Observing the Signs


I talked about the decline of summer/onset of fall in my last, dementedly joyful post. The cold front did indeed blow through.  Temperatures have dropped to highs in the mid-nineties.  The morning and evening shade are really where you can feel the change, though. Sun warmed air cools just enough to give you goose-flesh as it passes over your skin.

This morning C and I were outside observing some new neighborhood cats. She wandered around the driveway, alternately pointing and yelling, “Kitty!” and picking up random stuff to chuck in the yard. I saw her squat to observe something. I walked over and saw that she was looking at an acorn. I looked up, and sure enough, the oak trees in our yard were chock full of them.

Other signs:

Obviously, night is coming earlier. A few weeks ago there was still an hour of twilight after we put C to bed. Now it’s dark.

The light is beginning to take on a different quality. It’s hard to explain, at once more golden and also…lighter? In the morning the light has a more over-exposed quality that I associate with late fall and winter.

People! Hah, this might be one of the biggest season signs. People are ready for autumn. On the internet and in my friend circle no one can stop talking about how autumn is almost here.

I feel it. I want to clean, can, organize, garden and prepare. I have a lot of energy for doing house work, getting things done before the eventual rush of the holidays. I also feel the turning inward, the harvesting, the beginning of self-reflection and…rootedness?…that begins in the fall.

And something even harder to explain, something that I also feel around Beltane, is some sort of…thinning. The atmosphere feels a little more open, but also a little…closer. Like something is pressing on you a bit.

Herbs: Basil

Latin name: Ocimum basilicum from the Lamiaceae (mint) family

Native to: India

Popular Cultivars: Lemon and cinnamon, African Blue, Holy Basil, Thai Basil

Basil, King of Herbs. It almost seemsredundant to do a post on basil, but I was inspired by some drying in my workroom. Truthfully, they’ve probably been left too long, but I can’t bear to take them down.

Basil has a long, venerable history across many cultures. Basil itself is thought to have originated in India, and was commonly used for religious and medicinal purposes. From there, it spread both east and west.

There are conflicting views and traditions surrounding basil. Some cultures associate it with death and hatred, others with love, fertility and exorcism. Tulsi, or Holy Basil, is sacred to both the Hindus and those of Greek Orthodox faith. To the Romans, basil was an herb of fertility, and “they believed that it would only flourish where it was tended by a beautiful young maiden” (1). Nicholas Culpeper, the famed herbalist, seemed to think basil as an evil plant, stating that: “This herb and rue will not grow together…and we know rue is as great an enemy of poison as any that grows.” (2) Culpeper associated basil with “the planet Mars and under the Scorpion…it is no marvel if it carry a virulent quality with it.” (3).

Modern Pagan associations aren’t as negative. Scott Cunningham associates the herb mainly with the planet Mars, the element of Fire and with the applications of love, fertility, exorcism and wealth. Ellen Dugan’s book, Cottage Witchery, agrees and corresponds Basil to wealth and good luck.

My personal correspondences with basil are: hot, fire, summer, energetic, moist, growth!, hardy and fresh.

Medicinal uses range from applying fresh leaves to insect bites (this was found in all of my books and throughout history) to drinking an infusion as a tonic for motion sickness and head colds. (4)

Basil needs to be grown in rich soil and in full sun. It loves the heat and can survive extreme temperatures as long as it gets a good drink. Basil is an easy herb to grow from seed, just scatter in a pot and cover lightly with dirt and compost. Keep it moist–but not drenched–and you should have enough basil to keep you from spring to autumn. In  most locations basil is an annual that needs to be replanted every year.

My favorite way to use basil? Fresh and in food! Pesto, caprese salad, julienned on top of pasta sauces and sautéed veggies. I’ve used basil as a remembrance of old friends and to heal emotional wounds. Basil brings me joy in the garden, from its strong and frisky anise aroma to its vigorous growth throughout the season.

(1) The Book of Magical Herbs by Margaret Picton, published 2000.

(2) DK Natural Health: Complete Guide to Medicinal Herbs by Penelope Ody, MNIMH, published 2000, second edition.

(3) Growing and Using Healing Herbs by Gaea and Shandor Weiss, published 1985.

(4) See citation 2.

(5) Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs by Scott Cunningham, published in 2011, second edition, nineteenth printing.

(6) Cottage Witchery by Ellen Dugan, published 2005.

This post is meant to be fun and educational, and in no way meant to be used for self-treatment of self-diagnosis. If you have questions, speak to your doctor.

Lughnasadh/Lammas 2011

I have no pictures or a jaunty little recap of Lughnasadh, the actual day, this year. On August 1st and 2nd I thought all day: Hey! Today’s Lughnasadh! I should do something!

I didn’t.

Well, I did. I stepped out in my garden and instead of harvesting my promising corn, huge globes of melons and shiny purple eggplants I…tore them up. The heat, the drought and perhaps some inexplicable bad luck had stunted their growth. I had one melon, a ripe sphere of promise, gestating on a vine. When I went outside Lughnasadh morning it had fallen to the ground and was being devoured by thirsty ants. I felt an irrational surge of anger that was quickly replaced by pity. At least I could go inside and grab a glass of water. These guys don’t have that luxury.

Mostly I hurt for the earth in my region. I go outside and the heat is relentless. The leaves of Thor tree are yellowing and thirsty branches dangle down, unable to hold themselves up. Grass–straw, really–crunches beneath my feet.  The only plant that seems to thrive is the one I’m trying to kill: poison ivy, cropping up all over my front yard.

I’ve told this tale many times since April. It’s still the truth around my region, but I don’t want to become mired in hopelessness. I want to move forward.

I can tell that fall is coming by one certain sign: the stirring my soul. Sounds cheesy, no? It probably is. Every year, around August, I just get this…feeling. It’s hard to describe, but it’s an assurance that the summer is ending. Before I admitted to myself I was Pagan, autumn was the time of the year that I would secretly dart in and out of the Metaphysics/New Age section of bookstores, trying to discover what that feeling meant.

As I watered my fall tomatoes on Lughnasadh morning I happened to look east. The rising sun gilded the fence posts and golden-yellow shafts of sun dappled the straw-brown grass. And I thought: That’s autumn light.

Since then the funk I was in slowly began to recede. Though it’s still hot as hell, I began collecting egg cartons to start my autumn veggies. I plan to do that over the next week. Thoughts of maple syrup, sweet potatoes, vanilla, cinnamon, ginger, sandalwood, chrysanthemums, ghosts, spirits, Tarot, Mabon, Samhain, rain, colcannon, Pumpkin Spice Lattés, etc., began to fill my head. I can almost begin to feel the first morning that I will go outside to water and my skin will prickle with the chill.

I guess the feeling is…well, witchiness. I’ve heard, time and time again, that autumn is the season of the witch. For me, this is true. It’s the season that something deep within me unfurls and flourishes. My spirit wants to grow, to do, to reach, to learn. So I follow its lead.

To me, Lughnasadh marks the beginning of the end of the fallow season. The season of rest and hibernation will soon be replaced by a flurry of work, spiritual and mundane, and I will look back on this time and think: Man…whatever happened to summer?

The Land of the Living

I know.

I know!

Most of the time I bitch and moan about how dry it is. And it is. The third-most severe drought in Texas history. In fact, later this week I’m going to do a post on mercy-killing your plants and being a ruthless Darwinist in your garden.


Plants live. Nature lives. We live. And there should be celebration that in a time when things are dry and hard that there are melons on the vine, corn unfurling to the sky and the hope of autumn as I plant my green-cover crop.

Mystery Melon on the Vine

Sweet Corn Forest

Basil + Heat = ❤

So, what to do to keep your hopes up during a drought or, likewise, during the winter? Well, keeping busy is the conclusion I’ve drawn. Nothing has helped so much as to take action.

1. It’s important to keep up your soil fertility. The drought, heat and mineralization effects of irrigation on your soil can be hard for plants and soil to handle. I’ve adopted a policy that as I take specific plants out I amend with compost, Ladybug TerraTonic and seed some clover. After the clover grows to about 4 inches, I’ll turn it into the soil, cover the ground with mulch and let it rest until late August/early September.

Clover Seeds and Ladybug Brand TerraTonic

2. Get a hobby. July and August will be long, quiet months around these parts. So I’m going to take up knitting again, as well as painting and, of course, spend more time writing. Also I’ll clean up the tools and in late July begin some seedling flats for broccoli, cauliflower and the longer growth autumn veggies.

3. Though planting takes a backseat now, especially for the home/hobbyist gardener, it’s still a time when eggplants, melons, winter squash and pumpkin can be planted from seed, until mid-July. Cosmos, a particularly drought/heat tolerant flower, can brighten up any patch of garden. Desert plants like agave and yucca will probably be fine.

4. Plan! Planning is the best part. Catalog your seeds and order new ones. Inventory your tools and see which ones need repair. Looking to take down some brush? Get price quotes. Building a chicken coop? Mobile, stationary? What about raccoons? What about city laws, HOA guidelines? Now’s the time to plan and budget.

5. I like rituals to mark transitions and will be doing one tonight at the new moon. It’ll be pretty simple, just a few words, but marking seasons is important.

So, there you have it. Those are the five things that are keeping me somewhat busy and hopeful as we ride out the summer. What are you doing for summer in your region?

Some Purple Survivor Flower--Verbena?

To Be Inspired…

Whether you’re mercy killing your tomatoes because of drought (what you’ll catch me doing in a few hours after it cools off!) or if you’re seedlings are just popping up, here’s a video I found inspirational this afternoon:


It’s from 2009, but I’ve never seen it. Hope you enjoy!

And Then It Rained

The humidity began Tuesday. One moment sunshine carpeted the parched grass; the next, a gloomy lavender-grey shaded the yard.

I’ve mentioned before that it’s been dry (understatement) in central Texas this year. It harkens back to 2009 when we went months and months without a single drop of moisture. Pictures showed piers jutting out over deserts with names like Lake Travis and Highland Lake.

I can still remember the first rain shower that autumn. That summer had seen a record string of over 70 100+ temperature days in a row. I was getting out of my car at a friend’s condo when a cool, almost cold, gust of wet air made me turn my gaze to the sky. Bulbous purple clouds loomed over, sunlight streaking through whatever crevices it could find. I stood outside until the clouds broke and gentle, wet sploshes began to coat the sizzling sidewalk.

It hasn’t been that bad yet this year. But it’s still been dry, and my garden has certainly suffered from the drought.

So, Tuesday, when weather reports began to announce that we had a 30% chance of showers (!) one couldn’t help but feel excited. Clouds seemed to loom over every highway fly over. Humidity creeped up to smothering levels. People seemed to buzz, just a little, with gathering electricity. Yesterday even the usually drooping plants got in on the action, tilting and cupping their leaves to the sky.

Earlier that day to give thanks for a stray rain shower I set down an offering at the base of ‘Thor tree’.

I don’t really know where the name Thor came from in reference to this tree. Well, I do, it just sounds so insignificant. One day, while walking amongst the overgrown area of our backyard I felt the urge to finally look at that tree. I had lived almost a year at this house and never really seen it. So I looked, and knew it was special. For awhile I just kind of addressed it as Tree. Sometimes as Special Tree. Then one afternoon it just popped in my head–Thor Tree–and it kind of stuck. It’s a massive, spreading oak so I figured it wasn’t too off base.

Yesterday I afternoon I prayed at the tree that they would nudge the rain our way, and thanked them for the shower they did send. I felt it accepted.

Later that night, the humidity rose in our home as J and I finished the last season of Friday Night Lights. Two hours of crying–sympathetic magic, perhaps? 😉

This morning dawned damp. Smothering. J left for work as the first rumbles of thunder rolled overhead.


I think the proper term is unleashed. Lightening flashed; thunder cracked. The sky turned a delicious purple-black. The rain smacked the pavement and pounded the grass. It wasn’t a gentle summer storm, no. It raged violent, torrential.

Eventually the intensity eased up into a more genial shower. A few hours later it tapered off. Now I sit listening to a cacophony of jaws, robins, blackbirds and squirrels nattering back and forth, reveling in the slip-n-side green playground. The air is cool; the atmosphere one of almost relief.

I’m not sure anyone who hasn’t lived through droughts could quiet understand the utter joy at seeing, feeling, hearing rain. It’s such a primal relief–the crops will grow! The livestock will have water!–that as it pounded the roof above our porch I danced with my daughter, thanking the atmosphere, the spirits of the land, garden, summer, rain, Thor, whoever. I’m not sure. All of them? Perhaps.

Garden Pictures: Cherry Tomatoes

I promised garden pictures, and here they are! Cherry tomatoes in the Earth Box.

The garden is doing well so far this year. We expanded and relocated it from its previous position, and I’m having some trouble with sun exposure. However, the tomatoes have already set fruit, the lettuces are dying back and the cucumbers, melons and eggplants are beginning to take off. Sure signs that early summer has arrived!