Sunday, 27 January 2013

The Potent Ant

So back to the Moon of Omnipotence, which starts today.  The reverse is Impotent and so often this Moon had been about Impotency for me, being out of control and swept along by events.  A time when my life flips over and becomes something else for a time.  This Moon though, I have choosen to stay on the rollercoaster, to see where it takes me.  I definately had a choice, to leave my job or to stay and here I am.  Waiting to see where else life takes me.

My totem for this Moon is however Ant and I know Ant has helped me before.  It helps me do little things to accomplish a big thing.  One more step up the mountain and then one more until I reach the top.  Ant has also bitten me a time or two (I went through a phase of accidentally sitting on Ant nests as a child) and every summer they try and invade my house at least once...

Ants are related to Wasps and Bees and like Wasps and Bees, they form colonies like Wasps and Bees as well.  These colonies vary considerably in size, from a few dozen predatory individuals living in a natural cavity to highly organised millions with a huge territory.  Virtually all colonies have a fertile female Queen and some fertile male drones but some have more than one Queen as well as sterile wingless female soldiers and workers.

Ants are everywhere except Antartica and a few islands.  In some places they form as much as 25% of the Biomass.  They have evolved along with their environments so that they have a huge variety of relationships within ecosystems.  Some mimic other species to act as a lure for prey or to scare predators away.  Some have a parasitic reltionship with their food...  In some relationships they benefit without harming the other beings in the relationship but in other relationships, both species benefit.

Their colonies are considered a super-organism because they are so organised and work so well together.  They tap resources, modify environments and defend themselves.  They solve problems.  They have been around since flowering plants evolved over 150 million years.

They vary in size from 0.75 to 52 milimetres.  The largest ever Ant found in a fossil was a queen 6 cm long with a wingspan of 15cm!  Most are red or black but a few in the tropics are green and some even have a metallic lustre.  They have an exoskeleton but they do not breath as gases are taken inthrough the exoskeleton.  Their circulatory system is not like ours either with a single tube, which is perforated, along the top of their bodies.  They have generally poor eyesight and some are even blind.  They are very good at detecting movement but se in low resolution. Their antennae are extremely good at detecting chemicals and vibrations and they communicate with each other through touching with their antennae.

They have six legs and only fertile males and Queens have wings but the Queens lose them after their nuptial flights.  Some species have changed their reproductive organs into stings but for most the fearsome part is their mandibles. 

Ants begin as eggs and if they are fertilized they become female and if not, male.  They hatch into larvae which remain pretty much stationary and have to be fed.  The workers feed the larvae but regurgitating liquid food but they may also receive pieces of solid food and in some species they will be transported to food sources.  In some species the amount of food supplied controls the caste the of the ant.  In others the role of the ant changes throughout their life, beginning with feedin larvae and the progressing to nest digging and finally to defence.

Winged Males leave the nest first on nuptial flights and look for a mating ground.  They secrete chemicals for the new Queen to follow.  Some species will have the Queen fertilized by one male but other by multiple males.  The Queen then finds a suitable nest site, breaks off her wings and begins to lay eggs.  The first born are small but do not pass through the larval stage so can begin to serve the colony immediately. 

A Queen can live for 30 years and some workers as long as 1 to 3 years but males only live for a few weeks.  In the tropics colonies are active all year round but in cooler regions they may have a period of inactivity with larvae in stasis or with no larvae present at all.

Ant communications are highly sophisticated and are largely based on the release of pheromones.  If an ant finds food, on it's way back to the nest it lays a scent trail which other ants find and reinforce.  When the food runs out they stop laying scent so that the trail fades.  If the path changes due to a blockage then they lay scent along the new path.  Some species use scent to distinguish groups on different tasks.  Some ants will release an alarm scent when crushed causing ants to aggresively swarm.  Some ants even use scent for propaganda, causing enemy ants to attack themselves.  They pass scents to each other to communicate and when a Queen stops producing a particular scent, workers begin to raise new queens.

They defend themselves by biting, stinging or spraying.  Some Ants have incredibly painful stings while others spray formic acid.  One species has an incredibly fast bite reflex, like a sprung trap.  Some ants use their bite reflexes to catapult intruders away while others will catapult themselves away from danger.  Some ants commit suicide when endangered in order to release chemicals to kill foes and save their colonies.  IN other colonies a small group leaves each nght to seal the colony from the outside.  Defence against disease is also important and some ants remove dead ants from the nest based on smell.  Physical threats such as flooding have a range of responses too, from drinking the water and excreting it outside the nest to anaerobic respiration in some mangrove species.

Ants learn and they teach.  An experienced Ant will lead an unexperienced ant to food in a process called tandem running and the leader will slow down for the other ant.  Some experiments show that where some individual workers are less successful in finding food, eventually they will take on different roles such as caring for larvae.

Ant nests vary hugely but not all ants make them.  Some are nomadic and make temporary nests with their own bodies by holding each other together.  Weaver ants use their larvae to make silk and tie leaves together.  Many ants will avoid a site with dead ants and some species will abandon a site as soon as disease becomes present.  Some Ants even cut and chew leaves to grow a fungus which is what they live on.  Some Ants even farm, feeding aphids and tapping them for honeydew before herding them to new food or caterpillars which are herded to food in the day and taken to the nest at night.

Ants are endlessly varied in their tactics for living but they have also uses for humans.  Some are used as stitches for wounds, biting across the wounds and then having their bodies sliced off.  Others secrete chemicals that are used as medicines.  Ants are used to harvest rooibos tea as the seeds are small and hard to harvest the ants gather them and then they are gathered from the ant nests.  We also eat many different types of ant eggs and also ants themselves in various parts of the world.  Of course they can be pests as well, we all know that....

I think Ant is an amazong totem to have for the Moon of Omnipotence.  As a superorganism they achieve incredible things by doing one small tiny task each, by cooperating.  They are patient, ordered, disciplined.  They work for the community and plan for it's future.  They are happy to see dreams grow slowly, as long as they are growing.  They are the diligent workers of life.  They sacrifice themselves knowing that in the end, they will get there.  They just get on with it, without emotion, they ride the wave of life.

They are also well placed to cope with adversity.  If a flood comes and washes them away they make a raft.  If they get hurt they call in reinforcements.  If their nest is flooded they suck out the water or carry on as normal using bubbles of air to survive.  They are flexible and they learn and they get there through dogged persistance.

I guess Ant came along to help me survive the wild rides of fate I seem to have during this Moon sometimes but it also adds to that diligent work ethic of mine.  I do a boring job for the team and I just get on with it, but I am part of the team, getting us all somewhere...

Value Added Family

So this Moon, the Moon of Prot4ection or Value has been a really interesting one.  There has been a very strong theme of Family, in all it's varieties as well as care.  There are a lot of stories from this moon, so many it is kind of hard to know where to begin.  Stories take up time though and have made it hard for me to blog because when I have had time I have felt pretty drained.

I went away with F for a week with my family and while there we managed to make a day to go over and see my Great Aunt and my Gran.  I asked them lots of family orientated questions which my Aunt enjoyed a lot and my Gran didn't.  But to fair my Gran doesn't really seem to enjoy anything, she isn't really connected, it feels like she is a difting little cloud waiting to die and to be young and beautiful again.

I spent a lot of time photographing old documents and photos too and this has been very rewarding.  It seems I come from a family of packrats on both sides.  There was a photo of a man we could not identify but from the age of the photo I knew it had to be a direct ancestor because people just didn't do many photos back then and they didn't get hundreds of copies either.  They were valuable things.  I had a moment of inspiration though (no idea where that came from, but I could hazard a guess!) and looked at my Great Great Grandfather's picture, which we have because he was a petty criminal and it is attached to his record.  (he stole bread and went absent without leave from the militia, amongst other less pleasant things).  The two men were definately not the same but the family resemblance was unmistakeable.  But there was little resemblance to my Grandfather, so I looked at my Grandfather's siblings and it is unmistakeable that they are all part of the family line.  I was pretty convinced I had found a picture of my Great Grandfather, the only one that seems to have survived amongst any of his descendants.

The next morning, F said to me, 'do you remember talking to me when I came to bed?' and he laughed.  I didn't remember a thing!  It seems I asked him who it was when he came to bed which surprised him and then I asked who it was who came to bed earlier which surprised him even more.  I then proceeded tot ell him it must have been the ghost that was in bed earlier and that that record was definately for my Great Grandfather!  I guess I had been dreaming and because it was so early in the night, not a single slither of memory of it remained.  I think my Great Grandfather wanted us all to know what he looks like....

I also found a letter from a bank saying that some one called SC had received some money when a joint account between her and another lady had been closed following the other ladies death.  This opened up a whole treasure trail.  My Great Great Great Grandfather RC had a sister called SC and she went into service.  She worked for a very fashionable family, a Magistrate and then at the next census I can not find her, maybe she was abroad but after that she is working for the lady she had the joint account with!  She was a Housekeeper for this Lady, first in Kensington and then at a Castle. On the first of these two censuses she had my Great Great Grandmother AC working with her.  Ac then got married and on the next census SC Junior is working with her.

SC received enough money to retire and live out her life in comfort.  She brought a house and SC Junior lived with her as a companion until SC's death.  SC Junior then went to live with her sister EC who was a spinster school teacher.  Sc Junior died sometime before EC and there is a letter from EC's death which shows that SC Junior left everything to EC for as long as EC lived but then it was all to be passed on to any remaining sisters.  Except that EC was the last of the sisters alive so the money passed to all the nieces but not a single nephew.

At that time women could not marry and be independent.  if they married, everything they had became their husbands.  Men were the ones with earning potential, not women so life was tough for them generally.  This story is all about women taking care of women.  One ancestor was rewarded for loyal service and friendship across the classes and then took care of several generations of women that came after.

While I was researching all this, the speakerson my computer went nuts.  Very much like they do when a text is coming through except that it went on longer and the sounds were more varied.  I have found a few odd things have happened when I have been researching particular ancestors!

So moving back into the present time...  A friend of ours has needed some care too.  At Christmas she was happily engaged and pregnant, living with her fiancee and all was rosie.  By new year she had discovered he had been cheating on her for a long time and the other woman was also pregnant.  He is now living with the other woman.  There is a lot more to this story however that I shall not share here and he has behaved very, very badly!  We have spent a certain amount of time with her but also being onlookers in a situation like this is emotional and hard.  She is a tough lady though and seems to be coming through so well.

Lastly work has been very tough.  They called my department and a couple of others up to announce redundancies.  My team is like family, a very good family I adore (except my Boss!) and I lost two of them.  Both went voluntarily and there was a part of me that was jealous they were getting to go.  As I thought about it though I realised I had to stay to the end which got me thinking about where that thought had come from and I realised that part of me knew that it was all going to come to an end.  And I am not the only one, the general thought seems to be that the place will close within two years tops.  But the Managers think we are all daft and we have to pretend we don't know and keep on with our jobs until they chose to spring it on us.

I don't know why I have to stay but I do.  In the past I have often left job situations that became in the slightest bit tricky and I have often wondered why I can not leave this one even though at times it has been the worst ever, but I have to stay...  I looked at some jobs and that night I had two dreams

There was five cows and they were pregnant and they represented parts of my life and they would each lie down when they were happy.  Two would not lie down and nothing I could do could make them.  Then one changed into a bull and it was dancing round and all the cows were dancing around and it was chaos, but beautiful...

There was an emaciated Kingfisher and a Heron was trying to eat it, I was desperately trying to stop the Heron but it got the Kingfisher, and then there was a big sleek Heron chick in it's place.  Heron is my totem for this Moon and is all about being aggressively self-deterministic.  Kingfisher is about contentment, happiness and abundance.  I interpreted this as meaning that leaving would feed my independence and self-determination but take away my true happiness, even if it is a bit on the thin side!  I don't need two Herons! Not at that cost...  But soon one of those cows will turn into a Bull and my life will whirl in beautiful chaotic dancing for a time....  And I can see that happening when the site closes....

So here I am, lessons on family from so many directions, about sticking it out, about caring, about loyalty and I know the path I am walking for the next little while and why.  But I also wonder, what story will my ancestors see for my life?  What will be the one small insignificant seeming detail that takes on a life of it's own?

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Heron Stalks the Moon

So last year, I wasn't really focused when I went through the Moon of Protection.  F and I went away on our Honeymoon and because we were not living our normal life it was hard for me to pinpoint this Moon at all really.  Except that I really value quality time with F.  I love it when we can explore places together, delving into their history and science and scoiety.  I love just lounging around with him, talking and eating good food.

I would have struggled to identify any totem in the waking life but my totem for this Moon did visit me in a dream, somehow.  I remember waking in the night and thinking to myself, something along the lines of 'wow, that was easy, Heron must be my totem them for this Moon.'  and then falling back asleep.  All trace of the dream was gone by morning and only that thought remained.  Whatever happened in the dream must have been very clear for me to have been able to think that while so very close to being brain dead!

The RSPB puts Bitterns and Herons together and lists the UK as having five, Bittern, Cattle Egret, Great White Egret, Grey Heron and Little Egret.  But to me Heron conjures up the image of the Grey Heron and I imagine this would have been the bird that appeared to me in the dream for me to identify it so clearly.

Grey Herons are large birds, standing up to one metre tall and having a wingspan of up to two metres.  They have very long legs and necks and can stand with their heads down by their body by making their necks S shaped or with their necks straight.  They are wading birds, designed to be able to stand in shallow water and fish but they are not fussy eaters, small mammals, amphibians, small birds and eggs also go down...

For me the imagine of a Heron conjures up one stood in the water, completely still, watching what is going on below the surface and then suddenly in a flash of movement, their head shoots in to the water and comes back with some food which it gulps down.  I can also clearly picture them stalking elegantly, taking off ponderously and flying with those huge wings, neck bent up to the body.

They are opportunists and their behaviour reflects their environment.  In some countries they are migratory birds, but here they remain all year round.  In some places they feed or roost communally but I have only ever seen one feeding in a place.  They like trees to roost in, off the ground and they build messy nest platforms out of sticks.  If no trees or sticks are available they will nest on the ground, on cliffs, in bushes or in reed beds and their nests may be made of reeds or if nothing is available they will just be a scrape in the ground.  They will be found in any watery environment, lakes, rivers, garden ponds, canals, ditches, river deltas, mangroves (not that we have those in the UK) salt marshes, estuaries, mudflats and beaches.

If they roost communally then they will be anywhere from 2km to 38km from preferred feeding grounds.  I know Herons will visit different places and will fish out garden ponds and small lakes.  Many people put nets over garden ponds to protect them from Herons.  When it comes to feeding, Herons will move their head from side to side when they spot prey underwater as this helps them calculate distance.  They will walk very slowly and see what they can find or stir their feet or probe for things.  Grey Herons have been observed using bait to bring in prey such as bread or seeds.

Herons are monogamous and courting takes place on the nest.  The male arrives first and begins building before trying to attract a female.  Some females have been observed to attach themselves to impotent male Herons and then they seek sex elsewhere.  They lay 3 to 7 eggs.

Herons are calm birds which are always patient but focused and ready to take action.  They see clearly, past the reflections and disturbances and visual effects of water.  They literally walk in two worlds and are happiest on this divide - they don't swim.  They are birds of contemplation and grace but also highly practical and pragmatic, eating and using anything to get by.  They must stand with both feet firmly planted on the ground and they are aggressively self reliant.  They know how to take advantage of events others may not even notice.  They work with great precision and efficiency, conserving energy.

They are social but work alone.  They do not need a lot of people in their lives and are not afraid of standing out and being unique.  They see no need to keep up with the Joneses and they know what is best for them and follow their own path.  There is a certain showmanship and self-assurance and this flair for drama contrasting with the extreme quiet and patience can suggest an emotional dichotmoy, a tendency to go from one extreme to the other, drama and melodrama to oppression and repression. Learning to balance these two extremes is an important task but once done, they make good counsellors. Herons are shamanic guides by they are all about emotional stability and will not undermine this.

So how does this relate to this Moon?  This Moon is all about what we Value in the opposites of Protection and Imprisonment.  So often what I value is Love, that sort of Love that is so much a part of Marriage.  I value being in a good Partnership.  My second year of this Moon was the year I spent with my first love, literally.  It was a good year and he was a good man, but as I mved out of Value there was other things I needed to focus on and do and he could not walk that path with me.  I am lucky now that I have a man who can and does walk my path with me.  So much of what Heron is about, are things I value:  walking in both worlds, having two feet firmly on the ground, being emotionally stable, efficiency, taking advantage of opportunities, monogamous partnership.

You might think it is odd having efficiency there but it is important to me.  Ask F...  He is not efficient and sometimes when we need to get things done he frustrates the hell out of me!  And then I tell him he is not beig efficient and he laughs at me.  Wasp, my totem for the Moon of Welcome has this thread of efficency and knowing the right way to do things too.  I guess walking my path and F are the two things I value most and the two things I want to protect the most.