Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Winter is getting here...mostly....

Yes, Samhuinn was celebrated, just a few days after my last post. In a nice heavy wet snowfall. It made for a wet, cold ritual, but at least that means didn't have to obsess over whether the fire really was out after, there was enough snow to not matter. We came in, put out our ancestor plate and had a nice feast. The hounds didn't attend, just didn't seem like they'd appreciate it, but they were happy to get a bit of shortbread when we came back. The fuzzy dogs joined us, unfazed by the snow, and seem to have assigned themselves particular ritual parts during the Outsiders' offering.....Gleann went out, like always, with me, but Sachairi stayed to guard Aaron. This is the first we noticed this, it may be because the hounds weren't there.

That snow is now gone again, although at the moment some is trying to come back. We had more warm weather, which has led to continued horse training. In one session Saorsa had her first training in how to carry my enemies' heads. She seemed to be fine about this at first, but then did get a bit upset over the whole thing. Our trainer, btw, thought my interpretation of what this exercise was very odd. In general, this is Saorsa, though, something new doesn't bother her...until she gets bored with it. Keeping this mare occupied is going to always be a challenge.

Misty on the other hand is lazy and stubborn. Riding her is rather a chore at this point for me, but that will just take time and doing it more. Aaron' has begun actual riding lessons and as the trainer/instructor is there on the ground to get Misty to move she moves a bit more during their lessons.

This past weekend, although nice for it, we didn't do training, as we were busy going to pick up a cat from a friend who needed to find him a home. So now we're sort of complete on farm companion animals. So far, Merlin, the cat (the name he came with and will keep as changing anything else is going to be too much for him), is not warming up to us. But we have all winter before we'd want to let him roam outside much anyway. He is proving to be a hunter, however. And he is chicken safe, which is good as he's big enough to be a problem if he wasn't.

I have fixed up the website and it is now residing at the new URL and the old one should now be resolving into the new address. Not all changes are there, I finally decided that I had to get it up or I'd wait forever waiting for "perfection." And now I can't use working on it as an excuse to not get to other writing. Of course, Merlin needs a page. And I have plans for more stuff on the Gaelic Heathen section, but it won't ALL need to be uploaded again.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Still not Samhuinn?

We had thought we might celebrate on the full moon. I like doing ritual, especially Samhuinn which we do at night, on the full moon. There's speculation out there that this might have been a traditional time for gathering rituals, giving people time to travel in the increasing moonlight. Yeah, I'm way too lazy for citations here and it was mostly discussion on some list or other. I'm not worried as much on that as I am that it works for us. Usually.

But we didn't. It's not just that there are a few things I still don't feel we've gotten ready, but last week the days were in the 60s. We got a couple of cold days, which inspired us to get some of the housework that we wanted to get done done, and yesterday was probably got over 60 again. It doesn't feel like it's time yet, even if it certainly looks it.

It also doesn't help that my perception is probably really skewed due to working nights. Now I'm up and out most of the day most days, the days may be shorter but this is the most sunlight I've gotten in five years. It's like I'm catching up on summer, doing summer things I often didn't have enough daylight hours to do. So on the day we would have done ritual, I spent the early part playing with the horses. (Yes, I went to work Misty but Saorsa joined us ont he outside of our very fancy round was actually pretty damn awesome. The girls are doing absolutely great. Obviously, lazy little Misty has moments of exuberance. ) Yesterday we, and our trainer, took the mares up the road all the way up to our "sheiling" ... what had been our upper pasture when I was young, where our temple is although we didn't go anywhere near that far. Just for a visit, which brought up our hopes that we can afford to get that turned back into pasture (now it's mostly golden rod, dog wood and milkweed) and put the mares up there in the summer. This is a bit ironic as bringing them back would then be part of Samhuinn....but we did, of course, bring them back so....sorta, kinda symbolic?

There may be another reason that I've not felt ready. A few days ago I was hit by some thoughts about our rituals and a change that needs made. Really, it should have been done a long time ago, but ..... When we moved here we made some changes related to the move, this should have been one. But changing ritual is a tricky thing. Obviously, I can do it. 20 years ago this Samhuinn (which would have been a couple weeks earlier than this, I stuck more to the calendar then), I did my last Wiccan ritual, in which was focused on leaving Wicca. That was a huge change, it actually took me awhile before I did any formal ritual beyond making simple offerings.

Changes that involve no longer inviting and offering to a particular Deity are the most troubling. When we moved here we realized we had to alter Who our Goddess of the Land was. It was troubling, but it felt very important, because I feel the Land Goddess here was calling me back here. We kept offering to the one we offered to in the Seacoast, it was particularly important as this change was upsetting to at least one person in our group at the time. But when the group disbanded and it was just us, we slowly stopped. I later I found more and more evidence that this name, one so very popular in the Pagan Community, was a late invention and is very unlikely to have been a pre-Christian Goddess (mind you some argue none of Them are, as all the literature is Christian). Her creation can be somewhat traced as John Carey noted (“The Name ‘Tuatha Dé Danann’" Éigse, Vol. 18, prt. 2) as well as Alexei Kondratiev. And, of course, by already honoring, to say the least as She is my patron, An Morrígan, I realized I was not going to be stopping honoring "*Danu."

This time it's harder, because the God in question is one where there is some of the best evidence for His existence. And in this case He had been one I felt a connection with, while *Danu as that name and as she's usually worshiped now, I never felt a connection with. Thing is, since moving here, I haven't felt that connection. He's not here. Continuing to offer to Him as we have was sort of a habit, there was no real call by Someone else wanting His "job" and when we were a group it would have been a even bigger problem for the member mentioned above. But he's not been here for a long time, it's really long past due for me to think about this. And how to handle it.

Thing is, making this change sort of leaves open reexamining our entire ritual structure. Since I felt nudged to do this a few days ago, I feel really jazzed to see what happens, because I feel it might wake things up for us in a lot of ways. If we had celebrated on the full moon, it would have been the same thing we've been doing. I think this "on hold" feeling was in part to explore and prepare for these changes to come.

Still not sure what night we'll do this, we have most things prepared now though so it could be any night now. But it's been a long time since I think I've felt this excited about doing a ceremony. It should be interesting, at least.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Another year gone by

So, it's been just over a year since we started this blog and we're again preparing for winter. We didn't get a real hatch of chicks this year, so there has been no chicken sacrifice. I consider this a huge fail. We've been at this for over a decade, but we keep wavering in how much we bother doing.

I have realized that the husband isn't as into this as I had hoped...although he keeps saying he is. With me working nights and my health getting worse from it, more fell to him and often nothing got done. So I do realize that I'll be taking on most of this as time goes by and that there is a lot of catching up to do.

This year I put a lot of focus in the horse life here. Saorsa got far more regular training, and then this fall has been about getting ready to bring home his new horse, Misty. There is still work to be done in the barn, but the girls aren't much interested in the barn anyway. They're still after the grass in the lower pasture. So the first task was getting them integrated with no one getting killed. That went very well, after some trials and tribulations.

While there are aspects of having another horse that make for more work (manure management, food), they are herd animals and some issues that Saorsa has had already seem to be adjusting a bit with a new herdmate (although herd politics and hormone issues will be an on going balance). Hopefully we'll make even more progress with Saorsa's training from now on (although there will likely be a break in the degree of training over the winter, training is always happening). I am hoping that with another horse for her, I can both have more quality horse time and have more energy for other things around here.

We also lost some of our local meat sources, as the economy has been so devastating to the farmers here. So we might have to be a little less local to get sustainably and humanely raised meat for this winter...and I'm freaking a bit that we don't have it yet! There are a couple of options, we might not be buying as large a supply this year. We still have some left. It's not like we're going to starve...well, probably. The whole idea of this is that you just don't know.

Another project that still needs doing is to rehouse the chickens for the winter and in a system that will work for the rest of the year. Hopefully we'll get that underway this week and done quickly.

So, this is Hallowe'en, but not Samhuinn for us yet. We're looking to the full moon, but we'll see if we're ready then.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

"Living in the Past"

For the past 20+ years that I've been practicing and writing about Reconstructionist religion, the accusation that we're trying to live in the past or are reenactors who want to take it to far or the like has been thrown, well, almost constantly. In the past decade that we've been actively, instead of dreaming about it, pursuing homesteading the same thing gets thrown at homesteaders. We want to live in the past, or more that we are "playing at living in the past with no concept of how horrible such a life would be." Put the two together and people start claiming we're trying to live on Buster Ancient Farm.

First clue, folks, I'm online here. And I intend to stay.

Of course, there are some Reconstructionists who are reenactors. There are homesteaders who do "go primitive." There may be some Reconstructionist homesteaders who "go primitive." We wouldn't know, they're not online to tell us about it. They're probably not even going to write to Countryside Magazine & Small Stock Journal. ~;p

I have no interest in going back to the Iron Age. As a prepper I believe that we might get thrown back into it to some degree, but part of the preparation is avoiding that often by using technology that most people don't today. We'll be the ones not living in the Iron Age. Um, provided we can get the resources we need to do a bit more. Also, for us, homesteading is not going back to the past, for many of us it truly is about saving the future. The idea that the way most people live today is not sustainable and that we need to find a better way. We do need to go back to some things, things we left that we shouldn't have (like eating actual food, instead of chemical concoctions, raising animals humanely and sustainably rather than in factory farms). I also believe we need to find ways to bring this all around so that everyone can be part of this, not just those of us who go as far as returning to farming ourselves. And that's happening.

Likewise, our religion is really not remotely Iron Age, no Reconstructionist can be despite what we might dream and some might claim (although terms like "revivalist" are usually used instead, with claims there is nothing to "reconstruct"). Given the fact that there is no continuation of pre-Christian practices, that we are having to reconstruct should be obvious. Much of the material we use, the Irish literature, the Norse Eddas, come from Christian sources and we have no reason, at all, to believe that they are any sort of recording of accurate pre-Christian lore. And for some of us we respect the living cultures, which are Christian, and find what we learn from them is valid too. There is much complexity in this.

I do want to take an aside and note that not all Reconstructionists are homesteaders....obviously vice versa.

Okay, see, I'm making all these protestations because what I'm about to write is probably going to make it seem far more like all the above is a lie. It's not, but again, things are always complex. Because I think that we really NEED to recreate, or someone needs to recreate, actual living conditions in various ways like Buster Ancient Farm if we really are going to understand the past enough to learn from it completely. And this video offers some great examples of why, not only this is true, but why we need to learn, especially if we're going to have a future as a species.

*WARNING: There is a pig slaughter as part of it and that may upset some...EDIT 3/28/15: I came by to read through this and see the video is actually dead...sorry!.*

There are, of course, some things that CRs will find humorous and/or annoying, like "Sam Hain" and a Wicker Man at that season representing the "Dying Sun God." But...while they got things wrong (although it is 1978 and, well, a lot of Pagans at the time did ...yes, some still do...but, anyway) it's interesting the importance they found in the celebration. A break from their daily life, a special time to share special things that they decided to save up rather than eat or drink in small quantities, a marking of passage.

It's also interesting that several members of this group have continued to meet about the time of the four festivals.

The key to what I really like out of it is how it seems to have affected them. Several have raised animals, grown food gardens, spend a lot of time outdoors, one is a blacksmith which he had done while doing this show. Oh, and one couple brought home a road kill deer and the woman dressed it out, years later, surprised she to remember she had this skill. Of course, they phrase it that this stayed with them, but it's unclear how much they might have been into such things to begin with, perhaps helping them be selected for the project.

That many of them also remained friends through the years is also, I think, telling lesson. But it also seems obvious that if you make it through such seclusion together for a year and don't kill each other you probably are going to develop deep connections. I think it's a reminder in our very transient world today of the social creatures we are. And perhaps there is much to consider about why, being that we do not tend to live communally or in the same place through our lives these days, the internet has become so much about social networking. Perhaps we should rethink this idea that social networks are just time-sucks and places to find conflict, but consider what we're really craving from them, especially as many of us living rurally might not have a lot of meat-space community. At the same time, perhaps we should consider how we can avoid getting lost in them to the detriment of face-time (I can think of a number of times when I've visited people and they've spent more time online than talking to me....and a couple cases where I ended up online too....and even talking to them online while in their house!).

The one guy who apparently didn't take up animal husbandry, gardening or blacksmithing noted we are Iron Age people. We may have evolved our technology, but we've not changed as a species in this amount of time.  I think we can't forget that our brains, our souls, still crave things that our society doesn't always provide. Namely, connecting, with each other, with animals and growing things, just connecting. Really, even the food and movement issues are all about connecting, with where our food comes from and with our bodies. With our Gods.

In this we are not different from what humans have ever been. We're just pushed away from it (and this is not to say we're the first society to do it, just, you know, bigger and with more stuff to create it).

But, of course, along from this, which might seem obvious, there was an archaeological lesson from this TV show that shows another benefit of doing this. Archaeologist Barry Cunliffe visited the site and noted charcoal leavings in the cook pit that led him to understand such findings in actual digs. This sort of thing is, of course, the whole point behind Buster Ancient Farm, to find and to teach. Peter Reynolds was undoubtedly the most influential researcher in this form of experimental archaeology.

There are times I would almost want to spend some time doing something like this. It might have been a more practical option before we got into our own homesteading project, however, so it might not happen. But really, we don't need to spend a year living it totally to get a bit more of a perspective on these things. Or even actually do them ourselves, if we pay attention, look at what people do and ask the right questions.

Ones that often strike me are assumptions about animal husbandry. A common one is one I commented on this past Imbolg that because modern farmer's mostly (but not all) manipulate sheep breeding to have lambing in March, that the folk etymology linking lambing and Imbolg is somehow has nothing to do with the observation of, you know, the folk. The right question wasn't when do farmer's today have lambing, but when do most ewes go into a natural heat, which would put lambing starting in mid-January. I didn't get to experience the whole sheep cycles, but I did ask the right questions as I was researching both for theoretical and, possible, homesteading reasons (we're probably not going to be raising sheep, but you never know).

After I started considering this topic I found another example of living and considering things in context came up. That hurley was a warrior sport, used for conditioning and training is commonly noted in various sources; mentions of it are found in the boyhood tales of both Cú Chulainn and Finn Mac Cumhail so the connection with warriors in training is rather obvious. As is the mock battle aspect of all such games, probably one of which is familiar in having played or watched by most academics. In the article A Celtic Cure: Soldiers Use Hurling To Heal After War - NCPR News from NPR (yes, there are some glaring mistakes in the article) the sport of hurling by veteran soldiers brings up another point not mentioned. That it can be healing to those who have experienced the trauma of battle. Was this part of the more ancient use of the game? Maybe, maybe not. But that it might be is something that was learned when the game was played those who have lived battle as well. Again, we may not all live this, but we can learn from it.

So, this has been a rambling bit that has gone in several directions. But it all comes around to the same things for me. That we aren't seeking to live in the past, but we if we are to truly learn from it we need to find ways to put it in context, either by asking the right questions to those who are living what we're seeking or by living it ourselves even for a short time or even in small ways. We are the same people, our experiences, or those of others today, can teach us. We are primitive people, we've not changed. Yet we're obviously bringing what we do into the future, hopefully one more sustainable. That's what we're trying to do here, with both our spirituality and our lifestyle.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

As summer leaves changes come

We moved here to have horses and to homestead. It'll be 11 years this year and we're not where we might have hoped. We've have and have had horses, 10 years ago I had rescued an elderly gelding I named Saoradh. I was lucky at that time as I wasn't working, Aaron was, so I was able to spend much time with him, both of us healing. Then I got a part time job before getting a full-time night watch job. At the time I got that job, he was settled, we got into a nice routine his last few months, as he was slowing down. I'd come home, we'd ride then later play with ground work.

When I lost him, I got the clear message to adopt a PMU foal. This job became a bigger issue then, for a young foal required much more energy and work. Daytime energy and work. Most of homesteading does, really, and my body knew this. When we moved here I went from being nocturnal most of my life to almost immediately diurnal...a morning person even! While the nightwatch job had it's perks as far as warrior path stuff went, especially Outlaw Warrior/Fenian workings, which I'll talk about soon in Championing Ourselves, it clearly had it's disadvantages in our over all life.

For five years I was on this schedule. Due to this, this filly Saorsa, now 4, is probably a bit wilder than I'd like, especially as she's a left brain mare who does not appreciate having to do anything that is not her own idea. She's extremely brave, never spooky, but instead is headstrong and stubborn. If I spent more time with her, perhaps she'd be a bit more cooperative. She's doing well in her training and I had no intention of backing her prior to next year, but I'm not thrilled by the lack of time I've spent.

But this all is changing now. I am leaving the night watch job, something, I'll be able to spend this fall working with her more, as well as with the new, older mare, Misty, we're adopting from Saorsa's trainer. Between more attention and a new pasturemate, hopefully Saorsa's attitude will improve a bit. Oh, I don't want docile and timid, but just a bit more acceptance of negotiation would be nice. And given this attitude, more time working things out will be a good thing.

This is a scary time, this will mean neither of us will be working full-time at the moment. Aaron is looking, but there is little out there. He'll sign up for more time with the ambulance, of course, and given the car issue (we have only one) this will give him a great chance for more experience. I will try to take some clients as a personal trainer but given the economy and the location, I'm not expecting a living out of that. I know we can do this, but not having that all important full-time job, especially as home-owners, is, yeah, a bit nerve-wracking.

As Aaron is likely to take as many shifts as he can and try to get at least part-time work, I'll be taking over as the primary "farmer" here. Aaron began taking over that role more and more as I burned out more and more from working nights, especially after he lost his job. I tried to spend my few daylight time with Saorsa or the Minis as much as possible.

But of course, we've got a nice list of things that really will take both of us to do, especially as winter is coming soon. We need to add a "stall" to the run-in barn so there is more room for the girls to hang out, as well as a space to separate them when we want to work with one. I'd love to tear down the whole structure, which was not designed to house horses, and start all over, but there is that little Catch-22 that it's impossible to afford to do it now that we have the time to do it (and there was never enough coming in for us to hire someone else to do it).

We also need better winter quarters for the chickens as well. There is some work on the house that should get done to make things better for this winter. And a shooting range to build but that might not happen until next spring (and will be further discussed in Championing Ourselves most likely). And there is a lot we could do, also best done together, to better prepare things for next year's planting.

One more week and I'm home.

I also look forward to spending more time with our land here. I spent my nights in the woods, but they were other woods, not the ones that own me. Now I barely do that, locked into one campsite. I get out here sometimes on my nights off, but far less during the day. It seems that the turning of the seasons here is largely missed by me. By chance I got to see the geese giving flying lessons to their growing goslings this year, but some years I've missed that all together. I feel out of touch with this land, with it's Spirits.

And so, we'll see what this part of the journey has for us, this land and the animals, domestic and wild, we share it with in this new stage.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Lùnasdal/Là Fhéill Mhacha

On Thursday we celebrated our Là Fhéill Mhacha, which I noted is our own name for the holiday due to our own affiliations. As I said Lùnasdal is about horses and in keeping with this I started my day by cleaning all three of our resident horses, nice and shiny and properly pampered. Then Aaron and I both took the Minis for our "unrace" which was a nice walk along the road. We need to do this more often, they seemed to enjoy it. So did our goat Elína who followed right along, then ran ahead on the way back...I guess she won? I then put their new masks on them. Before I got out with a camera, of course, they got themselves and their masks coated with the first layer of dirt for the day.

Then I moved on to brush the dogs, while Aaron made shortbread and prepared the roast, because they join us in ritual and had to look good too. Then the two of us, sans dogs (because the Greyhounds would find it too prickly and the farm dogs would find the pricklies fun to gather in their newly clean fur), headed up to pick blackberries, along with a few blue berries in my favorite patch right near our ritual site. There is a huge abundance of berries there, we'll probably go back as most weren't ripe (yet we got a lot) and there are enough I don't think we have to feel we'll totally deprive the bear.

This all meant we needed to clean ourselves up a bit and then load up for the ritual. Our ritual site is between 1/8 and 1/4 mile up the road, where we thought at one time we might build just below it, in what was a field and is becoming rather overgrown, and has an ancient (well, for the US, apple orchard). We may turn part of that old field back into pasture for the horses when we can afford the labor, but the hill the ritual site is on, will just be kept trimmed up in the actual ritual site. It's nearly the highest point, the highest point being absolutely too close to neighbors (this is a bit too).

As we were packing, we saw this grounded baby Robin sitting next to a rock we were going to add to the fire pit. We left baby bird and rock alone. I think this is the same one I saw a few days before, so s/he's doing well avoiding our dogs. I hope it continues until flying is possible.

The fire went well, which I take as a good ritual sign. We made our offerings. I took some extra time to talk with an old acquaintance who I recently learned has passed; which despite our short association and that the relationship never went where I, and I think at one point he, had once hoped, has overwhelmed me with grief. I think there will be more doing that from now through Samhuinn, but I am doing slightly better right now. Or the business of the the ritual and the tiredness of the post-ritual is making me think so.

I love having the dogs at ritual, and these four are so good. Òrlaith and Cù lied in the shade with Aaron or myself, Gleann and Sachairi roamed the area, staying close. Gleann is an old hand, Sach just goes with the flow...the Greys are, of course, on leash. The all enjoy the "blessing" part when we share a bit of food.

When we returned to the house we gave the horses, goat and chickens some berries. Oddly, it was the goat who seemed to decline. This is the goat who will likely soon devour all the Belladonna plants (with no ill effects, other than maybe being a bit stoned). I do hope to have the larger horses up in that pasture next year, so they'll be near for the ritual. But we'll see if it's pasture again yet. But maybe by this holiday we can ride them up for a bit of time up there.

This is a sad time of year, many are noting it. It's been very sad for me this year, as I mentioned, and perhaps also a bit more so as last year was so spectacular and I was able to ride out what is probably the saddest time on our trip to ComicCon. It's been a hard year in various ways, looking to see what the next season turns.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Lùnasdal is about horses

At least for us it is. Historically it was a time of horse races and Macha, well, one of Them, is associated with the horse races and the holiday and with horses because of this. While somewhere else I might get into footnotes and contemplations about how the various Machas do and do not connect with each other or do or do not connect with horses, well, this blog is more about what we do here. So I'll save that, this is about living it. And I'm tired and that stuff is all on another computer and on a thumbdrive I'm too lazy to go get and what ever. I'm not bothering with the researchy stuff.

We often refer to this holiday as Là Fhéill Mhacha, the Feast Day of Macha, which is a totally made up name based on the Là Fhéill Bhride for Imbolg. We focus on Macha, as She is a primary Goddess to us as a household, She the Land to us. We moved here to be able to get, to rescue, horses, Macha is who we believe called us to it.

We have always joked that as we do not have horse races we have the Great Horse Unrace. During the day of our celebration (which is a few days yet here), we make sure to spend some time watching the horses be horses. Saoradh's first Lùnasdal here we took him up to the ritual area where we made a temporary fence and he bolted, some say they saw Someone riding him even, and ran home. That was a bit more race-like than we usually get. In later years, I'd try to get him out for a bit of a ride on that day, not like it was different than others but it was our unrace then. Right now we have the two Minis and Saorsa is yet unbacked so we'll pretty them up and just watch them be horses.

What we do NOT do, of course, is watch professional horseracing, due to the cruel practices and use of horse slaughter as an "out" for "poorly preforming" horses and, well, we're not fond of people who think this somehow is a thing to do for the holiday. Okay, that's as close to politics as I'll get here. I have been, however, rather horrified by suggestions I've seen, often coming from people who are simply clueless and not actually cruel, to do this.

Anyway, next year perhaps we'll have a bit of a race, depending on how things go. We may have a new horse coming into our "herd" and Saorsa will hopefully be backed by this time next year (although I'm letting her let us know when the time comes, so we get off to the best start). Meanwhile, I'll leave you with a Saorsa picspam, her first road trip with her trainer.

This is boring!

No, really, can't we do something else?

Hey! Where we going?

We're heading down the road!

Hey! We're being followed!

Why do I have to get out of the way, he's the one going to fast! Road hog!

You want me to go into the ditch?!

Oh, wait, there's food down here!

It's better up here though! Hey, a helicopter!

BTW, that is my trainer's saddle, when I do someday ride her it'll be with a Western style endurance saddle most likely. Eventually bareback. The only problem with the bareback bit is, well, the height issue. All the more reason to get her use to going into ditches.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

"This Place is Death"

We have had yet another loss at Dùn Sgàthan, on June 30 Randvér, our wether goat, bloated. We do not know what caused it, although it's apparenlty more common in wether's than in does or bucks, so supposedly it could be anything. Goats are an animal that seem impervious to food issues, but seems when they get them that is it. We tried desperately to save him, but he died in our arms a few hours after we realized that he was sick.

It's never easy when a pet dies, that he was so young and that this was so unexpected makes it so much worse. That it comes after so many other deaths just makes it another cut where there is already so many unhealed wounds.

The goats, really, came into our lives when we needed new life. That was only a year and a half ago. They brought us much joy. They gave the Mini Horses, Iceman and Cimmeron, much needed fresh companionship after they lost their person and two of their herdmates. They gave Saorsa real companionship as they were spry enough to safely go in and out of her pasture, while we are worried about letting her and the Minis be closed in together (they can see each other, at least most of the year, eventually the snow ends up keeping Saorsa from traveling over there...but it never stopped the goats).

Randvér was a proper trickster goat, always pushing for what ever he wanted. Chasing the dogs, chasing the horses, often bullying Elína for food. He'd often glue himself to what ever person was handy, wanting attention. This, of course, was the first and, I'm afraid, ignored for some time, sign that something was wrong. We didn't see much of Randvér that morning, he wasn't being a pest. We should have known. I was busy with my horse trainer and Saorsa, Aaron was busy catching up the bills at the last minute. We just weren't worried.

If we'd started treating him earlier would it have saved him? We just will never know. It all was so sudden, it all happened so fast.

Over a week before this happened I saw a Turkey Vulture on a utility post; something I've never seen before. I've seen plenty of vultures, but only flying or roosting at a distance and always in numbers, never just one so close just sitting there. It was wonderous and disturbing. It may well have nothing to do with all of this. Or it might. But it keeps coming to mind right now.

Randvér was only two, he should have been with us far longer. He is, however, out of pain. Apparently, once this happened, it would always linger, always be likely to happen again. But I still wish he had had the chance to have more time.

I try to remember that I am a spiritual person, that I do believe he is in another world, happy and frolicking. That there is probably good food, that over there won't kill him. Maybe he's with the Red Rooster even, who he had seemed to like.

I worry about Elína, who no longer has her lifelong companion. They were not siblings, but were born around the same time. There were times it seemed she ignored him, what with him being pesty all the time. She liked to "hide" from him, by standing somewhere behind him while he bleated his little heart out for her. She lied next to him when he got really bad and wouldn't get up anymore. After he died we let her check out his body, so she'd know. She sniffed, walked out of the stall, bleated a couple of times as if to confirm he wasn't going to answer, then asked to go outside. At the time the Minis were asking to come inside, so we let them check out the body. He was their companion too. Gleann and Sachairi also got to sniff the body. Gleann had been distressed and crying during the whole thing, had spent some time with us taking care of Randvér; he worries about his charges. He'll also miss him, as Randy play chased with him more.
Elína and the Minis have each other, Elína also has Saorsa. While we buried Randvér, Elína and Saorsa ate nearby while Iceman and Cimmeron hovered on the other side of us in their paddock. But she doesn't have anyone to do goat specific stuff with. Like play butt-heads. Or wander where ever. Or hang out and chew cuds while looking totally stoned. Or rubbing against anything that can conveniently be knocked down and trashed together.

I really hurt for Elína.

We might get another, I don't know. I'm not sure that he can be "replaced" for Elína any more than he can be for us. They were together all their lives, after all. A new goat would just be a new goat, she might not even like him. So I don't know.

Of course, we've also discussed the fact that we could breed her. Just once. We are not goat farming because they are just too personable, too pet like, for us to raise any for meat. To raise for milk requires, eventually, raising for meat. There are just so many pet homes or petting zoo situations (and the latter are not always good places, anyway) for excess male goats, after all. But once, and we'd keep the kids. Of which there will undoubtedly be two (goat's almost always have twins). But this may be crazy thinking. We have more than a month to talk ourselves out of it.

My hope had been that the post I was going to do next was going to be picture spam of my horse having a post-training session bath. I will post that sometime soon. In other, hopeful, news, we do have two hens brooding. We were going to candle the eggs this weekend, but haven't yet. Hopefully that will indicate some life. We need new life here.

Monday, June 6, 2011

End of an Era at Dùn Sgàthan

This has been a real bad year for us and chickens. So I never got a "It's Bealtuinn" post up. We lost the pullet, known as Baby Bird at the beginning of May, that was the daughter of the rooster I lamented previously. We don't know what happened, one day fine, the next "we should call the vet" and the next gone. It happens. Always on weekends, of course. But as those following this might know, it was really hard this time as she was the last from that rooster. And the last chick that our Old Clucker had hatched out. They had been together still, so I felt bad for Clucky.

And then we lost Clucky too, on May 23. Unlike the loss of BB, which was tragic due to her extreme youth, losing the Clucker was hard in a whole other way. She was waaaay old, as far as we know, for a chicken. No one we know has ever heard of a chicken living 10 years. But Clucky did. She out lived all her hatches except for the one red-brown hen.

But her age wasn't the first thing that made the Clucker stand out, the reason she got her name (and she and BB and RR (Road Runner or Red Rooster) are the only chicken's we've named, although my sister named one Foghorn) was the first. She was a Black Sex-link aka Black Star, a production hybrid which never, ever, ever go broody. It wasn't what we intended to get 10 years ago, we wanted something a bit more basic-farm-bird with brooding potential but we got screwed over at the feed store with our order and it was what we got. Vicious males, which attacked us when we gathered eggs and made us not regret eating the ones we did, and females that laid a lot but weren't going to raise any young.

Except, this one black hen went broody. We weren't prepared, but got things together so she'd have a good nesting spot and she raised out a hatch. She went broody every year. She became known as the Clucker or Clucky as it's a common term for a broody hen. When we first decided to get dorkings, we got hatching eggs and put them under the already brooding Clucky. She hatched them out fine as you can see here.

As she kept outliving flocks, the appellation "Old' got tacked on too. We kept expecting to lose her every year, and every year she'd persevere. Even when a fox got in the chicken house and wiped out almost our entire flock of Dorkings, she survived. Just as she survived illnesses and this past winter's mink attack.

But she slowed down, became less sociable with the chickens she had hatched out. Kept to herself. Often not far from them, but not with them. She started showing her age, she even got white feathers although after her last molting she went all black and brown again. We felt she was too old and hadn't shown any interest in brooding last year when we were getting more Dorkings so we got chicks rather than eggs. But she was very interested in them and shortly afterwards went broody, so we got some eggs from the other hybrids we had (from eggs we bought locally and that Clucky hatched out) and only one hatched, that was Baby Bird. With only one, she was still the dedicated mama she'd always been.

And she kept on kicking along. We joked that she was a vampire...even in our sadness over losing Baby Bird, we actually almost felt it might be true! She was 10 after all, who heard of a chicken living that long?

After losing BB, she seemed fine. Okay, that sort of led to more of the dark humor musings. The weather was warmer, she wandered around outside, pretty much as she'd been for years. Over looking her domain here...this was her place. And then she took an obvious turn. She wasn't lively and she just died lying in the sun in the yard, which was hers.

It really does feel like the end of an era, the end of The Old Clucker's reign. We had only been living here six months when we got the chicks she was one of so it's like she was always here. We knew her, we were used to her...she lived so long it really did feel like she'd always be a part of this place. It feels weird that she's not out there somewhere making sure all is right with our land.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Wintery picspam, mostly dogs

After my last rather dismal post and the fact that I don't have a happy "we have chicks" post to make as we failed to hatch any from our lost rooster's last hen (but we do have one of his daughters so...) I figured I'd do some picture spamming of pups from this winter. After all, I don't really have any springtime ones to post at the moment.

So...there you have two black sheep dogs, Gleann and Sachairi waiting to come in.

Òrlaith, the golden princess, and Cù Mór tend to not spend so much time outdoors in the winter. Òrlaith's jacket is not for warmth, though, but to help with anxiety, although she's still about to burrow under the cushions here. She's been spending a lot more time out from under the couch cushions lately, so the jacket seems to be helping.

Sachairi likes to keep a watch over things.

Gleann covered in snow.

Sach guarding the boots so no one leaves without him.

Sachairi, who only joined the pack last November, has been well accepted by all, even getting an occassional snuggle from Òrlaith.

But Cù apparently is searching for friends on the web.

The dogs aren't the only ones who want in the house, however. It's hard to see, but there are wo Mini horses and two goats in this photo.

Hopefully more springlike content to come!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Connections unwanted - Hydroelectric hell

One of the reasons I love this land, aside from I grew up here, is that if I can't live in Scotland, the land that holds my spirit in so many ways, at least I live somewhere that bears similarities. Oh, we're further south, yet colder in winter, but the rolling, rocky hills are so much the same. As both NH and Scotland have had various cycles of pastures and woodland, sometimes the similarities are hidden, but since returning from my trip to Scotland there are just places that remind me of that land. Perhaps I should note that it "feels" similar, although not exactly the same, on a very spiritual level for me.

There is now a similarity happening that I wish was not on either side of The Pond.

Last fall word came that HydroQuebec and Public Service of New Hampshire are planning to put high voltage direct powerlines through our area, actually a matter of yards from my home, as The Northern Pass. This will take power from the HydroQuebec dams, which have already devastated the environment and Native cultures and continue to be a growing threat, to energy users far to our south. They make a promise of jobs to our economically challenged area, while trying to hide the fact that all of those jobs would be temporary and most, if not all, will be held by people outside our area. Meanwhile, the health of the land and all living here will be severely impacted, and our economy will be further destroyed by the loss of our one surviving industry which is outdoor tourism. Do they really think we believe people will want to camp, hike, x-country ski, hunt or even snowmobile (this last is not my favorite of these things, but I have to admit it helps us survive up here) under those things?

I have a friend who lived under such lines, with horses, dogs and other animals. During their time there, they and all their animals became ill. The horses and dogs lost weight, were sickly, some were near failure. Shortly after moving, health returned to all...although what lasting effects there might be are unknown.

I live here. I consider this land sacred. I cannot leave and even if I could now I can't afford I even need to mention that our real estate market has tanked since this? Who would move here with this looming?

The people are speaking out! I'd appreciate those not living here to do the same and check out Live Free or Fry! and, if you FaceBook, join us there. Sign petitions, write officials.

Personally, I want to see HydroQuebec totally stopped, all future construction and have them forced to do what can be done to try to heal the damage. This isn't just "not in my back yard" I don't want this at all.

This is NOT "renewable" energy. And there IS renewable energy options. As long as we continue to over use and to blind ourselves to the devastation the greedy power companies cause, people, animals and land will continue to be destroyed.

And so...a fellow Gaelic Polytheist blogger, Seren, last month reported that there is now a proposed hydro scheme being planned in Glen Lyon, in Perthshire, Scotland. Not only are people's live and the delicate environment being jeopardized there as well, but a cherished shrine Tigh na Cailliche. A custom of unknown beginning, of caring for these stones, the Cailleach, her husband and daughter, carefully removing them from their house at Beltuinne and returning them at Samhuinn. Doing this assures the Cailleach's blessing. It is thought to be the oldest uninterrupted Pagan ritual possibly not only in the British Isles but in Europe. And, so, those concerned with this heritage are rightly concerned with what impact this hydro plan might have. The GlenLyon History Society discusses it on this page and gives an email address if you wish to speak out. A Facebook Group has been created as well.

So, like many times, I feel a kinship from my land to Scotland. But it's not one I want for either of us. Or anyone else.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Springtime circle of life, we hope

The handsome rooster and the black hen in this photo are no longer with us. One of the brown hens actually left us a couple of months ago, having died of illness, but RR (Road Runner or Red Rooster) and the black hen were killed just a few days ago by a mink. While we have made peace with the tiny ermine shown previously, the mink were kept away primarily by the ease of finding other tasty critters. When there is any opening in the pond at all, they are there eating crayfish. They've not bothered to venture nearer. This past week, however, following the only really significant snowfall we've had (it snows steadily, but no big dumps this year until now), apparently access to crayfish or other food became scarce. S/he invaded the shop where these three, RR and one brown and one black hen, along with the Old Clucker and Baby Bird (who were loose in the shop, not with these three) lived. S/he killed the black hen, and mortally wounded RR. From what Aaron saw, RR probably attacked the mink, not the other way around, after s/he attacked and killed the poor hen. Sachairi went after the mink, got a bite on the nose but it seemed to have escaped (I heard this at the side of the house, then heard it after their tussle). We brought RR and the three hens into the house, keeping them in dog crates. We tried to keep hope for RR. But the next night he died. I feel I should have put him out of his misery sooner, but we were so hopeful. I suppose if I had killed him I'd then have wondered if he might have made it if I let him try. There are times you know, but there are times you don't. I try not to get too attached to the chickens. We don't name most of them and mostly the names they get are sort of default. Lots of "brownies" and "blackies." Most of the males are called "supper." Some are special, though, but even their names are descriptive. Clucky got "named" because she's broody and she's lived so long, broody chickens are called "cluckers" or "cluckies." Baby Bird got named because she's going to be Clucky's last to raise, and she's a big baby. Actually, she's pretty small, but she's still a baby, remaining with Clucky. When we breed her to the Dorking rooster this year, she'll not stay with the flock but return to Clucky for as long as Clucky lives. Clucky's ten this it may not be for long. RR got named because when young he was plain and brown and looked a lot like a roadrunner. He also ran a lot as we had another, bigger rooster at the time. He then grew into Red Rooster. He was gorgeous and personable, a well mannered rooster who treated his flock well. And gave his life trying to defend it. He's Baby Bird's daddy, which hen was her egg mommy we don't know, but the Clucker is her hatch mommy....but due to various circumstances, we never got any other chicks out of the flock. I had hoped to this year, both with this last two hens and some of the Dorking hens. I really liked this rooster, it breaks my heart. I have his genes in Baby Bird, but ..... I realized that the remaining brown hen was with him until the mink attack. I checked and a hen can remain fertile for about 10 days after being breed. I'm hoping. She's older now, not laying every day and she skipped the first couple after the trauma. In fact, we're surprised she started laying so soon again, but she has. We got an incubator. We're hoping. True, due to her age and the fact we don't know when the last time they might have mated was, this may not work out. Due to our inexperience incubating, it may not work out. But we're going to try. Just in case. Because, like making the choice not to kill him, to not do so will be to constantly wonder if it might have worked if we tried. Life and death are a constant part of this path. Sometimes you get to choose when those things happen, but not always. Not often. And so we hope. We hope that following this unplanned death we shall have planned life. But hope is all we have.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Pratical Issues - Imbolg

The goats helping with the wood pile, this is early before we got real snow

While much of what gets discussed in the Pagan communities about the holidays are debates on ritual design, what day to celebrate, what the holiday means on some cosmic level, I've long been big on the idea that these were truly practical celebrations for our ancestors. They were neither about one day, although the celebration might be important, nor did the average person debate much about exactly what it meant to the Gods beyond "I hope what we do will let them help us through the season." Therefore, I doubt things changed a great deal very quickly from pre-Christian to Christian times. No matter your beliefs, the seasons happen, they must be dealt with.

We don't seem to have a whole lot of information on Imbolg, this is a common lament. It's probably because it was much more a local, household based celebration with no great gatherings as there seems to have been for Bealtuinne, Lùnasdal and Samhuinn, so customs may have varied. The few things that most agree on aside from practices honoring Brighid, of course, is that the stores were counted, things were washed and your equipment for your spring jobs examined, cleaned and repaired if needed. These were undoubtedly practical necessities, meaning life or death even, for our ancestors, but for many today it's merely a theoretical acknowledgment.

For us, however, as well as other Gaelic Polytheistic preppers and homesteaders, these things actually begin to take on a new light. Because while right now if we run out of something we can, indeed, run to the store to supplement our supplies, but, well, even if we can now and even if we always can in our lifetimes, the plan is that we should have to. And so, we open our cupboards.

No matter what stage one is at in this sort of project, this is a good season to take stock and consider how well our efforts are doing. We knew we'd not be totally prepared with vegetation this year, and that's held true. On the other hand, we're looking at a lot of meat. We are doing well there, having bought twice as much pig as last year because Aaron was convinced we might not get half a cow again (the previous year we had a deal but it fell through when they never sold the other half and decided to not kill the cow). But we got half a cow. And some lamb, which, btw, part of will be our feast. We certainly hope to have more chickens next year, the live ones are doing well although one keeps doing poorly and then perking up so we're watching her.

After having held back on this work a bit for a few years and sort of starting over, I think we're doing well with what we expected to be doing at this time. But there is much work to get to where we need to be for next year.

And this is the time of year for that too. We consider our seed catalogs, we consider, perhaps with even more concern now that we have those goats, fencing supply catalogs. We're discussing greenhouses. We're discussing negotiating where this goes in light of where the animals go. We are in the process of cleaning out another part of the house we've not been using in part to reclaim the kitchen there as a better option for canning and such activities than our tiny one in the part we live in as well, because sometimes you need to start to prepare a season or so ahead.

This is what Imbolg means for us. Yes, there will be a celebration, at some point when we actually see some signs of spring. There will be a Brighid's cross, She'll be welcomed in and put to bed and we'll feast.

And there will be lamb, as we have no mutton. There is much debate among modern Polytheists and scholars about whether or not sheep lambed at this time and if they folk etymology truly did refer to "ewe's milk" (the actual etymology apparently refers to "washing" ...from conversations with Alexei Kondtratiev and others in the IMBAS mailing list several years ago). However, again looking at it from a homesteading perspective, if sheep are not manipulated to breed late, they do normally start lambing in January, so I think that despite those who claim that all lambs are born in March (many, but not all are now, but it takes work to do that), there is a connection.

I also believe that mutton would be a fresh meat, which seems to confuse some who are not homesteaders and feel no one would kill any of their livestock at this time. However, whether the ewes are lambing now or soon, you'd know which ones are not and likely have an idea of which would should and is not....and she's probably going to go. It's also simplistic to think that all livestock was culled in the fall, although much might would likely depend on the fodder you might have, as well. If I weren't so damn tied up with work and all right now I would probably look up sources on this, but....

Eventually, perhaps we'll actually be going by the lambing of our sheep, if we decide to venture that route. Until then, we wait for some sign. This might take awhile.