My thoughts have officially turned to all things sunshine, water, fire. It’s a connection I made a long time ago with the rhythm of the seasons. June is a time when the sun moves to its peak and then begins to recede, when water saturates from the spring rains and any snow melts that occurred during the winter, when dryness begins to emerge and portends the droughts of high summer, and fires manifest in fire circles as well as inside in creativity. It’s a time of growth and rest. Balancing of extremes.
For the past couple weeks those seasonal extremes and balances have had me considering my Grandpop’s Garden.
I only interacted with my grandpop a handful of times. He was intense and I found him more imposing than anything else. First generation born in the USA, son of a German immigrant and a Donauschwabian immigrant. There were a handful of things my mother shared with me about her father when I was a growing up: 1. He was on the team that built the Chesapeake Bay Bridge and the Conowingo Dam. 2. He had a fascination with photographing car accidents. 3. He was an amazing gardener.
Grandpop was a retired operating engineer who spent his summers in Ocean City, Maryland and his winters in Clearwater, Florida. He had gardens at both homes but it was the one in Ocean City I saw. I only saw it once – it was awesome. What struck me the most was the abundance that grew in an environment that was challenging and extreme for most gardens where I live.
Grandpop’s garden was on the edge of a marsh in Ocean City. Ocean City is a seaside resort town on a barrier island that extends a little more than 9 miles from the southern inlet to the Delaware state line. During the summer, it is the second most populated area in Maryland (https://data.census.gov/all?q=Ocean+City+town,+Maryland). In other words, its crowded with people, buildings, and impervious surfaces. Gardens are not something regularly found in Ocean City. Beautiful potted plants on porches, yes, but not full blown vegetable gardens.
Grandpop’s garden was 12-feet wide and 20-feet long. The local newspaper did an article on him in the early 1980s . The interview took place on July 4th and noted that his garden had already produced several two pound turnips, 18 inches around and the “garden is also teeming with green bell peppers, cabbage, lettuce, squash, zucchini, beans, cucumbers, parsley, red beets, and onions” (Tip-off leads to stash of radishes, turnips, beets by Dale Walter). The article stated that the bounty from the garden was such that he would not need to purchase produce.
“Convincing vegetables to grow in his garden wasn’t all that easy, Mr. Gramlich reported. Ocean City’s soil is so sandy, he said, that he had to import soil from Berlin [Maryland] and lace it with horse manure and fertilizer to create his garden. Mr. Gramlich worked hard keeping weeds down and the plants well-watered, but his efforts have paid off with a rich vegetable crop” (Dale Walter). Incidentally, in this article I learned a bit about my grandmom, who I knew less about than my grandpop. She cooked the turnips with mashed potatoes and cooked “beautiful stuffed peppers.” Boy, do I wish I had those recipes.
I was down in Ocean City the other day and the salty sea air was so rejuvenating to me. And, yet, how hard it must have been for his garden to thrive. Or, did it do so because he had figured out how to be in collaboration with the salty sea air, marshy Earth, and intense sun? I like to think that there was a little bit more to it than his explanation, that there was a collaboration with the spirit of the place and the beings.
It is that collaboration whose pull I feel so strongly, especially this time of the year. So much transformation and new growth happens in June. High school students graduate. Flowers start to bloom. Vegetables begin to sprout through the soil. Baby bunnies are born and begin to romp in the garden.
My hand, head, and heart practices for June are all about intentionally being open to collaboration with nature and the more than human beings we are in relationship with in this Earth community (Orion magazine was the first place I heard the phrase “more than human beings” rather than “non-human beings” and I think it more aptly captures the spirit of the interrelationship).
Hand – The lavender starts blooming this month. It is the first herb I collaborate with during this time leading up to the solstice and midsummer. “The name lavender comes from the Latin word lavare, “to wash,” originating from the Romans who used lavender to scent their baths. Lavender has long been used for cleansing purposes, and was strewn about households to ward off plague and tucked into cupboards and drawers to repel insects.” (The Herbrarium). Some of the lavender I harvest will be dried for later uses (such as incense, oils), some will be used fresh in the kitchen (such as cookies, lemonade), and some will become lavender bundles.
As the solstice approaches, the lavender bundles throughout the house will be replaced with new ones. Lavender is said to encourage peacefulness and discourage negative energy so we hang ours in rooms where people gather and over our main door. I’ll harvest the lavender the day after a rain, once the plants have completely dried. This will help to prevent mold after they are bundled. The bundles from last year will be burned in our summer solstice fire.
Those who follow on the newsletter will receive instructions for making lavender bundles. There is also more information on how I use herbs and plants during midsummer.
Head – Stories for summer solstice are stories that include transformation, rebirth, journeys, light, and magic. In prior years we have read The Return of the Sun King by Christine Natale, a story full of fairy folk, gnomes, dwarves, water sprites, and seed babies.
This year, now that the girls are older, this year we are going to explore the story of Persephone from the Homeric Hymn to Demeter and The Descent of Inanna. The Descent of Inanna is the older of the two, thought to have been composed some time between 3500 BCE and 1900 BCE. Both stories tell the story of a young woman descending into the underworld and then returning. Both represent, at some level, the change of seasons and the cycle of death and rebirth.
Consideration of the differences seems as important as consideration of the similarities in these two stories. We will be focusing not only on the connection to the seasons but also to what these stories have to tell us about navigating life and transitions.
Heart – Between the summer solstice and midsummer my meditation practice moves outside. I have a dedicated space, a comfortable Adirondack chair surrounded by Hydrangeas, Azaleas, Cosmos in pots, and Dahlias in pots. I have a focal point, or an altar, that is composed of stacked rocks with two shells at the top: an Eastern Oyster shell and a Gryphaea shell (a genus of oyster that went extinct about 34 million years ago).
I sit in a comfortable seated position, bare feet on the ground. I roll my shoulders backwards, then forwards. I slightly lower my chin and just breathe. Some days I set an intention. Some days I chant. Some days I sing mantras. Some days I ask a question and then listen. Some days I focus on a natural element – earth, air, fire, or water – represented by a special rock or crystal, an aromatherapy blend, a candle, or a bowl of water. Some days I focus on an ancestor through a family heirloom. Some days I just sit and focus on 108 breaths.
This time of the year I focus on growth, expansion, place, feeling based knowing, collaboration with the more than human world. I am aware of how my body is entering the space, what my feet, my back, my arms are each touching. I am aware of the sounds/light/smells/etc. Then, I simply ask, “what do you want to me to know.” And, then I listen and breathe. When I come out of morning meditation, I am able to carry the awareness that arose into the day.
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