Today the sun shone from behind early summer storm clouds long enough for me to walk to my suburban woods. As I walked, the first cicada song of the season blared from the branches of a neighbor’s cedar elm. Above the small clearing that I tend, a mockingbird ran through his repertoire from the bare branches of a dead tree, and bees and dragonflies zipped overhead.
Many firewheels in the meadow around the woods are going to seed, I noticed, while others continue to bloom. Dayflowers and horseherb bloom together in the shade, and the intoxicating honey of kidneywood is beginning to waft through the air. Balsam gourd vines climbing through the understory are ripening scarlet fruits, sometimes called snake apples.
Today I reached a resting point in creating a land shrine in my grove. I don’t say finished, because I know it’s not. Temples are always being torn down and raised back up; temples are processes. But it seems time to pause and consider what I’ve learned from the experience thus far.
First, the site:
I built the shrine in a wooded city park with which I have an established relationship. Less than a mile from my house, I’ve been walking to a clearing there to observe plants and wildlife, listen, pray, stack stones, and make other offerings each week for the past two years. Ashe junipers, kidneywood shrubs, and agaves partially screen the clearing from a short trail that criss-crosses the interior of the woods. Anyone who’s adventurous enough to veer a few steps off of the trail may find the shrine–and they are welcome to it–but the uncurious are unlikely to see. At some point I may add stone markers at the entrance to the clearing.
If the audience for this project were larger than myself, I’d need to consider accessibility. The park where I built the shrine is free and open to the public from 5 am to 10pm, but the closest Capital Metro bus stop is about a mile away, and the crushed stone and bark mulch trails are not wheelchair accessible.
I used limestones found within a quarter mile radius of the clearing where the shrine stands. It helped to know the land, to know where to find the limestones and how to gather them without getting into poison ivy or snake bitten. However, those stones are heavy, and the agaves surrounding the shrine have sharp claws. (Agaves are protective plants; that’s no metaphor.) So creating it has involved sweat and (only a little) blood. I’d like to add bowls for offerings, collecting rain water, scrying, etc, but how to keep the bowls from becoming mosquito nurseries, when I go for a week without visiting?
Because I felt called to build a land shrine, and because it makes me happy. The shrine is a place for me to pay respect to the land beneath my feet and the other beings with whom I share it. A place for me to express wonder and gratitude for the vast underground Edwards Aquifer that supplies my water, the rocky soil that grows some of my food and provides a foundation for my home, the humid air and searing sunlight that surround my body and sustain life. A specific place where I can continue meeting and growing relationship with other animals, plants, and minerals. A physical focus for observation, prayer, and offerings.
The elements and/or other park visitors will rearrange the shrine materials in time. But shrine or no, I will continue tending the grove. Continue walking my territory (as witches are wont to do), continue picking up trash, stacking stones, listening, praying, offering. The shrine makes visible for now the renewal of an oath to bear witness to the Land, a recommitment to being a student of the Land Hirself.
It’s the same old story,
of rocky highlands and rivers,
forests and caves,
snakes, bulls, and hawks.
The same old story of
light and dark
flood and drought
heating and cooling
growing and dying.
The same old story of
birth in the sacred cave,
but here bats emerge
to hunt by moon and starlight.
Here juniper and live oak guard the hills,
cypress and pecan drink the streams,
mountain laurel and bluebonnet scent the breeze,
but it’s the same old story with a twist,
one I’ve heard You tell before.
Anna Walther lives in Austin, Texas, where she practices place-based paganism, by honoring ancestors, observing the movements of the sun and the moon, collecting local stories, visiting trees, creeks and springs, and learning about the plants, animals, and minerals with which she shares her home. Anna is a student nurse, and she attends First Unitarian Universalist Church with her husband and children.