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June BlueSpruce, MPH

Intuitive Healer, Mentor, and Life Coach

Clearing Out

Brigid’s cross, traditional symbol of Brigid and Imbolc

Every year at sunset on January 31, the eve of Imbolc (celebrated on Feb. 1), I light a candle and put out a red cloth for the goddess Brigid to bless. (For more about the tradition of the Brat Bride, go here.) This year, my wife and I are also clearing out our garage.

In Irish pagan tradition, Imbolc is the beginning of spring. The deep cold of winter begins to release its hold on the land and people. As ewes give birth to lambs, fire (sacred to Brigid) and life emerge from darkness and death. Imbolc is a time of sweeping out the old and welcoming the new. A time of initiation.

We live in a beautiful old Craftsman home, built in 1912, that shares a garage with the smaller home next door. I imagine that the two houses were built by members of the same family. The garage, too, is Craftsman style, with characteristic knee braces supporting the overhanging eaves. Our neighbors, whom we love (fortunately), want to finish their half and use it as office and workout space. After over a century, the building slants toward the east a bit; the contractors need to true it up before finishing the interior. The project will require new siding and roof. All of the stuff we’ve been stashing in the garage needs to come out, to stack in a storage pod, give away, or toss.

So many questions! Why do we have five sets of tire chains? (Answer: they are for three different cars, only one of which we still have, plus two duplicates because the garage was so cluttered we couldn’t find them.) Has our five-year-old granddaughter, who will be six when she next visits, outgrown the toys we kept from her dad’s and uncle’s childhoods? (Not all of them.) Does our younger son want the HO train set his dad gave him? (In his 900-square-foot apartment in NYC? No.)

It’s a time of rediscovering, remembering, evaluating what to keep—what is still useful—and what to let go. We’re trying to minimize our impact on the landfill, recycling what we can, giving things away through our neighborhood Buy Nothing page on Facebook.

We gave away the lawnmower that we no longer use. We gave away the huge, heavy pieces of the elaborate snake enclosure that I designed and built to house two beloved cornsnakes until they died several years ago. We gave away the roof rack for kayaks that we can no longer lift over our heads; now we float in ingenious plastic, foldable kayaks that fit inside our car.

At the same time, I am completing work on a memoir. Diving deep into old memories and stories. Here, too, I find both treasures and junk, all of it covered, not in layers of dust, but in layers of emotion. Can I clear away the old feelings as handily as I wield a dust rag? Sometimes. Mostly not.

As I walk into the garage now, I am amazed at how spacious it is. When I complete my memoir and release it to whomever chooses to read it, I hope my mind and heart will feel that spacious. I hope something beautiful and new will enter.

What are you clearing out this year at Imbolc?

Extremes

I’m a night owl. In summer, I rarely see the sun rise. At Winter Solstice in the Pacific Northwest, it’s easy, even for me.

Yesterday morning, just after eight, I sat looking east out of our living room windows. Four floor-to-ceiling panels of ten small panes each, with the original glass from when the house was built in 1912. I could see the sun just clearing the houses, edging the tall, dark green, Lawson cypress trees next to the southeast border of our yard. At Summer Solstice, the sun rises far to the northeast. As I measured the width of our yard with my eyes—75 feet—I could zoom out in my mind and sense the earth’s tilt as it circles the sun, with us perched up north on its surface.

The Equinoxes are times of balance: equal days and nights. At the Solstices we feel the extremes of darkness and light. This Winter Solstice, there are so many other human extremes. Extreme devastation, suffering, and death in Israel and Gaza, Ukraine, the Democratic Republic of Congo. Extreme violence and threats of violence here at home. Extreme calls for destruction of our democracy and establishment of a fascist regime. Extreme weather events. Extreme assaults on our environment from airplanes, cars, toxins, bulldozers, chainsaws. Extreme assaults on human rights.

Then there are personal extremes. Two beloved members of our community have chosen medically-assisted deaths in the last two months. Both journeyed out of this life in peace, surrounded by love. Both deaths affirmed agency and release from suffering. And both remind me of my own mortality and that of my loved ones. The final extreme.

It is tempting to respond to extreme events with extreme emotions and actions. I am a recovering workaholic, so that is my default extreme. One more outraged letter to the City Council or the Port of Seattle about lost tree canopy and environmental inequity. One more gathering around one more or a dozen or several dozen huge Western red cedars or Douglas-firs or broadleaf maples that a developer plans to cut down on a steep slope in a flood zone. One more phone call, Zoom meeting, petition, legal action, administrative task. One more, always just one more.

Winter is time for a different extreme: rest. Repair. Connection. Weaving nets to catch the future. How little I value all of that. The gift of aging is that the body refuses to be driven so hard. I have to stop.

And when I slow down, stop, the beauty catches up with me, catches me up, gathers me in its arms. The beauty of this world, this human and more-than-human world, stops us, takes our breath away. We have to stop and breathe, breathe it in. The oxygen that the trees freely give us, in exchange for the carbon they store. The lights that sparkle on every door, every porch. The love that lights our faces, our hearts, our lives.

What if the biggest extreme this Winter Solstice is not darkness, destruction, or death, but love?

For more about resting in the dark, read Sonya Lea‘s latest Substack post, “Practices for the Darkest Night.” I encourage you to subscribe. She is an amazing writer and teacher.

Between the Worlds

Forty-one years ago this past June, my mother died of metastatic breast cancer two days before her 67th birthday. She died between the births of our two sons; our older son was two and a half years old, and our younger son was conceived eight months later. As my mother was dying, I was acutely aware of the energetic resonance between the dying process and laboring to give birth. In both, we know the eventual outcome, but not when and how it will unfold. A door opens between the worlds; a spirit comes into a body or leaves one behind. All those involved—especially the ones who are dying, laboring, or being born, but also those whose lives and hearts are touched—are held in that “place between,” that liminal space. The experience can be difficult, painful, and scary. It can also be a place of rich, deep connection with all that is.

Those of us who observe Samhain on Oct. 31-Nov. 1 often describe it as a time when the veil between our physical existence and the world of the spirits is thin. This Samhain, a dear family friend approaches her death. Another person in our extended community is not far behind. I am supporting them in whatever way I can. As I do so, I try to stay grounded in life and open to whatever wisdom comes to me from the other side of the veil. It can be hard to keep my balance. I’m grateful for family and friends, for trees that keep me rooted, for dahlias that insist on blooming despite frost and showing me the world’s beauty amidst sorrow and loss.

There have been so many losses in the past weeks. My heart is with all those who grieve and also all those welcoming new life and hope into this crazy, gorgeous world we live in.

In Limbo

Sitting here in limbo
Waiting for the dice to roll
Yeah, now, sitting here in limbo
Got some time to search my soul
Well, they’re putting up a resistance
But I know that my faith will lead me on

—Jimmy Cliff, “Sitting in Limbo
on Another Cycle and The Harder They Come

A week ago, my wife Martha was exposed to COVID. She visited briefly with a friend outdoors; the friend later got sick. After we found out, we entered the period of limbo now so familiar to people all over the world. We wondered: if Martha were infected, which we knew was unlikely, when would she test positive? In the meantime, how careful did we need to be to prevent me from getting infected? What should and shouldn’t she do? How might this affect our plans going forward, including a trip to visit family on the East Coast? Suddenly Martha was hyper-aware of feeling congested, fatigued, etc.

We were lucky: repeated rapid COVID tests came up negative. Neither of us has COVID, this time. But this experience got me thinking about that feeling of being in limbo that we all experience. Waiting for the results of a diagnostic test. Waiting to recover from an illness, injury, or surgery. Waiting for a baby to be born or for someone we love to take their last breath. Waiting for a job offer. Waiting for election results. Waiting to see how a new relationship will unfold. A change or shift may have occurred, but the outcome may not be perceptible. In an initiatory process, an old pattern or way of living may have died, but the rebirth of a new way has not yet taken place. The untrodden path forward has not yet appeared before us, waiting for us to step onto it.

The word “limbo” comes from the Latin “limbus,” meaning “border, hem, fringe, edge,” according to the Online Etymology Dictionary. In traditional Irish spirituality, edges or “places between” can be entrances to the otherworld: along the shores of ponds, lakes, rivers, or oceans; during dawn or twilight; in mist or fog. When we are in limbo, we are neither here nor there. As Jimmy Cliff recognized in his lyrics, that can be an opportunity to “search our souls,” to explore spiritual spaces that we might otherwise have rushed past.

Fall Equinox can be a time of limbo. The hot, bright days of summer are mostly gone. The cold, wet, windy winter has not set in. If we can, we begin to slow down, hunker down, and stock up for dark days ahead while still being alive to glorious fall colors and crisp morning air.

How can we take care of ourselves when we’re in a period of limbo? Take time to rest, go slow, be quiet.  We may be restless and impatient to get on with our lives. But we’re not ready yet. We’re in a place of emptiness, healing, and preparation, like the butterfly in the chrysalis, the moth in the cocoon. Our time to emerge will come.

Defying Gravity

Over the past week, I have watched my five-year-old granddaughter defy gravity hundreds of times. In the pool, she has learned how to move her arms and legs to keep herself afloat and swim from Papa to Mama to Grandma Martha to me. On roller skates, she can keep her four-wheeled feet beneath her and propel herself across the rug from one end of the living room to the other. Bare floors and sidewalks are next! She delights in mastering the invisible, implacable force that pulls her body down.

Trees also defy gravity. Their trunks are rigid enough to stand tall, yet flexible enough to bend with the wind. Their deep roots hold firm against the forces of wind and water, at least most of the time. In their most amazing feat, they pull hundreds of gallons—several tons—of water from roots to leaves every day, a distance that can extend more than 300 feet in the tallest trees.

All of a tree’s anti-gravity powers are no match for humans with chainsaws. Once a tree is cut off at the base, it has to fall.

Until a couple of weeks ago, that was to be the fate of Luma, a huge, 200-year-old Western red cedar tree in Seattle’s Wedgwood neighborhood. She stands on the edge of a human-created lot. The developer, Legacy Capital, could have designed their planned six-unit housing around her. The original design did just that. But then the developers decided to subdivide the lot so that the tree was in the way of buildings. The City of Seattle’s Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) issued a permit. Luma had to come down.

But this magnificent, life-giving being drew human allies to her. Neighbors rallied and participated in gratitude ceremonies to acknowledge all that she contributes to the neighborhood. The Snoqualmie Tribe took notice and determined that long ago, the tree was modified to mark the site of a temporary camp along a trail through dense forest. They notified the City that the permit to cut the tree violates state and Tribal law protecting culturally-modified trees (CMT). Activists climbed up into the tree and vowed to stay there until the tree is no longer in danger.

We hope that Luma can be saved. That will be an important victory. But the City’s new so-called Tree Protection Ordinance that just took effect provides no protection for culturally-modified trees, no provisions for consulting with tribes regarding tree-cutting, and inadequate protection for the thousands of mature trees throughout Seattle that are threatened with destruction during development. We are experiencing dramatic climate change that has created the hottest summer on record throughout the world and a devastating drought in the Pacific Northwest. It is insane to destroy mature trees at the rate the City of Seattle allows now.

It’s time for humans who know the value of trees to defy gravity, to stand up to the ones who pass bad laws and wield chainsaws, to stand up for trees. Our lives, our children’s and grandchildren’s lives, depend on it.

To stay informed about efforts to protect Luma and other trees throughout Seattle, click here.

A Riddle for Solstice and Pride

Photo by Egor Kamelev

We connect underground with myriad others like and unlike ourselves. Through our vast, branching webs, we communicate with and support each other. If danger approaches, we warn each other in ways that may not be perceptible to others.

Who are we?

Aboveground, our environment both feeds and challenges us. We stand tall, rooted deep, weathering strong winds that threaten to topple us. Sometimes one of us falls. Each beloved one we lose leaves a legacy that nourishes those who come after.

Who are we?

Some of us sport colorful, flamboyant dress. Others present themselves in more subtle, understated ways. We all belong.

Who are we?

We have several genders. You can’t always tell by looking what gender an individual is. Some of us are one gender, some another. Some encompass all genders.

Who are we?

Trees.

Who are we?

Queers.

Summer Solstice and LGBTQIA2S Pride celebrations happen at the same time each year. For many years, I’ve been fascinated by the ways trees live in community and the lessons we humans can learn from them. This Solstice, I’m wearing my Pride T-shirt and exploring queer ecology.

Human minds have created rigid, mutually exclusive binaries that privilege one side of the binary over the other—male/female, white/BIPOC, natural/unnatural, good/evil, humans/nature, civilized/wild, mind/body, and on and on. These ways of thinking and acting have done huge damage on Earth. Queer ecology challenges us to move beyond binaries to a more fluid, interconnected way of experiencing all of life.

From the website of the Institute for Queer Ecology: “Queer communities are uniquely positioned to lead on climate adaptation through embodied strategies already inherent or familiar to queer experiences. On an individual level, queer lives are mutable: we understand change and transformation in intensely personal ways. On a collective level, queer community is mutualistic: it is symbiotic, in-contact, relational; it is a space of eccentric economies and mutual support, of found families and utopian dreams, of care and connection and the net benefits species gift one another.”

Despite the wisdom and resources our queer communities and our urban and rural forests offer, these vital parts of life on Earth are endangered. This Solstice, this Pride Month, make a commitment to connect with, learn from, and stand up for the queer folks and trees in your life. And take some time to reflect on how binary thinking limits you and disrupts your connection with other humans and more-than-human beings.

How Do We Meet These Times?

Many of us have been asking the question, “How do we meet these times?” Guidance often comes to me in dreams. I had the following dreams on March 11 about how to respond to conflict, confrontation, and dangerous threats. I believe their guidance needs to be shared. So here they are.

Two opposing groups are moving toward a confrontation on a narrow dirt path along the edge of a very high slope. It’s a bright, sunny day. The slope is green, open, unforested, covered with grass and other low plants. It curves around the side of a hill. It’s not a cliff, but the slope is steep. The path winds horizontally along the curves. We have visibility into the distance. I am part of one group, a large community resistance group. The other group is more violent and deeply opposes us. Our group is walking single file around the curve. There are hundreds of us. We can see the other group approaching us, also in the hundreds and walking single file. If there is any fighting along this path, many people will fall off the path and be severely hurt or killed. What should we do? I try to photograph the situation to post on social media–in the dream, I can zoom out and capture everything–but there isn’t time. Our group decides to sit or stand right against the upper part of the slope and let the others pass by without us inciting or responding to violence. We need to ally ourselves with the power of the Earth at our backs. We need to be immovable, peaceful, unresponsive. We warn each other that the others will surely try to provoke us. They may hit or kick us, spit on us, say terrible things to us, or, worse, try to throw one of us off the path. We can link arms to make that harder. What are the chances we can stay non-violent? If we react, we are lost. I run through different scenarios in my mind. It seems unlikely that we can hold fast, but that is what we are to do.

Then I had another dream:

We are driving toward a huge mountain, like Tahoma (Mt. Rainier). I look out the window. The mountain is covered in white from top to bottom. I exclaim about how beautiful it is. We enter the foothills, into forest that is bare of snow. I realize that the image of the mountain being completely snow-covered is a bit of an illusion. And the image is so powerful.

The meaning of the first dream seems clear. We face, and will face, conflict, some of it with people who will threaten or enact violence. We must respond by connecting strongly with the Earth and each other and by remaining nonviolent regardless of provocation. Otherwise we are lost. Both dreams indicate that the Earth spirits are with us, particularly the spirit of the mountain. I am uplifted by the bright sun on the grassy slope, our determination, and the vision of the mountain.

The dreams seem particularly timely this week. Donald Trump is once again using social media to summon a violent mob as he faces imminent indictment on criminal charges in New York. We witnessed the deadly results of similar provocation on Jan. 6, 2021. It can be incredibly tempting to respond to his and his followers’ verbal and physical threats in kind. But to do so endangers our democracy. Over centuries, democratic institutions have evolved as an alternative to clan-based, strongman rule or hereditary monarchy. Democratic institutions remain flawed; no nation has yet achieved diverse, multicultural, multiracial, egalitarian democracy, despite all our efforts to move in that direction. We face a terrifying backlash that reflects the strength of our movements for justice. So it can seem easier to give up and give in to despair, cynicism, violence, a desire for vengeance. In the dream, “it seems unlikely that we can hold fast, but that is what we are to do.” Hold fast in the face of threats, violence, and our own doubts and fears. That is what the Earth is calling us, and offering us her strength, to do.

Digging the Dark

I love dahlias. I love their wild rainbow hues, their spiky petals, their generous size, their heft, their persistence into late fall. I’m willing to work for them, to earn the joy I get from watching them grow and flourish.

I have seasonal dahlia rituals. In spring, I separate and plant the tubers next to sturdy stakes, ringed by plastic collars topped with strips of copper tape to keep slugs from eating the tender shoots down to nubs. In summer, I tie the stems, heavy with blooms, loosely to the stakes. I cut off dead flowers and bring vibrant ones inside to liven our table. In fall, I dig up the tubers. In winter, I descend into our cool cellar to check them for life and dryness.

I used to leave the tubers in the ground over the winter. The hardiest ones survived, but I lost too many to freezing cold. So I started my cycle of rituals. In November or December, after the first hard frost turns the blooms black and the stems begin to rot, I cut the stems a few inches above the surface with hand pruners. Shoveling about a foot from the stems, I circle the plant, gently prying the roots loose from the dark brown soil until they give way. I carefully lift the cluster of tubers, gleaming, globular, full of promise, and brush off loose soil and worms. Using a hose, I wash more dirt off, taking care to remember which cluster is which. They have elegant names: Deuil du Roi Albert, Glorie von Heemstede, Juanita, Mrs. H. Brown. I place each gleaming cluster into a labeled brown paper bag, tuck them all into a large cardboard box, and cart them down to the cellar to rest.

As I hold the tubers in my gloved hands, I experience them in past, present, and future. I remember their summer and fall beauty and color. I admire the amount of stored energy in each golden handful. I look forward to green leaves bursting aboveground in late spring.

I sometimes put off this damp task, thinking it will be hard. It’s never hard if I’m dressed for it. Winter is like that. Going into darkness, digging into the earth, yields rest and richness if I’m ready. It’s a respite from light, noise, activity, if I let it be, if I let myself rest in the dark, store up energy for spring growth and summer adventures. In our modern world, we can summon light, heat, dryness when we want to, at least those of us privileged to have homes with heat and electricity. It’s easy to forget natural cycles. Our bodies remember.

This winter, let yourself close down, go down into the dark for a while. No one can bloom all the time. Dig the dark. Find your roots. Rest.

Grief at Samhain

At Samhain, celebrated the eve of October 31 through November 1, the boundary between the world of the living and the world of the spirits becomes more permeable. Our Halloween traditions come from ancient Celtic pagan practices to honor and feed the dead, listen to their advice, and scare away evil spirits. Many pagans believe that the spirits of those who have died during the past year cross fully into the spirit world at this time.

Many if not most of us have experienced significant losses over the past three years. During the peaks of the COVID epidemic, loved ones died and survivors grieved in isolation. Samhain offers an opportunity to share grief in community, to feel the pain and gift of our hearts breaking open.

During the third week of August, the same week that I had knee surgery, three beloved members of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ communities died. I name and honor them here and link to their obituaries so that you can learn a bit more about them: Shan Ottey, Bob Allen, and Deb Bowen. (Shan’s obituary has not yet been published; you can read it starting in November online at the Seattle Times or Seattle Gay News.) And I have just heard of the death of another, today on Samhain: activist and country musician Patrick Haggerty. These are huge losses. Each of these people in their own way brought creativity, knowledge, wisdom, mentoring, love, and joy to the communities around them and the larger world. May they each have a place in our hearts.

While still feeling the impact of the August losses, I found out about another, totally unexpected. On August 17, the day before my total knee replacement here in Seattle, Marion, a childhood friend, had the exact same surgery in Pennsylvania, where she lived. Marion and I were next-door neighbors from the ages of eight through eighteen, and we were in the same class at school. We played together, slept over at each other’s houses, ate pancakes that our mothers cooked, played on sports teams in junior and senior high school, shared secrets about boyfriends. We went separate ways in college and afterward but kept in touch; we saw each other sometimes on my trips back East. We hadn’t talked in a few years.

In September, her niece contacted me and told me Marion had died ten days after her surgery, probably from a blood clot or infection, one of those rare complications that the surgeon had informed me about before I signed the consent form. I was doubly shocked: her death was sudden, and her experience so closely paralleled mine. Except that I was still living, and she wasn’t.

During the next few weeks, as I sat on a bath bench in the shower, did my physical therapy exercises, and gradually regained my ability to walk unassisted by walker or cane, I thought many times, “Marion should be doing this too, recovering, visiting her grandchildren, getting on with her life.” But she wasn’t. She was gone.

Every time I experience the death of someone I love, I feel the strangeness of still being in a body, carrying on with daily activities, engaging with the world, while that person is no longer physically present. It’s perhaps the biggest mystery for us humans. And yet I continue to communicate with those who have passed on. I talk with them, meet them in meditations or otherworld journeys, listen to their guidance. They often come to me in dreams just before or after they die.

We each can communicate with our beloved dead in a way that works for us. It comforts me to know that the soul lives on after the body wears out. To receive the love and guidance of those whom I have lost, I have to open my heart to the deep grief of losing physical contact with them. There is no way to avoid that. Holding each other in that grief, knowing that it will ease over time, is perhaps the greatest gift we can give each other in our families and communities. Being present for each other, allowing the feelings to flow, love and joy along with pain.

Informed Consent

In medicine, informed consent is the process through which a care provider explains the risks and benefits of a test, procedure, or treatment and the person undergoing it, in light of this knowledge, gives their consent. We sign consent forms for vaccinations, diagnostic tests, and surgery.

How often do we involve the cells and structures of our bodies in giving consent?

Several days before I had knee replacement surgery last month, I drove to Seward Park, created a sacred circle under a large Deodar cedar tree near the amphitheater, and did a ceremony to prepare myself. I thanked my left knee for carrying me through many adventures over more than seven decades. I spoke to its tissues, apologizing for the ways my inattention to my body had injured it. I explained what was coming: an invasive procedure that would leave my leg bones and knee joint forever changed. The benefits: the ability to walk, hike, dance, garden without pain. And the risks: severe acute pain, tissue damage, temporary disability, possibly worse (blood clots, even death). And then I listened.

The message that came to me is that the tissues of my knee—bones, cartilage, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves, blood and lymph vessels, synovial tissue—were ready. They knew that the condition of my knee—bone on bone contact, chronic inflammation, swelling, pain—had been unhealthy for a long time. They could see the surgery as an adventure. They were willing. They gave consent.

Knowing that my whole body, especially the affected part, was ready for surgery enabled me to enter the operating room with more confidence that this was the right thing to do and would have a good outcome. Throughout my recovery, I have continued the conversation, providing encouragement, expressing love, listening. As the scar shrinks down into a thin red line, swelling and pain decrease, and mobility and strength grow, I gradually resume normal activities like cleaning the kitchen, picking blueberries, going for walks.

The idea that our conscious minds are separate from and more important than our bodies, originating in Descartes’ dualism of the 17th century, is false, as recent scientific research shows. Like other dominant ideas establishing bogus hierarchies, this one has caused harm. Including structural harm to my body and the bodies of many others with far less privilege than I have.

Every cell of my body has sensation, awareness, experience. There is no separation. We are all in this life together, as long as it lasts.