Veronica's Garden

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

Tag: fall

Autumnal Equinox

Karen Carmack reminded me via a facebook meme that tomorrow is the Autumnal Equinox, as well as the day of the sun’s entry into the sign of Libra. She writes,

Today and the next two days are perfect times to find balance in your life. Use this opportunity to surrender and let go, reset your system and prepare . In Chinese Medicine Theory Autumn is a time for letting go. To surrender. To release. To exhale.

Honoring transitions helps bring us into alignment with nature.

I shared her post and another friend answered that he could use balance himself.

I hadn’t really thought about this before, but I instantly knew what to tell him: Sit and clear your mind. Feel the perfect balance of the earth’s rotation, that brings us to this moment when night and day are equal, neither dominating the other. Feel the balance of all the forces of the solar system—gravity, inertia, centripetal force—that keep us eternally rotating around the sun, at the perfect distance to enable our kind of life to thrive. It’s true that earth’s rotation has a wobble, but even so, it always moves through this balance point twice every year, with utter predictability. That too is part of the perfection.

These forces are immensely bigger than we are. They act upon us so constantly that at times we are completely unaware of them. So it shouldn’t even really be all that difficult to align ourselves with them, within them, to allow ourselves to be a conduit for forces greater than our individual selves, as well as to ride them and utilize them to our highest purposes.

I have to rush to get to a full day of massages, which might crimp my own balance a bit; but the good news is that I have clients who are manifesting balance in their lives, and I get to be a part of their process.

Take some time to feel that balance in the next couple days, even if only for a few minutes. Or, make it a theme of your day or week, and incorporate balance into everything you do.

How are you aligning yourself with the perfect balance of the universe?

Moon at Dawn


Snow In May

Dear friends, it is I, Veronica Speedwell. Perhaps you thought you’d heard the last from me; But no. Spring positively requires poetry about flowers, and that is a job for me, whether Rachel likes it or not.

Snows of the Prairie

White fluff falls from the sky
of a glorious early spring day.
Cottonwood seeds catch the breeze:
Snow in May

The sunflowers peak and die back—
summer’s last ember.
White heath breaks into bloom!
Snow in September.

white heath by fence

When the Turkey Vultures Fly South For Winter

I didn’t see them leave.

They don’t say good-bye.
One day I see
a roadkilled hawk
alone in death
and notice their absence.

The Bees Know

I know I’ve said it before, but white heath is my favorite late-season native wildflower. When all the other flowers have spent themselves, white heath is just getting started. White heath keeps going till the last minute, when the themometer hits 32 on some early morning in October. White heath is always the last flower to leave the party of the tallgrass prairie summer.

Everybody hates white heath, except me. I have finally convinced the people who wield the weed whackers around here not to whack it, but I keep a few in out-of-the-way places, just in case. There’s a big patch this year by the compost, and it turns out I’m not the only one who loves it, after all. The honey bees appreciate it. There aren’t a lot of flowers left, and most of the others peaked a week ago, or more. It’s a glorious, sunny, warm day today, but there won’t be many more of these, and the bees know to make the most of every bit of pollen they can gather before the cold sets in.

I am not so industrious. I struggle to match my energy to the time available. I have gotten some good work done on my studio renovation this week, but it’s far from ready, and I didn’t really get anything done today.

Tomorrow I’ll take a lesson from the bees, I promise. The bees know.

Beautiful Morning

Maybe it was because the heat had lifted, making way for a cool front and just enough water coming down to call it rain.

Maybe it was the quality of the light filtering through the clouds, so the hot colors settled down for a nap, while the cool greens and grays woke up vividly.

It was a kind of day when you step outside and say, “Oh, what a beautiful morning,” before you realize you’re living a show tune.

The girls have been biking to school this year, but I drove them today due to the rain. The doves in the street were so at peace, it was hard to rouse them out of the path of the car. “Car, doves!” I told them, and the girls behind me joined in, “Car! Car!” Then, “Caw, caw!” which would possibly alarm doves more effectively.

Humming a pretty tune, I waved at other parents coming back from the school in their vehicles. A white-haired man sat on his stoop watching the traffic. It was an ordinary moment, perfect and beautiful.

It occurred to me that maybe for old people, watching kids go to school in the morning isn’t just something they do when they don’t have anything else to do. Maybe it’s meaningful in itself to watch these rituals of coming together and parting, the hurrying and dawdling, the putting on and removing of outerwear as the seasons revolve, children growing day by day and year by year.

It used to be that when I came upon these moments of heightened awareness, I’d wish desperately and wistfully that they could last forever. Now I know that the secret is to be that present in every moment, to be in perfection and beauty, even through everything changing.

How do we get there? I suppose they say meditation and mindfulness practices can help, though it seems to me largely a function of grace, which is to say, the Divine bleeding through our consciousness, unasked, undeserved, unwarranted.

Or maybe it was simply that the heat had lifted.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant's eye.

The sunflowers are about as high as an elephant’s eye.

Cat In A Tree House

On glorious fall days like today, Toulouse insists on being outside, but since we lost his brother last year, he desires constant companionship. He wanders the grounds wherever I’m working. Today I had done a load of laundry and was moving back toward the house, but Toulouse wouldn’t be satisfied with that. “Stay outside a little longer,” he said. “There won’t be many more days like this.” I checked the time and saw I had a few minutes to gather and toss a batch of leaves into the compost. When I was done, I looked up and saw Toulouse watching me from the tree house above.

The Latest Bloomer on the Tallgrass Prairie

One of my favorite prairie wildflowers is white heath, or heath aster, scientifically known as Symphyotrichum ericoides or Aster ericoides. It is a hardy perennial, easy to transplant and grow, but, though it is said in books to bloom August-October, I’ve never seen a hint of a bloom before mid-September. Until that magical moment, white heath looks like an unsightly weed, towering above the polite cultivars blooming prettily through the summer.

Most vigilant gardeners I know cannot bear to wait that long, to tolerate a spiky plant doing nothing whatsoever useful before the autumnal equinox. Their hands itch to take up that weed and toss it prematurely in the compost. Do not try to talk them out of it. Nobody likes that, and nobody likes this plant. Let it have a forgotten, less conspicuous location, an out-of-the way place that most people don’t see. A place nobody bothers to trim the weeds because the public won’t know they’re there. That’s the kind of place where white heath flourishes, out of sight and out of mind, until its very late moment of glory. Long after you’ve forgotten about it, when some odd errand calls you out behind the fence or over by that last tree, you’ll be startled by the explosion of white. It’s too early for snow, so that can only be the glorious white heath, at last -at long, long, last, finally, blooming!

White heath and its relatives, such as New England aster, were used by several Native American tribes for a variety of purposes. White heath in particular was used as a smoke-producing plant in sweat baths, as well as for reviving an unconscious person. See Kindscher, Medicinal Wild Plants of the Prairie, for more on medicinal uses of asters.

And if you’re out in the Flint Hills, do look for this lovely flower. It’ll be around for us to enjoy until the frost.


Autumn Settling In

The weather has suddenly cooled. Today was lovely, sunny and mild, but the nights are chilly, and I’ve had to put another quilt on the bed.

Gulls have been making their semi-annual appearance. It’s been over a week since I saw the first, a group of perhaps a couple dozen; today I saw but one couple. They may be the last stragglers.

Turkey vultures are restless. I can feel that they will leave soon.

I saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher yesterday. I was surprised that it was still here. But, the scissor-tail’s migration is a fraction of the vultures’ so maybe they’re not in a hurry to leave.

I looked in the cabinet today and was surprised how many beans I have there. It’s almost as if I’ve unconsciously stored up for winter. Perhaps it’s possible after all for humans to follow the subtle promptings of the seasons, if we allow ourselves, and if we immerse ourselves in the sensory ocean of the natural world.

Why not dive in and see how it changes you?

Listening to the Moon

My friend Mark Diercker talks to trees, ghosts, and other, even less substantial, entities. Tonight I walked outside to look for something I might have left in the car and I saw the moon, just a short-clipped thumbnail of a sliver, in the still-blue evening sky. I wondered if Mark talks to the moon? Or rather, does the moon talk to him? What would the moon say, if the moon spoke?

I stood still for a moment, listening. I felt a slight tingling in my chest, and in my forehead. If ever there were a time I would hear the moon speak, it just might be right now. There was a low hum, but I couldn’t quite clear my mind enough to hear much more. Perhaps I heard a few vague words, sister, home, love . . . or maybe those were my own words, projected onto the moment. I smelled an aroma on the air, maybe woodsmoke, or something cooking somewhere, but it passed too quickly for me to identify it. I felt the slight chill of the late-October evening, the time of year when the kids get to play outside until after dark, and they’re having too much fun to go in and get a jacket. I remembered a night like that long ago, sitting on top of a haystack with Wes Jackson’s kids, looking at stars so bright you practically had to squint, listening to coyotes howl. My sister was afraid, but Wes’ older daughter (was her name Laura?) told us they wouldn’t hurt us. I felt completely safe.

Some moments are so perfect I’d like to hang onto them forever. Having watched more than one person dissolve into Alzheimers brain, I never say “I’ll never forget–.” I might well forget everything, my past, the people I love, my own name. But let it be that those perfect, indelible moments can be saved through the deterioration of the physical body, let me carry some little trinket on into the hereafter, saved in the pocket of my soul. The stars, the smell and the scratch of straw, the wail of unseen coyotes, the companionship of people I might never see again, but who, in this moment, were friends.

Did the moon tell me to recall this moment? Or was it just the rambling of my own mind, on my way to look for something I might have left in the car, which turned out not to be there anyway? I’ll come back again, soon, and sit longer with my friend the moon, and listen. Maybe next time I’ll know.

Monarchs and Homesickness

“We have to stumble though so much dirt and humbug before we reach home. And we have no one to guide us. Our only guide is homesickness.”-Hermann Hesse

Rob Breszny, my favorite astrologer, used that quote once in a horoscope for my sign (Capricorn). I knew immediately exactly what it meant, though I’m not sure what it feels like to be at home, to know where home is. I’ve been in the current home for seven years now, and it’s been nearly two since I committed to stop thinking “I hate this house,” every time I have to mop the kitchen because I forgot to prop open the sink drain with a kebab skewer before I put in a load of laundry; or a hanging lamp unexpectedly explodes into flames, falling dramatically to the floor; or we discover another hole left in the drywall in the laundry room, right next to a newly cracked pipe on a frigid January day. That’s not even accounting for the complications of having one’s livelihood tied up with one’s home; when there are potholes in the parking lot, the hotel inspector makes a surprise visit, when I’m struck by fear every time a customer comes to the door. What’s wrong with the room now?

That choice not to harbor bitterness and dissatisfaction has changed my life. I don’t want to be here forever, but I can still enjoy the time I’m here. It’s up to me, and maybe this place is gradually becoming my home, for now. Maybe my desire to be somewhere else is fading. Come to think of it, it’s been a while since I’ve had that dream of wanting to go home, but not knowing where I lived.

One thing that ties me like a string to this place is learning about the other inhabitants here, that is, in the the backyard, this town, the prairie. Many of the weeds in the backyard are familiar to my eye, but over the years I’ve begun to learn their names. Some are natives, some are aliens who’ve managed to make a life for themselves here. Shepherd’s purse, prostrate verbena, malva, hedge mustard. Lambsquarters is exceptionally nutritious, Queen Anne’s lace is also called wild carrot, because it is of the same species (Daucus carota) as cultivated carrot. Here is where I met the Woodhouse’s toad, the wheelbug, and the American lady butterfly (for whom I always sing a chorus of “American Woman.”) I’m no longer certain that I would leave, if offered the chance.

Here is where I’ve taken notice of the monarch butterfly migration. You have to be paying attention to catch it. It’s been going on this past week, but it’s not like a bird migration, where you could watch large numbers of birds flying together in a flock. The monarchs appear to be behaving quite usually, fluttering about, sometimes higher, sometimes lower, but if you watch one as long as you can see it, you will always notice that the first place you spot it is north of the last. It could just happen to be going south, but if you keep watching, you might spot another in five or ten minutes, also going south. Keep your eye open, there’s probably another, maybe high in the sky. You’ll think it’s a bird at first, until you notice the fluttering flight, and it will be going from north to south. They don’t fly together, they don’t appear to communicate at all. Do they plan their move? I think not. Something pulls them, and they ride it like the wind.

The longest distance covered by a tagged monarch in a day was 175 miles. From the US, they fly 2,500 miles or more to Mexico. It is not believed that any individual makes the migration more than once; they overwinter, find a mate, fly north, lay eggs, and die. The next generation might not live through the summer; it could be two or three generations before fall triggers the southerly flight again. Monarchs raised in captivity migrate if released in the fall, at least as many as nine generations after the last free butterfly in their lineage.

What makes a monarch migrate? I think of it as homesickness, like something telling you there is a place where you belong, and it isn’t here. It pulls you by the chest, like a string pulls a kite. You may never have seen your home, but you’ll know when you get there, and you won’t be alone. Are you there right now? If not, let homesickness be your guide.

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