Secrets of a Healing Garden

Guest post by valarie budayr

Nothing shows the journey of life better than a garden with its seasonal cycles of blooming and rebirth. For children who are victims of physical and sexual abuse and trauma the healing/therapy garden at New Hope is a welcome retreat as a place of healing and renewal.

New Hope Healing Garden is a private garden retreat for children, care givers, first responders, staff and therapists

The New Hope Therapy Garden is a private outdoor garden space that has been specifically designed to meet the physical, psychological, social and emotional needs of the children using New Hope and its resources as well as their caregivers, family members, friends, and staff as a place to re-connect with their well being and heal the invisible wounds of current and post-traumatic stress.

The design is to inspire play through nature exploration, nature and gardening care, and imagination. Throughout the whole garden we engage the child through various textures, sounds, imagination and interaction. It instills awe and wonder, and invites anyone to come in, look, listen, and see what grabs your curiosity.

Welcome to our Garden ~

The Singing Hopscotch Path


We enter the garden via the numbered circled path. There are two ways to use the path. The first is by hopping as in playing hopscotch. The next way of using the path is to sing. Each colored marker on the path makes us stop and sing a first line of a song such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. Both hopping and singing are ways to enter the present moment, the here and now. We have to concentrate really hard to hop on one foot and then the other. It’s a relief to be able to stop with both feet on two numbers. It doesn’t leave a lot of room for outside thoughts to run inside our minds. Singing also achieves the same thing. We can only sing one note at a time. It takes full concentration and our full breath. We need to sing the correct pitch, have enough air in our lungs and move to the next note in the song as well as sing the correct words. The pathway is an indicator that we are transitioning from the world out there, that at times isn’t so nice, to the safety of the garden where we will explore, experience, and embrace nature through play. Everything that happens in the garden, happens only in the present moment, the now. The experience of the garden opens up new possibilities and new ways of seeing things.

Flower Planters


Just in front of the parking lot are four moveable garden planters. These have been planted with a variety of flowers which once cut come back again. Such flowers are zinnias, calendula, marigolds, nasturtiums etc., as well as, herbs. All of the flowers and herbs in the planters will be used for nature play in the Nature House and in the Fairy Forest.
The flower planters are also away for the children to take the watering cans, and trowels and personally help care for the garden by watering and weeding. Both child and therapist while weeding, watering, or picking flowers can have those very important conversations that foster healing.

Sunflower House
Each Spring a 6 x 9 house will be created completely out of several sunflower varieties.
Children love hideaways to play in and view the outside world without being seen. The sunflower house is such a place to sit and create flower and nature mandalas, rake a zen garden, or sit an enjoy the world around them as birds fly in and out and squirrels scamper up and down the trees. It’s a place to feel protected, ponder and create.

Fairy Forest

Using only natural materials such as sticks, shells, stones, leaves, pinecones, acorns etc, we create fairy houses. There is no right or wrong way, only natural materials can be used. No nails, glues, twine or string. Building a natural fairy houses instills the idea of being able to fix things that one doesn’t like. We can create something enchanting by using our imaginations and by creating with what nature gives us.

The Fairy Forest instills the idea of impermanence that something may not be there forever but we can rebuild with what is left over and what new things we can pick up from around the fairy forest to build with.

Therapists also share the idea that they can create a safe house in the Fairy Forest and build what that looks like.

House by house, the forest fills until one day we come upon an entire village. There are two old trees in the garden and the stretch of land between the left hand tree, the bird bath/water play area and the tree on the right hand side will encompass the Fairy Forest.

Field of Flowers Bird Baths


Sitting in a field of seasonal flowers is our water play area. Local artist Linda Edmunds created bird baths using large squash and rhubarb leaves. Each one is hand painted and sealed to bring a fun and playful feel to the garden. The bird baths instill water play. Just to the right of the field of flowers is a big concrete bowl which when filled will have floating balls in it. Both the bird baths and bowl invite the child to play by simply pouring water into them as well as placing various nature items there to interact with. Many specific therapy modalities also use water as a tool for healing. This allows free play and imagination in a structured setting.

The Labyrinth


Welcome to the meandering path. Labyrinths are used as a centering tool to quiet the mind. The labyrinth at New Hope is a 7 circuit Chartre labyrinth.
The path winds its way back and forth, in and out. The mind becomes disoriented because it’s not sure which way the path will turn next. This confusion actually calms the mind in a still and gentle way. The wandering path also in only the width of one foot which means you can only walk with one foot, one pace at a time. Another tool which silences the mind.

A labyrinth isn’t a maze. The same path we use to walk to the center of the labyrinth is the same one we use to walk out.

A labyrinth is a tool of transformation. We are never the same person who walked into the labyrinth as the person who walks out. There are three stages of a labyrinth walk. The first is the intention to walk the labyrinth, quiet the mind and leave the outside world behind. The second is the actual walk. As we get closer to the center we are moving into our own interior space. Once in the center we take a moment to reflect, whether that’s a simple moment of gratitude, to take a few deep breaths or to even meditate. We are in the center of ourselves as well as being in the center of the labyrinth. Those few moments we took in our walk and reflective thoughts have us walking out a more centered person than when we walked in. The very design of the labyrinth instills this whether we choose to reflect in the center or not.
The labyrinth was designed for little legs and so the adults who walk it comment that the turns happen quickly, yes for long legged people but for our children visitors it’s just the right of walking paces between turns. Since the labyrinth has been installed, both staff and children have enjoyed walking the wandering path.

The Nature House


Next to the labyrinth is our Nature House. It is a place to have important conversations while playing and creating with nature. While in the nature house, children can create nature mandalas, use therapy trays such as sand, stone, and landscape as well as rake into the table top zen gardens.
Nature House is also a great place to be outside in all kinds of weather. It offers some protection from rain, snow, and sleet, allowing children to experience all moments regardless of weather outside.

As the children connect with the garden they are planting seeds for the future. The garden, the connection to nature, and life after the stress of abuse, are full of hope.

New Hope is a private garden and safe haven for those that utilize New Hope and its facilities and is closed to the general public.

The therapy garden was designed by Maryville resident Valarie Budayr. Valarie has been gardening her whole life. Valarie was on the creative design team for the Secret Garden at the Knoxville Botanical Gardens which opened in October of 2016. Valarie’s area of garden design specialties are labyrinth building and design as well as secret gardens, fairy gardens and houses,paradise, and healing gardens. She also greatly loves her vegetable garden. Valarie is also known as an award winning author and publisher.
It was her great joy to create the Therapy Garden at New Hope and wishes much healing and creative nature play to take place there.

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Kilimanjaro

Sunrise from the summit of Kilimanjaro

Guest Post by Alexandra Bowen

In 2013 I forgot to return (i.e. stole) three books from the New York Public Library: All About The Oscar, Behind the Oscar, and A Pictorial History of the Academy Awards. These are the perfect reflection of what I was reading while in school—and a perfect reflection of how hard it is to care about overdue library books once you move. By 2015, I said goodbye to New York and started a my film career in LA, and the last thing I wanted to do after a long, albeit fulfilling, work day was read those damn books. Another literary interest took its place: Africa.

This interest isn’t entirely out of left field. I started reading because my dad was always reading, and he because his dad was always reading. What are they reading about? Africa. (And WWII, but that seemed more like a man thing than a Bowen thing). So I started reading about Africa.

More specifically, the Congo.

It seemed so dark and mysterious. And different from where I was. I started with King Leopold’s Ghost, then Blood River, In The Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, and Dancing In the Glory of Monsters. This world was complicated, far away, oftentimes bleak, but always layered. There are cities in the Congo where time goes backwards. Grandparents had modern amenities that their grandchildren have never seen. They joke, “What did the Congolese use before they discovered candles?” Answer: electricity. I’d blow through these books each night before bed, wake up well-rested the next morning, and walk the palm-tree lined streets to my office while considering King Leopold, Kinshasa, and Mobutu. This fixation grew until every standing-in-line-at-CVS moment, morning or evening, was occupied by the Congo.

Then I climbed Kilimanjaro.

(We summited! and had a blast)

I landed back in LA with a thud—jittery, tired, and overly excited by all toilets. I settled into life again, ready to read under my down comforter. But I felt a full body block against reading about Africa. I couldn’t do it. The fixation disappeared. Fully obsessed to fully disinterested. I can only compare that weird sensation to taking a pill that instantly cures a headache.

Maybe it’s the every-changing phases of youth. Maybe it’s PTSD from international travel. I suspect, if I give it time, I’ll discover that the real block is that Africa is not a mystery anymore. It doesn’t matter that I was across the border in Tanzania; the far away world of the Congo is tangible now. There’s a chance I’ll stare at my hand too long and think too deeply about the dark details of what happened there.

I don’t know what I expected to take away from this trip, but it certainly wasn’t that. So goes life. Those people couldn’t care less if I’m reading about them or not—I wasn’t put here to solve the riddle of the Congo. For now, I feel a sense of endearment to that place. I will bide my time, send them good vibes, and get back to reading my contraband non-fiction film industry books until I’m ready to do what I am meant to do:

make a movie about it.

 

 

 

Chickadee

Photo by Christopher L. Wood

Every morning I look out my kitchen window into my herb garden where I have my bird feeders and watch my darling birds flit and land, throw seeds on the ground and have little spats. Nothing could make me happier for in my world my birds, specifically chickadees, are “A” list celebraties. Forget seeing humans parade on a red carpet, it is these adorable birds that turn me into a screaming adolescent girl– “OMG there is a chickadee.”

Just like the opossum, I have always had the chickadee as a totem animal. There are so many characteristics of animals that play out in our lives and its common to have more than one totem animal. But over the years chickadees and opossums have played a prominent role in the lore of my life. According to Animal-Speak by Ted Andrews, the bible of animal totem information, the black cap of the chickadees indicates the depths of the mysteries of the mind and the search for Truth. There are seven types of chickadees that indicate the alignment with the seven chakras, seven stages of alchemy and ancient mysteries. All of that wrapped up in this charming little bird that demonstrates that Truth doesn’t always have to be hard but sometime comes to bring joy and cheer to life. I’m all for that.

The other day I saw a little post on Facebook that brings new meaning to the chickadee totem. According to Audubon News, chickadees have the remarkable capacity to swap old brain cells for new ones allowing them to keep track of the hundreds of new places they store seeds. Sign me up chickadees! I want some of that. As I head deeper into the second half of life I’m taking on chickadee medicine as I am actively swapping old brain cells for new and building new neuron paths. Remember last year I went to the Joseph Campbell Library in California? Well on that fateful day I picked up a catalog of degrees offered a Pacifica Graduate Institute. One program caught my eye and wouldn’t leave me alone, Depth Psychology: Jungian and Archetypal Studies. I tried to resist with lots of good reasons including a previous vow never to go back to school. But it seemed to be the next step on my pilgrim’s path—the road deep into the infinite universe of the mind and the mysteries of life. I started classes last month and although a challenge, it is a good challenge and with the help of my chickadee pals I’m going to grow some new paths into the mysteries of the mind. Thanks for being my adorable companions on this magical journey.

This month marks my 5th blogaversary! When I tentatively pushed that ‘publish’ button that day I had no idea where my pilgrim’s path would take me but it sure wasn’t across a country or to graduate school. But there you have it. Tell the universe “I’ll go” and you never know where you will be headed next but it will be well worth the journey.

Chickadee World

Eclipse

Eclipse fever had been raging for months in my area of the county. The totality would be directly over my home. But I had already made plans in the spring to go to Nashville to see a longer totality and besides I was happy to plan a bit of a girlfriends road trip. We had booked hotel rooms in the perfect location, across the street from Centennial Park in downtown Nashville. Val, Becky, Tracy and I unpacked the car and put all the eclipse party necessities on the luggage cart; blankets, chairs, water, snacks and eclipse glasses. This was going to be an all day event and we wanted to be prepared.

Nashville has a special place in my heart because it is my hometown and I have spent many a happy hour in Centennial Park the home of the Parthenon and now the great goddess, Athena, all 42 feet of gilded glory. I couldn’t think of a better place to be for the grandest of astronomical events. Eleanor, Hannah and Sandy joined us bringing eclipse donuts from Krispy Kreme to add to the festivities. The seven of us headed across the street in the late morning and found a lovely tree that was perfect for our little party. We circled our chairs and got out the special glasses and watched the slow stream of people joining us on the expansive lawn in front of the home of the goddess.

As we waited Tracy brought out a dozen or so stones and crystals that she felt were meaningful for the day and I arranged them on an old blanket in the center of the chair circle. Several of the stones were aligned to specific chakras so I placed them in the appropriate order and circled them with other stones as an impromptu altar. We enjoyed the cool breeze and visiting, taking turns standing out in the cookie-bite sun to watch the progress. As the time of the totality approached, greater crowds from the nearby hospital and office buildings filled the lawn and about 10,000 eager amateur astronomers awaited the big moment.

It was spectacular as the world darkened, the cicadas started buzzing and then the flash as the sun was dark and the magnificent corona was revealed. The crowed gasped and cheered and I tried just to take in that instant of pure magic. In that moment the world stopped.

All too soon it was over and the light dawned again as quickly as it had faded and the crowds swiftly returned to their appointed destinations. It was amazing to me how just the littlest sliver of sun brought back total daylight.

I felt it was my job to make sure that the moon totally moved off the sun and that the cycle was complete so I stayed on under the tree and would periodically check that the heavens were still in their proper motion. It was in this time of quiet; after all the anticipation had past, my favorite moment began. As the our group of friends sat around the little altar of stones the crescent shaped sun/moon shadows started to move across the blanket slowly and gently lighting each chakra stone in order from the base to the crown. Each stone had a few moments to shine in the sun before the next stone was illuminated, then the next and then the next. The little waning moon shapes danced across the stones several times over the next hour as we talked about our experience.

When the last traces of moon had left the sun, Tracy said a beautiful prayer of thanks and we gathered the stones and chairs and headed back across the street. By then there was just a handful of people left in the park. I was so glad I had stayed to the end for the eclipse wasn’t just about those few exciting moments of totality but about the entire eclipse from the first nibble of the moon to the final moment when the sun was full again. It was about the waxing and the waning of the eclipse, the entire experience. It is easy to just want the fun, exciting moments of life but all the parts of the experience are important. I found the greatest blessing of the day came with the quiet moments when everyone thought the show was over but yet the magic wasn’t finished if you took time to look. All of life is important, every part of our time of earth is part of the magnificent journey of our soul.

Iona

Iona had been calling me for a long time. This tiny island, the last bit of land before the great Atlantic, is at the end of the earth. Ireland is 40 miles to the south but other than that the only thing west of Iona is the vast unknown. It is serious work to get there: fly to Edinburgh, take a train to Oban, then a ferry to Mull, cross Mull on a one-way road in a bus and then one more ferry ride to Iona, walk to the Abbey and you finally arrived. Why would anyone feel the need to go to such a remote place? Why would this tiny island call me?

The story goes that St. Columba got in a bit of an argument over the Psalms at his Irish monastery so he was banished to Iona and built a monastery there in 563 and thus credited for bringing Christianity to Scotland. The monastery thrived and the Book of Kells was written on the island. It became a major pilgrimage site and great honor to be buried on the island. The first major Celtic crosses stood in front of the Abbey and the remaining pieces are in the museum. But there is a power to this place that seems otherworldly. It is often said that “the veils are thin” on Iona and it is easier and quicker to reach heaven if buried on the island. Many years ago I read that it is an “Atlantis Priestess Portal”, I can’t remember where I read that but I never forgot that description. I can’t say for sure what the power is–history, geography, geology, myth– or what this island means to other pilgrims in the past but what I can say is that I had one truly perfect day on earth on Iona.

I didn’t go to Iona on my 2009 trip to Scotland, I knew that time wasn’t right. On this trip it was the final destination that all the holy sites on the way prepared me for. It was raining and foggy on the one-way road across Mull and the traffic was very heavy. I couldn’t see the landscape and felt like I was in a cocoon in the very slow moving bus. Every few hundred feet we had to pull over and wait for an oncoming vehicle. We finally arrived at the parking lot and I got my suitcase and walked through the rain down to the ferry and across the waves onto the ramp; no tourist cars are allowed on the island. I got to the hotel and settled in and then had a group tour of the Abbey. It is plain but it is hallowed ground. I visited the museum and took a walk. As I walked the path to the ocean I had the same overwhelming feeling of joy that I had on the Camino. Three black sheep grazing by the road added to my happiness.

That first evening after supper, most of the group went to the service in the Abbey. The Iona Community, which is dedicated to social justice, conducted a beautiful ecumenical service with singing and sharing of bread. Coffee and dessert in the hotel lounge with my dear friends ended my first partial day on Iona.

All day a song that I had in my iTunes had been going round my head, Cantique de Jean Racine by Faure. The words are in Latin so I looked up the translation, I felt there was a message. “O Christ look with favor upon your faithful people now gathered to praise you”. In my excitement to visit these holy sites and have experiences I forgot the true goal of pilgrimage—-devotion. I was on Iona not for my benefit but to give my devotion to the Divine. I was on this holy isle to sing praises and give thanks for life. I listened to the song over and over, soaking in the beautiful melody and important message.

I had been watching the weather all week hoping that we would have a sunny day on our full day on the island and my prayers were answered. I woke to bright morning sun and the sound of mooing. I walked out to find a herd of “hairy coos”–highland cattle in the nearby barnyard. The baby came running to greet me but was kept at bay by a long-horned mother with gruff voice. I promised her I wouldn’t touch, just admire. After breakfast the hikers in the group met at the ruins of the nunnery to walk across the island to St. Columba Bay. We had a few moment to enjoy this place of worship where stones stacked by man and meadows provided by Mother Nature come together to make the perfect chapel.

After obtaining a few snacks our little group started the walk. The sparkling sun, green meadows, charming animals and the chatter of dear friends made the world even brighter and more vivid. How about the ram with such curly horns that they looked like he had spectacles on. Or my personal favorite, white fluffy lambs frolicking on yellow-flower meadows—ahhhh, it was almost too much to bear. Every step was like walking in a dream. Down the final hill was a beautiful, turquoise bay. The beach is a thick pile of perfectly smooth rocks and down by the water are innumerable green marble stones polished by billions of waves for millions of years. I was surprised we could walk back to the hotel with the weight of all our treasured stones which are said to give protection.

I went over to walk the near by labyrinth and had a bit of an encounter with the head cow as we were walking in open pasture. Apparently I was on her path and she told me in no uncertain terms to get the hell out of her way. Big bossy cows not behind a fence are not to be trifled with and I quickly obeyed.

Then lunch and a bit of retail therapy—that didn’t take long for there are only a few shops. I decided I needed more time in the Abbey to wander alone. I sat in a stream of sunlight and listened to the theme song of my visit on my iPod and soaked in the glory. It isn’t a fancy Abbey but the history and devotion of 1500 years makes it a powerful place. I sat in front of the stone crosses in the museum and thought about all the pilgrims before me and those to come.

After supper I went to the Abbey for the evening service. I was the only one in the group to go but I felt called to be in the Abbey as much as possible. I was greeted by the shadow of the cross on the stone wall of St Columba’s tiny chapel and then made my way inside and found a seat in the Choir. The service was more traditional with just a handful of participants. That was fine with me because I love traditional liturgy. I know it was a time of devotion but the service was absolutely devised by the Divine for my perfect joyful day on Iona. First there was a cosmic joke—the young Englishman leading the service was wearing a bright green tee shirt that said “Dollywood Tennessee” I kid you not!! Dollywood is just up the road from my home and I have been there many times.

The first song, one I knew well, reminded me of my dad. He was a very spiritual man and would have loved my pilgrimage. A few Bible readings and then another song. This time the hymn tune was St. Columba. Wait, that is my favorite tune—I’ve played it on the piano hundreds of times—I didn’t know that was the name. I play that song like a chant. There I was singing new words to my most loved hymn, St. Columba was already a part of my life. A few more Bible verses and then the closing song. The veil between heaven and earth was nonexistent as I sang the final tune as a two-part round “All praise to thee my God this Night for all the blessing for the Light”. I knew all the words by heart. “Praise God from whom all Blessing flow, Praise him all Creatures here below”. A perfect reminder of the message of devotion from the day before. My voice echoed against the ancient stones and I held my hand to my heart in pure joy.

I joined my friends for our final coffee and dessert to share our experiences of the day as the sun set for the short night on this tiny island outpost in the north Atlantic. It was a magic day—not of big experiences but of subtle joys of our beautiful world, meaningful songs, sun and water, friends and history all bathed in the light of the Divine.

The Dove and the Stone by Alice O. Howell

Christ of the Celts, The Healing of Creation  J. Philip Newell

Fairies

The second thread of my journey was to enter the magical world of the fairies. Nature spirits are integral to the stories and land of enchanted Scotland. It doesn’t take much imagination to see and feel the magic all around. The landscape lends itself to the dream state and entry to other worlds. The pristine beauty of the land with streams through yellow-flower meadows, ancient stone walls, ferns and dark hemlock forests is the backdrop for our fairy tales, our childhood stories come to life. So let me tell you some tales and visit the places of our dreams.

The first visit to the land of the fairies began my second day in Scotland. I arrived early to get over jet lag and visit some long lost friends in the Borderlands just south of Edinburgh. In this part of Scotland is the location for the wonderful tale of Thomas the Rhymer. Thomas was a 13th century laird who went with the Queen of Faeries to her world for 7 years. When he returned he had the gift of prophecy and it is said that he eventually left again with the Queen and was never heard from again. So off I went to find the stone that marked his encounter with the Queen. Up a narrow road near the town of Melrose, famous for its ruined Abbey, is a small marker with the story. Just a bit further on foot is the stone where Thomas first encountered the Queen of the Faeries and a nearby marker for the place where Thomas gave his prophesies. If only I could find this same magic and meet the Queen. I looked out over the lovely landscape and knew the fairy world was very close. I had tea just down the road by the last bit of Thomas’ house—the Rhymer Tower. Sir Walter Scott elaborated on this story in poem and Washington Irving used Thomas’ tale to inspire his story of Rip Van Winkle.

Marker for Thomas’ encounter with the Faerie Queen

13th century Rhymer Tower

My next encounter with the fairy worlds of Scotland was a few days later at Blair Castle just north of Edinburgh in Perthshire. This beautiful white castle was first started in 1269 and has over the centuries become an iconic part of Highland landscape and culture. In fact the day I was there the Atholl clan was having their annual highland games which meant lots of handsome men in kilts, a joy not lost on a bus full of women. Several centuries ago the nature spirits of the land came to the Atholl brothers and requested that they plant trees. So the brothers not only planted trees all over their extensive lands but planted a forest of exotic trees next to the castle. Oh My!!! This enchanted forest of giants was alive and powerful. When I entered their world I left my own and walked into another realm. The sound, feel, smell, sight of these beings was overwhelming. I wandered down the path amongst ancient trees so much taller than in the part of the world where I live. The cool breeze whispering in the trees perfectly conveyed the songs of happy birds mixed with the melody of the babbling brook. I really need some new words—magic and enchantment just aren’t good enough anymore. Definitely on the “return to soon” list. Oh and there is also a walled garden with ponds and bridges, nesting swans and cygnets—-ahhhh.

 

The fairy world reigns supreme on the Isle of Skye. I was still in total bliss from my time at Callanish when I took the ferry to the Isle of Skye and soon arrived at the Faerie Glen. The land contours form a miniature world of green mounds, tiny lake and low stone walls. If you can’t find your way to the nether world here you haven’t tried. I followed a mother sheep and her twins over the top of a small hill down to a saddle where I found an enchanted playground. Humans have built cairns and labyrinths into the landscape to form an interactive garden with nature spirits. Time stood still as I walked a labyrinth on the side of the hill and added a stone to a cairn. I chased lambs and just stood in awe of the subtle beauty of the green grass covering gentle hills rolling down to a pristine lake. I left fulfilled and joyful for my time in the land of the Faerie Glen.

Just a bit farther down the road on Skye is Dunvegan Castle, the 13th century home of the McLeod clan. Around 1500, a Fairy Tower was added to look over the inlet of Loch Dunvegan and the small islands with seal colonies. On the day I was there the sun was shining and the islands were fully illuminated with the warm, bright light. I kept looking out the windows of the castle to the seal islands and thought how lucky I was to be there at that particular moment, to be part of this history and see what the lairds saw for centuries. On the wall in the castle is The Fairy Flag, a mysterious flag of silk that was said to originally to be a gift from the fairies to guard the infant children of the castle. The fairy flag is said to lose its powers if unfurled more than three times, so far it has been used twice to enlist the fairy world to save the castle. I wandered the informal gardens that were in full bloom. The enchanted land has a waterfall and paths leading down to the loch where you can get a boat to go see the seals close up.

Looking out to the seal islands from Dunvegan Castle

After we left Dunvegan Castle we made one final fairy stop at the Fairy Bridge where often a phantom piper can be heard playing mournful tunes. I walked down the side of the bridge to the little stream the trickled through flower meadow and over small rocks. It didn’t take any imagination to see where fairies could hide along the soft bank. I didn’t cross the bridge because there is a chance you can enter the realm of the fairies and I was on my way to the Holy Isle of Iona and I had things to do—maybe next time.

Callanish

My latest adventure had been over a year in the planning and many years in my dreams. Finally the day came to leave for my Mysteries of Scotland tour. I visited Scotland with Hamilton in 2009 but it was a short visit and I had a few important places still to visit. So my friend Val set up a tour and we gathered some friends to join us on a mystical pilgrimage to the holy land of Scotland. There were three great mysteries we all wanted to experience: standing stones, nature spirits and Celtic Christianity. All three weave together in a unique way in this enchanted land far away on remote islands in the north Atlantic.

I want to start with ancient standing stones. The world is very familiar with the iconic and immortal Stonehenge and maybe even Avebury in England. But our ancestors left many more of these monuments to the cosmos. There were five stone circles on the itinerary for our pilgrimage so come along with me as we explore these magnificent sacred sites.

The first stone circle and the smallest on the journey was Croft Moraig. This 5000 year-old double circle is just by the side of a narrow road in a sheep field in Perthshire, an hour north of Edinburgh. We silently approached and each person took the time and space to experience the deep knowing of land and stone. We had the circle to ourselves and were able to really experience what was for many people their first time inside an open cathedral to the Universe. Although stone circles still have many great stories to tell, we do know they are places of ceremony for our ancestors, aligned to the sun and stars as observatories and serve as acupuncture points for the energy meridians of the Earth. Most of all, these mighty stones hold the memory of place and time and therefore become the timeless watchers of the land.

Our first stone circle fed our souls and after lunch we went to see the 5000 year-old Yew tree just up the road and another set of stones nearby. On our entire trip this was our only stop in the rain: otherwise the weather was perfection. But we all agreed that the rain was part of Scotland and felt nurtured by liquid sunshine that couldn’t dampen our joy.

The next day we met the third set of standing stones, very different from the first. Clava Cairns is just east of Inverness and very close the famous battlefield of Culloden. We drove right past this place of suffering and went to the peaceful stones and the ancient burial mounds. Clava Cairns is now more popular because of the Outlander series but, on the day I was there, it was cool and clear with a light breeze and just a few other people visiting. As usual I just quietly wandered around and entered the big burial cairns and touched the stones in the circle. The trees surrounding the site are beautiful and add to the gentleness of the place.

The following day we made the long drive to the most important of the stone circles in Scotland and a place I have long desired to visit— Callanish. You can’t get there from here. It takes some serious effort but I was determined and like all pilgrimages the journey and anticipation is just as important as the arrival. We drove to the little port town of Ullapool on the upper peninsula of the Highlands then took a 3 hour ferry ride across The Minch, the body of water separating the islands from the mainland. Fortunately, the water was calm that day and we finally arriving at the town of Stornaway on the island of Lewis which is northern-most island of the Outer Hebrides. The bus was the first to leave the ferry and we were off down narrow, one-way roads with just pull-outs for passing. The final 45 minutes of the trip is through increasingly barren and windswept land. Then there it was, Callanish. The stones rose over the horizon where they have stood for millennia. There was nothing to block the view, no trees or buildings, just the stones standing strong in such a harshly beautiful environment.

The bus pulled into the parking lot and we all made our way up the steep path to Callanish. There were a few other visitors there admiring the stones. I felt like I was at the ends of the earth and these stones were the last outpost. I took my time and skirted around the edge for I wanted to work my way slowly into the center. I walked to the furthest point which are two stones that began the ceremonial entrance to the main stone. I walked up the avenue that narrowed as I got closer. It felt like entering the great temples of Egypt by walking up the avenues lined with sphinx. The circle has four spokes coming from the center and I went to each one and looked out over the land to the nearby lake and then distant hills. What did the stones witness? What did they know? I eventually made my way in to the center and just enjoyed my moment at this beautiful place. Our guide Tracy pointed out the solstice alignment and I took pictures of my fellow pilgrims. Others started wandering back to the visitor’s center for a cup of tea and postcards but I moved off to the side and found a low stone to sit on. I just looked at this majestic monument and listened to some music and took in every part of the moment: the smell, sight, feel, sound. I bathed in the ancientness. It was finally time to leave but I had my moment in time in the timeless. I will be back.

The final stone circle on the tour was also the last stop before returning to Edinburgh to say our goodbyes. I had visited Kilmartin before in 2009 and never forgot it and was happy to be returning. I remember on the first visit when I touched the stones it felt like they were touching back. This visit held the same sensation and I felt very welcome to be back in their presence. It felt like the perfect closing, a benediction for my remarkable days in enchanted Scotland, where the mysteries are there to be touched and experienced without barriers, physical or spiritual. Just me and the stones together on the earth.

 

Tree shaped by the stone circle–Kilmartin