Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Gathering Time

This week, I am penning the words of my thirteen Gray Fox Epistle. Thirteen makes a complete lunar year of thirteen moons. I can hardly articulate the joy and gratitude I feel, that for the past thirteen months, these tales have been so deeply supported, and have found their way into hands all over the world. This work has filled up my heart so fully, as moonlight does, as sunlight, as stars through the fir branches and fox tracks and the morning songs of robins. It has re-wilded my own soul as much as it has the old stories, tale by tale, a little deeper with each word into this land I call home. And so I want to offer my love to the Stories, to the Readers, to all whose hands and hearts have touched this wild work for thirteen beautiful moons. It feels just right to offer up this thanks, and these words here, on the day of the Spring Equinox, when sun and moon are balanced, when day and night are of equal length, and all the land begins to burst into bloom.

With each story and moon, I've learned a little bit more about the cycles of creativity that move within me (and in all of us)—in my hand and heart and head and body and soul. Like the moon, and like the field where the squash and runner beans grow, the place where the St. John's wort and mint and chamomile and thyme reach for sun, each creation has its seasons, its waxings and wanings, its seed to flower to fruit and back down into the roots again, to begin once more.

The very first month of Gray Fox Epistles, March 2013, specially wrapped!
Part of birthing a story is to find out where it ends, and where something new can begin. And so, with this imminent collection of all thirteen Epistles, thirteen new moon seeds sown far and wide throughout the world, this marks the final month of the Gray Fox Epistles. But never fear, dear friends! This ending (of sorts) has a new beginning tucked right there in its paws, in its petals, and down in its roots. I only close this circle of thirteen Epistles in order to make way for a new one to bloom! I only tie off one story-thread, in order to begin to sew another, and straight-away!

(And indeed, the Thirteen Epistles aren't going anywhere-- any and all back issues can always be purchased at Wild Talewort!)

For as a writer and a maker—and as in all of our lives in one way or another—the way I create a story is to follow my feet and my senses along the path, and gather as I go of the light and kinglet-song, the dirt-smells and the sounds of faraway trains, and let the material tell me what to do next.  It is clear to me that the Gray Fox Epistles always intended to be a family of thirteen nested moons, and has no desire to be anything but, and so I must bow to her, grinning, already leaping up in my heart to begin the path-wander, and the gathering, for the next Project.

As to its specifics, this new-born Project held in the paws of the Gray Fox Epistles, it is still a little bit of a secret, both to you and to me! Well, it is not entirely a secret to me; it is more like a very shy creature who lives in the garden and shows me flashes of her auburn fur from time to time, a slender ear, the marks of teeth upon the nasturtiums, the runes of her tracks.

The point is, I need to get to know her a bit before I give her back to any and all of you. I need to drink dew from the same tulips she frequents, and learn of her dreams, and the small stories under her tongue.

In plainer English, on the new moon of March 31st, which marks the 13th Epistle, I will be starting a 2-month Gathering Time before sending out the first installment of a New Project on the summer solstice, June 21st.

This New Project will differ little in external appearance from the Gray Fox Epistles--it will arrive in your postbox with a wax seal and a tale of deep wildness and mythic resonance within. The main difference will be that this New Project will be a continuous piece, either chapters or linked stories that must be read chronologically, that build upon each other. It will be a story to sink deep into over many months. In addition, it will arrive on the eight seasonal festivals (Sabbats) that make up the pagan-Celtic Wheel of the Year (June 21st, August 1st, September 21st, November 1st, December 21st, February 1st, March 21st, May 1st), instead of the new moons, to explore a different sense of time and cyclicality!

Just to give you a little bit more to chew on, this New Project will be based in some way upon a single old myth or folktale. You can think of it like one of the Gray Fox Epistles—a re-wilded fairytale, set in the ecologies of the North-Western lands I know— expanded into something of novel length and breadth, with countless mole tunnels and oak-roots and flowering persimmon tips branching out from it.

As a final hint, this project will explore deeply the concept of Time, and the Seasons, and the way the bushtits gathering cobwebs from under the drainpipes for nests, the alder trees pushing out catkins, the coyotes courting on the dunes, and us human-folk—how together we are part of this skein of the seasons and weathers of the place we live. The phrase "an Almanac of Place" keeps coming into my mind in this regard; this new project will have an Almanac-like quality to it.

But first, before the Writing, comes the Gathering, and that's what the next few months are going to be all about.

Because in order to win the trust, and learn the story, of the wild, auburn-furred creature at the edges of my mind, nibbling the nasturtiums and the vetch there, I must first gather inspiration, like the bushtits gathering cobwebs for their nest. After all, without a nest, there's nowhere for the eggs to be held, and to be nourished and protected, once they are laid!

There are so very many metaphors for this beautiful stage in the creative process. It is, on the one hand, like the making of a nest that will hold the story-to-come. It is also like the building of a compost-pile, to feed the springtime plants. It is like the planting of nitrogen-fixing pea-vines and oats in the fields of last year to nourish the new seeds of this.

For me specifically, this will be a time of Gathering every sort of inspiration into my basket that you can imagine--deep research into my many books of lore and myth and history, ecology, botany, and herbalism, balanced equally by inquiry and exploration ever deeper into the unfolding lives of the plants and animals and weather patterns on the land of my huge tangled garden, and the big wild hills. It will be one part woolgathering (sifting through daydreams and nightdreams and the dreams passing by on wooly clouds), one part historygathering (inside the Books), and two parts wildgathering (What is the natural history of that bewick's wren who keeps visiting the lemon tree? What do the cumulus clouds indicate? What are the bobcats eating out on the land in the waning moon of April?)

I will be making a Wild Almanac of Days.

I will be gathering all of these things into my basket like seedheads, like red buttons, like ocean-smoothed granite.

I will be searching for them under the bark of trees, in the wet places of the forest, inside the gills of mushrooms and under rocks where the newts hide.

I will be gathering like the bees with pollen-baskets at their legs, from every flower I can find that sings in some way to my story-making heart.

And like those bees who bring pollen back to the hive, I will be sharing some of my findings with you, dear readers, right here on The Indigo Vat, my online journal of everyday musings. This will provide utterly crucial structure for me, and a window for any of you who are interested into this time between the Gray Fox Epistles and the New Project she holds in her paws.

Every Friday, beginning April 4th, I will be sharing at least one (if not more!) of the Gathered bits from the week. This might mean the life-history of the western fence lizard; this might mean the forest-ritual roots of the old stories of Robin Hood; this might mean the medicinal proporties and growing habits of the motherwort in my garden. And most definitely, this will include photographs, perhaps a scrap of poem or story-start here and there, and some illustrations too, which I will be doing regularly in my journal (and which I feel a tad shy to share!).

Here are some samples from journals-past, to give you a taste.

Sharing with you each week will give a skeletal structure to this Gathering Time, a set of drawers (rather like my old apothecary's cabinet here)  instead of great big messy basket. By the end of May, I hope that all of these drawers are full of the most nourishing food for thought, food for heart, food for soul, and most importantly, food for the story!

And then, when the summer sun is longest in the sky, you can expect a brand new Story-by-Mail in your postbox, fresh as the first elderberries.

In the meantime, I will be climbing every tree, metaphoric or no, that I can find in search of just the right mosses and lichens for the nest into which this New Project is soon to be laid! What a joy it will be.

And what gratitude and fullness of heart I feel, to get to share this process, and this work, with you. I feel so full of happiness, and thanks, that in this way, walking this Wild Talewort path, I can let the beauty of what I love be what I do (with a big bow to Rumi there!), kissing the ground every day.

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don't open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

translated by Coleman Barks

Thursday, March 13, 2014

A Quilt of Moments-Between-Words: Newt-Track, Orange-Gold, Rabbit-Heart

Forgive me, dear readers, for my absence of almost a whole moon here! It has been one of the busiest writing months I've ever had, with three projects all going full-tilt at once, and so the scraps of time between that I've had I've spent outside, away from the crafting of words and the glow of this screen. These photographs below are the (somewhat disjointed) quilt of stolen moments between the pen-scribblings, the red notebook rapidly filling up to full! And in the midst of them is a wee surprise, a being who has stolen my heart, and will steal yours too, I daresay— and who also accounts for my absence here, as I have been writing beside him, out in the garden sun, beside the bloomings of all the plants brought back to life by the rains. 

One of the greatest medicines for my heart, as you well know by now, is to go out searching for the pawmarks of the wild animals of these hills. This can be difficult when there is no rain, and while of course my anxieties surrounding our drought had to do with more "important" matters than the pawprints of coyotes, I will admit to you that I was quite beside myself, imagining the trails cracked and dry for a whole year. So when the rains came at last, I was out on hands and knees. These prints are all from a single morning, and all probably about that fresh (between the previous midnight and dawn). The above coyote-print has a curious, slightly smudgy shape to the bottom left of its metacarpal (heel) pad. At first I thought this just had to do with the mud, but I later began to realize that it was a signature of sorts, a peculiarity to this individual.

Here he is again (dead center), crisscrossing the trail sometime probably near dawn. There were several separate coyote trails, distinguishable by the size and shape of prints, and given that a few weeks ago was the height of courting season, I and my tracking companions wondered if we were seeing some flirtatious frisking in those giddy, zigzagged prints.

In his more staid manner ("his" is a guess—the metarcarpal pad is quite fat, as befits a male bobcat), a bobcat crossed a more shaded part of the trail, from the creek up through a blackberry thicket and into the quiet of the oaks.

At last, the dear newts were out, dragging their swishing tails as they made their way, leaving feathery calligraphic trails, from their estivation burrows in the hills to their mating-creeks.

And even the little brush rabbits seemed not to mind the mud, bounding about the edge of the trail, not far from the coyote tracks, in perfect rabbit-leaps. I've read that Celtic peoples once read the tracks of rabbits for divination; I wonder what these trails told.

And smallest but certainly not least, a tiny harvest mouse went bounding through a mud-patch just before it became puddle. Those pawprints are no larger than my tiniest pinky nail in diameter!

After a rain, when the trail is a slate to be written upon by the paws of animals, it can seem as though everyone is out at once, in a great festival upon the path! But instead, it is a tale to be read in layers, brush rabbits venturing out to nibble sweet grasses when the coyotes have passed, newts not bothering who is nearby, as their skin is incredibly venomous, rival male coyotes avoiding each other or marking territory just after the other has gone. I like to lay my fingers in a track; for a moment, and only sometimes, I get a little flash in my imagination, travelling in a brisk coyote side-trot at dawn, air fresh, coat warm and sensitive, the world a tapestry of wildly vivid smells, my body so deep with sensation, it feels like my heart itself has a nose and ears and eyes. Then the feeling passes, and I am there again with my finger inside a muddy pawprint, and I am full up to the brim, and I wander home, where the lemons and oranges are heavy upon the trees in the garden, winter-sun incarnate.

Up in the lower folds of Mt. Tamalpais across the Bay, where we spent a week housesitting for my parents, a new storm rolled through, and left the fresh-bloomed Indian warrior flowers (pedicularis) wet and glowing. Oh, what strong beauty they possess! And to see them come up at last, after this dry winter of doubt, and visions of a desert land-- this is a balm for the heart.

The madrones glistened like muscled arms in all the wet...

... and my parent's hound, Louis, reveled as I did in the puddles and the damp grass.

I went up the mountain to greet the rain, and I found spring there too.

The star lilies, early bloomers, where open like great candles lining the trail, and the first lips of the irises had just begun to unfurl.

They seem to release Spring herself from their centers, as if she cannot really arrive in full, until they are here, impossibly purple, impossibly soft.

And then the gentle spirit of spring really did arrive, at least in my own heart and soul, in the form of Hawthorn, our new baby angora rabbit.

I named him thus, that he might be strong of heart (for the hawthorn is a great and gentle cardiac tonic), and sweet of heart too.

But as it turns out, he is Heart Medicine incarnate. He is Hawthorn, Balm for the Heart. Hawthorn, keeper of the sweetness of spring, and also keeper of the great old wisdom of rabbits, ears furred to the sound of every bird. Suffice it to say, we are all completely smitten around here.

He is only two months old, but I had to given him his first shearing before I managed to take very many pictures, so above he is a raggedy-rabbit, in his funny haircut. Below, you can see his fur in its full sweet fawn-colored glory.

Simon, Simon's father and I built him a hutch in the weeks leading up to his arrival, a hutch under a black walnut tree, and with a good sunbathing beam right through the middle.

Every day I sit with him in the garden and write while he leaps and naps and feasts on the tender grasses.

There is much to say about the deep magic of rabbits, about the process of transitioning him to an all-natural (pellet free) diet of only fresh greens and herbs and weeds and hay, as all healthy wild rabbits eat, about the softness he has brought to my heart. But you will hear much of him in the coming months, I can assure you. He has already become my companion of-the-word, and I have no doubt he will be making his way into my pennings soon enough, as well as my spinning wheel!

For now, you can find me often as not in the garden, with my notebook, finishing up tales (most currently the Leveret Letters) and watching him grow, learning the Way of Rabbit.

Now, the rained-on garden is a riot of color, as you can see from my birthday-wreath of flowers gathered yesterday morning and woven together here at the base of our candelabra, just like this little quilt of my Moments-Between-Words.

Each time I step from the page to the growing, fresh-aired, wet or sunny or starry world, be it in the garden or up in the hills, I am brought further into the great old Web of Things, where all of our days and nights, our work and play and stress and sweetnesses are held. I was about to write that for me,  the making of stories, the stringing of words, is like those spider strings above, and the moments I move outside to greet the wild world of sidewalk-dandelion, bewick's wren and redwood forest alike, are those beads of dew between. But then I realized how wrong a statement that was! It is our "work," our "creations," the way we shape our human days and lives, that are the dewdrops, and the spiderstrings are the more-than-human world that is always holding us, whether we remember it or not.

I'm glad to say, I think dear Hawthorn, he is one of those spider-strings, leading me ever deeper into the sweet animate world.