1)      Describe the customs of two or three Indo-European cultures regarding the land and natural resources, and compare and contrast these practices with the prevailing modern attitudes. (minimum 300 words)

In contrast to our modern view of resources being limited and precious, the ancient Indo-European cultures saw the land as something to use.  The land to them was necessary to survival as they got most of their food through agriculture and domestication of animals.  This is demonstrated in the Roman culture with their Laws of the Twelve Tables.  In these, there are explicit restrictions on the use of magic against the crops.  Specifically, stealing of crops by magic was forbidden. (Graf 41).

When we look at the Celts, we can see through archeology some interesting features on how they lived in relation to the land.  What strikes me is that many of their roundhouses and settlement enclosures face east and is thought to be so they could see the sun rise in the morning.  This shows that they did live closer to the land than we do today.  The Celts also reserved some wild places, such as bogs, lakes, springs, and groves, as ritual sites.  We again can see this by the ritual killings and burial in bogs, the large sacrifices to springs and lakes of various objects, and the find of domesticated animal bones at these sites (Green 154-155). 

As I mentioned, the Celts were an agriculture based society.  There have been finds of ards, which are a wooden plow, found in peat bogs (Green 177).  We also have domesticated animals as evidenced by their bones, and by the myths.  The best example that comes to mind is the Cattle Raid of Cooley.

The Norse were no different.  They too were an agriculture based society.  In this case though, they relied more on the raising of animals than the farming of land, likely due to the short growing season of their lands.  If one looks at Iceland and Greenland which were settled by the Norse, you can see their economy was based on domestic animals.  That’s not saying they didn’t hunt for commerce.  An example of this was their trading a polar bear for a cleric in 1127 CE (Amorosi, Buckland and Dugmore 494).  They treated the land as their possession though.  This can be seen by the destruction that their domesticated animals did.  As Amorsi et. al. said about the domesticated animals found in Iceland, cattle, horse, pigs, sheep and goats, “these animals together form a ‘landnam package’ that could effectively bulldoze diverse subartic ecosystems into a more uniform steppe/grassland pasture” (Amorosi, Buckland and Dugmore 501).  From that you can see that there was little concern over the environmental impact their herds had on the land.

These views are actually not far from how we have felt about the environment in the recent past.  It wasn’t until the likes of John Muir, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, and similar authors and activists came around and started speaking up that we took notice of the land, and our current views of having to preserve it came around.  The ancients lived closer to the land, so they saw the effects of what they did much quicker and reacted much quicker than we do.

2)      Describe your understanding of the term "nature spirits"? Discuss this concept in relation to both ancient Indo-European and modern ADF practices. (minimum 300 words)

The term “nature spirits” refers in general to any being that is not from the upper world of the Gods, or the underworld of the dead.  By this definition, that also means that we humans are also part of nature. Most commonly though, when people refer to the nature spirits they are referring to the animals, plants, and the unseen beings in this world.

Personally, I take a more animistic view of nature.  I do see all the living, seen and unseen beings, as having their own forms and spirits.  I also have had experiences where I saw the general landscape having a spirit.  As an example, when I went on a pilgrimage to retrieve water from the namesake of my grove, Lake Tear of the Cloud, I could feel a strong presence of the spirit of that lake as I sat and meditated beside it.  I didn’t see anything such as a form, but I could feel a presence and almost want to say it was feminine.  I also have a strong belief in the unseen spirits that are commonly referred to as the Fae of the Celts again based on personal experience.

The ancient Indo-European people lived closer to nature.  They also lived in a time before science had given them answers to most everything in nature.  As a result, they also had this kind of animistic view.  The Celts were similar to what I described above, and believed everything, including landscapes, had a spirit (Green 465).  The Norse were similar, and had a larger collection of the unseen beings.  We can see this in the creation story where they name these beings (Larington 5-6).

In ADF, we tend to concentrate on the beings themselves, and not as much with the landscapes.  In my normal call to the nature spirits, I call on those of animal form, those of plant form, and those unseen.  While this does cover what most of us interact with on a daily basis, it does exclude the landscapes.  That is why that pilgrimage I took was truly a pilgrimage for me, as I came back changed by it and realizing that landscapes, inanimate objects, bodies of water, exc. should be added as they too are nature spirits.

3)      Describe the park or patch of untended nature closest to your home and what kind of park it is. (minimum 100 words)

Considering I live in the middle of a city that is surrounded by farmlands, there really is not any kind of untended nature close to my house.  The closest I can come would be the pond in main park of Albany, Washington park.

This pond is relatively untended throughout the year.  The shores of the pond are mostly covered in cattails and other plants that are well suited for life around water.  The pond itself though, does get overcrowded with algae and aquatic plants throughout the summer.  This makes it appear very murky and undesirable to swim in.  It also shows that the pond itself is not very deep, maybe ten feet at the deepest.

There is plenty of animal life there though.  There are some fish in the pond as you often see people fishing it, what kind of fish are in there though, I have no idea.  You can also see a variety of water fowl around the pond.  The most common birds are the mallard ducks and Canadian geese.

Overall, considering this is on the end of a very well maintained, showcase park for the city, it is rather wild.

4)      Explain where your household water comes from; what waterway is nearest to your home, and where its source is; where it drains; if there are any large bodies of water (lakes, ocean) near your home; what you know about the quality of water in your region; and what the major concerns in your area regarding your water supply are. (minimum 300 words)

In Albany, the water comes from the Alcove Reservoir which is a 13.5 billion gallon reservoir that is located about thirty miles from where I live.  As this water is surface water, it tends to be very soft (Water Quality).  There are other towns in the area though that get their water from wells.  There is one town that gets water for industrial use from the shores of the Hudson river.

There are two major waterways here in the region.  These are the Mohawk river which flows west towards Utica and empties into the Hudson river.  The other is the Hudson river which originates to the north in the Adirondacks and ends in New York city.  What is interesting about this region is that these two rivers have great changes caused to them by man in the form of building canals.  The Mohawk is the start of the Erie Canal to the west, and the Hudson is part of the Champaign Canal to the north (NYS Canal Corporation).

One of the biggest impacts that man has had with the local waterways has been the dumping of chemicals into the water.  Specifically, General Electric used to dump polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs, between 1947 and 1977.  These chemicals are accumulated in the fish, which then when eaten accumulate in our bodies.  As this chemical is a potential carcinogen, this does cause a problem.  As a result of this, fishing in the river south of Hudson Falls, NY has all but been banned.  Currently, there are efforts to clean up the river, spearheaded by the EPA, and mostly financed by GE.  This pre-dredging work has already been started, and the dredging is expected to begin in 2009 to clean up the river north of Troy, NY (EPA).

Outside of the two rivers, there are various small lakes and ponds throughout the region.  Many of the bigger ones are used for recreation.  Overall their water quality is good as they do tend to be full of life.

5)      Explain where your household garbage ends up and what recycling is available in your area? (minimum 100 words)

The household garbage goes to the city landfill.  There is a bit of a controversy over this landfill at the moment.  It has been a major source of income for the city, but unfortunately it is predicted to be filled within the next year or two.  As a result, the city has been doing two things.  One has been buying land south of the city to be used as a future landfill.  This is unfortunately partly wetlands, and is coming under great scrutiny and some protest.  The city is also looking to expand their current landfill.  The issue with this is that they are located in the Albany Pine Bush preserve and that is protected land (Project Specifics). 

The landfill has been a source of local odor that has been rather bad, especially in summer, even after their mitigation efforts.  They have also been collecting the methane that is produced in the landfill and using it to produce energy.  The landfill is also responsible for monitoring and controlling any liquids leaching out, and of course monitoring the groundwater for any contamination (Landfill Operations).

We are required by law to recycle:

Households are required to recycle newspapers and magazines; glass and metal containers; plastic containers with the recycle code of 1 & 2 stamped on the bottom; “gable top” cartons and drink boxes and telephone books. Corrugated cardboard should be broken down, bundled up and placed by the recycling container (Recycling).

On top of that, there is also law refuse pickup that includes brush, branches, leaves, and grass clippings that are then sent to the city compost center for composting and use throughout the city.  Residents can actually get fifteen gallons of compost at a time for free (Compost).

6)      Briefly describe the major sources of air and water pollution in your area, what the biggest source of pollution in your area is, and what impact it has. (minimum 100 words)

The major sources of air pollution in New York are similar to much of the rest of the nation.  The two biggest sources are from vehicle emissions and fossil fuel based power plants (Air).  Of course, a byproduct of air pollution is acid rain.  This has been a great plague on the state, especially the Adirondacks where acid rain has caused major issues with the lakes (Acid Rain).  There has been a more local and recent news story with regards to air pollution.  There is a local cement plant that has been releasing large amounts of mercury into the air and happens to be the largest polluter of that kind in the state (Nearing).  As mentioned earlier, the major water pollution source in the area is due to the dumping of PCBs in the Hudson River and its tributaries (EPA).

7)      Describe the basic climate of your region, the primary influences on your weather patterns, major economic resources of your region (for example, crops, minerals, ranching, tourism, manufacturing) and how are these affected by climate and weather conditions. (minimum 300 words)

The state of New York is a very varied state as far as climate and terrain.  The state is bordered on the north by the Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River.  Much of the eastern border of the state is Lake Champaign, Lake George, and the Hudson River.  There is also Long Island which is located in the Atlantic Ocean.  The rest of the state is bordered by land, and some of the southern border is the Delaware River.  Terrain wise, the state varies from the vast planes of central and western regions, to the mountains of the Adirondacks and Catskills, and some raise plateaus like Tug Hill by Syracuse.

To get a bit more local, the rest of this will be talking about the Hudson/Mohawk River area.

The climate in this area is a temperate climate.  We get four full seasons each year and temperature ranges from an average low of 22° F in January to average high of 71° F in July (Advameg, Inc.) and often into the 90’s F.  The record high was 108 ° F and the record low was -56° F.

This area of New York gets most of it weather due to three prevailing weather patterns.  One is from the southwest and the Gulf of Mexico that often brings water rich storms.  Another is from the northern interior of the continent that usually brings cooler, dry weather.  The third is costal storms that travel up the coast from the south, and this almost always brings heavy precipitation. 

There is also another phenomenon that occurs because we are located east of the great lakes.  This is the “lake effect” snows that are caused by cold, dry air blowing across the warm lakes, picking up moisture, and then dropping it as it goes across the state.  While Albany itself is a good distance away from the lakes, the Mohawk Valley, and at times even Albany will receive lake effect snows. 

Another weather phenomenon that occurs in the north east of the country is the nor’easter or northeastern storm.  This is a low pressure that travels up the east coast and will often dump large amounts of snow throughout the region.  Overall though, the precipitation tends to be spread out relatively even throughout the year, and there is rarely not enough water to fulfill the daily needs.

There is also at times, severe weather in the area.  This usually takes the forms of major snow storms, thunder storms, and the rare tornado.  Floods have also happened, usually due to either heavy rain fall or ice jams blocking up one of the rivers (usually Mohawk) and causing flooding.

Because of the relatively mild summer weather and decent length of growing season (150-180 days) there is the possibility of growing many crops.  The most common ones that are seen in the area are corn and apples.  The other major use of the land as far as farms goes is for milk cows.  There is also a robust maple syrup industry in the area (Cornell).

As far as tourism goes, this area is full of it.  Just to the north is the Adirondack State Park, the largest state park in the nation at over 5 million acres, which attracts visitors for outdoor sports.  We also have the canal waterway and its related parks along the Mohawk and Hudson rivers.  On top of that, we have in the fall what are commonly referred to as “leaf peepers” which are people that come up to look at the leaves turning colors.  Other seasonal tourist events also include apple picking, and seeing how maple syrup is made.

8)      Name and provide the following information for each of three species of animals (birds, mammals, insects, fish, etc.) and three species of plants native to and currently found in your area:

a)      Its status (endangered, threatened, thriving, overpopulated)

b)      A brief physical description of the species, noting if you have seen it, and where.

c)      Describe at least one of the following:

i)        a way it is or has been used by humans (for example, as food source, medicinal use, raw materials for tools, clothing, housing, etc.)

ii)      a way in which it has been affected by human presence or development

iii)    a way in which it has adapted to or entered into an ecological relationship with human presence or human development.

  1. American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) (National Audobon Society 607)
    1. The crow is thriving very well in this area, on the border of overpopulated
    2. 17-21 inches in length, stocky, black bird with a fan tail.  It is very similar in appearance to the raven, but smaller in stature.  It is very easily identified by its call of “caw-caw”.  I’ve seen many of these in the area.
    3. iii) a current way that the crows in this area have adapted is to roost in very large numbers in the cities during the winter due to the cities being a bit warmer than the country side.  As a result, there has been annual noise making events to try to drive the crows out the city.
  2. Eastern Gray Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensis) (National Audobon Society 487)
    1. This species is thriving in this area.
    2. The squirrel is gray on its back and white on its underside.  Often there are touches of brown on its ears and face.  It also normally has a long, bushy, gray tail.  Overall size is 17-19 inches in length with a tail of 8-9 inches.  There are plenty living in my back yard, and I think there is a nest in one of the trees by my house.
    3. ii) Probably the largest effect that humans have had on the squirrels in this area, besides the loss of forest habitat, has been us feeding the birds, and the squirrels finding that birdfeed as a new food source.
  3. White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus) (National Audobon Society 834)
    1. This species is overpopulated in this area.
    2. The deer is tan/reddish brown in the summer, and more grayish in the winter.  The youth are speckled in white spots.  The distinctive feature of this deer versus other deer is the white underside of the tail that is raised as a notice of alarm.  The males have antlers.  The deer is 27-45 inches in height, 6-7 feet in length.  I have not seen any of these near my house, but I have seen them in the wilds.
    3. ii) The largest effect humans have had on this species is the destruction of their natural predators.  As a result, this deer is very overpopulated.
  4. Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) (National Audobon Society 579)
    1. This species is thriving in this area
    2. This is a large tree with a rounded, dense crown and leaves that turn multiple colors in the fall.  The height runs 70 to 100 feet and trunk diameter is 2 to 3 feet.  The leaves are 3.5 to 5.5 inches in length and width and are palmately lobed with 5, deep, long pointed lobes and a few narrow long pointed teeth.  The bark is light gray becoming rough and deeply furrowed into narrow, scaly ridges as it ages.  The fruit of this tree are about 1 inch long, forked winged pairs.  I have seen plenty of these trees in this area.
    3. i)  There are two major ways that this tree has been used by man.  One is to produce furniture as this is the “hard maple”.  The other is to tap the tree when the sap runs in the spring to make maple syrup.  32 gallons of sap makes 1 gallon of syrup, or 4.5 lbs of sugar.
  5. Eastern White Pine (Pinus strobes) (National Audobon Society 296)
    1. This species is thriving in the area, even with the clear cutting of the tree in the past.
    2. This tree is large with a straight trunk and a crow of horizontal branches.  The height is 100 feet or more.  The trunk diameter is 3 to 4 feet.  The needles are evergreens and run 2.5 to 5 inches in length, with 5 in a bundle.  The bark is gray, and becomes rough in thick, deeply furrowed scaly ridges with age.  The fruit is cones that are 4 to 8 inches in length, narrow, cylindrical, and have thin, rounded, flat scales.  I haven’t seen any locally, but I have seen plenty in the state parks around here.
    3. i) This tree has been used extensively by man.  Because of the length and straightness of the trunk it was used extensively for ship masts in colonial times.  Modern uses for the trees, since they are now smaller than in colonial times, the tree is used more extensively for building materials.
  6. Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) (National Audobon Society 336)
    1. This species thrives in this area.
    2. This is either a climbing or ground vine with yellow-white or yellow-green flowers that are 1/8 of an inch wide, in clusters from 1 to 3 inches in size.  The leaves are compound, and divided into 3 glossy or dull leaflets of 2 to 5.5 inches in length.  The fruit is ¼ of an inch wide, white-straw colored berry that appears in clusters.  Thankfully, I have not seen any of this recently, but I have seen it, inadvertently touched it, and had to get the steroid shots the last time to clear up the rash.
    3. i) Due to the ability of any part of this plant to cause skin irritation, hence the name poison ivy, attempts have been made to eradicate it, with no success.  There are no real uses for it by man, but the fruits are valuable food for birds.

9)      Identify one species of plant or animal in your local area which is threatened, endangered, or locally endangered, or which became extinct in historic times. Explain what destroyed or threatens this species locally, how does or might the absence of this species affect your locality, and what, if any, steps were taken or are being taken to preserve the species. (minimum 100 words)

Karner Blue Butterfly (Lycaeides melissa samuelis)

The Karner Blue Butterfly is an endangered species that can be found mostly in Wisconsin, but also in small pockets in Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).  One of those pockets happens to be here in Albany.  In Albany we have the Pine Bush preserve which was created specifically to support the habitat of the Karner Blue.

The main reason for this species is due to man changing the environment.  We have greatly reduced the range of where the plant that the larva exclusively feeds on, the blue lupine (Lupinus perrennis).  This plant thrives in dry, sandy areas, and pitch pine/scrub oak area.  Due to man settling these areas, and fire suppression efforts that actually make the area less ideal to the lupine, we have destroyed the environment where the Karner blue lives.  Another reason that man has caused this species to be endangered is the roads that go through its environment, and the cars that inadvertently kill the butterfly.  There is also that since this is a rare species, collectors have historically sought it out (Karner Blue).

10)  Identify one plant or animal species which was introduced to your area and explain how its introduction and continued presence has affected the local ecology and what, if any, steps are being taken to mitigate those effects. (minimum 100 words)

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

This is an invasive aquatic plant.  It is thought to have been introduced by European ships carrying it in their ballast water.  The plant was also brought to America because of its medicinal properties for treatment of diarrhea, dysentery, bleeding, wounds, ulcers and sores.

This plant is an invasive and destructive species.  It’s invasive because it is not native to the Americas, but now can be found in every state and Canadian providence except for the state of Florida.  It’s destructive because it chokes out the native plants to the wetlands and can alter the water flow. 

Unfortunately, there are no natural predators located here in the Americas.  The only effective ways of removing this plant has been through physical removal and herbicides.  Speaking from personal experience, physical removal is very labor intensive, and unless managed for many years, not that effective.  I helped remove about an acre of the plant, and within 5 years you couldn’t see that we did anything other than the mounds of dirt that were the plants we removed.  There have been experiments of introducing natural predators from Europe, specifically weevils and beetles (Blossey).  My personal fear is that these will cause other problems in the future.

11)  Based on your experiences, meditations, and research, describe what, in your opinion, makes a place seem "natural." (minimum 100 words)

This is a difficult question.  I have felt that some extensively gardened parks are natural, and I have felt the depths of forests to also be natural.  I think that what makes a place feel natural is when there is wildlife present, plants that are suitable to that landscape, and the spirits of that area are all in balance.  This is relatively easy to do in the middle of a forest preserve, such as the Adirondack State Park where things are designated as “forever wild”.

What I find odd though is getting this feeling of natural in a well maintained park.  I think that this can be due to the effort of people to maintain the park, to plant plants that will be both beautiful and attract native wildlife to the park.  I also think that just the act of maintaining it, cleaning up litter, etc., actually pleases the unseen nature spirits there and that by itself makes great strides to making it feel natural.

12)  Based on your research for Questions 1 above, describe what sort of offering would be appropriate to make to the Nature Spirits in your area, and what would be an appropriate way to make such an offering and why. Discuss the potential ecological consequences of making this offering and ways to modify the offering in order to minimize any negative environmental impact. (minimum 100 words)

The ideal offerings to the local Nature Spirits would be things that would first and foremost not harm them.  Even though chocolate is something that we as humans enjoy, it is not good for most animals and really is not something that we should be offering.

As the majority of the wildlife in the city of Albany, where I hold most of my rituals, are birds, squirrels, and feral cats, offerings that are food for them would be best.  As a result I tend to give offerings of birdseed or malted grains.  Every now and again, I’ll make offerings of bread or milk which also make great food for the animals. 

I’ll admit that I have historically not given offerings to the plants.  This is changing as I am now composting all my food scraps, I will now be offering this compost as part of my rituals, when the weather gets better, and the plants are growing.  We also have to remember the unseen spirits.  My experience with the local ones is that they like shiny objects, so an offering of anything reflective tends to please them.

Probably the best way to make offerings, and be the least environmentally damaging, is to spread the food or the compost throughout where you’re making the offering.  I normally do this by casting the offerings.  This will at minimum spread out the impact and through dilution cause less localized impact.  It also provides a wider area so that more animals can feed on the food.  With regards to the giving of shiny objects, I find that the best thing to do is to create a “fairy shrine” so that the impact of having non-biodegradable objects is limited to only one, small area.

13)  Based on the research and conclusions you have drawn from question 1 through 12, describe how you might further extend your personal and/or group spiritual practices to include the Nature Spirits and other natural elements. (minimum 300 words)

I think that in general, the Nature Spirits are the one Kindred that we don’t pay enough attention to.  I find this slightly ironic considering that we are a “nature religion.” While many of our holidays are based off of the harvest and the farming cycles, they are not based off of nature itself.

After all of the research I have done for this course, I have come to look at how I worship the Nature Spirits in a different way.  I have seen that I do not acknowledge them as much as I can.  I don’t go out into “nature” enough, and actually have in my past ignored much of it.  I also have found over the past year that I have not acknowledged and offered to the unseen spirits of my own land, and my house, even though they do so much for me, including protecting my house.

What I have now determined to do is to spend more time focusing on the Nature Spirits in my own spiritual practice.  This will be done in many ways.  One will be doing some of my weekly rituals to the various nature spirits specifically.  I will also start making my normal yard maintenance a more spiritual practice.  It may be a stretch, but I am sure that there is some way that mowing the lawn and pulling weeds can be made spiritual, and a worthy experiment.  I also will do more to get out into the “forever wild” lands of this area and do rituals.  This will require me to create a packable ritual kit that I can take into the wilds.

Finally, I will also be working to create a section of my yard, or possibly a spot at the local Neo-pagan church, that can be used as a “fairy shrine.”  I realized after some events last year that I do owe much to the unseen spirits of my house.  I have done some rituals specifically to honor and offer to them.  I need to set up a shrine for them in my yard where I can make offerings, especially of the shiny objects that they so enjoy.



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