ALCHEMICAL BATTING PRACTICE
WHO AM I?
I am just an old guy with a paper grocery store sack out on his lawn at dawn on May 1, plucking dandelion flowers, dealing with creaking knees and sciatica. I always hope to fill the sack quickly, but the repetitiveness of the task makes it tedious to me and I have to focus on what I’m doing. That is my part of the alchemical nature of the process, having to overcome tedium and remember the lofty spiritual process which I am undertaking. While I am picking I try to think about next winter’s solstice, how dark and cold it will be at that time of year and remember all the blinking ice and snow, which melted only a few weeks ago here in New England.
As the kids begin to drift by on their way to the middle school up the street, I realize just how slowly I have been working having to remember all these things as I pick and keep reminding myself I am doing a mighty alchemical transformative task, a spiritual task.
Picking is a spiritual practice, I tell myself. Just like Miguel Cabrera does batting practice in order to win a Triple Crown, I do my spiritual practice in hopes of having a spiritual experience. Can’t make dandelion wine without picking.
When the kids ask, “Whatcha doin’?” I respond, “Batting practice.” And they look up at the house and note its features to remind themselves later where that “old nut-case” geezer lives so they can avoid this part of the block completely.
WHY AM I HERE?
I gather the petals on May 1 because it is a cross-quarter day between the vernal equinox in March and the summer solstice in June. On or after May 1, alchemists for centuries have said that the dew on the plants after dawn is a holy essence. Knowing this adds meaning to the task. All of this is about adding meaning to life.
At the vernal and autumnal equinoxes the sun and moon stand with their arms out wide and balance the days and nights. Coming out of the kind of winter we had this year, that was a significant marking point for many of us. Winter lost its grip. Now we are facing a long summer which many feel portends drought in some parts of the country the likes of which has not been seen for decades.
The dandelion petals drink in the bright, warm sunshine. This is one of the key alchemical components: sunshine, and all it means literally and spiritually. I want them filled with as much sunlight as possible because I will be making wine out of the petals and want the essence of all that sunlight to be released into the wine. Dandelions are also the first flowers of affection and joy that children give their mothers or others, an essence of childhood innocence.
The dandelion wine will be fermented with a special Saccharomyces yeast and, in the six months between the summer solstice and the winter solstice, I will call upon the Queen of the Saccharomyces to transform all this: the dandelion petals and the sunshine they have absorbed, holy essence, the love and joy of the children around the world, the thoughts of the alchemist and added sugar (or honey) while doing her mysterious work.
In my basement work area I add all of these ingredients, stir, pound, squeeze and do all the other techniques; while holding all other thoughts in mind as best I can, I add purified water and call upon the Queen of the Saccharomyces to come and multiply herself thousands of times over to do the task which no person can.
My role is to serve the single cell beings who now do the work. When the primary fermenter is boiling with the cold heat of fermentation, it is frothing and foaming, and the transformation process is well underway. Yeasts are benevolent beings, and if I have made a mistake, they always forgive me. The Queen, like a queen bee, has created a hive of single-cell beings who serve the process and leave nothing untouched.
WHAT DO I WANT?
By the time of the summer solstice the dandelion wine will be out of the primary fermenter and into the glass secondary fermenter. It will be totally opaque yellow to begin with. The opaque plant matter will gradually settle and the wine will clarify. I will siphon it into a clean glass fermenter several more times before bottling it on or about another cross-quarter day in September. Then the bottles will sit in my dark wine cellar at about a 57-degree temperature.
During the winter we give bottles of our wine as gifts. Then, on the winter solstice, when we are already tired of the dark and the cold, we will remember that we have something very special in the basement just for this occasion.
So we will bring up the first bottle and we will uncork it with anticipation. As we sip, the wine releases an inner experience of sunshine and joy within us. We are flooded with memories of the warm days that have disappeared, the warm friends we visited, the bright moments and incidents of the year gone by. Even the dark experiences of the year seem somehow brighter. The mystery is that this inner flame ignites our will and helps us bear the darkness and look forward to the light of the new year about to born.
And each year, I pause to remember that this total process from May Day to the darkness at the winter solstice is in its own way a batting practice for my preparation to enter into the Great Dark of death.
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