Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Collecting Story-Pollen: of Cedars, of Mushrooms, of Bees

I went to Honey Grove to create the latest Gray Fox Epistle  (arriving in subscriber's post boxes the 4th or so of November!), set not in my native California, but there, in the boundary between the wild woods of Vancouver Island, and the haven of peace and cultivation and sacredness that is Honey Grove. I went there to be like the honeybee, gathering the pollen of a new place in my writer's hands, into my heart. I went, and I crossed my fingers that I would be able to write anything at all.

The experience was more beautiful than I could have possibly hoped. As I mentioned a few posts ago, the first morning Nao let me taste the honey from her holy bees, and then a bit of propolis (the antibacterial, antiviral, resinous material they make from ingesting tree sap-- mainly fir or cedar around here-- which they then use to seal up their hives), and finally a spoonful of pollen (like little beach pebbles). It felt like a baptism into the landscape, into the world known and loved (literally) by the Honey Grove Bees.

Below, my dear readers, is a little taste of the pollen I gathered, which indeed became an Epistle, currently out in the mail-webs, traveling to meet the hands of its subscribers! That Epistle was written early in the mornings, before light, when I was still drifting near dreams. I ate a little honey each morn to make sure I had the bee-magic in me as I wrote. When it got light, I shared breakfast with my new friends, and the magic of the day began.

I've learned, the more I write, the more deeply woven into that craft and art I become, that writing is as much about Being Present in the World as it is about sitting at the desk and doing it, pen to paper. You have to go out, penless and paperless, and Be, in order to have something to tell of. You (at least I) need to feel some deep wonder at the world, and deep curiosity, at its every particular, otherwise what is there to say?

Without further ado, the pollen:

Cold mists gathered low each morning, walking the ground with silver feet.

The sun came to burn them off, but the mist liked to stay a bit longer on the spider strings.

Emmett the duck took good care of his ladies in the duck-pen, and showed off his lovely wing feathers to us as we passed. In the Epistle, there is a woman with a goose foot, orange as Emmett's...

The autumn vegetables, the last raspberries, the richness of this land that Nao and Mark cultivate is truly profound. And when you are amidst it, you can feel it positively pulsing with the Love they have put into its tending. I've never been anywhere like it, so suffused with this kind of care and creativity. Honey Grove felt to me like a work of art, in the best possible sense-- a place created from the deep wellsprings of all sacred creativity and knowledge of the lives of Plants, a place also engaged in a deep and respectful conversation and relationship with the wild woods around it, with the soil, with the air. And Nao and Mark its gate-keepers, its edge-walkers, its parents and its friends and its students.

Nao planned a small Gray Fox Epistles reading with a handful of her friends. I pored over her collection of my Epistles with a morning cup of tea, trying to decide what to read, and having a bit of trouble!

I've never gotten to see all the Epistles at the Other End, when they reach their readers at far corners of the globe, mail-battered, lovingly read. A delight!

We made a spice cake for the reading-- after all, what is cosier than tea, and cake, and stories aloud? The three really must go together.

And yes, in case you were wondering, this cake was even better than it looks. Oh my heavens. The ideal tea-cake, in my opinion, wreathed in garden-picked calendula. 

Then we wandered off to gather beautiful bits of the forest for a small altar, the Land Around Us deserving a place at the reading too, as it is always the ultimate Pollen to me when I write-- the movings and livings of the wild world.

Gus the magical dog, of course, accompanied us with much aplomb, and the expectation of at least a few treats. He is just the sort of companion you hope for on a misty walk, snuffing and frisking about and making sure you remember to poke around in the bushes too.

I love that one of the only ways to really see the individual drops of mist is on a spiderweb. Two of the most delicate miracles in the world-- mist and spidersilk-- together. In the Epistle, there are misted threads of spider-line, and there are pearl necklaces scattered in moss just so...

Nao (above) and I both wore red coats, because it is hunting season. I'm not used to wearing red, and I realized as I walked what an invigorating color it is. A powerful color, as a woman, the red of menstrual blood, life-force. I associate red with mythic tales-- red coats and capes and vests and skirts and hats. Somehow it leant that essence to our walk, which felt like a walk out of Time, into the soft Magic of the Land, and back again (to eat our spice cake....)

I couldn't stop marveling at the red cedars, which we don't have in my part of coastal California. They feel like very feminine motherly trees to me, with the most delicious gentle smell to their scaly needles. Above, Nao gathers a few fronds. When I look at this photo now, as I thought at the time, the tree feels like a big wise old lady, leaning down in a maternal way to let Nao take a few bits of green.

For thousands of years, in First Nations cultures, the cedar has been one of the most important, and most holy trees, used to make a huge range of items, from canoes to longhouses, baskets and clothing and rope from the bark, medicine, capes, masks... Virtually every part of this powerful tree was used, to such a degree that the cedar is referred to as the Tree of Life to many Pacific Northwest native peoples. Meeting it here, I can see why.

I gathered some feathery fronds as well, to take home with me and to nibble at (they taste divine).

This silvery cedar bark seems to have been pecked by what looks to me to be some sort of sapsucker (they wood-peck in straight lines like that)-- perhaps a red-breasted sapsucker, which according to my research resides year-round on Vancouver Island. Amazing, to imagine a bird designed to drink the sap from trees-- I imagine cedar sap is delicious, and I wonder if the bees gather it for their propolis.

We gathered fern-moss when we entered the damp forest...

.... and marveled at the lacy edges of mushrooms, dark and wise underground beings who know of decay and of regeneration....

.... the red of the old amanita, dangerous mushroom of shamanic hallucination, of Viking beserker rages, of fairy-tale temptations.

Back in the cottage, we laid our altar, we drank tea, we ate spice cake, I read a quilted patchwork from two Epistles to the little gathering of women.

We were both aglow, when the guests left, with the magic of it all. 

And all of these things in one way or another were gathered in my red notebook, where all my story-writing occurs-- the hive where I put the honey, the pollen, the propolis. The story-Epistle that emerged, which is a retelling of the Grimm's Queen Bee, at once Is, and Is Not, of this place. It is not Merville (the township where Honey Grove resides), and yet it is. It is not exactly these fir and cedar woods, and yet it is... and so it goes with all tales.

But the Bees, well, they are always and only the Bees, nothing else. They are the true carriers of the tale, and of all the stories of this landscape. I am so grateful to have met them, and I am so grateful to Nao and to Mark and to Gus, and to all the beings of Honey Grove, for such a perfect visit.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

A Fairytale Walk in Sub-Alpine Meadows-bogs, Or, How I Met the Crowberry

Here, the land is damp and knows the weight and the taste of winter snow. Here, roosevelt elk and marmot and a few wolves roam, leaving muddy prints. Nao and Mark and the holy dog Gus, of Honey Grove, took me up to Strathcona Regional Park and this area of subalpine meadows on Mt. Washington, during my magical visit last week. The light was long golden and clear. We felt we were walking through somewhere ancient, once glacial, a place with its spirit close to the surface. And as I look at the photos now, they seem more painted tales than something that occurred on a camera.

With my lovely guides and new friends, I padded on the fir-needle path, which positively bounced underfoot.

Gus led the way, snuffing at Things That Had Passed Through Bushes. Our feet made a gentle hollow sound on the wooden walkways which raised us above the tender bog and meadow plants, and allow for snow-shoeing adventures come winter.

It is deeply satisfying and engaging for me to meet new plants in a place that in some ways feels similar to this area of northern California, and in other ways is, well, so much more northern. Such as this ground cover, which seemed to be the dominant plant across much of the boggy-meadowy open ground. None of us knew the name, but a few days later, when I went to visit my old friend Elsinore (and her mother, and her grandmother, three generations of beautiful Danish women), her mother took one look at the above photo and said something in Danish which I did not understand. After some investigation, we discovered that in English this plant is crowberry, or Empetrum nigrum, a staple food for Arctic Circle indigenous people the world over-- from Denmark to the more northern places of Canada.

We reached a lake so still it held its body up as a mirror to the sky, so clear, so quiet, that there was nothing to do but drink cups of strong milky tea and lay back on the stones and be there, while Gus (water-dragon!) tried the waters. I envied him the experience, as it looked so very delicious, but when I put my hands in I changed my mind. The word "snow-melt" would do the temperature justice...

The lake took Time away, and replaced it with Solace, and Silence, and the miracle that it is to be in wonderful company, drinking tea, watching for birds. That photo above is timeless to me-- Nao could be standing by the lakeside with her faithful dog-friend in any era, red-skirted, calling him in, marveling at the length of the sunbeams and the ripple he is making on the water.

The colors of that colder alpine meadow were russets and ambers and honeys, the immortal evergreens, the wonder of a season, moving, red as blood.

The many twisted witch-goblin trees along the walk only confirmed my feeling of having walked into a different Space, where snow whispers her laced and silent songs even before she has fallen again.

All the waters seemed mirrors, reflecting back the stories of the firs and spruces and cedars.

I have always been very deeply drawn to northern landscapes such as this, moor-covered, bog-covered, tundra and hardy evergreen wood and amber-russet light. (Landscapes where large herds of ungulates might roam or once have roamed-- elk, or reindeer...) I am sure I wouldn't do so well in the cold months, in the white snow, being so ill-prepared a modern girl as I am now, but maybe landscapes rest in our blood a dozen generations later, a hundred generations later, caught there, stirred every so often to the surface when a place like the old moors, the old Russian steppe thick with crowberries, is encountered with the nose and eyes and mouth and heart, and with new friends who felt immediately, to me, like people I had known always. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Traveling North to Meet With Bees

A quick note to say I have travelled over the long Coast-Range mountains of the western edge of North America, from San Francisco to Vancouver Island, and am now in a beautiful place called Honey Grove, learning poetry and peace and sweetness from the bees of Nao and Mark Sims.

I left this dry gold-ridged dense landscape of the Bay Area, Mount Diablo rising holy and hot in the east...

.... passed over the Carquinez Straits where the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers drain more than half of the landmass of California into the old roiling Pacific, from the Sierra Nevadas through the big fertile Central Valley...

... gazed open-mouthed at the snowy peaks, rising from the great unfurling body of the land like the noses of mythic badgers, the breasts of snow-stone women, as the landscape grew more forested, more ridged through Oregon and Washington...

...until there, below, were the steep dramatic mountains of Vancouver Island, perched just at the boundary between the North American and Pacific Tectonic plates in the Cascadia Subduction Zone (of which the San Andreas Fault of the Bay Area is the southern extension), created jagged and green-blue by that endless earth-skin movement.

The only thing I like about flying is this cloud's-eye view of mountainscapes and river-valleys winding far below like a great circulatory system, the mountains these great snow-capped vertebrae, this gift of getting to see the earth's surface spreading out below.

But I am much happier and more at ease with my feet on the ground, amidst the familiar Douglas fir trees and the less familiar red cedars, on this blessed land in the Comox Valley that Nao and Mark tend with so much love and such firm wise-rooted soles and hands.

Yesterday I helped Nao tuck the bees in for winter with tar-paper and pillowcases stuffed with wool.

I have never been near so many bees at once, and I thought I'd be afraid, but their gentle buzzing, the sound of Om, as Nao said later, made me so peaceful I felt like I'd always been doing this, bending over hives to tuck the wool in, dusting away the bees with an eagle feather so we could seal up the top, watching their golden bodies, furred, some heavy with parcels of pollen, buzzing gently toward and away from their hives. I felt positively gleeful, and honored, to get to be near those hives.

Earlier that morning, Nao let me taste some of the Honey Grove honeys, very special ones steeped in rose petals under several moons, and a bit of propilis tincture, and a spoonful (oh heavens) of pollen, tiny glimmering grains like pebbles of chert that have been sea-smoothed, only these were bee made, the pollen of many different local flowers. Well, by the end of all that nectar-tasting, I felt like I was hovering, humming, slightly off the floor. I felt like I had eaten a tiny portion of the essence of this place, lovingly gathered by those so-tenderly cared-for bees.

And when I actually got to meet them, I felt a bit in the presence of a miracle, and I thought, how could we ever forget the profundity of that simple buzzing hum of the bee, making love one by one to so many of the flowering plants of this world, carefully carrying off the sweet essence of the sun that those flowers have made, and ensuring that they make fruits?

Blessings to these small furred souls who map the sweetness and the love-making (very literally) of each landscape.

And stay tuned, as an Epistle is being made, about the bees, and the Comox Valley, based upon several German-Swiss fairytales which I will leave as yet unnamed, but featuring, just to whet your appetites, the Mother Holde, or Mother Perchta, of old Germanic/Teutonic lore.... I will share more on this subject, and more of this beautiful place, soon.