A Grove Myth (Not The Good Kind)

Not as much time to write as usual for me this weekend, between preparations for my trip to Wellspring and spending the evening watching the final episode of Lost with friends. That may be just as well, since even after pondering it for a week, the long list of “myths about the Grove” I wanted to cover this time around still stands at one. But it’s a big one, and one that I definitely think hurts us and our ability to survive and grow in the coming years, so I may as well make a big deal out of it and give it its own article:

Despite what many folks think, no, we don’t own our own land.

Granted, anyone who’s seen our treasurer’s monthly reports, or heard me complain about our low fundraising income, or even just spent time with the average Pagan group of our size, would never think that we had enough money for such a thing. But there are lots of people out there who don’t fall into any of those categories, and many of them assume that if we’re a church that’s been around for a long time and gets written about in the newspapers, then we must have a building and some other assets, right? (Hmm, there’s an odd fundraising idea: make ourselves look more pathetic so people think we’re as poor as we really are.) As a reality check, out of about sixty current ADF groves and protogroves, all of one of them owns its own building (and that was from a donation from someone’s estate) and one other owns its own land (which was donated as well).

I was reminded of this again last week when someone e-mailed me asking for permission to spend the night at the nemeton for personal spiritual work. Which sounds like a great idea, except I can’t really give permission for it because we aren’t the land owner! Those of you who have been to the Botsford Preserve have probably met Don Botsford at some point. He’s been nice enough to let us set up our permanent nemeton in a clearing on his land, and use it for sixteen years now. While he never attends our rituals, he’s certainly sympathetic to us, and to anyone else who cares about nature. He volunteers his time and his land to school groups who come out and want to see the many different species of flora and fauna that inhabit the preserve. But he doesn’t let us use the land for free. We have to pay $80 for the rituals where we just stay for Friday night and Saturday afternoon, and $100 for rituals where we stay late on Saturday, like Lughnasadh and Samhain. Which is entirely fair, in my opinion, as it’s his land and he puts a lot of work into keeping the preserve as a lovely place for us to gather five times a year.

So how does this “myth” hurt our Grove? The odd e-mail from people who think we own the place aren’t a big deal to me, and the occasional person who shows up at the preserve to meet us because they think we have an office there is a bit of a nuisance to Don, but easily corrected, and not the worst thing in the world. Rodney’s aforementioned treasurer reports show the big problem most plainly: We just don’t get as many donations at our outdoor rites as we do at the indoor ones, in part because people think that we don’t need much money because the site is ours, or because it’s a natural outdoor site and we must get it for cheap. Sadly, neither of these is true. Our three indoor rituals during the winter are held at sites that cost us considerably less to rent out – and yet we consistently get more in donations and raffle proceeds at those rituals. For Spring Equinox, we pulled in more than enough for the Friends’ basement’s $60 site fee. For Beltaine, we didn’t even get half of the $80 we needed to rent Botsford. And that was after I had bought most of the ritual offerings and supplies with my own money. Even if I do have a higher-paying job now than I have since 2001, there’s only so long I can keep pumping my own money into our rituals before I decide that if nobody else thinks the rites are worth it, then they’re not worth it to me either, and then we get to do cheapo ritual weekends in a public park or on the side of the road somewhere and hope that people still think they’re worth attending.

In fairness, I’ve been saying this sort of thing for ten years now, and somehow we manage to get enough in donations to keep things going the way they are, but damn it’s frustrating. I know all too well how little disposable income people in Michigan have these days, and I know that many people out there want to help us with out financial problems and just can’t, but it’s far worse when people don’t even know that the problem exists. So hopefully, as Schoolhouse Rock used to sing, “knowledge is power” and the truth of our land-owning situation will spread without me having to be all whiny about it.

Next week’s entry will be delayed until Monday or Tuesday, depending on when I get home from Wellspring and how tired I am when I do. See you then!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

P.S. – For those wondering about whether we could buy the land from Don, or from Don’s children when he passes away (no, I’m not being morbid, he’s in his late 80’s and he’s not immortal) and leaves it to his children, I can only note that he was offered $2 million for half of the property a few years back by a group of Indonesian businessmen who wanted to build a few houses but leave the forest mostly untouched, and he turned them down. So if you donate $4 million to us, we will certainly ask him about buying the whole thing. >8)

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The Not-So-Secret Garden

Nothing huge to report this week, the only Grove activity before today was the business meeting, and those are seldom worth discussing after the fact anyway.  >8)

I went to the Botanical Gardens today and bought a pepper plant from their greenhouse, with this plus the eight plants I got from the Friends of the Ypsi Library yesterday I have quite the little greenhouse going here myself! Sadly I can’t leave any of them outside, because people in this neighborhood actually will steal plants from the yard (yes, I’m moving next month, thank the gods) but I have a little grow-light here so they should be fine inside. I also bought a stuffed animal version of a great blue heron that makes a heron-call noise when you squeeze it, which is definitely gonna go on the Nature Spirits altar at our next High Day!

Nobody showed up for the Modern Druidry class, well I take that back, one did but he really didn’t need to. >8)  Richard has been a member of SLG longer than I have, so other than the origin of the phrase “bĂ­odh se”, there wasn’t much to cover. I only ever intended the class to be an introductory one for folks who had never attended any of our rituals, or maybe only one or two and hadn’t quite figured out what was going on. So either we have no new people interested in our Grove, or they all have it figured out already! I did briefly contemplate the thought of an advanced class series before I remembered that An Bruane is really our advanced class series, and I need to find a better way to remind folks of that.

Still, Richard and I explored the conservatory and some of the outside gardens, and that was fun. I still remember my first trip there when I was in fourth grade, and my astonishment at being able to see desert plants in Michigan in the winter. Since the last time I was there, they’ve added a children’s garden, which includes a maze with gates that allow them to change the pathways regularly (ooh!) and a garden where they let the kids harvest the crops when they’re ready. Sounds like a great way for Pagan parents to help their kids connect to the agricultural cycles that mattered to much to the Ancients. That, or taking them to an actual farm. I definitely need to ask Skip at Wellspring about where we can get some fresh emmer wheat seeds and get those planted again.

So yeah, a quiet mid-May week for the Grove. Next week, an update on Wellspring preparations, an update on whether my new plants have survived one week of my care, and I’ll address a few myths about our Grove. (And not the good kind of myth, either!)

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

On Wells And Springs and Gardens

A few odds and ends, as a counterpoint to the novel that was last week’s entry:

It’s official, I went ahead and paid for my Wellspring registration, so now I either have to go or I’m out thirty dollars! I’ll likely be renting a car for the weekend and heading out Friday morning, to make sure I’m there in time for Kirk’s installation as ArchDruid. I’ll stay in the same hotel I went to last time, since I still hate camping and this time I won’t even have access to camping equipment. Actually, it’ll be nice to get away from the site for a while, not only to avoid festival overload but to visit French Creek and that cute ladybug-themed cafe that we went to last time. So now all I have to do is remember what I need to pack after not having been there for eight years, and get my class notes ready if my proposal is accepted. I hope to see/meet some of you there!

Once again, nobody has signed up for my Modern Druidry class with one week to go. So will there be nobody signing up at all like last year, or everyone calling me on Sunday morning like two years ago? (Maybe I should make it free if you -re-register and charge if you don’t? Nah, then I’d just get nobody.) Since I have a car this year, I’ll probably just plan on going to the Botanical Gardens on Sunday regardless, it’ll be nice to visit again. Granted, hiking the various trails doesn’t have as much appeal now that I’m walking eight to twelve miles every day at work, but touring the greenhouse will still be enjoyable.

Rev. Michael Dangler just completed the Third Circle of the ADF Clergy Training Program (congratulations!), and now takes on an even more daunting task: analyzing the CTP and proposing a possible restructuring of it. Since I’m already enrolled and have finished the First Circle, I would likely be grandfathered into finishing the current version of the CTP even if the changes are made, but I must say his proposals look good enough that I’d consider going back and doing the new First Circle anyway. Certainly the option of focusing on the practical of running a Grove has a big appeal to me. You can read his thoughts on his LiveJournal account.

And I hope everyone had a good Mother’s Day! It’s not too late to call if you forgot!

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF

Oh Good, My God Found The Chainsaw

Preparations for our Beltaine weekend events actually began on the 22nd, when Gen and I went to the nemeton to clean it up and assess any big things that had happened over the winter and absolutely had to be dealt with, like, say, trees falling into the middle of the circle. And we found… two trees that had fallen into the middle of the circle. It was sad to see that they had fallen because a larger tree had fallen and knocked them both over. (The interconnectedness of all living things has its down side!) After twenty minutes with an axe, I managed to shorten one of them, but the other two were way thicker, so I sent out a message to the Grove mailing list asking for someone to bring a chainsaw or just be better with tree-cutting implements than I am. Other than that, the nemeton was in good shape, and just needed some raking and stick-picking-up.

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So a week later, I got to the circle early to get the new Grove Flame started and enjoy the many hundreds of trilliums that always adorn the preserve this time of year. The late sunset and warm weather meant that fifteen people were there for the fire blessing! After socializing for a few hours, I went to Rod’s house to load the ritual props into the car, since he and Liz had a wedding to attend on Saturday and wouldn’t be at the rite. After getting back to the site and unloading everything, I slept in the car for about four hours, which was actually more comfortable than I’d have expected. (Not as comfy as my last car was, though.) It was nice being able to open my eyes and see the fire without having to be, y’know, lying on the cold hard ground and stuff.

At 4, Dot returned to the site, and between our two cars we had room for all eight of the folks still at the preserve to go to the Dawn Rite. We got a late start, around 5, but since Fox couldn’t attend this year (more on that later) we didn’t have to spend time canoeing out into the lake. After our traditional stop at the Ormond Rd. gas station for a paper funnel (and Sean getting four coffees, no not all for himself), we got to the lake right around 6, giving us plenty of time to make our offerings, sing our song, gather the water, and walk up to the oak tree to await the sunrise. Well, the theoretical sunrise, while it didn’t rain while we were there, the cloud cover was heavy, and we saw several flashes of heat lightning bouncing around in the clouds. I think it was the windiest Dawn Rite I’ve seen as well. At around the time of sunrise, Diane held the bowl of water aloft and we sang our blessing song. We stopped by the headwaters of the Huron on the way back (after I completely missed the sign on the first pass – help, I’ve lost our river!) and only ran into a smidgeon of graduation traffic on the way back to the nemeton. (President Obama was the commencement speaker, and everyone was told to be at the stadium no later than 9, so we were expecting it at least.)

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I drove home, past the bumper-to-bumper traffic headed toward the stadium, to shower and change at home, then picked up wine (I forgot to order the May Wine far enough ahead, and as usual even our nicest Ann Arbor wine stores don’t carry it) and the last few ritual supplies and got back to Botsford a bit before noon, to find everyone listening to the President’s speech on an iPhone. (Gods I need better tech.) Carrying the props down to the nemeton, I was happy to see that Dot had brought a bow-saw with her and Sean had managed to remove the remaining two trees already! Dylan and I got the nemeton set up (and I realized how long it’s been since I set up a ritual space without Rodney there) while the other folks tied the ribbons to the Maypole topper. We had the Maypole set up and everything ready at about 1:30, and having time to prepare mentally for the ritual without worrying about the nemeton always makes me happy!

Of course, with graduation traffic still milling about, folks arrived later than usual, and we didn’t get started until after 3. Anne arrived, but apparently never got the e-mail I sent her about making the cookies for the May King/Queen selection, and so hadn’t made them. Ick. Well, part of being the ritual leader is dealing with the unexpected things that the Fates throw at you. I went with a quick improv and had Anne pick a number from 1 to 25 and counted around the circle clockwise to select… Barbara. (Was it a fair way to select by lots? Maybe not, but I didn’t want to spend a huge amount of time on the selection process at that point, and since I’d chosen Anne to provide the randomization factor, it seemed the fairest way to do it quickly.)

So with Barbara crowned and the sun peeking through the clouds, we processed down to the nemeton, for the traditional Beltaine “blessings” of bubbles, glitter gel, and a water squirter. With Janek constantly signaling me to pick him up, I somehow managed to get my offerings made to Ana and the Shining Ones and Aren, our Deity of the Occasion. We passed around a flask of oil as the focus object for our individual praise, but it was a fairly quiet group this time around. (Shame on me for not having time to write a song this year!) Fortunately the group praise was much more boisterous, with the Song of Transcending the Boundary (known to some as the Hokey Pokey) and the Maypole dance. The ribbons weren’t long enough to tie up the May Queen this year, though, and with a tall May Queen I wouldn’t have expected that to be a problem! (I would note that the dance was actually the most coordinated one we’ve had at a ritual, which confirms the suspicion I’ve had for many years: it’s actually the presence of Rodney that makes the dance get messed up. I knew he was doing it deliberately! But how?)

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For the main sacrifice, we poured the oil on the fire and Barbara jumped over it successfully, without lighting her skirt or anything else. Kestrel took the omen, which was good (Ehwaz, Fehu, Jera). and so we drank the “May Wine” (actually Lake Effect Winery’s Black and Blue Wine) and sparkling raspberry, and everyone had the chance to jump the fire themselves.

After closing up the rite, we went back up to the fire circle for the potluck and the raffle, which had the special big item of an afghan made by Jude (yet) but only brought in forty dollars (sigh, why do the outdoor rites never get as many donations?), and socializing, and also a brief meeting of the proto-forming local Bardic Guild of Paul, Vale and Barbara. I’m very glad that enough people stayed long enough to clean up the nemeton at least, cutting the ribbons off the Maypole by myself would have been quite the challenge! The one really annoying part of the cleanup was the trash bag splitting in two right before I got to the car, forcing me to pick it all up by hand. Eww. (Coulda been worse, though, it could have split open after I put it in the car.) Memo to self: Buy the expensive trash bags for the Hospitality Bin next time.

And after twenty four hours of ritual and four hours of sleep, I still managed to go up to Fox and Janet’s farm for the first time. Saturday was a planting day for them, so none of their family could attend the rites, but it’s good to see them living the agricultural sustainability dream, and hopefully we’ll be able to bring up the flame from next month’s Fire Watch and throw burning embers into the green crops, as the Irish used to do at the summer solstice, and as we did (and will do again) for our Grove wheat.

So all it all, it was a really great weekend. I’m sad that so many of our regulars couldn’t be there, but we did see a lot of new faces, and just had a fun time and honored Aren, and that’s the important part. Ah, but if only the President had stopped by on his way back to Washington… (And I really should have hired some actors to dress up as Secret Service and come down to the circle in the middle of the ritual. It would totally have been worth it.)

Rev. Rob Henderson
Senior Druid, Shining Lakes Grove, ADF