Veronica's Garden

Rachel Creager Ireland on writing, living, the Flint Hills, and the Post Rock Limestone Caryatids

And Yet More Prairie Burning. This Time At Night.

I talked a little about the ecology of controlled burns on the prairie, and posted some photos, and thought I might be done with burning for this year. (Though it’s possible the fire bug has bitten me, and I will be out doing this every spring, as long as I live in the Flint Hills.) But late yesterday afternoon as I sat at the computer, I could see through the window smoke billowing up from behind the fairgrounds across the highway. As twilight set in, I was preparing dinner, and just as I was setting it on the table, Kevin came in and told us all to go outside and look. We could see ribbons of flames stretching across the hills, too close not to go have a look. I quickly took the food off the table so the cat wouldn’t get into it, then loaded the kids into the car.

My magic device from the future isn’t really equipped to take night photos, but it does surprisingly well, considering that the first camera I owned would have required special film (measured in inches), and manually twisting some dials to get anything at all, and then you’d have to take the film into a special little room and dip it in stinky chemicals in total darkness. It sounds like some kind of joke, doesn’t it?

But here we are, and this is what I can get. The focus isn’t good when the light is poor, but I won’t complain if you won’t.

And a note to the kids’ teachers: Sorry if they’re tired today, some life experiences are more important than school.

Lunar Eclipse in Ottawa, Kansas

Rachel Creager Ireland:

Having kids in school puts a damper on my natural tendency toward being a night person. Fortunately Diana Staresinic-Deane was willing to stay up for us to get this amazing shot of last night’s lunar eclipse. Take some time to browse around her excellent blog, while you’re there.

Originally posted on Diana Staresinic-Deane:

It was totally worth staying up late and shivering in the cold.
Lunar eclipse, as seen in Ottawa, Kansas.

Lunar eclipse, as seen in Ottawa, Kansas.

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More Prairie Burning

I promised you some pictures of burning prairie, and here they are. I couldn’t get as close as I wanted, without going into privately owned pastures. From the road I did get some dramatic flames and some blackened ground and some distance shots of black and smoking horizons. Maybe next year I’ll talk to some ranchers and get out in their pastures when they’re burning.

Vulture and Flame: Spring In the Flint Hills

Like the return of turkey vulture, prairie burning is a sign of spring in the Flint Hills. It isn’t the terrifying disaster some might imagine; the burns are lit intentionally to clear dead plant matter that would choke out new growth. From the blackened ground will emerge fresh grass, greener and more nutritious to the animals who graze here. It is considered an essential part of prairie stewardship, and it also raises the monetary value of a pasture. Prairie never burned or grazed by a hoofed animal eventually turns to woodland. Burning kills off the invasive trees, while the deep roots of the native grasses are left to send up new green shoots.

While I haven’t heard anyone criticizing the practice of burning the prairie, there is some debate about how often it ought to be done. Many ranchers burn annually, and profit from that practice. At the Tallgrass Prairie National Preserve, they burn once every three years, and find that allows for greater diversity of plants, most notably, more wildflowers.

Weather conditions must be right for burning. Strong wind can blow the fire out of control. No wind allows it to burn out in all directions. A light, steady breeze is ideal, so that the flames advance in a predictable line, from one side of a pasture to the other. There may not be many days when the season and weather are right, so when they come, there’s a lot of burning all around. The smoke burns the eyes, and, even miles away, tiny bits of ash come falling from the sky.

Yesterday smelled like a camp fire, everywhere, all day. My client from Emporia reported smoke thick as fog on Highway 50. The fires at night are beautiful to see, but the day was preternatural and I couldn’t wait until dark. I went to the high spot at the scenic overlook, and though I didn’t see any blackened prairie, I got a few shots of the smoky hills.

It’s smoky again today, so maybe I’ll get a chance to photograph some actual flames. For now, here are some smoke shots, and I’ll post more later.

Bluebird, Ego, Ostrich

It was the kind of week when you have three shut-off notices and too many checks already out to cover, you should have some money coming in, but you’re not sure how much, or exactly when, and the process of earning the money complicates the managing of it. I did okay, though, but on the way to the bank on Friday, multiple shut-off day, I realized I’d forgotten to stop at the other bank first. Cursing, I turned around at the historic marker and drove back the way I’d come. It was then that it occurred to me that I needed to dedicate my day to the Divine, to let the ego be the operations manager but not the CEO. To operate on the assumption that whatever happens is okay, and nothing is something to get upset about. Every day should be thus, and I’ll admit to being somewhat pleased with myself for remembering this before I got too bent out of shape about the way my day and week were progressing.

Still, I didn’t feel it. I could think about the perfect Divine nature of everything, but it was all in my head. To elucidate it, I need to feel it, so I mentally flailed for a bit and then my thoughts drifted somewhere else. Maybe later, after the errands, the massage I was scheduled to give, then picking up the kids from school, I could slow down and get myself there.

Then I was at the bank. I did my errand and went on my way. I was still in Strong City when I saw a tiny flicker of most brilliant blue. “Bluebird! Bluebird!” I called out loud, to no one, as I was alone in my car. There’s nothing like a bluebird (except perhaps an indigo bunting, but this was a bluebird), and on second look I saw the rosy belly before it disappeared from my view as I drove on down the street.

My attention was piqued, and as I came onto Highway 50, I was alert for every creature. I studied several hawks at 65 mph, though only one was a red-tail, the only one I can easily identify. Most of the geese have departed to the north, while the gull migration has just begun to appear here. There were starlings and other black birds I didn’t get a good enough look at to identify, and possibly a meadowlark. I also thought about the northern flicker I’d seen earlier, while taking the kids to school. The birds are back, and wintery weather doesn’t stop the birds from getting down to business.

Then I noticed warmth and openness in my heart chakra, and realized I’d entered into the divine space I’d been seeking earlier. It occurred to me that connecting with that which is larger than the self is as much as anything a process of noticing what brings one there. It didn’t come from speaking words, or thinking, or planning, or being in control of a sticky situation which on another day might have brought me down. It came from noticing, paying attention, to that which is alive and present in the moment. It came from being willing to let nature be part of my daily life.

In the words of Ted Andrews, “The bluebird is a native bird of North America. Although once common, they are now quite rare. This often is a reminder that we are born to happiness and fulfillment, but we sometimes get so lost and wrapped up in the everyday events of our lives that our happiness and fulfillment seem rare. When bluebirds show up as a totem, it should first of all remind you to take time to enjoy yourself.”

What do you enjoy? What arrests your attention, bringing you out of mundane egoism and into awareness of the big Oneness? What does bluebird say to you?

Life Wins

My sister Melora Creager is doing a project about suicide and overdose, and she asked for input from friends who have been affected by these tragedies. I sent her the post I wrote last fall, Black and Blue, and You, which was a letter to a person I knew who committed suicide many years ago.

In the letter I mentioned that I needed to prep the garden for winter, and this week, as I re-read it, the garlic I planted at that time is just coming up. The ground is bare, and if you didn’t look closely, you might think it dead. We’ve had an unusually cold winter, with plenty of snow, but to the winter garden, snow is just melting water. Look closer, and you can see the deep green shoots poking their way out of the dirt.

I’ve suffered from depression all my life, and in my forties I am just beginning to manage it effectively. I’ve escaped the clutches of fear, anxiety, anger, and despair, some days by riding them out; some days by naked willpower. I’ve learned that peace, joy, and gratitude reside within me. They are always here, but I have to choose to tap into them, no matter how seductive the darkness can be.

When the days are getting shorter, and everything appears to be dying, it can be tempting to give in to the darkness, to curl up and wither with the countless fallen leaves. Planting in fall is an act of faith that the earth will continue to spin. Nothing can stop the cycle of the seasons. Even when all I can manage is to hold on and ride it out, winter eventually dissipates and life wins.

Garlic sprouting

Fog in Kansas

Growing up in Kansas, I loved the rare foggy days. The air was still and moist, like a cool kiss. Formless gray where there were usually houses and trees inspired the imagination to wonder what unknown creatures might be hiding in the mist; what mysteries were quietly waiting to be explored.

Later I lived in Eugene, Oregon for a year, and was cured of my love of fog. The daily morning fog near the Willamette River is just as lovely and mysterious as that in Kansas, and its aroma of rotting cedar evoked a walk in wet forest. But as fall wore on into winter, my eyes got hungry for light. Everyone seemed to have bronchitis, and they liked to say that the Native Americans who had formerly lived in the region called this the valley of sickness and death. I don’t recall being ill myself; my only maladies were seasonal affective disorder and a ragingly combative, dysfunctional relationship.

Walking out of that relationship was my biggest achievement up to that time; it was a trial on par with graduating from college. I left Eugene, and there was no question that the place to go was home, which meant the midwest. I had some friends in Chicago. I’d never spent much time there, but the brusque midwestern uptightness of the city felt safely familiar after the hippiefied, enforced easy-goingness of the Pacific northwest, where I’d encountered more discord and conflict than in any other period of my life.

I’ve been in the midwest for twenty years now, in rural Kansas for ten, and I love fog again. I’m still surprised on those rare foggy days, when I step outside, and it doesn’t smell like rotting cedar. I think of those days in Oregon, and I find, if offered the chance to go back there, with the family I have now, I’d say yes in a heartbeart.

Healing and the Non-Directed Mind

Sometimes it can be helpful to let the mind melt to slush, temporarily.

Sometimes it can be helpful to let the mind melt to slush, temporarily.

I had recurring discomfort in my right upper abdomen, and it peaked in pain that was severe enough that I thought I ought to see someone about it. But, I was on a hard-earned vacation, and I’d be damned if I were going to spend my vacation in the ER. So I gritted my teeth and rode it out, and was back to normal by the time I got home.

Later I told my symptoms to my energy healer, Susan Matz. Susan is possibly the most skilled healer I’ve had a session with. She didn’t hesitate to tell me that I had gallstones. I asked what I could do about that, and Susan said I needed more joy in my life. She’s not big on doing stuff, at least not for me, so that was a typical answer for her to give me for that kind of question.

In my typical way, I went home and googled holistic gallstones or something like that, and hoo boy, the stuff that comes up is not appealing. You can search it for yourself. There are several variations on a detailed process which involves drinking a solution of epsom salt (I didn’t know you could drink that stuff?), followed by a large amount of straight olive oil, right before bed. Then you lie down and in the morning you purge the lower digestive tract. One site had detailed instructions for placing some kind of screen on the toilet seat to catch the gallstones, while the rest flows on through. That way you can take the stones to the doctor, in case you wish to prove the efficacy of this treatment. Well, I thought, I’d choose that over surgery, but only if those were my only choices. I was very much relieved to find the Edgar Cayce approach, which was to apply castor oil externally with heat and lie quietly for 45 minutes or so.

I had a massage room in my home in those days, so a couple times a week, I’d put on some droney new age music and turn down the lights, bundle up in some blankets with the heating pad and viscous castor oil, and relax on the massage table. Now, this is my kind of holistic treatment. Sometimes I might expect to use that quiet time for meditation, to chant, or engage in some internal dialogue, but I found that invariably my mind drifted off into a state beyond any conscious control or intention. Thoughts or images would arise, but they didn’t have any kind of sense or meaning. Sometimes it seemed I was talking to someone, but I never knew who, and the stories I told were about people I’d never met.

Did I bring joy into my life? I can’t say that I did, but I found satisfaction in these periods of relinquishing intention to drift in the stream of semi-consciousness.

A few months later, I was pregnant, and I stopped the heat treatment. Then I moved to Kansas and got health coverage. Early on, my doctor noted that I had elevated liver enzymes, which she thought mostly likely to be caused by some kind of infection. Gallstones could also be the cause of this, so I thought I’d take an opportunity to educate my doctor by telling her that my energy healer had told me I had gallstones. I could see the doctor visibly clenching her jaw. I didn’t mind, because I knew what I knew.

So I was more than surprised when the ultrasound discovered nothing. I didn’t have gallstones. The liver enzymes returned to normal and I didn’t need any treatment for that. But it caused me to question all my ideas about healing, and about Susan. She had been so good for me. She had brilliantly told me exactly what I’d needed to hear, on numerous occasions. Not to mention, she had been a seasoned ER nurse before she’d gone into energetic work. How could she have been so wrong?

It wasn’t until months later that it occurred to me that she may not have been wrong at all. It was possible that I’d had gallstones, even probable, given my symptoms, but that the treatment (a session of energy healing, followed by castor oil packs) had been effective. Now, I know full well that there’s nothing scientific or verifiable in this perspective. I can’t say with any certainty that one or the other explanation was true.

But it’s not really relevant, anyway, to what I took from the experience. The lessons of holistic living often come at us sideways, like a bird in flight in your peripheral vision when you’re driving. Those moments of letting go of control of my mind were not to be dismissed. Over the years, I’ve come to see that surrender to allowing to be a gently powerful, or powerfully gentle, healing state. People often enter it through massage. I think of it as the matrix of the mind.

If we begin with the assumption of the body as a perfect manifestation of Divine love, then all disease or dysfunction results from some kind of disturbance. Somewhere along the line, a dysfunctional thought was adopted, or an incompatible or undigestible molecule was taken in. Like rebooting a computer, going back to the matrix can create a fresh opportunity to establish consciousness, while dysfunction dissipates. I wouldn’t rule out the benefit of intervention on the part of a healer or doctor; there may well be times when entering the energy field or the body and doing something is the best way to treat a condition. But entering the non-directed matrix of the mind is a safe, simple, and satisfying way to effect profound healing in many cases.

Recently my intuitive friend Natalie Duncan told me I needed a liver cleanse, and she offered to send me some instructions. It turned out it was that same protocol, with the epsom salts and the olive oil. I decided not to do it, but relaxing with the heating pad and sticky castor oil sounds really appealing these days. Time to turn off the mind, for a little while.


First thing in the morning it occurred to me to buy something, but I knew I’d be tied up and couldn’t get to the grocery store before afternoon. Then I started rushing and sorting and packing Girl Scout cookies and texting and doing math and managing children, my own as well as others.’ Well before I got to the store I knew I had no idea what it was I was supposed to buy there. I stalled on the way, but it didn’t come to me. I talked with my husband about what to buy for dinner, but what was that other thing I was going to get? I wandered the aisles of the store, hoping I would know when I saw it. I was exhausted and bracing myself to come home and do some cleaning and start dinner. I gave up.

As soon as I walked into the kitchen I knew it: lightbulbs. Too tired to go back to the store so I’ll be cleaning and cooking in the dark for another day.

And that’s all I have to say. Too tired to hunt down a cat picture, so here’s one of a girl roller skating. Photo by Kevin Ireland.

There was a better one, but the blurriness is more expressive of how I feel right now.

Book Review: Write the Body–Post Rock Limestone Caryatids by Rachel Creager Ireland

Rachel Creager Ireland:

I just have to share my excitement. Shawn St. Jean gave me a positive review on his blog. It means a lot to me because he is a writer whom I admire.

Originally posted on Clotho's Loom, by Shawn StJean:


By Shawn StJean

Surely for not the first time in history, modern feminists proposed, forty years ago, that genuine women’s writing follows patterns that would seem alien to male readers: perhaps circular or spiral–or at least non-linear, non-phallic, and non-formulaic (this lack the greatest source of readerly anxiety: a defeat, though not a disappointment, of expectations).

Beginning with its title, one clearly not designed to enhance marketability (what genre is this?  Sci-Fi? Chick-Lit?  Naturalism?,) Ms. Ireland’s debut novel fits the non-pattern.  Although the setting eases us in–human beings living on the eve of the 22nd century, insulated, born into robotic nurseries and raised into cubicles and having contact only through computerized avatars via sanitized social networking and virtual sex, their bodies slowly falling to atrophy while the world outside slowly recovers from the human virus, in remission.  Meanwhile, privileged children are genetically modded and sponsored into Matrix-like docility/productivity as…

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