Barely Contained

Lime thyme

Lime Thyme

Last night I made a gallon of iced tea for Gypsy and I. I used good quality English Black Tea from Stash, and about ten leaves off of our Mojito Mint plant and the gallon did not even make it until noon today, and that makes me happy.

We do not have a house, we do not even have a yard, but I garden each year as if my life depended on it, and perhaps, in a way, it does.

Would you be amused to know that we are currently raising seven varieties of tomatoes?

Minibels

Napa Chardonnay Blush

Gold Rush Currants

Black Vernissage

Romas

Black Crimeans

And a rare Appalachian tomato called Bull Bloods.

We are also growing:

Mira Peppers

Fish Peppers

Violet Sparkle peppers

Jalapenos

Aji Dolce peppers

Carmen peppers

and a rare heirloom variety called Blunt Nosed peppers whose flowers and fruit are royal purple.

We have five varieties of European lettuce and Japanese Mizuna mustard greens.

Besides the veggies, we have two varieties of Datura, pennyroyal, three varieties of basil, two types of rosemary, chocolate, Corsican and mojito mint, lime thyme and cilantro. This does not count the small citrus trees, the ponytail palms, the African violets or the orchids.

Oh, and we have a variety of flowers, such as zinnias, columbines, forget-me-nots, salvia and verbena and a pretty heavy duty patch of hens & chicks (sempervivums)

Now here is the kicker for most people. We are growing it all on an elevated porch that measures ten by five feet and in a very small (5×3 foot) patch of landscaped earth in front of where we park our car.

Buckets

(Here is how it began back in April.)

Our garden is almost all in containers, and as of this writing on June 17, 2017, it is flourishing.

We have had two harvests of the lettuce already, the bull blood tomatoes as well as the romas and Crimeans are all over four feet and showing fruit and most of the peppers are at least flowering if not already showing fruit.

Almost anyone can garden.

As I have mentioned in this blog before, I start preparing for gardening season in December or January, requesting catalogs, making huge, sprawling master wish lists that I couldn’t actually pull off unless I had a couple of acres of plantable ground, making diagrams and counting my containers. That is a very important part of the equation.

This year I have seven kitty litter buckets, three 28x14x12 inch grow boxes and a variety of found, repurposed or dollar store pots, buckets and what have you, and all of our plants are thriving, blooming and beginning to produce.

How do we pull it off?

We are in love with the process.

Four of our varieties of tomatoes, as well the cilantro, rosemary, Pennyroyal and three types of peppers I started from seeds back in April and May, thank you Barbara and Margana for sharing the magic of seeds!

Mint

(Mojito mint)

Do yourself a favor. Find your local mom & pop garden center or greenhouse. I know, I know, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Hellmart or what have you is so convenient, but trust me, the satisfaction you will get, the joy you will experience from interacting with actual growers, real human beings that get their nails dirty, is immeasurable.

In the last year, we have discovered two such places and to me, they have been more than half the fun of this spring season.

The first is Mosside Greenhouse which is less than a mile from our place and my current drug (plant) dealer of choice. This is a family owned and operated business that has been selling veggie, herb and flower plants and seedlings for almost sixty years.

They are open from March through approximately mid June each year and are just packed to the gills with rare, beautiful, affordable and amazing plants. Anything from your most basic, garden tomato through the hottest peppers in the world, and more varieties of geraniums, marigolds, petunias, and begonias than you can shake a trowel at and the best part about the place? They grew most of it from seed. You go in and you ask them questions and they will not rest until you feel like you have the knowledge you need. They are about to close for the year and I am already going through withdrawal symptoms.

The second is Penn Hills Lawn & Garden and though this is a much larger place, there is still that personal feeling to it that sets you at ease as you wander the rows and get woozy from the smells and dazzling colors. They also offer classes at this location, they have a wonderful room up in their gift shop, outfitted with tables, chairs and a lot of natural light. We are planning on attending an upcoming class on vertical gardening.

From these places we have found amazing plants, a few of which I have never grown before (like the amazing Mojito Mint from Mosside).

So do as we do, find the local growers, even if it is a bit of a drive, it will be worth it because garden people are magical. Gardeners are fun, funny, spiritual, alive and filled with hope, even in the face of strange circumstances. They give, they share, they touch, taste, smell, caress and talk to their green charges and will tell you with the most joyous looks on their faces, that it does, indeed matter.

How do you become one of them, one of us?

By immersing yourself in the process, by ritualizing it, by being mindful of what you are doing and respectful of the fact that you are interacting with a living being. Plants are living, growing, communicating things and there is more to your time with them than just squeezing them out of a pot and shoving them into a hole in the ground, or into a bigger pot, it requires love.

When I bring a new plant home, typically it will need to be repotted. This will be for one of a couple of reasons. Firstly, plants from greenhouses are usually either close to or are root bound. Meaning that their roots have both filled the pot, leaving no room for further growth and used up the nutrients in the soil.

Secondly, many garden wholesalers and retailers do not use good quality soil to start or maintain plants in, as it is just not cost effective. Now this isn’t always the case and I found out that both of the garden centers mentioned above use way better than average soil, but I always like to err on the side of caution and plant welfare.

With a little time and some mindful effort, you can grow fresh herbs to add to recipes, flowers to dazzle and enchant your loved ones (and seduce butterflies, moths and hummingbirds), fruits and veggies that came from the work of your own hands and a bunch of other really satisfying possibilities.

Growing things, even when you have no outdoor space at all is possible, using grow lights or windowsills, it can be anything from a minor pastime to a full on addiction like it is with me. I could go on about this all day but my tomatoes need watered.

tomatoes

(Bull Blood, Crimean and Roma tomatoes)

Take care of each other, and grow something.

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Beauty in the Dark

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This is a Datura, blossoming on our back porch. Its Latin name is Datura metel and it is known by several common names, including Devil’s Trumpet, Thornapple or Horn of Plenty. It is a witch’s plant. I don’t just mean that we, as witches own it, I mean that it is one of the most storied, mythologized and whispered about herbs in the world of paganism.

Datura is highly toxic, every bit of it. Roots, leaves, flowers, stem, all of it, yet it is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful flowering plants on earth, smells like a ambrosial combination of honeysuckle and black locust and its scent is most potent at night when it shows its most breathtaking self to the world brave enough to grow it.

Its hallucinogenic properties are legendary but its lethality stands behind it like a dare, challenging those willing to venture into those lands with possible death.

That is the nature of darker magic. It is beautiful, seductive, elegant, addictive and deadly.

Why am I telling you this?

Because these days I am walking in an odd place of one foot in the light, one in the darkness and trying desperately to lean into the light while the universe insists on the other choice.

I am living the life of a juggler’s ball, constantly moving, unfixed, spinning between hours of near perfect giddiness, joy and laughter and periods of soul crushing fear, depression and anxiety.

I am better when I am among the plants.

When I am out tending to our tomatoes, peppers, herbs and orchids, I am green, sacred, powerful and towering above the hurt and human problems that plague me otherwise.

I grow deadly plants like the Datura for their beauty and the tradition, as my mother grew them and I remember my time in the garden with her to be among my happiest.

Often, when I am working outside, weeding, watering, trimming or staking our growing jungle, one of our many serpents is around my neck, their powerful coils holding them to me like roots, and there you can find me, serpents and moonflowers. The symbolism is rife with possibilities.

I am better when interacting with the snakes.

But the time comes when it all must be put aside and I have to face the more greedy world of daily life and then, then the darkness is all I can see.

My prolonged illness from 2010 to 2015 cost me everything. I do not say that flippantly. I came away from it with the clothes on my back, furniture given to me by friends and a second hand laptop. That was it. There I was in my mid 40’s with nothing but a tiny one bedroom apartment, a mystery illness that looked incurable to every doctor on the Eastern seaboard and forced to start over, again.

This time, I was not alone. Gypsy, Jaryd and Erych were there and I could focus on them. Cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, making them laugh, trying to establish myself as a writer and getting back into the business of educating the world about snakes which I had done since I was a child.

My illness was so bad that I was given disability. The major concern was and still is my compromised white cell count. I have an immunodeficiency with no knowable cause. And so it is a threat for me to go back into the workforce where I would be subject to every virus and illness that came down the pike. But the state, in its wisdom decided that since I was able to cook, do my own laundry and help out with the family, then I must be okay and they cancelled my disability.

So, I had been left in a situation where I was contributing next to nothing. But the absolute terror of going through the cycle of illnesses, hospitalizations (28 months in hospitals and rehabs over four years.) has left me in an emotional limbo.

So I redoubled my effort to find work I could do from home. Freelance writing and speaking, snake educational programs, almost anything. But so far it has been too little, not often enough.

And thus the darkness.

And so I sit, working, constantly trying, ear to the ground, nose in the wind, hopeful but growing ever more scared.

“Get a bicycle and lose weight. It will help.” At my weight, a bicycle that will hold me costs around $600 dollars.

“Raise and sell plants. You’re so good at it!” To buy the light tables and other supplies I need, about the same as the bicycle.

“Breed snakes, you made good money at that before.” And the list goes on. Needing money to make money and the money, all that I saved, all that I earned, all that I got from selling off my newly gained things, gone… And still, the bills come in.

I hunt bargains, I find them too. I am brilliant at it. I can cook good, healthy food inexpensively, I am growing eight varieties of tomatoes, six types of peppers, herbs and maybe cucumbers but it will be a while.

I have put the word out that I need to make money, I need to feel useful. I need to be a part of making the darkness come back into a manageable twilight. But so far, all I hear is my voice echoing off of the distant hillsides, with no other ones replying.

And so, I grow things, I commune with serpents, I make people laugh, I think in gorgeous poetry and I try to lift up everyone I encounter.

That is the truest form of magic. The act of trying to lift people into the light, even when you are in the darkest of shadows.

Datura2

Here, at the moment it is night, but at least the flowers are beautiful.

Are We Still “Great” Apes?

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“Apes. Together. Strong…” Caesar in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

My dad used to say all the time, “First the apes learned to talk, then they learned about fire and then they set about burning the world to the ground and bragging about it.”

We are Great Apes, one of seven still existing species. The Sumatran and Bornean Orangutans, the Eastern and Western Gorillas, Chimpanzees, Bonobos and Humans. We are, in case you are wondering, the ones with the bombs, suv’s and 401k’s. We are also the ones responsible for the near extinction of the other six species.

I will not be drawn into the age old debate about, “If we evolved from apes, why are there still apes?” The answers are out there, even in easy to understand graphics, so do your own research with your mind open and you will feel the little lightbulb blink on, I promise.

I went in to the Planet of the Apes movies (the reboot, not the Charlton Heston ones) expecting good adventure, some cool FX and perhaps some amazing action, but what I have gotten so far have been two movies that at points left me in tears, at points had me ashamed of what we have become and ultimately inspired, and isn’t that what good stories should do for us?

If you haven’t seen the movies yet, I highly recommend them. I cannot guarantee that they will have the same impact on you as they have on me, I cannot even promise your enjoyment of them, but I have a feeling that if you are reading my words, then it might stir something within you.

This is not our parents’ Planet of the Apes franchise. This isn’t about time traveling astronauts ending up in the future and discovering an earth mastered by our hairier cousins, this is a story that begins now, with Chimpanzees, Bonobos and other apes being used for product testing and all of the things that go awry in the aftermath of that.

The story follows Caesar, yes, the “ape”. He is our protagonist. He is a leader, a genius, and dissatisfied with the way he and his species are treated by humans in general, but it is so much more than that but I will go no further in my description because I loathe spoilers.

I grew up in a home where I was taught that I did not have dominion over the earth, I was simply another species upon it and was actually more flawed than most. There is a certain freedom to this knowledge, it allows you to see your place, your interconnectedness with your surroundings, it gives you the wisdom to see that your actions against the earth are actions against yourself.

It also gave me a love for nature in a way that has given me incalculable joy and also many sleepless nights. I find myself angry over the destruction of tiny tracts of forestland to build another strip mall when there are three or five of them sitting vacant within a couple of miles. I find myself upset, sad and then furious when I see healthy, huge, ancient trees laying in yards where they had just been cut down by people who didn’t want to rake leaves.

I dislike driving down roads called Oak Lane or Poplar Drive when all of the oaks and poplars where cut down to make room for more houses.

“Monkey killing monkey killing monkey.

Over pieces of the ground.

Silly monkeys give them thumbs.

They make a club.

And beat their brother, down.

How they survive so misguided is a mystery.” Right in Two by Tool

The idea that some neighbors complain when others plant gardens instead of grass in their yards disturbs me and makes me wonder at how broken human priorities have become.

But the part of me that is most affected, is the part that says that we, as a species are horrible to each other.

For all of our protestations that we are the superior species or nature’s crowning achievement, we define ourselves on so many levels by who we hate, who we won’t tolerate and who is inferior to us.

But on the other side of it, are the hated, the untolerated, and the inferior. Those who have been marginalized for their differences, their sensitivities, even for how much they care and the amount of empathy that they show.

I am not going to make this political, but I am going to say that now, more than any time in my life, I see fear in my fellow apes. We are afraid of our governments, our futures, our bosses and our neighbors and those who are feared, seem to be reveling in the fear that they cause.

If you see such people, ones who have fled social media because of the hate, because of the injustice, who are afraid to express themselves on a daily basis because of this swelling resurgence of misogyny, racism, homophobia, or other hate fueled rhetoric and your first thought is, “Suck it up Snowflake.”, then you are part of the problem, a problem that is tearing us apart.

And in our fear, we are abandoning each other, we are giving up hope, we are retreating behind our walls, diving into our fantasy worlds and hoping that it will all just blow over, but the wind that is blowing, is fueling the inferno that is threatening us as a species, but more than that, it is tarnishing, ruining and breaking apart the one thing that we had left to be proud of, our compassion.

When you consider that we share 96 percent of our DNA with Chimpanzees and we view what we have done to them because they were weaker or different from us, then what are we going to do, what are we already doing to members of our own species that we feel are weaker, or just simply different?

“We have only one thing to give up. Our dominion. We don’t own the world. We’re not kings yet. Not gods. Can we give that up? Too precious, all that control? Too tempting, being a god?” – Ethan Powell as played by Anthony Hopkins in Instinct.

What will it take to make us shake off the façade of weakness? What will have to happen before the threat of what might happen if we speak up becomes less frightening than the possibilities if we do? If the 22 veterans committing suicide a day isn’t enough, and the 13 million hungry children doesn’t merit a rise, if the 50,000 drug deaths in the US last year doesn’t do it and the nearly 6,000 hate crimes in the past year doesn’t move us to shake off our fear and apathy, then we are not even deserving of our place among the other “great apes.”

Each time I write one of these blogs, I sign off with, “Take care of each other.”

I mean it, it is not me being cliché or clever, I am asking, no, I am demanding that you look at your fellow apes and stand up for them, check up on them and do what you can, because we are all we have…

“Apes. Together. Strong.”

 

Take care of each other…

The Snake Whisperer ~ Part II

Lance and Grandpa Boa 4254

In a previous post, I wrote about recent experiences with snakes and briefly about my lifelong love for them, I will link you to that earlier post here.

https://bornoflightning.wordpress.com/2017/02/17/the-snake-whisperer-part-1/

I will continue on by saying that I believe that snakes and to a lesser extent, larger species of lizards are some of the most abused, neglected and mistreated animals in the pet trade.

Reptiles (as well as many other kinds of pets) have fallen into the same category as appliances, cars, clothing and even homes in this modern economy. They are seen as disposable. A family buys their child a snake that they are ill prepared for, if they are prepared for it at all and then suddenly the realization hits them that the snake in question is always, ALWAYS going to require that you feed other animals to it. It has certain environmental needs, their enclosures need to be kept clean, some of them grow quite large and suddenly, the family is posting ads on Craigslist trying to recoup some of their investment by trying to sell the snake and its enclosure.

Or worse, the snake is just left to suffer, dehydrate, starve or succumb to any one of a number of ailments.

Considering that captive bred snakes, if properly cared for, can live anywhere from 10 to more than 30 years, how many of those purchases do you think are living full lives?

Not very many.

I can’t stand that part of the hobby/lifestyle that I am so passionate about.

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Let me introduce you to Orchid. Orchid is a Corn Snake, also known as a Red Rat snake (Pantherophis guttatus). Orchid came to us just a little over a month ago. A friend contacted me and said that an acquaintance of hers was trying to get rid of a Corn Snake and would I take it.

I of course said yes. Gypsy loves Corn Snakes, as do I and I also hate to see them neglected, and so sight unseen, I drove an hour north to meet our new family member.

Nothing really shocks me anymore, I have seen such terrible cases of abuse in reptiles that I seldom flinch, and in truth, Orchid wasn’t in that bad of shape, but everything about her situation was wrong and bad for her.

The gentleman that brought her, was the father of her owner. His daughter had purchased the snake, her enclosure and lights, and then before more than a month had gone by, had moved away without warning, leaving the snake behind with no care instructions and not a backward glance.

So, what I picked up was a young, small (14 inches), thin, underfed, dehydrated female Corn Snake, in a 36x18x17 inch enclosure, with four inches of sawdust in the bottom of it and a tiny one cup sized Tupperware container in the middle of it for water (that had no water in it, but since he was driving the snake around I will give him the benefit of the doubt.)

The tiny snake had no place to climb, it had this enormous area, all exposed where it had to burrow to hide, it had to hunt for its water container, which looked like it had been dry a long time and she obviously had not been fed in a while.

I thanked the man, listened to his story about his daughter and then tucked Orchid and her accessories into the car and brought her home for love and rehab.

I wish I could say that this was a rarity, but most of the snakes that come to us have been neglected or outright abused and we cannot save all of them. We see them in organ failure, we see them so underfed that they are not strong enough to eat, we see them so dehydrated that their skins tear like paper and always there is a litany of excuses, of reasons, of justifications, but all of them amount to the same thing. People are saying, “Who really cares? It’s just a snake.”

Who cares? I do. I really do, to the point of tears on some nights.

Recently, Gypsy was fortunate enough to be invited to be the photographer at the Mid-Atlantic Reptile show in Carlisle Pennsylvania. We spent the entire day, visiting with the vendors, getting to know them and some of their animals and educating some people along the way.

Two of my favorite snakes from that show were this stunning, ten foot male Purple Albino Reticulate python:

Lance and Purple Retic 4122

And this beautiful Albino Jungle Boa.

Lance and Grandpa Boa 4242a

They were both healthy, well behaved and as you can see, large. I handled the python for the best part of an hour as the crowd moved around us. The owner and I answered questions, presented facts and posed for pictures, but part of me felt incredibly guilty.

Very few people have the space, the resources, the knowledge or the experience to keep such massive, intelligent and potentially dangerous creatures, yet there I was, with ten feet of stunningly beautiful animal draped around my shoulder, making it look so easy.

It is. And it isn’t.

Ease, in any discipline from playing piano, to practicing Kung-fu, to handling potentially dangerous animals, comes from years and YEARS of experience. It comes from trying things, observing, listening to your mentors, doing your research and making mistakes.

Have I made mistakes?

Hundreds!

Have I paid for them? Yes, painfully.

I have paid for my errors in injuries, bites, broken bones, dislocated joints, and worst of all, in poorly cared for animals.

When I began in this, there was no internet, there was no know-it-all resource and many of the snakes we were keeping were not common and little of their needs were known. But we learned, we passed on what we learned and we became good at what we do.

Do I get bitten? All the time.

How do I react to it? Generally with laughter now. Not long ago a friend’s Goini Kingsnake decided that my thumb looked delicious and he spent about five minutes trying to figure out how to devour me, thumb first. What did I do? I went and found Gypsy with her camera so that others could get a giggle out of it too.

OtH Goini Bite 5147a

 

I very seldom ever get bitten by big snakes, the more dangerous ones. Why? Because I have a method, and while I will describe it here, I warn you, it comes off sounding a little esoteric or new agey.

It is a combination of how I move, how I breathe and my knowledge of each particular species’ intelligence and habits.

That’s it.

Okay, well a bit more of an explanation is probably in order. Movements that are likely to make a snake nervous are jerky, hesitant, fearful and sudden. Smooth, yet deliberate movement always is best. Think of the way a Tai Chi master moves, fluidly, steady, calm, without hesitation. This is good for the way snakes move, constantly moving your hands to support them as they move, never moving quickly toward their faces from straight on or from above, always from below or slightly to right or left.

Make sure that the snake feels supported and secure, falling frightens them and if you react harshly or rashly when a snake begins to drop, they can and will lash out in instinct.

Some snakes like Retics, Boas, Rat Snakes and Carpet pythons are naturally arboreal and are good at climbing and holding on. Where King snakes, Milk snakes, Drymarchons (indigos and cribos) and Bullsnakes are much more terrestrial and need more support when handling because being off of the ground is not their most common scene.

And also, when standing, I seldom stand still but sway slightly as I hold, especially larger snakes. I am not sure why this works but it has proved out to be very effective for me.

Breathing is important, more for self-control than anything else, but I try to breath as slowly as or more so than the snake. If you breathe when they breathe, it seems to settle them more quickly and they tend to grow quiet and calm at a much faster pace. Plus it makes you mindful of your own anxiety, fear and impatience, all of which the snake can sense.

Lastly, the most difficult one of the bunch, knowledge.

Books are wonderful. The internet is an amazing resource. Television has had some great educational programming, but the problem is, they are not immersive. If you want to learn about snakes, find snake people and ask them to show you how to interact with their animals. Then let the snakes teach you.

Snakes have been my gurus since I was in diapers.

You will learn, quickly if you are passionate that Bullsnakes are not Ball Pythons, and Ball Pythons and Burmese Pythons are night and day. You will discover that while your Corn Snake is super gentle taking the frozen mice out of your tongs, that you should not expect the same reaction from a hungry kingsnake.

You can spend the rest of your life exploring these things, like I have and will continue to do. Snakes are simply one of the most diverse, beautiful, complicated, fascinating and awe inspiring groups of creatures on this planet and I speak up for them, because I have seen too many of them suffering.

Get to know a snake, and maybe, like me, you will hear them whispering.

Lance and Purple Retic 4133

Take care of each other.

A Festival of Fire

Here, on this beautiful Beltane afternoon, I am sitting, half distracted by the clouds tumbling by, the rain, bouncing on the dark leaves of the Norway maple outside my window and the sheer volume of pulsing, green energy in the world today.

But I want to talk to you, I want to summon you, seduce you, draw you away for a moment, if that is all you will grant me, though the truth be told, I would rather have you for the duration of this day, into the night and on to dawn.

Beltane is a festival of fire, it is a rite to celebrate the death of winter and the coming of summer. It has many traditions associated with it that range from dousing and relighting house fires, driving cattle to summer pastures, decoration of windows and doors with yellow flowers that represent fire and many, many others, but I am not here for a history lesson today.

I am here to talk about fire.

I am here to talk about cleansing.

I am here to talk about wildness, sex, passion, power and freedom.

This is the holiday, the holy day that dances closest to my thundering green heart.

Beltane thrives within me as the true rite of spring, when the leaves have turned the hillsides green, there is no silence in the woods for all that lives is heady in the rush to mate, to create, to burn with the fire that they were given as a birthright.

In ancient times it was believed that dew, or rain taken from the leaves on Beltane had curative, restorative and beautifying powers. It could make you live longer simply because it as imbued with the spirit of this day.

I am going to offer you a similar cure.

Burn it all.

Just for today, set a fire, make that fire sacred to you and then burn all of it for a day. Let it go. Come back to me and for this period of time, be free.

“What the hell are you talking about you mad bastard?”

I am talking about all of the things that are desiccating your soul.

Part of the ritual of Beltane are the bonfires. Ashes from Beltane bonfires have great power and can be used throughout the year to bless, protect and ask favor on everything from crops to marriage unions.

But I am going to ask you to do something different. I want you to light a fire. If you can only light a candle, then do that, if you cannot even light a candle, use visualization, but no matter how you do it, I want you to do this for me.

Now, once your fire (real or visualized) is burning, I want you to create a short but powerful list (again, either real or visualized) of all of the things that are wearing on you today, get them out, all of the political fear, all of the personal anguish, all of the familial angst, the sadness, the loneliness, the hatred of exes, the loathing for your job, all of it. Write it out, hastily, angrily, or with slow, beautiful precision and then burn it and let all of it die for a day.

Burn it all to ash and once it is ash, I want you to breathe deeply, take the air, the energy of this wild, beautiful spring day into your lungs and I want you to acknowledge to yourself that you are a child of nature, and as a child of nature you are perfect.

You are every flower, you are every hawk in flight, you are every thunderstorm, every wave on a pristine beach, and you are every bowing willow, every coursing deer, every diving falcon and every mischievous crow.

Take your clothes off if you can, even for two minutes in the privacy of your bathroom. Understand the stunning work of art that you are, accept that the most powerful fire burning on this holy day is the one in the engine of your heart.

Close your eyes and run your hands over yourself, it need not be in a sexual or sensual fashion but if it comes to that, let that be in celebration of you as well. How pleasing are you to touch? If you accept the truth that it is only the strange whims of society that dictates what is and what is not attractive at any given moment, then you can burn your insecurities as well.

You are tremendously beautiful. How do I know?

Because I follow Her and She is flawless in Her creations.

Flawless…

Are you unloved?

No. Not if you are reading this. If you are reading this, I love you and I think that you are one of Her finest creations.

And I am right.

Today is Beltane, today is a day to feel alive, to allow the coursing green laughter of spring flow through you, to allow your hungers to blossom, burn and be a part of the great fire that we all gather around.

As I am writing this, all of Western Pennsylvania has gone Tornado Watch. Even our Mother is feeling wild, today is rare, it is powerful, it is beautiful and it is ours. OURS!

I am leaving, I am going back into the world, I am shutting off the computer and going out to lay in the grass and watch this day unfold, I will be alive like no one else, I will be wild and burning like no other creature in the world.

Unless you join me…

 

Take care of each other!DSC_0003

A Man of Letters Part II

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~

“Is the mail here yet?”

This is a favorite question at our house.

Why? Because we communicate with people through this archaic, often forgotten, totally inefficient system of paper, pens, stamps and patience.

Do you get excited when you receive a card for your birthday? Not an email but an honest to goodness, physical card that you can prop on the mantle, stick on the fridge or tape to the wall. Do you look forward to the ever dwindling number of cards that arrive as a precursor to Christmas? Does the idea of a package coming across thousands of miles, bringing you something special make you excited and eager to hear the delivery person trudging up your walk?

Me too!

I love letters, cards, packages, postcards, all of it and all of the romance, expectation, exhilaration and yes, the patient waiting that comes along with it.

I come from a time before email.

I come from a people that wrote letters, all of the time to people all over the place.

I come from a point of view that says that a piece of paper, marked in pencil, or pen can carry with it the magic of the person who marked it, and that magic with a little care, can remain with you as a memento for as long as you live.

My mother kept her stationary, whatever type had recently caught her fancy, in a large wooden box that had originally been a silverware case that she had simply removed the molded forms from and lined with emerald green velvet. Within that box were stacks of blank pages, a bundle of pens and pencils wrapped in a piece of navy blue suede and a zip lock sandwich bag containing stamps. She kept it tucked under her desk on top of an old, brown accordion file that held hundreds of letters, cards, post cards and notes that she had received during her life. That file was a chore to lift but I would often find her with letters spread all over her bed as she re-read, researched or reminisced.

Dad’s stash was drawer in his desk that contained small stacks of notecards, always of a nature theme, a hodgepodge of different sizes, colors, shapes and textures of writing paper that he had gathered from gods’ knows where and a small cigar box that contained stamps, refills for his Cross ballpoint pen and a wax seal that he seldom used but that he treasured nonetheless. It was in the form of a capital letter C for his surname and it had been made for him using his own handwriting.

Mom, dad and I exchanged letters even when we lived in the same town. Mom and I exchanged seeds from our herbal pursuits and for a couple of years, dad and I would swap back and forth snake sheds, (which the challenge was to guess the species of) dried leaves and flower petals.

My grandparents were the same, we wrote because we loved to write and because we loved each other.

Out there in the ether, in the “cloud” on the web, we store all of these dots and dashes, all of this history turned into pixels and light. But to me it is worthless in a blizzard when the power goes out, but I can still light a candle, spread out the cards, letters and notes I have saved and have the spirits of my clan around me.

There is a feeling, so fulfilling and romantic about choosing stationary, appropriate for who you are writing to, choosing a pen whose ink stands out against the paper, yet melds with it instead of clashing. Then addressing an envelope and for a long moment, pondering what that place looks like if I have never been there, or remembering something amazing about it if I have.

I constantly look for greeting cards everywhere we go, I have found beautiful ones, opened but unused in goodwill, or at the thrift store. I can easily lose an hour in the bargain bins after the holidays looking for just the right cards. The Papyrus store in Ross Park Mall used to be an Eden for me and though they were often expensive, they had such beautiful things…

I hoard smooth writing pens in my favorite letter and card writing colors, black, burgundy, purple, dark green and copper. I favor uni-ball or gel pens but for years wrote with nothing but a fountain pen but my favorite one was stolen from a café several years ago and I have not replaced it, yet.

I have owned and will own again, dozens of seals. The type that you press into hot wax to close an envelope. How I lost them is another story but there are those who will read this that have gotten letters from me, pressed closed with emerald wax with a spreading oak tree sunken into it, or purple wax, embossed with a coiled serpent.

I believe that the power that lies in magic is so often in how you create it and so I make a ritual of letter writing, I gather my tools around me, I add music to the atmosphere and almost always candlelight and then for however long it takes me to write, I do nothing else. No distractions, no side projects, no multi-tasking, there is nothing but me, the paper, my tools and my intent.

Our post office employees know me by name and will instantly show me whatever beautiful new stamps came in since my last visit and I will often agonize over which ones to add to which envelopes. By the way, stamps can be SO beautiful that there are some that I hesitate to use, but I always do.

Why?

Because writing to people is an act of love.

The letters and the cards need not be romantic, they need not be love letters, but there is a sacrifice, a mindfulness required when writing a letter, there is an honesty that is called for, there is an intention in creating something that may well out live us and then sending it off through a series of human hands, machines and various way stations along the road.

And I defy any of you to say that you have never been moved by a card or letter you have received. Or barring that, that you cannot imagine being moved by one, that you could not find yourself humbled and touched by the act of someone creating something for you out of their thoughts, effort and intention and then trusting it to strangers to bring it into your hands.

Some of you young folks may never have received, nor sent a “snail mail” letter or card and my heart breaks for you. As a matter of fact, I will go a step further. If you have never received a card, or a letter, hand written by someone, get in touch with me and I will personally remedy that, because you deserve to know how it feels.

That extends to any of you. If you wish to write back and forth with me, I would be honored, and perhaps we can reinvigorate the art of the letter, now wouldn’t that be beautiful!

I promise you, that once you have tried it, once you have jotted some thoughts, a quote, a poem, or have even torn your very soul out and put it on the page for another person to read, that you have missed one of the greatest and most honest feelings that you will ever have.

We all love to receive evidence that someone is thinking of us, and we should do that for each other, for as long as we can…

Take care of each other…

A Man of Letters Part I

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Dear Friends,

 

That is how I often begin.

You see, I write to people. To people, to companies, to commercial entities, to heroes, to inspirations, and to people that I hope to be friends with, and I have done it for most of my life.

I am gregarious, an extrovert, one of “those” people, a force of nature, a person that will talk to absolute strangers about anything, at any time, for any reason and nearly always be better for having done so.

I live for interaction, I thrive on conversation and feel at my best when engaged with people in personal interactions, face to face on any subject that is genuine, honest and filled with life.

It is for this reason that I write to people.

My grandmother, who I have mentioned before was every bit as gregarious as I am, taught me a valuable lesson when I was just a kid, maybe six or seven years old. We were eating in a little Italian restaurant, the whole family was gathered together, and mom, dad, grand-da, grandmother and I and we witnessed a man angrily complaining to the manager at great volume because his dinner was not up to his expectations.

My grandmother explained to me that as a consumer, the man had the right to complain if the service or the product wasn’t what he felt he had paid for. “But…” she said, “He also has the obligation to pay compliments for services or products that exceed his expectations, but few people do that anymore.”

So when it was time to pay our tab, the waitress, who had been very nice to us through our entire visit, asked us if everything had been okay and I spoke up. “The meatballs with my spaghetti were the best I have ever had, thank you!”

The waitress, who had also served the complaining man lit up as if she had been given an award! She smiled, she told me that that was wonderful and it was so nice of me to say so, and then she said, “Hold on a minute.”

She disappeared into the kitchen and returned a minute later with a diminutive old man in an apron covered in tomato sauce stains. He has an enormous hawk nose and bright, almost angry eyes. He came up to the table and the young lady pointed me out. He looked me up and down and just at the point that I thought he was going to yell at me or something, he smiled, hugely, and stuck out his hand.

That is how I met Angelo Capriatti. The meatballs were his recipe, as were most of the things on the menu and he was very proud of them. He focused on me, talked to me, thanked me for the compliment and then do you know what he did? He took me into his kitchen and showed me around.

It was an incredible experience to see all of that stainless steel, the huge stockpots simmering away and all of the produce waiting to be transformed. I left the restaurant that day with a carry out container that held six of the amazing meatballs and a new addiction; complimenting people.

I never made things up. Never said nice things where they weren’t deserved, but if I had an amazing meal or even a component of a meal, I would say something. If I saw someone with a beautiful article of clothing on, an exquisite car or an amazing dog, I would speak up and watch their faces transform.

It made me happy, it made them happy and also gave me some amazing experiences and even a few lifelong friends.

It was a few years later, when I was in my teens that I read an amazing book called Bard: The Odyssey of the Irish by Morgan Llywelyn and was so moved by it that I decided to sit down and pen her a letter. I found an address for her publisher and sent my gushing, heavy handed fan letter off to her in care of that office.

My mom had encouraged me to write the letter but had also given me fair warning to not expect too much if anything in return.

It turned out that she was right. For a while.

It took nearly three months but then suddenly one afternoon there was an envelope in our mailbox, addressed to me by a careful and feminine hand. Inside was a beautiful, hand written three page letter, answering all of my questions, replying to each of my compliments and saying how my letter had been the nicest she had ever received. I was moved beyond words and kept that letter for many years until it was lost to a flood in a storage locker I once kept.

I maintained a correspondence with Ms. Llywelyn for many years after that and we still exchange the occasional email and I am eternally grateful to her for the kindness she showed in replying to that overzealous teenager’s massive letter.

From these experiences grew a habit, a way of life, a way of looking at things that has served me well to this day and I am going to share this poorly kept secret with you right now.

Write to people.

That’s it.

Have you ever sat down and pounded out a strongly worded email to a restaurant about finding a bone in your chicken cordon bleu? Ever sent a complaint to a chip company because they were selling you more air than chips? Have you ever complained to a company about how a piece of clothing fell apart or because their deodorant made your armpits feel like the Everglades?

Most likely you have dropped some kind of missive bomb like that at some point, but how about on the opposite end of the spectrum?

I send dozens of emails a year. To restaurants, clothing companies, car manufacturers, food companies, writers, teachers, journalists, naturalists, to pretty much anyone really. And you know the honest truth? I have about a 90% response rate. I consider a response as something that is actually written by a human being, directly addressing my message. Automatic form emails don’t count.

But I don’t do it for the responses, though they are wonderful and I do cherish them, I do it because I feel that people work hard to create things, people struggle to add things to the story of your life while simultaneously adding to their own and I think that they hear constantly from people, telling them what a crappy job that they are doing and I think that they deserve to hear the upside of what they are doing as well.

I try to never sound mechanical. I gush a bit, because truthfully, if something made me happy enough to write, then it deserves to be complimented. I always introduce myself, describe how I encountered their product, or my experience with their goods or service and I always leave them a couple of methods to reach me back and offer to answer any questions they have.

I receive emails, letters, coupons, free products, invitations behind the scenes at museums and zoos and occasionally I am asked to review products for them and all of those things are a wonderful bonus, but the truth is that my addiction is to saying something nice to someone who deserves it.

Do it. Sit down and write to the restaurant you had the great tacos at. Tell Hyundai how much you absolutely adore that one thing about your car and how it makes you happy every day. Write to your favorite author, drop a journalist that moved your spirit a line, send a letter to a hero and then, with your heart full from the act of doing it, move on with your life.

You never know what may turn up in your inbox a few days, weeks or months later…

But does that part really matter?

 

Tomorrow in Part 2 we will talk about the beautiful art of sending letters, cards and packages…

 

Take care of each other

Windchimes ~ In honor of International Women’s Day

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~

My mother cursed me with windchimes.

Our ancient apple tree hung with them by the dozens. They lined the awning over the front porch, dangled here and there from the dogwood, the crabapple, and the Japanese maple. Our gardens rang with any breath, with any breeze, and during storms, our Eden could be heard for a hundred yards in any direction.

I do not know what the neighbors thought about it, because like so many other things that were different about us, I think that they were afraid to say anything. I would hear the rumors second, third or fourth hand, “They do voodoo. They’re witches. They are with the devil.” Well, maybe but does that make us bad?

Just kidding of course, there was no devil in our belief systems.

But if you were sympathetic, you could almost see where they got it all. After all, we lived in a house filled with snakes and other cold blooded denizens. My father was a one eyed poet with a hair trigger temper and a glass eye that never blinked. I was a long haired kid that had to be forced, kicking and screaming into shoes from April through September, and could quote Horace, Poe and Buddha with equal aplomb. And then there was my mother.

Mother was a red-head, freckled and pale, willowy and lithe, with startling blue eyes that she often hid behind tinted lenses. She dressed like a combination of a Bedouin dancer and one of the aunts from Practical Magic, and was never without her little amulets, talismans and rings.

She ghosted about our gardens with her gigantic floppy hats, taking a cutting here, pulling seeds there, tasting a tomato and chasing it with a rolled up basil leaf before moving across the yard to talk to her nightshade plants and her still young morning glories.

She carried a mug with her everywhere she went in the garden. But what it contained was as variable as the season, the time of day and the mood she happened to be in. It could be sassafras tea, lemon balm and pineapple mint iced tisane, cold coffee or our homemade wine.

She also always carried blades, knives, scissors, or clippers, anything that she could use to harvest with. The most sacred or important plants were cut with a little sheath knife that her grandmother had used on the island when she kept the garden.

In the pockets of her garden dresses, and there were always pockets, were tiny envelopes, felt tipped pens in green and purple, lengths of yarn and chalk line and her ever present cigarettes and matches. Mother almost never used lighters, she said it negated some of the magic.

But you can imagine the image we presented, like rejects from a failed hippie, voodoo, witchy, lunatic asylum mash-up, and so no, nobody ever complained about the cacophony of windchimes, at least not to us.

Mother was a subversive, sneaky, ninja feminist. She was not an activist in the sign carrying, fists raised, and write to your congressman kind of way. No, mom struck at the roots, she talked to children about respecting their mothers, she talked to mothers about respecting themselves, she told women all the time how special they were and in many cases, helped them prove it to themselves.

I remember her saying things like, “How on earth can a man be superior to the creature he was birthed from? And which he needs to birth anymore? Doesn’t make sense to me.” Or “You never hear anyone call it “father earth” do you?” or the scarily correct, “The louder a man is about his hatred for women, the bigger of a momma’s boy he likely is.”

She would not tolerate disrespect leveled toward her or toward any woman that she respected. I saw her come to the defense of strangers in public which must have been terrifying for her because she was a serious introvert with major confrontation issues. I once saw her snap on four teenage boys because they were teasing a girl a year or so older than they were and by the time she was done, they looked like they had all been handed their asses by a titan. And in a way, they had been.

She spoke her mind to me, which was difficult because her mind was vast, complicated, conflicted, obsessive, melancholy, magical and sometimes completely off kilter. She gave wonderful advice that she herself would not, or could not follow. She was life giving and self-destructive, she was a healer that killed herself with slow precision, she was a people lover who was an absolute basket case in a crowd, she was elegant, graceful and almost ethereal when she danced but she preferred to teach others and watch them blossom than to hear the applause herself.

I have had many father figures that made me into many things, naturalist, poet, warrior, outdoorsman, survivalist, biker and chef, but it was the women who gave me temperance and the wisdom to make all of those disparate piece into me.

From my maternal grandmother I learned that strength without kindness is ugly and worthless.

From my aunt Evie I learned that guests were important and to show them comfort and remember the things that they love and they will always return to visit and brighten your life.

From Madeline Modic I learned that gardening is so much easier than everyone else makes it out to be but only if your heart is green and you genuinely care about the plants and their happiness. If all you think about is the harvest, or the flowers, the plants will not give you their all.

From Tonya Guesman, Regine Fougères, Bonnie Mikulla and Mary Duncan I learned that family is more than blood and that you can have as many brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers as your heart has room for.

From Mary Louise Johnson I learned that being different, being a huge personality, being the biggest voice in a room isn’t necessarily a bad thing and if you learn how to control it, it can open a million doors.

From Morgan Llywelyn I learned that a good story can inspire you, guide you, and make you fall in love and then break your heart and make you love it all the more. And for teaching me that you are never too big to write back to a fan.

My Lady Gypsy has taught me to forgive, to cherish the joy while letting the chaff fall away. She has taught me that my vision, my voice and my art are worthwhile and she has taught me to go ahead and follow my whimsy. But most of all, she has led me to a place where I have found myself, renewed, reborn and awake again and for that I am forever grateful.

All of them, plus dozens more (and if you are reading this, I mean you) have taught me that strength, femininity, grace, toughness, beauty and boldness are not mutually exclusive and that I for one am eternally thankful for the women who have made me who I am.

Take care of yourselves and each other…

The Snake Whisperer Part 1

It is tremendously easy to say something flippant like “I was born among snakes and that is why I like them.” But, it doesn’t always work that way, does it? I read stories all the time about family businesses shutting down because the next generation couldn’t care less about their parents’ passions.

I know musicians who wish their children would pick up an instrument and give it a try, but some of them never do. Immersion in something from childhood does not guarantee a love for that thing.

That being said, I was born among snakes and I still love them.

This past weekend Gypsy and I were lucky enough to spend a wonderful Sunday morning among friends and amazing creatures at the Pittsburgh Reptile Show in Cheswick Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh show is not huge by any means but what it does contain is a group of dedicated reptile breeders that genuinely love their animals and in my opinion strive for the safe, healthy propagation of the animals in their care.

We have only missed this monthly show a handful of times in the past three years. We go to see beautiful animals, visit with some of the most magical friends and to just basically enjoy a couple of hours immersed in one of our greatest passions.

My father loved, collected, kept and studied snakes for much of his 94 years on this planet and I find myself sometimes on this strange teeter-totter of emotion about that because at any given reptile show I may see half a dozen animals that my father with a lifetime of experience never got to experience.

This post is about a couple of those animals, though it may veer a bit into my views on animal keeping.

Our dear friends George and Desiree own a very cool pet store in Coraopolis Pa. called Off the Hook exotics and they were kind enough to bring this beautiful creature with them. I am not sure if he has a name but I nicknamed him Kreature after the house-elf in Harry Potter. Kreature is a Reticulated Python (Python reticulatus) that in and of itself is not unusual. Dad had probably a dozen of them in his lifetime and I have had at least that many in mine.

They are one of my favorite snakes in the world but the reason that I have not owned more of them is that they get huge. The retic is the longest snake in the world. Females can get upwards of twenty feet, pushing thirty and males can reach lengths of a dozen feet or more. In order to correctly house and care for such snakes in a way that maintains their quality of life is a very difficult task. And so, though we both loved them for the beautiful animals that they are, we have not sought them out and only kept ones that we took in as rescues.

But you see, here is where Kreature becomes a rarity. He is a naturally occurring dwarf python from an island locality known for producing smaller retics. He is several years old and between 6 and 7 feet long. Here he is.

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He sadly belongs to a friend of George & Desiree and so is not available but if he was, I would likely be trying to decide which kidney I could sell to buy him. He and I spent about 90 minutes together, just enjoying each other’s company as hundreds of people moved around us. I answered questions, helped dispel fears and allowed tiny children to touch Kreature’s miraculous skin and sent them on their way with the knowledge that they had touched the longest species of snake in the world.

I can only imagine the look of wonder on Dad’s face had he been around to see this snake. Beauty, intelligence, (yes, snakes can be very smart. Much smarter than they are given credit for.) and personality combined to make this one of the most awesome pythons I have ever been around and I want to thank George and Desiree for the opportunity.

Here are Kreature and I sharing a moment.

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There are two factions waging a secret, under the surface war in the reptile community. There are those to whom snakes and reptiles in general are nothing but a business. They breed thousands of snakes and their animals spend their entire lives in opaque plastic bins, in towering rack systems, seldom if ever handled and given no stimulation other than feeding and breeding and never knowing sunlight or fresh air.

The other group, the ones like me believe that these animals need to be cared for, stimulated, given a good, happy, pleasant life. There is an absolutely spot on moment in Jurassic world where Claire, the super a-type corporate suit says to CEO Masrani:

Claire: “We don’t have a way to measure the animals’ emotional experience.”

Masrani replies, “Sure you do. You can see in their eyes, right?”

That gets a rush out of me every time!

We handle our animals all the time, and I pick up every snake that I can. And not to brag on myself but I am pretty good at this. I am jokingly referred to several of our friends as the “Snake Whisperer.”

Just this past show, another of our friends, Eric who owns Midgard serpents had an absolutely beautiful young female Jungle Carpet python with him. I asked him if he minded if I took the lid off of her container so that Gypsy could photograph her. Eric warned me that she was bitey and that I was welcome to take the risk. Gypsy took a couple of pictures of her and then said, “Take her out so I can get better pictures.” You could see the smile creep onto Eric’s face, he knew that I was going to get nailed as this female bites him every time he handles her. So I pulled her from the container and she was flighty for a minute or so and then began to settle down.

Much to Eric’s disappointment, I held her for about twenty minutes before patiently working her back into her container and thanking him, all without getting bitten.

This is her.

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I don’t mind being bitten, but I am not afraid of it. I have known far worse pains than snake bites and I know their reasons for what they do and if they are going to bite me, then they are and there is nothing I can really do to stop them and so I just don’t concern myself with it. I am never nervous around them and it just seems to go in my favor and so perhaps I have a gift, perhaps it is just luck… That isn’t for me to say.

 

End of Part 1

On Love

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Here in the shadow of Valentine’s Day, I find myself drawn to talk about love.

I am tempted to make reference to Nietzsche’s words, “That which is done of love, takes place beyond good and evil.”

Or even to give voice to Lao Tzu, “Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.”

But in the end, words given to you by someone that you cannot know personally can often seem to have a hollower ring, even if they touch you and speak to what you feel, and so, I will tell you what I know. And you can know me, talk to me, question me, and I will give you all the knowledge that I have.

Love is not hard. Love is not painful. Love is not troublesome, or blind, or stupid and love is never done for the wrong reasons.

We bind up a million other emotions, needs, distractions, expectations and illusions with love and mistake them for the actual emotion of love, but love does not have a painful component.

It is only when it is knotted together with loss, lust or longing or confused with greed that it becomes painful to us, but love is the sun in our emotional world and even at night it shines as evidenced by its reflection on the face of the moon.

The metaphorical heart, that symbol splashed across the face of American culture each February is actually a function of our tremendously complicated brains. We feel love in our breasts but it burns in our skulls, it makes butterflies in our stomachs but hatches their cocoons in our ever beautiful minds.

Do you love? Of course you do. Do you love someone who doesn’t love you? Probably. Do you understand that love is not exclusively meant for your significant other, parents, children and siblings? Maybe. Do you allow yourself to love as much as your mind wants to? Probably not.

Why not?

To explain what I feel, I will offer this quote by one of my greatest heroes, a fictional journalist named Spider Jerusalem, created by the mad genius Warren Ellis. “I can fall in love eighty times a day just by stepping out onto the street and opening my eyes.”

Now does this mean that I am out finding eighty committed relationships a day? Or that I am taking eighty lovers, or even lasting friendships each day? No. What it means is that I can allow my heart to take people in to it for even a moment, and I can do it with as many of them deserve it.

I have loved little old ladies at the farmers’ market that giggled when I told them that they were already sweet and didn’t need that clover honey.

I have loved tiny children whose eyes pop open as wide as planets when I vanish a coin for them on the bus between little towns.

I have loved grumpy, silver haired men that tear up when they talk about things that they saw in the war, or the girl that wasn’t there when they got home.

I have fallen unabashedly in love with musicians, dancers, artists and the occasional street performer.

I have loved animals that I have worked with, owned and even ones I have encountered briefly on my travels through life.

I love a few people that I have never met. Authors, teachers, amazing people who I have been inspired and changed by.

I have even fallen in love with a few people that don’t exist. Don’t judge me, I am not in any way unhappy or ashamed of this. Or if it makes you feel better, go ahead and judge me but be aware that it doesn’t affect me or how I love.

I love my friends, and will tell them, freely, all the time, because people need to know that they are loved and more than that, that they are worthy of love.

And you are.

If you think to yourself that only one in a million people could love you, then you’re in luck because that means there are more than seven thousand people out there who will find you just perfect.

I cannot tell you how to love. No one can do that. It is as hard wired into our matrixes as anything we do. But what I can do, is offer a little bit of advice from someone who is a lover, someone who loves and doesn’t regret loving.

Our heart is resilient, powerful, and self-repairing. It will break, and it will fix itself and it is capable of a vast amount of loving, even when it is shattered into melancholy scarlet shards.

Go out, physically and metaphorically, go out and fall in love! Do it every day. Open yourself to the experience of loving someone without expectation. Love is a gift you give yourself and so does not require payment. You can love someone without the requirement of them loving you back because loving them just means that you see them, truly see them and appreciate their existence in your life.

Love violently, completely, like a thunderstorm. Let it fill the sky and light up the darkness and if it passes, it leaves growth and beauty behind it. Love doesn’t have to be permanent, it doesn’t have a term limit or a shelf life, you are permitted to love for an hour, or for a lifetime.

Be passionate about yourself and your life. Love what you do, or find something else to do! Be passionate, even in your mistakes! Throw your heart into the ring with everything you do and it will echo in your life, your work and on your face and you will be stunned by the way it changes the way people react to you.

Hug, kiss, touch and compliment people as often as you can, and you give them permission to do the same. We are all seeking permission to have connection, we are all seeking to have some level of love with the lovely creatures around us.

And lastly, love without shame or regret. Never shackle your love with those two emotions or you will cut its wings from it. You love who you love, regardless of the prevailing winds of society, regardless of who lives in the white house, who lives down your street or who serves your meals. So much stigma has become attached to gay marriage, to gender in general, but the heart sees none of that. The heart sees love and love only and if you are ashamed of who you love, then you have betrayed the most pure thing that has been given you.

The same goes for your passions. From the type of music and movies you love to the types of food you adore and the way you barely play guitar but love the act of trying, let no one ever make you feel that your love for these things is unworthy.

I tell you these things because I love. I love every day and it has made my life beautiful and to know and I mean KNOW that you are loved back, even by someone who isn’t “yours” is the most wonderful feeling in the world.

Take care of each other…