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Posts Tagged ‘nature’

This week’s assignment in the Wheel of the Year book has me answering some specific questions about my landbase and my relationship to it. I thought I’d answer them here in full form, since most of them are near and dear to my heart, and I think it’s important to be a Druid of Your Place.

1. Where does your trash go?

There are several landfills in my area, and my trash goes to those.

2. Are there options for recycling that you’re making use of? Why or why not?

Yes! My area recycles most plastic, glass, aluminum, and cardboard, and I do my best to put everything that might be recyclable into our big green bin each week. My curbside pickup will not take paper, however, and I am not doing nearly as much as I could with that. I’d like to start keeping our recyclable paper in a place where we can take it to a local school to drop off. My community also has “shred days” where you can bring personal and confidential paper trash to be shredded and recycled. I have a pretty big pile of junk mail that needs to go to the next one of those.

3. Are there steps you can take to help reduce the amount of refuse you create?

I am already buying less plastic packaging (mostly through purchasing fewer pre-packaged food products), recycling everything we can, and composting most of my food waste to put on the garden. Also, I make use of a garbage disposal system for foods that don’t go into the composter (namely meats, because while I like raccoons, I have no desire to set up a raccoon buffet in my side yard). I could be more particular about not purchasing heavily packaged or plastic wrapped products, and I could probably be re-using the clear plastic sacks from the grocery store for fresh produce each week. (I already use reusable grocery bags, though that is as much because they’re much more convenient than the silly plastic bags as it is for the fact that they’re made of recycled plastic themselves.)

4. What happens to your wastewater?

It goes to the wastewater treatment plant about 5 minutes from my house, where it is sanitized and then released.

5. What rivers are nearby? Do you have a connection to them? What sort of connection?

There aren’t any actual rivers nearby, though there are a few large streams, a large runoff/drainage area that has water flowing in it year round, and the perpetual bayous and wetlands so common to this area of Texas. I am on good terms with the runoff/drainage area, since I do a lot of walking there, and I frequently go visit the park that sits on the nearest bayou. I have not, however, been to the local nature preserve in a long time, which I should fix. Perhaps I can even do some volunteer work there, since they’re directly involved in protecting this area and it’s native flora and fauna. The San Jacinto River is the closest river to me, but it’s on the opposite side of town from where I live, so I never see it. I am likely to remain more connected to the wetlands.

6. Describe the basic climate of your area. Is it often wet and rainy? Dry and sunny? Wet and sunny? How has this affected the kinds of plants and animals in the area?

This area is predominantly tropical – wet and relatively warm in the winter, drier but still humid in the summer. We are affected by the marine layer (Galveston Bay) and our weather in the summer is typical of the tropics, with frequent but short lived afternoon storms and intense, humid heat. Plants and animals here tend to do well in the heat, but do not tolerate frost or freezing weather at all (it only actually gets below freezing once every few years or so, and even then only stays below freezing for a few hours). Palm trees are typical, as are ferns, and cacti and succulents all grow freely here – I have aloe growing “wild” in my back yard.

Wildflowers are also common in the grassier areas, but do not thrive here as well as they do in other parts of Texas (We do have Bluebonnets, but Indian Paintbrushes and Mexican Hat flowers are more common here). One of the things I like about living in Texas is the protection that the state gives to wildflower areas, so each spring I can look forward to seeing these flowers along the sides of the road without fear of them being mowed over. There is a running joke that anything that survives in Texas probably has thorns or is poisonous, and that’s actually relatively true (though not as much here by the coast, where we get enough coastal rainfall to make up for the heat). It doesn’t take long to get to much drier areas though, and our trees are smaller, gnarlier, and deeper, much more sprawlingly rooted as a result.

Animals include the typical small songbirds (wrens, sparrows, cardinals, robins in the winter/spring, tufted titmice, finches, mockingbirds, blackbirds, bluejays), all sorts of waterfowl, a large assortment of birds of prey (owls, hawks, and falcons), as well as buzzards, crows, grackles, and cara caras. Most of the animal life here has been driven out by civilization, but we still have large numbers of white tailed deer, opossums, the occasional armadillo, raccoons, rats, and mice – and the expected snake population that feeds on them. While rattlesnakes are not super common here, water moccasins are, and are extremely poisonous. Because we live near the water, we also get the occasional turtle (usually snapping, or red-eared sliders). Squirrels are ubiquitous, but compared to their northern cousins are scrawny-tailed and skinny.

7. What visible effects have humans had on the natural landscapes around you?

Our effects are nearly total in the majority of this area, though I do live close to both a university natural preserve, NASA preserved areas, and a wildlife refuge. This area has been settled for at least the last 50 years, and is largely a concrete jungle. While the older homes have mature trees, flooding is a huge problem when we get heavy spring rains, since the few creeks can not handle the runoff problems adequately, and being in the marine layer means we frequently get extremely heavy, if short-lived, rain. Power plants, oil refineries, and chemical plants are also common in this area, and they don’t do good things for the environment, especially when accidents happen.

8. Where do the winds usually come from? Are there different winds at different times of the year?

The most predominant wind in our area is from the southeast, which sets us up for the typical hot, humid air off the Gulf of Mexico that the Houston area is so well known for. This southeast wind is also responsible for heavy fog in the fall and winter, when warm air meets the cold fronts that come through from the northwest. Also common (especially in the summer) are onshore and offshore breezes, created by the pressure differences caused by heat over the land vs. over the ocean. Interspersed with the predominant southeast wind is a dry, hot wind out of the southwest, which causes the dry heat waves that strike periodically during the summer. This southwest wind is strong enough to disturb the sea breezes, and is responsible for long periods without rain. In the winter, the warm, wet southeast wind is offset by a northwest wind that brings in strong cold fronts periodically. While we don’t usually get long stretches of cold weather, these fronts are often wet and bring the danger of frost. In between cold fronts, the southeast wind picks up again, and our weather is mild and pleasant.

9. What major crops are grown in your region? Why are these particular crops grown here?

Most things grow here, and we have multiple growing seasons. Depending on the availability of irrigation, crops can be grown year round. Common crops are corn and cotton, as well as pretty much every vegetable that does not need to freeze to do well (asparagus and rhubarb both refuse to grow here, for example, but cabbage and onions grow well as winter crops). Some areas can support rice as well. The “dead season” happens in the heat of summer, when only established crops will survive the blistering heat and lack of rain. Farmer’s markets here frequently operate close to year round, with the two primary growing seasons in the spring and fall. A lot of our agriculture is hybridized, with plants being bred to tolerate the heat or to take advantage of our shorter (but more frequent) growing seasons.

10. Where does your power come from?

I live in a major oil and gas processing area, so my local power plant is natural gas based.

*****

I will admit to having used Google to answer one (and a half) of these questions. I didn’t know the specifics of my local power plant (I knew where it is, but not that it is a natural gas plant), and I didn’t know the actual wind directions (beyond cold fronts coming from the northwest and the sea breezes coming from the ocean). Still, I’m glad to take the time to answer questions like this, if only because it keeps me thinking about my relationship to my environment.

As to where I think I would like to be, quite frankly there are a lot of things I would like to do that just aren’t possible right now. I can’t afford to install solar power, and my plumbing is firmly directed through the concrete slab foundation so I can’t reuse my greywater as irrigation. I do plan on installing a gutter system that feeds into a rain barrel/containment device to help alleviate the watering that I do in my vegetable garden each spring and fall, but we’re at least several months away from doing that, if not longer. Some things we’ve thought about doing but then decided against it. When we had our plumbing replaced, we installed a gas-powered tank water heater instead of going tankless, because our water heater is in our (large, high ceilinged) attic, and we use almost no power to have hot water in the warm months – which is most of the year here.

I already use almost entirely recycled paper products, and use non-paper cleaning supplies when I can (rags instead of paper towels, cloth napkins instead of paper, etc). I use biodegradable cleaners for everything that it is feasible to do so (bleach is only ever used in the master shower, since it has mildew problems). Most things get cleaned with soap, vinegar, baking soda, or some combination therein.

I also have been switching out our light bulbs to LEDs (we already use CFL’s – which have their own set of problems, as they contain some heavy metals that can make them difficult to properly dispose of). The LED lights are expensive, but they produce almost no heat, which helps in the summer with the air conditioning bill. I also keep the house at 80 degrees or so in the summer to cut down on AC usage (though I admit to keeping it a bit warmer than I could in the winter as well. I have an extreme dislike of feeling cold, so the house stays at about 70 degrees in the winter). I’ll probably be purchasing a new AC unit in the next year or two as well, as our current one is both inefficient and lacking any sort of labeling that would allow a technician to repair it if it breaks. I also make frequent use of ceiling (and other) fans to help stay cool without needing to run the AC as much.

In general we try to choose native or semi-native plants, especially plants that will attract birds and bugs to the area. As a result we have a thriving ecosystem of spiders, lizards, toads, and the occasional turtle living in the yard. We also get monarch butterflies and several types of hummingbirds when they migrate through, and I try to feed the local songbirds in the winter (though with Harold around, that didn’t happen this year). We also do not use pesticides or herbicides on the yard as a blanket treatment. Small applications of fire ant poison or weed killer on the driveway cracks aside, our yard is “organic”. We also use almost entirely organic fertilizer in the garden, a combination of compost, manure, and purchased organic soil supplements.

I’d love to ditch my car and use a bicycle for primary transportation, but I work 35 miles (each way) from my job. Instead, I drive a small, fuel-efficient car and keep it in as good of repair as I can. I’d also, quite frankly, like to work in another industry – my job is on the periphery of the oil and gas industry, and while I know it’s good work, it feels a bit soulless to continue to work to make that industry better (my company does safety engineering for refineries and chemical plants) when I’d really rather be working on something more sustainable. I comfort myself knowing that fewer oil spills, refinery explosions, and catastrophic chemical leaks is always a good thing, but it still feels a little out of place to be a Druid working in oil and gas.

All in all, I think I’ve made a solid start. Unfortunately the changes I’d like to make now all require significantly more time, money, or both – and all of that is in a bit of short supply right now. Making the little changes was easy, but it’s a bit of a slippery slope to the bigger, more life-affecting changes that I’d really like to make to reduce my footprint and be more conscious of my affect on the Earth around me.

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With the last frost date less than two weeks away, it’s time for me to really start thinking about my garden. It’s sat, rather sadly neglected, since last June, so I have some work ahead of me to get the ground ready for transplants. (I use transplants since our growing season is rather short, and I like to get a head start on things like tomatoes that will suffer in the heat.)

I suspect, with as mild as our winter has been, that I could probably get my first plants in the ground as early as this weekend, but I still prefer to wait until that official frost date. Maybe it’s a bit superstitious, but I don’t want to freeze my tomatoes.

My garden is about 10×12, raised bed and mostly organic. I compost all my kitchen scraps and yard waste in two bins on the side of the house, but I’m not sure either is ready to go into the garden just yet. I’ll have to check them and see. They’re both pretty full at least, so once things warm up I’ll have lots of compost to spread around the plants.

The whole garden needs to be cleared of weeds and grass and turned over to be ready for this year’s plants. Since we don’t own a rototiller/cultivator, I have to till the earth by hand. It’s always kind of cleansing (as well as somewhat back-breaking) to grab a shovel and turn over all of the earth there.

I’m probably mostly going to put in green beans and tomatoes – for some reason I have a great deal of trouble with curcurbits (cucumbers, zucchini, squash) getting downy/powdery mildew and dying on me (or getting big but not producing any fruit). I’d like to try melons this summer as well, but beans and tomatoes are my staples. They grow well for me, and last year I ended up at one point with over 15 lbs of tomatoes – out of which I made a delicious vinaigrey, peppery salsa. This year I’d like enough to make some marinara sauce to freeze in quarts. I’d also like enough green beans to make another few batches of “dilly beans” – spicy dill pickle green beans that I eat by the jar if I’m not careful.

I’ll also grow hot peppers, but I put those in pots. Hot peppers of various kinds tend to like to have periods of dry, and tomatoes need at least an inch of water a week, so if I water the tomatoes enough to be fruitful, the peppers don’t do much. They do well in pots for me though – I’d like to grow a nice assortment, from jalapenos and hot banana peppers to some larger Anaheim peppers that I can stuff with sausage and roast. Yum!

At some point I need to figure out what’s causing  my problem with curcurbits (I suspect it’s a fungus problem with the soil), but with as much time as I spend at work, I don’t really have time to troubleshoot a lot of garden problems. I wish I had more time to devote to it, since I get a lot of satisfaction out of growing things, but work has to take priority over hobbies, even useful ones like growing food.

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I’m a Druid of the Office more than any other specific place, even though I try very hard to do daily devotions with my landbase. As such, I’ve tried a number of ways to make my little corner of this cubicle (which I share with other people) as Druid-friendly as possible. Plants have really helped warm up my space.

If you’re also an office-bound pagan, try getting a plant or terrarium for your desk (something that will tolerate low light, unless you have a window). Use it as a focus for 3 breath meditations when things get stressful and enjoy the extra oxygen!

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I usually have birdfeeders up during the winter. They’re usually a hotbed of jays, cardinals, titmouses (titmice?), sparrows, finches, and doves. And squirrels.

This year, I put up the feeders, and to date I’ve seen a few squirrels and two doves.

To say that I was confused would be an understatement.

I replaced the seed, wondering if maybe something was wrong with it, but still – no birds.

Then I got to talking to my neighbor, who is also a bird lover. She has a yard full of birds every year, doubly so because she has a pool, so the birds can get fresh water. She doesn’t have any birds either, but she kept finding piles of feathers in her yard. The first suspicion was cats, but we have no more roaming cats this year than we have had in the past. Then, one afternoon, she spotted the problem.

Instead of lots of little birds, we have Harold.

Harold, you see, is a Cooper’s Hawk. And Harold apparently figured out that bird feeders are literal, and can be used to feed finches to Harold as well as to feed thistle seed to finches. In fact, Harold was treating her bird feeder like a 24 hour, all-you-can-eat buffet. He has even figured out the bird-feeder-system so well that he will flyby the feeders, sending all the birds into the bushes, and then stalk along the ground, poking his head into the bushes and rustling out the songbirds. And then eating them.

It didn’t take long for all the little birds to leave. Not even the doves are coming to the feeders. He’s also chased off the wrens, a bird I have a strong affinity for (and have since I was a child), for which I’m rather sad. We’ve had several mating pairs of wrens at the house since we moved in, and this year they didn’t raise any babies, and I couldn’t figure out why. Now I know.

She has taken her feeders down, not out of spite for Harold, but because it’s a little unsettling to find the messy remains of Harold’s lunch on your lawn repeatedly. Regardless of how useful he is to the ecosystem, the piles of bloody feathers are a little sad.

I have to agree that it’s unsettling to see Nature take its course so obviously on your front lawn (I feel less unsettled by all the bugs in spiderwebs. Apparently I’m a bit sentimental about songbirds.) Harold has as much right as any of the other birds to be here, and predators are a crucial part of the ecosystem, be they red tailed hawks, cooper’s hawks, barred owls, or buzzards.

As much as I have an affinity for raptors, and as much as I like Harold’s stripey feathered pants, I feel a little bad attracting other birds to be his lunch. So I’m taking my feeders down as well.

Hopefully, without the feeders there to attract the songbirds, Harold will decide to go elsewhere for his all-you-can-eat buffet. And maybe next year we’ll have better luck birdwatching.

I’m going to take the rest of my birdseed and put it out for the squirrels though. No sense wasting it, and they’ll enjoy the snack as much as anyone.

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We’re having our first actual bout of Winter here in the swamp this week. The front came through late Sunday night/early Monday morning, and it got down close to or just below freezing last night. I’m expecting a freeze warning tonight again. Actual frosts are very rare here, and snow is even more rare, so even the native plants can take damage from a particularly long cold snap.

The sun is bright today, which is part of why it’s cold. The air is drier than usual, so there’s not a cloud cover to keep the warmth up next to the Earth. Later this week, when the usual coastal moisture comes back, it’s going to warm back up.

Dealing with frost down here in Zone 9a is a tricky thing. We have drop cloths and old sheets in a bin in the garage that get dragged out and spread over all the delicate things that live here. I keep a small citrus tree in my yard that’s particularly susceptible to frost, and things like a dieffenbachia (dumbcane), a pencil cactus, and a plumeria have to get moved into the sun porch and sheltered well against cold. This can be challenging, especially because the plumeria is nearly as big as I am.

I also have a large hibiscus – by large I mean it’s taller than the garage doors – that I don’t think I’ll be able to really cover well this year. It didn’t die back last year, so it’s gotten enormous. I really hope it doesn’t end up frostbitten!

We have lots of areas in the yard for small critters to shelter, like our woodpile and in the shrubs next to the house, but I always worry a little about the toads and lizards. We frequently find them trying to stowaway into the house, which is a dangerous place, as I have cats!  This is a good place to live, if you’re a cold blooded animal, but these periodic cold nights have to be tough.

People who live here tend to get grief about not knowing what to do when it’s cold, and to some extent that’s true. Not even the native things that live here are really designed to deal with the cold. I grew up in a northeastern state, where the squirrels are fat and furry and have enormous tails. Squirrels around here are skinny, with skinny tails that you can almost see through. They’re not accustomed to the cold because they really don’t need to be.

Which is why I’m wearing my warm things without shame.

It’s chilly, but it won’t last long.

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So I’ve been doing this ADF thing for a month, working my way through the Dedicant Path requirements, and I’m finding that there are some things about this process and this path that I really enjoy.

Obviously, the reverence for nature is a big one. I love that Nature – and the Nature Spirits – are a big part of practicing Druidry, and I’m encouraged by the focus on getting outside and being aware of nature in the place where you live. I’m a suburban druid, so there is definitely nature around, and it’s not too far for me to get to a large nature preserve. I’ve spent a few afternoons sitting by the bayou and just absorbing nature and watching the birds and lizards and fish. It’s nice to have that reverence for nature built into the Druid path as a critical part of spirituality. (This isn’t unique to Druidy, and many other Pagan paths also emphasize nature. I just really like this part!)

I also really like the flexibility of the Dedicant Path. Yes, I’m loosely following the Wheel of the Year book, but loosely is definitely the key word there. I’m taking the WOTY book as guidelines and a roadmap, but I’m forging my own path through, especially since I’ve already started or completed some requirements that I “shouldn’t have gotten to yet”. The requirements for the DP are very flexible, and I can see how each person who submits one for approval is going to submit something very personal and different. The questions are all geared to helping you identify “Your Own Druidry”, instead of having you regurgitate what’s in the manual or website information.

At the same time, I appreciate the emphasis on scholarship, at least so far as it can inform your worship of the Kindreds. I like mythology and learning about where and how these Gods and Goddesses were originally worshiped, and what kind of social structure they fit in. I’m not a reconstructionist though, I’m definitely a modern Pagan, looking for a spirituality that fits into my modern life. The balance between scholarship and modern application is one that I really appreciate, and something that I strive to find in my own spirituality.

That said, I’m a little confused about the role of some of the Gods and Goddesses in ritual, but I suspect that will clarify more as I learn more about Them and Their historic worship.

I talked before about my search for a magical system within ADF, and have subscribed to the Magician’s Guild email list. Obviously I’m not going to start working on their study program until I’ve completed the DP (too many projects all at once), but I’m hoping to find out more about how ADF handles magic. If it’s not something I like or think I can work with, I will just continue to work my traditional magic on my own, separate from my practice of Druidry.

I really like that it’s OK for me to do that; there is no law in ADF that says the ADF way is the only way to do things, or even that all members of ADF must do only ADF style rituals or magic. That’s the flexibility aspect again, and as someone who comes to ADF with some already formed preferences about magic and working with the Otherworld, I like that I don’t have to give up on things that I know will work for me. I’m definitely going to give the ADF style a try – that’s what this year on the Dedicant Path is for, after all – but I like that if it doesn’t suit my own way of doing things, I’m not locked into a practice I dont like. Even the Dedicant Path only requires that you follow the COoR for 4 of your 8 High Day rites!

I’m sure I’ll have other thoughts as I process my way through the Dedican’t Path. I’m about 1/4 through my second book (Margot Adler’s Drawing Down the Moon), and finding that there were both a lot of things I knew and a lot of things I didn’t know about the modern Pagan movement. Reflections on this book should be interesting, given my background.

For now, though, I’m really enjoying this path of Druidry. It’s not immediately home, and there are some points that stick out at me, but on the whole, I think I’ll enjoy my year as a Druid. Who knows, maybe I’ll end up staying!

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Fall is slowly creeping in here, with the leaves on some of the trees turning and falling. Many of the trees here are Live Oaks though, so they’ll keep their leaves until spring, when the new leaves will push the old ones off the trees. Our yard has mainly a southern variety of weeping Ash trees and a Poplar tree (plus palm trees of various types), so we’ll be dealing with fallen leaves for a bit longer. The grass is mostly dormant at this point, so we’re only mowing once every 2-3 weeks. Things are looking pretty dry, so I’m hoping we get some rain soon.

The monarch butterflies are pretty much gone by now as well – they pass through here on their southerly migrations, so we get a good number of them. They’re one of the reasons I really love my butterfly garden in the fall. Sadly my salvias don’t seem to be doing well – I will try giving the garden a good watering, but they just don’t seem to be making it right now. Which is sad, as they were huge and gorgeous.

We also had a cold front this week, so some of the less hardy potted plants are coming inside. We need to build a drape frame for our lime tree as well, since it’s now too big to keep in a pot, and will need to be sheltered if it actually gets cold. Our lows this week are in the lower 40F range, so some of the tropicals definitely need to join the dumcane inside the porch. This will be interesting with the plumeria, which has gotten so large that we’ve put it’s pot on a wheeled platter. I’m not sure it will fit through the porch door, but I guess we’ll find out!

The lizards know where the warms are and have been attempting at cost to life and limb to get inside the house or screen porch. Unfortunately the cats think they’re both fun and tasty, so we’ve found a few corpses and made a few rescues so far. That will likely continue through the winter.

It’s probably time to get the bird feeders up as well. (Or the squirrel feeders, really) There won’t be any more hummingbirds this year for sure; we only saw two all summer, which was sad. Usually there are tons. I wonder if the climate is affecting their migration, or maybe we didn’t have the feeders up soon enough or something. I love having birds in the yard, especially when it’s cold – we’ve had breeding pairs of cardinals and bluejays for a few years now. The wrens usually make a nest in the yard (or in the wreath on my door), but I’ve yet to find a seed they’ll eat. I think they’re more interested in the bugs living in my potted plants.

I’m not planting a winter garden this year, mostly because things were too crazy when I would have needed to get it planted. Instead, we’ll compost the garden plot with leaves and kitchen compost over the winter. It could stand to rest for a little bit anyway, especially since we planted corn this summer. I don’t think I’ll grow corn again, just because it takes up a lot of space for not a lot of produce in the end. Maybe one more try now that I’ve done it before, but I’m not sold on corn as a backyard crop.

The days are approaching their shortest now, and the sun has already set when I get home from work at 5:30. The sun is about 15 minutes shy of rising when I get to work at 6:30am.  Having it be dark when I leave and dark when I get home is hard, but at least I still get some afternoon sun on my commute home.

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