The Daily: 21 March 2023

We know our life as it exists only here, in this world; therefore, if our life is to have any meaning, it should be here in this world.
     — Tolstoy in his Calendar of Wisdom for 21 March

Life is neither suffering nor pleasure, but the business which we have to do, and which we have to finish honestly, up to our life's end.
     — Alexis de Tocqueville
     found in Tolstoy's Calendar of Wisdom for 21 March

Today is the first full day after the Vernal Equinox; the Sun has moved into Aries and the Wheel of the Year has turned to the light half of the year, the time of growth. The Hunger Moon goes Dark today at 1:23pm. Tomorrow the Sap Moon is a New crescent. Look to the west at about 7:30pm to see the fingernail sliver of the Moon paired with Jupiter very low on the horizon. On Thursday, the slightly larger Moon sliver is paired with bright Venus at about the same time, but higher above the horizon. This might be a lovely astrophotography opportunity for those who enjoy such challenges.

This year, with the new crescent of the Sap Moon comes the holy fast of Ramadan. This month of reconciliation and compassion begins at sundown tomorrow and leads up to the next Dark Moon and the night of Layat al-Qadr, the night Muhammad first received the Qur’an. This is a time to empathize with others, particularly those who go hungry involuntarily. Each evening special prayers are chanted in the mosques; and when the sun sets, the fast is broken and family and friends gather for a communal meal. The end of the month culminates with joyous celebration of God and community.

The Sap Moon will be the first full moon after the vernal equinox, so Easter will follow on the first Sunday after the Full Sap Moon, April 9th. Easter is my season of innocent youth, of new life. It begins whenever the birds begin nesting and it lasts through Floralia at the end of April. The first flowers bloom in these weeks, though most of the trees will still be brown. There may be young lambs in the barns before now, but by Easter they are seeking out the fresh grass in the pastures. This period is when most cows will give birth, leading to the Irish calling the following month, May, the month of three daily milkings. By the latter end of the Easter season, there are infant rabbits playing in the garden and cracked eggshells scattered far from the nests (to confuse predators). This is high Spring.

The drone of insects, the bleat of young mammals, and the riot of birdsong pierce the warming days of Easter, but the sound that permeates the season is the flow of water. This is the melt season. The trickle and drip of water is pervasive. The fresh greening smell of damp soil calls you to wander the woods. But beware: this is also the season of mud. In New England, with meltwater runneling through a thin mantle of clay-rich soil laid over impermeable mountain rock, mud becomes a living force. Certainly it has its own agenda: flow down. Foundations sink, cows and cars are mired, and every pair of shoes is caked in heavy, gummy clumps. Fortunately, mud season is as evanescent as the melting snow. Soon all the water will find its way to the deeps, leaving potholes and tilted barns in its wake. My garage pond will dry up, and before long I’ll be worrying about a lack of moisture in the garden seed beds.

But for now, it all is flowing.


March winds make April showers,
and April rains bring May flowers.

Dry March, wet May
fills the barn with corn and hay.

These are the snippets of lore we English-speakers learn as children. I suppose they don’t apply to much of the English-speaking world anymore. Leaving aside the whole Southern Hemisphere — for which the annual calendar associations are all wrong — even in the North a ‘dry March’ or ‘wet May’ are unusual. Usually it is the opposite; and in some quarters, May is decidedly leaning toward drought. March may be windy, but it’s also wet; most spring precipitation falls in March. And while April may have showers, it may mostly fall to the ground as snow in my part of the world. What is constant is the warming of the sun and the melting, creeping flow all around us.

Water may fall from the sky, though it falls less and less as the Sap Moon waxes and wanes; but most of the flow of water in North American Spring comes from melting. It may be mountain snow running in streams to the sea. It may be flatland snow mounds sinking into the earth. But April deals in Winter’s precipitation. And everywhere there are perennial roots, the water is captured. So after a summer and autumn of drought, the spring thaw of winter will be sucked right up into the woods. Perhaps in your part of the world this year, the Sap Moon is silent because the waters are feeding the trees. But even so, meltwater is making its way further downwards. Permeable layers of sandstone and shale let water flow in rock-bound rivers. Cracks and crevices deep underground become dark pools — and wells are filling. So this is the season of well-dressing, honoring the cold, clean water that flows from the earth.

Although the English well-dressing festivals happen later in the summer when there are abundant flowers to make elaborate displays, the custom of decorating a well or leaving votive offerings in spring-water is more commonly associated with the season of beginning growth, not harvest. On May Day, it was customary to make pilgrimage to holy wells, seeking both cures and curses; and spring rites from Imbolg to Beltaine include hanging strips of wishing cloth — called ‘clooties’ in Scotland — on the small trees that overhang a well, usually alder, hawthorn or hazel. These strips of cloth originally were torn from the clothing of petitioners so the spirit of the well would know who sought their aid. Over time, the torn rags changed to bright ribbons and streamers of lace. A clootie tree, one decked in colorful bunting, is a merry sight — though I’m sure there are still curses cast into the waters with the coins and silver pins and many of the wishes likely flow from sadness…

Still, a wish made is a sign of living hope.

there is a sacred spring
	down the lane
yea, truly, though abandoned by utility
	desecrated by profanity
there is a tiny bit of the elysian
	just down the lane
a spring bedight
	in candles, coins, rags, riches
	scraps of superstition
	alms and oblation
just down the lane
and surreptitiously they come
	seeking lucidity
	seeking succor
	seeking salvation
yea, truly, they are drawn down the lane
	by the aroma of fecundity
just down the lane
and so, to the spring they come
	where life is swelling and essence is streaming
	maidens are laughing and lambs are bleating
	sparrows are singing and spirits are speaking
	and white blossoms ever are teeming
or so they say...
	just down the lane
		is a sacred spring

Here is a story I wrote about the custom of sending wishes to the well-spirits. It is not set in spring, but in autumn because I felt that its plague atmosphere was a bit too bleak. In reality, most wishes were just as dire as the one in this tale, yet were commonly made in Springtime. Our ideas about benevolent Spring may be colored by the continual abundance we find in modern supermarkets. Not too long ago, and very likely not too far into the future, spring was and will be a time of perilous dearth, a time when hunger allowed illness to run rampant. So this story is probably more coldly vernal than autumnal.

The Clootie Tree

She crept down the lane, keeping to the shadows which danced in the afternoon wind. Leaves circled her like hunting cats, taking her scent, then passed on, no doubt intent on getting caught up in the thatch in the lee-sides of the village chimneys. Tears sprang to her eyes as she realized her brother would never again be up his ladder, cleaning out the damp rot before it spread through the roof. Liam was the fifth to fall this month and the youngest claimed by the plague so far. 

Maeve stopped and leaned against an oak bole. When would it stop surprising her, this sudden sharp pain? When would the wounds in her heart begin to scab over? When would she be able to breathe again? Mother dead, father dead, her sister, and both of her towheaded nephews. Now her brother. She and her sister’s husband moved through the desolate house, avoiding the wide emptiness in each other’s eyes. So much loss in each glance, one look into those depths could drown the soul.

She didn’t understand why she was still alive. She felt both abandoned by her mounting dead and ashamed by her continuing good health. Why were they gone and she here? Why couldn’t she follow? She’d sat by enough deathbeds; surely Death had her name and number by now. Yet he did not come for her with his bloody cough, florid rash, and blue, bloodless lips — a cold kiss of no awakening. The graveyard was full, yet she still walked the waking world. For how much longer? How much longer?

She walked on.

As she neared the spring, she fingered the slip of ribbon in her pocket. Nine months ago she’d torn off this bit of binding from her mother’s pale blue nightgown. Her mother had died first — before the village was aware of the monster that had crept into their midst. Her mother had died of a flu; by the time her father died a fortnight later, it was The Plague. Maeve had taken the ribbon and kept it in her pocket, waiting for something she could not name.

She turned off the lane, following a well-worn footpath into the woods. The path threaded its way through tall boulders that looked like so many drunken trolls caught by the rising sun. The leaves were still green here and mosses furred every surface. Woodland asters nodded in grave assent as she passed. Her sense of unease grew with every step.

This was dangerous ground, sacred ground. What warrant had she to tread this path with her petition? She was inconsequential, just a motherless child lost in the woods. What right had she to ask for aid? She almost turned back. Then suddenly, a whirling torrent of leaves leapt up around her, and the wind carried the sharp scent of snow in distant pinewoods.

Maeve froze.

But in the blink of an eye, the leaves swirled away leaving nothing behind but a hint of disquiet. She hesitated for a bit longer. Should she go home? Or now that she’d come this far, should she just go on with it? She could not read the leaves. And false steps were deadly. At that thought, she realized that there was no hold on her. She had nothing to lose. Death already stalked her world. What worse thing could happen? She did not care if Death came for her now. It might be a relief. She went on.

Not many more steps and she came upon the standing stones that marked the spring. Rowan berries and oak leaves blazed russet and copper. A spreading hawthorn stood sentinel over the pool, glowing gold and vermillion in contrast with the emerald mosses and sedges that limned the water in verdant summer. Bright-hued ribbons fluttered in the autumn wind, remnants of past supplicants, delicate embodiments of grief and want, falsely cheery in their pageantry of color.

Maeve pulled the pale blue ribbon from her pocket. Even now fear made her body heavy. She moved as though resisted by deep water flowing in fast currents. She treaded the marshy banks carefully, making her way to the Clootie Tree. A silver coin for the pool and a ribbon for the silver branch. She dropped the coin into the waters and watched it sink into the depths. It vanished into the mud with nary a glint remaining. She then reached up with the ribbon and tied it to the hawthorn.

Another gust of wind swirled leaves and ribbons and set the light dancing around her, but this time it took the fear from her limbs. She stepped back and bowed her head, whispering her heartfelt prayer. She felt a presence, an awareness, terrible but compassionate, turning her supplication over in slow regard. She felt her words heard and accepted. She felt a great weight lifted from her shoulders. She saw water droplets rippling the surface of the spring at her feet and realized these were her tears, mingling with the spring water.

She bent and dipped her hands into the pool, brought the water to her lips, and drank. Grief and supplication in those waters. And relief. Gratitude swelled in her heart.

She rose and turned away. Her prayer was answered. She need not linger.

I have a meditative ritual that I enact over two weeks at this time of the ending of the dark and the beginning of the light half of the year. There is a shift from interiority to manifestation at this time of year. It is the beginning of praxis, the end of gestation. All the ideas and plans that build up during winter dormancy are now turned into actions. For all that there is no better symbol than a sprouting seed, but the weather is not always sufficiently clement to allow for germination in the garden. So I make a small patch of sprouts in a pot indoors. Usually I use wheatgrass because I and the cat both love it, and the seeds are cheap and ubiquitous — you can even find wheatgrass ‘kits’ in the supermarket.

Begin this ritual two weeks before whatever date you wish to target. That target time could be the Full Sap Moon or the New Greenleaf Moon. It could even be the Vernal Equinox, though I think the timing works better with the moon cycles — though that might just be because the moon is a better mnemonic device for me. This year, I am beginning on the Dark Hunger Moon — the end of hidden gestation — so I can end the rite on the Full Sap Moon — the beginning of unveiled growth.

Choose a shallow pot with good drainage. Fill it with potting soil (a mix of well-rotted compost, fine sand or perlite, and garden soil). Sprinkle the soil surface with the wheatgrass seeds. Some people cover the seeds lightly, and this probably works better symbolically because it ‘hides’ the new life. But I usually don’t. I do give the seeds a good spraying. (Don’t use the watering can or you’ll lose the seeds. Use a mister or a spray bottle.)

Place the pot in a warm sunny spot that you will see every day. It helps to keep the spray bottle handy.

Each day, visit the pot. Give the seeds more water. Notice the changes in size, in shape, in color. Some of the seeds even seem to move. A time-lapse film of germination often looks like the seedbed is writhing in anticipation.

Note the day that the first rootlets push out of the seeds and down into the soil. Then note when the sprouts begin to grow upwards and when the sprouts begin to look like blades of grass.

It is time to end the ritual when the grass is about two or three inches tall. Wheatgrass is forgiving enough that you can wait until whatever day you targeted. However, if you have felines in the house, you probably want to keep them out of the pot (somehow…) until you are ready.

When that time comes, sit with the pot for a bit. Look at how much growth has come from seeds that were smaller than an infant’s fingernail just two weeks ago. Remember that all the carbon that went into building up these plants was captured from the air in your house, so these blades are full of your breath. Now, breathe in the green scent — which is mostly oxygen — that comes off the pot. Smile at the miraculous work these seeds have accomplished in so short a time.

You may choose to say a prayer of thanks or whisper a psalm of praise. You could write a poem while sitting there. Or you could just bow in silent awe to the magic. From cold inert matter comes verdant growing life. From seeds comes a harvest. This is the promise of Spring.

Now, think of all the other things that you need to grow in this time of manifestation. What other seeds can you nurture into full embodiment? What needs to be done to get there? What concrete steps do you need to take? If you feel inspired write down these plans, and then in the coming weeks put them into action.

When I am done thinking on all this, I cut about half of the wheatgrass off at the soil level, thanking the plants and soil for all their hard work. I want about two cupfuls of the grass. Whatever is left in the pot, I give to the cat, putting the pot on the floor near her food dish. Cats don’t eat plant matter; but they sure seem to relish wheatgrass. They can probably smell the rich nutrients.

To enjoy my own harvest, I make a smoothie. First, purée the wheatgrass with a couple handfuls of blueberries and a cup of each of plain yogurt and unsweetened cranberry juice. All this is cold enough for my tastes, but if you want it very chilled, add a few small ice cubes. A couple tablespoons of nut butter made from sunflower seeds or some variety of the walnut family can be added if you want a deeper flavor and a more filling treat. If you have a powerful enough blender, you can just toss the nuts into the mix, buttering them as you go. To the purée, add a bit of maple syrup and some minced ginger root. If this is your first wheatgrass smoothie, go light on the flavorings. With practice you’ll be able to add stronger amounts and a variety of flavors. Honey is very good and very appropriate also. But this is the Sap Moon and I live in Vermont… hence maple.

Settle yourself where it is warm and comforting and drink the smoothie, being mindful of all that went into it — and all that is to come.

©Elizabeth Anker 2023

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