Friday, December 21, 2012

Brush-Rabbit Chariots of Winter

In a light and cold mist, we went out looking for bobcat signs on the wild ridges above Muir Beach, and found traces of brush rabbit and the magic-bare tunnels of winter instead. I'd been day-dreaming often of rabbits and hares. I'd recently written a character, The Fool, into a tale; he had seven dancing jackrabbits at his side, fierce and wise and playful creatures whose tails glowed like tallowlight in the underworld. Sometimes the dream and the world meet, on soft furred feet.

There is nothing quite like crouching and wriggling through the damp coastal scrub, how it smells of spice and dirt and grass and moss, the sharp sweetness of coyote brush. Following deer hoof-prints in the wet grass toward openings just big enough for a human to stand in, we found soap-root that had been nibbled by both rabbits and deer. A wintry treat. Above are the bite-marks on the soap-root from brush rabbits, who love this thick scrub-land. Rabbits make clean bite-marks; deer gum and tear at leaves, because they don't have upper incisors.

 And then, right nearby, a little neat pile of brush-rabbit droppings!

Brush rabbit

I got quite excited at the sight of this tunnel, down a hill and through the brush. It look enchanted, a passageway. I began to clamber through, with much crackling and hat-snagging and general clumsiness, until I realized, clumsy human that I am, that I was making quite a racket and also a bit of a mess, probably irritating or terrifying all nearby animals, who were only trying to go about their daily business. I desisted, and clambered back out. I was quite humbled at my own ineptitude in the depths of the wild scrub thickets, the safe-havens and arteries. 

I did manage to stumble upon this handsome dusky-footed woodrat lodge...

... and a good number of these perfect mushrooms.

Back in the relative ease of tree branches, the lichens and mosses rippled and clung to bark, like otherworld landscapes in every shade of green. What dyes and medicines and poultices they might make, I do not know, but I have been wondering. And what slow, gentle growth they know, solemn through the passage of time, rejoicing quietly at each rain.

I tried to imagine the life of a brush rabbit, hopping and darting through this wonder of thicket, of poison oak and coyote brush, hemlock, bramble, willow. It is a rich place, full of unknowns and strange rustlings and the heartbeats of wild things.

Another group of trackers, down a nearby ridge, found these bones by a big outcrop of stone. A buck, bones resting, eaten clean. Perhaps killed by a mountain lion, then fed on by every imaginable being-- coyote, bobcat, vulture, worm, fly, sunshine. 

After all the rabbit signs and tunnels and thickets, we found this, inside the scat of a lucky bobcat— the upper jaw of a brush rabbit, with two rows of incisors (a sure sign!). A little nub of bone, the story of a life and a meal and the cycle of things.

From the bare bones and branches of the start of true winter, the new green and fur and blood of life is stirring, deep in the heart of the thicket, as magic and as mundane as every bounding brush rabbit.

For more of the magic and myth of rabbits, read this essay by Terri Windling. It is splendid. Here's a small excerpt:

"In Teutonic myth, the earth and sky goddess Holda, leader of the Wild Hunt, was followed by a procession of hares bearing torches. Although she descended into a witch–like figure and boogeyman of children’s tales, she was once revered as a beautiful, powerful goddess in charge of weather phenomena. Freyja, the headstrong Norse goddess of love, sensuality, and women’s mysteries, was also served by hare attendants. She traveled with a sacred hare and boar in a chariot drawn by cats. Kaltes, the shape–shifting moon goddess of western Siberia, liked to roam the hills in the form of a hare, and was sometimes pictured in human shape wearing a headdress with hare’s ears. Ostara, the goddess of the moon, fertility, and spring in Anglo–Saxon myth, was often depicted with a hare’s head or ears, and with a white hare standing in attendance. [...] Eostre, the Celtic version of Ostara, was a goddess also associated with the moon, and with mythic stories of death, redemption, and resurrection during the turning of winter to spring. Eostre, too, was a shape–shifter, taking the shape of a hare at each full moon; all hares were sacred to her, and acted as her messengers. Cesaer recorded that rabbits and hares were taboo foods to the Celtic tribes. In Ireland, it was said that eating a hare was like eating one’s own grandmother — perhaps due to the sacred connection between hares and various goddesses, warrior queens, and female faeries, or else due to the belief that old "wise women" could shape–shift into hares by moonlight."

Monday, December 17, 2012

Walking With Love in Our Hooves

A deer stepped here, climbing up the steep bank from Wildcat Creek, shaded by dogwood, alder, oak and bramble. She left behind a muddy heart, filled with rain. Right now, in this dark-sky time of year, when so much inconceivable violence has just occurred on the other side of this continent, all I can think is to be full and open and generous in heart. To walk with love in every step, to leave that love everywhere, by the streams, in the mud to be filled with rain, on the city blocks, in the hands of others. What else is there to do, to keep from despair?

Friday, December 14, 2012

Witchgrass & Cottontails: Diversity in Words

Chaparral whitethorn, verbena, witchgrass, willet, winterfat, blue whale, black-necked stilt, sun-cup, toyon, surf-scoter, sycamore, chinook, rush-rose, mountain plover, saltwort, orca, oso berry, peppergrass, pika, sugar pine, evening primrose, rattlesnake, red maids, black sage, nutsedge, lark sparrow, mink, hedge-nettle, matchweed, mallow, madrone, brown pelican, marlin, lupine, alkali heath, fiddleneck, rabbitsfoot grass, marbled godwit, fulmar, dogwood, elk, house finch, bracken fern, fescue, curly dock, coffeeberry, currant, crayfish, dandelion, cow parsnip, buckeye, buttonbush, boxthorn, softshell clam, auklet, antelope, red alder, beaver, cottontail, greenbark ceanothus.

Wild bramble of some sort (?), Palomarin, gentle sweet smell.
Brown pelicans, heavenly to watch overhead
*             *                *

Words of living species that marble the landscapes of California, as found and selected from the back of Laura Cunningham's A State of Change, in no particular order besides the sound of words. Something about rolling in all those names, beautiful on the tongue and in the mind, imagined, is deeply satisfying to me, almost like walking through a riparian thicket and letting my eyes be filled with the myriad shapes, species, smells, sounds. Words & names are full of power and the essence of the thing they name; those above words (and so many more) feel sacred to me. Each one a separate species of being, to our one. When you stop to think about this, the world is almost overwhelmingly full, and the terror of  losing life-forms overwhelmingly heartbreaking. Imagine those names an incantation, an invocation.

Muir beach cliffs, bishop pine, monterey cypress
*               *               *

Saltwort, wild oat, white pelican, coho salmon, elderberry, red fir, blue grosbeak, slender hairgrass, gooseberry, goshawk, yellow-breasted chat, coyote, cobwebby thistle, cottonthorn, pelagic cormorant, tidy-tips, sooty shearwater, bigcone spruce, tarweed, spadefoot toad, pricky sow thistle, northern fur seal, willow herb, yerba santa, golden yarrow, violet, warbling vireo, vole, wild pea.

Tippy-tip of Tomales Point, tidepools, cormorants, yellow bush lupine
Cobwebby thistle
Coastal scrub, near Alamere falls, early morning, cow parsnip, coyote brush, thimbleberry

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Shedding the Velvet: A Wreath of Felt and Steel

 On this weekend of torrential rains, which swelled up Wildcat Creek to a foamy froth and knocked the bays and alders over at their roots, I've been inside, working on a felted wreath-commission.

We have no fireplace, alas, only this blocked-up hearth. But I lit the candles anyhow, as the winds whipped the redwoods in a wet gale outside, drank quite a lot of black tea, and teased out this wild and organic wreath design.

The metal spiraling behind it was made by Ferrous Studios. It is a meeting of steel and wool. A dark star, a nest, antlered felt-branches, all at once. I'm not sure quite what to call it—dreamcatcher, woodland star of David. It is a ragged wreath at the heart of a winter forest. The brown tendrils along the edges make me think of shedding antler velvet. There is another great image of this here.  (I don't want to risk any copyright issues by putting them here, otherwise I would! Beautiful photos.)

Whitetail shedding velvet
I'm fascinated by the lifecycle of antlers, how they are grown anew each year, how the velvet is there, a skin, to supply oxygen and nutrients to the rapidly growing bone, and then is rubbed off when the antler has finished its year's growth. Velvet antler, in fact, is of high importance in the world of Chinese medicine—the whole young antler is ground up, velvet and bone together, to treat a range of ailments, including cancer. I wonder, when that velvet is shed, if small creatures use it in their nests? If birds or shrews nibble at it, for nutrients, for healing.

The spirograph-star-web design was Simon's idea, drawn up from childhood sketching memories. I love the meeting of geometry and tapered pelt-shape. There's something alchemical about it.

Alchemical symbols in Kitab al-Aqalim by Abu’l-Qasim al-‘Iraqi

The strands, ropes and "antler-velvet" of this wreath were all wet-felted with merino wool from Jean Near's Utopia Ranch, in Mendocino County, Mrs. Meyer's basil-scented dish soap, and hot water. And the friction of my two palms, of course! All colors are wildcrafted—the brown is black walnut, from a tree down the road, the pale green of the big star is coyote brush from Tilden Park, the other green and the yellow strands are Japanese Maple from the tree right out of view in this photo, and the thin strand of grey-purple is elderberry, from a harvest last year in Marin County.

It is a web-wild woodland thing, what emerged! As the gale spun the trees outside, I listened to a Chirgilchin disc on repeat—Tuvan throat-singing, from Mongolia, where much of what we know about the traditions of wet-felting originated. I didn't think about this connection as I was felting, it just put me in a bit of a trance, and I couldn't stop listening as I rubbed and dipped and soaped the wool.

This is truly incredible music, from deep in the heart of the body and the heart of the earth. It blows me away. And yes, that whistling is coming from the throat. Miraculous!

By the end of all this mad felting, as you can imagine, I was just a little bit batty, picking away at the sweet seeds of a pomegranate for sustenance, and so took a quick walk with my father by Wildcat Creek and Jewel Lake as the sun came out. So much water!

The branches of the alders look like strands of felt. Or, really, the other way around. I love this blending, this correspondence between the wilderness and the creations of our hands.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Some Bits of Magic on a Tuesday Morning

This eucalyptus-bark creature, his colors brought out by rain. What Dreamtime did he walk forth from, on soft hooves?

This basket of coreopsis flowers, a rich sun-gold dye plant, gathered and displayed by Rebecca Burgess.

This egg-painted chicken-door, at the Regenerative Design Institute in beautiful Bolinas.

This quicksilver mine shaft, once picked and blasted by humans, is now home to a very endangered species of California bat-- the Townsend's Big-Eared Bat. What echoes from the earth they hear in there, I do not know, what whispers from the quicksilver ghosts.... The beautiful strength of wild things, to make their homes in unlikely places, despite all odds.

This little scene of magic in our hearth... a hint at some forthcoming epistolary surprises...

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Days of Sulfur, Wool & Green

In all the cow pastures and trodden edges of paths, the green glow is coming up in the heart of autumn. These days have felt like a time for going in, seeking out the small green seeds that need those first few storms to grow.

Now, the wilder valleys, with their native grasses and chaparral, are starting to glow too. In this crisp and beautiful season, when the plants and animals are going in and under in the face of our (mild) winter, I feel I am doing the same, trying to determine which things inside myself to nourish, which projects to feed.

It has been a month of wool, and green-edged walks, and hot springs— all good compost for the soul. I spent a day at the Fibershed Wool Symposium , surrounded by many weaving, spinning, dyeing and shepherdess women (not to mention one angora rabbit-herdess!), as well as a few ranching and shearing men.

I fell a little bit in love with this Cashmere goat, a very friendly creature who nibbled at my hands.

And I become enamored of this angora rabbit, and the whole species in general-- their strange and luxurious history, shrouded in mystery and French aristocrats. I found a scrap of a tale that said they originated in the Carpathian mountains, and were reared by hill tribes for their luscious and extremely warm wool, then bred by monks high up in the mountains. Centuries later, so the myths go, French sailors docked in Turkey, and were so enchanted by the silken shawls worn by the Turkish women, that they brought a few rabbits back with them to France.

Whatever the story, I have been dreaming of angora rabbits, how soft and fine it would be to spin their wool, how otherworldly their faces, all hidden in dandelion-explosions of fur.

Imagine, if we were all dressed in wool, cotton, flax, skin, that was grown and fed, shorn and woven, sewed and dyed, within a hundred, or even two hundred, mile radius. It would be a step toward rootedness, wouldn't it, and how happy would our own skins be, no longer steeped in the chemicals that leech from all of our fine-woven, bright dyed cottons?

The green-bodied sea anemones at Agate Beach made me think of open mouths, full of salt and passing morsels of food, open all night to the stars, choosing their one place perfectly, and then being still. This is their story, their reality, itself a lesson.

I've been inland, to the sulfuric hot springs at the base of the Coastal Range, in hills that feel volcanic, and dry, recently burned. There are geysers, like the one above, encased in a stone fountain, that shoot water every forty minutes straight out of the skin of the earth.

Sitting in the silky green waters of the springs themselves (built up into a Japanese style-flumarium) with an old and dear friend, I couldn't stop thinking about the fact that the heat was heat from inside the earth, not from the sun. It was heat from the tectonic motions of the Pacific Plate against the North American, from magma and friction. I floated, and imagined being in the heart of the earth, listening to the groan and creak of plates. It felt strangely intimate, like being held by amniotic waters.

The minerals that flow from the geysers flow down the creek too— Cache Creek— and turn it milky and green.

Only two and a half hours from my home, this landscape felt hot and fire-colored to me, another world from the moist hills and ocean-wind I'm used to. The ridges had burned recently, black in some places, the oak trees were turning orange, the dead pines a pure amber. It felt like a place of heat and regeneration; I thought of phoenixes and firebirds and volcanoes, and how much of California needs fire to maintain ecosystem health. How many hillsides of chaparral ache to burn, so their seeds, adapted to the weight and chemical composition of ash and heat, can open up and grow. Of course, the way we work it now, this land does not burn frequently, so when it does, it is devastating, black, charred, barren. Fire is a bad thing now, not good, not a source of fertility.

There used to be a quicksilver mine tucked in that valley, near the geyser. The old mercury smeltery matched the umbered, amber land.

Like these trees catching autumn sun in the fecund Capay Valley, I have several projects lined up in myself, which will hopefully bear fruit (or nuts, as it were-- I think these are almonds?) in the coming moons.

Thank you all, whoever and where ever you are, for reading and continuing to read my small tales and words here. I've been meaning to say this for some time now. I'm really honored every time someone comes to visit, and I look forward to sharing these projects with you soon!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Walking in the Dust of the Bobcat, at Dark Mountain...

A bobcat and her healthy rabbit breakfast
I've been wandering about the trails of Muddy Hollow, alder-thick, chaparral-tangled, for the past several months with a group of other trackers, mapping the passage and signs of bobcats, those sly, moon-shadow walking creatures who, now and then, calmly show their faces to us on wide empty trails at dawn. They've padded their way into my imagination, deep and soft, so much so that I've recently written a re-telling of the fairy tale Catskin that is devoted to them.

Anyhow, The Dark Mountain Project blog has recently published a piece of mine about the bobcats of Muddy Hollow. I'm honored to have it up there. Do pop over and check it out. And there are more to come!