A simple ritual: Moon shadows

For this month’s ritual, I want to suggest a simple activity which can be as elaborate and engaging or as quiet and meditative as you want: looking at your moon shadow.

The weather is nice enough in most places at this time that going outside while the full moon is high doesn’t mean flirting with hypothermia. So why not get yourself out of doors while the full moon is the main light source and spend some time with your shadow cast by moonlight?

Shadows are curious creatures – appearing and disappearing, images of ourselves but shaped by our surroundings. Shadows cast by moonlight are even more rarely seen, unusual and perhaps revealing.

Turn your back on the moon and do ritual with your shadow as your partner. Can you feel it? What does it look like? How does it engage or not engage?

Meditate with your shadow. What does it have to show you, to tell you, to be for you?

Animal signs

While keeping up my series of posts on divination at the time of the new moon, I’m going to mix things up today and write a little bit about a kind of divination that is not nearly as systematic as Tarot or runes or other methods. It’s less systematic, and in some ways more open to chance and to individual interpretation, because it relies on nature for its signs. Specifically, I’m going to share a few experiences I’ve had with observing the appearances and behavior of animals that have carried spiritual meaning for me. If you’ve had similar experiences, I’d like to hear about them, too!

There are formalized systems of animal divination, or at least collections of the suggested interpretations of particular animals and their appearances or behaviors, but I haven’t studied any of these. So far, my work with animal signs has been primarily an extension of connection with the landbase and finding the divine in the immanent all around us.

The most powerful signs for me have been the animal form of a deity making an appearance, such as when I encounter ravens and crows and sense the Morrigan at work. These signs are often a gentle reminder of her presence – sort of like saying, “Don’t worry, I’m here with you.” On the other hand, they can also be a reminder to consult with a deity or power that I haven’t interacted with in a while – sort of the equivalent of that “Hey, we haven’t talked in a while. How are you doing?”

This kind of interpretation is an area that relies heavily on intuition and one’s existing relationships with spirits and powers. It can also be significantly improved by a working awareness of one’s landbase and its other inhabitants. Anything out of place or unusual is more likely to be able to carry divinatory meaning. For example, seeing eagles at the zoo is probably not a sign from Zeus or Athena; seeing eagles in the wild is more likely to be.

In addition to deity forms, I also draw on the stories or qualities associated with specific animals to interpret signs. I once went to Teddy Roosevelt Island and saw turtles in two widely separated places. That day remains the only time I’ve seen turtles there. That was a strong message for me to endure and be patient but persistent, and it bore out.

Now, not every appearance is going to have divinatory meaning. Even behaviors that seem unusual can be perfectly natural, just unfamiliar to you. It’s always important, with this as with other forms of divination, to reflect on how and why you’re interpreting the message the way you are, and to think critically about whether the message is significant at all. On the other hand, a natural cause doesn’t rule out a symbolic meaning; one time that I observed a very active stag during the rutting season, I knew he was out and about because of the rut, but his appearance was also a meaningful message to me to remember the masculine divine and the way the urge for life continues even near Samhain.

Finally, don’t restrict yourself to the charismatic megafauna (the big interesting animals) only. Don’t be bummed out if your power animal or the animal forms of your deities don’t live in your local environment. Try paying attention to what is present in the world around you. Does that cheeky cardinal in your yard show up more often at times when you need to let your own colors shine?

If you have worked with this at all, share some wisdom: How do you work with signs and meanings from the animal world? How do you develop this kind of awareness?

Dupont Henge today

The Express had a little article on Friday saying that today at 12:30 the sun will shine directly down the tunnel of Dupont Circle’s south entrance. Anybody want to go see?

I should have kept a copy of the article, because now I can’t find it online. From what I recall, an attentive Metro rider noticed this phenomenon one day and then calculated when it would happen again – once on either side of the winter solstice, it turns out. He went to the occurrence in November to confirm his calculations, and it worked.

The article quoted him as saying a couple of interesting things about how observing natural phenomena like this has been linked with seasonal celebrations. For me, it was neat to see people discussing that kind of awareness of how we shape our relationship with the natural world in a non-Pagan context.

This is what climate change looks like

This is what climate change looks like in my neighborhood right now. This tree is in a very well-maintained commercial area and has an automatic sprinkler in its bed. It’s still not getting enough water, and after the record high temperatures this summer, it has many leaves that are partially green and healthy but withered around the edges.

I know this is nothing compared to other instances of terrible damage done by weather in the last few seasons, but it tugs at my heart to see such blatant examples. The worst of the heat may be past, but its impact is still with us.

This realization makes me worried for the future, but it also makes me renew my commitments to living mindfully and striving to reduce or offset my negative environmental impacts.

What does climate change look like where you are?

(Photo by the author; if you use it, please link back.)

Meditation Moment: Washed Away

If meditating in motion wasn’t really your thing, here’s another approach to meditation that also takes advantage of summer’s more temperate weather!

Most of what I wrote about in terms of beginning meditation was about how to reduce your distractions: quiet time, calm space, and one simple thing to focus on. The approach I’m suggesting this time seems like it’s just the opposite: it’s all about your senses. It’s about letting your senses be your focus, but not any one particular sense or object, the whole flow of things it’s possible to be aware of, all around you.

There’s a constant stream of sense-data that we are capable of getting. Most of the time we aren’t even aware of it. In order to pay attention anything at all, we have to block out the vast majority of all the potential impressions coming at us. One way to meditate, especially in connection with nature, is to turn those potential distractions into our means of meditating. We can let our usual thoughts and concerns be washed away in the constant stream of physical awareness by opening ourselves to more of it than we usually perceive. This is another way of applying the skill of forgetting in order to be truly present in the single moment and single space you occupy right now.

To try this, find a place where nature is present in all your senses. It doesn’t need to be isolated or totally insulated from obvious examples of human activity, like road noise, it just needs to be a place where there’s at least as much nature for you to see, hear, touch, and smell as there is constructed stuff for you to sense. It should also be a place where the sense impressions you get are ones you can at least mostly enjoy. And finally, it should be a safe spot for you to sit and close your eyes for a few minutes: not in poison ivy, not on top of an anthill, not where you’re going to get sunburned if you sit longer than you thought or fall in the river if you go to sleep.

When you find a spot, settle yourself there however is comfortable for you. It will probably help at first to close your eyes, since vision is a very focused sense. Try to start with your breathing and relax, and gradually open yourself to your senses.

Start with touch: what do you feel? Let yourself be absorbed in your sense of touch, all over your skin. It’s not just whatever you’re sitting or standing on, but the flow of the air around you, the warmth of the sun or the cool of the shade. As you grow more aware of what you’re sensing, don’t just focus on each individual thing in turn. Let all the impressions flow through your awareness; let each impression go as soon as it forms, so that you continue to be receptive to what you’re feeling. Open your awareness to as much as you can all at once. Any time you start to focus on one sensation, let go of it and relax, opening yourself to all the other sensations.

Add in other senses and forms of awareness gradually. Start noticing how humid or dry the air is, how it feels and how it tastes, and what scents it carries. Listen to the world around you; don’t try to block out any sounds, even the annoying ones. Just let your awareness of them go, as you do with all the awarenesses. An annoying one may come back time and again, but don’t give it any more attention than you do the pleasant ones. Treat them all alike, as things simply to be observed in turn, but not concentrated on, even by trying to ignore them. Let that awareness go so that more impressions, each fleeting in their turn, can form.

Concentrating on any one thing, like looking at something in particular, is an active behavior. It’s something we do, with purpose, with intent, even subconsciously. For this meditation, try to let go of that intent, that purpose, and be a passive observer. This is why it’s very hard to do this with your eyes open, especially at first. We automatically focus, literally, our vision on things around us.

If you want to try it, you might let your eyes drift slightly out of focus, or try to look into an indistinct place in the middle distance, so that you’re not looking at any one thing in particular, simply gazing and being aware of as much in your field of vision as is possible. If that’s too difficult or gives you a headache, do this meditation with your eyes closed instead. You might be amazed at how much information is available to you through your other senses, even while you’re sitting still. We depend so much on our vision that it often blocks out our conscious awareness of senses like touch and smell.

Even without vision, the amount of information flowing through our senses is tremendous. By letting go of every impression as soon as it is formed, we let that flow proceed smoothly, like sand through an hourglass or water through a calm river. Opening ourselves to more of that flow means that we can use it to help dislodge persistent thoughts or worries, just as water can move obstacles out of its way. Just for a little while, let yourself be overwhelmed, in a good way, by your senses, so that you can reconnect with the world around you. Let yourself be washed away.

My plant as an altar

Hecate has written passionately piece about how her garden can be an intensely demanding lover, especially right now, when it never stops needing her attention, and the relationship, I can only imagine, is sweaty and exhausting, and I hope satisfying. I have only a few potted plants on my balcony, so I can’t describe my relationship with my plants in that way, but it made me wonder whether I can think of one of my plants as an altar.

Some time ago, my mother sent me a potted plant as part of a gift. It’s a pretty little succulent whose glossy green leaves have a thin line of contrasting reddish-purple color along their scalloped edges. When I am good at taking care of it, it rewards me with clusters of little red four-petaled flowers. I am not always good at taking care of it, but it’s teaching me, albeit slowly. Plants are often slow teachers, which is good for me when I’m being a slow learner.

One day as I was taking care of it, I found that a sizeable stalk had gotten accidentally snapped off – possibly by the cats, possibly by me pushing it up against the window carelessly. I felt bad about this, and as I hesitated to throw the broken part away, a tiny idea emerged: Couldn’t some plants propagate like this? Actually, come to think of it, I knew that jade plants, which are also succulents, could grow from cuttings, so…what if?

Not quite sure of myself, I got a water glass, ran water in it, and plunked the little stalk down it it next to the big plant, and gave it my best wishes. Much to my amazement, it worked. After just a few days, I could see tendrils of thin, white roots emerging. Over the next several days, I added just a few crystals of Miracle-Gro to the water, figuring that it needed some nutrients. When it put out new leaves, I knew it wasn’t just my imagination; this thing was actually growing!

I had to guess at the right time and sufficient root structure to actually plant it in soil and a pot of its own, but the little sprout is now growing luxuriantly. It hasn’t bloomed yet, but I hope that it will soon. Since it’s still relatively small, it spends most of its time on my desk.

I have a little mini-altar on my desk already: an inkwell, my dip pen, and a few other symbols of the Elements and Powers. But as I was watering my plants the other day, I said something like, “There you go! That should help!” to one of them, and it struck me that the watering could be a kind of offering, a libation not just to the spirits but to the very physical beings of that little corner of earth.

So I think I’m going to try cultivating a relationship with my little desk succulent wherein I regard it as an altar, a place where I come to observe and appreciate life: its, mine, and all. The difference between watering and libation may be as simple as the words I say, and the attitude I foster within myself. We’ll see. If I’m right, and it works, then this plant may become to me, for a time, more than just a plant, being also at the same time a living symbol of some of what I see as holy.

Where do you find or make your altars?

PS: Real gardeners may be horrified by my admittedly blase attitude towards the sprouting experiment. I’m sorry. I don’t even know the real name of this type of plant, and as I said, I’m still learning. Because of my many concerns with the non-plant beings in my life, plants are relatively low on my priority list. This post is about an example of changing that. Which is my way of saying: please don’t lecture me about what I should have done. I’m working on it.

Recognition

I saw a deer and a great blue heron on Teddy Roosevelt Island yesterday, and both encounters felt like a form of recognition.

I hadn’t visited the island for several days, and really needed to refresh my spirit with some time in nature. I went to my favorite spot, and even before I got there, I was really angry to see a couple of plastic drink bottles and some other trash littering the rocks. These weren’t things that had been washed up by the river; they had to have been accidentally dropped or carelessly left on the trails.

I was angry. I thought, I don’t want to deal with this. I came out here to be in some tiny corner of nature where I could, for just a few minutes, be a little more alone, a little away from the urban density, or even just pretend.

But people littering my favorite spot to connect with nature mean that even there, I can’t just sit down and look at the river without having bright orange reminders that a lot of people don’t seem to care about nature. The cleanup I helped do this spring was to try to fix some of that, to make up for other people’s lack of care and concern. But no matter how much effort I put in trying to help, to heal, those unconcerned people will keep making it worse, and I can’t keep up. I felt exhausted and even a tiny bit hopeless.

Those feelings were so similar to the ones I came to the island to get away from that I simply had to let them go. I picked up the bottles and stuff, put them by the trail I’d be taking out, and went to greet the particular spots I know best, marveling at how they seethed with life, noting how the river level has changed and that Arachne’s daughters are busy in the forest. Slowly, gently, I felt my soul relax.

As I continued down the trail with my hands full, I pondered my emotions. I had managed to let go of the anger; I wondered if I could replace it with something else. Compassion? Yes, I could feel compassion, for the island and its life forms, and focus on that compassion as the reason for my actions. I could even, after I contemplated it, feel compassion for people who drop plastic bottles in one of the most wild refuges to be found in our urban sprawl; people who do that probably never get to experience the deep refreshment and reconnection that I had just felt, and that makes me sad for them.

What about gratitude? And suddenly it blazed up in my heart: yes, I could feel gratitude. Not that people were so stupid as to give me the necessity of cleaning up after them – again and again – but if not for them, then at least for the place, for the circumstance. As I walked, the uncomfortable plastic seams cutting into my fingers became an occasion for gratitude, because I had the opportunity to reaffirm my commitment to TRI, my relationship with it and its ecosystem in a tangible, meaningful way. I relaxed further and widened my gaze beyond the irritating bottles.

As I did, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye, and froze. A heron was wading in the swampy wetland off to one side, and I’d almost missed it. If I had stayed angry, with my shoulders hunched and eyes narrowed, staring at the bottles and muttering about stupidity and laziness and petroleum, I would have walked right by the bird, only 15 meters away, much closer than I’d ever had the chance to see one before. The heron and I regarded each other, and as I walked away quietly, I gave thanks for the reminder.

After I reached a trash can and threw away the bottles, I walked a little more quietly, and it was not long before saw a family on the path ahead of me staring intently to one side. A shaft of sunlight caught the golden-brown gleam and just the edge of the white patch of a white-tailed deer, who was otherwise well-concealed in the vegetation. The deer didn’t seem to be nervous, so I cautiously came up to the family’s vantage point, and was able to make out the deer’s head and face. They said that several other deer had just crossed the path; they were probably heading uphill for a place to sleep during the day, in a more thickly forested space further from the perimeter trail. I’ve seen deer on the island a few times before, but it was still a magical experience, especially since the deer didn’t seem to be startled.

As I left, I couldn’t help but feel that the encounters were almost a form of recognition. Not exactly a reward, but the result of the time and effort I’ve spent building a relationship with the island and its life. I probably would have seen the animals if I hadn’t picked up the trash, but the fact that I have a relationship with the island was why I was there in the first place, and was why I did pick up the bottles. If I hadn’t gone, even on that hot and sticky day, I wouldn’t have had the chance to be in the right place at the right time to have those encounters.

It’s glorious to feel that my effort and actions have been recognized, even – especially – by Nature herself.

Divining and Forgetting

Since the new moon falls on the start of the month this time, I’d like to tie together my new moon divination article and my latest meditation article about the skill of forgetting.

I think one of the most difficult positions to learn to interpret in the usual Celtic Cross spread is #8, the way others see you or your situation. By definition, this card doesn’t fit the way you see things. But that’s one of the strengths of Tarot – if we can forget just long enough to consider things from a different point of view.

I wrote a while back about reading ourselves into narratives, or not. Since Tarot provides multiple narratives or snippets of narrative, it challenges us and gives us options; but a querent who sticks too closely to a single (probably predetermined) interpretation of her whole present situation and possible future courses of action isn’t really engaging with the Tarot. She’s just using it to mirror back what is already within herself.

Now, I do think Tarot is a means for self-reflection, but it’s a lot more like the funhouse maze of mirrors, or a kaleidoscope, than a simple flat mirror. It’s supposed to distort our perspective to help us see other possibilities. It’s supposed to help us forget what we know, or think we know, for a little while, and maybe imagine something different, try it on for size, and see how it might or might not relate to our current situations and choices.

Since my style of reading Tarot, and using it for reflection, depends on the querent’s interpretations of the cards and impressions of how the cards relate to or represent parts of her life, there’s a very fine line that I have to walk that involves both eliciting the instinctive, first reactions (“As soon as I saw the guy on the horse, I knew who he was!”) and challenging those ideas to help the querent expand her viewpoint and potential interpretations.

That’s where position #8 comes in. If you haven’t gotten around to the work of trying out other perspectives by this point in the reading, this card is likely to try to smack you pretty hard with a clue-by-four. Of course, the danger there is that the harder it smacks, the more you want to resist, or the more totally incomprehensible you find the intended clue.

That’s why this position is often so hard to understand. Sometimes a good reader can help you; I remember once pointing out to a friend that this position indicated other people thought he was worrying unnecessarily about a decision, that he should go ahead and do what he was thinking about. Another friend and I had been gently saying that over dinner, but seeing it there in the card helped the querent forget, just briefly, about his concerns and try to take our viewpoint.

That approach requires a lot of suspension of disbelief, and it gets even harder because the outside view presented in this card is often inaccurate. People who are seeing your situation from the outside may not have all the information, or they may have particular concerns that are irrelevant to your situation. On the other hand, your own perspective is biased, too. Part of the magic of Tarot as a means for self-reflection is trying to use these differently-distorted images to help you figure out where each one is accurate or distorted, useful or an impediment, sort of like how glasses or contact lenses use distortion to cancel out your own difficulties to help you see better.

Of course, in the funhouse, even when you compare and contrast and combine the images of yourself in the short, fat mirror and the long, tall mirror, you don’t necessarily get an accurate image of yourself. It’s enough to help you see whether you’ve got spinach in your teeth, and whether your friend superglued your ears while you were sleeping, but not necessarily enough to know whether your pants are really flattering or not.

The benefit we get in return for examining these strange reflections of ourselves is that if we can forget, for just a few minutes, about what we know we look like, the wild variety of reflections gives us starting points to imagine ourselves in totally different ways. Maybe you can look tall and distinguished; maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to be round as an apple. Maybe that card in position 8 suggests that you shouldn’t always assume the best about your business partner; maybe that idealized image is a suggestion to start cutting yourself a little slack, even if you know you’re not perfect.

It doesn’t have to be perfectly, totally true, just enough to give you a different vision of your current reality and your potential future courses. If you can forget what you know and try seeing things in a different shape, you can open up a whole new range of possibilities. You have to be able to imagine something different before you can start acting on it.

Meditation Moment: The Skill of Forgetting

We often think of forgetting as a problem, something that only happens by accident, something that we want to fight against. Our memories are vital to who we are and how we live; loss of memory is one of the most feared aspects of aging for some people. But memory isn’t always a good thing. The traumatic, intrusive memories of PTSD are just one example of memory run amok. Think about what your mind would feel like if you could never forget anything, even the most trivial details, like the thousands of license plates you see on the road in the course of your life. Having to sort through all of those to try to remember your own would be a nightmare. We would drown in the details, which is why forgetting can be a skill.

In investigating the effects of cannabis, science writer and nature lover Michael Pollan discovered that the plant makes compounds with structures similar to neurotransmitters involved in the extremely complex process of regulating remembering and forgetting. In his book The Botany of Desire, Pollan went on to speculate that part of the experience of being high might come from cannabis temporarily altering this system by impairing our memories, letting us experience the world as fresh and new rather than through the filter of our memories and expectation.

As he put it, “It is only by forgetting that we ever really drop the thread of time and approach the experience of living in the present moment, so elusive in ordinary hours. And the wonder of that experience, perhaps more than any other, seems to be at the very heart of the human desire to change consciousness, whether by means of drugs or any other technique.” (162, emphasis original) This amazing mindfulness and presence in the present is one of the things that meditation makes available to us without the use of mind-altering substances.

I have suggested using a focus for meditation, such as a candle, object from nature, or a favorite image. But it’s easy for us to substitute our abstract conception of a thing for the thing itself. We can think of our internal imagination and memory of what a candle is or looks like rather than what is actually in front of us; we meditate on our idea of what a rose is or ought to be rather than on this particular, unique rose in the here and now. It’s almost as if we like to substitute some idealized Platonic representative of a whole class of objects for the immediate reality.

One way to get around that tendency is to treat an encounter with a focus object almost as a game to test your observation skills: what is this particular stone like? Can you visualize it clearly when you close your eyes? Could you pick it out of a group of similar rocks? What makes it unique or distinctive?

This seems like it would be an exercise of memory, but where forgetting is needed to help us lay aside our expectations and experiences so that we can perceive the particular object we’re focusing on more clearly. The gift of memory isn’t just the freshness and wonder of being absorbed in the world but also the ability to take in our experiences more accurately. Memory, especially in the form of expectations and assumptions, can give us blind spots where we simply can’t absorb information that is contrary to what we already know or think.

To practice the skill of forgetting, try using an object from the natural world that will change over time as your meditation focus. A leaf, a cut flower, a plant with a bud about to open, or anything that will show changes over a few days to a week will work. Try approaching it each day as an entirely new experience. Let go of how you saw this thing yesterday; don’t let that memory override your actual perception of the object today. Look at it as a whole, not just noticing the changes. When your mind brings up comparisons and changes over time, acknowledge the thought and then bring your attention back to the present moment and the current reality of your focus.

A similar challenge is to try to describe something in nature without using its name; an herb might be a plant, an annual, a member of a certain family, have flowers that butterflies or bees enjoy, home to a spider’s web, something that needs water and sun (but not too much of either), a producer of oxygen and consumer of carbon dioxide, a seasoning in your favorite dish, home to pests or resistant to them, and on and on. Describing the herb this way makes us more aware of the way it exists in a complex web of ecological interrelationships, instead of concentrating only on the way the herb exists in relationship to us. It’s almost a way to see the plant on its own terms rather than on ours.

This fresh perception and the wonder that it brings with it are the gifts of forgetting. Even for a little while, this kind of forgetting can be soothing and healing. Forgetting, used wisely, can be a valuable skill. Make meditation a time to practice it.

My iPad and my Paganism

I got an iPad 2 recently and I’ve been thrilled with a handful of apps on it that are very useful to me as a Pagan, so I thought I’d do a quick overview. I’m sorry, I’m not sophisticated enough to have detailed screenshots, and I haven’t tried every app out there, so I can’t say that these are definitely the best of their kind, but they’re relatively easy to find and some of them are tremendously useful, so here goes:

My absolute favorite is 3D Sun Moon HD. It’s on sale right now for $2.99, but in my opinion it would be well worth the usual full price of $4.99. It gives you a view of where the sun’s and moon’s courses across the sky will fall for the entire day. This doesn’t sound so cool until you see that it’s a 3D representation that changes depending on which direction you’re facing (or holding the iPad). It doesn’t just show you where things in the sky are right now, it shows where they were, and when, and when and where the sun and moon rise and set, all relative to your position.

It’s really a tremendous amount of information in an elegantly simple display, intuitively communicating things like day length, how the phase of the moon changes, and what the sky will look like when you go to do ritual later on today. Or tomorrow – one of my favorite accidental discoveries about this app is that if you scroll through the date, it animates the sun and moon movements through the next several days, weeks, or months of their progress across the sky. This has to be one of the best tools for helping me, especially as an urban Pagan, stay oriented to what’s going on in the sky.

Along those lines, I also love Sun Seeker Lite, which gives a flat compass-oriented view of the sun’s path across the sky. More importantly, it will take a Google Maps view of your current location and superimpose the directions, hour-by-hour, where the sun will be coming from and casting shadows to. I’m sorry, it’s hard to explain in words. But when you see it, it is an incredibly easy way to figure out what the lighting conditions will be like, so you can tell whether the person calling the West will be blinded if you do ritual at 5pm, or what time today you ought to go outside to see the sun just brushing the tops of your favorite tree.

Originally designed to help photographers set up ideal shots with light and shadow, the Lite version of this app is free, and is plenty for me. For $4.99 you can upgrade to the full version which does “augmented reality.” Point the iPad towards the part of the sky you’re interested in, and the screen will show you a live view through the camera with the sun’s path across the sky graphically superimposed.

Another type of augmented reality application is Star Walk, one of the most highly recommended apps for the iPad. Turn on Star Walk and it shows you a graphical representation of the stars, constellations, planets, satellites, and what-have-you that are (or could be) visible in the portion of the sky it’s currently pointing at. It’s like one of those star charts that you can print out to help you see constellations, except that this is constantly up-to-the-minute, precisely coordinated with your location and the exact direction you’re pointing. It makes $4.99 a cheap price to pay to finally be able to recognize constellations besides Orion.

While we’re still looking at the sky, I can also recommend Luan, an app available for just 99 cents, that shows the lunar calendar, either by itself, or coordinated with the solar calendar. Gorgeous detailed images of the moon show what it will look like, with discreet indicators around the edge indicating when sunrise, sunset, moon rise, and moon set will take place. I tried a ton of different lunar calendar apps and finally settled on this one as the most convenient way to get exactly the information I wanted.

Finally, a little closer to home, Leafsnap is a nifty app that’s helping me improve my botanical knowledge. Take a photo of a leaf against a white background and Leafsnap queries a database to find the best matches for the plant it came from. It’s not perfect, by a long shot, since it’s a little finicky and has a somewhat limited database, but it’s a handy tool, so it’s worth a try, especially because it’s free.

Just a few more apps are worth a mention: GoodGuide can help you evaluate the relative environmental, social, and health impact of products you buy, and there are lots of cool meditation and yoga apps. I’m still trying Equanimity, the i-Qi timer, and the Insight Timer for meditation, along with Capital Yoga and Yoga Free. Using the iPad to have your own rock garden (iZenLite) or calming pond (Pocket Pond) can be pretty fun, too, and Naturespace has some nice audio clips of natural settings.

If you have favorite apps, what are they? Why do you like them?