The Sanctuary

by Audrey Scharmen

Published in Potomac Review, Fall/Winter 2001-02.

In the aftermath of lighting,  thunder and a heavy downpour with the horizon streaking rose, and mauve, tall silhouettes of trees encircle a dooryard garden where the cardinal flower stands amid a bed of her offspring. She is regal and rainswept, unbowed by the storm, each scarlet spike of florets beaded with diamond droplets aglitter in the fading light.

Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis,  older than time, the symbol of hope and continuity in an era when both are precarious, has chosen this garden of a herbalist and healer as a sanctuary. Here are boneset, lion’s foot and agrimony. Argiope spins silver among cats claw and zebra grasses where winged Luna and Promethea linger to meditate and metamorphose. Here is a strident chorus of tree frogs and birdsong, the fecund scent of a generous season, and the subtle fragrance of white sage burned in an ancient ritual of welcome.

Lobelia cardinals,  older than time, the symbol of hope and continuity in an era when both are precarious, has chosen this garden of a herbalist and healer as a sanctuary. Here are boneset, lion’s foot and agrimony. Argiope spins silver among cats claw and zebra grasses where winged Luna and Promethea linger to meditate and metamorphose. Here is a strident chorus of tree frogs and birdsong, the fecund scent of a generous season, and the subtle fragrance of white sage burned in an ancient ritual of welcome.
The gardener, who presides with the blessings of the natural world, describes an entourage of daddy longlegs spiders that came to spread a net about the cardinal’s buds when predators threatened. The spiders quietly retreated when the first flowers opened, and the plant remains flawless. She tells of hummingbirds who came to pollinate-among the few winged creatures able to penetrate the deep nectar of the florets-and of a fat bumblebee who sleeps nightly amid the blossoms.

And she tells of the cardinal’s coming. To this thickly wooded acreage that she has long tended in the watershed of a great estuary, where precious fossils of an inland sea abound, and where relics of Piscataway Indians who once hunted here lie all about, have come uncommon botanicals,  seeking refuge from the constant threat of progress. But her garden lacked a cardinal flower, an elusive plant she coveted.

It is a stunning survivor of the warm period that preceded the glacial epoch-its flowers so intense a hue the leaves often are stained with it. It is said that no color due to sustained sunlight could have originated in our temperate zone. Thus its birth has been traced to the Age of Flowers, to a sudden explosion that changed the face of Earth. The cardinal indeed may have been present at the creation.

The gardener’s efforts to transplant such a flower had been futile, and she had gone in search of it in a woodland beside the bed of a brook in a nearby glen protected by dense undergrowth and tall trees. Stalks of summer things spoke of a secret garden, and she thought it an ideal place for the Cardinal, a wetland plant with an aura of the rain forest, which craves a secluded habitat where it may keep its feet wet and its head crowned with sunlight. Hidden beneath a residue of autumn past were infant seedlings resembling those of the cardinal-flat green rosettes of leaves with baby fuzz still intact. But she was uncertain so she would return later when jewelweed and goldenrod bloom, in the time of the cardinal.

Fate intervened. A few weeks later four young people died instantly in a head-on collision beside the road that borders the woodland, steps away from a trail that leads down to a haven of seedlings. An entire community mourned, and the crash site became a shrine. Candlelight vigils were held there, and paper roses bloomed beside a white cross with photos of four smiling faces forever sixteen. The gardener considered the glen a temporary haven for the transitory souls of the children and so she did not return.

Autumn faded; winter turned quickly cruel, and the wilted roses shed red on new fallen snow. Spring came early with clouds of dogwood to grace the shrine. Chaste stars of Bethlehem shone on the hillside, and burgeoning foliage hid the path beyond from the eyes of passerby. Summer followed long and sweltering. No rain fell and the wetlands withered.

With late summer came rain, the heat subsided, Virginia creeper and sumac bled scarlet beside the road, and white blossoms of autumn clematis covered the carnage of drought. A semblance of peace came to the shrine, and the gardener returned to the glen. But the Cardinal hadn’t come. Black-eyed Susans bloomedin its place.
In early September it appeared in her garden-rising from tall stalks of feverfew and ferns beside the porch, undetected until a bright beacon of buds reviewed the presence. A rare albino deer had come, as well, to linger briefly at the woods edge, pale and ghostly in the blue twilight. Hummingbirds returned-none had been seen all that summer.

There is no explanation. Perhaps a single seed, dormant for centuries nurtured by one of many springs known to lie deep beneath the unique woodland, suddenly had awakened. It was the cardinal’s time.

Nibi Wabo Ceremony

Last night the full moon was brilliant. I ventured out to a meadow to feel for the 2014-10-14 10.37.13right spot to start a Water Ceremony. Photo: Duck pond in Congress Park.

The meadow is next to the Saratoga Springs Community Garden and the wetlands at Wesley Retirement Community. There are 36 acres here of wetlands, woodlands and extensive landscaped sitting areas within shaded green spaces along with solid footpaths for easy walking. It is truly a lovely natural setting that I can explore and enjoy by myself. I feel safe here. Flowers are blooming everyswhere throughout the property. At night the grasshoppers are singing and darling small tree frogs keep my heart happy as they chant with me. Before I do Ceremony, I take the time to do Tai chi and Yoga to work out any stress that is being held in the body. Once I have cleared my own outer body auro of clogged energy, I am ready to begin.

First I lit a small dried branch of White Sage from California and purified with the smudge. Then I offered smudging to the seven directions. After this clearing, I put down sacred Assema that has been used in daily morning offerings. All gifts are returned to the earth. I had my birch bark clapping sticks and proceded to do the Nibi Wabo Ceremony. It is important to remember that as women we are the protectors of water. As more and more of the world becomes dried up, water is disappearing. In poor countries, the water situation is even more critical. When I think of a woman having to walk several miles a day just to obtain one vessel of water that she carries on her head back to the village, I think about the inner body that is mostly water. How are these people surviving with a critical shortage of water? This is a human tragedy story.

Water is not a commodity and yet profiteering companies go to poor countries and sell water to poor people. Whoever heard that one needed to buy water in a bottle?. Water is being treated as a commodity. This is a social justice issue. Water is a gift from the Creator. Water is for all species on the planet, not just humans and crops. The birds, butterflies, moths, large animals and fish, let alone all the Green Nation, must have water to survive. How can a planet full of people not realize that by emitting carbon dioide into the atmosphere, for money, people are doing so without paying attention to the consequences. We are depleting air and water around the world. The climate is at a dangerous level now because of Climate Change. We are living in perilous times for air and water. This is why we must offer water our love and respect. We need to remember her and celebrate her everyday of our lives. Just by focusing on one issue, one can change the world, at leaset in our own corner of the world.

There is a small water font near my front door. This allows me to rememeber water as I come and go throughout the day. I am centering my thoughts around water so that I am more intuned to the living presence of water. This is similar to a meditation. How could I ever forget thinking of the Beloved who gives me life?

Doing a chant with my clapping sticks in the seven directions all around me, above me, below me and within me, I am honoring water as a living Being. May we remember. It is in forgetting that the natural world is taking abuse beyond what anything should suffer. Let us rejoice that we are abundantly blessed and offer Ceremony for the gifts that we recieve. Starting with becoming conscious of water and remembering her as a conscous effort. Let us walk forward to becoming conscious everyday of our lives and not just on the appointed time set aside for Water Ceremony, on the Full Moon.

To women everywhere, I bless you and myself with an offering to Nibi Wabo.

Memengwaaikwe

Butterfly Woman
Photo: of full moon rising over the trees as it comes into full view in the meadow.

www.herbalkeeper2015-07-31 20.52.01s.com and www.butterflywomanpublishing.com

After the thunder

Over  the last few days I have witnessed the moon go from full moon glow to cloud cover to thunder storms with crashing thunder overhead. One night in particular I saw my father’s hydrangea lit up where Ronnie has a grotto to our Blessed Mother. It was pure white blossoms that pulsated in light.  Jack Hohos, brother-in-law, loves hummingbirds. I heard him ask Ronnie, my sister, if she had seen any hummers? It was then I started to pay attention and witnessing when I did see hummers. Then I told Jack where I saw the bird and what plant, shrub, or tree it was around.

I have been hearing little tree frogs. There was even a frog species that I didn’t recognize by voice. I have entered a more Zen way of Being. I love starting the morning off with ceremony. I find this slower pace restorative and contemplative. Recently while walking down a trail by the barn, I spotted a flat boulder on top of a stone wall fence. I was reminded that a similar setting could be found that I could claim as an outside alter for my rocks that I will now move from WI. Before this discovery, I wondered what I would do with beloved rocks from Great Lakes glacial bedrock, near Duluth, MN; sacred small rocks from Bear Butte near Lakota tribe; Pipestone from a sacred Ojibwa site on Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation, Great Lakes tribe in Hayward, WI. Jerry Smith, traditional medicine man, graciously permitted me to go along on a day bus trip with tribal youth group. Jerry teaches many about sacred Ojibwa culture. Again while on the trail coming back up the hill, I noticed what I believe to be Turkey tail mushrooms growing on a tree on front property. They did have a white bottom. I will need to look more closely to properly ID this mushroom species. Reason I am looking for it is that it is a cancer treatment. Learn about Paul Stamets, mycologist, Fungi Perfecta at http://www.fungi.com/ We were both speakers at Tesuque Pueblo in few years ago. You can learn more about the pueblo people at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tesuque,_New_Mexico

I am amazed by the delicious taste of garden fresh fruits and vegetables, in forested central MA, near Fitchburg. As close as I can presently research, a theory is starting to evolve. I am not a scientist; rather I am a citizen scientist and researcher in my own chosen field, which is monarch butterfly and food safety issues. Central MA has a heavy canopy of luscious extended forest, with  giant glacial boulders that have lots of lichen on them. The lichen helps  desolve minerals in boulders, which then slowly leach into the earth; add compost of decaying tree leaves, and you have very rich nutritional soil. I am almost finished reading Patrick Moore’s forestry book Green Spirit Trees are the Answer. Moore’s book is outstanding. I am understanding forestry better because of his expertise and ability to write to the average citizen. Sandy soil in northwest WI, Washburn County, does not have the ability to offer much flavor simply because sandy soil does not hold water or nutrients. Of course, I compost and have added aged manure through the years, but still there is a definite difference between the taste of garden fresh vegetables and fruits. Massachusetts wins hand over in flavor.

Another passion I have is to publish monarch butterfly books. Visit http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=Mary+Ellen+Ryall to see published books. Sure wish I knew how to make the link active. If someone out there knows how, please send comment. Thanks!

Another difference between MA and my beloved independent WI life is Massachusetts has banned smoking. I wish I could say the same for WI. There,  I am exposed to second hand smoke. A bar is next to the Visitors Center on Main Street in Shell Lake. Bars have built three walled shelters to their buildings. Smokers can bring their drinks out there and smoke their brains out. Unfortunately I have COPD and I smoked once. I know it is hard to give up, this addiction is harder to break than heroin. At Winter Hill Farm, where my sister created a botanical paradise, the air is fragrant from herbs, woods and flowers. I haven’t smelled such sweet air since the 1980s, when I lived on East Coast and could travel to MA or Upper New York State.

The continuing saga of journeying in the natural world.

Be happy insectamonarca friends where ever you are.

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