Walking the dog this morning, I was struck by the suddenly mild temperatures, the birds singing just past dawn and the light fragrance of honeysuckle on the air. Within a few minutes, I had a gentle smile on my face and wondered why I don’t spend even more time outdoors. No matter what may be going wrong in my world, a simple walk around the neighborhood — in the company of trees, ravens and squirrels — always makes me feel better.

I’d forgotten that today is the Vernal Equinox — when light and dark are said to be equal — and this pleasant stroll seemed the perfect way to begin Ostara, the Pagan holiday marking the renewal of the Earth each year.

As one of the quarters of the year, the Vernal Equinox is a great time to do periodic chores around the house — from turning the mattress to clearing out cobwebs. You can give your home an excellent spring cleaning without the use of potentially toxic commercial cleansers. Tried-and-true agents baking soda, vinegar and water will get the job done and leave your home feeling and smelling fresh and clean without artificial fragrances.

(If you do like a bit of fragrance, add a few drops of essential oil to your home-made cleansers.)

Smudging is another fine way to clear out the mustiness of winter when it’s time to open up the house in spring. Smudge sticks are made with dried sage, sweetgrass and other herbs that are tied together into a bundle. The smudge stick — or smudge wand — acts like a large stick of incense that you can carry with you to literally “smoke out” the stagnation of winter from the corners and recesses of your home.

Smudging is also appropriate for blessing new homes and new enterprises — another perfect fit for spring, the season of new beginnings.

There’s lots to be done outside the house as well. Gardening and fence repair are usual favorites, but don’t forget the world that lies beyond your property bounds. For many, this is the beginning of recreational hiking season. Trekking through the woods and other wild areas is a great way to appreciate nature and keep your body healthy and strong, but even normal wear on trails can take a toll.

I keep meaning to volunteer for a trail repair project close to home — Portland has Forest Park, home to abundant wildlife, natural areas and the 30-mile Wildwood hiking trail — but haven’t been able to fit these programs into my schedule. Today, Ostara is the perfect time to put trail maintenance into my calendar now, before my time fills up with other activities and obligations.

Be sure to visit Míchealín Daugherty’s Ostara page for more great ideas on how to incorporate concern for the environment into your holiday festivities.


St. Patrick’s Day

There’s no holiday literally greener than St. Patrick’s Day.

When I was growing up, if you weren’t wearing green on March 17th, you were guaranteed to get pinched — hard — by your classmates for pretty much the entire day. It wasn’t fun. To this day, I’m still a little paranoid about not wearing green when this holiday rolls around.

Patrick may not have been a particularly “green” saint himself — the legend of his driving the snakes out of Ireland is often viewed as an allegory for ridding the country of the Druids and other Pagan folk (who were traditionally connected to the Earth and turning of the seasons). While he used the three-leafed shamrock to demonstrate the Christian Trinity, this same clover is also used to symbolize the three faces of the Goddess — Maiden, Mother, Crone — and the phases of the moon.

Most folks don’t concern themselves with history or symbolism on St. Patrick’s Day. Instead, many will celebrate the holiday by getting drunk on green beers at the local bar or pub.

But this holiday can be about much more than wearing green or drinking green. It can be about being green.

Chicago has a long-standing tradition of dyeing the river green in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. This used to be done with fluorescent dyes that later were proved to be harmful to the environment. Today — though officials still won’t give up the secret to their methods — the ingredients in the dye are said to be safe and will not harm the river’s fish population.

So this morning, I’m trying to come up with ways to make March 17th a truly green holiday. It’s the perfect time of year to go to work in the garden to ensure a good harvest come summer and fall. While the corned beef and cabbage is stewing, I can waltz through my bookshelves and pull out titles I no longer need — to be donated to the library or sold to Powells.

There won’t be any green beer in my glass today, but it’s not a bad time to research food dyes and to take a closer look at the labels on food products already in my home. As I’m rummaging through the closet for something green to wear, I can take a few minutes to sort through clothing items I no longer need, to be donated to charity.

I can surf over to Planet Green for some of their tips on going green for St. Patrick’s Day.

Or, if I’m feeling really stumped and don’t mind being a little hokey, I can let the three-leafed shamrock remind me to “Reduce, Re-use and Recycle” today and every day.

What are your green St. Patrick’s Day ideas?