Just sneaking in under the wire for this week’s One-a-week Photo Challenge!

The week’s prompt has been Shadow. Of course, I couldn’t take that literally, so here’s my interpretation based on a Book of Shadows. This one happens to be a chapter heading from the wonderful Solitary Witch: The Ultimate Book of Shadows for the New Generation by Silver RavenWolf, whose many talents include a blog here on WordPress.

Many of the objects in my photo have appeared in previous posts, particularly those of October 2016, so this image also represents shadows of things past!

Thanks to nanacathydotcom and Wild Daffodil for this challenge. I’m looking forward to the next prompt, Rust!


Mabon Mysteries

Yesterday marked the autumnal equinox, also known as Mabon, when night and day are of the same duration – a time of equality and balance. At Mabon, the second of three harvest festivals, we honour the waning sun and growing dark and give thanks for the abundance of crops and other gifts with which we’ve been blessed. We seek to find balance: to stop, relax and enjoy the fruits of our labours – to reap what we have sown. It’s a good time to complete projects that have been left undone, and to begin to prepare for the winter to come.

In the fall, when nature appears to be winding down, I feel more connected to it than at any other time of the year, even more so than spring and all its burgeoning life. Perhaps it’s because the culmination of the growing season is so colourful, so fragrant: honey-brown hay bales and golden corn resting in the fields, glossy red apples, the deep purple of grapes and wild asters, the sugar maples’ amber, green and russet riot. I find the scent of fallen leaves and the smoke of hearth and bonfires intoxicating, and the cooler, crisp air, after the humidity of summer, makes me breathe more deeply and feel more alive. I never take walks in the brutal heat of July or August, so I look forward to getting out more, enjoying the flight of monarchs, the low chucking of robins, and the soft October mist on my skin.

In summer at the cottage, Faeries are in full fancy. But in autumn, there is a shift to darker, more mysterious things than even the Fae. Call it a time of introspection, nesting, or the art of Hygge; knowing that, of a nippy evening there’s a cozy blanket to curl up in and a good book to lose myself in is delicious. That’s when my thoughts turn in earnest to beeswax candles, incense from ancient lands, medieval Tarot, the rustle of parchment, old grimoires, and the secrets held by mirrors and crystal spheres.

My own Mabon ritual – during two rare and blessed consecutive days off – includes wearing an incense-y perfume oil (purchased from a fellow Etsian) called Mabon, relaxing with my feet up, and finishing a few pieces of gemstone jewellery for myself and my shop, a task I’ve been putting off for a while now. As a treat, I’ve enjoyed some delicious baklava, honey- and rosewater-redolent, with my tea. Later, I’ll continue working on a new, just-for-fun craft that I’ll write about soon! How will you celebrate this new season?

Harvest Symbols of Mabon

Symbols: acorns • apples • corn • gourds • horn of plenty • pine cones • wheat sheaves

Colours: brown • burgundy • gold • orange • red

Food & Drink: apples • bread • cider • grapes • nuts • onions • pumpkin • root vegetables • squash • wine

Gemstones: agate • amber • aventurine • citrine • peridot • sapphire • topaz

Herbs & Plants: aster • calendula • ivy • marigold • milkweed • rose hips • sage • sunflower

Incense & Oils: frankincense • myrrh • pine • sage • sweetgrass

Rituals: take a walk in the woods • offer a libation of thanks to the trees • harvest herbs and vegetables from your garden • adorn your home with autumn bounty: wheat sheaves, bowl of rosy apples, grapevine wreath, scattering of acorns and cones, colourful gourds or leaves • buy or make a new broom, either full-sized or symbolic • make spiced hot apple cider • make a protection charm using hazelnuts tied onto red string • volunteer at a food kitchen or donate to a food or clothing bank

The Secret Garden

Purple coneflower (Echinacea sp.)

The beginning of Autumn is less than a week away, and that makes me a happy little hedgewitch. Fall is by far my favourite season, for all the reasons that most people love it: cerulean skies and crisp, woodsmoke-scented air; blankets and hoodies; the crunch of fallen leaves; blazing colours and bonfires. And yes, pumpkin spice everything!

These past couple of weeks, while other areas of the continent have been ravaged by horrific storms, my own little pocket of the world has been fortunate to enjoy a string of exceedingly pleasant pre-autumn weather. The days are warm but not hot, nights are snugglingly cool, and the air has been still and soft, like a gauzy veil shimmering between the scourge of summer and the cold to come.

I took advantage of this perfection a few days ago when I paid two impromptu visits to a new place for me. For years, on my way to work, I’ve been driving past a large tract of land known as the Riverwood Conservancy. As I’m always in a hurry, I never paid it much attention, but its website says that it’s a city-owned park, free and open to the public year-round, with historic buildings, gardens, nature trails, and a centre offering community art programs. I said to myself, “Self, get thee there one day!” but somehow, I never did. Silly me — now I know what I was missing!

Keeping perfect time!

Last Sunday, I decided on a whim to stop at Riverwood after work to see what it was all about. The late afternoon was fine and there was still lots of daylight left, so I drove down the winding lane leading to the main building which houses the Conservancy’s offices. With only my phone camera in hand, I began to explore the area around the house, with its charming gardens – all maintained by volunteers – secret stairs and pathways, stone walls and old wooden gates, and other interesting architectural features – some of them almost lost to time.

As soon as I saw the place, I was immediately charmed – and fell in love. As Lizzie says at first glimpse of the magnificent Pemberley in Pride and Prejudice (1995 miniseries), “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a place so happily situated.” Riverwood may not be on nearly as grand a scale, but it is lovely just the same.

Known as the Chappell House, the rambling bungalow perches atop the Credit River Valley on 60 hectares (150 acres) of woodland that was once used as trading grounds by First Nations peoples. The house was built in 1919 in the Arts and Crafts style as a summer retreat for the property’s third owners – complete with servants’ quarters, billiard room, tennis court and swimming pool.

Viewed from the formal courtyard with original waterlily and goldfish pond and circular paved driveway, the stone house with its massive chimney, family crest, and service wings is quite impressive:

Chappell House, Riverwood Conservancy, Mississauga, Ontario

A closer view reveals that each part of the building has its own character and makes for delightful little vignettes. One of the wings, for example, which I think must have been family bedrooms, looks like the most perfect little cottage, adorned with clematis and its own tiny garden:

The north wing

There was no one else around and I was surrounded by a still, peaceful forest, quiet but alive with birdsong and the rustle of squirrels gleaning chestnuts, so I felt like I was in my own spellbound world. I roamed about gardens planted with a mixture of traditional English cottage and local species. Here were foxglove, chamomile and David Austin roses, there turtlehead (Chelone), purple coneflower (Echinacea) and rudbeckia. There are also all manner of potted plants, some of them exotic and extremely fragrant, such as gardenia and angel trumpet (Brugmansia). Paths and old wooden gates beckoned to more secret nooks and surprises, and everywhere I looked yielded another delight for the senses.

The lily pond, an original feature of the front courtyard

These stairs lead to disappointment!

The back of the house features the Great Room and the formerly open-air dining porch (now enclosed) which once hosted lavish dinner parties for illustrious guests including prime ministers, lieutenant governors and senators. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau, for example, once played tennis on the now-lost court. (Apparently, traces of it – and the swimming pool – can still be seen … that’s a quest for another day!) The rear lawn dips down to the edge of the ravine through which runs the Credit, one of the longest rivers flowing into Lake Ontario. I imagine white-clad ladies and gents, shaded by immense old pines and oaks, enjoying an amiable game of croquet on that lawn. At its edge are crumbling stone steps down which I’m sure generations of children scrambled on some adventure or another. I wondered where they led, but they were fenced off. When I came back the next day and walked the trail along the valley bottom, I came across what I guessed were the same ones I’d seen from the top. Curious souls making the effort to climb those enticing steps only to find the way barred will soon find out why another visitor dubbed them the Stairs of False Hope!

Through a glass, humidly

The property is located on the northern edge of Carolinian habitat, and plants normally seen in the American south (e.g. sassafras, pawpaw, tulip tree, black-gum) can be found here. (It is also rich in bird and animal species.) Many of the garden plants are propagated onsite, and the house even has its own greenhouse/potting shed. A glimpse inside, with the late afternoon sun illuminating gardening tools and stacks of terra cotta pots, was intriguing.

The following day, I came back to explore more of the Riverwood property. There are other historic buildings, including an 1850s house and barn, and gardens to see as well as trails to hike, and I enjoyed them all. I have yet to get inside the buildings and am curious to know if any of their original features still exist. There is also an intriguing feature in the woods that I searched for but couldn’t find! Later in the season, when fall colour is at its peak, you can bet I’ll be back for more photography. The property will be lovely at any time of year, in fact, so Riverwood is bound to become a regular haunt for me.

My ramblings on those two magickal days inspired the theme for September and October: Autumn Enchantments!

A view from the Sundial Garden

Do the Shuffle*

* Rest assured: in this post, by no means shall we be discussing glitter balls or disco music!

Thank you to the lovely Samantha of samanthamurdochblog for nominating me for the Shuffle the Music Tag, as originated by Life in a Blogshell. (If you aren’t already a devoted follower of Samantha’s merry musings, please do become acquainted; while you’re at it, check out Blogshell, too!) The challenge of this tag is to hit the shuffle button on my music player and discuss what the first 15 songs that come up mean to me. I don’t actually download music or own an iPod, so I listen the old-fashioned way: to the radio or the CD player in my car. So, I suppose the following is more of a dream playlist, a mixed tape of the mind!

As a teen in the late ’70s, I was fed a steady diet of what is now known, I suppose, as classic rock. I have happy memories of hanging around our basement, listening to my older siblings’ vinyl records and 45s – does anyone remember the excitement of rushing to the music store to buy a favourite group’s latest single, hot off the press? (The B side was almost always a disappointment.) It was a Golden Age of bands such as Chicago, Kansas and Boston, Led Zeppelin and The Who, The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, The Police, Queen, The Eagles, Dire Straits and so many more. It was also the heyday of soft rock and folk artists such as Elton John, Billy Joel, Cat Stevens, James Taylor, Carole King, Jim Croce and Carly Simon, to name just a few.

My ultimate playlist isn’t confined only to ’70s rock. Because my parents were classical music fans and I started piano lessons at an early age, I grew up loving Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, et al. I also love me a beautiful solo voice, so some tenors and strong female voices make an appearance. And thoughtfully-crafted lyrics and melodies are very important to me, so I must give great songwriters a nod as well. Here goes, then, my Top 15 Playlist Shuffle, in a very particular order indeed:

1. Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac) • As an impressionable teen, I was enchanted with Stevie Nicks’ floaty brand of bohemian chic. (The picture of a very young Nicks in top hat will stay with me forever.) The group’s watershed albums Fleetwood Mac (1975) and Rumours (1976) got an awful lot of play in our house, and the mystic and ethereal Rhiannon, about a Welsh witch, helped spark an interest in Celtic mythology and get me started on my path. I love this song so much that the main character in my novel-in-progress bears the same name, and if I could have a soundtrack to my life, this one song would be it.

2. Landslide (Fleetwood Mac) • Once again, Nicks’ songwriting and vocals are at their best. She wrote the 1975 song, about her tumultuous relationship with bandmate Lindsey Buckingham, whilst staying alone in a hotel with a mountain view. I love the original as well as the 2006 live video version. I have performed this song on acoustic guitar; it’s a joy to play and sing.

3. Dog and Butterfly and Dream of the Archer (Heart) • Heart, who did their best work in the ’70s, is another group I grew up with. Lead singer Ann Wilson has an amazing vocal range (I can’t sing most of their stuff), and sister Nancy can shred guitar like nobody’s business. Their 1976 debut album, Dreamboat Annie, contains most of my favourites, including Crazy On You: ‘I was a willow last night in my dream / I bent down over a clear running stream / I sang you the song that I heard up above / and you kept me alive with your sweet-flowing love.’ Doesn’t get much better than that, except for the beautiful Dog and Butterfly (1978) and mandolin-infused Dream of the Archer, from 1977’s Little Queen – the cover of which had me longing to be a gypsy.

4. Legend (Clannad) • Okay, this is an entire album, not just one song, but each and every track is near and dear to my heart! I’ve mentioned before that Robin of Sherwood (1984-86) is my absolute all-time favourite TV series; Clannad’s haunting melodies, performed on traditional and modern instruments, were the perfect accompaniment. My top tracks are Herne and Scarlet. Clannad’s next album, Macalla (1985), featured Irish-language Caisleán Óir, another favourite used in the series.

5. Nocturne in C sharp Minor (Chopin) • This was my showpiece when I was taking lessons from my beloved – and very patient – piano teacher and performing in recitals. It made me fall in love with the Romantic movement. I just about aced all those runs and trills ….

6. The Moldau (Smetana) • Part of Smetana’s 1874 symphonic poem Má vlast (My Country), this piece so beautifully depicts the graceful and mighty meandering of the river through the Czech countryside, dotted with charming scenes of traditional rural life.

7. Blackbird (The Beatles) • Paul McCartney’s brilliant piece, with lyrics inspired by 1960s race relations in the U.S., was the first song I learned to play on guitar. This song uses an intricate fingerpicking pattern – my favourite way to play!

8. Homeward Bound (Fraser Walters/The Canadian Tenors) • Available only on the group’s 2010 DVD, The Canadian Tenors Live at the Royal Conservatory of Music, Walters’ achingly beautiful a cappella version of Marta Keen’s anthem makes me sob every time I hear it. If my novel were ever published and then made into a movie (yeah, right!), I’d want this as the theme song.

9. Hallelujah (The Canadian Tenors) • Although they’ve dropped the ‘Canadian’ part as well as former member Remigio Pereira, The Tenors are my favourite current vocal group, and this cover of Leonard Cohen’s classic is a masterpiece. There’s good reason I’ve attended at least four of their concerts, and have their autographs on every CD!

10. Where My Heart Will Take Me (Russell Watson) • Also known as Faith of the Heart, this Diane Warren song was used as the theme for Star Trek Enterprise – the only Trek theme with vocals, which caused a lot of controversy. Listening to Watson’s stirring anthem helped get me through a rocky time in my life.

11. The Highwayman (Loreena McKennitt) • My mother introduced me to Alfred Noyes’ poem of a doomed outlaw when I was a teen. How could I help but be impressed by this vision? ‘He’d a French cocked-hat on his forehead, a bunch of lace at his chin, / A coat of claret velvet, and breeches of brown doe-skin; / They fitted with never a wrinkle: his boots were up to the thigh! / And he rode with a jewelled twinkle, / His pistol butts a-twinkle, / His rapier hilt a-twinkle under the jewelled sky.’  McKennitt’s 10-minute abridged version, from her 1997 album The Book of Secrets, deftly evokes pounding hoofbeats over moonlit moors, a romantic hero and tragic love, straining in the dark.

12. Let It Be and Hey Jude (The Beatles) • A two-pack of McCartney’s optimistic and uplifting lyrics, so singable, so perfect. And I love the f-bomb dropped near the end of Jude when McCartney, on piano, plays a wrong chord!

13. You’ll Think of Me (Keith Urban) • You betcha, Mr. Urban! Smokin’ hot number from one of the best guitarists in the world, the song for which he earned his first Grammy. I fell instantly in love when I heard (and saw the video for) Somebody Like You, the first single from his groundbreaking 2002 album, Golden Road. My very hip mom and I have seen him in concert twice. Plus, his hair is prettier than most women’s.

14. Aléjate (Josh Groban) • I love all of Groban’s earlier work and have been to two of his concerts. This wildly romantic Spanish-language song, originally recorded as Just Walk Away by Celine Dion, is from Groban’s eponymous 2001 debut album.

15. For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her (Simon & Garfunkel) • I adore all of the duo’s work, but this one, in which Garfunkel walks ‘on frosted fields of juniper and lamplight’ is just so evocative. Scarborough Fair/Canticle, a folk classic, is another S & G winner, a simplified yet faithful version of which I play on guitar.

I’m going to refrain from nominating other bloggers, as Samantha has already covered several I know. I’ll simply encourage you all to hit the Play button, sing your hearts out and dance like no one is watching. Happy listening!

Celestial Serenade

Today I experienced the North American total solar eclipse. Sort of. As I live in Toronto, north of the band of totality cutting centrally across the continent, ours was a semi-eclipse, with about 70% coverage. I call it the Partialclypse (cue Brian May’s Mad Max soundtrack).

There have been other solar eclipses visible in my part of the world during my lifetime; I have very vague memories of watching one when I was a kid … I think. Back in the early ’90s, my future astrophysicist-teacher husband – I call him Mr. Science – travelled with the Royal Astronomical Society to Mexico one whirlwind weekend to view a Total Eclipse of the Sun (cue Bonnie Tyler). (This is the same man who went to Australia in 1986 to view Halley’s Comet.) He still talks about the eclipse as a spiritual experience: when the day went dark, all the hairs on his arms and neck stood straight up, and he was deeply moved. In 2008, Mr. Science and I viewed a total lunar eclipse together, on the shore of Lake Ontario one icy February night when I got so cold, I thought I’d developed hypothermia. This was before I had my “good” camera, so I used a point-and-shoot with lousy zoom and no tripod. My teeth were chattering and hands shaking so much, this is the best image I could capture.

Total lunar eclipse as seen from Toronto, Canada February 20, 2008.

The term eclipse, by the way, comes from the Greek word for ‘disappearance’ or ‘abandonment’ (cue the bouzouki). Cultural folklore, from ancient peoples on down, deals extensively with solar eclipses, ranging from creation myths to omens of imminent misfortune to giant demons (dragons, frogs, bears, serpents, werewolves or vampires) devouring the sun to rocky relations between heavenly lovers.

Despite the fact that I knew today’s eclipse would not be the awe-inspiring total blackout, complete with Baily’s beads and corona (hmm, sounds like that trip to Mexico) that other parts of North America would be treated to, I was really looking forward to it. The weather cooperated beautifully. Too bad Mr. Science didn’t; at the last minute, he decided to scarper to a friend’s cottage, taking the protective eclipse-viewing glasses with him (cue Marche funèbre from Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 2). Since I had no intention of melting my retinas or destroying my camera’s lens by pointing any of them directly at the sun (cue Thomas Dolby), I was left to fashion a rudimentary pinhole viewer out of a couple of pieces of cardboard, aluminum foil, tape and a pin to make the “lens” through which the tiny but harmless solar image would be projected.

It worked! The images are like moon shadows, but in reverse (cue Cat Stevens). Using this homemade viewer, I was able to track the progress of the Moon’s silhouette across the surface of the Sun, taking photographs every few minutes. Lacking a proper tripod for both my big camera and cell phone, I had to hold my phone in one hand while trying to steady and “focus” the cardboard lens in the other. As a result, the images are primitive and indistinct, but I still enjoyed this bit of old-school science.

Pinhole images of the August 21, 2017 solar eclipse as seen from Toronto, Ontario.

Continuing the musical theme, my next post will focus on my nomination by a fellow blogger for the Shuffle the Music Tag.


Savouring Summer

August is waning, and our cottage vacation is over, but there is still some summer left to enjoy! I made this After-sun Spray for my sister, who spends tons of time outdoors birdwatching and capturing stunning nature photographs. (I, on the other hand, am a moon-worshipping troglodyte; even though I adore the natural world, I eschew the sun like a 14th century peasant trying to avoid the Black Death.)

Once again, this is a recipe from Pinterest, and my sister reports that it is a very successful one. The fragrant, non-greasy spray – which can be used any time, not just after sun exposure – contains aloe vera, witch hazel and Vitamin E to soothe, calm and refresh the skin. Omit the Vitamin E oil if you can’t find it or it’s too expensive.

After-sun Spray

  • 2 oz. (60 mL) glass spray bottle
  • 1 tbsp witch hazel (look for the alcohol-free kind; I like Thayers)
  • 2 tbsp aloe vera gel
  • 1/4 tsp Vitamin E oil (optional)
  • 1 tbsp fractionated coconut oil
  • 6 drops lavender essential oil
  • 2 drops peppermint essential oil

Mix ingredients well and decant into spray bottle. Shake before using. Spray on skin (avoid eyes) and gently rub in.

My sister has recently begun a WordPress blog, Nature’s Dance, where she’s just started posting about native flora and fauna, her birding and travel experiences and articles about her photography exhibits. There you’ll also find a fledgling (see what I did there?) gallery of her amazing images, plus a link to her Flickr website featuring many, many more. (She does, by the way, offer all her photos for sale…) Please do check her out!

“All these herbs are nice, but where’s the catnip?” A summery image captured a few years ago at the cottage by my sister.

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage (Part 3)

The hummingbird hovers, the goldfinch alights
A leafy green path ’neath the lofty pine beckons:
“Come ye to the woods, seek their earthen delights
where oaks count the hours and bright toadstools, the seconds.”Willow basket in hand, she heeds sylvan call
and wanders past foamflower and lowbush blueberry,
whispers welcome to trees, with a silent footfall,
she soaks up the magick of old forest Faerie.A lighthouse stands guard on the point, giving warning:
Wave-lapped rocks – sailors’ bane! – warmed by midsummer heat.
Her throne a moss pillow bedewed from the morning,
she rests, breathes in pine-scented air, soft and sweet.How wondrous the isle where the woods are enchanted!
How sparkles the sun on the diamond-like water!
How blessed is she in her sturdy white cabin,
where secrets are passed from wise mother to daughter!

Scenes from a Witch’s Cottage, Part 3
© 2017, Valerie Barrett