Living in Season
The official newsletter of the School of the Seasons
Volume 3, Number 9
June 11, 2005
St Barnaby's Day
- My Season:
- Living in Season: Honeyed Midsummer by Diane Saarinen
- What I'm Reading: Summer Books
- Holiday Packet: Midsummer
- Personal Appearances: Take Back Your Time/Boulder Workshop
- Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
- Signs of Summer
- Subscribe - Unsubscribe
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I'm back from my trip to Milwaukee for a family reunion, which was both exhausting and interesting, difficult and poignant. I learned that Wisconsin drivers are polite, that hospitality is a virtue (I suspect this is true of all Midwesterners) and that the state has the highest rate of student loan payback in the country. I was surrounded again by the Catholic culture in which I grew up. And I fell in love with the landscape, especially the farm country around Madison where I drove around lost for an hour or so, on my way to visit Patricia Monaghan.
Now I'm back and I'm heading off to the beach for a few days, where I'll work on the first chapter of my novel. The impetus for the trip is an interview with Kerri Buckley who does a show called Literary Café for KMUN radio in Astoria (on the coast at the border of Oregon and Washington).
The interview format seems to be haunting me. Thanks to the good work of Bonnie Schwab, who invited me to Boulder to present a workshop on Slow Time in September, I was interviewed by Ravi Dykema, the publisher of Nexus, Colorado's holistic health and spirituality journal. If he can craft an interesting article out of my babbling (it was my first ever telephone interview), the article should appear around the time of my workshop.
Since I've been flitting around, it's good that I invited my colleague and friend, Diane Saarinen, to submit a piece on Midsummer many months ago, as the feature article for this newsletter. She's been my Midsummer expert for many years and it's great to be able to feature her work.
Blessings of summer honey,
Living in Season: Honeyed Midsummer
by Diane Saarinen
Shes as sweet as tupelo honey
Shes an angel of the first degree
Shes as sweet as tupelo honey
Just like the honey, baby, from the bee.
- Van Morrison
The long and golden-honeyed days of June are upon us once more, as we near the summer solstice. An old English stanza also speaks of the value of honey this month:
A swarm of bees in May
Is worth a load of hay
A swarm of bees in June
Is worth a silver spoon
A swarm of bees in July
Is not worth a fly.
While the bees are busy, we humans can take some time off to enjoy Midsummer, a romantic festival filled with dances, games of love divination, and frolicking of all sorts.
In Eastern Europe, Ukrainians call this holiday Kupalo, after a pagan god of love and the harvest, who sleeps under a tree during the winter and awakens in the warm weather. On Kupalos eve, unmarried men and women gathered in the woods to perform dances, sing songs and do what the spirit moved them to do to honor this lusty god. The women wove flowers into wreaths that were tossed into the river; these were used in divination for the young woman could determine what family she would marry into by watching to see where the wreath drifted ashore.
On Midsummer night, Ukrainian men searched the forest for a type of fern that only would bloom at this time. It was guarded by seductive wood nymphs whose temptation they had to resist, of course. To harvest the flower, they drew a circle around the fern with a white powder, cut off the blossom with a knife, and wrapped the flower in a sacred cloth. If they could keep silent about finding the elusive flower, they would enjoy a superhuman strength.
In Poland, wildflower wreaths or wianki were also used in divinations on Midsummers night. A wildflower wreath, studded with lit candles, was placed in the water. If the wreath circled in eddies, marriage would occur later rather than sooner. If it floated away fast, marriage would happen quickly. If it touched another floating garland, only friendship would result. As in the Ukraine, if it ran ashore, it indicated where the potential husband lived. Perhaps more efficiently, if a man removed the wreath from the water, oooh la la! A night of love would soon ensue, posthaste.
Wreaths also have their place in the Nordic Midsummer celebrations, where they are worn on womens heads. Finnish women pick seven types of wildflowers and place them under their pillows at night to dream of their future husbands.
I have been fortunate enough to experience two summers with their endless nights in Finland. I was quite young when I visited Finland (7 and 9 years old) and dont have a particular memory of Midsummer Eve itself (probably missing it because of my school schedule). In Finland, the day is called Juhannus, after St. John, and is celebrated with a bonfire or kokko (these bonfires are reminiscent of the Nordic midsummer Balders balefires, which were named after the Norse god). I certainly remember Finnish nights in general how late the sun set, and the magic of sitting outdoors on summer nights filled with light, eating freshly-picked raspberries or perhaps taking a sauna.
Several years ago, I renewed my interest in Scandinavian Midsummer, and found several organizations that hosted festivals in New York City where I live. The Swedes like to call this day Midsommar, and like the Finns, celebrate the weekend closest to June 24, or St. Johns Day by dancing around the Maypole or Midsommar pole.
The Scandinavians do celebrate May Day, but not with the traditional maypole that you would see, for example, in England. Its when the warm weather and natures lush growth is abundant at the summer solstice, that the Swedes and Swedish-speaking Finns erect a maypole, which is bedecked by the community with flowers and greenery. It is in the shape of a cross, and suspended from the cross beam are two large wreaths in an obvious symbol of male fertility.
Ring dances are performed around this pole. At the celebrations Ive attended, there are several rows of dancers. Ive learned dances that involve hopping around like a frog, and also a rocket dance, which I suspect is a newer one and includes hand clapping. It was at this same Midsommar celebration that I first saw herring vendors in Central Park! Traditional Midsommar foods include herring, potatoes with dill, and schnapps.
I use a ready-mix from Ingebretsens to make a traditional Midsommar schnapps recipe which has been very popular at my Summer Solstice parties. I add star anise, juniper berries and St. John's wort to vodka, let them steep for 24 hours, then remove the herbs and let the flavor develop over six weeks. Since St. John's wort is known for its anti-depressant qualities, this concoction will not only get you drunk quickly but also make you really happy.
Since it's a bit too late to start a schnapps for this Midsummer, here's a recipe for a non-alcoholic honey-flavored punch that's perfect for a Midsummer party:
Midsummer Honey Punch
2 cups boiling water
1 cup honey
4 cups cranberry juice
2 cups orange juice
1 cup lemon juice
1 quart ginger ale
Combine boiling water and honey, stirring to dissolve. Chill. In large punch bowl, combine cranberry, orange and lemon juices. Stir in honey mixture. Just before serving, add ginger ale and ice cubes. Garnish with strawberries.
There is an old Swedish saying, Midsummer night is not long but it sets many cradles rocking. In Alaska, where the summer nights are also long, 72% of babies are conceived between May and September. Perhaps it is a carry-over from summer solstice celebrations that June is still a popular month to get married. As the character Jose Ferrer plays in Woody Allens delightful film A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy concludes, These woods are enchanted! Filled with the lucky men and women of passion
Van Morrison, Tupelo Honey, Tupelo Honey, Caledonia Productions Inc, 1971.
Hazel Berto, Cooking with Honey, Gramercy Publishing Company, MCMLXXII
Helene Henderson and Sue Ellen Thompson, editors, Holidays, Festivals and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Omnigraphics, 1997.
Paola Gianturco, Celebrating Women, PowerHouse Books, 2004.
A Midsummer Nights Sex Comedy, written and directed by Woody Allen, 1982.
For more recipes that include honey, visit the website of the National Honey Board:
To order ready-mix of traditional Midsommar schnapps:
For schnapps recipes, go to:
Also see the Celebrating Women site for photos, text and even audio involving a modern wianki festival in Poland:
In my Library: Books on Perfume
Most of you who read this newsletter know that I love fragrance. I think it's one of the reasons I live in Seattle. This week my favorite scent has been the linden blossoms. I've found two linden trees within a few blocks of my home.
Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr
One of my favorite books is Emperor of Scent by Chandler Burr, the fascinating story of Luca Turin, an Italian scientist who collected antique perfumes as a graduate student, worked for French perfumers and developed a new theory about how we smell. There's a longer review of this in an earlier newsletter.
"Scent of a Woman," by Chandler Burr, New York Times Magazine, February 20, 2005
Chandler Burr himself has become something of a perfume expert and wrote a recent article about scents which appeal to both men and women. That sent me off on a perfume excursion and also inspired one of the May Calendar Companion topics. If you want to read it or other articles about perfume by Chandler Burr, here's the link:
Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab
That Calendar Companion about scent motivated my friend and colleague, Lunaea, to send me a link to her favorite perfumer. I haven't tried any of these yet but I trust Lunaea's judgement and will be ordering some Imps Ears (the small samples) soon:
Essence and Alchemy by Mandy Aftel, North Point Press 2001
I learned about Mandy Aftel from another article in the New York Times magazine which featured her new book Aroma. She's a perfumer who works only with natural scents, like essential oils, rather than synthetic ingredients. This book is an indulgence, beautiful to look at and delicious read, evoking all sorts of wonderful fragrances, as she describes how these natural scents are collected and combined to make personal perfumes. Mandy also has a website and I notice she has a linden blossom perfume mmmmmm:
Aroma: The Magic of Essential Oils in Food and Fragrance, Mandy Aftel and Daniel Patterson, Artisan 2004
Aftel collaborated with a chef on this book which includes recipes for perfumes, body products and food, all scented with essential oils, for instance, Rose and Ginger Souffle, Coffee Cologne Spray, Grilled Steak with Onion-Potato Compote Scented with Lavender and Tarragon Bath Oil. I haven't tried any of the recipes yet but just reading them is luscious.
Summer: A Spiritual Biography of the Season, edited by Gary Schmidt and Susan M Felch, Skylight Paths 2005
Last winter I told you about a marvelous book published by Skylight Paths called Winter: A Spiritual Biography of the Season. Many of you wrote to tell me how much you enjoyed it. Well, they have now published books for every season and I'm currently enjoying the Summer volume which contains essays, poems and recipes around various summer themes like play, retreat and tilling the soil. It's a great way to invoke the spirit of summer.
Calendar Companion: Leaves from the Tree of Time
Its not too late to order the Calendar Companion, the latest offering from School of the Seasons. This is a graceful way to incorporate spirit and seasons into your life. Use it along with your usual planning tools and calendar to help you:
- Slow time down
- Consult your soul while creating your schedule
- Make time for what's truly important in your life
- Move in rhythm with the seasons and the moon
Every week for 52 weeks you will receive a brief email with a reflection on the qualities of the present time period and one suggestion, task or question that you can savor throughout the week.
Start whenever you like. The topics for May were: Lusty Month of May (Celebrating Lifes Pleasures), Thinning in the Garden of Time (Choosing Priorities), Bottom Line in Self Care (Mothering Yourself), Attracting Pollinators and Taking a Question for a Walk. When you order the Calendar Companion, you will receive the next weeks calendar companion, along with an introductory email.
$20 for a year's worth of gentle reminders to help you stay aligned with natural rhythms. Click here to order, or to see a sample reflection.
Holiday Packet: Midsummer
Its a good time to think about ordering your Midsummer packet if you want to get it in time to use the ideas in your Midsummer celebrations.
This illustrated portfolio contains over 40 pages of ideas for celebrating Summer Solstice, also known as Midsummer, Herb Evening, St. Johns Day and Litha. It tells you how to
- gather and use magical Midsummer herbs like St John's Wort
- prepare a picnic of traditional Midsummer foods
- use the petals of roses to make conserves, butter and rosaries
- create Gardens of Adonis
- and much more
You can read an excerpt from the packet on making wreaths (a traditional way to celebrate Midsummer) here.
The print version is $14; please allow 10 days for delivery. An email version is also available for $9. It will be sent to you as an attached Word file within 24 hours. Order here.
Im going to be making two presentations on Slow Time this summer.
Take Back Your Time
Im happy to be offering a workshop on Natural Time at the Take Back Your Time Day conference in Seattle, August 5 -7. I had a great time at last years conference in Chicago, especially enjoying the way the conference is designed to mix people together so we can swap ideas and resources and leave with encouragement and ideas for our own work. Ill be speaking on a panel that includes Robina McCurdy, who teaches classes in community-building and permaculture in New Zealand and Huckleberry who teaches native plant identification, wild foods foraging and seed collecting, and facilitates deep nature connection experiences in the Olympic National Park of Washington. Heres a link for more information about the conference:
Im also going to be presenting a Friday night lecture and day-long Saturday workshop on Slow Time in Boulder, Colorado, on September 9 and 10, thanks to an invitation from Bonnie Schwab of Studio Be Yoga. Stay tuned for more details.
Signs of Summer
May Day marks the beginning of summer in the old British Isles system of reckoning the season. But it's still unclear exactly what season it is in various locales around America.
I was pleased to experience a bit of early summer in Wisconsin. We had a lightning storm (no thunder) one night, lilacs grew like weeds along the edges of the roads and I saw an oriole flash by the window of my aunt's home.
Karen K describes the floral display in Seattle: I have a lovely mix of roses, irises, poppies, purple rhododendrons (the red, pink & yellow have already faded), my sage is full of purple spires of flowers & the foxglove are just popping open. Chives are blooming & the allium are getting close - they have big buds. One pink azalea has been blooming for the past month, I've been amazed at its longevity.
From southeastern Virginia, Mary writes that "The weather is unseasonably chilly, but I noticed yesterday that the magnolias have begun to bloom (which only happens every other year). Roses are blooming, even as irises give way. The buttercups are mostly gone, but there is still plenty of clover."
And on Long Island, Samantha describes how "the deep snows of the past winter and the rainy spring have nurtured the trees which now produce pollen in abundance. My collie and I come back from our walks covered with a fine sheen of greenish powder."
Send me your signs of the season and Ill post them on my website.
Copyright ©Waverly Fitzgerald 2005
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