Nothing captures our imagination more than the idea of nature spirits. Stories about them are found in every tradition upon the planet, and they never fail to touch us in some way. The truth is that most of us have had amazing nature spirit encounters, but we have either forgotten them, didn’t realize what they were at the time or allowed others to convince us that they weren’t real. But the truth is that Nature is one of the most powerful realms of spirit contact and guidance available to us. ~ Ted Andrews (The Intercession of Spirits)
sitting on the grass under the marsh elder a meadow vole scolds me ~ Barbara Rodgers (By the Sea)
Last week my sister had an encounter with a cute little meadow vole. She’s not a photographer but she’s an excellent storyteller. When she told me the pithy tale I unexpectedly felt inspired to write a haiku.
I used to write about one a year but looking back on the “haiku” tag I discovered I haven’t written one in four years! Hmmmm, wonder what happened four years ago?
The spent Sun shines from its zenith encouraging the Sunflower in the dual role of sun and firewheel to perform its mythological purpose. The Sun appears to be whipping the Sunflower like a top. The Sunflower Wheel tears over the hill cutting a path through the standing corn and bounding into the air as it gains momentum. This is the blessing of the Midsummer Fire. ~ Paul Nash (WikiArt website)
The other day I finished reading a riveting book, Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen. A terrifying account of the recent history of disease scientists investigating bizarre and unheard of new diseases of animal origins, a thriller written by a gifted storyteller. Quammen explained the science so well in layman’s terms. This is one of those rare books I couldn’t put down. The fact that it was published eight years before our current worldwide coronavirus pandemic, a fair warning, makes it all the more pertinent.
Spillover is the process by which pathogens, hiding in wild animal reservoirs (also in factory farmed animals), travel into and infect the human population. But near the end of the book, after discussing the plagues of gyspy moths, which come and go, Quammen introduced the concept of outbreaks. We had a memorable outbreak of gypsy moths here in Connecticut in the 1980s so I could easily grasp the concept.
Ecologists have a label for such an event. They call it an outbreak.
This use of the word is more general than what’s meant by an outbreak of disease. You could think of disease outbreaks as a subset. Outbreak in the broader sense applies to any vast, sudden population increase by a single species. Such outbreaks occur among certain animals but not among others. Lemmings undergo outbreaks; river otters don’t. Some kinds of grasshopper do, some kinds of mouse, some kinds of starfish, whereas other kinds of grasshopper, mouse, and starfish do not. An outbreak of woodpeckers is unlikely. An outbreak of wolverines, unlikely. The insect order Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies) contains some notable outbreakers — not just tent caterpillars of several kinds but also gypsy moths, tussock moths, larch budmoths, and others.
We are prodigious, we are unprecedented. We are phenomenal. No other primate has ever weighed upon the planet to anything like this degree. In ecological terms, we are almost paradoxical: large-bodied and long-lived but grotesquely abundant. We are an outbreak.
And here’s the thing about outbreaks: They end. In some cases they end after many years, in other cases they end rather soon. In some cases they end gradually, in other cases they end with a crash. In certain cases, even, they end and recur and end again, as though following a regular schedule.
What could account for such sudden and recurrent collapses? One possible factor is infectious disease. It turns out that viruses, in particular, play that role among outbreak populations of forest insects.
~ David Quammen (Spillover: Animal Infections & The Next Human Pandemic)
Chills have been running up and down my spine ever since I read the excerpts quoted above. We are an outbreak on this earth. Our population explosion can be fairly compared to an infestation of gyspy moths. Provocative thought, I know. But it’s humbling and sobering to appreciate that we are part the cycles of nature and while we like to think we can control our environment to some degree, when all is said and done, we know so little about the forces shaping our existence here on this little blue planet.
We now have 114 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our town. Our county (New London) has 1,276 confirmed cases. Of those 7 are still in the hospital and 102 have lost their lives. Hospitalizations are way down here, which is encouraging, but we are still staying home due to our health risks. Please stay safe!
Idunn was married to Bragi, god of poetry, and she was sweet and gentle and kind. She carried a box with her, made of ash wood, which contained golden apples. When the gods felt age beginning to touch them, to frost their hair or ache their joints, then they would go to Idunn. She would open her box and allow the god or goddess to eat a single apple. As they ate it, their youth and power would return to them. Without Idunn’s apples, the gods would scarcely be gods … ~ Neil Gaiman (Norse Mythology)
Iduna (Iðunn, Idun, Idunn, Ithun, Idunna) is my favorite Norse goddess, mostly because of the apples, my favorite fruit. It’s been my experience that an apple a day does keep the doctor away. And now, during apple picking season, my thoughts turn to Iduna and the art depicting her I’ve posted to my blog in the past.
Nine years ago I posted this story about my father, who was still alive at the time:
When my father was a boy growing up on a New England farm during the Great Depression, his family picked as many apples as they could and stored some of them in a barrel in the root cellar. Of course he ate as many as he could while picking them, but his parents had a rule about the ones in the barrel he found exasperating. If anyone wanted an apple later in the fall or winter, he was required to take one that was the least fresh. By the time they got to the fresher ones they had also become much less fresh! So all winter he was having to make do with eating not-so-great apples. If only he had known he might have called on Iduna to keep the apples fresher longer!
Dad’s favorite variety was the McCoun. After six years, I still miss him. Will be stopping by the orchard again soon. ♡
The Things that never can come back, are several — Childhood — some forms of Hope — the Dead — Though Joys — like Men — may sometimes make a Journey — And still abide — We do not mourn for Traveler, or Sailor, Their Routes are fair — But think enlarged of all that they will tell us Returning here — “Here”! There are typic “Heres” — Foretold Locations — The Spirit does not stand — Himself — at whatsoever Fathom His Native Land —
~ Emily Dickinson
(The Poems of Emily Dickinson, #1564)
Practicing mindfulness of gratitude consistently leads to a direct experience of being connected to life and the realization that there is a larger context in which your personal story is unfolding. Being relieved of the endless wants and worries of your life’s drama, even temporarily, is liberating. Cultivating thankfulness for being part of life blossoms into a feeling of being blessed, not in the sense of winning the lottery, but in a more refined appreciation for the interdependent nature of life. It also elicits feelings of generosity, which create further joy. Gratitude can soften a heart that has become too guarded, and it builds the capacity for forgiveness, which creates the clarity of mind that is ideal for spiritual development. ~ Phillip Moffitt (Yoga Journal, July-August 2002)
All forests are one. … They are all echoes of the first forest that gave birth to Mystery when the world began.
~ Charles de Lint
(Pulphouse: The Hardback Magazine, Spring 1990)
The realm of fairy-story is wide and deep and high and filled with many things: all manner of beasts and birds are found there; shoreless seas and stars uncounted; beauty that is an enchantment, and an ever-present peril; both joy and sorrow as sharp as swords. In that realm a man may, perhaps, count himself fortunate to have wandered, but its very richness and strangeness tie the tongue of a traveler who would report them. And while he is there it is dangerous for him to ask too many questions, lest the gates should shut and the keys be lost.
~ J. R. R. Tolkien
(J. R. R. Tolkien’s Sanctifying Myth: Understanding Middle-earth)
If I wanted a one-sentence definition of human beings, this would do: humans are the animals that believe the stories they tell about themselves. Humans are credulous animals.
~ Mark Rowlands
(The Philosopher & The Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death & Happiness)