.
We walked and walked and couldn’t find any. We came to a silver stream, rarely so swollen, that separated us from the meadow.
And in the meadow there were no nettles. So we went back into the mosquito-thick forest and found a scant few patches, but more than enough for our meal. Star harvested with his bare hands and couldn’t feel his fingers until the following afternoon.
The nettle pie, by the way, arrived late to dinner but was a roaring success – no leftovers.
After dinner, Ima led us through the dromenon on an attunement-to-the-land ceremony. I was immediately transported to the time and ceremony when I was attuned years ago: Somehow overcome with choking sobs, I made it to the center of the labyrinth, where she waited. She had been twirling a tiny yellow flower all morning (cinquefoil?), which she gave to me when she welcomed me into the heart of the maze. I had no idea that it was the first of many immeasurable gifts. I still have that flower.
The next day we did more planting in the hot gardens. I
sang to most of the seedlings. In my imagination, my other beloved herb teacher smiled
at me in that quiet, gap-toothed way of his -- a smile meant to be reassuring but which
always rocket-boosts me out of my current place and time, dumbstruck, limbs
dangling (so very out of character for me).
Ima took the first-year students away to wildcraft in the cool, screened-in structure by the shade beds.
As I made snug new homes in the soil for them with my fingers, I looked at these little green beings, so generous with their powers and yet so secure in their impenetrable mystery. How can they be so earnest and yet so silent?
And yet with them I felt so very much at home.
That night a storm came through and back in my skylit bedroom I surrendered to sleep under its wild white flashes and bottomless rolling thunder.
A Journey to the Moon
Two days later I showed up at Mystery School for a lunar meditation and talisman-making class led by my friend Jeff.
Without giving too much of the meditation itself away, I saw projected on the walls of a temple images of Glastonbury in England – the Abbey (but not in ruins), the southwestern English countryside, rows of trees and lots of non-descript images of rough hewn or striated stone, like the ones at Avebury, and catacombs or tombs.
Later we were asked to identify the glyph and name on a door in a library. I saw an arch at first; but from within it dropped down pipes of graduated lengths – pan pipes. And above that, simply, “PAN.”
“God of wild things and lust?” I thought for a fraction of a second. Not what I expected from a moon meditation during which we were supposed to meet the lunar goddess Selene at her temple. But I thought of the Pan who made himself manifest at Findhorn and I thought, “Oh yes, I’ve always wanted to meet him.”
When I did meet Selene, I told her why I was there and made a bold request (as I had at Imbolc in February, a secret springtime wish that actually came true). She smiled but said nothing.
When we emerged from the meditation, we were asked to draw a tarot card from an altar set up at the center of the room.
Now, I’d only ever drawn this card in all my years of using the tarot once in my life: when I sat where the cloisters used to be, in the Abbey ruins at Glastonbury.
Upon drawing the card, I thought about the usual stuff – base pleasures, enslavement to materialism, reliance on the senses only, devolution instead of evolution. Not exactly uplifting stuff.
So I went home and looked up the meaning of this card in my
many tarot books. You can look it up too, but suffice it to say, I need to look
beyond what’s in front of me and laugh with wisdom and understanding at the
adversary my own higher self presents so that I can grow.
And I thought, "Well, duh, here’s a horned, hoofed character; 'Pan' on the door makes sense."
Just when I was finished checking my books, I checked the reference on one last deck, the one I use most infrequently (but that will change!) – the Spirit of Herbs tarot, created by two of my teachers. Going through the deck for Key 15, whom do I find but: Pan himself!
It seemed ridiculous that the connection didn’t occur more strongly right from the get-go.
Wild things. The woods. The plants. The fauns.
Finally, it turns out that according to some legends, the
moon goddess Selene was Pan’s greatest conquest!
Earlier that day I had received in the mail a book of my favorite translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s poetry, which I had ordered as a gift for a loved one. My hands turned the pages tenderly, through as many familiar as foreign lines. I found this of his Sonnets to Orpheus, II, 14:
Look at the flowers, so faithful to what is earthly,
to whom we lend fate from the very border of fate.
And if they are sad about how they must wither and die,
perhaps it is our vocation to be their regret.
All Things want to fly. Only we are weighted down by desire,
caught in ourselves and enthralled with our heaviness.
Oh what consuming, negative teachers we are
for them, while eternal childhood fills them with grace.
If someone were to fall into intimate slumber, and slept
deeply with Things ---: how easily he would come
to a different day, out of the mutual depth.
Or perhaps he would stay there, and they would blossom and
their newest convert, who now is like one of them,
all those silent companions in the wind of the meadows.
The following day, my teacher in California sent this poem by Wendell Berry:
The Want of Peace
All goes back to the earth,
and so I do not desire
pride of excess or power,
but the contentments made
by men who have had little:
the fisherman’s silence
receiving the river’s grace,
the gardener’s musing on rows.
I am never wholly in place.
I lack the peace of simple things.
I find no peace or grace.
We sell the world to buy fire,
our way lighted by burning men,
and that has bent my mind
and made me think of darkness
and wish for the dumb life of roots.
That is, if I do not steal away into the grace
of wild things, never to return!
Maybe this satyr’s really trying to get through. If I meet him, and I learn more about the Wild Things, I’ll tell you all about it.