These days the sun comes in long and bright through the morning windows, and the house is full of flowers. What, truly, is better than armloads of summer blooms?
For the time-being, my office has moved outside, to a rusty chair surrounded by thickets of nasturtium, because I can hardly bear to stay inside when I could be out here...
...in this beloved garden where everything seems to grow twice as big as I've seen it elsewhere (ancient Temescal Creek silt is my guess), where the meaning of a "Wild Garden" truly comes to life. Right now, one must positively wade through the borage and calendula, the reaching arms of wild radish and rose and sage and red poppy. It is a refuge for bird and bee and woman alike.
One family of bewick's wrens has made its nest in this hanging gourd, and throughout the day mother and father dart back and forth, beaks full of insects, going hither and yon throughout the yard to quiet those endlessly cheeping babes within.
In this riot of raspberry and Queen Anne's lace, lemon verbena and squash vine, bewick's wren domestic life, the crows overhead endlessly harassing the Cooper's hawk who lives in a redwood tree a few blocks away, I've been positively plowing through books. I feel like I'm in college again, only better; I've made the syllabus! And how good it feels, to be guided by creative hunger and the New Project (still a secret, but more on it in a few moments) from book to book. I feel like I'm following a footpath between them, each ending a cross-roads. When I finish one, that creative hunger, that fire to which I've been throwing sticks, tells me where to go next.
And then in I dive, head and hands and heart. Sometimes reading feels more like what I imagine the digging of this American badger hole (big thermos there to show you the size) to be like—handful by handful of soil taking you deeper into the storied language of the book until it is all around you, in your nose and eyes and mouth; until you've fully and wholly entered a new world.
That's how reading has always been for me, since I was very young. I tunnel right in to a tale and, while I'm there, I give it my heart. I think this is why, at around the age I learned to read, I decided I wanted to write stories. Even at that age (seven?) I reasoned that if through a book I could, within the wild landscape of my mind, go on long adventures as a female knight; heal animals with herbs and live with wolves; take tea in rickety cosy cottages with kindly witches; talk to birds and lizards and rabbits—well, as the maker of the tale, wouldn't it be even better? Wouldn't it be even closer to a true act of shape-shifting? Suffice it to say, pen in hand, I've been writing ever since.
Which brings me to the most recent book I read out in the garden with the bewick's wrens scolding and soothing and lullabying all around—The Hand, by Frank R. Wilson. I am writing an essay more in depth on this subject for Dark Mountain, because I am deeply fascinated by the ways our hands have shaped our storytelling brains, by the ways in which are hands are also paws like the pawprints of wild ones out on the sanddunes which bring me so much joy to follow and to read. Hands are the literal and figurative Gatherers of this Gathering Time, and, as fate would have it (for the un-covering of a story often feels more mystical than logical, in the ways that ideas suddenly come upon you around the corner), they will also play a great role in the next Epistolary Writings. On that note, and before I continue further, for those of you who have been wondering—I will unveil the new project on the summer solstice, June 21st, to new and old subscribers alike, and start taking sign-ups then. The first letter, however, will arrive on August 1st, Lughnasadh, the old Celtic harvest festival, and the time of the ripe blackberries on this land. This timing feels more in sync with the seasonal round to me—for the beginning should be a harvest, rather than a zenith, in my opinion!
Back to hands. The most stunning thing I learned in Wilson's The Hand was his assertion that as our hands developed the greater and greater dexterity, muscle control and fine motor skills needed to wield stones, then blades, bows, arrows, adzes, awls, our nervous systems and our brains changed in order to keep up. And as we surpassed everybody else in the animal kindgom with the increasing complexity of our tools (not in any way indicating our superior intelligence—this complexity was more like a very odd quirk or even a desperate attempt to survive in a savannah-landscape which our monkey arms and legs were not adapted to) and the increasing danger and power of our hands, something very peculiar started to happen in our minds.
Just as the making of a tool, particularly a complex one that requires carving and lashing and polishing, has steps— a beginning, middle and end and then the anticipated use that has nothing to do with the present moment but with an imagined future, or even an imagined array of futures—our minds likewise took form around this new sense of sequentiality. In other words, as our hands became unusually skilled and deft at making tools, clothes, then objects of ritual beauty and adornment, our minds started making things too—stories. They started making narratives, sequences of events that made us who we were, that attempted to explain the inexplicable all around us, and especially that most inexplicable thing of all at the far end of the sequence of carve, lash, polish, aim and throw into the heart of a deer: death. Our making hands made our making minds, not the other way around, and our knowledge of the workings (think tools) of the world all around us, our own bodies and lives and deaths, made us the beautiful and terrible creatures that we are.
|A wee baby brush rabbit, terrified and spotted through the railing of a bridge|
|A western fence lizard digging--perhaps a little cavern to lay her eggs?|
|The Brush Rabbit roads winding through dune grass and scrub|
And so for this week, the songlines became palm-lines. The stories of a walk on the coastal strand on a fog-to-sun day, the fourth of June, became storied into my hands.
I imagined some feral palmist living out in the mist at the edge of the estuary, between lupine and monkey-flower, snatching the palm of an unsuspecting passersby and saying—ah yes, I see you've passed through the territory of such-and-such song sparrows, who are just in the process of building their nest in the third lupine bush east of that bishop pine. Oh my, and I see you've been gathering seaweed, and yarrow too, and just when the three osprey passed overhead, winging straight east, with fish in their talons. And the monkey-flowers, how they sing out into the summer sun, voices of brush-rabbit-leaping delight! They have a lesson for us all.
|The osprey flew overhead, literally directing in the sight-lines between those two white yarrow umbels|
Such palm-reading wouldn't be about your fate, your future, you, but about the storied lives you had touched in a day, which will be different tomorrow. It would be about the hinge between you and the rest of creation, and the webs of connection sewn there—like the tiny bit of webbing between our fingers, reminding us our hands are animal like the river otter's, like the raccoon's, like the osprey's. Our hands the bridge between these strange heavy-duty brains we're saddled with and the riotous dance of the more-than-human world.
I've always had this hunch, while writing stories, that they might be coming from my hand as much as my head. I've found that I am incapable of starting a good piece of fiction of any sort on the computer (or with any pen other than MY fountain pen). But with my fingers around said fountain pen, and the ink on the paper, something starts to happen which is not wholly me. There is a head-hand connection indeed, but more than that, maybe the hand is a wild map, holding stories in its lines and grooves and mounts and veins, and they come out through the living ink of the pen, or the voice of the storyteller when she speaks, and her hands gesture up down, back, forth, like the tale is unfurling right from her fingertips. Maybe it is our hands that initiate the shape-shifting that storytelling can become, our hands that weave us deep into the weft of the wild world.