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!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Scarves and Headdresses, Naturally Dyed for the Rainy Days

On these fog and rain-filled autumn mornings, I've been working on a new felting project.  Between my two hands, with only the help of a little soap and hot water, I roll long pieces of raw wool. It is the same quick friction one uses to start a fire with a wooden drill. It is an ancient textile-technique, this rubbing of wool with water and heat.

Together, these pieces make lovely scarves or wild thick headdresses for wearing through the eucalyptus woods as they drip fog from their blue leaves. Various vats of dye have been bubbling on the stovetop-- coyote brush and black walnut. (above) bay leaf, japanese maple, eucalyptus, to naturally color each loop. Sometimes, the spicy strange plant fumes have quite gone to our heads!

These "infinity scarves" are a gentle experiment with wool and the colors of the land—and I find that there is a magical simplicity to them, a looping grace that roots you firmly with the wool of local sheep, the dyes from wild hills. If you are so moved, I am selling them in my Etsy shop, Deerstone Felts. Do have a look!

The clothes we put on our bodies are often highly processed, dyed with chemical colors that poison the nearby watersheds and, slowly, our own permeable skins and organs, not to mention the people who make them. Inspired by the work of Rebecca Burgess and her Fibershed project, I love the idea that these scarves/headdresses are so wholly made of natural fibers and colors, you could compost them!

The spider is the ultimate spinner, a truly rooted goddess of weaving.

If this is not true magic, I don't know what is: a spider, circling her web, dipping down her great belly to lay down the silk, from spoke to spoke, as the thousand planets of dew on each thread glint in the dawn. Then, in the middle of her woven universe, born from her own secretions, she sits, she waits.

These are my own very humble webs, connected by silken strands to the textile traditions of women throughout time, all the way back to the weaving spidress, our most ancient ancestor.