Veronica's Garden

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

Tag: Ted Andrews

Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata

It’s been quite a busy summer. I’m a personal assistant to two children, which is a job I never thought I’d be competent to perform. Early in the season, I bought a Passion Planner so I could keep it all together. I love how the planner has a place to write the focus of each week, though too many weeks all I can think of to focus on is simply getting through the week.

I had ambitious goals for this summer. I was going to do a project every month. June’s project was renovating the spa, but that has dragged on much longer than I’d hoped, and I’m thinking about coming to a stopping point and moving on to the July goal, which is to publish a story which has been waiting for a book cover for several months, and to do some more original writing. Not to mention getting caught up on both my blogs, and promote them more actively. But even scaling back my goals doesn’t get me through the days. This week I’m going with one Girl Scout troop on an overnight trip, and planning, organizing and supervising a full day event for the other troop. In between, a dear friend who lives far away will be in the midwest, and bless her, she’s going to take a day to come out to the sticks just to see us.

Keeping on top of it all is a constant challenge. I’ve tried coffee, but the extra energy seems to come with even greater propensity to flit randomly from one task to another, so I’m not sure there’s a net improvement. A little yoga and meditation are perhaps more beneficial. I saw on facebook or somewhere that some famous yogi said that everyone should meditate for at least ten minutes per day, unless one doesn’t have time, in which case, twenty minutes. So I am making the effort to prove that ten is enough for me.

Today I was doing my usual practice: after a little yoga, I cool down and end in corpse pose (savasana), in which I listen to my breath, attempting to take a full breath in and out without a thought. There’s always a thought, though, but for some reason I always think the next breath will go better, so I try again. Sometimes I do get almost to the end of the inhalation before a thought comes. Today somewhere in the middle I heard a voice asking, “Been in the dungeon?” Oh no, I haven’t been—wait a minute, who’s been in the dungeon? Who put you there, and why? It was Mariah, the little waif/saboteur with whom I had meant to make friends. But today she says I put her in the dungeon because I wanted to prove that I was in control.

Before I could figure out what to do with that, I heard a ruckus in the yard. Blue jays are known to be annoyingly loud, and from my observations this summer, I’d say they can be alarmist as well. That crow-like screech is their alarm call, as well as warning to any creature they consider a threat. When the threat is resolved, they make a pretty cuckoo-like signal. The screeching was louder and more urgent than I’d ever heard, even from blue jays, so I looked out the patio door and sure enough, there was Wildy the cat in the tall grass (mowing was one of the things I haven’t had time for this summer) playing with something gray in front of her. Damn! It’s been nearly ten years since we’ve had blue jays, since the year Wildy’s predecessor 23, (may he rest in peace) killed all the babies, one by one, as they flew the nest. I’ve regretted ever since that I didn’t keep him inside that day.

There was no time to lose, so I decided to let my pants lie where I’d left them on the ottoman and ran out in my underwear. Two adults were swooping and screeching all around, and in the middle of it, cat and fledgling were facing each other off. Not waiting to see what would happen next, I grabbed Wildy by the nape and wrapped both my arms around her as I retreated. Inside, we watched from the patio doors while the bird hopped over near the door, mom and dad screeching incessantly. (They can see us through the doors, though they don’t know that fixing the doors so they open and close is another project that hasn’t made it to the top of the list yet.) But I watched long enough to see the juvenile hop on both legs, and stretch and fold both wings, so there’s a pretty good chance the bird was uninjured. Then I closed the curtains to give the poor parents a break.

I might have looked up the symbolism of blue jay earlier in the summer, but a drama such as this is what happens when one ignores the more subtle signals. What does Ted Andrews have to say about blue jay?

“For those to whom the jay comes as a totem, it can reflect lessons in using your own power properly.”

The power comes from both the spiritual and the physical realm, as blue jay moves between worlds. “The main problem will be in dabbling in both worlds, rather than becoming a true master of both. Those with a jay as a totem usually have a tremendous amount of ability, but it can be scattered or it is often not developed any more than is necessary to get by.”

“If the jay has flown into your life, it indicates that you are moving into a time where you can begin to develop the innate royalty that is within you, or simply be a pretender to the throne. It all depends upon you. The jay has no qualms. It will teach you either direction.” Okay, jay friends, I hear the message loud and clear, but damned if I know how to live any better than I am right now.

2 Dozen Tiny Grasshoppers

Once again, baby grasshoppers have hatched and surfaced in a potted plant that I brought into the spa last winter. This happens every year, and I never manage to get the pot back outside before, one spring day, I find a couple dozen or so hoppers smaller than my pinky toenail hopping away from the broom when I try to sweep them out the door.

Ted Andrews says the keynote of Grasshopper is Uncanny Leaps Forward. It would appear that today I am poised to make two dozen teeny tiny uncanny leaps forward, and this his how my life feels right now. I’ve been practicing Divine Openings. Structures are shifting. Action is happening, even when I don’t expect it. I call the last few motel customers to tell them we are closed, and one asks me if I’d like to sell the property. Well, since you ask . . . and even still, the spa is redecorating itself, my dear husband spontaneously decided to design a cover for my upcoming monster erotica story, the kids are out of school, the weather is suddenly hot. Mars is stationing direct. My fortune cookie at dinner tonight said, “You believe nothing is impossible,” and on days like this it is true.

As a child, I was called Cricket by my family, far more than they used my “real” name. As far as I’ve been able to find, Grasshopper and Cricket are symbolically interchangeable. Andrews says, “Those with this totem will usually find that things don’t move or flow the way they do with other people. Progress is not usually made step by step. Instead, others may seem to be progressing while you seem to be sitting still. Do not become discouraged. When grasshopper shows up, there is about to be a new leap forward–one that will probably carry you past the others around you in your life.”

Some are being left behind. A couple dubious friends dumped me in a huff. My very dear feline friend of eighteen years, Toulouse, is near to leaving this world. His passing is being attended by a new member of our family, a 5-week-old kitten who leaped into our lives by huddling in the middle of the highway when Kevin was on his way to work.

Grasshoppers only leap forward, and they cannot turn their necks. They put their feet in place, then jump, and they land where they land. How high and far I’ll go, which way I’ll leap, where I’ll land, all questions to which the answers will come when they come, and not a moment sooner.

Has Grasshopper made an appearance in your life? What leaps are you making today?

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

The venerable Toulouse with just-weaned Wildfire

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?

Kettle of Vultures, Cathartes aura

A group of turkey vultures near Burns, Kansas

A group of turkey vultures near Burns, Kansas

In mid-March I was in Hot Springs, Arkansas briefly, and I saw the first vultures of the year. I pulled off a busy highway to get a look, and they were lazily circling like any turkey vulture would on an ordinary day, though their overall concentration seemed a bit high. But it was late in the day, the typical time for turkey vultures to settle down to roost, and they often converge in favorable places. I concluded that they weren’t just arriving in northern Arkansas, but had arrived there before I did. By the time I got home, they were here too.

But today I took a drive down from Strong City to El Dorado. (Dorado rhymes with tornado, for you non-Kansans.) Just south of Burns I saw a kettle of vultures, and being the Cathartophile that I am, I stopped for pictures;  as I was shooting, another kettle soared on over my head, like the previous one, circling to the north. In the photo above, I count around eighty. That looks like migration behavior, not daily scavenging. It’s three weeks later than I first saw them; however, some vultures migrate thousands of miles, through the Central American isthmus and into South America. We can excuse some of them for being a little late coming back this way.

It was a perfect day for soaring. Looking to the south for any more, I saw a line of billowing clouds on the horizon. Vultures are inefficient at flying, but masters at soaring. A weather front creates ideal updrafts for them to ride.

Turkey vulture has long been important to me, and to see so many in their element thrills me beyond words. Whenever I feel a deep affinity with another creature, I look to its symbolism for messages it might have for me. Ted Andrews says much about vultures. He emphasizes the  importance of action over appearance or words. This is accompanied by an ability to use higher vision to access natural forces. Much can be accomplished with minimal effort. Vulture symbolizes death/rebirth and purification, though it may take three months for the process to be completed. “It [is] a promise that the suffering of the immediate [is] temporary and necessary for a higher purpose [is] at work, even if not understood at the time.”

Let it be so.

Downy Woodpecker, Picoides pubescens

The downy woodpecker is one of the most common woodpeckers in North America. Smaller than most, the downy is agile and can be seen flitting among slender branches and twigs, where his larger cousins, the red-headed and the hairy woodpeckers, keep mainly to larger branches and trunks. (I use the masculine  gender because the one I saw today had a spot of red on his head, unlike his female relatives and friends, who refrained from showing themselves to me today.)

He was most diligent in his pursuit of whatever insects he was after, high up in my favorite cottonwood tree. I hope his lengthy visit isn’t a sign of an insect imbalance. That tree dropped her leaves early last year, but this season she seemed more robust, so I will trust the tree is fine, and our friend the downy will take good care of her.

What meaning does his appearance impart? I noticed today his determination to look beneath the surface, to find sustenance where it wasn’t obviously visible or easy to reach. Unlike the more delicate, migratory avians, who follow the temperate weather where it leads them, the woodpecker will be here through the winter. I’ll try to remember him when the cold settles in and my will grows weak.

Ted Andrews associates woodpecker with drumming, which is relevant to the rhythms of life. It may be time to initiate new rhythms. Avia Venefica associates woodpecker with creativity and revival of that which one may have thought to have been dead. “Being opportunistic, woodpeckers can see value everywhere, even in dead trees. Have you ditched an idea or given up on a project? The woodpecker may be trying to tell you to breathe new life into your project, just as they build new homes into dead trees.”

Of woodpecker’s coloring, Andrews says, “The black and white reflects the need to see issues and aspects of life clearly. It reflects that things are fairly clear if we look closely. . . .The red found in the head area of any woodpecker reflects a stimulation of the mental activities and the head chakra centers. It reflects a stimulation and wakening of new mental faculties.” Venefica echoes the idea that the drum of the woodpecker is a call to “use one’s head,” while Sandy Pouncey warns us not to get carried away with the mental and analytical approach.

All three of these sources agree that woodpecker tells us to follow our own rhythms, to express our creativity in whatever unique ways we are called.

Have you seen a woodpecker? What message did the drummer have for you?

Canada Goose, Branta Canadensis

The plant world is going quiet this time of year, but most of the animals must continue their daily lives through the winter. Among birds, some leave for warmer climes, while the Canada goose is just arriving.

I believe there are a few here in the Flint Hills year round, but in autumn their population swells. It’s not uncommon to see them winging in the late afternoon or early evening, as they move from gleaning the fields by day to their watery bed for the night.

The Canada goose was hunted nearly to extinction in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Indeed, it was thought by some to be completely extinct for many years. Some remnant populations were discovered in the 1960s, and after that efforts were begun to restore this fine, large bird to its former glory in Kansas. In the 1980s, ten thousand birds were released into the wild by the Kansas Fish and Game Commission. By the turn of the century, they were quite common in many places, and in fall and winter Chase Countians saw them daily. When you see geese flying and honking in their signature V formation, think what it would be like if they were gone again, the skies empty and quiet.

Ted Andrews associates geese with stories and storytelling. He says that goose is a fine totem for writers, and recommends writing with a goose quill pen. This is said to stimulate the imagination and aid in working through creative blocks.

Geese mate for life. How many humans can sustain such fidelity? Andrews also recommends sleeping on bedding made from goose feathers to promote marital fidelity and fertility.

I’m sure there is much, much more to be learned from goose. Much of what we learn from animals must be based in personal experience, however. When do you see them,  do they talk to you? Listen with you heart to hear their message.

Quick hello to gulls passing through; nod to scissor-tailed flycatcher, here for the summer

Saw the gulls today, circling low over a pasture.

Also saw a scissor-tailed flycatcher, Tyrannus forficatus, only present in a few parts of North America, only in the warm seasons. Here’s some basic info on this striking summer denizen of the prairie. Video footage of scissor-tails in flight is hard to find, but there’s some here, if you can tolerate the folksy narrative.

On the symbolic significance of the scissor-tailed flycatcher, my usual source, Ted Andrews, is, as far as I can find, silent. Perhaps he hasn’t met one. Shaman Mark Diercker suggests the scissor-tail might teach graceful evasion. I suspect also exquisite skill in capturing prey in flight. Have you seen scissor-tails? Have you studied them? Have they spoken to you of their journeys over Mexico to the great Central American isthmus; have they brought you a message?

“Do not forget that all change is good,” or, why I didn’t clean motel rooms that day

“When butterfly shows up, make note of the most important issues confronting you at this moment. This is probably why butterfly has shown up. What stage of change are you at in regard to them? To determine that, you may have to examine and determine what you wish the outcome to be, and how best to accomplish it. . . . Do not forget that all change is good.” –Ted Andrews

It was one of those late August days, down to the last precious few before school and the quotidian jail of the daily schedule set in. This time of year I always wonder why I’m not homeschooling. I fear that any creativity and inquisitiveness in my children will be gradually squelched by the endless worksheets and pressure to follow instructions quickly, before the next worksheet is presented. Yesterday we were unloading stuff from the car and going into the house when my 6-year-old stopped, and wouldn’t move closer to the door. “One of those wasps, the orange ones.”

“The really bright orange-red one, or the orangey brown?”

“Bright.”

“Is it on the ground, or in the air?”

“On the ground.”

These questions are relevant because I know of two orange wasps around here. One is orange-ish and flies; that’s the digger wasp, which is not aggressive. The bright orange, fuzzy one that looks kind of like a brilliant, oversized ant, is, naturally, known as the red velvet ant. The female is wingless and I’ve warned my kids about her; though I didn’t tell them that the account I read of having been stung by one described the pain as so intense that, said the victim, for about thirty minutes he wanted to die. I just told them to avoid the wasp when they see her. The male flies, and doesn’t sting at all, though it’s said he might try to fake a person out.

Rowan is increasingly afraid of wasps. She’s been stung twice this year, both times completely by surprise. I keep telling her that they won’t bother her if she leaves them alone, but I know as the words come out of my mouth that she has never looked for trouble with waps; I witnessed the second sting. She just pushed away something that flew in her face, and got stung on the hand.

The red velvet ant wasp crawls along the ground at a good pace, so I didn’t expect anything to be on the sidewalk when we got there. But then she said, “There it is!” while trying to hide behind me.

There was no wasp there; just a struggling little pearl crescent butterfly, Phyciodes tharos. Really, it looked nothing like a wasp. Strangely, its wings were spread and resting on the concrete. “I think it’s dying,” I said. Then I gently picked it up. It let me; and made its way to the underside of my finger, where its limp wings hung together toward the ground. It hung there, occasionally moving its wings slightly. “It’s not dying, it just came out of its chrysalis,” I realized. I explained to the kids, “When they first come out of the chrysalis, their wings are wet and soft. They can’t fly right away, they have to wait, and kind of pump the fluid out of the wings. It’s a very vulnerable time for them. If they fall down, their wings might get crunched up and they won’t ever be able to fly.” Watching it move the unwieldy wings, I imagined what it must be like to undergo such a transformation. “Remember how I was telling you how caterpillars have to eat so much? What if you were really, really hungry, you ate and ate and ate, then you took a long nap, and when you woke up you had giant wings!” Surely our imaginations could never encompass the shock and mystery of such an experience. In my mind, I pictured my daughter waking up in bed with sticky, wrinkly appendages unfolding from her back.

I held it for a while; the kids each took a turn letting it dangle from their fingers; then we moved it to a twig on a tree nearby. By this time, the creature’s wings were firm enough that it could hold them up. We went inside the house and ate lunch, and when I came back later, it was gone.

What does my daughter need? Somebody to make sure she’s safe as her wings unfold; somebody to help her find a place from which to launch into flight. Then, she needs to be let go.

American Goldfinch, Spinus tristis

Came around a corner and spied two goldfinches, one atop the echinacea, which has dried to black stalks crowned with full heads of seeds; the other bird nearby. They are such dedicated seed-eaters that they don’t even nest until late summer, when seeds are abundant. In other years I loved to watch goldfinches perched on the top of a sunflower bloom, leaning down to grab seed after seed, which they managed to break open to get the rich kernels inside, then dropped the shells to the ground. After they left, I’d poke through the debris on the ground, finding not a single intact seed. Still, new sunflowers always manage to come up right in that spot the next year.

Ted Andrews says that “goldfinch can help you to deepen your perceptions so that you can begin to see and experience the activities of the nature spirits yourself.” And also, “Goldfinches are rarely silent. This in itself is a reminder that Nature is speaking to us constantly and that we should learn to listen and communicate with it from all levels. It reflects that the nature spirits are around us at all times.”

I’ve observed that they are very shy, and as soon as they know I’m watching them, they fly. I’ll have to practice quietness if I want the privilege of watching them. If they come back at all . . .

Did I say I would collect echinacea seeds to plant, come fall? I’ll have to revise that plan now.

Wasp as totem

Note: For those who come to Veronica’s Garden to find insight into Wasp totem, there is a follow-up to this piece, which you can find here.

When I moved alone to Strong City, Kansas, it was perhaps not a coincidence that I often found myself praying for strength. I’d cut to long-distance status my relationship with the man I was in love with. My Dad was disabled and my Mom’s mind was decaying into dementia, and while I was supposedly here to help them, I struggled with the old roles and self-perceptions I’d been given in my childhood: the baby of the family, the kid with too much book smarts and no street smarts, the absent-minded-but-desperate-to-please-adults little girl. I’d had a pretty decent life in Chicago, but I walked away from it. What if Kevin decided it was too much trouble being involved with a woman eight hundred miles away? What if I died in a car accident on my commute to Emporia, and never saw him again? Everyone always said I wasn’t a very good driver. I had moved at the prompting of signs, but now I felt unconnected from everyone and everything. I hadn’t prayed regularly before then, but now I prayed every day for strength and protection.

Wasp entered my life. Ted Andrews says of insect magic: “Many modern shamans issue precautions about working with insect totems, implying that the archetypal force or spirit behind it is too primitive and difficult an energy with which to effectively work.” Nonetheless, I took the appearance of wasp as an answer to my prayers. Some days I’d watch dozens of them dancing in the backyard, the late afternoon light glinting off their wings. One day on the front porch I saw what looked like a tiny earthenware jug on the side of a hanging plant, and only had to wait a few minutes for the little wasp to come home, carrying a limp spider, which she placed delicately in the jar. I felt privileged to be in the company of wasps. They were my protectors. I chose to feel safe in their presence, to believe that the powerful sting would never be aimed against me, because they were my friends. When they started building a nest above the front door, I felt it was a bit too close, and I asked for permission to kill them. I received permission, but then they quietly left before I did it.

Still, they were an ally. One summer afternoon I went for a drive in the country, exploring the back roads of Chase County. As I drove over the rough gravel, out where you can see the horizon in every direction, but not a single building, I noticed a wasp buzzing around in the back window. Was it telling me to go back? I didn’t, and after a few minutes it disappeared. Hours later I finally found a way into Emporia, lost, thirsty, and hungry. I stopped for a quick bite and when I got back to the car, I had a flat tire. Then I knew the wasp had been warning me. If I’d needed help out there on the back roads, who knew how long it would have been before somebody came by?

Eventually, however, I began to see the limitation of the wasp totem. Observing them at every opportunity, I saw certain problems recur. If a wasp flies into a building, why can’t it find the way out? It clearly can’t remember and retrace its path in. What it usually does is fly up, which naturally doesn’t work in a room where the only way out is a door; it hits the wall above the door, moves away, circles, and repeats. Even if it’s a wide open door, the wasp doesn’t know how to find it. Finding isn’t the way, flying up is the way. If it doesn’t work, wasp doesn’t appear to be able to try something different. They do respond to their environment, but only with an extraordinarily limited repertoire of behaviors. It so happens that one of those very few choices is to sting. That means that if you spend enough time with wasps, there’s a pretty good chance the sting will come sooner or later.

When I saw this, I understood what Andrews was talking about. While wasp had been the totem I desperately needed for a while, I’d best let go of wasp before I got stung. Paradoxically, the power of wasp to protect can also get turned inside out, into danger. It was time to let go of my need for protection, to allow the unfolding of events with confidence that I could handle what would be given to me. To this day I consider wasp a friend, but one from which I keep a safe distance.

Eventually I married the man I was in love with, and together we bought a motel in Strong City. Here, a new wasp has entered my life, the great golden digger wasp. I’ll save that story for tomorrow.

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