Magical Moon Moment

Original photo from Almost A Cowboy Western

Original photo from Almost A Cowboy Western

IT WAS a full moon the other night, and somehow it seemed to bring with it a small oasis of calm in the weeks of somewhat wild and unpredictable weather we’ve been having in the Northern Rivers.

I  look forward to full moons, because a while ago my daughter and I made a pact that we would try our best to do something different on a full moon, or – her school work and my writing permitting – a few nights either side.  In the past four or five months we’ve driven into the macadamia forests and had a fire and marshmallows down by the river; gone down to Byron Bay to watch the moon rise from the water – almost as golden as its brother sun; danced outside on our arena, and had a full moon dinner in the garden.

This month, we hadn’t even thought about a full moon moment.  In fact, the night before the weather had been so violent – with lashing rain and gusting winds, that full moon fever was the last thing on my mind.

But now, standing in my kitchen, looking out into the garden, everything was clearly silhouetted in silvery light, and I could see my Paint horse, Storm, lying down in his paddock, with his companion, Johnny, our grey Arabian, grazing close by.

Storm was born on the property, and I was lucky enough to be there when it happened.  When he was a foal, and used to take his baby naps, I would often go into the paddock and lie down beside him, and he was always welcoming.  He would open an eye, and close it again, and we would lie there together quite contentedly until I had to go back to work, or he’d had enough snoozing.  Sometimes his mother, Glimmer, would stand over us both, and they were always special moments.

I wondered if Storm would be let me talk to him now, in the full moonlight, so I wandered over to the paddock, and sure enough, he kept on resting, while I sat on the ground beside him and scratched his neck for him.  We sat there companionably together, and now that I was outside, I could see clearly into the house, back into the kitchen where I’d been standing, and where my daughter and her two friends were hanging out.

Wouldn’t it be lovely, I suddenly thought, if we could actually ride in the moonlight?  How amazing would that be to embrace the still, crisp night air, and the moon in all its glory, with a horse?

I looked at Johnny, grazing away.  We’ve had our occasionally slightly over-excited Arab for eleven years, and somehow along the way, he’s become a been-there, done-that sort of a horse – exactly the sort of horse to go riding on in the moonlight – as long as there were no horse-eating dragons out and about. (Fortunately, in Johnny’s horse brain, horse-eating dragons are usually absent from the arena, and only present when he feels he has to keep his wits about him in the macadamia forest.)

The girls were willing, and so was Johnny, and so there we were with the natural horsemanship halter, and the bareback pad, just in our tracksuits and gumboots, pottering around in the moonlight on a horse.  What a beautiful feeling it was!   No pressure, no force – we just let Johnny wander around with one of us beside him, and one of us riding.  He was mostly curious about the light shining from the ubiquitous iPod, and what he really wanted to do was just hang with us and cuddle – which was fine by us.  So we all had a turn, riding in the moonlight, and then we sat and chatted, while the other horses looked at us over the fences as if to say they too would like to join in.

It was a magical moonlit moment out there with the three girls, and the snowy-white Arab – one for the memory banks, that’s for sure.

 

The Worry Monster, Mother’s Day and muddling through…

Cranes from the Art of Japan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

Cranes from the Art of Japan exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art

I woke up in the early hours of the morning to the sound of the rain on the roof – as I so often do living in the green hills of the Northern Rivers.  (Note to self:  In Australia, a country renowned for its droughts, there’s a reason why this area is always green.  Second note to self:  Always research an area before moving there.)

As I lay there wondering if it was too early to get up at 4.30 am and work, the Worry Monster came to visit, and soon we were running through our favourite conversations – too many horses with too many fungal diseases (also due to the weather); too little time, too much to do, not enough money, no clear direction at the moment as to the way forward – and why not?  And what is wrong with me??? Everything was absolutely focussed with crystal-like clarity on what is wrong with my life.

And this day, the Saturday before Mother’s Day is always a little hard because three years ago we were told a very beautiful and valuable thoroughbred horse, Fox, whom we’d owned only for a few months, was dying of pneumonia.  It was a catastrophic series of tiny mistakes which had led us to this sad place, but there we were with just the slightest chance he would make it through the night, but at 5.00am on Mother’s Day morning, he died, and I’ve felt the sadness most acutely at this same time of year ever since.

I took a deep breath.  After several years of trying my best to acquire the positive habit of the Law of Attraction I knew I wasn’t doing myself any favours.

I decided, as I also often do, to tune into one of my favourite shows – Jennifer McLean’s Healing with the Masters, and her replay of her interviewer with author and teacher, Patricia Cota-Robles.

And there it was – the exact phrase I needed for that moment:

“The company of heaven say that worry is a way of praying for what you don’t want.”

 OMG!  So true.

I decided to stop feeling sorry for myself, ignore the rain and take the dogs for a walk before I fed the horses.

As I drove up the lane where I live there was a single White-headed pigeon sitting bang-slap in the middle of the road.  I had to get out of the car and shoo it away before it decided to fly up into the nearest tree – and that was just the start of my morning adventures.

The pigeon was followed by more bird-life than I usually see in weeks, all in the space of half-an-hour.  Ground-nesting plovers stalked imperiously away from me scolding me crossly for daring to drive through their territory; flocks of Australian White Ibis and the Black-headed Ibis took to the sky in their droves as the dogs and I walked up and down the avenues of macadamia trees trying to avoid the pouring rain, a pair of delicate Grey Herons, (actually the Australian White-faced Heron by the way), rose gracefully into the air looking exactly like birds on a Japanese scroll.  Even the sky – a deep shade of Payne’s Grey – looked like a painting, ominous, brooding and beautiful all at once. On the way home a pair of Willy Wagtails and a pair of Butcher Birds were right next to the White-headed pigeon – which led me to wonder why the pigeon was by itself?  Had it lost its mate?  After all, pigeons are monogamous and mate for life – like many bird species who seem to have achieved something with which we humans have difficulties. Were the other birds keeping it company in its loneliness?

Stranger things have happened – certainly in my animal-filled life!

Talking of which, what do you when you get home and you need to move a guinea pig and rabbit from a horse stable so you can put two horses in the two stables in order to dry them out a bit?  You put them in an Ikea laundry basket – you know, the silver ones, with a wire frame and fine mesh all around.  Plenty of air, light to carry, fine enough mesh that the sawdust doesn’t fall out – problem solved – and it only took 20 minutes of chasing them around the stable to get them in there.

(Of course all of that might beg the question as to why the guinea pig and rabbit are in a horse stable to begin with, and that goes back to the weather.  They’re living in massive five-star hotel luxury because they were constantly being rained out in their previous home and I got sick of rescuing them.  Now they live in a stable big enough for a 17hh warmblood, and are ejected only when I need the stable.)

Then, because ‘needs must’, as my mother used to say, I heat up a bowl of olive oil – not as a nature’s own remedy for me, but in order that I can rub it in to one of the horse’s legs.  Our old show-jumper, Cardigan, gets regular outbreaks of Greasy Heel, which spreads up his legs, and olive oil is just one of the numerous treatments we have to apply.  I let the leg soak up the oil for a while before I spend half-an-hour happily engrossed in scratching scabs off.

By now my human needs are more than calling me – it’s time for a shower, breakfast and a cup of tea.

I discover, to my surprise, that I’ve enjoyed this morning much more than I might have thought I would when I first woke up, and the Worry Monster has been well and truly banished – at least for a while, and when she makes her presence felt I will remember, when I worry, I am praying for what I don’t want.

The illustration with this post is actually of cranes, of course, but it captures the heron spirit!

Check out my author page on Amazon Central,http://www.amazon.com/Candida-Baker/e/B00AFCTF1I/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_12?qid=1368241472&sr=8-12 or my author page on Facebook, and my website:  www.candidabaker.com and twitter@CandidaBaker

 

When Less is More

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre.  Photograph Candida Baker

Kansas Carradine has a conversation with Gretel at the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre. 

“The next frontier is of a spiritual nature. Our success is no longer defined by our accumulation of material goods, but by being in service to a worthy cause.”

 Ariana Strozzi

 It’s a wonderful thing in life that we can know, or believe we know, a lot about something, and still find that there is plenty more to learn.

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to attend a clinic given by one of the Cavalia riders, Kansas Carradine, at the Byron Bay Equestrian centre.  If you haven’t yet caught up with Cavalia, think Cirque du Soleil with horses…

Carradine, who grew up in Hollywood (her father was David Carradine) has been involved with Cavalia and with trick riding for many years, but on the side she has been discovering a whole new area – Equine Guided Education.

After studying with Ariana Strozzi of Skyhorse Ranch in the US for some years, Carradine is now teaching this most gentle and yet revealing of horse practices.

I thought horse-whispering and natural horsemanship were already a world away from most of the accepted practices we learn on how to interact with horses, but Equine Guided Education takes it a step further – with absolutely no riding involved, and with the horses at liberty in an arena, the session quickly becomes more about what the horses show us about ourselves, than what we might traditionally consider we should show the horses!

With four horses at liberty, there was bound to be a bit of non-verbal discussion, and one mare, Gretel, and her follower, Lucy, quickly established themselves as the leaders. Another mare, Belle, and a gelding, Brierley, seemed, at first, to be much more on the outside, and yet, as the day progressed, the seemingly disinterested Brierley connected to those of us in the group in an absolutely magical way as he went quietly from one person to the other, choosing to stand by us, and in a couple of instances, to offer healing.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

Tesse Ferguson, Manager of the Byron Bay Equestrian Centre, with her girls, Gretel and Lucy.

It was surprising too, to see this most submissive horse, firmly suggest to the other horses that when he was with the humans they were not to come near.

We were asked continually to think about ourselves, how did we react being in a group of horses?  Could we imagine being a horse?  What issues did the different horses behaviour bring up for us?

It was a day full of surprises and revelations.  Some of the ideas that Carradine brought to our attention intrigued me.  She talked of how important it is to horses – and of course for ourselves – that our inside and outside landscape must match, that we must, as she put it, be congruent.  She asked as us to look at where our attention was drawn, which horses we were drawn to and why.

At one point three of us role-played being one horse, and were asked to silently move amongst the horses, as if we were a horse, which was an extraordinary spatial experience – particularly when we were sawn in half by a horse coming between us!

To truly try and put oneself into a horse’s hooves is to begin to understand their immense sensitivity to their environment – and to us.

Brierley initiates communication...

Brierley initiates communication…Photography for this article by Candida Baker

 

The Dreamer

 

 Here Everything Is Dreaming

 

Here, Everything is Dreaming, Robert Moss, Excelsior Editions pp 170 rrp $16.94

I often envy poets.   As a writer, I frequently wish I could let my words go wild – and yet, of course, the dichotomy is that poetry at its best is also highly disciplined, a technical craft it takes years to master.

It’s this combination of technique and wild words that Australian-born, now US based author Robert Moss, brings to Here, Everything is Dreaming, his poems and short stories spanning a twenty-year period.

Take the first two stanzas of ‘If You Spill a Dragon’, for example:

If you spill a dragon,

          don’t think about washing the tablecloth.

Everything interesting happens on the boundaries,

and when you are real, shabbiness doesn’t matter.

 

You can’t see the whole picture when you’re in it,

and inside the soft animal of your body, you forget

that you are a star that came down because

         you wanted a messier kind of love.

What a wonderful visual feast is contained in only those eight lines!  And it’s a feast that is repeated right throughout this enticing volume full of love, life, death, sex – and dreams.  It is also a paean of praise to the natural world, and in particular the earthly and other-worldly animals that accompany us in our lifetimes.

As a dream-meister Moss is well known.  For many years he has taught and practiced Active Dreaming, a synthesis of dream-work and shamanic techniques.  His books include Conscious Dreaming: A Spiritual Path for Everyday Life; Dreamgates: Exploring the Worlds of Soul, Imagination and Life Beyond Death; and The Secret History of Dreaming.  His novels include the three-volume Cycle of the Iroquois – but this is his first collection of poems.  He is also an imaginative and accomplished artist, and perhaps it is this artist’s sensibility that creates the rich vein of visual imagery that runs through these poems and stories….

The cherry trees are disconsolate lovers;

they can’t hold their pink smiles

after the unkindness of that night…

 Or

Before the secret green cells in the leaf

drink from its suncatchers, light walks

all paths through the protein scaffold…

Moss wasn’t always a poet.  He began his career as a lecturer in Ancient History at ANU in Canberra, but after a move to the UK to study for his PhD he joined the editorial staff of The Economist as a writer and special correspondent.  He was an active commentator on international affairs on the BBC World Service and on British television, and also wrote for publications as diverse as The Daily Telegraph and The New York Times Magazine. He later became a full-time writer, publishing a series of suspense novels.

It’s an intriguing combination of erudition and belief in the power of dreaming that gives both his poems and stories layers of meaning.

In his story The Other, Again, Moss uses Jorge Luis Borges’ story The Other as a springboard to explore him meeting a younger version of himself, in what may or may not be a dream.

This story, written in 2010, reveals a writer at peace with the extraordinary, and, it has to be said, his move from the mainstream into his shamanic dream-work was extraordinary in itself.

In 1986, as Moss tells it, he felt the need to get away from the city life and moved to a farm in upstate New York, where he started to dream in an unknown language, which, after investigation turned out to be an archaic form of the Mohawk language.  Helped by native speakers to interpret his dreams, Moss came to believe he had been put in touch with an ancient healer – a woman of power – and that he was being called to a different life.  It wasn’t long before one of his animal spirits – the bear – made itself known to him – and it’s the bear that often guides, reveals and surprises him in his work as a shaman.

Bear

Here too, perhaps is the poet’s courage to charter unknown imaginative terrain – not easy to put aside a mainstream international career for a ‘calling’ into the unknown, but Moss embraced his new life with the same dedication he had put into his previous careers.  His central premise being that dreaming isn’t just what happens during sleep, but that active dreaming is also a source of guidance, healing and creativity beyond the reach of the everyday mind.

It wasn’t long before his work and writing attracted international attention and he was asked to present his method at the conference of the Association for the Study of Dream at the University of Leiden in 1994.

All of this long career involved in words and worlds of so many different varieties come to fruition in Here, Everything is Dreaming – at the height of his powers Moss entices us in; creating a pathway between the worlds, and a way for us more mere mortals to draw closer to the gods, goddesses and animals spirits that wish to live through us.  This is a book full of texture and wonder from a dreamer and poet in his prime.

You can purchase Here, Everything is Dreaming through the State University of New York Press:  http://www.sunypress.edu/default.aspx or directly through Amazon as a kindle or paperback, and, of course from US bookshops!

 

 

The Mystic Cookbook

The Mystic Cookbook – the secret alchemy of food

Denise Linn & Meadow Linn

 

MysticCookbook 

Every now and then – although I might say not often enough – a book comes along that is so original, such a good idea that from the moment you hold it in your hands, you know immediately you’re in for a treat.

The sort of book that makes you think – how come nobody thought of that before; the sort of book that most literally in the case of The Mystic Cookbook gives you food for thought, and in this case, thought for food.

Denise Linn, a Hay House author from way back, and her chef-daughter Meadow came up with the idea to create a cookbook that marries food and cooking with spirituality.  For me there is a sense in this beautiful book of bringing a mindful awareness to food in the same way we might to meditation.

It made me realise that even though I love to cook, and even though the house is often full of people enjoying feasts and food, I hadn’t really realised how easy is to fall into the many traps our fast-paced world offers us.  How often do we eat on the run, for instance, or eat perched at the end of a messy table, or in front of the TV, or really without much thought at all as to where our food has come from, why we’re eating what we’re eating, or what we could do to make the experience just that bit more special.

Denise and Meadow Linn

Denise and Meadow Linn

 The book, which is full of mouth-watering photographs, and clever design, as well as tasty recipes and stories, is designed to help us understand the link between physical sustenance and spiritual awakening.

At a simple level this might be to appreciate the alchemy that occurs when, for instance, you whisk an egg-yolk and add olive oil to create a sum larger than its parts in the form of mayonnaise.  At a more complex level, Meadow suggests that everything is important when it comes to eating food, including the feng shui of the space itself, the music, the table-setting, the spiritual energy and the intention of the meal.

Indian-Spiced-Vegetables

Indian Spiced Vegetables

I literally took the book to heart, and shortly after I’d read it, I made a Valentine’s Day meal, with red food, red candles, red napkins and red roses.  It wasn’t a cosy dinner for two – but a family meal filled with the idea of ‘love’.   I might have slightly overdone it with the strawberry ice-cream and the strawberries with extra cream coloured with red food colour, but it was fun while the sugar hit lasted!

In truth, I couldn’t say I’ve completely got rid of my messy, throw-a-meal-together cooking style, but I’m certainly bringing more awareness to our meals, that’s for sure, and we are all enjoying the benefits of that.

There’s a wonderful chapter on getting rid of kitchen clutter, for example, and I must say it had never occurred to me how much this can affect the general feel of the kitchen.  The book cites the kind of ‘stuff’ kitchens accumulate over the years – broken gadgets, pots we don’t use, cookbooks we don’t open, ancient tins and condiments and goodness knows what else.  I don’t know how true it is of your kitchen but it’s certainly true of mine after over 30 years cooking for my family.  I’ve taken the Linn mantra to heart: ‘Use it, love it, or get rid of it!’  It hurts, but it works.

The recipes themselves are magical – simple and unbelievably tasty.  Try the Tuscan White Beans with Sage, the delicious Italian Prune Clafoutis or the Asian Zucchini Pancakes for mouth-watering food that is easy to prepare.

Although the book is not vegetarian per se, there is a predominance of vegetarian meals in the recipes, and a focus on dairy-free, gluten-free and fresh, home-grown or market produce.

Chez moi, we have to cater for gluten intolerance, dairy intolerance, my vegetarian diet, and my son’s and partner’s meat-eating diets!  It’s a complex matter, making a meal in my house, but thanks to The Mystic Cookbook it’s just been made a whole heap easier.

Publisher: Hay House, available from Amazon, HayHouse.com, and wherever books are sold, rrp $19.95
Website: http://www.TheMysticCookbook.com

 

Meditation on: Our Inner Child

“The end of childhood is when things cease to astonish us, when the world seems familiar – when one has got used to existence one has become an adult.”
– Eugene Ionesco

Photograph of Anna by Candida Baker

My daughter recently turned 12, and over the past six months or so I’ve watched that perilous rocking between childhood and young womanhood with a sense of trepidation and excitement – on her behalf, and on mine too, I might add.

I could almost pinpoint the exact moment when lists of girlfriends gave way to lists to One Direction’s names, with Harry being Numero Uno of course; the moment when riding up the lane on her bicycle became ‘boring’; when going to the movies with mum or dad became no match for going with a rabble from school.

My daughter’s growing up – no doubt about it. And, paradoxically perhaps, I see part of my continuing job as her parent to help her stay in touch with her inner child – to help her, if I can, to keep her soul alive with those little things that have sustained and nourished her throughout her childhood.

I’ve seen Anna look after herself in dark moments by dancing, or by drawing, and as a small child she could summon her imagination and her humour to her rescue easily. May those qualities stay with her always!

Surrounded by Anna and her friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about the inner child recently – by the time I was 12 my mother was an alcoholic, my father was often drunk and abusive and for me childhood was something I wanted to leave behind as quickly as possible.

Through a friend’s posting on Facebook the other day, I chanced across a wonderful letter from the poet Ted Hughes to his then 24-year-old son, Nicholas. Nicholas was only a baby when his mother, the poet Sylvia Plath, took her own life, and sadly, Nicholas too committed suicide in 2009.

In part of the letter Hughes talks directly about the vulnerability of our inner child, and of its essential importance to our lives and our own understanding of ourselves. He writes:

“Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them…It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful.”

In inner child therapy what is looked for is what therapist Robert Burney describes as the tools to unlock the magic of the inner child, without giving it free rein to drive the bus, and derailing life because of its lack of a proper place in someone’s life.

One of the main keys to understanding this internal secret garden is to remember what your child liked to do when he or she was young. Often, if we stop and ask our inner eight-year-old what it might like to do as a hobby, a surprising answer will emerge – an answer which can lead us towards a more creative, more joy-filled life.

 “The analogy between the artist and the child is that both live in a world of their own making,” wrote Anais Nin in her diaries.“Every child is an artist,” said Picasso, who knew a bit about his inner child, “the problem is how to remain an artist when you grow up.”

Such a multitude of grown-up concerns drive us away from that childish sense of glee and excitement in life – so many shoulds, musts, can’ts, fill our days, and as we grow older the accumulated weight of life’s lessons seem, well to me, I must confess, sometimes overwhelming.

Living in the country I’ve learned that sometimes something as simple as lying on my back under a tree and looking at the patterns in the leaves against the sky makes my eight-year-old grin with pleasure.

If I could say anything to my daughter now and have her remember it, it would be always listen to your heart.

As Ted Hughes writes: “The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

Quote of the Week: 

Happy is he who still loves something he loved in the nursery: He has not been broken in two by time; he is not two men, but one, and he has saved not only his soul but his life.
G.K. Chesterton.

 

A Meditation on Magpies

The stranger in our midst

 And Quardle oodle ardle wardle doodle

The magpies said.

                                                 Dennis Glover.

Photograph: Candida Baker

For the six years we’ve lived at our property, we’ve shared it with a colony of magpies, or perhaps, more correctly, they’ve shared it with us.

At least I thought it was a colony, until I thought I should find out the correct collective noun – and there seem to be a few on offer: congregation, tiding, tittering, gulp, charm or murder; although I’ve always thought it was a murder of crows.  I’ve decided congregation is by far the most descriptive noun, since their singing sounds remarkably like a bird version of a church choir.

Their carolling is the first lovely noise we hear in the morning, and in the evening they gather interestedly to watch the preparation of the horse feed, and to ‘help’ the horses eat. There’s about 20 in our particular congregation, and they sing, squabble, eat and play very much like humans.  It’s always been a harmonious relationship between the birds and people around here – that is until last year, when for the first time ever, an aggressive magpie somehow found his way into the pack.

Suddenly, I found myself being viciously swooped, and generally forgetting to arm myself with an ice-cream carton or hat, or even sunglasses on my head, I would find myself wearing a grubby feed bucket, or even ducking under a horse to get out of the way.  I shouted at him, scolded him, explained to him that it was not how our magpies behaved, but he was having none of it, and kept up the aggression for what seemed like months.  It’s usually the males that are the aggressors, and you can tell the males from the females by the fact that they have vivid white plumage on their necks, as opposed to the softer grey neck plumage of the females.

Magpies are well known as collectors of anything that catches their beady eyes. 

A friend of mine once rescued a baby female Magpie who grew up to be a fully-fledged family member.  She could mimic the sheepdogs perfectly, and wasn’t above trying to round up the sheep herself.  She also, if anyone was repairing anything, would helpfully arrive bearing twigs, or string or bark for you – her head cocked on one side, as if to say here you are, just for you!

Celtic folklore suggests that when two or more magpies fly into your life good fortune is on its way – although it doesn’t mention anything about one grumpy male unfortunately.  They’re certainly clever, that’s for sure, surprising ornithologists with their adaptability to even a poisonous intruder, such as the introduced cane toad.  It took the magpies of Australia only a few generations to learn to flip the toads over and attack their soft and non-venomous stomachs – showing a highly-social learned behaviour skill.

Magpies are highly valued for their symbolism as well – their vocal songs a joyous creative expression of themselves that we could well emulate.  On the plus side they’re seen as communicative, social, extroverted and cheerful, their negative symbolic attributes include gossiping, deception, vanity, wilfulness and opportunism.

All that for one little bird!  Curiously, and quite frequently, the East and West have different symbolic takes on animals, and that’s also true with the Magpie, which for the Chinese is considered a ‘Bird of Joy’ signifying good fortune, but in the West, in stricter Christian times, it was seen as a manifestation of the Devil himself.

Mark Twain once acquainted himself with a magpie on a visit to Australia and wrote:

…He had lived in a lady’s house several years, and believed he owned it. He was always on deck when not wanted, always having his own way, always tyrannizing over the dog, and always making the cat’s life a slow sorrow and a martyrdom. He knew a number of tunes and could sing them in perfect time and tune; and would do it, too, at any time that silence was wanted; but if he was asked to sing he would go out and take a walk.

With that kind of contrary personality no wonder my aggressor was deaf to my pleas of a truce!  But curiously, this second year, he’s not so bad – still swooping and taking me by surprise, but not so viciously, and not so often.

Maybe by next year we’ll be friends, the Stranger in our Midst fully integrated, and our Magpie congregation and our family can live together in peace again.

Magpies

Along the road the magpies walk

with hands in pockets, left and right.

They tilt their heads, and stroll and talk

in their well-fitted black and white.

They look like certain gentlemen

who seem most nonchalant and wise

until their meal is served – and then

what clashing beaks, what greedy eyes!

But not one man that I have heard

throws back his head in such a song

of grace and praise –  no man nor bird.

Their greed is brief; their joy is long.

For each is born with such a throat

as thanks his God with every note.

Judith Wright

 

Sad Sally…

Image

The old grey donkey, Eeyore stood by himself in a thistly corner of the Forest, his front feet well apart, his head on one side, and thought about things. Sometimes he thought sadly to himself, “Why?” and sometimes he thought, “Wherefore?” and sometimes he thought, “Inasmuch as which?” and sometimes he didn’t quite know what he was thinking about.
A. A. Milne – Winnie the Pooh.

There’s no doubt about it, our Shetland Pony is depressed. 
We’ve had Sally-the-Boy for ten years.  He was bought for my then two-year-old daughter Anna, who insisted that she wanted a girl horse, so Dusty was re-christened Sally, dressed in pink, and, hey presto!  As Anna used to say until she had to accept defeat, ‘Sally is not a boy. He’s a girl.’

But it’s not gender confusion that’s brought about this bout of depression, it’s the loss of a friend.

During the past ten years we’ve bought, re-trained, trained and rescued a lot of horses, and Sal (as in Sal Mineo, or Salieri as our music-loving vet likes to call him), has been that wonderful bombproof child’s pony every horsey family wants.  He’s a friendly little chap but with a touch of small man syndrome, and over the years he’s often quite happily bullied horses ten times his size.

He’s had a few friends, but nobody special, not until last year when Mr Blue – so named because of his strangely blue eyes came to visit for a while and stayed for a year.  For Sally and Mr Blue it was love at first sight, and they hung out, grooming each other, eating beside each other and generally being best buddies for a whole year, but then finally Mr Blue had to go home, and Sal lost his friend… And his appetite, and his lust for life.

I recognise his symptoms, because I’ve suffered from depression myself – that dreadful sense that nothing is as it should be, when you can feel sad, anxious, empty, hopeless, worried, worthless, guilty, hurt, irritable and strangely restless – quite often all at once!

A depressed person loses interest in activities that were once pleasurable (in Sal’s case eating, and play-fighting, busting through fences and trying to get into the feed shed) they may experience loss of appetite, or overeating, have problems concentrating, remembering details or making decisions and may contemplate, attempt or even desire suicide.

Insomnia, excessive sleeping, fatigue, loss of energy, or aches, pains or digestive problems that are resistant to treatment may manifest as well.  Fortunately for Sally he doesn’t have to make too many decisions, but even so, seeing him stand, head down, in the corner of his paddock with a little lonely bubble around him, is a bit hard to take.

To paraphrase the song by Chicago, depression takes away the biggest part of us, or so it seems to me.  We become less than ourselves, and that biggest part of us seems to disappear down a tunnel.

I’ve learned a careful balancing act through my bouts of depression.  I’ve learned that depression often hides extreme sadness and grief and that if we don’t feel and acknowledge it then the blues or the black dog will stay much longer.  But I’ve also learned that giving in completely is no option.

Depression loves inaction – and in the end the simplest things are often the best antidote – walking for instance, swimming, or exercise such as tai-chi are all easy, low-impact exercises that help the brain re-focus, relax and re-energise.  (Although it has to be said teaching tai-chi to a Shetland isn’t easy.)

Acknowledging the depression is part of the battle, getting appropriate help is another part, and time passing another bit of the jigsaw puzzle, and there is nothing anybody can do about that.

I’ve seen animals depressed before – they feel emotions every bit as strongly as humans, perhaps even more so since the notion of a better future is not really in their lexicon.  As Rollo May so succinctly put it, ‘Depression is the inability to construct a future.’

While Sal is suffering, we’re treating him with kid gloves – extra feeds, little walks to juicy patches of grass, lavender oil under his nostrils (yes, truly), even homeopathy, and lots of cuddles and love. He’ll bounce back and be his naughty self again – and I can’t wait.

Treating animal depression

I ran a story by Katherine Waddington in my horse anthology, The Infinite Magic of Horses. She rescued two brumbies in Western Australia who were sisters.  Once they were rehabilitated the time came for them to go to new homes.

Lily coped well, but Sophie did not and fell into a deep depression.  Fortunately the humans around her realised what had happened, and they organised a visit from her sister, which immediately perked up her pining sibling.

Then, to lessen the blow of separation, they brought the two together from time to time so that both of them would gradually realise the separation wasn’t final.  Sophie gradually became so secure in herself that finally she appointed herself the nurturer for all the newly-arrived brumbies.

“One moon lights a thousand forevers.” Meng Chiao

It’s not easy learning language is it?

I remember once my then five-year-old daughter listening to me talk to another parent about when school was due to break up for the summer holidays. When we got into the car, Anna burst into tears.

“What’s wrong, baby?” I asked her.

“I don’t want school to be all broken up,” she wailed.  “I like my school.”

I thought I’d got to an age where – at least with words – my stock in trade after all, there was not too much I didn’t understand, but a few days ago I finally discovered the meaning to something which has been mystifying me for years.

As an amateur follower of astrology I’d often noticed the phrase: the moon void of course. For years I’d wondered why all the astrologers said ‘of course’ – completely misreading and misunderstanding the phrase to mean: the moon void, of course. I thought it was odd that they should all say this – did the moon being void mean something so blindingly obvious that we should all automatically understand it?

It wasn’t until I was talking to an astrologer friend of mine who mentioned to me on the phone that the moon was void of course, that a small glimmer of comprehension dawned.  I dashed to the computer and let google work its magic – and there it was!  The period of time when the moon is between signs it is considered to be ‘void of course’! Of course!  And hello, what a blinking idiot did I feel?

So what happens astrologically when the moon is void of course?

Basically it’s a time of quiet limbo – it doesn’t last long, usually a maximum of a few hours until the moon transits into the next sign.

It takes 27.5 days for the moon to orbit the earth, and as it does it interacts or makes aspects to various planets. The VOC (how professional does that sound) is like a nap-time for the moon before it starts on its path into the next sign. We can tend to feel a little out of sorts with a VOC moon, and astrologers recommend not initiating any major projects at those times.

It’s more about the three R’s – Reflection, Rest and Recuperation.

Living in the country I’ve become much more aware of the moon’s cycles than I ever used to be – even it it’s only to make sure there are batteries in the torch for the nights when the moon is new. I’ve noticed for instance, that often on a full moon the weather is good and that there is very little wind – why that is I have no idea, but perhaps its nature’s way of counter-balancing the alleged ‘loony’ aspects of the full moon!

Symbolically speaking in many cultures the moon is literally the dark to the sun’s light – the sun is symbolic of the fraternal (yang) aspect, and the moon to the maternal or yin influence. (Although contrary to our Western appropriations there are many other cultures that see the moon as a masculine force.)

The moon produces no light of her own, instead she relies upon the sun to reflect her image to us, which no doubt unconsciously colours our feeling about her as the softer, more passive, more underlying influence than the sun.

It’s impossible to imagine our world without the moon.

There’s the almost unimaginableto science of it – it has no atmosphere, so there is no wind or weather of any description; because there is no weather the footprints left by the Apollo astronauts will be visible for at least ten million years.  There’s the magic and mayhem of werewolves and ‘lunacy’ attached to the full moon, and there’s the creativity and romance of it – where would our romantic poets, or musician, or singers, or even romance itself be without it?

“I am tired, beloved, of chafing my heart against the want of you; of squeezing it into little ink drops, and posting it.  And I scald alone, here, under the fire of the great moon.”  So wrote the wonderful American poet Amy Lowell, whose brother, incidentally, was the astronomer Percival Lowell.

Where would we be without the moon – in the dark, permanently void – of course.

Quote of the week

 “When the Moon is void of course it’s a soulful phase where the energy and excitement of life distills on an inner level. This is the perfect time to allow for serenity, and the cool, beautiful insights that rise from a state of total ease. As Rumi said, ‘When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.’” Astrologer and author Kim Falconer

More midweek meditations under wellbeing on http://thehoopla.com.au/ 

Wattle days are here again

And I love the great land where the Waratah grows. 
And the Wattle-bough blooms on the hill.” Henry Lawson

Photo by Candida Baker

So the Olympics have come to a close, and those of us who’ve been sleep deprived for the past few weeks can eschew the sofa for our beds at last.

It was just before our Australian contingent began to leave for London in their droves, that I noticed the wattle – the green and yellow bloom which is the inspiration for our athletes’ outfits – was starting to bud.  It seemed a happy synchronicity.

I love it when the wattle flowers begin to appear in their cheerful, sweet-smelling profusion; for me the wattle heralds the beginning of the end of winter.

The green and the gold… the uniform of our London 2012 Olympic team.

The combination of a bout of nationalistic fervor coupled with the landscape’s physical representation of that fervor set me thinking – how did Australia choose wattle as its national emblem and why?

I remembered how moved I was when the-then Governor General Sir William Deane, picked sprigs of wattle from the gardens of Government house to toss into Switzerland’s Saxeten River gorge to commemorate the 14 Australians who had died there in the 1999 canyoning expedition that went so horribly wrong.

“It is still winter at home,” he said during the ceremony. “But the golden wattles are coming into bloom. Just as these young men and women were in the flower of their youth. And when we are back in Australia we will remember how the flowers and perfume and the pollen of their, and our, homeland was carried down the river where they died to Lake Brienz in this beautiful country on the far side of the world. May they all rest with God.”

The push to make the wattle our national flower emblem was started by Victorian ornithologist Archibald Campbell who founded the Victorian Wattle Club in 1899.

A few years later he delivered a lecture entitled Wattle Time; or Yellow-haired September,putting forward the case for the wattle to be Australia’s National Flower.

By 1912 we had our first truly national Wattle day, and in the same year it was first introduced into Australia’s coat of arms by Royal Warrant.

Wattle, however, didn’t have a completely smooth run on its way to the top – there was another, and some might say, more splendid, more unusual, more perhaps uniquely Australian flower that many wanted to adopt as the floral emblem – the waratah.  Botanist and musuem curator R.T Baker wrote: “The expression, ‘the land of the Waratah’, applies to Australia and no other; it is Australia’s very own. In the Wattle, Australia has not a monopoly like the Waratah, for Africa has over one hundred native wattles, and it also occurs in American, East and West Indies and the Islands….”

But the wattle got a head start when South Africa looked as if it might commandeer the wattle for its own patriotic purposes, which was enough to send Australia into a flurry of wattle support, although even so, as late as 1913, both waratah and wattle flowers were used as decoration on the three golden trowels used to lay the foundation stone for the commencement column in the soon-to-be national capital of Canberra.

In the end of course, the wattle won, adorning our medals of honour, our stamps, our tea-towels and anything else we could think of along the way.

It even has its own personal day of celebration – while the waratah had to settle for being anointed the floral emblem for New South Wales.

Which is probably a good thing, because it’s hard to imagine sprigs of waratah being attached to lapels, or brims of hats, or gracing small spring bouquets. Hard too, to imagine these days anything other than the green and gold as a clarion call for nationalism. And curiously, of course, the Olympics are always held sometime between July and the beginning of September – exactly the time the wattle begins to bloom.

Wattle did you say?

National Wattle Day is the first day of spring – September 1. The day was originally conceived as a day to demonstrate patriotism for Australia by wearing a sprig of wattle, but over the years it’s come to be a day in which we celebrate our natural environment.

Acacia you didn’t hear me…

Wattles are Australia’s largest genus of flowering plants – of the 1380 species of Acacia in the world, Australia has close to a 1000, ranging from creepers to tall forest trees.  Australia without wattle is unimaginable – we would be left with a much drier, less colourful continent.

The symbolism of yellow

Was it something as simple as the bright yellow colour that attracted the attention of our early settlers? Yellow is the colour of the sun, which is associated with our third chakra, the solar plexus – the house of our courage and will power. Its positive attributes are joy and delight, sunshine, happiness and summer, but negatively it can mean illness, or cowardice – as in yellow-bellied. Perhaps it’s why yellow was chosen as the mediator between red and green – somewhere between danger and safe.

Quote of the week

“People from a planet without flowers would think we must be mad with joy the whole time to have such things about us.” Iris Murdoch