I picked a small bouquet of wildflowers – goldenrod, and black – eyed susans. I wove the viny threads of deep blue vetch around the others to create an old fashioned posy that I placed on his grave as soon as I arrived.
During his long life, Franklin often stood here sniffing the swaying grasses of a field that towered over his head. Memories of him flashed to the surface. I saw him standing there surveying the unknown, his long thin black, now graying nose catching breezes that wafted scents his way – smells I couldn’t even imagine. Betsey had picked just the right spot to bury him.
I was on my way to see Phoebe his sister, another dachshund, this one with ruffles of golden hair. The two had been together for sixteen years, having suffered the loss of many people they loved. But always as a unit. After losing their dad last year Phoebe was inconsolable, sleeping with Peter’s shoes, but Franklin continued to “carry on” and perhaps this was one reason Phoebe recovered. They were a team. It was hard to believe I had only known them for a year; the two were woven through my heartstrings having taken up residence with all the dogs I had ever loved…
I was surprised and somewhat dismayed to see Blue, the giant friendly Lab. I don’t know why I assumed he would be with Betsey… Fortunately I had come with enough treats for two.
Phoebe was apparently asleep on the couch but awakened the moment I touched her, leaping down excitedly, greeting me with a mewing sound I knew well. Phoebe and I had been through a lot together and there was a special bond between us.
Chaos ensued as I doled out the treats with giant Blue whose need for attention always won! Realizing that my only hope for a visit with Phoebe depended upon her willingness to follow me outdoors I left. She could use her dog door to meet me.
Once I was outside Phoebe arrived in seconds and the two of us snuggled on an old towel for a few minutes while I stroked her silky fur. Then she got up abruptly and walked to the edge of the brick walk sniffing, her nose to the air. Returning, she only stayed a minute before repeating her walk two more times. This behavior was very unusual for her when we were together. Seconds later I got it – She was looking for Franklin… Generally, when she joined me outdoors – he appeared too, and we three hung out together. I loved how the two shared my attention, each waiting his/her turn. Oh…
When Phoebe returned the last time she lay down beside me quite contentedly, I thought. Accepting. I was reminded of what often happened to me when I lost someone I loved. Suddenly, I would forget, imagining the lost person restored to sight and scent. It interested me that this behavior of hers also mirrored Franklin’s…
I wanted to take home some chicory and I thought a little walk might interest Phoebe. She seemed to be doing well – except for the odd feeling that I had that she was far far away when I first entered the house. Anyway, the two of us meandered around bunches of chicory briefly before Phoebe decided it was time for me to come back indoors! After slipping through the dog door I watched for her nose to appear – This was game she frequently played with me. She would refuse to come out – I had to come in! Franklin was always content to stay outdoors when I was there and he liked little walks much more than she did. When Blue’s big black head appeared in the dog door I figured our time was over. Although Blue had gotten treats he had also been left indoors…
I was just standing there thinking about Franklin, how much I missed his sweetness, relieved that Phoebe seemed to be dealing with his death when I heard the strangest high-pitched screech. Looking up to locate the piercing shriek I saw the hawk circling over my head making this high pitched cry again and again. Not a normal call. I knew hawks well…They were messengers from the spirit world that had come to me when members of my family died, or were buried.
For a moment I tried to make sense out of what was happening and then it hit me.
I spend a lot of time in wetlands of one kind or another and have previously written about carnivorous plants on this blog because I am utterly fascinated by them. This time around I am publishing the writing from a unique organization that I support wholeheartedly (and write for) that promises that any land acquired will never be logged. The Northeast Wilderness Trust has a column called the Wild Times. “Newts from the Field is a seasonal installment written by Wildlands Ecology Director Shelby Perry, bringing the reader the wonders of nature…” The photo of sundews was also taken by her.
“Imagine you are a wild fly, just buzzing along in the world. All around, plants dazzle you with their delights, flowers of lovely colors tempt you with their nectar, and leaves offer you a comfortable resting place. Some of those leaves even have “extra-floral nectaries” where they secrete nectar directly from their stems or leaves, seemingly just for you. These plants appreciate you, maybe because you pollinate them, or perhaps you eat their pests, or you might even help disperse their seeds or spores.
Your environment is full of hazards. Dragonflies zoom overhead like predatory drones that can see in all directions. Spider webs slung through the air lurk ready to net you when you least expect it. And there are any number of insect predators and fungi pathogens that can bring you down at any moment. In this threatening world, the plants seem safe–how could they possibly be a threat to a harmless fly? What could be dangerous about something rooted to the ground that eats sunshine and exhales oxygen? You might start to get comfortable, you’ve been a fly for 15 days (about as senior as flies get). By now you’ve seen it all…right?
Around the world there are over 600 species of carnivorous plants, although calling them all carnivorous might be a bit generous…some of those species are more accurately characterized as coprophages–the technical term for eaters of poo. Here in the Northeast the three most common genera of carnivorous plants are all truly meat-eaters though. They dine mostly on insects, but occasionally also on small amphibians or mammals. These are sundews (Drosera), pitcher plants (Sarracenia), and bladderworts (Utricularia).
The characteristic little green leaves of sundews, bristling with sticky red fuzz (technically called “glandular hairs”) are common sights along wetland edges and beaver ponds in the Northeast. Though there are several species in our region, the two most common are round-leaved (Drosera rotundifolia) and spatulate-leaved sundew (Drosera intermedia).
Like many carnivorous plants, sundews tend to grow in places that are very nutrient-poor, such as bogs. So, they supplement what they can get from their roots with the phosphorous, nitrogen, vitamins, and minerals from the insects they consume. These environments support only very slow growth for sundew plants, and where they grow on bog mats of sphagnum moss they are often overtopped by the moss in the cooler seasons. When this happens they simply send up a central stalk during the next warm season and grow new leaves above the moss.
Though the plants themselves grow quite slowly, there is one way in which sundew growth is quite quick: capturing their prey. When an insect lands on the sticky glandular hairs, its struggle to get unstuck will trigger the hairs and the leaf to bend toward the wriggling insect, sticking it to more and more hairs.
While this might look like movement, the sundew is actually growing towards its prey, by adding cells to the far sides of the leaf and hairs, causing them to curl in toward the insect. The growth rate of these “moving” hairs is much faster when the sundew has captured a live, struggling insect than for a dead one or piece of debris that sticks to the leaf without struggling. It takes roughly 20 minutes for the leaf to enclose live prey, and several hours or more to envelop still objects or dead insects.
There is only one species of pitcher plant native to the Northeast, Sarracenia purpurea, called simply “pitcher plant.” Its characteristic tubular red leaves were originally believed to be a method of storing water by the plant, for use in times of drought. Further investigation has revealed a more interesting purpose: it is a pitfall trap for unsuspecting prey. The hollow leaf has five distinct zones: a flared opening, a smooth neck, a water-filled barrel, a digestion zone, and an area where undigestible bits collect in the very bottom.
The flared opening is bright red in color, with showy veins and nectar glands that beckon hungry bugs in. Downward-facing hairs line the interior, making it very hard for the unsuspecting bugs to go any direction but further in. Below the hairs, the bug will encounter what looks like a smooth leaf surface– respite from the hairs pointing them downward! But what they actually are walking onto is a smooth surface lined with sticky, shingled cells that come off –attaching themselves to the feet of the insect, and further trapping even flying prey. From here their struggle leads them inexorably closer to the fluid-filled barrel of the leaf below. The barrel is filled with water that contains digestive enzymes secreted by the leaf cells that are underwater. The pitcher plant begins digesting the insects as soon as they hit the water. The hairs on this section of the leaf hold prey in place while the nutrients are being absorbed through the leaf. The cell walls here are thinner to facilitate the absorption. Finally, the bits undigestible to the plant collect in the bottom of the leaf. Because nothing goes to waste in nature, there are specialized insects resistant to the plant’s digestive juices who clean up the detritus in the bottom of the leaf.
Bladderworts are probably the most fascinating carnivorous plant you have never heard of. They live all over the world, from the artic to the tropics. There are 14 species local to the Northeast, the two most common being horned (Utricularia cornuta) and common bladderwort (Utricularia vulgaris). They live mostly in bog and wetland environments, and have no roots at all. Instead the plant has a collection of finely divided spreading leaves, which support a single erect flowering stalk. Without their lovely showy flowers, one might not notice the plant at all, which would be a shame since the leaves are perhaps the most interesting part.
Bladderworts’ inconspicuous leaves are dotted with little bladders originally believed to be for flotation or oxygen storage, but now known to be traps. Think of them like the bulbs at the end of eye droppers. They begin convex with their edges sucked in, like the squeezed bulb of the dropper. Near the mouth of the bladder are a series of small “trigger hairs” that let the plant know when prey is moving nearby. Typical prey are isopods, mosquito larvae, and water fleas, but larger bladderwort species can sometimes consume tadpoles or even small fish. When triggered the mouth of the bladder opens, and like releasing the bulb of the eye dropper, anything at the mouth is sucked inside with great speed. Once the bladder is full, and fully rounded, the door is sealed shut again – the whole process taking about two-thousandths of a second.
Carnivorous plants illustrate just one of the myriad ways nature solves complex problems. Forever-wild places ensure that the stage on which evolution plays out will continue to exist into the future, whatever that future may hold. Northeast Wilderness Trust is committed to securing wild places for all of nature’s mysteries, from charismatic mega-fauna, to carnivorous micro-flora, to every living being in between.”
I live just down the road from one of our many lakes and ponds here in western Maine. Almost every morning I hear the haunting call of the loons as they fly over the house. Although I cherish the symphony I have never figured out why some of these birds making this early morning flight from one lake to another. I have never seen any research that supports my experience – but obviously, for unknown reasons some loons move routinely from pond to pond. Why remains a mystery.
I used to have a woodsman friend who once commented that he didn’t understand why everyone loved loons so much because they were fierce predators who speared their hapless fish, duck, or goslings to death before devouring them. At the time I found Don’s statement ironic (and irritating!) because this man was an excellent brook trout fisherman and deer hunter. In his defense I must add that I had to acknowledge that he also loved all animals; after deer hunting season ended he fed his deer all winter.
I want to digress a moment to tell a story about Don. The year before his death one buck left him a complete set of antlers on the night of the winter solstice; the next year on solstice night Don died. At the time of his death (I didn’t know this until the next day) an antler he gave me clattered to the floor.
Although we never spoke of it I understood that Don’s relationship with wild animals was as intimate as my own. Acknowledging this truth created enormous ambivalence in me because I loved and studied wild animals. I did not kill them. I wanted to separate myself from Don. But at the same time I ate fish and chicken so how could I really make a distinction between him and me? And what about all the plants I ate? Wasn’t I a predator too? I carried this contradiction with great discomfort for years before finally being able to accept it. All life feeds on the lives of others…like it or not. Life, death, and renewal complete the circle of life as Carol Christ often said.
To return to my original story, Don’s remark about the loons stayed with me because up until then I had never thought of loons as predators… I had grown up falling asleep to the sound of loons calling on the lake, watched them raise their young ones at a time before speedboats became a summer reality. Whippoorwills, loons, frogs, and lightening bugs brought in our joyous summer nights. Who could imagine that all of these animals would become so endangered?
Loons are iconic water birds and once they began dying Audubon, followed by many other groups, attempted to bring back the loons, many of which were dead from lead poisoning. As most people know this effort was successful. Today loons once again grace ponds and lakes all summer…
Eagles also became threatened but through tireless conservation efforts these birds returned to our waters too. On the pond closest to me eagles abound, often plucking loon chicks for dinner. Initially, I took sides with the loons, especially after witnessing a lone chick being snatched up by deadly hooked talons to be swept away, perhaps to feed one of the two eaglets. For years now we have had a giant eagle’s nest on one of our islands that attracts enormous attention from people in boats every summer, people who hope to get a glimpse of one. And everyone I know covets an eagle feather except me.
On our lake we also have a whole gaggle of wild geese who are shot (- illegally in summer – during the fall migration there is an open hunting season on geese as well as other water fowl -) by the people who live here because they don’t like geese fertilizing their lawns. I happen to love geese. They are birds that live in genuine community. As vegetarians they munch away at wild grasses and raise their young with great tenderness gathering in large groups to surround the fuzzy goslings as they mature. There is always a papa goose who acts as protector keeping a sharp eye on all of the others. Geese are shy of humans because they have been treated so badly. Whenever I am paddling in the pond I talk to them hoping they will allow me to kayak close by, but they make no exceptions. In the fall, one of sounds I love the most is listening to the geese as they gather in large V’s to migrate south – a perilous journey. At dusk the skies overflow with their poignant goodbyes. Often, as these birds take flight above me, Mother Goose tales come to mind, because as most feminists know, geese are associated with the Great Mother. I think it was my love of geese that also helped me to answer a question that haunted me.
I wondered why saving predators of all kinds, loons, eagles, raptors, wolves, wild cats etc. was a priority for the American people (true for other countries too). It is only now, for example, after we have lost 2.9 billion birds, that songbirds like nightingales and warblers, are finally getting some attention. Other birds like geese are perceived to be nothing but a nuisance – an expendable one at that.
What is it about predators that humans find so attractive?
I think predators reflect the patriarchal structure that humans have adopted for the last five thousand years. Patriarchy supports a hierarchical society where some people – mostly middle class white men have all the power. I think our love of predators is a mirror in which men and many women see themselves, one that reflects the power over model, while peaceful matriarchal egalitarian societies like the ones Carol Christ studied, as well as other Indigenous peoples, animals and birds are ignored or hunted, often to extinction.
Postscript: Carol Christ died a few days ago and ever since I have been living in liminal space, grieving. Carol was a remarkable woman, a feminist scholar who understood that female embodiment was as necessary to women as breathing.
Learning to inhabit a body – becoming embodied – is no small task for any woman because we are taught from infancy that our bodies are the enemy. Our bodies carry our feelings, and embody our sexuality (for which we are shamed and blamed – we are never ‘good enough’). Our bodies carry Truth – helping us to navigate the dangerous waters of a patriarchal system of unequal power that is devouring women, men and nature. Living in our bodies helps us to have a more intimate relationship with the earth. In my case it was my relationships with animals plants and trees that have helped me throughout my life and continue to assist me today – helping me return to my body when I am pulled out of it against my will. Carol taught us that our Spirituality is a natural part of being female – Our spirits reside here on earth within these bodies of ours as well as without in earth and sky. We are part of All There Is.
I have been struck by the sea of mourning doves that have taken over my bird feeder since Carol’s death and I find myself wondering if she had a special relationship to these birds… Carol and doves seem to belong together.
We are deep into mid-summer with uncharacteristically cool temperatures and last week we had the first real rain of the season. When I look out my window or meander around the house I am immersed in the luscious deep green mantle created from the boughs of deciduous trees that surround my house. I am perennially in love with green. Green was the siren that called me home from the desert. Apparently I cannot live without a rainbow of greens for which there are few words to describe: emerald, lime, pine chartreuse – I run out of descriptive words almost immediately.
Although my flower garden is a giant bouquet swarming with bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, my attention is drawn again and again to green…Looking down towards the brook I can barely see her serpentine waters, not just because the brook is starving for more rain, but because so many ferns obscure its edges. With Climate Changes so visible during this year of temperature extremes I find myself giving thanks again and again for the woodland ferns that nor only surround the house, shade my frog pond, etch the contours of the open spaces, but stretch their rhizomes down the hill hiding young cedars from too much sun, while helping to protect the moss growing along my pine strewn paths. Even the lupine field now sweetened with milkweed has its share of ferns. Diversity certainly thrives here.
Ferns are ancient plants whose ancestors first appeared on Earth over millions of years ago. Members of a division of primitive plants called Pteridophytes, ferns are one of the earth’s oldest plant groups and dominated the land before the rise of flowering plants. During the age of the dinosaurs, ferns and other primitive plants such as club mosses and horsetails reached magnificent proportions, many over one hundred feet tall. This period of the Earth’s history had a global climate of warm temperatures and high humidity, ideal conditions for ferns to flourish.
Ferns are dependent on moisture for their sexual reproduction. This method of propagation evolved before flowering plants and involves two distinct phases in their life cycle: the mature fern that we all know and recognize; and the reproductive phase when ferns are just small flat plants that look like leafy liverworts. Sometime during the growing season, a mature fern releases spores, which are the plant’s sexually reproductive cells. With adequate moisture and light, these spores begin to grow into those liverwort -like plants (prothallia) the second phase in the life cycle. If fertilization occurs, the egg cell grows into a young fern (sporophyte), and the life cycle of a new fern begins again, often taking several years to reach maturity. Fern spores germinate in moss, rotting logs, or damp exposed soil in shady locations. Moist, porous limestone rock ledges are also ideal fern habitat.
Ferns have the ability to make the most of incoming light. The fronds are divided into numerous pairs providing a large exposed surface area that allows for maximum light absorption, a definite advantage in shaded forest areas, like those around my house.
Many fern species grow in oxygen poor, water soaked environments, like the one near my well. In some of these places the upper roots lie on or above the surface allowing oxygen exchange with the atmosphere. Standing water is oxygen depleted. I used to have a wet area around my well but now with a lower water table this spot only floods after rain. Adequate oxygen improves the chances for fern reproduction and this spot is covered with four kinds of ferns!
Although the ferns on this property (with the exception of the painted fern) arrived naturally ferns make excellent landscape and garden plants, especially in shady or moist environments. So I wonder why more people don’t make use of them. Their beautiful foliage is striking, beginning when their first leaves unfurl in the spring. Later ferns develop intricate foliage in a variety of greens. The fern season extends into fall when the fronds turn yellow, gold and brown. Although ferns are not pollinated by insects, their foliage still provides food for many butterflies and moths during their caterpillar stage. Despite the delicate look of ferns, many of them are very hardy, thriving in deep shade, damp soggy soil and even dry and acidic locations in full sun! Ferns even look great as potted plants.
Ferns of all kinds help to keep moisture in the soil wherever they thrive protecting the ground from a fierce summer sun and stifling heat. When I researched Maine ferns I discovered that I had many of them on this one piece of property. The sensitive fern, maidenhair fern, lady fern, cinnamon fern, royal fern, christmas fern, polypody, ostrich fern, wood fern, and last but not least, bracken, are all ferns that live here on this small (less than 20 acre) oasis somewhere. Some like the hay-scented fern dominate my hills and woodland edges. The maidenhair fern hugs my granite rock garden spreading her delicate fronds over the mayapples during the summer. Cinnamon and sensitive ferns thrive in my wet field. Royal ferns are few, and they prefer the deep shade of my woodland paths. Lady ferns surround my vernal pool and ostrich ferns grace trillium rock. One favorite is the christmas fern because it stays a rich dark green late into the fall even after the first snowfall. The small polypody is another favored fern that thrives around a few tree trunks. (In other woodlands I often see whole rocks covered with these little ferns).
Every year a few tall bracken ferns sprout up in the middle of the woodland paths that get some sun. Because these ferns often house ticks I developed a habit a number of years ago of pulling them up by their roots, although periodically they reappear and need to be removed again. Bracken are found on all continents except Antarctica and in all environments except deserts. This genus has the widest distribution of any fern in the world. It is one of the oldest ferns with a wide creeping rootstock that may travel a yard or more underground. In some areas it forms dense thickets on hills; this fern needs good drainage. Bracken produces allelopathic chemicals (plant toxins) that can dominate other vegetation, especially after forest fires. We now know that bracken also contains a carcinogenic compound that damages DNA and can lead to cancer of the digestive tract in places where the fiddleheads are eaten. The Guardian warns that heavily infested bracken hillsides may contaminate the groundwater, a caveat for anyone who has whole hillsides of dense bracken, as many places in Britain do. Bracken thrives in disturbed soils so clear cutting in this country may encourage thick growth. After reading this information I am glad that I have been pulling up the bracken although I have mixed feelings about doing so because this fern also provides shade and moisture for desiccated mosses and some clumps of wintergreen.
When I look around this property I suspect that the diversity of plants and trees creates and maintains a balance that is often missing when we cultivate an area too heavily. This is just one more reason to encourage the growth of wild ferns.
What follows are tributes to Carol Christ as well as her Obituary. There are so many comments that it worth going to feminismandreligion to read the others.
Carol Patrice Christ, 1945-2021
“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.” -Carol P. Christ
Carol Patrice Christ died peacefully on July 14 from cancer. Carol was and will remain one of the foremothers and most brilliant voices of the Women’s Spirituality movement. At the conference on “The Great Goddess Re-Emerging” at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the spring of 1978, Carol delivered the keynote address, “Why Women Need the Goddess: Phenomenological, Psychological, and Political Reflections.” Christ proposed four compelling reasons why women might turn to the Goddess: the affirmation and legitimation of female power as beneficent; affirmation of the female body and its life cycles; affirmation of women’s will; and affirmation of women’s bonds with one another and their positive female heritage (Christ 1979).
Carol graduated from Yale University with a PhD in Religious Studies and went on to teach as a feminist scholar of women and religion, women’s spirituality, and Goddess studies, at institutions including Columbia University, Harvard Divinity School, Pomona College, San Jose State University, and the California Institute of Integral Studies, where she was an adjunct professor since the inception of the Women’s Spirituality, Philosophy and Religion graduate studies program in 1993. Christ published eight profoundly thoughtful and inspiring books, several in collaboration with her friend and colleague Judith Plaskow, whom she met at Yale:
Diving Deep and Surfacing: Women Writers on Spiritual Quest (1986)
Woman Spirit Rising: A Feminist Reader in Religion, anthology co-edited with Judith Plaskow (1992)
Odyssey with the Goddess: A Spiritual Quest in Crete (1995)
Weaving the Visions: New Patterns in Feminist Spirituality. Anthology co-edited with Judith Plaskow (1989)
Laughter of Aphrodite: Reflections on a Journey to the Goddess (1987)
Rebirth of the Goddess: Finding Meaning in Feminist Spirituality (1998)
She Who Changes: Re-imaging the Divine in the World (2004)
Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology. Co-authored with Judith Plaskow (2016)
Christ’s first book, about women writers on spiritual quest, is a book of spiritual feminist literary criticism that focused on feminist authors Kate Chopin, Margaret Atwood, Doris Lessing, Adriene Rich, and Ntozake Shange. She discovers four key aspects to women’s spiritual quest: the experience of nothingness; awakening (to the powers that are greater than oneself, often found in nature); insight (into the meaning of one’s life); and a new naming (in one’s own terms). She emphasizes the importance of telling women’s stories in order to move beyond the stories told about women by the male-centered patriarchy. Her concluding chapter speaks of a “Culture of Wholeness,” that encompasses women’s quest for wholeness, and she adds that, for this wholeness to be realized, the personal spiritual quest needs to be combined with the quest for social justice.
After first travelling to Greece in 1981 with the Aegean Women’s Studies Institute led by her friend Ellen Boneparth, Carol fell in love with the country. She chose to live in Greece, first in Molivos on the beautiful island of Lesbos, and then moving recently to Heraklion, Crete. She had a passion for saving the environment and was active in the Green movement in Greece. she also had a love for swimming in the Aegean and sharing Greek food and wine with friends in Greece and from overseas.
Carol’s fascination with Crete, ancient and modern, led her to found the Ariadne Institute for the Study of Myth and Ritual, through which she offered an educational tour, “Pilgrimage to the Goddess” twice annually. These tours introduced many to a direct experience of the ancient Earth Mother Goddess in Crete (goddessariadne.org).**
In her most recent article, for the Encyclopedia of Women in World Religion: Faith and Culture, Christ wrote about the Goddess religion and culture of her beloved island of Crete, and the roles women played in that “egalitarian matriarchal” civilization. Her eloquent words speak not only to the Goddess religion of ancient Crete, but also to the spirituality and ethical values she also cherished, which are much needed in our own culture today.
As discerners and guardians of the mysteries, women created rituals to celebrate the Source of Life and to pass the secrets of agriculture, pottery, and weaving down through the generations. The major rituals of the agricultural cycle involved blessing the seeds before planting, offering the first fruits of the harvest to the Goddess, and sharing the bounty of the harvest in communal feasts. These rituals establish that life is a gift of the Goddess and institute gift-giving as a cultural practice. As women controlled the secrets of agriculture, it makes sense that land was held by maternal clans, that kinship and inheritance passed through the maternal line, and that governance and decision-making for the group were in the hands of the elders of the maternal clan. In this context, the intelligence, love, and generosity of mothers and clan mothers would have been understood to reflect the intelligence, love, and generosity of the Goddess.*
Carol P. Christ is one the bravest, boldest, and most revolutionary women we have ever known. For so many of us, Carol is a friend, a mentor, and the one who taught us to tell our stories. Her books, articles, and writings here on Feminism and Religion created a space for other women to ask questions, to challenge the patriarchy, and to affirm our value.
Carol’s gift to us came at a cost to her. Like the lotus flower, she had to grow through mud before recognizing her own beauty. It was through her own struggle in darkness, her efforts to wade through its heaviness, that she found her strength, wisdom, and voice. She found the Goddess.
Carol described her journey as a Serpentine Path; one that began in despair and resulted in “rebirth and regeneration.” It led her from Stanford, to Yale, to her beloved home in Lesbos. She struggled with the “gap between what we know in our minds and what we feel in our hearts and in our bodies.” It is this disconnect that Carol sought to reconcile and ultimately found the power within herself to attain holistic healing.
Her journey is a representation of the expedition that so many women find themselves on – leaving behind the confines of patriarchal religion and male dominated spaces to find a sustaining spiritual vision that is affirming to women and the Earth.
Carol lived this spiritual vision through her writing, her activism, and her Goddess Pilgrimage. She is a trailblazer; the founding mother of the Goddess movement, and a woman who engaged her divine energy to create positive change and teach us that we have the ability to do the same.
We may not be able to see Carol, to speak to her, and will desperately miss her physical presence and brilliance; and yet, she is here. Her spirit is woven into the Earth and is ever-present in our lives.
According to Carol, “The simple act of telling a woman’s story from a woman’s point of view is a revolutionary act.” It is through Carol’s story that we have learned to share our own, to see each other, and to know that the Goddess is within us. And it is through our vulnerability and willingness to speak up, our empathy and compassion, our acknowledged connection, and care for one another – our continued revolutionary acts – that Carol lives.
Carol P. Christ
December 20, 1945 – July 14, 2021
May she rest with the Goddess
My comment to Gina:
I am so moved by this entire tribute that I will post it on my blog. I have been so stunned by this depth of this loss that it has been impossible to put words together coherently -Words that truly express who Carol was and is. She will live on in every heart that she touched – and she touched many. ” Her spirit is woven into the Earth and is ever-present in our lives.” I see her in every green leaf on every tree… As you also say Carol lived her spiritual vision through her writing, her activism and her goddess pilgrimage becoming a model for the rest of us. And lastly, “… it is through our vulnerability and willingness to speak up, our empathy and compassion, our acknowledged connection, and care for one another – our continued revolutionary acts – that Carol lives.”
In Memoriam: A Collective Tribute to Carol Patrice Christ 1945 – 2021
The community of Feminism and Religion (FAR) grieves the death of Carol P. Christ.
Our sister friend, Laura Shannon, emailed us early in the morning to share the news that “Carol passed peacefully in her sleep last night at 12.11 am on July 14th. Alexis (Masters) was with her.” Carol died in the company of friends.
Her writings here on FAR have been a gift to countless many of us for years. She recently emailed me to let me know that she would need to step back from writing her weekly FAR post for the foreseeable future, and, that if she could pull it off, she would send in her swan song soon. That moment didn’t come and that’s ok. There is no finale for a person such as Carol. We are changed and blessed because of her presence in our lives. Her legacy will be long and enduring.
I invite you all who would like to share a short tribute in honor of Carol Christ to send it here to FAR so it can be published as part of this post. This will serve as a running tribute that we can keep adding to. It will be a space to share, to grieve, and to celebrate her life. Send in your reflections to email@example.com. You may also share in comments below as well.
No single one of us can capture all that Carol has meant to us and to the world –– it is only right to hear from the many voices as we celebrate this most brilliant friend and teacher of ours.
“In Goddess religion death is not feared, but is understood to be a part of life, followed by birth and renewal.” — Carol P. Christ
Carol married intellect with heart centering –– she had a formidable intellect but always spoke from her heart.
In view of learning of Carol’s death I find these words from Janet’s post today inspiring:
“Who is she that shines through like the morning star,
I awakened in the pre-dawn hour on July 14th – I remember looking out the window into a sea of verdant green as the words came “write a poem about the birth of the goddess”. Although I had another deadline to make I listened to that voice and wrote a little poem. Later that day I learned of Carol’s death on FB – That evening when I returned to my poem I realized that the little voice had helped me write about who Carol had become…I came to feminism through the back door as an eco -feminist. Carol’s impeccable scholarship and her compassionate heart centered approach to women issues deeply influenced my own ideas and feelings – validating the “both and” approach that I was struggling to embody. Carol was a woman I most admired as a truth teller. Her own life challenges created a level of authenticity that I was able to trust. It is time now for me to return to her books… to re -read her words, to re-engage with her ideas, to feel close to a woman that will remain a Beacon of Hope during this time of patriarchal breakdown. Carol’s Light will never be extinguished because she has created a path we can all choose to follow. Her spirituality embraced “All That Is” – one of the qualities I loved most about her. I will miss her physical presence all the rest of the days of my life.
Xochitl, thank you so much for creating this sacred space – and it is sacred – for here once again we can share our thoughts and feelings at a time when we are grieving a deep loss… I am struck by how naturally you emulate Carol’s approach, always creating space for others….You have my heart.
This year more than ever before I note a very subtle shift that is occurring as we approach the middle of July. Lots of humidity – and I confess – I love the sweet summer scent as long as it isn’t hot. The days are losing a minute or two of light. Instead of slamming out of bed in the pre-dawn hour I find myself sleeping until 6AM and my dogs want to sleep in until 9 on gray foggy mornings like today. The birds are quieter, their songs less intense although my feeder is visited by hoards of youngsters, many of which are still being fed by their parents.
The Wood thrush has moved deeper into the forest, so it the Mourning doves who begin my day with song. Most of all, I notice the richness, the vibrancy of deep summer green. Even though my flower garden is on fire with primary colors, I can’t seem to soak in enough greening to satisfy my hungry heart..
Subtle changes like this probably go unnoticed by most but for me they are signs of the goddess coming into her own…I am curious if anyone else senses this shift of energy.
I wrote the prose and poem this morning July 14th for Carol’s blog not knowing at that time that this most compassionate woman, feminist scholar, mentor, friend had died shortly after midnight. When I saw the notice on the Internet I was stunned. It seemed so impersonal to receive such heartbreaking news in this manner. When I came back to read this piece I realized that indeed, Midsummer had given birth to a Goddess and her name was Carol Christ.
Yesterday I was listening to a podcast about returning the wild boar to the UK because it once lived there and is considered a “native”. However, because the wild boar population has exceeded the limits people will tolerate, the boar can stay but it must be “culled” – reduced to one fourth of its present population. People are upset because the boar has rooted up the forest and destroyed carpets of bluebells and the butterfly that feeds on the plant. Boars are also unruly – churning up the soil in people’s yards/gardens – and temperamental. I remembered trudging through the Amazon and meeting wild boars in the jungle who were not friendly. At the time it never occurred to me that their fear/hostility might be due to the fact that they were hunted for food.
Later in the program when a naturalist spoke about all the good that wild boars do by rooting up the soil to aerate it and allowing seeds to take root I noted that I had fallen into the usual androcentric trap forgetting that nature always has the good of the whole as a priority and most of the time this focus conflicts with what humans want or think they need. Boars were once woven into the fabric of the UK but now they are a problem. Native or invasive, it doesn’t seem to matter. Either way humans seem to have a hard time allowing nature to simply be.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that humans don’t live very long, and we want change NOW. Nature is always learning, adapting, changing but normally these shifts aren’t obvious during the brief span of a human life.
However, today a number of main threats to biodiversity are finally being recognized at least by some folks: Climate Change, habitat destruction, over exploitation of nature’s resources, air, water pesticide etc. pollution and last and certainly not least for many, the introduction of invasive species. Need I add that virtually all these problems are human induced?
We seem to be unable to wrap our minds around what the consequences of Climate Change, habitat destruction and overexploitation of natural resources, and pollution might mean for all of us. But we are ‘at war’ with invasive species of all kinds, and even when we do return extirpated species to an area we can’t seem to leave them be. Is this because we are incapable of perceiving the bigger picture and/or is it because we believe we know more than nature does about what works and what doesn’t?
It may be that our attempts to control invasive species, and culling extras that we return to the wild gives us the sense we are doing “great things”. But how do we know? After all, humans have only been around for 200,00 years while plants and animals have been around for anywhere between 600 – 350 million years respectively. Surely, nature’s ability to learn and adapt is much more finely developed than our present human thinking and technology would have us believe. Nature seeks balance in all things. Humans seek control. The two are antithetical to one another.
Recently ‘the war’ on invasive plants has started to irritate me. According to Maine.gov. “a plant is considered invasive if it is not native to Maine, has spread or has the potential to spread into minimally managed plant communities, or it causes economic or environmental harm by developing self sustaining populations that are dominant or disruptive to native species.”
In this paragraph I see that the underlying issue is that non-native (as well as native) plants that are thriving are a threat. Nowhere is it mentioned that all wild plants spread naturally if they are growing in areas that suit them. ‘They don’t behave themselves’ like cultivated plants do.
“Invasive plants are a direct threat to what we value about Maine’s natural and working landscapes. The aggressive growth of invasive plants increases costs for agriculture, can affect forest regeneration, threatens our recreational experiences (huh?), and reduces the value of habitats for mammals, birds and pollinators. Species like Japanese barberry and multiflora rose can form thorny, impenetrable thickets in forests and agricultural fields.”
When I decipher what is being quoted here from Maine.Gov. I discern that the threat is primarily agricultural and therefore economic in nature.
I would argue that in this era of globalization it is impossible to control the plants, animals, insects, etc. that are being brought into any area, and that our energy might be better put to use by allowing nature to lead and by becoming her students.
What this means practically is that we take a hands off approach to what we consider to be invasive species. Nature will eventually redress imbalances, but not necessarily in a time span that suits us.
I can already hear screams of outrage. I understand that my perspective is an unusual one – perhaps too radical for most, but I believe it is one we need to examine more closely. Instead of focusing on invasives let’s turn our attention to the mass of other problems that we have created, beginning with Climate Change which unless addressed is ultimately going to result in the demise of us all.
In closing I leave the reader with a list of some of the plants that Maine.Gov. considers to be invasive in our state. And I include a partial list of some invasives that live here and are deeply appreciated. For example, I have a whole field of beloved lupine, muliflora roses that provide the sweetest scent, draw in hundreds of bees and create nesting places for a multitude of birds, carpets of violets, thyme, and white clover that make mowing a lawn unnecessary, alders near my brook that put nitrogen back into the soil, willows and poplar that provide bees and bears with the first nectar/pollen of the season, jewelweed that treats poison ivy and feeds the hummingbirds, blackberries that provide me with tasty fruit, watercress for my salads. Every spring I cannot wait for the circle of forget me not’s to bloom under my cherry tree. My mother loved them and this memory is one I treasure.
Almost all of the invasives listed below (not a complete list) also provide wild bees and butterflies with the nectar they need, and a number of others are herbs used to heal.
Wild roses including Rugosa roses
Queen Anne’s lace
Bull and Canada thistle
Forget me not
According to Maine.Gov (who never heard of Rachel Carson apparently), Round Up and other chemicals are the preferred method used to kill some of the offending plants along with the use of bulldozers. Round Up is an herbicide (glyphosate& triclopyr – mimics growth hormone Auxin – plants absorb it and die slowly) has been used by farmers for over 40 years, but its safety was questioned when a World Health Organization agency, the International Agency for Cancer Research, concluded in 2015 that it “probably causes cancer.”
Just after finishing this article I read that Maine is about to add another 33, or possibly more plants like Burning bush to their official list sometime during the next year. All the “experts” are being called in. What would we do without them?