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!


  1. A beautiful post, as always. Thank you.
    Those natural dye samples are breathtaking; I don't think synthetic dyes can match their subtlety and complexity.
    Sounds like some lovely projects on the horizon.

  2. I'm sporadic, but I love visiting. You, through your blog, remind me of all that I love about home.

  3. Sylvia - you write SO WELL - a skill that I lack....that wreath's very nesty and earthy. That goat nibbled my fingers too.

    1. thank you vino!! so nice to see you a few weeks back. are you planning secretly on getting an angora rabbit too? i know i am.... xox

  4. Hi Sylvia, my mum (Heather in Mildenhall, England) directed me onto your page as she thought I´d enjoy your writing, and I do! Vino is right, you write beautifully! I also love the images you´ve included. Keep going girl, you have a sweet talent! Millie x

    1. Hi Camilla! I'm so honored you came to visit and enjoyed. Your mum is a wonderful woman. :) And what a lovely life it seems you lead over in Spain... delightful & inspiring! Thanks for your kind words.

  5. i'm also enamored of angora rabbits and have six of the beauties... if you haven't had the luxury of spinning some, i'd be glad to send you a little giftie bag of fur! i always drown in fiber in the spring when i shear all the bunnies and sheepies. just let me know.. my email is drucillapettibone@gmail.com

  6. Stumbled upon this blog while researching mineral hot springs (Wilbur, I place I love as well) for an article I'm writing. I love the attention to place here, something I try to keep in my writing. I smiled seeing the anemones at Agate Beach, a place of childhood to me--I've never seen them that small, like coins. I'll be back!