Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Welcome Summer at the UMass Sunwheel!

Summer is here!

We celebrated the arrival of summer last week at the UMass Sunwheel on June 21st, the day of the Summer Solstice. The weather was perfect -- clear all day, with temperatures in the 60's for sunrise, and 80's at sunset. Even though the sunrise gathering was at the early hour of 5 a.m., there were 26 hearty souls present to see the Sun come up. And 148 visitors were present for sunset, making a total of 173 people at the Sunwheel for Summer Solstice 2010! The sunset crowd was a lively group, asking good questions, and keeping me busy until the mosquitos descended with the darkness. And thank you to my daughter for coming from Chicago to help me with the Sunwheel events.

A visitor named Michelle wrote, "Thanks so much for another great night at the Sunwheel! I have been to a few [gatherings] now, and always learn something new. Tonight I was especially touched by the sense of community I felt." A visitor from out of town commented, "It was a great learning experience to be there [at the Sunwheel] and listen to you and understand things in their right perspective. We enjoyed every moment of it. Life is full of interesting things. You have opened one more avenue to enjoy life. Thanks a lot for that."

To view the Picasa Web album of Summer Solstice photos taken at the Sunwheel, click here

I am happy to announce that The Sunwheel Project is now on Facebook and Twitter!

To keep up with Sunwheel events, news and exciting new developments on Facebook, visit and "Like"

[This is distinct from the Facebook page "Friends of the Sunwheel",
which is under development.]

You can also follow the Sunwheel on Twitter, at

So summer is really here. My garden shows the early summer flowers, with day lilies of many colors, shasta daisies, snakeroot, roses, chameleon plant, sweet peas, ligularia and spiderwort. Lots of lush green growth for the flowers yet to bloom. I am reminded to give thanks to Mother Earth every day for the abundance and support and beauty she offers!

Happy Summer!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

A Birthday Celebration

This week I celebrated my birthday, and it was quite a day.

I decided to go for a walk as part of my celebration. But not just any walk. I decided to go to one of my favorite Town of Amherst conservation areas to walk in the woods, instead of walking from home around the residential neighborhoods. And since I typically walk 1-2 miles per day, it seemed very reasonable to plan to complete a 1-mile loop at the conservation area only ~2 miles from home.

The day was beautiful and a bit cool, and since I planned to be gone for only ~45 minutes, I took only my camera and driver's license with me. As usual, there were no other cars present when I began the walk. The sign was new -- it said the loop was 0.83 miles, and it pointed to a break in the trees. So I began the walk, and to my surprise, what used to be a dirt road was overgrown with 1' tall grasses. Perhaps I should have taken a clue from that.

I had visited this conservation area in the winter -- on show shoes, I had tromped through the woods and made my way 3/4 of the way around the loop. And then the trail disappeared so I had to retrace my steps and give up on completing the loop. I returned a day later and walked the loop in reverse, finding my way through a mass of dead trees that fell from the maple blight, and locating the loop trail even where the trail had disappeared.

After this winter experience, on my birthday I planned to walk the loop in reverse again, expecting to be able to navigate through the fallen trees as easily as I had during the winter...

The first part of the walk was easy. I found the trail into the woods, and followed the blazes. And like my winter trek, when the trail emerged from the woods, the trail blazes disappeared since they were on the dead trees that had fallen. But I could see the general direction I needed to go in. So I continued walking. Well, it was sort of what you would call walking. But with all the rain we had this summer, the grass had grown over 4' tall. And these grasses were hiding fallen trees beneath.

Walking through the tall grass was kind of like slashing through the jungle, only I didn't have a tool to cut the grass with. Only my arms and legs. So I would lift my knees high to climb over the fallen trees, taking one slow step after another. And more often than not, it took 2 tries to place my foot on the ground around whatever trees were underfoot. I did wonder about snakes, but that was not my biggest worry. I didn't know where the trail was, or how long it would take me to find it. I didn't have any water with me. And my energy was starting to drain.

After 15 minutes of trying to make headway through the tall grass, I realized that I didn't want to turn around. Or that it was unlikely that I could retrace my steps even if I wanted to. And I realized that if the trail was this overgrown, I might never find it. I had visions of Humphrey Bogart in "The African Queen" pulling the boat through the jungle and slashing the grasses before him. Several times I walked into underbrush too dense to navigate through, so I headed into more open areas instead, where the grasses were taller but I could make headway. I kept hoping I would intersect with the loop trail which I had walked countless times.

And as in all memorable adventures, I came to the point where I decided that if I hadn't found the trail in 5 minutes, I would get out my cell phone and call for help -- I would ask the Fire Dept. to come rescue me. For I realized that I didn't have the strength to bush wack through the woods for the entire 1-mile loop, and I didn't have the strength to go back. I wasn't exactly lost -- I knew exactly where I was, I just wasn't exactly where I wanted to be.

So when the dragon fly flew by and circled around me, I asked it for help. I asked it to show me the way to the trail. And then it disappeared, so I kept walking. Legs trembling from exertion. Sweat dripping down my back. Face red from getting overheated and not having any water.

And then suddenly tall grasses were gone. The undergrowth was gone. And the canopy of trees overhead shaded an open space before me that was like a breath of fresh air. I was standing on the trail. Even though I didn't have water, I felt as overjoyed as if I had been in the desert and had found an oasis to drink from.

I had spent 45 minutes to go ~1/3 of the way around the loop, and I might have stopped to rest had it not been for the mosquitoes. Oh, and did I mention the poison ivy? I noticed it when I was in the open places, and I had no idea if I had been walking through poison ivy vines as I trudged through the tall grasses. So I didn't dawdle, but walked with purpose to complete the loop trail. In another 20 minutes, I was back at my car. Then in another 5 minutes I was home, and went directly to the shower.

It was quite the birthday walk. In the jungle, only 2 miles from my house. An unforgettable adventure. And I didn't need to get rescued after all. But I did say to myself, after that adventure, that I really like walking around the residential neighborhoods.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

There is Nothing Like Getting Better

I realized yesterday that it had been a long time since I had written on this blog, and that is really wonderful. It means that I am getting better -- I have been spending my time simply living, instead of writing about it.

As I recover my strength and ability to travel, I have gone somewhere almost every month since the beginning of 2009. Some of the trips were to visit family, some were vacations, and some were for professional conferences or to give lectures. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to go to Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona in March to use the telescopes there to observe galaxies in the Virgo Cluster. That was a spectacular trip! And I went to an international conference on galaxies in June, and gave an invited talk.

And now I am having the time of my life, getting ready to go to Montana where I will lead a retreat on "Astronomy, Spirituality, and the Mayan Prophecy". I am very excited and full of joy as I prepare. I have attended many residential retreats in the past 17 years, but never led one, so I am pulling together the best of all that I have experienced, in combination with my passion for teaching astronomy outside, and creating a unique event in the history of the Universe. Everything in my life that has occurred until now has helped prepare me for this retreat.

And still parts of my days are involved with caring for my body, that temple in which my spirit resides and upon which I depend as my vehicle in this life. I have learned many things in my healing journey that I will apply during the upcoming retreat:

1) It is essential for me to take my time and enjoy the process of life, with all the in-between moments, and not just the destination.
2) It is essential for me to rest when I need, to honor the needs of my body over the desires of my spirit or the needs of others.
3) It is essential to laugh and play.
4) It is essential to be silly and not take myself too seriously.
5) Packing lightly is just not something I do! But it doesn't matter either. I will just ask for help in lifting my suitcase!!!

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Summer Garden Draws in a Special Visitor

This has been a week for visits from special winged friends.

At the beginning of the week, the first brilliant red bud of lobelia (cardinal flower) opened. As with foxglove plants, the buds open first at the bottom and them blossom up to the top of the flower stalk. Then I counted a total of 75 stalks of cardinal flower in my garden this year, all with buds which will open later in July.

When the first cardinal flower bud opened this week, I recalled how last summer a hummingbird zipped through the garden as I gazed, and that was the first hummingbird I saw in the garden last year. But I had seen no hummingbirds here this year.

The first hummingbird I saw this year was in April when I visited the Desert Museum near Tucson, and a hummingbird greeted me as I walked to the first overlook. It was not focusing on any particular plant, but rather it hovered in front of me moving horizontally and then vertically, and it really seemed to be welcoming me.

Then the second hummingbird was in Washington D.C. where I went for Mother's Day. I was getting ready to plant the white trillium flower that I had brought from my garden for my mother, and as I prepared to dig a hole in the ground, a hummingbird came and hovered at the very spot I was selecting for the trillium. I was thrilled!

That was it, 2 hummingbirds in 2009.

Then yesterday as I sat resting on the front porch in the late afternoon, a hummingbird took me by surprise and flew into the front yard, hovering near the deep red day lilies. It then flew to the white foxglove flowers, followed by the very fragrant star-gazer lilies, and finally to the yellow rudbeckia (black-eyed Susans). I was so focused that time seemed to slow down, but all of this must have taken less than 20-30 seconds. So I was a bit dumbstruck when the hummingbird stopped to rest on a branch of the 20' tall rhododendron 'bush'. Here it sat for another 20-30 seconds, and then zipped off when I moved to get a closer view.

So now I have seen 3 hummingbirds this year, and am sure to see more as the cardinal flower opens. I'm ready!!

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Immortality" Bloomed Today!

The first thing I did when I got out of bed this morning was to look out the front window, and sure enough, 'Immortality' was blooming!!

Maybe you didn't know that Immortality can bloom. Well guess what -- it can.

Two years ago, in the spring of 2007, I purchased from White Flower Farm a collection of re-blooming bearded iris, consisting of 6 varieties of the flower. I planted them and then waited. They didn't bloom once the first year, let alone twice, and I realized they didn't have quite enough Sun, and that the soil was probably to acidic. So I moved the iris to a different spot, put lime in the soil in the fall and spring, and another year went by and still they didn't bloom.

I decided to create a new garden in my yard in a sunny spot that appeared recently when a neighbor lost a tree in her yard. I moved the re-blooming iris to this new garden, added lots of lime to the soil, and called White Flower Farm for advice.

The advice I was given was to fertilize the soil around the iris with a 10-10-10 fertilizer before and after each flowering episode, in the early spring, mid-summer, and late fall. And I was also told it could take up to 2 years for the iris to flower after moving them.

So I was prepared to wait another 2 years before seeing a flower...

Imagine my surprise and delight when a flower stalk appeared on one of the re-blooming iris plants 10 days ago! And then another flower stalk appeared!! Yesterday I counted 6 iris stems with buds preparing to bloom this spring -- 2 of the new re-blooming plants, and 4 from varieties that I already had but that rarely bloomed.

And that brings me back to this morning, when I got out of bed and looked out the front window. Yes, there it was -- 'Immortality' was blooming. Immortality is one of the varieties of re-blooming iris in the front garden, and I find it hysterical that Immortality is the first variety to bloom. 'Immortality' is calling. 'Immortality' has my full attention. With a cup to tea in hand, I went outside to smell the flower. It was heavenly.

So 'Immortality' bloomed today. And the fact is that I ascribe to the belief that the soul returns to Earth numerous times from one lifetime to the next, and that it is in fact 'immortal'. So not only am I thrilled that one of my re-blooming iris is blooming for the first time, but the metaphor of 'immortality' making a grand entrance and presenting itself in my life is not lost on me.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why Is This Spring Different From All Other Springs?

I don't know why, but there are some things I have noticed this spring in the garden that are very unusual.

First, I have some lily of the valley, and usually only about 1 in 10 plants has a flower. Still, with over 1000 plants in the garden, I have many, many flowers. And yet this year, almost every plant has a flower. To top it off, today I even saw some flowers stems without any leaf. Just the flower!

Then there are the foxglove. Every fall I spread foxglove (digitalis) seeds from the flowers that bloomed the previous summer, and I did so last fall. What I am noticing now is that the ground is literally covered with a carpet of tiny green plants. Many more than usual of the foxglove seeds have germinated and are producing the beginnings of foxglove plants. There must be 10's of thousands of baby foxglove plants.

And more daffodils bloomed this year than any of the past 5 years, and the Jack-in-the-Pulpits are abundant as well. The garden is gorgeous, even though we had some very hot days that killed off the tulips.

So I am wondering if the climate -- a late warm fall & very cold winter -- is conducive to the flowering and growth of the plants. Or maybe it is something else. Maybe it really worked to fertilize the garden early this spring with the 10-10-10 fertilizer!!!

And even though I don't know the exact reason why the gardens are doing so well this year, you can bet that I will continue to fertilize.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Celebrating the Earth

As the weather gets warmer and spring flowers are blooming, I especially enjoy walking around my neighborhood to see all the lovely gardens. And since every physical therapist I speak to tells me to walk every day, even if it is just for 15 minutes, I make a point to go for walks between 30-45 minutes when my strength allows.

Yesterday was a gorgeous sunny day, with temperatures over 60 degrees around 10 in the morning. So I did my warm-up exercises, put on my walking shoes and headed out the front door.

I chose a route that took me past my favorite gardens so I could see what was blooming and what was just sprouting out of the ground. I saw tulips and daffodils and hyacinths blooming, pink and white magnolia trees flowering, and a large cherry blossom tree in bloom that I had never seen blooming before. There was an audible sound of bees buzzing at the cherry blossom tree, and I stood to look at the beauty and listen to the bees when I passed by.

Also on my walk I saw a fair amount of random trash. A plastic bag here, a bottle there, a cup here, a can there. Most yards were mostly clean, but near the curb there were bits of garbage and trash everywhere I walked.

So when I got home, I made a decision. Since Earth Day is coming, I would give a present to the Earth (and myself and my neighbors) and clean up the neighborhood. I got 2 large plastic bags, my picker-upper tool, and I retraced my walk AGAIN, this time picking up trash. What usually took 30 minutes without stopping became a 90 minute walk as I stopped to pick up every piece of plastic, paper, or metal trash along my route. I filled one bag with trash, and the other bag with recyclables -- mostly plastic cans, bottles, & cups. And before I got home, the bags were full and so heavy that I had to stop before I finished cleaning up along the last street.

So today when it was time to take my walk, I went in reverse to complete the trash collection. And I received several unexpected gifts.

First, when I passed a yard where a woman was gardening, she saw what I was doing and said, "Bless your heart." That felt nice, to be blessed. Someone else had blessed me yesterday as I started out on my mission -- a rabbi from down the street drove past me with my bags and my picker-upper tool and said, "God bless you."

Then on my return today, as I walked down the street that I had just cleaned of bits of trash, the same woman who had said 'Bless your heart' handed me a bunch of daffodils from her garden and said, "Thank you for cleaning up the neighborhood." I answered with, "Oh, this is so sweet. You are welcome." I had wanted to give the Earth and the neighborhood a present for Earth Day, and I received some of the bounty of the Earth in return.

In actuality, I prefer to think that every day is Earth Day, rather than one day a year, and I express my gratitude every day for what the Earth offers us. It was wonderful to receive the gifts of words and flowers. I didn't expect them, and I didn't need them, but they were wonderful gifts and acknowledgments from the Universe that when we give of ourselves, we also receive.